7 thoughts on “Feeling the Spirit?

  1. Yes and no. Where the fruit of an alleged spiritual encounter does not bear the fruit of the Spirit in one way or another, I agree completely that one is justified in questioning whether the Holy Spirit is at work. However…

    Discerning of spirits is listed as a spiritual gift. Which means being able to discern whether it is God or something else at work. The implication in this clip is that anyone claiming to be able to sense the Holy Spirit at work or manifestly present is doing so purely on the basis of emotional reaction. Either their own or other people’s. I don’t think that’s true in all instances. The whole point of the spiritual gift is that it enables one to discern what is happening spiritually independently of what is going on outwardly. I have sensed God’s manifest presence in many different places in many different styles of worship. Sometimes very profoundly in times of silent prayer when absolutely none of the outward emotional trappings are present at all. And the opposite is true. An emotional style does not necessarily mean that very much is happening on a spiritual level. Like all gifts, some people are more able to discern what is going on than others. Just because one can’t sense something happening doesn’t mean it isn’t.

    Equally, someone can be profoundly and genuinely touched by God and then choose to do nothing about it. God’s Spirit can be present and there be no fruit, not because He wasn’t at work but because the individual concerned was not prepared to respond afterwards.

    We need all the tools at our disposal. Common sense, scriptural knowledge, spiritual gifts, and eyes and ears that are wide open to what is really going on.

    • You are making an assumption that the gift you cite in 1Corinthians 12 is for the purpose you say it is. Most commentators would say the gift of discerning spirits (note the lower case, and the plural) has nothing to do with discerning the activity of the Holy Spirit, or even determining the state of another’s spiritual temperament. It is most likely a gift to distinguish whether malevolent forces are at work, demons, akin to the scenario we are presented with in Paul’s ministry on Cyprus.
      The biblical criteria mentioned for judging a work of God still remain the ultimate source. “I have sensed God’s manifest presence in many different places in many different styles of worship.” Whilst I would not deny your conclusion necessarily, we must get beyond the “I… sensed…” and look for biblical fruit, otherwise we are left with a subjectivism as the foundation for discerning whether the Spirit is truly at work or not.

      • I take your point about the Corinthians passage.

        I am not at all suggesting that the subjective experience of what is happening should be
        our only or our primary measure of what is going on. Rather that it is a valid part of the discernment process. As Christians, made spiritually alive in Christ, filled with His Spirit,
        I believe we can legitimately expect to be able to use our spiritual as well as our physical
        senses. I don’t think it’s helpful to be so concerned about the dangers of subjectivism that we dismiss the possibility of being able to sense the Holy Spirit at work.

        Discerning Biblical fruit is often a longer term thing. If God has done a work in someone’s life or in the life of a community of Christians, as time goes by, we should be able to see the fruit of that.

        We also need the ability to discern what is happening in the moment. In the middle of praying for someone or leading a church service, for example, those spiritual senses can be really important in enabling us to co-operate with what God is wanting to do.

        In summary, I think it’s a case of ‘both and’ not ‘either or’.

      • I know what you’re trying to say. Now give me a text. Because, you’re making a very important claim, i.e. that we are to know when the Spirit of God is working, “in the moment.”
        Where can you point in the New Testament for what you are attempting to discern? Again, I’m not denying the Spirit’s immediate presence or work, I’m wanting to be crystal clear about our methodology/practice and the judgements we make. Biblical examples please.
        PS – I appreciate these interactions/conversations Catherine. I’m not being’picky’ for the sake of it. So much belief and practice in church life is simply unbiblical. Keep thinking, and keep talking.
        You might find Sam Storms’ book ‘Signs of the Spirit’ helpful on this subject. It’s a re-presentation of Jonathan Edward’s famous ‘Religious Affections’ in more accessible language. Edwards is universally accepted to be the theologian of revival and defining of a work of the Spirit. I wrote a paper his positive marks of a work of the Holy Spirit for my Masters if you’re interested.

  2. You have prompted me to do some reading!

    I don’t think there is a text or texts that specify how one does or does not discern that the Holy Spirit is at work or is present. There are pointers, such as in 1 Cor 12 vs 3 (…no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit). There is the gift of discernment, to enable us to determine whether a message is from God or from another Spirit.

    There is not even the suggestion that one should use the character development of the people concerned to determine whether the Holy Spirit is really at work. The church in Corinth was in a bit of a mess, both in terms of the moral behaviour of its members and the way in which worship was conducted. Interestingly, at no point does Paul suggest that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in their times communal worship were not real, but rather that things needed to be more orderly. He challenges their behaviour. He urges them to greater maturity. He encourages them to focus on developing the fruit of the Spirit. He urges them to seek the gift of prophecy, which he describes as a greater gift. He does not say “if the Holy Spirit were really present
    in your gatherings in the way you claim, I’d be seeing more fruit in your lives.” I think if I walked into the church in Corinth, I’d be fairly appalled at what was going on. I might be tempted to question if God could be present at all.

    Having looked again at the book of Acts, I think the reason we don’t get a definitive guide as to how to spot when the Holy Spirit is active in someone’s life or in a particular situation, is that the early Christians didn’t find it was a question that needed answering. To them, it was perfectly obvious. Luke writes about it as if it is an easily recognisable phenomenon. Reading it again, this is a wonderful, dynamic, fast paced story of God’s people and God’s Spirit working together.

    Again and again in the book of Acts people are described as being full of the Holy Spirit. Either generally or in relation to a particular purpose. More than once, believers gathered together have a joint experience of being filled with the Spirit. Acts 2 v 43 describes a sense of awe coming over all the believers.

    There’s no analysis about whether it really is the Holy Spirit on a particular occasion. They simply knew.

    If this was a normative experience for the early Christians, I would expect it to be a normative experience for us.

    Just because an experience is subjective, doesn’t make it unreal. The most significant of our experiences as human beings are subjective. Love being the prime example. The inner regeneration we experience when we come to life in Christ is a subjective experience. We feel something.

    In short, I think that the normative Christian experience is of being filled with the Holy Spirit and of the Holy Spirit being actively present in both the ministry of individual believers and when Christians are gathered together. That is what happened in Acts. If the Holy Spirit is active, I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that we will be able to sense that He is present and active at least some of the time.

    What is your view? Do you think that it is possible to detect God’s manifest and active presence on occasions when Christians are together in prayer and worship? Is that something you have experienced?

    • “There is not even the suggestion that one should use the character development of the people concerned to determine whether the Holy Spirit is really at work.” – You might want to re-think that one, since that is the great end of the Spirit’s ministry, subordinate only to revealing he glory of Jesus and his truth to us. Any way…
      You have moved away in your argument to something quite different from your initial comments. The Spirit’s “normative” presence among God’s people was not in question, and is not necessarily subjective. Neither are we at odds about our experience of God being subjective. At question is the methodology of personal ‘ministry’ in/of the Spirit and the criteria we use for discerning that dynamic, and pronouncing, usually, ‘ex nihilo’ that the Spirit is ‘moving,’ simply by a “sense”. There are many objective signs that we should look for that are clearly set out in the NT. The subjectivism I’m concerned about is not seen in Acts, or any where else in the New Testament. I agree, gifts of the Spirit are not given with respect to ‘maturity’, but the long term aim is always our advancement in Christ-likeness. That’s Paul’s plea behind the desire for manifestations of the Spirit.
      Treat yourself, get hold of ‘signs of the Spirit.’ It will bless you.

  3. Interesting point of view. Wondering what you think of it’s implication on society as a whole though? There are times when things like this begin to have global expansion and frustration. I’ll check back to see what you have to say.

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