Tough Questions About the Spirit (Part 2)

This week we are continuing to ask and answer some tough questions about the Holy Spirit. We’ll explore things like whether the gift of healing is still active today, if there is a right or wrong way to pray, and how the Spirit can show up in our day-to-day. Join us for part two as we look directly at these challenging questions about the Spirit.

Last week we began working through tough questions about the Holy Spirit, and today we continue that.

So, a word about our purpose today.

This is not about looking for ammunition to win arguments or debates.

We’re seeking truth… and we’re seeking to know the Spirit together.

It’s possible that some people can get some of their ideas about the Holy Spirit wrong, but be so open and tender and submissive that they’re used by the Holy Spirit.

And it’s possible that some people can get a lot of their ideas about the Holy Spirit right, but become arrogant and judgmental and proud.

And our goal is to get both the right ideas and the right heart.

And what we embark on now is a great test for us as a church.

I’m going to ask that we look at this material in a humble spirit — not trying to straighten someone else out, but just to be led and taught by the Spirit himself.

So like we did last week, we’re going to simply work through a series of questions today.

It’s really one question we’ll work through today, with several questions related to the primary question, which is this:

How do we discern the presence and work of the Holy Spirit?

What’s the litmus test for the presence of the Spirit?
How do you know for sure that the Holy Spirit is present in someone’s life?

And under this question I want to say a few words about speaking in tongues.

There are some churches, as I mentioned last week, who say that’s just not for today at all.

There are other churches, other Christians, who say, “Not only is it for today, it is the litmus test of someone’s salvation. It’s the litmus test for the presence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life.”

Now, we as a church do not take either one of those two positions.

Let me say something about classical Pentecostalism.

A key belief in classical Pentecostalism is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an experience separate from conversion, that it always comes after conversion, and that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.

The Pentecostal church believes that if you haven’t spoken in tongues, you haven’t been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to hell — you might go to heaven, but you haven’t been baptized by the Holy Spirit. That’s the teaching.

And, in fact, in this day, in classical Pentecostal traditions, you can’t be a pastor if you haven’t spoken in tongues.

I was a pastor at a church where the senior pastor came out of a tradition like this. He said that he had to sign a covenant stating that he had spoken in tongues within the last year and he had to sign a new covenant each year.

He also told me that he had never legitimately spoken in tongues before.

He told me he would fake it and sign the covenant so that he could remain a pastor in the church.

In fact, according to a Gallup Poll of people who labeled themselves Charismatic or Pentecostal — only 17 percent have ever spoken in tongues.

Now, we talked last week about the phrase, “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and what it means.

It was used seven times, and it always refers to God pouring out the Spirit at Pentecost.

We started the message last week by reading the story of Pentecost where people were gathered together from all over the world, and there was a little group of people who were waiting on God in humble dependence.

And their desire was to build a community with God’s help. And the Spirit came, and we’re told there were people from every nation under heaven.

Luke, the writer of Acts, wrote in Acts 2:6:

When they heard this sound, [these men speaking] a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 2:6)

See, now Luke is being very deliberate in the picture he’s painting. People who had been scattered are now gathered in one place. People who could not communicate now understand each other.

And God’s dream for community, for the oneness of the human race, gets reborn.

And what is so tragically ironic is that this gift of tongues, an indication of God’s desire for oneness — the oneness of the Spirit — becomes itself a divisive issue in the Church.

You need to know that 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 are written primarily because the church was being torn apart at Corinth, because people had a divisive, arrogant spirit when it came to spiritual gifts and who was more mature spiritually.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:29:

Are all apostles?

And, of course, the expected answer to each question here is no. “Are all apostles?” No, just some.

Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

And the answer to each one of these questions is no.

Now there’s some disagreement here, but it appears that when Paul in this passage talks about speaking in tongues, he’s not referring to a supernatural ability to speak a foreign language you haven’t learned. He’s talking about a private prayer language between an individual and God.

Paul’s concern is that Corinth is divided because people think there are certain gifts that are more spectacular, and therefore are greater signs of spiritual maturity.

And especially they focused on tongues.

Therefore, they used what was a good gift, tongues, in a divisive way, in a disorderly way, making that the focal point of services and becoming quite disruptive.

In the 14th chapter, Paul sets real careful boundaries for the church at Corinth about the gift of tongues.

But really you can sum up his whole teaching in 1 Corinthians 13.

1 Corinthians 13 is probably the most popular Scripture to read at wedding services, but it’s real context is it was addressed to people in a church who were divided over spiritual gifts and who was really spiritual.

