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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 1)

The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 1)
The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)
The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 3)
The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 4)



Introduction

(Note to the Reader: Arguments in this study presuppose the conclusions established in our article series on the Charismatic Movement as well as certain portions of our article series on Spiritual Warfare. As such, we recommend reading those series first before continuing with this study.)

The primary focus of this study is to determine what role we can truly expect the Holy Spirit to play in our daily lives. Included in this investigation will be such areas as the role that the Holy Spirit might have in determining correct doctrine, convicting us of sin, or showing us what decisions we should make in particular situations of life that the Bible doesn't speak to specifically. And, of course, along the way we will also be identifying wrong perceptions of the Holy Spirit's role in such matters.

In particular, we will be examining the extent to which certain perceptions of the Holy Spirit's role might effectively replace the Bible as the primary indicator for what we should do or believe. There are many ways that this can take shape.

Perhaps most commonly, the Bible might be viewed as too complex and confusing so that we cannot be certain about what it means or teaches in practical terms. Or, the Bible might be viewed as insufficient because it only deals with general items and does not tell us what to do in specific situations like who to marry, what to do for a living, where to live, or any of the other specific decisions that we have to make throughout our day to day lives. Since the Bible doesn't speak about those specific decisions, we need a word or direction from the Holy Spirit to govern these more specific situations. Also, in some cases, the Bible might be viewed as "the dead and dry written word" so that you need a "fresh, living word from God for the now."

Of course, it should be said that we, the authors of these articles, do not hold to any of the views described in the paragraph above. These are simply articulations for the point of laying out the task before us. Please take note that in this study we will be treating inward leadings from the Holy Spirit as hypothetical. As such, throughout this study we will simply make references to "leadings from the Holy Spirit" without placing disclaimers in the immediate context. Please do not take the lack of qualifying disclaimers as an affirmation of such leadings from the Holy Spirit. Please take them instead as hypothetical, which is how they are intended.

One of the underlying issues here deals with the issues of replacing objectivity with subjectivity in moral, doctrinal, and practical day-to-day matters. So, at this point, it would probably be a good idea to take a look at the definitions for those two words. (Both definitions below are from The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000.)

subjective
ADJECTIVE:
1a. Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
1b. Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.
2. Moodily introspective.
3. Existing only in the mind; illusory.
4. Psychology Existing only within the experiencer's mind.

objective
ADJECTIVE:
1. Of or having to do with a material object.
2. Having actual existence or reality.
3a. Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices: an objective critic.
3b. Based on observable phenomena; presented factually: an objective appraisal.

The Bible is an object that exists outside of our minds. Its contents, its words, its phrases, its composition, the underlying original manuscripts - everything about it can be viewed and analyzed by anyone and everyone. Conclusions about it can be compared and evaluated based upon agreed upon criteria. All of these factors make the Bible an objective means for determining truth.

But the leading of the Holy Spirit is inherently subjective in nature. Whether manifesting as feelings, words in our thoughts, or strong impressions of some kind, the contents and meaning of each prompting are experienced and evaluated only by the individual recipient. Because these leadings occur in the mind or heart of each individual, no one else has access to the content or character of these leadings. And, therefore, no one else can evaluate them or even perceive them. All of these things make inward leadings of the Holy Spirit a subjective truth standard, because the only access to them is in the mind of each individual. And when a truth standard can only be accessed in the mind of each individual, then each individual Christian effectively becomes his or her own authority of truth and morality.

As can be seen, the matters under investigation here are of the greatest importance because these questions deal with what fills the role of the Christian's authority in matters of truth, morality, and even conscience. Are such things as truth and morality determined by things that we hear and feel in our hearts and minds? Or are these things determined by what we read in the Bible? (Or perhaps a combination of the two.) And which one should we turn to and rely upon first and most often, what we hear or feel in our hearts and minds or what we read in the Bible? Likewise, in seeking to answer the question of what role the Holy Spirit plays in our individual decision-making, we will also be attempting to understand and reconcile the relationship between the role of the Holy Spirit and the role of the Bible.



