The Spirit Filled Life and Church

Jesus on the last day of the feast “cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” (John 7:37-39). Then in John 20 he breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Receive in the Greek means, receive now, at this moment.

Then in Ephesians we are commanded to, “Ever be filled and stimulated with the (Holy) Spirit.” Eph 5:18 AMP

Throughout the book of Acts there are various ‘initial’ experiences of the Spirit

• Disciples at Pentecost Acts 2,
• Samaritans – Acts 8,
• Saul/Paul – Acts 9,
• Cornelius (Gentiles) – Acts 10
• Ephesus – Acts 19

In fact throughout the New Testament you see not only initial experiences but an ongoing experience of the Spirit, a dynamic of life about the church. As Larry Tomczac put it some years ago, “Remove the pages from the book of Acts where supernatural activity is recorded and there’s hardly anything left!” Larry Tomczak, Beyond the Ordinary – A Supernatural Lifestyle, Restoration Magazine, July/August 1990, Harvestime Publications, Leicester.

Lloyd-Jones said, “The essence of the Christian position is experience – experience of God! It is not a mere intellectual awareness or apprehension of truth.” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Ephesians Chapter 6:10-13 – The Christian Warfare, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh (1976) – (p197).

“The Spirit is thus the empowering Presence of God for living the life of God in the present”. Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, Hodders, p183.

Cessation leads to Form

Such experiences of the Spirit were the normal part of church life for the first eight centuries of its life. They were the very soul of the church, take them away and you have a body, a form, a structure. Excesses crept in, theological balance was sought, but the balance tipped too far in the other direction, and such experiences of the Spirit began to die out and the church became institutionalised. Form became everything. There was no longer any expectation of such dynamic experiences. And when the experience is not there it’s not long before you start to look for a theological reason to justify it, and so we arrived at cessationism, the doctrine that it all ended with the apostles and the close of the canon of Scripture.

Lloyd-Jones said, “If your doctrine of the Holy Spirit does not leave any room for revival, then you cannot expect this kind of thing. If you say the baptism of the Spirit was once and for all on Pentecost and all who are regenerated are just made partakers of that, then there is no room left for this objective coming, this repetition, this falling of the Holy Spirit in power and authority on a church. But thank God – there is room left! The teaching of Scripture plus the long history of the Christian church shows this so clearly.” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, Kingsway Books, Eastbourne, p44o.

Praise God there have always been people who are hungry for the reality, and so there have been revivals, fresh outpourings of the Spirit, new manifestations of His presence and power.

Symbols & Expressions

One of our difficulties is the various overlapping terminologies/metaphors/descriptions referring to the work of the Spirit, sometimes even the same experience, e.g. baptism (immersion), filling, fell upon, poured out, wind, fire, etc.. Here we tread on holy ground for we are talking of the third person of the Trinity, and it reveals something of the inadequacy of human language to express the activity of the Holy Spirit.

We need to remember that God is not a formula, and though the Bible reveals much about God, there is also a measure of Mystery. This is where absolute doctrinal precision can become a snare – the Pharisees sought doctrinal precision and when Jesus came they didn’t recognise him.

The dynamic fact is that this whole range of symbols and expressions enables us to know and understand something of the variegated or multi-faceted work of the Spirit.

“Whatever the expression – “baptism” or “outpouring” or otherwise – reference is thereby made to a dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit which results in a new sense of God’s Presence and power, various charismata becoming manifest and the emergence of a different style of life. These things are possible only through the event of the Spirit”. J Rodman Williams, The Pentecostal Reality, 1972, Logos, p14.

The Scriptures command and us to ‘be filled and stimulated with the Spirit’ and to ‘come & drink,’ & ‘receive’ both of which are experential activities.

The essential qualification is not a more sanctified life, but hunger & thirst for God (not the experience), a coming in repentance and faith (Galatians 3). Faith to receive … Faith which comes by hearing and responding to the Word. Is it time for a fresh encounter? Will you come and drink?

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