The Work of the Spirit | pt. 11

Questions, Concerns, and Cautions

Questions. The first question I think it is important to ask is, what should be our level of expectation regarding the gifts? Sometimes proponents of the continuation of the gifts reference John 14:12, in that passage Jesus said, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” Some take that verse to mean that we should expect more miraculous gifts of the Spirit than even seen through the ministry of Jesus.

What, however, are the works that Jesus is referring to? I tend to agree with William Hendriksen’s understanding. He says, as a result of Jesus’ “departure the disciples will perform not only the works which Jesus has been doing all along (miracles in the physical realm), but also even greater works than these, namely, miracles in the spiritual realm.”[1]

I believe that instead of always expecting the miraculous or never expecting it, we should understand that the miraculous is still possible. The gifts have not ceased. However, that does not mean that every Sunday will be a recreation of Pentecost.[2] I believe we see through Scripture and the history of the Church that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are still given, yet they are not normative, they are not always given or to the same degree.

We are not to expect Pentecost but we are to expectantly pursue the gifts in accordance with Scripture for the upbuilding of the church. In the last days in which we are in, the actual outpouring of the grace gifts will look different at different geographical locations as well as different times throughout history. This is to be expected because in the New Testament there was no equal distribution of grace gifts and God’s mighty acts by the Spirit have in no way been evenly disbursed over the course of redemptive history.[3] The Spirit moves where He wills (John 3:8) but that does not in anyway preclude us from praying for His special empowering. All over Scripture, the Spirit empowered people in mighty ways, we are in no less need of that special empowering today. Although we cannot demand it and it does not seem to be normative.[4]

Second, why do so many unhealthy teachings and experiences go on within some churches that believe in the continuation of the grace gifts? There are various ways to answer this question but briefly, I think the issue shows a need for biblical leadership. That is not to say that biblical leadership has always been lacking in these churches. Paul himself had to provide correction to the Corinthian church that was dealing with various issues. But, he did provide that leadership, he did provide correction.[5] I think it is important to note that abuses seem to abound where there is need for biblical balance regardless of the doctrine. I think for example of hyper-Calvinism or the issue of having orthodoxy but not orthopraxy.

I appreciate this important advice from Carson:

When God graciously manifests himself in abnormal and even spectacular ways, the wisest step that the leaders participating in such a movement may take is to curb the excesses, focus attention on the center—on Christ, on loving discipleship, on self-sacrificing service and obedience, on God himself—and not on the phenomena themselves.[6] 

Third, is the popular “open but cautious” view of the gifts a biblically tenable one? I do not believe so. If the grace gifts are still given then Scripture exhorts us to “earnestly desire” them for the upbuilding of the body (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1, 39). If the Lord Jesus cares enough about His church to give gifts and Spirit-empowered abilities to serve people, should we not care enough about the church to use those gifts for that purpose?[7] Are we okay with being merely open to these good gifts, and even cautious about them, when He has graciously given them for our corporate good?[8] That option does not seem open to me (although I understand that it may take some time to study and pray over the topic). Though, this issue should never be one of contention or disunity.

Earnestly desiring the gifts of the Spirit for the upbuilding of the body should never be allowed to cause division in the body. The Spirit wants us to and works so that we “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). So, the gifts should never be pursued in a way that would cause disunity or disrepute.

Earnestly desiring the gifts of the Spirit for the upbuilding of the body should never be allowed to cause division in the body.

I do believer, however, if someone is “open but cautious” then they should study Scripture in depth on the topic. If they are cautious it is important that they be informed on what particularly they should be cautious about. If they are open they should know why and what they are open too. If they are open, they should earnestly desire the grace gifts and lead the church to be built up through the operation of the full range of the grace gifts of the Spirit. This is important, because if the nose is missing, where would be the sense of smell (See 1 Cor 12:12ff)? In the same way we want each part of our body functioning, we should want every grace gift functioning within the church body.

May we long to impart spiritual gifts to strengthen each other as Paul did (Rom 1:11). “If, as Paul puts it, God’s various gifts are given ‘for the common good’ and ‘for the building up of the church,’ then we should expect to flourish to the extent that we receive, steward, and enjoy them.”[9] Thus, the “open but cautious” position is not, in my opinion, a biblical position. Though I believe it is appropriate to be “unsure but studying” even though I believe the correct view is “open and desirous.”