And Paul is settling this question — How do you measure true spirituality? How do you measure the presence of the Spirit?

Look at 1 Corinthians 13:1:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

These are such sobering words for every one of us in the church.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.

Of course he’s describing the Spirit there.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (1 Corinthians 13:1-4)

That’s the Spirit.

What’s the litmus test for spiritual maturity, for the presence of the Spirit, according to Paul?


Now let me ask you a question. Where do you think Paul might have gotten this idea?

Maybe from Jesus?

People asked Jesus, “What’s the signature litmus test of God’s presence? What’s at the heart of God’s will for human beings?”

“Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul, when he writes to the Church at Galatia, says that the mark of the Spirit is “The fruit of the Spirit.”

He said that the sinful nature will make its presence known by certain characteristics.

But then the Spirit will make his presence known by certain characteristics, and these are called the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

If we live in the Spirit, in other words, if the Spirit has brought us to Christ and new life in Him, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let’s live the kind of life that the Spirit offers.

Now think for a moment about this analogy — “the fruit of the Spirit.”

Think about what it means to bear fruit.

For example, if you plant an apple tree, what kind of fruit do you get?

Apparently we don’t have people from an agricultural background in here.

If you plant an apple tree you get… apples.

No farmer would plant an apple tree and then when apples grow say, “Wow, what a surprise! What were the odds of that?”

That’s just the way fruit works. Whatever the tree is… it yields that kind of fruit.

Paul is saying, with a Spirit-filled person, the evidence of the Spirit is the fruit.

Jesus said if you’re around someone and you’re kind of confused because they claim to be real spiritual, or other people lift them up as spiritual people, but you find yourself weighed down or even repelled by them — Jesus said, “There’s a real easy way to identify spiritual maturity.”

“By their fruit you shall know them,” he said.

Matthew 7:16

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:16-20)

What is the fruit Jesus is referring to?

The fruit of the Spirit.

When a person is characterized by love and joy, and so on, that demonstrates the presence of the Holy Spirit’s power in their life.

Now, look at verse 21 of the same chapter. This is the heart of how we discern the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,

Okay, so there are going to be people who claim to know Christ, who claim to be Christians, but who do not have the reality of Christ in their lives, who will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Now, Jesus is not saying that it’s a bad thing to prophesy or to drive out demons or to perform miracles. But He’s saying those are not the heart of how we detect the presence of the Spirit.

He says, it is the one who does what?

Who does the will of My Father in heaven.

Who’s the one who does the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven? What does that person look like?

They’re filled with love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and generosity and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. That’s what they look like.

The Pharisees seemed to be so spiritual because they knew so much Scripture and they obeyed so many rules.

What didn’t they do?

They didn’t love.

But people got all confused, because they were so religious, and they knew so much about the Bible, and they seemed to be so righteous.

Jesus said it’s so simple. “They’ve got no love.” — “By their fruit you will know them.”

You see, it’s so important that we be absolutely clear on the presence of the Spirit when it comes to understanding spiritual maturity.

The Spirit always, always leads people into the kind of life that Jesus called them to — always leads people into the kind of life Jesus himself led.

And if you long to be filled by love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control, then you hunger for the Spirit, whether or not you even know it.

And if you’re being led more deeply into them, you can trust you’re being led by the Spirit, even if you didn’t even know that.

Alright, let me, at this point, just give you some distinctions.

The indwelling of the Spirit is the Spirit’s unceasing present attentiveness and friendship in our everyday life. And if you’re a follower of Christ, you have that.

The gifts of the Spirit are the special abilities the Spirit gives Christ followers to serve God, his Church, and his world. And if you’re a follower of Christ, you have at least one.

And the fruit of the Spirit are those magnificent qualities of character that marked Jesus and are growing in those who follow him.

Let’s just be real clear on this — the primary evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit is never spectacular giftedness, although gifts are crucial.

The primary evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit is the life-transforming, world-changing fruit of the Spirit.

And at the top of the list is love.

But let me talk about the gifts of the spirit for a few moments.

Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, and this church is filled with many good things. It’s filled with vitality and life. It’s filled with a great deal of enthusiasm, and it’s filled with extraordinary manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

So Paul wants to do some very careful work. He doesn’t want to damage their enthusiasm, but he wants to help them get clear on how to recognize the presence of the Spirit.

So, he says:

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.

And then in verse four he tells us what he doesn’t want them to be ignorant about.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

The Spirit gives different abilities that we all have for the common good of the church.

Verse seven:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)

First of all, let me say this is not an exhaustive list of all the gifts. There are many other gifts. But these are some of them that have created some dissension in the church at Corinth.

