How Not to Welcome the Holy Spirit

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Pastor, Boston, Massachusetts

“Dad, can I have dessert?”

“I guess so,” I said. We did have some ice cream in the freezer, after all.

But then my wife chimed in, “Um, I don’t think so.”

He sheepishly said, “But Dad said I could.”

She replied, “Yes, but I already said you could not.”

Nice try, Son, but Mom wins again.

Because my wife and I are “one flesh,” good parenting means we stay on the same page, and don’t allow our kids to pit us against each other unwittingly. Yet when it comes to the Holy Spirit, do we often treat God and his word precisely this way?

The history of the Spirit in the church is wonderful and weird, supernatural and super-strange. We all love the miracles of Acts, but many of us resist those who pursue the same miracles today. We want Jesus to heal our dying grandmother, just not through a strange, charismatic prayer service. “After all,” we console ourselves, “God is sovereign, so he can do what he wills in response to my simple prayer.” While that is true, it is not the whole truth.

Regarding the Spirit, here are three ways we play Mom against Dad, as it were.

1. Obey the Holy Spirit

Perhaps the greatest gift of our Reformed heritage is the recovery of biblical authority. Without the Bible, the gospel of grace would lay hidden, buried under a complicated and heavy labyrinth of the traditions of men.

Yet we who say we’re willing to obey the Bible wherever it takes us are often reticent when the Bible takes us to the Spirit. We love what the Spirit says about salvation, preservation, and sanctification. We’re just not too sure about the parts regarding supernatural impartation. Yet, the Scripture still says,

Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

And no one hearing that letter read aloud in the early church would have thought “prophesy” meant “preach really well,” or “encourage someone.”

I know that some are inclined to say, “Listen, I’m all for the supernatural. I just think that the revelatory gifts have ceased.” For instance, a seminary professor of mine once said in class, “Look, I just don’t have a category in my brain for revelation from the Spirit that isn’t Scripture.” But with all due respect to my professor, I believe that is his problem, not the Bible’s.

The Bible certainly has a category for divine revelation that wasn’t to be written down in Scripture. The people in Ephesus prophesied (Acts 19:6), but we don’t have what they prophesied in the text. The daughters of Philip the evangelist prophesied enough to be noted for it in the Bible (Acts 21:9), but we don’t have what they prophesied in the Bible. And that’s the point. We want to honor the finality of the word of God (Revelation 22:18), but we can’t do that by disobeying it.

You will not find a passage anywhere in Scripture that makes some neat delineation between the so-called “revelatory” gifts and the rest of them. This is an oft-repeated tactic, but saying something a lot — even if it’s been said for hundreds of years by some very godly people — does not make it true.

Scripture commands us to desire the gift of prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1), and all the other gifts too. Refusing to do so because we don’t want to add to the Scriptures is simply well-intentioned disobedience.

2. Desire the Holy Spirit

If it is true that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in God, then how can we not, for the sake of our own joy and happiness, seek to enjoy God in the person of his Spirit? Desiring God, including God the Spirit, means:

  • Abounding with hope instead of cynicism (Romans 15:13).

  • Overflowing with joy (Acts 13:52).
  • Supernatural occurrences like tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:46), healing (Acts 9:17), and prophesy 
(Acts 19:6; 21:19).
  • Powerful proclamation of the word of God (Acts 4:31).
  • Intense times of worship where our Lord speaks to his church (Acts 13:2). 

So ask yourself, are you okay with all of that? Is your mind being flooded with qualifications and exceptions, or genuine excitement? God is not glorified in us when we don’t desire his Spirit — or the gifts that he gives to the church.

3. Welcome the Holy Spirit 

I have been a Reformed charismatic for a while now. I often hear sentences like “We are cautiously open to the Spirit,” or “I’m charismatic, but with a seatbelt.” Are we afraid of the Holy Spirit? Often we react to weirdos in church history (and our own day!) instead of responding to the written word of God. And the written word of God says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) and, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–20). The Spirit is a person, and we do not welcome his presence by despising his work, or treating him like a weird guest at a party. He will depart if we avoid or offend him.

God has told us to desire his Spirit and all the gifts of his Spirit. Some of our greatest teachers have told us otherwise. And we, like children, are trying to obey one by disobeying the other. God has spoken to us by his Spirit about his Spirit. How will you respond?

is the lead pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and their four kids. Adam writes and speaks, and coaches church planters around the world, mostly through the Every Nation family of churches and ministries. You can follow him at his website.