ELEPHANTS IN THE CHURCH
THE HOLY GHOST AND FIRE
By Jeannette Haley
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof,
but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth:
so is every one that is born of the Spirit” – John 3:8.
Jean Hersey, (1914-1993) American journalist, novelist and professor once wrote, “In March winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward. Something holds and something pulls inside of us too.” How true it is that within us “something” holds’ and “something pulls.” In the spiritual arena, one should discern just what “holds” and what “pulls”; that is, whether it is the war between the flesh and the spirit, the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the leading of the Holy Spirit, or a revelation of the Holy Spirit. One has to wonder how many Christians would even recognize the Person and work of the Holy Spirit if He were to come into the midst of their busy gatherings and daily lives in this age of great apostasy? I think most of us would have to honestly admit that another “elephant” in our post-modern churches is the subject of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Holy Bible.
It’s been our sad experience for decades in our involvement and ministry in different organized, mainstream churches that the Holy Spirit is often either misunderstood, ignored, misused or abused. We have suffered through church services where He was grieved, quenched, and/or vexed as a result of said actions and attitudes, mainly because of the great lack of sound biblical teaching, or discipleship. All too often just the mere mention of the gifts, ministry, and work of the Holy Spirit elicits fear, rejection, protests and sometimes downright animosity, all due to wrong teaching (or no sound teaching at all, false conclusions, ignorance and unbelief.) There can be no doubt about it that we are living in the time prophesied of a famine for the Word of God due to the lack of seasoned, Spirit filled, God-ordained teachers in the Body of Christ—people who have studied to show themselves “approved unto God” who know how to “rightly divide the word of truth” in the fear of God, by the revelation of the Holy Ghost. (See 2 Timothy 2:15.) Most of the truly great Bible teachers have gone on to glory, swept up and away in the great tides of time and ushered into heaven, leaving behind a scattered, yet committed, but often struggling, remnant of God-fearing people who have not bowed to the changing spiritual landscape of heresy, “easy believism,” “seeker-friendly,” “ear-tickling,” “happy-clappy,” “positive confession,” “cheap grace,” “New Age Contemplation,” or “man-centered-money-making-mega-church-mania.”
These aberrant movements, doctrines of demons, beliefs or what-have-you exist because professing Christians-in-name-only do not possess a good, strong, solid foundation on the Rock of Jesus Christ, sound doctrine, and undying love for the truth of His Word. When I say “professing Christians” I’m referring to those people who say they “believe” (something), or who think they are saved, or who hope they are saved because of some emotional experience, or because they echoed a “sinner’s prayer,” or went through the “four-steps to salvation,” or because somebody told them they were saved, or because a self-proclaimed TV “evangelist” assures them they are saved (especially if they send him or her money.) Keep in mind, one of the major ways the devil gains ground in the souls of mankind is through confusion—confusion based on half-truths and lies, which results in fear. Therefore, the question is, how can a person determine if he or she is truly saved or not? The answer is very simple: Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” John 3:3, 5-7. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit,” 1 John 4:13. Again, we are warned in Romans 8:9, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
I think these Scriptures are very plain and easy to understand. A person is either born again of the Holy Spirit, or they are not. Romans 8:16 declares, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” A person who is truly born again will not tolerate or expose him or herself to teachers or preachers (or anything else) that has the wrong spirit behind them. A true Spirit-filled, Spirit-led Bible teacher will disciple, teach, train, and equip, that is, establish believers in the Word of God, and the principles therein; but it is the Holy Spirit who imparts the revelation of the Word, making it “alive” so it is not “dead letter.” In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who illumines, or gives revelation of the Word to a person’s spirit, mind, and soul so that it (the Word) becomes the living water that brings life and quickens our spirit, the manna from heaven that feeds and nourishes, and the truth that sets us free. Thus, the Holy Spirit establishes the life of Christ in a person’s innermost being. This is what 1 John 2:27 means: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
said to His disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you
another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of
truth; whom the world cannot receive; because it seeth him not, neither knoweth
him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” John
14:16, 17. The question is, where does that leave a church which fails to
uphold the truths of Scripture, complies to the ways of the world, and doesn’t know
the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a Person—the third Person of the Godhead.
He is not a “force,” an “it,” or some “energy.” The postmodern and
denominational churches of today may “appear to have
a form of godliness, but [they] deny the power thereof.” (See 2 Timothy 3:5.) This is because it’s much easier (in order to be “successful”) to sacrifice the truth concerning sin, judgment, hell, repentance, faith, the necessity of being born again, and righteous living in obedience to God.