And it was because the people in the church at Corinth were using certain gifts as a litmus test for spirituality superiority.

In other words, those who have certain gifts claim to be in kind of a unique or special or higher category of spirituality.

This happens in our day as well, doesn’t it?

And it’s critical — it is critical — that you and I stay clear on what is and what is not the litmus test of the presence of the Spirit.

I remember being at a convention one time and listening to this woman talk about going to different churches and how she thought it was interesting that you can tell, “by the worship,” if a church has the Spirit or does not have the Spirit.

And so I asked her, “How do you tell?”

And it was clear by her response that the way she believed you could tell if a church has the Spirit would be things like how many people raised their hands in worship, or how many people were speaking in tongues and falling down, or the general level of emotion.

Do you know what was going on in this woman? The same thing that was going on in the church at Corinth.

People have a tendency to want to use some kind of a visible manifestation as the evidence of the sign of the Spirit in someone’s life.

And again, I just want us to have clarity on this. Because if the litmus test becomes raising hands — if we start saying that the litmus test of the Spirit’s presence among us is how many hands got raised, then there becomes this pressure to raise our hands every week. And pretty soon it’s not enough.

Then it’s how many people are speaking in tongues. And then that’s not enough.

And then it gets more and more spectacular (how many people levitated this week?), because if there’s not something spectacular, it doesn’t look like the Spirit’s involved anymore.

Now, let me just say this, one of the great gifts of the Charismatic movement in our day is a passion for worship through music in a way that touches peoples hearts.

And I think that people from the tradition in which I grew up, for example, have much to learn about the importance and the role of worship through music.

Let me just take a minute and say to you how proud I am to be a part of this church — where week after week, month after month, there is such thoughtfulness and gentleness about worshiping freely and expressively, but also in a way that’s not going to distract other people.

I just believe we have a gift here, that I both want to commend you for and believe we need to guard and protect and cherish.

The mark of great worship through music is not that it is inhibited or uninhibited, spontaneous or planned out, physically expressive or still. Not even that it’s deeply emotional.

The mark of great worship is that it honors God and that it knits us together in love, to the heart of the Father. And empowers us for life in the kingdom.

That’s what worship is about. That’s how it gets measured.

There are many different styles of it. Some of them are formal; some spontaneous.

We have our own style — not the only one, not necessarily even the best one — it just seems to be one that God is blessing.

Alright, so in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says all these gifts are given by the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them out as he determines.

Different people have different gifts, he says, and that’s how God wants it to be. It’s a good thing.

We see Paul’s same concern for unity later in this passage when he uses the metaphor of the body.

And you might remember it, he says, “A hand is not better than a foot, the ear is no better than the eye; one gift is not spiritually superior than another one.”

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26)

He’s pointing out that manifestations of the Spirit, sometimes, when wrongly used, lead to pride. And there is no place for this in the body of Christ.

The gifts of the Spirit are always for the purpose of building up the body.

And in chapter 14, just two chapters away, his great emphasis is how the gift of speaking in tongues is given to build up the body, and that the church at Corinth often violated this, and used its gifts to draw attention to individuals.

So, he writes chapter 14 to give guidelines.

The first guideline Paul mentions is in verse 4:

He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. (1 Corinthians 14:4)

So speaking in tongues is for personal edification, not for the whole church.

The second guideline he mentions focuses on building others up, and not ourselves, in verses 9-12.

So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.

If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:9-12)

Paul also says speaking in tongues will confuse unbelievers.

Verse 23:

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (1 Corinthians 14:23)

And then he says in verse 40:

Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:40)

So if someone asks you why we don’t allow speaking in tongues in our worship services at Blue Oaks — it’s because Paul is clear in his guidelines in 1 Corinthians 14 that we shouldn’t.

Alright, I want to mention three more things — three truths related to concerns I have, and then we’ll be done.

One truth is:

Being empowered by the Spirit is not a matter of finding the right technique.

A woman said about a church I attended once, “I know why prayers in this church don’t get answered. Because you all pray the wrong way. You need to be bold when you pray. You need to say, ‘In the name of Jesus I just claim this.’”

Now, what I want to suggest is that prayer is not a matter of technique. And I don’t mean to be glib about this at all. This is just truth about prayer.

The Spirit is a person, not a force, and He knows the heart. He knows the heart of the one who speaks to Him, and it’s the heart that counts.

