Many Christians believe the myth that ‘Spirit-filled’ or even ‘spiritual’ 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 ‘Spirit-filled’ with people who claim to be inspired by the Spirit to bark like dogs, scream, or roll around on the floor. Such people exist—I’ve seen them!

Eccentric Prophets

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 20:1–4)—some scholars say, wearing only an undergarment—and Ezekiel lay on his side for 430 days (Ezekiel 4:4–6). Some also point to Saul, who “changed into a different person” when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he prophesied (1 Samuel 10:6, 10).

These examples, however, don’t prove that one should expect to act strangely if one is to be truly spiritual. First of all, Saul might have just “changed into a different person” in the sense that “God changed Saul’s heart” before he prophesied (v. 9).

The Frantic Prophets of Baal

Furthermore, when you read about the prophets in the Old Testament, you don’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 “danced around the altar they had made,” shouted, slashed themselves with swords, and engaged in “frantic prophesying,” while they endeavored to get Baal to send fire on their sacrifice (1 Kings 18:26–29). By contrast, when Elijah called on God to send fire on his sacrifice, he merely “stepped forward and prayed” (v. 36).

Strange or out-of-the-ordinary things might happen when people experience the Spirit—like speaking in tongues, dreams, or visions (Joel 2:28)—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 doesn’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, “through the eternal Spirit [he] offered himself unblemished to God” so his death might give us life (Hebrews 9:14).

In the Bible, “the one who is victorious” (Revelation 2:11) may suffer and face poverty (v. 9). Their victory is that they resist their culture’s anti-Christian values and are “faithful, even to the point of death” (v. 10). And their “victor’s crown” is eternal life, not achieving success in the eyes of the world around them (vv. 10–11).

Spirit-Filled “Success” and “Failure”

The Spirit’s empowerment may at times lead to great successes, but it doesn’t guarantee them. Barnabas, for example, “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” and through his ministry “a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:22–24).

By contrast, Stephen, who was also “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (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 “resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51) and, therefore, our Spirit-empowered ministry is not always well-received, we live in a fallen creation that is yet to “be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). As a consequence, even though we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23).

However, as we long with hope, God does not abandon us, for the “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). As James Dunn observes, the Spirit is not only present “in the heights of spiritual rapture,” but also “in the depths of human inability to cope.”[1] This means that if we find ourselves outside of some experiences of victory, this is not necessarily a sign of a lack of spirituality—in fact, at those times the Spirit might be particularly active in our lives. And that is no myth.

Click here to read Chapter 1 and order Simply Spirit-Filled.

*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, © 2019 by Emanate Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.

[1] James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 38 (Dallas, TX: Word, 1988), 479.

Responses

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  1. whitsworld

    Actually, the verses you quoted in Joel 2 are a prophecy of what was to come. Acts chapter 2 gives a great example of what happens when the Spirit Of God came upon the 120 that were waiting in the upper room. You may say that it was only for the close followers of Jesus or for the leaders of the church at that time, however it was the 120 not just the 12. Furthermore, 3,000 souls were added to the church that day. I don’t think that those who were arroused at the happenings of the upper room (claiming the 120 to be drunk because of the powerful move of the Holy Ghost that hit them) were satisfied to say simply “oh, I believe” and not experience the same incredible move and change of the Spirit for themselves. I would think God to be biased had He only intended deep and “unusual” moves for a select few and not for all. Furthermore, why – if such experiences were possible – would we not want to grasp ahold fully of what could be if we dove deeper in God rather than say it isn’t necessary and deny it? In Acts 19 Paul asks the believers if they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed. If belief in and of itself was enough to say that we have the Spirit of God living inside of us without further evidence, why then would Paul separate them? Acts 2 Peter spoke up and said that what was taking place that day was what was spoken of by the prophet Joel saying “which you do now see and hear.” Jesus himself spoke of these things in John 3 when He taught nicodemus of the wind. When the Holy Ghost comes you see the evidence of it and you hear it.
    I am curious why you only used the Old Testament references when talking of the Sprit of God in people. (Which, that was only on God’s prophets for that day because the Holy Ghost was not yet given in the Old Testament.) Where in the Bible did someone experience the power of the Holy Ghost without an “unusual” as you’ve called it experiece? What verses support your myth theory on the lack of enthusiasm when the Spirit of God lives within you?

  2. Ronald Thomas

    There is no word for Holy Spirit in the New Testament you look at the Aramaic translations it states only to receive the good blessings ,”rakma d’ khooba”, Receive the goodness of God nowhere in the old Aramaic translations does it use the word Holy Spirit . You commit yourself to a man god that is the Westernized, Hellenized Greek god of Rome. I follow the man Jesus back into the Old Testament. I follow the eastern canons of the New and Old Testament. All you teach is death, I teach life and all I am is a common man that lives in the Old Testament with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Perhaps you should journey into the Old Testament a little more and throw you books out the window and become silent for a change of pace.

  3. Kathryne Leach

    I read the sample chapter and appreciate your phrase “the Holy Spirit is not hazardous.” Indeed He is not! There is a need for your book and I wish you success in distribution. Praying it lands in the hands of those needing to experience liberation that the Spirit brings.