Concerns and Cautions. The Apostle Paul has some good words for us, both groups. He says earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39). And he also says all things must be done in a proper and in an orderly manner (v. 40). He says I will pray with my spirit, I will sing with my spirit (v. 15). And he says, I will pray with my mind, I will sing with my mind (v. 15). Whatever our view on the continuation of the gifts, our churches should not be able to be labeled either “charismaniacs” or “the frozen chosen.” Because God is not a God of confusion (v. 33) but He is a God of new and exciting life and there is reason for us to respond to Him with visible affection. May we, both of us, worship the LORD, as He deserves, in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

I believe there is a danger of emotionalism on one side and of distain for emotion on the other. The renowned philosopher, theologian, and pastor Jonathan Edwards said, “there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection.”[10] Emotions are not bad in and of themselves but emotions must be guided by Scripture and governed by the self-control of the Spirit. Jay Adams has said,

There are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God.  All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.[11]

It is also important that we realize that worship is to be a response to revelation, the glory and goodness of God, and not mere hype, lighting, and musical mood. When we respond with the correct emotions to God’s revelation it honors Him. There is a time to “rend our hearts,” for instance (Joel 2:13). As William Wilberforce said, “Scripture speaks with praise of the lively exercise of the passions towards their legitimate object.”[12]

The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), is a denomination that has a history of reckoning with this important and controversial topic, and they have wisely said, “in all periods of highly emotional religious issues, excesses are inevitable.”[13] The C&MA knows about both the “blessings and the mischief of the [charismatic] movement.”[14] Though it is true that mischief and even grave harm is done by those who teach falsely and wrongly emphasis certain gifts at the expense of others, it does not mean that the gifts themselves are bad. The apostle Paul himself showed that “the correct treatment for abuse is not disuse, but proper use.”[15]

As the C&MA states, “we must… remember that our ‘comfort zone’ is not the same as spiritual discernment, and at times even a gift manifested in love may make those ignorant of it uncomfortable. Therefore, patient teaching on the gifts and their manifestations is a necessity.”[16] Further, we must work very hard to distinguish between a work of the Spirit and what is merely a work of man or even Satan.[17]

Jonathan Edwards gives five evidences of a work of the Holy Spirit that we would be wise to consider.[18] First, the Spirit will work in such a way as to exalt Christ (1 Cor 12:3). Second, the Spirit will work against Satan and his work. Third, the Spirit will cause people to have a greater regard for Scripture and will establish them in God’s truth. Fourth, the Spirit will lead people in truth and convince them of what is true. Fifth, the Spirit will cause people to love God and man. Further, Edwards says,

The surest character of true divine supernatural love—distinguishing it from counterfeits that arise from a natural self-love—is, that the Christian virtue of humility shines in it; that which above all others renounces, abases, and annihilates what we term self… Love and humility are two things the most contrary to the spirit of the devil, of any thing in the world; for the character of that evil spirit, above all things, consists in pride and malice.[19]

The Spirit’s work in us, whatever form that work takes, should not produce pride but humility. Also, the fruits of the Spirit should always accompany the gifts of the Spirit to a high degree (Gal 5:22-23).[20]

It is also very important that we understand, as Jonathan Edwards says, “A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength.”[21] Thus, Allen Ross is correct in saying, “It is presumptuous for anyone to say that others do not have the joy of the Spirit if they do not dance and shout in a certain way… [or] have particular spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit works differently in people.”[22]

As a last caution, it is important to hear from Cecil M. Robeck in his book The Azusa Street Mission and Revival. He says, “As a church historian, I have… come to realize that revival is not the normal state of affairs, nor is it intended to be so. Those of us who appreciate the role that revival plays often miss this.”[23] Robeck compares revival to smelling salts. Smelling salts have their purpose. They revive people and bring them back to consciousness. But they are not for everyday life. “Imagine a roomful of people convinced that they need to keep on inhaling smelling salts in order to keep on living.”[24]

We need the work of the Spirit, His reviving and continual work, but His reviving work is for when we are lethargic and lifeless. We should always seek to walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) and not quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19) but that does not mean that we must always pant after the latest and greatest work of the Spirit. We are to primarily rejoice in the miraculous work of the Spirit that He regenerates people and so “names are written in heaven” and not primarily celebrate even such things as spirits being submitted to us (Luke 10:20).


Paul emphatically reminds us that the gifts, knowledge, and truly all we do is to be done in love and serve the purpose of love (1 Cor 13). How scary that we can know all mysteries, we can speak angelic languages, and yet have not love. May this never be!

May we ever remember and rejoice in the grandest of all the grace gifts that has been given, namely, the free gift (charisma) of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).[25] Then, in light of the abundant grace we have been given, may we follow Peter’s admonition and “as each has received a gift, [may we] use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet 4:10-11).

[1] Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, 273.

[2] Donald Gee has wisely said, “Many errors where spiritual gifts are concerned arise when we want the extraordinary and exceptional to be make the frequent and habitual. Let all who develop excessive desire for ‘messages’ through the gifts take warning from the wreckage of past generations as well as of contemporaries” (Prophecy: A Gifts for the Body of Christ [Plainfield, N.J.: Logos, 1964], 26 as quoted in Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1059).

