The Third Person

Christians agree—God is a triune person. The problem is, we often act as if He’s two in one, not three.

In some groups claiming the name of Christ, the Holy Spirit is elevated so much that you’d hardly think the Father was part of the Godhead, but in other groups, the very thought that the Holy Spirit has some part in giving the Christian guidance today, has them claiming heresy.

OK, both those sketches are somewhat exaggerated, but not by much. On one hand are those who believe the ecstatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially speaking in tongues, are the true evidence that a person is a Christian. On the other are Christians who believe that those particular gifts—speaking and interpreting tongues, prophecy, healing—have ceased. They were existent in the early church, but now that we have the Bible, no more.

I addressed this subject to a degree last March in one of my CSFF Blog Tour posts for Mike Duran’s Resurrection. However, I’ve since learned that there is a segment of Christendom that apparently believes any inner leading of the Holy Spirit that can’t be confirmed by Scripture is evidence of Gnosticism.

In other words, if I pray and ask God for direction regarding a career change or for leading in ministry choices, the leading that I then might claim would be considered as some kind of esoteric knowledge that we can’t actually obtain. What, then, I ask, does the Holy Spirit do?

If we strip Him of His gifts and of His function to guide us, is His work as our Comforter next? Or as the Person who convicts of sin?

Ah, someone may well say, the Spirit does guide us—into Truth. He brings Scripture to mind, but He doesn’t tell us what toothpaste to buy. Fair enough. I believe that too. But I also believe when we pray something akin to the lines Jesus modeled for us—lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—that the Holy Spirit answers quite specifically.

Why wouldn’t He? Jesus demonstrated great concern for the details of people’s lives—if they had enough food or wine, if they had a sick mother-in-law or daughter, if they had money for taxes or gave their last coin as an offering, if they were married or blind, if they had dirty feet, or an inappropriate desire to be first in His kingdom. He cared for the most marginalized members of society—lepers, women, children, the disabled, the demon possessed. He touched, cleansed, raised up, healed, and taught. And He told His disciples it would be better for them after He left.

Better?

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7 — emphasis mine).

Honestly, I’m really ignorant about the Holy Spirit. But one thing I learned early on in my Christian life—that the presence of the Holy Spirit is one way we can be assured of our salvation: “We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24b).

Of equal importance, John went on to say in the next chapter that we need to test the spirits: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

So there’s the dilemma with which the Christian lives—the Spirit might be guiding us, but what we think is of God might be false. The fact is, we need discernment.

We are told not to quench the Spirit. How do we not quench the Spirit if we don’t recognize His voice? And if we say He only speaks what He’s already spoken in Scripture, isn’t that already a form of quenching Him?

Jesus said something amazing to His disciples: If you want that mountain tossed into the sea, pray believing and it will happen (Mark 11:22-24). Except . . . how do I know if I should pray for the mountain to be tossed into the sea? Isn’t that sort of a Big Deal, one that could affect countless other people? Shouldn’t I be sure that moving the mountain is what God wants? Or do I just willy-nilly pray for whatever I think might be a solution to the things I’m concerned for and then see what sticks—the old spaghetti-against-the-wall trick. (When I was a kid, I did pray for a mountain to be moved, except I knew I didn’t really believe it would, so figured that was a failed experiment since I didn’t meet the condition 🙄 ).

My point here is this. Jesus gave a very specific something to pray, something we can’t know is His will by looking into Scripture. We can find principles that can guide us, but from that point is it up to us to make the decision what specifically we should pray, or ought we not expect the Holy Spirit to guide us, nudge us, disquiet us, urge us, focus us, wake us, stir us? Ultimately, do we not experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives more often because we’ve become so skeptical we aren’t looking for Him to be active?

Published in: on November 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 Comments

  1. Becky, for this one reader, this is a timely post. When I was a baby Christian, our pastor’s wife encouraged me to pray for the Spirit’s infilling and His best gifts. What is best, I believe, is any gift He chooses to impart. Now, we attend a church that teaches that the gifts have ceased now that the Canon of Scripture has been completed. The best thing to do is to think all of this through rationally, prayerfully; not discounting anything the Word of God teaches, to be open to all that it teaches, and to pray and act and explain our beliefs in a loving way.

    I believe that the gifts haven’t ceased yet–the Spirit of God (Whom I too would like to know better) decides the who, what, where, why, when of His precious gifts. We can and should ask for His good things, for the good of His Church, but it is His will that is to be done in the final analysis.

    There is a lot that can be said here. There are dangers along a spectrum and in extremes.

    Thanks for bringing all of this up for discussion! Who is He, this perfect One, Whom we have the privilege of knowing? He is also identified as the Spirit of Christ. All of this is difficult, deep waters, because He is so great, and we always miss the mark.

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  2. Ten years ago, I would have laughed and scoffed at this post. That was before the Holy Spirit entered my body and permeated my whole being. I was a scientist, but I have no way of explaining what happened. I just KNOW that it happened and at that moment I knew I had been changed into a new creation – a new being – a new man. That was intensely joyful. It was freeing. The Person I call the Holy Spirit of Jesus is indescribable, yet I continually try to. “He” dwells in me, and He wells up in me. He guides me by stepping forward out of me just a moment before I step into Him again, and by that process I’m drawn along and my path is adjusted to His lead. He also speaks to me in my spirit in a voice and in ways that are tuned, trimmed, tailored, and timed just for me. The gift of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit overshadow any and all I have ever received. People who call this esoteric, or Gnosticism, are limiting God. They are also missing out. It is the Holy Spirit of Jesus who will ultimately lead me to the thrones of the Father and the Son. That is an important piece of my testimony and I’m gratefully standing upon it.