Organization

To some extent, it will be difficult to cover this topic systematically largely due to the fact that the doctrinal concepts involved are not systematically established. In the New Testament there are passages describing the role of the Holy Spirit in drawing all men, in the rebirth, in distributing the charismatic gifts, in helping us testify of Jesus Christ, in teaching us truth, and in helping us develop the fruit of the Spirit. However, doctrines regarding how the Holy Spirit leads us inwardly through words, thoughts, impressions, hesitations, feelings of peace, desires, etc. are drawn from a variety of isolated passages, often without drawing a broader, systematic connection between them.

Of course, our goal is to be as orderly and systematic as possible in our investigation. Since that is the case, we will cover this topic in a manner consistent with the way it these doctrines are often discussed or asserted.

To be more specific, doctrines regarding inward leading by the Holy Spirit are often supported or conveyed in terms of popularized phrases derived from similar phrases in scripture. These phrases from scripture become technical phrases that signify the entire underlying perception that has been attached to them in modern Christian circles. For example, the phrase "We are to be led by the Spirit of God" originates from similar-sounding statements found in scripture. This phrase and the related scripture then also function as the support structure for the idea that Christians should be directed by inward leadings from the Holy Spirit, without further consideration of the context of the scriptural passages where such phrases originate.

Since this is typically the way in which such doctrines are asserted and supported, we believe that the most efficient and systematic way to examine this topic is according to the common phrases typically used to sum up and asset them. This will allow us to look at each various form of these doctrines of inward leaning and to analyze their scriptural support one by one and up close. Of course, along the way we hope to not only discard anything that cannot be supported in scripture but also to build up a sound understanding of what role the Holy Spirit does play in the daily lives of individual believes.

Having said that, here are some of the most common phrases and articulations used to assert and support the various formulations of the doctrine that one role of the Holy Spirit is to guide Christian decision-making with regard to moral behavior, doctrine, and even practical living issues by means of inward promptings of one kind or another.

1.) The Holy Spirit guides us through words of wisdom, words of knowledge, and prophecy.
2.) The Holy Spirit gives us supernatural discernment.
3.) The Holy Spirit gives us the right words to speak.
4.) Let the Peace of God reign in our hearts.
5.) The sons of God are led by the Spirit of God.
6.) The Holy Spirit testifies to us inwardly.
7.) The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.
8.) The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth.
9.) Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.

For simplicity, from this point forward we will refer to these as our 9 constructs.

As we can see, all of these phrases contain a notable similarity to familiar scripture passages. But does that mean the modern doctrines that many people imply when they say these phrases are true, just because they sound so similar to scripture? That is a question we'll have to answer as we proceed ahead. But, at least simply on the surface, we can see how any number of these phrases seems to lend itself greatly to supporting the doctrine that Christian decision-making about morality, doctrine, and practical daily issues are to be determined by inward leadings from the Holy Spirit.

We now turn our attention to examining these constructs one by one and to examining the scripture verses that each one reflects and appeals to for support.



Words Of Wisdom, Words Of Knowledge, And Prophecy

Construct No. 1: The Holy Spirit guides us through words of wisdom, words of knowledge, and prophecy.

The primary implication of this first construct is that to some extent our acceptance or rejection of individual behaviors and doctrine as well as our response to certain people, circumstances, and opportunities should be and can be determined by means of words of wisdom, words of knowledge, or the operation of a prophetic gift given by the Holy Spirit. Support for this notion comes in two basic forms from scripture. First, there are passages of scripture, which plainly teach about charismatic gifts such as these. Second, there are passages of scripture where we see these gifts in operation during a historic account involving historic figures.

Instructions about these gifts can be found in the following New Testament passages: 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12:4-9, Ephesians 4:11-12, and 1 John 4:1-3. New Testament passages recording specific events where these particular gifts were in operation through historic figures include: Acts 8:29, Acts 11:27-28, Acts 13:2, Acts 16:6-7, Acts 19:6, Acts 21:8-12, Acts 22:21, and John's writing of the Book of Revelation. Perhaps certain events and phenomena in Jesus' ministry as recorded in the Gospels might also provide examples of these gifts in operation.