What is the “power” that is so often “denied,” and how does the Lord view this form of denial? To answer this question, we need to go back to the beginning of the Church. It may surprise you to learn that Pentecost was not the “beginning” of Jesus’ Church; rather, it began the same day that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples who were gathered together (except for Thomas who later encountered the Lord.) Here is what we are told in John 20:19-23, “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (Note: According to Strong’s Concordance, the word “remit” in Greek means: to go; to send forth, in various applications (as follow):–cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let (alone, be, go, have), omit, put (send) away, remit, suffer, yield up. Jesus was imparting to His disciples the power to go in His Name and minister according to the New Covenant.
To help give us more insight into these often misunderstood verses, here is what Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers says: “(23) Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them. . . . Assuming what has there been said, it will be sufficient to add that this power is here immediately connected with the representative character of the disciples as apostles sent by Christ, as He was Himself sent by the Father (John 20:21), and that its validity is dependent upon their reception of the Holy Ghost (John 20:22), by whom Christ Himself is present in them (John 14:18; John 16:7-11). Sent as He was sent, they are not sent to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved; but in their work, as in His, men are condemned because the light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light.
“The ultimate principles upon which this power rests are those stated above—the being sent by Christ, and the reception of the Holy Ghost. God has promised forgiveness wherever there is repentance; He has not promised repentance wherever there is sin. It results from every declaration of forgiveness made in the name of the Father through Jesus Christ, that hearts which in penitence accept it receive remission of their sins, and that the hardness of the hearts which willfully reject it is by their rejection increased, and the very words by which their sins would be remitted become the words by which they are retained.
“On individual words in this verse it is important to note that in the better text the tense of that rendered “are remitted” is a strict present, while that rendered “are retained” is in the perfect-present. The difference is not easy to preserve in English, but the thought seems to be, “Whose soever sins ye remit—a change in their condition is taking place—their sins are being remitted by God; whose soever ye retain—their condition remains unchanged—they have been, and are retained.””
In order for the disciples (and the true Church of Jesus Christ) to be sent (out into the world) as the Father sent Jesus, they (and we) must receive the Holy Spirit and His power. To put it another way, every born-again child of God (or the Church) is the Body of Christ and is here to be the “salt and the light” of the world, not to live for our own selfish pleasures. But, unless we receive the Holy Ghost and His power, we will not be equipped, prepared, or empowered for this great commission. As Oswald Chambers said, “A missionary is one sent by Jesus Christ as He was sent by God. The great dominant note is not the needs of men, but the command of Jesus. The source of our inspiration in work for God is behind, not before. The tendency to-day is to put the inspiration ahead, to sweep everything in front of us and bring it all out to our conception of success. In the New Testament the inspiration is put behind us, the Lord Jesus. The ideal is to be true to Him, to carry out His enterprises.” Can we honestly say that the organizations of today that call themselves “Christian churches” are true to Jesus and His Word and carrying out His enterprises, or are we witnessing a “Laodicean church age?”
No wonder the “elephant” that people tiptoe around and try to ignore, that is, the Holy Spirit is avoided in our churches, for if Jesus, who is the Baptizer of the Holy Ghost and fire (see Matthew 3:11) means what He says, and says what He means (which He does) then that also means we have to get busy about our Father’s business and quit playing church! We have to lay aside all our silly notions about what “church” is all about, shun the “church culture” of this wicked age of “meet, greet, eat, and retreat,” and wake up to reality. It means we have to fall on our faces and repent of all the religious malarkey and smoke screens we hide behind so the reality of the High and Lofty One, the Majesty in the Heavens becomes a burning fire within our souls, consuming the pride, selfish-centeredness, lukewarm-ness, complacency, rebellion, and unholiness that lies in the darkness of unbelief, denial and “civilized” rebellion. The question we must face is that posed by the Apostle Peter, “And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear” 1 Peter 4:18?
Some denominations, as noted above, avoid any mention of the Holy Spirit, let alone teach about Him, while other denominations over-emphasize certain evidences of the infilling of the Holy Spirit (that may or may not be according to Scripture), and others, who have not been properly discipled and grounded in the Word, can, in their zeal, open themselves up to, and operate in, “another spirit” altogether. Such is the case with many who have opened themselves up and fallen for the seductive spirits within the contemplative spirituality movement which is a toxic occult mixture of New Age, Hinduism, Shamanism, and other ancient pagan spiritualistic practices. Keep in mind that Christians need to concern themselves with only one Spirit, and that is the Holy Spirit, for the array of “other spirits” is endless and tampering with them will cost you your soul.