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  3. Ha ha, I get ‘lost’ in the Spirit and forgot to say: Great post, Rebecca!
    You inspire me.

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  4. Moving mountains isn’t difficult for the creator of the universe. A mustard’s seed of faith on our part is what’s difficult. I often wonder how the presence of God could indwell us and we not constantly know, feel, or experience Him. Sometimes we walk aimlessly about, despite a myriad of prayers. It seems like God’s nudge should be like a tidal wave and His small voice like thunder. I guess then we wouldn’t need discernment – but we’d have an abundance of assurance.

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    • So true about the mountains and mustard seed, Bob. That’s why I like the father’s cry, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

      I tend to think we quench the Holy Spirit a lot more than we realize. We don’t ask Him for much and don’t expect much when we do ask. I listen to a couple wonderful pastors on the radio. They are Biblical and true, yet the amount of time they spend at the end of their programs asking for money versus asking for prayer is probably 100 to 1. Why is that? As I see it, we think people will come through and meet our needs, God … it’s a pretty risky proposition to, you know, rely on Him in prayer. But if we really believed God moved and worked in people’s hearts, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask people to pray that God would raise up supporters, instead of asking them to be supporters? How many more listeners and financial partners would God bring through the work of His Holy Spirit if we would ask for prayer instead of money?

      That’s just one example. I have lived most of my life reliant less on God and more on myself and other people. It’s not an easy thing to turn around, but I get glimpses of what life could be like dependent on God in an abandoned, free-fall sort of way. I think that’s what He wants. It’s Gideon going against a thousands of thousands with three hundred men, and God. It’s teenage David going against seasoned warrior—nine feet tall, no less—Goliath with stones, and God.

      The smaller we are, I think, the great God will show Himself to be, but only if we ask.

      Becky

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  5. I really like the passage about the Holy Spirit translating our prayers when we don’t know what to pray for in groans words can’t express. I’m so glad that God understands, even when I can’t make sense of it myself. All the more reason to throw myself on Him and His goodness.

    Great post!

    ~Luke

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    • Luke, that’s one of my favorite things about the Holy Spirit. There are times I feel at wit’s end and can only cry out the need, with no idea what would make it better (not that I’d be right even if I did have some idea what course of action should be taken). I love that the Holy Spirit makes sense of my wailings and ramblings.

      I love the fact that He wants us to be involved in His work through prayer and through service and obedience. He doesn’t need us, but He blesses us when we give to Him through service, so I suspect that’s why He wants us to be a part of His work.

      Becky

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  6. I know what you mean. I forget the Holy Spirit until I pray and get answer. The answer to our prayers are very personal to ourselves. Most times people won’t understand anyway. My husband and I prayed for two years regarding whether or not to try other means for having children. When we figured out that we weren’t meant to have children, many disagreed. They wanted us to have children and tried to influence, claiming our answer was simply heresy or emotion.

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    • I think it’s pretty hard to explain to people how we know what God is telling us. And honestly, I understand. I’m often skeptical when other people say that they’re doing what God wants. There are so many abuses of God’s name—people saying they are doing this or that because He “told them to.” I don’t know if we are to test the spirits for other people, though. That might be something we’re supposed to do only as it relates to us.

      If that’s true, then I could assume someone like you, Nikole, who cares deeply for God and His word, wouldn’t be saying He “spoke to you” if He hadn’t. Someone else who has a disregard for the Bible and seeks God through some esoteric means—that’s a different story.

      In other words, (and I’m saying this “out loud” so I can figure it out) I can’t know if God is speaking through His Holy Spirit to someone else, but I can know their attitude toward Scripture which tells me a lot about their belief about the Spirit and therefore their interaction with the Spirit.

      The one thing we can’t do (and I hear it all too frequently) is assume that God isn’t in something if it doesn’t go the way I think it should. In your case that would be your decision to not pursue other means to have children. Because other people would do it differently does not mean God is bound to do it their way. He does what He knows is right and good for you and your husband and what He has called you to do.

      Great point. Thanks for emphasizing this personal aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work.

      Becky

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  7. Yes, our answers are personal, which helps us see that a Person is answering us! God’s Spirit is a Person. His answers are part of our relationship with Him. Others can cause doubt and pain, but we get it that He has answered. Lord bless you and your husband!!

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  8. Great comments, all. Maria, I find it interesting that you’ve been in church situations from both sides. You undoubtedly have a better perspective than I do on the subject.

    In reading Scripture, I just don’t see how we can justify the idea that some of the Spirit’s gifts aren’t for today. But I also don’t see how anyone can say we all must have the same gift. Both positions seem to contradict passages on the subject.

    What I think we must be cautious of is looking for an experience of God as opposed to looking for God.

    Becky

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  9. Great comment, Len. Thanks for sharing your own experience. You said

    He also speaks to me in my spirit in a voice and in ways that are tuned, trimmed, tailored, and timed just for me.

    I love that! It is so true to my own experience, though I still struggle from time to time with knowing if it’s His voice or my wishful thinking. I’ve mistakenly thought I was hearing from God before. But then there are times it feels like He’s shouted. I’ve come awake as a result to pray for someone before. I’ve slowed my car because of His shout, and avoided hitting a pedestrian. Other things.

    But I’m not looking to hear God’s voice like that. I feel that’s a byproduct, a bonus, not the sum of my relationship with God.

    What I’m mostly struck with in thinking about the Holy Spirit, though, is how much more He wants to be involved in my life than what I ask of Him.

    Becky

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