The Holy Spirit pt 3; Daniel’s Observations

There was some discussion on Facebook regarding the original post in this series. Daniel Bartholomew offered several perceptive comments about how the Spirit acts.

Biblically speaking, God’s power is often manifested in deeply, deeply flawed individuals. Think David. Lot, called “righteous”. Noah. Even Saul displayed the work of the Spirit.

There does seem, Biblically speaking, a distinction between moral, just, ethical behavior and manifesting the power of the Spirit. …


Biblically speaking, evidence of “a life under the control of the Holy Spirit”, as stated, can include actions such as found in 1 Sam 10:11-13 & 19:23-24.

Ethical behavior is, yes, “the fruit of the Spirit”. But the power of the Spirit seems to be manifested in quite odd ways (or at least how we might see them). The prophets were a bunch of odd ducks…Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel did things that would get them thrown out of most churches (and polite society).

Of course, the miraculous signs may be there, but they are not even signs of salvation (Matt 7:22). Note that Jesus places this immediately after a discussion of bearing fruit.

That’s why I think you’re putting to things together (good fruit and divine miracles) in your question that the Bible doesn’t necessarily do so. For whatever reason, God’s Spirit has inspired and empowered individuals that did not seem to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Daniel pointed out that he was responding to the introductory sentences of the Facebook post:

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?

He continued:

Simple answer? No. And yes, some Pentecostals (sometimes coming from a Wesleyan background with an emphasis on the “second work of the Holy Spirit” being a special holiness, who then teach a THIRD work of the Holy Spirit with miraculous manifestations) may present those “filled with the Spirit” as more “superior” or a “more mature” Christian.

But what IS a “superior” or “more mature” Christian? Sure, Saul’s prophesying naked didn’t prove that he was a superior exemplar of faith–his own life showed that pretty clearly. [Responding to me saying that his examples weren’t “on point”] It was “on point” with the actions of Ezekiel and Isaiah, in that both were inspired by God to do those things, and the Bible indicates that both really did prophesy. But Saul was not regenerate, whereas Ezekiel was presumably so.

As for David, his grave moral failings–which seem far more serious that Saul eagerly sacrificing (and breaking cultic law–yet David and his men broke cultic law by eating bread meant only for priests, and David’s own sons served as priests and they clearly were not Aaronic–see 2 Sam 8:18) and failing to kill all the Amalakites do not seem to most of us to be great sins…at least not as great a sin as adultery and murder, which the law indicate punishable by death.

But David–because of him “being after God’s own heart”– continued to be used by God.

So here’s the dilemma: prophesying (even though Paul acknowledges that it is a greater spiritual gift than many others) is not evidently a sign of having a relationship with God. And manifestly violating God’s law is evidently not a sign of NOT having a relationship with God.

What does this mean?

As I mentioned previously, I don’t really have a great answer.

Now, you say there’s an Old Testament/New Testament discontinuity at some point. I agree, the immediate one coming to mind as Peter saying Joel’s prophecy being fulfilled where ALL of God’s people are to have God’s Spirit and there would be evidence of prophecy, dreams, and visions.

But are there other discontinuities? Is prophesying naked no longer in the Spirit’s playbook? Is a certain level of less sinfulness/holiness necessary to be considered truly “living in the Spirit”?

I’m not asking in a snarky way–I mean, there are some pretty clear New Testament points about displaying holiness as evidence of a life in Christ. But it would seem odd to me that this call to holiness–which was very strong in the Old Testament as well–is now really the deciding factor.

Seriously, what DO we do with David? If a Church elder committed adultery and murder, I would think at a bear minimum we’d ask him to resign his position in the Church. If he had written some popular Christian worship tunes, I would guess that we wouldn’t be singing them much, either. Or Solomon: if an elder bowed down to idols in a literal pagan temple–that he himself financed!–I doubt if we would keep reading his writings or preaching from them.

Even if repentant, I think many Churches would say “you know, we love you, brother, but we’re not going to let you serve as elder again.”

Was their more grace in the Old Testament? Or conversely, can we honestly say there’s more holiness (as manifested by Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit”) in the Church than in “the man after God’s own heart”?

As I said, I don’t know. It may not preach well, but wrestling with these questions is important, I think.

Daniel’s questions and observations are valuable.  Here are my thoughts in response:

First, the Holy Spirit is “the Great Anomaly”.  He often does not do what we expect, or act in the ways that we expect. The Bible gives us patterns for what he will do: he points to Jesus, he moves people to holiness.  But the ways he does these things are often unpredictable.

The Spirit delights in destroying the boxes we put him in. He is always working in new and different ways.

The Celtic church’s favorite symbol for the Holy Spirit was a wild goose; you never know where he’s going to go or what he’s going to do. “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it’s going to; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

Second, regarding Daniel’s questions/observations, I find several things about the Spirit in the NT that I don’t find in the OT.

  1. The Spirit in the NT indwells every Christian. In the OT, the Spirit seems to “come upon” people for specific tasks and specific seasons. His presence doesn’t seem to be permanent and his influence seems to be limited to specific purposes (fighting the Philistines, being a wise king, making the fixtures for the Tabernacle), rather than a holistic remaking of a person’s mind and heart into reflections of God’s character.
  2. The NT requires that leaders be of high character. We see this in the lists of requirements for leaders (Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5). We see it in Paul’s frequent commands for this churches to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
  3. The NT defines “holiness” differently than the OT does.  As Daniel noted, the OT does indeed emphasize holiness, but holiness there seems to be about cult (“worship”) rather than character. What I mean is: holiness in the OT is about worshipping Yahweh and not worshipping other gods (that’s what I mean by “cult”). If you are loyal to Yahweh in a way that rules out worshipping Ba’al, you are “holy” in OT terms.  Submission to Torah is secondary, and doesn’t become the primary focus of Judaism until after the Temple is destroyed.  Character in the OT is more connected to wisdom than to holiness.

Do you see other discontinuities or developments?

Third, I think we see a modern-day equivalent of David in the story of James MacDonald.  MacDonald is a powerful preacher, teacher, and leader whose personal excesses and egotism have destroyed his ministry. 

He went so far in his “imitation of David” that he talked with several people about hiring a hitman to kill his former son-in-law because he was convinced that this man had abused his daughter during their marriage.

The elders of his church failed in their duty to keep him accountable.  There were points during his ministry when the elders could have stood up to him, could have asked the right questions about expenses or statements or powerplays.  They did not, and the ministry that God built through him, a ministry that touched tens of thousands of people, is in shambles.

The story of MacDonald’s fall requires the New Testament, doesn’t it?  Because the NT demands that leaders be of high character.

The OT really doesn’t make that demand, does it?  The OT ASKS for leaders to be of high character, and tries to provide some correctives.

One such corrective is the law in Leviticus (to quote the author of Hebrews, “it’s in there somewhere”) that requires the king to write his own personal copy of the law and to have it read to him regularly.

Another corrective is the way God sent prophets.  Think about the relationship between the kings and the prophets in Israel and Judah; the prophets spoke God’s truth to the kings, and the kings (who had the power of life and death) respected the prophets, at least enough to not immediately kill them when they delivered messages of opposition or rebuke.

But (again), in the OT, character wasn’t the primary thing that defined holiness, cult loyalty was.  So character wasn’t the primary thing that God required of the kings.  He required them to lead the people to worship Yahweh and him only.

(God required this because “we become like what we worship” [N.T. Wright]; THERE’s the connection with character.  But that connection isn’t often made explicit in the OT.)

I’ll have one more post (at least) about Daniel’s comments on my initial questions, and probably a summary to come.


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