Of all these passages, perhaps the most direct support for this first construct comes from Paul's instructions about charismatic gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

As we can see, the support for Construct No. 2 and the gift of discernment comes from this passage as well. We will examine that more in our next section, but for now we will focus only on the phrases, "word of wisdom," "word of knowledge," and "prophecy."

There is no argument with regard to whether or not such things occurred in the early Church of the first few centuries. As a matter of historic record, these gifts did occur at that time. But, in short, the main problem with using this passage to support the doctrine that the Holy Spirit leads Christians in their decision-making today, is that these gifts stopped occurring sometime during the late second or perhaps third century AD.

We have established this conclusion in exhaustive detail in our article series on the Charismatic Movement, so we will not spend any time arguing those points again in this current study. As such, reading and understanding the arguments presented in our Charismatic article series is a necessary prerequisite to this series. We strongly recommend reading those articles first before continuing since the points addressed in this study presuppose the conclusions of our Charismatic study.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the notable, widespread, and documented absence of these gifts in the historical record since the second and third centuries, a person cannot simply assume that his or her own internal feelings and impressions are manifestations of these long-absent gifts. First, a person would have to explain how they acquired these gifts, how these gifts were passed to them, and from whom. The inescapable significance of such questions is also expounded in greater detail in our Charismatic article series. And consequently, assuming credibility to our own inner feelings and impressions, without first considering these questions, would be unjustified, ignorant, and hasty to say the least.

And not only is this the case concerning such gifts as healing or other miracles, but it is even more an issue regarding inward leadings from the Holy Spirit. At least a miraculous healing or a multiplication of loaves and fishes, for example, can be observed and verified by others. But whether or not a person's own inner feelings or impressions are supernatural in origin is entirely a matter of his or her own assessment since no one else has access to the character or nature of the inner leadings that each individual receives in his or her own heart and thoughts.

Now, if the inner leadings were specific, could be expressed in particular words, and were always 100 percent accurate to the letter then we would have something that could be observed by others and verified. But when the inner leading are merely vague feelings or only partially accurate at best, then the supernatural origin of these impressions is suspect and, furthermore, whether or not it is supernatural is strictly a matter of the individual recipient's own assessment. Unfortunately, vagueness and inaccuracy typify the inner leadings that are commonplace today.

And while passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 most certainly demonstrate that members of the early Church did receive guidance by the Holy Spirit through words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and prophecy, that by itself does not automatically mean that our own inner thoughts and feelings are supernaturally led.

The formulation that "The early Church received words of knowledge, therefore, my own inner impressions should be accepted as divine guidance from the Holy Spirit," is a completely unfounded non sequitur. A non sequitur is a type of logical error whose name is derived from a Latin phrase, which means, "it does not follow." In this case, the idea that my own inner impressions are from God does not follow from the simple fact that the early Church received words of knowledge and such from God.

In short, it is nothing more than circular reasoning to assume that your own inner feelings and impressions are authentic manifestations of New Testament supernatural gifts and then to appeal to New Testament teaching as evidence that these inner impressions are supernatural. The bottom line is that appeals to 1 Corinthians 12, and all of the other passage where the supernatural gifts are discussed, do not in any way substantiate a person's own assessment that their inner feelings and impressions are the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Nor do such passages provide any help in determining what the role the Holy Spirit plays in our decision-making regarding behavior, doctrine, and practical daily living during a period of history when words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and prophecy have passed away.

Furthermore, the use of the phrase "word of knowledge" and "word of wisdom" with regard to these spiritual gifts strongly indicates that those two gifts manifest in the form of words from the Holy Spirit, which could be recorded clearly word for word, as we see in such passages as Acts 8:29 and Acts 13:2. Because these 2 gifts are called "words," we cannot use the existence of these gifts in the New Testament to support the idea of being led through feelings or impressions. Instead, we would expect them to be "words" or "statements" rather than feelings or impressions.

