“I think the Lord is leading me to….” “I feel the Lord is leading me to….” “I really prayed about it and I felt that….” You’ve probably heard these types of statements before. And if it is God leading, who is anyone to question? In many instances, it really is like questioning scripture at this point. Except for one big thing—it isn’t scripture. It is “I think,” “I feel,” and “I felt.” And if not that, then sometimes it is, “The Lord told me.” And that isn’t scripture either, even though, again, it is treated like it’s Bible.
One might hear these above type of statements from men in the office of the pastor. How did he know what the church was to do? How did he know what sermon he was to preach? “The Lord told him” or “he felt the Spirit leading.” One pastor I have known demanded the support of his congregation for every one of His sermons because it was Holy Spirit-preaching. When he preached, that was the Holy Spirit, so it should be unquestioned. Do you see a problem here? This kind of language from a pastor places a type of authority on his decision making that is authoritative on the level of God. Should we expect this kind of authority from the leaders of our churches? In one sense, a pastor represents the voice of God, but it is only insofar he preaches the Word. The people listen to God in those instances by means of the messenger. But every opinion out of the man’s mouth or even just the ones when he is behind the ‘sacred desk’ are not synonymous with scripture.
How do we know what we ought to do in the areas that the Bible is silent upon, like who I’m going to marry, where I’m supposed to work, or whether the reuben on rye or the 10 oz. NY strip steak? It seems that, “the Lord led,” is all we’ve got in those types of decisions? Or is it? How does the Holy Spirit actually work in these situations?
To detect true spirituality, first (part one) we proposed that all believers are spiritual. Every Christian is spiritual. There was a question of whether there were degrees of spirituality. No. Each genuine believer is indwelt by the one and only Holy Spirit, a Person. You can’t get more or less of Him once you have Him. However, He can have more of you. It’s not quantitatively more spirituality. No one is more spiritual in that sense. However, someone can, rather than yield to the Spirit, submit to his flesh. At that time, he is carnal, not spiritual, in a practical, not positional, way. When someone is controlled by the Holy Spirit, then there are manifestations of that yieldedness. We showed six of them. These are how we detect genuine spirituality. And now for the last aspect we will consider in the detection of true spirituality.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
The Holy Spirit leads (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:18). We know this. But how does He lead?
First, He leads in accordance with Scripture. “The sword of the Spirit . . . is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). Parallel to the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly (Col 3:16). Being controlled by the Spirit is being controlled by the Word of God. All of this fits within the sufficiency of Scripture (Mt 4:4, 2 Tim 3:16-17). God’s Word equips a person for every good work. If a decision attributed to the Holy Spirit contradicts the Word of God, disobeys scripture, it wasn’t or isn’t the Holy Spirit leading. The Bible is how we test to see if something is of God (1 John 4:1). Sanctification of the Spirit is also the sanctification of the Word of God (John 17:17-19). We are set apart by the truth, not by our feelings or opinions, which might be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
A corollary perhaps to the Spirit’s leading in accordance with Scripture could be “no private interpretation” (2 Pet 1:19-21). The Bible has one meaning and many applications; however, we ought to also look to history to see how the Spirit worked in believer’s lives to apply Scripture. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to suddenly accept a practice that has been forbidden by God’s people in the past.
Second, He leads in accordance with the church. I’ve asked many if they needed the church to know the will of God and most will say that they can know the will of God independently of a church. Often today I’ve noticed people think that they have the right to question a pastor in his preaching, but few think they should be questioned when they say ‘the Lord is leading.’ A church is to be of one mind, one spirit, one mouth, and one speech (1 Cor 1:10, Philip 1:27). People should not operate outside of the unity or unanimity of the church. Believers walk in the Spirit, but they do not walk alone.
In the Old Testament, Israel had the Urim and the Thummim for God to guide her in her decisions (Ex 28:30, Lev 8:8, Num 7:21, Deut 33:8, Ezra 2:63). Do we have anything like that today? I believe we do. The Urim and Thummim today is the church. The Holy Spirit indwells a church as the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16). The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). God leads through the church, not through single individuals. There is one Holy Spirit who indwells church members, the same Spirit, so the agreement of the church is the leading of the Spirit (Eph 4:1-4, 1 Cor 12). Dividing off of the opinion of the church is heresy (Tit 3:10-11, 1 Cor 1:11-17). Church members judge matters of believers (1 Cor 6:1-8). Matthew 18:18-19 suggests a supernatural leading through the agreement of the church.