[3] The Apostolic Constitutions, a disputed document from circa 377 says, “It is not necessary that every one of the faithful should cast out demons, raise the dead, or speak with tongues. But only such a one who has been graciously given this gift—for the purpose that it may be advantageous to the salvation of the unbelievers… We say these things so that those who have received such gifts may not exalt themselves against those who have not received them… Therefore, do not let anyone who works signs and wonders judge any of the faithful who is not given the same. For there are various gifts of God that are bestowed by Him through Christ” (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, as quoted from the Apostolic Constitutions, 303).

[4] I appreciate what Schreiner  says here: “When God gives us powerful experiences of his presence, we praise him for drawing near to us in such a gracious way. We should not and must not disregard such experiences with God. At the same time, acknowledging Jesus as Lord in our hearts and in our lives is far more important than any stunning experience with the Lord” (Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts, Loc. 341, ch. 3).

[5] MacArthur rightly says that “To lead means to feed, guide, and sustain the flock. Lack of leadership fosters breeding grounds for something or someone who will lead in one way or another” (MacArthur, Jr., The Charismatics, 201). 

[6] Carson, Showing the Spirit, 179.

[7] See Francis Chan, Forgotten God, 86.

[8] Why should we spurn our good Father? If we ask for the good gift of the Spirit do we doubt He will not give the Spirit or that He will not be good?  See Luke 11:11-13. Wilson says, “God is continually giving gifts to his people. Whenever he does, the most appropriate response on our part is to thank him for them, worship him through them, make good use of them, and seek more of them—and in doing so, we will avoid earning them, spurning them, or idolizing them” (Spirit and Sacrament).

[9] Wilson, Spirit and Sacrament.

[10] Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994),49.

[11] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) 349. See also John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1987) 336 and see “A Brief Theology of Emotions.” And as Sam Storms has shown, expressiveness in worship can be good and right (see “10 Things You Should Know About The Lifting Of Hands In Worship”).

[12] William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1982), 30.

[13] Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin, Samuel J. Stoesz, All for Jesus: God at Work in The Christian and Missionary Alliance Over One Hundred Years (Inc. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1986), 111. Jonathan Edwards says “A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength” (Edwards, “The Marks of the True Spirit,” 261). See also his book Religious Affections.

[14] Niklaus, All for Jesus, 111. I believe the C&MA statement on the Spiritual Gifts is very helpful and nuanced. I commend them as a denomination for neither overemphasizing everything that may perhaps be a work of the Spirit nor discounting the fact that the Spirit does still work. See “Spiritual Gifts” accessed on April 4, 2020. perspectives/ spiritual-gifts.

[15] R. Banks and G. Moon, “Speaking in Tongues: A Survey of the New Testament Evidence,” Churchman 80 (1966), 285, as quoted in Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 151n236.

[16] “Spiritual Gifts” accessed on April 4, 2020. spiritual-gifts.

[17] See 2 Cor 11:14-15; Rev 12:9; 20:2; 1 Pet 5:8; Gen 3:1; 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Tim 2:26; 1 John 4:1 cf. 1 Cor 12:10; 1 Thess 5:21; Gal 1:8-9; Acts 17:11.

[18] Jonathan Edwards, “Distinguishing Marks of a work of the Spirit of God,” 257-69 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009) also see Murray, Edwards, 234. First because “our gifts are not to be ascribed to our own spirituality but to the sovereignty of the Spirit” (Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts, loc. 488.). God is the one who gives the spiritual gifts. Self-promotion is sign that it is not a genuine work of the Spirit (Allen Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 424). The work of the Spirit leads to “spiritual growth, obedience to the will of God, evidence of the development of the fruit of the Spirit, generous giving, and praise and thanksgiving in worship” (Ibid.). The Spirit does not draw attention to Himself or to believers, the Spirit draws attention to Jesus (John 16:13-14).

[19] Edwards, “Distinguishing Marks of a work of the Spirit of God,” 268-69.

[20] Ferguson rightly points out that the fruit of the Spirit should be distinguished from the gifts of the Spirit, but ought never be absent in their exercise (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 209).

[21] Edwards, “Distinguishing Marks of a work of the Spirit of God,” 261 see also his book, Religious Affections.

[22] Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory, 424. Of course, that is not to say expressiveness in while singing songs of worship is wrong. It is actually to be appropriately encouraged. For example, people jump and scream for sporting events and the Psalms at times to us to express ourselves.

[23] Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 322.

[24] Ibid., 323.

[25] See R.P. Spittler, “Spiritual Gifts,” 603 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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