Since references to the occurrence of words of wisdom, words of knowledge, and prophecy during the first two centuries do not, on their own, provide substantiation for modern doctrines that our inner feelings and impressions can be considered leadings from the Holy Spirit, we will move on to the next construct, the gift of discernment.



Supernatural Discernment

Construct No. 2: The Holy Spirit gives us supernatural discernment.

The main issue with this second construct is identical to Construct No. 1. We could have easily included the concept of supernatural discernment in the previous section. However, we wanted to single it out so that we could make a few more specific points concerning misunderstandings about this specific supernatural gift.

Here again is the main passage articulating this spiritual gift.

1 Corinthians 12: 4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Once again, there are two types of passages regarding this gift. There are passages such as 1 Corinthians 12, which provide instructions about the gift. And there are other passages, such as Acts 16:16-18 and even perhaps other accounts in the Gospels during the life of Jesus, where we see this gift in operation through historic figures.

In the modern context, this gift is used to assert that the Holy Spirit guides us in decision-making with regard to people, situations, moral behavior, and even doctrine by giving us supernatural discernment in such matters. In other words, by the working of the Holy Spirit we can know whether or not a person, situation, behavior, or even a doctrine is good or bad supernaturally without having to rationally investigate or analyze the situation. It is suggested that this discernment takes the form of some sort of inward prompting, feeling, or perhaps even direct statements.

There are 2 problems with using the gift of discernment as support for inward leadings of the Holy Spirit. First and foremost, just like Construct No. 1, in the wake of the notable, widespread, and documented absence of these gifts in the historical record since the second and third centuries, a person cannot simply assume that his or her own internal feelings and impressions are manifestations of the long-absent gift of discernment. The bottom line is that appeals to 1 Corinthians 12, and all of the other passage where the gift of discernment is discussed, do not in any way substantiate a person's own assessment that their inner feelings and impressions are the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

Second, it is inaccurate to call this the "gift of discernment." Calling this gift by the title of "gift of discernment" implies that a person with this gift could exercise supernatural discernment with regard to a broad range of things. However, that is not the most accurate title for the gift.

1 Corinthians 12: 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

The real title for this gift is "discerning of spirits," just as it is written in 1 Corinthians 12. This gift did not pertain to supernaturally discerning all kinds of things like behavior, human motives, whether or not a relationship or situation would be good or bad, or even doctrine. This supernatural gift dealt only with the ability to discern if a person or a prophet was possessed by an evil spirit. From this fact we learn several significant items.

First, in the New Testament, demonic possession involved either one or both of the following characteristics. Either the evil spirit would take over as the conscious operating will within the body in a visible way or the evil spirit would manifest some sort of long-term or debilitating illness, often including seizures. (For more information about this, please visit our study on Spiritual Warfare, which thoroughly establishes this conclusion.) And because demonic possession in the New Testament always involved at least one of these two traits, it is not accurate to assert that someone is demon-possessed in cases where neither of these traits is exhibited. Furthermore, because the gift of discernment is about discerning evil spirits, this gift does not provide support for the idea of supernaturally discerning people's motives or character in situations where the person involved does NOT exhibit one of these two traits of demonic possession.

Second, since Christians are, by definition, filled with the Holy Spirit and, therefore, cannot be possessed, there is no way that the gift of discernment can be used to substantiate alleged supernatural abilities to discern things about Christians, including Christian doctrine, or even why Christians believe or talk certain doctrines.

In closing this section, the clear conclusion is that nothing about the gift of discernment of spirits substantiates the modern doctrine that Christians can exercise supernatural discernment regarding people's motives, other Christian's motives, correct and incorrect moral behavior, correct and incorrect doctrine, or whether or not particular relationship or situations would be good or bad for us.

We will move on to the next construct, "The Holy Spirit gives us the right words to speak."