The key is to love the truth, and there is only one source of truth! Therefore, instead of ignoring the subject of the Holy Spirit, denying the Holy Spirit, or going in the opposite extreme by flinging yourself overboard in an emotional abandonment that lacks any foundation in Truth and [the right] Spirit, look to Jesus and His Word. Pray that He will give you a love for the truth so that you will not be deceived by all the counterfeit spirits, teachings, psychobabble, superstitions, and pseudo “spiritual” junk that Satan has brought into the established churches.
Rest assured, it is a grave impertinence to gloss over Jesus’ words concerning the Holy Spirit whom He sent. John 16:7-14 we read the wonderful promises He gave prior to His crucifixion, concerning the Holy Spirit: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:Of sin, because they believe not on me;Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”
Jesus was telling His anxious disciples that it was better, and more profitable for them for Him to go away because if He didn’t, the Comforter (Holy Spirit) would not come to them. To thoroughly investigate and study this verse would be a major undertaking because of the broad scope of implications and depths of meaning involved. For the purpose of this short article, therefore, I hope my simple input will suffice. After Jesus had secured our salvation through the Cross and His resurrection it was imperative that He return to His former glory with the Father, because He had accomplished what He was sent into the world to do, (“It is finished” John 19:30). Now, in heaven He stands as our Advocate, and He is “preparing a place for us” in His “Father’s House” (John 14:3), which, I believe will be fitting for us personally according to the daily working within us by the Holy Spirit who is preparing us for our heavenly abode. If Jesus had remained on earth in His glorified body, then He would not only be limited to one visible locality at a time, but the Holy Spirit could not have been sent by Him from heaven to continue the work He began in and through, not only the first disciples, but in every blood-bought saint since that time. Jesus is building His church through the indwelling Person and power of the Holy Spirit, which is not limited, or hindered, by certain, physical locations; rather, He is revealed to the entire world through the individual members of Christ’s Body (the true church) wherever they are; revealed in God’s Word and the gifts of the Spirit; revealed in the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises of a Comforter—the One who convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment, who guides us into all truth, shows us things to come, and who always glorifies Jesus Christ.
Concerning conviction of sin, Oswald Chambers had this to say: “Very few of us know anything about conviction of sin; we know the experience of being disturbed because of having done wrong things; but conviction of sin by the Holy Ghost blots out every relationship on earth and leaves one relationship only—’Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned!’ When a man is convicted of sin in this way, he knows with every power of his conscience that God dare not forgive him; if God did forgive him, the man would have a stronger sense of justice than God. God does forgive, but it cost the rending of His heart in the Death of Christ to enable Him to do so. It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the Cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied.
“Forgiveness means not merely that I am saved from hell and made right for heaven (no man would accept forgiveness on such a level); forgiveness means that I am forgiven into a recreated relationship, into identification with God in Christ. The miracle of Redemption is that God turns me, the unholy one, into the standard of Himself, the Holy One, by putting into me a new disposition, the disposition of Jesus Christ.”
It’s my contention that the lack of true conviction of sin in the post-modern churches of today is because the Holy Spirit, the One who brings conviction, is absent due to the flimsy, lopsided, “politically correct” presentation of the Gospel. The days of strong, robust, adamant, Spirit-inspired powerful preaching from the pulpit have been replaced by a weak, effeminate, compromising, soft-on-sin “gospel” based on current trends, the politically correct social gospel, humanism, and people-pleasing nonsense that saves no one because, as Jesus said, the Spirit was sent to convict of sin because they do not believe on Him. The proof that the apostate church no longer believes in Him is plain to see for the reasons just stated.
The Holy Spirit was also sent to convict of righteousness after Jesus returned to the Father and was no longer visible on earth where He had demonstrated His righteousness as the Son of God. The righteousness that the Holy Spirit convicts us of is not influenced by our limited perceptions of righteousness based on upright living, good works, and “doing our best;” rather, it transcends the highest that fallen man could ever attain to in his own power. Conviction of righteousness is that inner knowing that awakens the conscious mind to the sobering reality that the only righteousness that will bring us into the presence of God for eternity is the righteousness of Christ. Anything less can never stand in His presence, just as the man who came into the wedding feast of the king without a wedding garment was not welcomed. Thus, he was cast into outer darkness because he trusted in his own righteousness instead of the righteousness of Christ. (See Matthew 22:1-14.) If we are to partake of the wedding supper of the Lamb, we must be clothed in His robe of righteousness!
Again, we must honestly assess if the Holy Spirit is actively working, and thankfully being received in the midst of the visible churches of today concerning the righteousness of Christ, and how that translates to those of us who claim to have received Him. In other words, is our life a living witness of the righteousness of Christ that is being worked in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit as we yield ourselves to the truth of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit? (To be continued.)