Is speaking in tongues evidence that someone’s life is under the control of the Holy Spirit? Is speaking in tongues evidence that a person is a superior or more mature Christian, with a deeper experience of Jesus Christ than those who do not speak in tongues?
I am preparing to preach on Pentecost, and God is leading me to preach NOT from Acts 2 but from Romans 8 on the person and activity of the Holy Spirit.
The churches that I come from (Churches of Christ and Christian Churches) tend to have a very stunted view of the Spirit. We basically know what we’re AGAINST–we don’t do that speaking in tongues thing–but that’s about as much thought as we put into it. We don’t know what we’re FOR.
(The churches from which I come are often hard cessationists when it comes to speaking in tongues. I am NOT a cessationist. I am a bit skeptical, because of the bad teaching, toxic leadership, and unChristlike living that I have seen accompany speaking in tongues. But my mind is open for the Spirit to show me things I haven’t seen or considered before. “There are more things in heaven and Earth, … / Than are dreamt of in my philosophy.”)
So: as I said, the sermon will focus on Romans 8.1-17 (and perhaps 26-27) and what the Holy Spirit does in the life of the Christian.
As I was studying, it came to me that Paul here (and in Galatians 5.22-23) gives us a good test for whether someone is living a life controlled by the Spirit. This is important. The New Testament shows that speaking in tongues is not certain evidence that someone is a mature Christian, living a life controlled by the Spirit, etc.
Think this through with me.
Do ALL Christians have the Holy Spirit, regardless of whether they speak in tongues or not? Answer: yes, all Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. Romans 8.9 says, “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.” That’s pretty clear, IMO.
Also consider 1 Cor 12.29-30, where Paul clearly indicates that not all Christians speak in tongues.
Why do many Christians not live Spirit-empowered lives? Because we “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess 5.19); “quenching” means that we refuse to yield control to him. God expects us, invites us, implores us to give him control, day by day, inch by inch. But he does not “possess” us against our will. We must yield to him.
ls speaking in tongues evidence of the Holy Spirit? Yes, but maybe not in the way we normally mean by the question.
Four times in the Bible–all in Acts–speaking in tongues is evidence of the Spirit’s activity.
- The day of Pentecost (Acts 2), where the purpose of speaking in tongues was to gather the crowd for Peter’s sermon.
- The evangelism of Philip in Samaria (Acts 9), where the converts do NOT speak in tongues until Peter and John are there to witness it. This is an unmistakeable sign of God’s acceptance and verification of the Samaritans, something that Peter and John (being Jewish Christians) needed.
- The conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10), where speaking in tongues was an unmistakeable sign of God’s acceptance and verification of the gentile believers for the benefit of the Jewish Christians who accompanied Peter.
- The full birth of the apostles of John the Baptist (Acts 19), who received the Holy Spirit after being baptized into Jesus.
In #2, #3, and #4, speaking in tongues is evidence of God’s acceptance of “baby Christians,” not mature believers in Christ. #2, #3, and #4 are mini-Pentecosts, where God breaks through barriers (between Jewish Christians and Samaritans, then gentiles, then the followers of John the Baptist) and the establishment needs to see evidence of these breakthroughs in order to accept what God has done.
So: speaking in tongues in Acts is evidence that someone’s conversion to Christ is real and acceptable to God, and that no further steps (e.g., circumcision) are necessary.
Also consider Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 14.1-19. There are many interpretive questions in this passage, but beyond dispute is the fact that Paul views the way the Corinthians are speaking in tongues as evidence of their IMMATURITY, not their maturity. They are full of themselves, impressed by their relative affluence and the spectacle that they are able to make of themselves. That’s why he admonishes them so, and why he tells them to “… stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (14.20).
Is that it? Have I listed the only places where speaking in tongues is appealed to as evidence in any way? Perhaps not, but these are the ones that come to mind. If there are others, please point them out to me.
So what IS the evidence of the Spirit’s activity? I’ll get to that tomorrow.