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verse 22, a man has a son that needs to be delivered from a spirit. And he’s asking Jesus for help. And this is what he says. He says to Jesus, these are his exact words from Mark…

“If you’re able to do anything, have pity and help us.” (Mark 9:22)

If you’re able to do anything — not a real bold prayer. But it was bold enough, because Jesus assures him of His ability, because he comes to Jesus in sincerity.

God can heal. God does heal. And we ought to pray for it.

I mentioned this last week, so I’ll remind you today — one of the reasons we have someone in the courtyard after the service to pray for you is because we believe that God can and does heal, and we ought to pray for it and expect it.

But let’s not have any simplistic formulas about how healing takes place.

One of the best statements on healing that I know is written by a guy named Lew Smedes, and he writes about the fact that any doctor of healing needs to be compatible with the reality of suffering in the Bible and in our lives.

Suffering is compatible with faithful Christian living, and some suffering should be expected in everyone’s pilgrimage. I do not believe that Christian believers have a special entitlement to lasting health and instant healing. The Bible indicates that suffering is an inescapable component of and not the exception in the Christian life. Therefore we reject any suggestion that believers have a blank check from God that offers them certain healing from sickness if only their faith is strong enough.

Alright, another truth I want to mention that I believe is central to spiritual life. And that is:

Having a dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit can be a very helpful thing, but it is not a shortcut to spiritual transformation.

It would be nice to think there’s some kind of super-charged jolt that’s the secret passport to spiritual maturity.

There was a cola that came out in the 80‘s. It was called Jolt cola.

There were billboards for Jolt cola with a guy whose hair was standing up on end, and their slogan was, “All the sugar and twice the caffeine.”

That was the slogan for Jolt cola. One good shot of Jolt cola in the morning and you’re pretty much wired the whole day long.

Now, it would be nice if there was a kind of a jolt in the spiritual realm that just took care of the need for growth.

But the truth about the life of a Christ-follower is that it’s a life of training.

You want to start at the beginning and go through the middle before you get to the end.

There are no shortcuts, no secret passageways.

God will always be there to meet you and help you though.

And he will work through the practices, relationships, and experiences that have always helped those who are wise in the ways of spiritual life.

The life in the Spirit is a life full of joy, but it is also a life in training to be like Jesus.

Another issue.

And this one is kind of difficult to frame, but it is very important, and I think it lurks in many minds here.

It’s not so much a theological issue, as it is a question that lurks in people’s minds along these lines:

Is there something more, people sometimes wonder, about spiritual life?
Is there some experience of God that I’m missing out on?
Is there some dimension of spiritual life that holds the secret key to vibrant spiritual life?

Maybe we would get more prayers answered if we found a better technique, or prayed with more boldness, or if we just claimed things, or had some other kinds of experiences.

I certainly think that every one of us should pursue the deepest kind of life in the Spirit that can be pursued.

But I can answer this issue, talk about this one, with great assurance because the wisest people throughout the ages are of one mind on this.

No one puts this better than the apostle Paul. This now is getting right down to it…

What is the something more?
Where are the rivers of deep spiritual life through which people are transformed and ushered into the ultimate experience of life in the presence and power of God?
Where is the something more?

No one gets it better than Paul.

And remember, Paul is one who said, “I rejoice that I speak in tongues more than any of you.” So he affirms the goodness of that.

Paul is the one who says that he’s had visions from God of heavenly existence.

Paul was involved in amazing acts of healing.

Paul is the one, who, when speaking about extraordinary manifestations, talks about them all, and then says, “I will show you the more excellent way.”

And Paul says, “Pursue love!”

It may be that extraordinary occurring things will happen in your life. It may be that they may not. At the end of the day, really, that’s kind of beside the point. It doesn’t ultimately prove anything one way or another.

Some time ago, I heard someone say this direct quote: “Blue Oaks has seen some amazing things. Just imagine if the Holy Spirit got a hold of it.”

I want to tell you something, anything good or lasting that has happened in this church —

Every time the gospel has been proclaimed.
Every time an unchurched person has heard the good news that Jesus still saves.
Every time God’s name has been lifted up in praise and worship.
Every time God’s face has been sought out in prayer.
Every time someone cheerfully, graciously gave to God money for his work that they could have kept to themselves.
Every time one believer paused to rejoice or mourn with another human being.
Every time someone took moments out of a busy schedule to love or care for a little child.
Every time a sinner was convicted of sin and repented and got baptized, and a new name was written in the Book of Life.

Every time — it was the Holy Spirit moving and prompting and filling in the midst of God’s people.

And he ain’t done yet.

Alright, let me pray for you as the band comes back up to lead us in one more song.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA