I’m a minister. I should want to talk about God––Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a large part of the job description.
I have no trouble talking about the Father. And I have no trouble talking about Jesus Christ. But the Spirit is a different story.
I grew up in churches that only talked about the Spirit to disprove other churches’ teachings about the Spirit. I was trained to be skeptical about any statement about the Spirit. And though I’ve moved away from the sectarianism of my early years, I find it difficult to overcome this skepticism.
And this makes me nervous whenever I teach on the Spirit.<
I spent some time thinking about this. I thought I would share some reasons. I am only going to tell you why I am scared to talk about the Spirit. I’ll let others tell you how to overcome these fears.
1. I haven’t experienced the Spirit like I want.
I know the Spirit should be a strong presence in my life. And I can see the effects of His work in my life and ministry. But I can only point to a handful of times I felt the work of the Spirit in my life. I feel uncomfortable talking to others about something I haven’t fully experienced.
2. I’ve never heard the Spirit talked about much.
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in churches that were not merely uncertain about the work of the Spirit. They were certain He didn’t do almost anything others claimed He did. He did a few miracles in Bible times, inspired the Scriptures and then became inactive.
As a result, any time I make a statement about the Spirit, I instinctively feel defensive about that statement. I imagine being challenged on that statement by old preachers. You can imagine how taxing any attempt to talk about the Spirit becomes.
3. I don’t see others experiencing the Spirit around me like I see in the Bible.
As Francis Chan says in The Forgotten God, the lives of most Christians don’t show the Spirit’s power like we see in the New Testament. Some are uncertain whether miraculous spiritual gifts still exist. And the churches that still claim that the miraculous spiritual gifts sometimes display them in ways you don’t see in the New Testament (showy and man-centered).
Even apart from the miraculous spiritual gifts, you often don’t see the lifestyle changes that you would expect to see in people empowered by the Spirit. Some Christians just don’t show the love, peace, joy, patience, and so on – the fruit of the Spirit – that are supposed to result from the Spirit’s work.
4. The Spirit is a controversial topic.
This should be the easiest point for you to agree with me. When it comes to the Spirit, you would be hard pressed to find two people who have the same beliefs about the Spirit.
Some people think the Spirit still works miracles. Others don’t. Some think the Spirit speaks to them and directly guides them. Others see this as dangerously subjective. Some think that the experience during a Christian concert is the Spirit moving. Others think that experience is mere emotion, similar to what one would feel during a secular music concert.
And these disagreements can become nasty. One side says the other is questioning, or outright denying, their religious experiences. The other party believes that all the talk about the Spirit is too focused on feelings and becomes dangerously close to challenging the unique authority of the Bible.
No one wants to speak in such environments, especially ministers who can lose their jobs for being on the wrong side of the debate.
5. There are many misuses of the Spirit.
You don’t have to do much research to begin finding story after story of charlatans who have claimed they were doing great works through the Spirit, when all the while they were deceiving their followers. And in the process many of them became rich.
Some unknowingly abuse the Spirit because they wrongly attribute every feeling and wish to the Spirit. These people often claim that the Spirit has placed a burden on their heart to go somewhere or do something or marry somebody. Sometimes this is true. But sometimes it is just their own wishes and feelings. This is shown by how quickly they turn aside from these plans or dreams. The Spirit is not fickle, but listening to some Christians gives you that impression.
Rampant misuse of the Spirit makes me nervous that I might unwittingly misuse the Spirit.
Don’t mistake these five reasons as justifying my fear of talking about the Spirit. They do not. I only want to explain my fear, since such a fear is foreign to Christians from different church backgrounds.
We need to speak more about the Spirit. Sure, we need our talk to be grounded in the Bible. We shouldn’t put up with charlatans. But we still need to teach more and more about the Spirit. The Spirit empowers and purifies the church. Ignoring the Spirit means robbing us of the source of our power and purity.
That would be a terrible loss.
Despite all the controversies surrounding the Spirit, that is something we can all agree upon.
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