In the freelancing spirit of the age, many today do not desire the agreement of a church in matters. They rather operate independent of church authority, appreciating the freedom of “the Lord’s leading.” It’s a free country. We can move about when and where we want. Many treat the will of God as a plaything, affording them freedom, which they label “Christian liberty.” Many pastors also use this freedom to move from church to church, again attributing the activity to the “will of God” in their life, when often it is discontent. Rather than just leave, people should be sent by the church for greater ministry (cf. Acts 13:1-5). Lesser ministry isn’t God’s will. But who determines that is the church, not the individual. Someone may ask, “Well, what if the church is wrong?” If the church is wrong, an attempt should be made to persuade the church from the Word of God. Sometimes men will just use scripture to excuse what they want to do. Jeroboam quoted Aaron to justify building calves at Dan and Bethel. The church should be able to determine whether something is the will of God or not.
When Paul discussed Christian liberty in 1 Cor 8-10, at the end of that section (11:1), he commanded the church at Corinth to imitate him as he imitated Christ. In areas of liberty, people of a church should look to the leaders of their church to know what to do in areas in which scripture is silent (cf. Heb 13:17). Rather than follow self, follow godly leaders in the church.
How did Timothy know he was to be a pastor? 1 Timothy 4:14 is a great verse on this. First, prophecy, that is, the preaching of the Word of God. I’ve had men tell me that they didn’t ask me what would be the right decision because they already knew what I would say. How did they know? The preaching of God’s Word. Preaching worked in the heart and life of Timothy. Second, the laying on of hands of the presbytery. Timothy got the unified guidance of godly men to verify the will of God in this matter. In many cases today, men say they’re “called,” in essence, “God told me,” and that’s their chief indication of God’s working. This isn’t the pattern in scripture.
Do you see how that Scripture and then the church puts objectivity to the will of God? This is how the Holy Spirit guides today. In answer to this type of presentation, often I’ll hear from men examples of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Do you understand that God doesn’t work with us like that any more? We have Scripture and the church now. God doesn’t speak to us that way. If He is going to guide you like an apostle or prophet, than you should also fulfill the qualifications of the prophet and the apostle. You don’t, so don’t see yourself as led by the Spirit the same way they were.
Some Specifics Concerning the Individual Will of God
Does Scripture teach us that God has only that one person for us to marry? Or does the Bible order us to obey God’s Word but give us liberty within scriptural parameters in those individual matters? For instance, Scripture prohibits a Christian from marrying an unbeliever among other instructions (2 Cor 6:14), but God would give freedom within the bounds of what He said in His Word. Paul says this in 1 Corinthian 7:39: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will.” Of course, he adds, “only in the Lord.” Within biblical guidelines, someone can marry whoever he or she wants to marry, unless, of course, God sovereignly overrules otherwise.
The above exact teaching you’ll see in Proverbs 16:1 and 9:
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. . . . A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
The idea of “preparations” is “plans.” It is God’s will for man to make plans. A man is to devise his way. The Lord may step in to change something, directing his steps, but he should go about making plans and devising his way. God allows people to make their own decisions within the bounds of the guidelines and principles He has set up in the Bible. The best way to ensure you do right is to obey God’s Word, practice it or apply it in every area of your life. If you do that, those unknown, individual things will work themselves out, very much like we see in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
In short, if you will trust God and acknowledge everything He said, those individual, personal decisions will work out fine.
God has not left men without a basis for discerning true spirituality. 1 John 4:1 indicates that genuine Christians can test “the spirits whether they are of God.” At the same time, most people have been deceived in this area. The road is broad that leads to destruction (Mt 7:13-14). As a means of validating their condition, men seek after signs (1 Corinthians 1:22) that very often are counterfeits that lure men into a false sense of spiritual security. From the teaching of Jesus (Mt 7:21-23), we know that at the judgment seat, their tragic deception will be exposed with no future opportunity for correction. Men can be fooled into trusting in fraudulent indicators of their spiritual states.
In the first chapter of his epistle, James says men deceive themselves with the faulty notion that God accepts the mere hearing of His Word. This reveals the nature of people’s deceit. They can rationalize a tolerance of their own disobedience to what God said. Satan is a deceiver and liar, who would have men mislead by their own unreliable measurements of spirituality. And the Devil majors on spiritual subterfuge in particular—it’s his domain of activity (Eph 6:12).
On the other hand, the Word of God is sufficient (2 Tim 3:15-17). We don’t have to be deceived. We have the truth, which sets us apart from spiritual error (John 17:17).
Who Is Spiritual?
Sometimes you might hear someone say, “He’s a spiritual person.” Based on a scriptural evaluation, that would be the same as saying, “He’s a saved person.” Every saved person is a spiritual person, because at the point of his justification by faith, he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 6:19-20, 1 John 3:9). Only believers are spiritual. No unbeliever is spiritual, even if he says he’s “a spiritual person.”
No believer is any more spiritual than any other person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. When someone receives the Holy Spirit, he has all the Holy Spirit that he will ever get. He doesn’t need any fresh outpouring or anointing. The concept of “more spiritual” isn’t in the Bible. God does command believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), which is to be controlled by the Spirit (Rom 6). When a believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in various ways described in the New Testament.
How Does the Holy Spirit Manifest Himself?
The New Testament indicates several different ways that we can discern true spirituality. We should expect all of these of someone who is spiritual. Because everyone has equal spiritual resources (Eph 1:3; 2 Pet 1:1-4; 1 Cor 1:7), everyone also has equal opportunity for manifesting true spirituality. In other words, no one is breathing any kind of pure spiritual air that sets him apart from any other believer.
God isn’t responsible for spiritual lack. When a man is tempted, he is drawn away of his own lusts (James 1:14). The Holy Spirit will show Himself through a believer, but more than any one thing, self gets in the way. Humbling self is an important first step to revealing true spirituality.
First, a person who is filled with the Spirit is letting the Word of Christ dwell in him richly. Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 are parallel passages. Someone who is controlled by the Holy Spirit is also controlled by God’s Word. When we disobey Scripture, either in thought, word, or deed, at that moment we are also either resisting or quenching the Holy Spirit. True spirituality manifests itself in obedience to the Bible. A Christian life obedient to the Spirit will look like Scripture.
Second, the Holy Spirit will show Himself through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I don’t think the emphasis of “fruit” is in the nature of bananas, apples, or oranges. Fruit is production. The Holy Spirit will produce a certain type of attitude that will result in a right kind of behavior. That disposition is seen in the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t something you work on, but a work that the Holy Spirit does in and through you. And that fruit will show up because the believer submits to the Holy Spirit. The fruit is all or nothing. He either is manifesting the Holy Spirit or he isn’t. If he is, then all of the fruit will show up. Others will see the Holy Spirit and not self when the Christian is filled with the Spirit.
Third, when the Holy Spirit is in charge in someone’s life, this will show up in God-honoring music (Eph 5:19) and perpetual thanksgiving (Eph 5:20). The Holy Spirit directs the Spirit controlled person toward praise and thanks, both pointing toward God and away from self.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit will transform the relationships of those who are controlled by Him (Eph 5:21-6:8). This is how the Holy Spirit fulfills the law through love. The Christian is directed by the Spirit to meet other’s needs, which are all different by Divine design. A child has a different need from a parent, an employer from an employee, and a husband from a wife.
Fifth, the particular spiritual giftedness of the Spirit-filled person will show up in His church (1 Cor 12). The Holy Spirit divides to a church as He wills, providing it His own unique blend depending on its needs. When the Christian submits to the Spirit, he will fulfill his part in the body. The whole church is more important than his part in it. Jesus will be glorified by being manifested by the Spirit through the church in the world.
Sixth, he will preach the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). No believer has any more power than any other believer. He can be more bold, however, depending upon his submission to the Holy Spirit. If he’s bold, the Holy Spirit will work through the Word of God unto the salvation of souls. There is no unique power for evangelism. The power rests in the Scripture through the Spirit. Boldness will look, well, bold. Some may confuse this for pride, because proclamation of truth lacks the nuance that some expect of a fake humility.
We have these six means for detecting true spirituality. They could be faked for a period of time, but not for long. However, we should content ourselves with what God’s Word reveals as genuine indicators. The replacement gauges of spirituality provide people with false positives, fooling them into a dangerous spiritual ease.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
Part of discerning true spirituality revolves around the discernment of the will of God. How does the Holy Spirit lead? We’ll approach this question next time.
