What comes to mind when someone tells you about a “Spirit-filled” church they just visited? Or what is your response if someone asks you if your church is a “Spirit-filled” church? For many of us, that term brings to mind a certain kind of worship experience, or an emphasis on certain gifts of the Spirit, that has either positive or negative associations. For some, it is equated with genuine spiritual passion. But for others, it is equated with an elevation of emotion and experience over Scripture.
All of this confusion reminds us that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit has suffered both from sensationalism and neglect. For some, the work of the Holy Spirit is reduced to certain outward manifestations and experiences. In this view, the way we know if the Holy Spirit is at work is if people are speaking in tongues, or prophesying, or having ecstatic experiences in worship. But this overly sensationalizes the work of the Spirit and risks missing the primary ministry of the Spirit, according to Scripture.
On the other hand, some have de-emphasized the person and work of the Holy Spirit out of fear that it will lead to an over-emphasis on experience. They may even get uncomfortable with too much talk about the Holy Spirit, or praying directly to the Holy Spirit, thinking that this will lead themselves and others to become “too charismatic.” Individuals and churches governed by this fear will often neglect the person and work of the Holy Spirit to their own detriment.
Scripture teaches us that the Holy Spirit is at the center of both creation and redemption. The Holy Spirit is God. He created all things. He is the One who inspired Scripture and illuminates our reading of it. He regenerates us out of spiritual deadness, making us alive in Christ. He convicts us of sin and sanctifies us. He empowers us for ministry and gives each of us gifts to use for God’s glory. He seals our adoptions as God’s sons and daughters. He ensures our perseverance. He indwells us personally.
This Sunday we will look at Jesus’ central teaching on the Holy Spirit in John 14:15-27; 15:26-16:15. I encourage you to read these passages over the next couple of days. Write down everything Jesus says about what the Holy Spirit will do when He is sent. What does Jesus tell us about the Spirit’s ministry? These passages in John 14-16 will be an anchor for us as we embark on this study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit over the next 15 weeks or so.
I pray that as a result of this study we will grow in our understanding of and dependence upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I pray that when we think of the Holy Spirit our first response will be neither sensationalism nor willful neglect, but thanksgiving and worship!