A dear friend of mine, who went to be with the Lord at the end of 1981, often expressed truths in a striking, or even quirky, way. One of his sayings was, “If the devil can’t keep you out of a blessing, he will push you right through it and out the other side.”
To put that more prosaically, if the devil can’t keep you from a blessing, he will make you an extremist. This is true in many aspects of the Christian life. For example, the biblical practice of believer’s baptism becomes baptismal regeneration. Many years ago I was present at an interdenominational discussion on baptism. Present was a Roman Catholic bishop. Although I had a good idea what he would say, I asked him, “If you baptized a baby, and that child grew up, never repented, never believed and never went to church, would that person get to heaven?” “Oh yes,” he replied, “because I baptized it.”
Every serious Christian who keeps in touch with what is happening among professing Christians today will know of the terrible extremes and bizarre behaviour that occur in some circles, and which are claimed to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Some people bark like dogs, become paralysed, are struck dumb, others laugh hysterically and uncontrollably or fall down in a trance and lie for hours. One self-proclaimed prophet claimed to be guided by an angel who floats six inches off the floor. His ‘ministry’, before he was stood down for sexual immorality, included kicking people to heal them. Many other examples could be given of weird and extreme behaviour that is claimed to be the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. But these extremes are totally unlike the experiences of those filled with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
On the Day of Pentecost some observers thought the believers were drunk, not because they were staggering about or falling down, but because they were all praising God at the same time in many different languages. It must have seemed like babble to the uninitiated. But Peter spoke up in full control of his faculties and gave a logical and powerful address. In any case, many of the hearers understood what the believers were saying in their own language.
Several Scriptures inform us as to the result of what being filled with the Spirit should be like.
In II Timothy 1:7 Paul states that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” In the Epistle to the Galatians he wrote that “the fruit [result, product] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
Some people would claim that the possession of supernatural gifts is proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence. But gifts can be counterfeited; the fruit of the Spirit and true holiness cannot. Even genuine miracles are no proof of authenticity. The words of the Lord Jesus Christ make this clear. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23, NKJV).
The third Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, but much of what is claimed to be of Him in such circles is anything but holy.
However, returning to my friend’s remark, we should take note of the implications of what he said in the opposite direction. He said, “If the devil can’t keep you out of a blessing…” Many professing Christians, and indeed churches, appear to be lifeless, dead, miserable, powerless. There seems to be a lack of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. In our abhorrence of the foolish capers of some, in turning away from bizarre extremes, we must not miss the importance and necessity of heeding the exhortation to go on being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Nor should we overlook the promises that God wants to give us the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13; 24:49; Acts 1:8). Every true Christian has the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), but not everyone is filled with the Holy Spirit. The word power in those verses, in the light of other Scriptures, obviously means effectiveness, and ability to live a holy life. Evil spirits have power, power to lead people into sin, power to paralyse people and make them do foolish and wicked things.
The Holy Spirit’s power is aimed at making us effective witnesses, enabling us to live God-glorifying lives, producing His beautiful fruit in us, and making us more like the Lord Jesus Christ.
Another old friend of mine, also now with the Lord, quoted a saying, something like this: “He who treads the pathway of truth walks the razor edge of heresy.” In other words, it is only too easy to step aside from the pathway into error. The highway of holiness is narrow. Let us endeavour, in all things, to find the proper biblical balance, and avoid extremes in either direction.