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!
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.” 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.
*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.
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