Many Christians believe the myth that â€˜Spirit-filledâ€™ or even â€˜spiritualâ€™ must indicate something or someone a little strange. Depending on how much exposure people have had to the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, they might associate the words â€˜Spirit-filledâ€™ with people who claim to be inspired by the Spirit to bark like dogs, scream, or roll around on the floor. Such people existâ€”Iâ€™ve seen them!
Some people try to justify their conclusion that it is spiritual to act strange by pointing to the eccentric behavior of prophets in the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah walked around naked (Isaiah 20:1â€“4)â€”some scholars say, wearing only an undergarmentâ€”and Ezekiel lay on his side for 430 days (Ezekiel 4:4â€“6). Some also point to Saul, who â€œchanged into a different personâ€ when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he prophesied (1 Samuel 10:6, 10).
These examples, however, donâ€™t prove that one should expect to act strangely if one is to be truly spiritual. First of all, Saul might have just â€œchanged into a different personâ€ in the sense that â€œGod changed Saulâ€™s heartâ€ before he prophesied (v. 9).
The Frantic Prophets of Baal
Furthermore, when you read about the prophets in the Old Testament, you donâ€™t get the sense that the prophets were usually ecstatic and acting strangely. To illustrate the point, when Elijah had his standoff at Mount Carmel, it was the prophets of Baal who â€œdanced around the altar they had made,â€ shouted, slashed themselves with swords, and engaged in â€œfrantic prophesying,â€ while they endeavored to get Baal to send fire on their sacrifice (1 Kings 18:26â€“29). By contrast, when Elijah called on God to send fire on his sacrifice, he merely â€œstepped forward and prayedâ€ (v. 36).
Strange or out-of-the-ordinary things might happen when people experience the Spiritâ€”like speaking in tongues, dreams, or visions (Joel 2:28)â€”but such experiences are not the primary indicator of spirituality. That is a myth!
Spirit with Hardships
Another myth some Christians believe is that people who are really Spirit-filled will always experience victory. This belief is a cousin to the idea that if you have enough faith you will always experience health and wealth.
Just as faith doesnâ€™t guarantee a life free of disappointments and hardships, the Spirit-filled life is not a life free of disappointments and hardships. Jesus is the epitome of spirituality, but he never became an earthly king. Instead, â€œthrough the eternal Spirit [he] offered himself unblemished to Godâ€ so his death might give us life (Hebrews 9:14).
In the Bible, â€œthe one who is victoriousâ€ (Revelation 2:11) may suffer and face poverty (v. 9). Their victory is that they resist their cultureâ€™s anti-Christian values and are â€œfaithful, even to the point of deathâ€ (v. 10). And their â€œvictorâ€™s crownâ€ is eternal life, not achieving success in the eyes of the world around them (vv. 10â€“11).
Spirit-Filled â€œSuccessâ€ and â€œFailureâ€
The Spiritâ€™s empowerment may at times lead to great successes, but it doesnâ€™t guarantee them. Barnabas, for example, â€œwas a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faithâ€ and through his ministry â€œa great number of people were brought to the Lordâ€ (Acts 11:22â€“24).
By contrast, Stephen, who was also â€œa man full of faith and of the Holy Spiritâ€ (Acts 6:5 and 7:55), was stoned to death when he preached the gospel (7:58). Similarly, Peter and Paul both had their lives threatened and were imprisoned on account of Christ, but they continued to preach the gospel because they had power and boldness from the Holy Spirit. Today the Spirit continues to inspire people to stay committed to Christ in the face of adversity, even to the point of martyrdom.
Spirit of Hope
Aside from the fact that those we minister to can â€œresist the Holy Spiritâ€ (Acts 7:51) and, therefore, our Spirit-empowered ministry is not always well-received, we live in a fallen creation that is yet to â€œbe liberated from its bondage to decayâ€ (Romans 8:21). As a consequence, even though we â€œhave the firstfruits of the Spirit,â€ we â€œgroan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodiesâ€ (v. 23).
However, as we long with hope, God does not abandon us, for the â€œthe Spirit helps us in our weaknessâ€ (v. 26). As James Dunn observes, the Spirit is not only present â€œin the heights of spiritual rapture,â€ but also â€œin the depths of human inability to cope.â€ This means that if we find ourselves outside of some experiences of victory, this is not necessarily a sign of a lack of spiritualityâ€”in fact, at those times the Spirit might be particularly active in our lives. And that is no myth.
*This is an edited excerpt from, Simply Spirit-Filled: Experiencing God in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit, by Dr. Andrew K. Gabriel, Â© 2019 by Emanate Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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