Giving Us the Right Words

Construct No. 3: The Holy Spirit gives us the right words to speak.

Because of overarching concerns regarding the Charismatic gifts, we have chosen to deal first with constructs having to do with appeals to passages about such supernatural gifts. Having established the problem with appealing to the Charismatic gifts to support modern notions about being led by inner promptings from the Holy Spirit, we can now turn our attention to some of the other ways such doctrines are asserted and supported.

As we begin to move away from constructs that directly appeal to the charismatic gifts, one good place to start when investigating the role of the Holy Spirit would be Jesus' own teachings in the Gospels on this subject.

A quick survey of the Gospels reveals that the word "Spirit" occurs 85 times. Of these 85 times, 11 of those times speak concerning the Holy Spirit and the rebirth. Some of these 11 are teachings from John the Baptist, while others are from Jesus. 4 verses declare the consequence of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Another 38 of verses are references to other spirits and not the Holy Spirit. Among these 85, there are 15 also passages that describe specific actions of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, such as the incarnation or the descent upon him in the form of a dove. Additionally, 2 verses refer to prophetic statements made by King David by the Holy Spirit, 1 verse refers to John the Baptist's father Zecharias prophesying, 2 verses refer to John the Baptist being full of the Holy Spirit, and 3 verses describe Simeon, the old prophet who was told he would not die until the Messiah came. There is also 1 verse about worshipping God in spirit and in truth and 1 verse about Jesus' words being spirit and life. That equals a total of 78.

This leaves only 7 verses in the Gospels where Jesus himself teaches about the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers beyond the rebirth. These instructions from Jesus himself, including instructions about the rebirth, form the basis of the apostles' later teachings about the primary role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers. This we intend to show in detail throughout this study.

Of these 7 remaining verses, only 3 of them pertain to the construct we are currently examining. We will return to the other 4 verses in a later section of our study. For now, we will focus on the 3 passages from the Gospels where Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit giving us the right words to speak.

Matthew 10: 18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.

Mark 13: 9 But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. 10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. 12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.

Luke 12: 11 And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: 12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.

As can be seen, in these passages, Jesus instructs his followers that when they are testifying before religious rulers and political authorities, God will give them the words to say by the power of the Holy Spirit. For the sake of argument we will not address the question of whether or not these passages refer to only the apostles or can be more broadly applied to all of us. And while this can certainly be defined as a role performed by the Holy Spirit in the life of individual believers after the rebirth, it really doesn't provide any support for the Holy Spirit's role in daily decisions regarding morality, doctrine, or the practical issues of daily life.

The reason for this is simple. The role of the Holy Spirit depicted in these passages does not in any way pertain to our normal, day-to-day lives and the ordinary situations we encounter in daily living. Instead, these passages describe a role that the Holy Spirit would perform if we were to find ourselves in the unique situation of standing before religious or political rulers. Therefore, nothing in these passages provides any instruction regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in the ordinary affairs of the believer, including our decision-making about moral behavior, doctrine, and the practical issues of daily living.

However, these passages do clearly deal with the role of the Holy Spirit concerning our offering testimony. The role of the Holy Spirit in these passages is to aid us in testifying before unbelievers, not to aid us in decision-making on any level. So, even though these passages offer no support for the idea of inward leadings from the Holy Spirit to guide us in decisions about morality, doctrine, and daily living, we can conclude from these passages that the Holy Spirit does fill the role of providing us with the right words to speak when we testify before rulers. (We will return to this point later on in our study.) However, if this function of providing the right words to speak occurred as part of certain charismatic gifts such as words of wisdom, words of knowledge, or even prophecy, then we should conclude that this ability is no longer available to us at this point in time given the notable, widespread, and documented absence of these gifts in the historical record since the second and third centuries.

Since these 3 verses provide no support for the modern doctrine that our inner feelings and impressions can be considered leadings from the Holy Spirit, we will move on to the next construct: Let the Peace of God reign in our hearts.