John Angell James in 1861 in his Discourses Addressed to the Churches (pp. 544-545, 551) wrote:
I do not desire, I do not advise a bustling, artificial effort to get up a revival, nor the construction of any man-devised machinery . . . I want God’s work, not man’s . . . I want no revivalist preachers (emphasis mine).
For a long time, men have distinguished between revival and revivalism. Iain Murray in his Revival and Revivalism (1994, p. xix) differentiated between the two. He said that revival was “the phenomenon of authentic spiritual awakening which is the work of the living God, ” while revivalism was “religious excitements, deliberately organized to secure converts.” A few sentences later he writes:
[O]rthodox Christianity at an earlier date protested that revival and revivalism — far from being of the same genus — are actually opposed.
Earlier (p. xviii) Murray distinguished between the two this way:
[I]t was not until the last forty years of the nineteenth century that a new view of revival came generally to displace the old . . . . Seasons of revival became ‘revival meetings’. Instead of being ‘surprising’ they might now be even announced in advance, and whereas no one in the previous century had known of ways to secure a revival, a system was now popularised by ‘revivalists’ which came near to guaranteeing results.
So why did “revivalism” become confused with revival? Bernard A. Weisberger and William G. McLoughlin wrote about this perversion in two books in the late 1950s: Weisberger’s They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (1958) and McLoughlin’s Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (1959). Both of these men said that revivalist supporters wrote a fraudulent history that misrepresented the orthodox understanding of revival. McLoughlin wrote in his preface: “History has not dealt fairly with American revivals.” Weisberger wrote:
There are numerous histories of revivals in the United States written by devout ministers or worshippers in the evangelical denominations. They are, almost with exception, useless as history.
Based on this understanding, what is most often referred to as the First Great Awakening in the American colonies of the early to mid 18th century was an example of a revival. On the other hand, most of what is labeled revival in what was termed the Second Great Awakening was actually only revivalism. In the decades following the First Great Awakening, American preachers stated their opposition to what was merely emotional, contrived, or manipulated. Murray writes (p. xx):
They foresaw the danger of revivalism long before it became a respected part of evangelicalism, and they would have had no problem agreeing with the criticism which has since discredited it.
Much false practice and perhaps even questionable offices were contrived from the revivalism that intended to reproduce what had occurred in the First Great Awakening, including revival meetings and those who lead them. Before the revivalists and the revision of the doctrine and even history of revival, no orthodox saint would have thought that he could “schedule” a revival.
The Biblical Usage of the Term “Revival”
Many might be surprised to hear that the English term “revival” does not appear once in the King James Version of the Bible. Eight times you have the word “revive” (Nehemiah 4:2; Psalm 85:6; Psalm 138:7; Isaiah 57:15 (2), Hosea 6:2; 14:7; Habakkuk 3:2), twice “reviving” (Ezra 9:8, 9), and six times “revived” (Genesis 45:27; Judges 15:19; 1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 13:21; Romans 7:9; 14:9). You’ll notice that all of these instances, except for two, are in the Old Testament—Romans 7:9 and 14:9 use the word “revived.” Twelve out of the fourteen Old Testament usages are the same Hebrew word. Only the two references in Ezra, translated “reviving,” are different Hebrew words.
The English statistics are a little misleading in lieu of a grammatical, historical interpretation of Scripture. Our goal is to understand terms as the people would have understood them in that day. “Revive” might be found eight times in the King James, but forms of the Hebrew word, chayah (pronounced khaw-yaw), are found 390 times. It simply means “to have life.” The first time that a form of chayah appears is in Genesis 1:24 and it is translated “living” as in “living creatures.” Abraham used this Hebrew word in Genesis 12:12, when he said:
This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
There the form of chayah is translated “alive.” It is obvious that Abraham means “physically alive.” Let’s consider the twelve references of chayah in the Old Testament, translated some form of “revive.”
Nehemiah 4:2 uses chayah and there it is obviously being used metaphorically, because it is used to explain the rocks of Jerusalem being rebuilt up a wall. It is used in a kind of mocking way to try to show the impossibility of the walls being rebuilt.
Psalm 85:6 is perhaps the classic passage in the Bible used to teach revival. It says: “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” Psalm 85 is a post-exilic psalm composed after the return from captivity in Babylon. Israel had been returned from exile, but she had not yet been restored back to her former condition. She is praying to God that she would be.
In Psalm 138:7, David is praying that God would keep him alive (chayah) in the midst of troubles.
Isaiah 57:15 is the verse that gives the closest idea to what we would understand as modern day revival. It reads:
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Here we read of spiritual and heart revival. God by His grace will bring spiritual life to the person’s heart who is contrite and humble about his condition. This sounds like it is talking about salvation. A person will be quickened if he repents of his sin and turns to God for deliverance.
Hosea 6:2 speaks of the restoration of Israel. It might seem like forever to her, but God would bring her back to life very soon, the quickness of which is communicated by the few number of days this is said that it would be occurring. Hosea 14:7 is talking about the millennial kingdom resurrection of Israel.
In Habakkuk 3:2, the severity of God’s judgment brought fear to the prophet. In the midst of the punishment, Habakkuk asks for mercy. He pleads with God in essence to crank back up His saving work, to repeat the kind of activity that God had done for Israel before in order to deliver her.
In a root way, “revive” mean “to make alive.” The strongest New Testament equivalent is “to quicken.” Even looking at the Old Testament “revive” passages in a spiritual way, they seem to be speaking more about salvation than they do some kind of renewing work with believers. A revival is when someone who is dead spiritually is quickened, something like what we see in Ephesians 2:1, 5:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. . . . Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).
If there is a revival in the New Testament, it is what we see in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. That day three thousand people were made alive. They were all Jews. It is even said to be a fulfillment of Joel 2 and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16). What happened in Acts 2 pre-fulfilled what will occur with the nation Israel before Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth. The dry bones of Ezekiel will be quickened and returned to the land.
Everyone who is saved is revived. Someone dead in sin is made alive at salvation. An already saved person doesn’t need reviving because he is already alive and will continue alive forever. A revival then would perhaps be a time when through preaching the gospel several are saved in a short period of time. It occurs because the Spirit of God is convicting, believers are obedient to the Holy Spirit with bold preaching, the seed falls on good ground, and much fruit is produced. There is no other explanation, especially a human one, for why this might occur, except for this scriptural one. The New Testament doesn’t even use the word “revive,” so there is little to no emphasis on this as a recurring event.
Contrasting Ideas about Revival
I’m not trying to undo any historic opinion about revival. Jonathan Edwards’ book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, was prompted by the Great Awakening. Edwards did not believe that the Great Awakening was either all truth or all error, but a mixture of the two, and that this is normal. He wrote the book to address the question, “How do we discern between that which is genuine and that which is counterfeit?” Most agree that a revival occurred during Edwards’ life, and he was concerned that there was enough false to write a book on it.
What we call revivals have transpired. A whole lot of people have been made alive at a particular point in time. The biggest part of the argument about revivals, however, I believe centers on the Calvinism versus Arminianism issue. It also relates to covenant theology and dispensationalism. Let me break it down for you.
Some might call this Pelagian as it applies to Charles Finney. This is where we get a lot of human-centered problems that are criticized by Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism, which he calls “revivalism.” It is also about manipulating the conditions to make things happen like we want. I don’t believe in revivalism as defined historically, which was the invention of Arminianism. I also believe that this is major problem in fundamentalism today. There are a lot of difficulties here that I will deal with in a separate article later.
This is where I have found that I have a problem with Iain Murray, and, therefore, anyone who agrees with him. I believe that his and others’ fundamental problem with Finney and perhaps to a lesser extent, any revivalists, relates mainly to his Calvinism. Murray shows strong agreement with Samuel Davies and his meaning of revival. What is that? Murray writes concerning early American preacher, and short-time president of Princeton, Samuel Davies (pp. 21-22):
In speaking of the meaning of revival it is also essential to note that what Davies and his brethren believed about revival was not something separate from, or additional to, their main beliefs; it was, rather, a necessary consequence. Such is man’s state of sin that he cannot be saved without the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration, and the faith that results from it, are the gifts of God. Therefore, wherever conversions are multiplied, the cause is to be found not in men, nor in favourable conditions, but in the abundant influences of the Spirit of God that alone make the testimony of the church effective. No other explanation of revival is in harmony with the truths that are ‘the essence of the Christian scheme — the utter depravity of man, the sovereignly-free grace of Jehovah . . . . There is a sovereignty in all God’s activity of his people. Revivals are not brought about by the fulfillment of ‘conditions’ any more than the conversion of a single individual is secured by any means of human actions. The ‘special seasons of mercy’ are determined in heaven.
Calvinists define revival according to their five points with a special emphasis in this case on unconditional election. The opposition to revivalism for a Calvinist galvanizes around the non-Calvinism of revivalism. For an event to be called a revival, man can’t be involved. Murray writes (p. 21):
[T]here are times when the Spirit is given in exceptional measure and that such times may come suddenly, even when deadness is general in the church and indifference to biblical religion prevails in society at large.
I believe this no-condition belief clashes with what we read in Scripture. The one passage in Scripture above that treats the concept of revival more than any other, Isaiah 57:15, says that God revives the spirit and heart of the humble and contrite ones. The verse specifically says that conditions of humility and contriteness precede revival. That clashes with a Calvnist view of revival.
A few times Jesus explained why the seed would not penetrate the soil, the gospel would not be received by a human heart. In Matthew 13 He said that the ground was either thorny, stony, or hard. All of those are conditions. Jesus says that those conditions relate to the result of fruit bearing. In Luke 13, when asked why only few would be saved, Jesus said that men must strive to enter in at the strait gate. That reads like a condition. Of course, the Calvinist may say, “You don’t understand Calvinism. We don’t mean no conditions.” Well, you can’t have it both ways. When you say no conditions, then the explanation from Jesus should be no conditions. Here and several other places, we see conditions.
Much of the explanation for revival among the early American Calvinists takes in their covenant theology, especially seeing Israel as the church in Old Testament prophetic passages. Murray refers to a sermon by Davies (p. 21):
There are eras, said Davies, when only a large communication or outpouring of the Spirit can ‘produce a public general reformation’. Thus, preaching on ‘The Happy Effects of the Pouring Out of the Spirit’ from Isaiah 32:13-19, he argued that ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the great and only remedy for a ruined country — the only effectual preventative of national calamities and desolation, and the only sure cause of a lasting and well-established peace’.
This type of interpretation of the Old Testament, that does not differentiate between the church and Israel, also affects interpretation of the Gospels and Acts. Murray writes (p. 19):
It is through Christ as mediator and head of his body that the Spirit continues to be communicated to the church and that his ‘actual influence’ is known.
At that point, Murray then writes this in a footnote (p. 19):
Bishop Moule wrote: ‘We are not to think of the “giving” of the Spirit as of an isolated deposit of what, once given, is now locally in possession. The first “gift” is, as it were, the first point in a series of actions, of which each one may be expressed also as a gift.’ Were it not for this truth, prayer for the Spirit (Luke 11:13) would be meaningless.
You can see how the covenant theology affects the interpretation of Luke 11:13 where Christ mentions praying for the Spirit. Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit, so the apostles’ asking for the Holy Spirit was a legitimate prayer within the will of God like our praying for the kingdom to come. However, once the Holy Spirit came, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost at the moment of our justification. All believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit simultaneous with salvation. The way Murray explains it, we should keep expecting more and more outpourings of the Holy Spirit (pp. 19-20):
Thus, although the Spirit was initially bestowed on the church by Christ at Pentecost, his influences are not uniform and unchanging; there are variations in the measure in which he continues to be given. In the book of Acts tiems of quickened spiritual prosperity and growth in the church are traced to new and larger measures of the influence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31-33; 11:15-16; 13:52-14:1), and so, through Christian history, the church has been raised to new energy and success by ‘remarkable communications of the Spirit of God . . . at special seasons of mercy’.
Speaking of these non-revivalist Calvinists, he continues:
For these men the words ‘effusion’, ‘baptism’, and ‘outpouring of the Spirit’ were synonymous in meaning with ‘revival of religion’. . . . Thomas Murphy wrote, it was ‘the baptism of the Holy Ghost which caused the infant Church [in America] to become animated by the most fervent piety’. . . . [R]evival consists in a larger giving of God’s Spirit for the making known of Christ’s glory.
I have to admit that I had thought ignorantly that the Keswick movement of the nineteenth century invented the second blessing theology. It is obvious that many at least eighteenth century Calvinists believed in a second blessing, a baptism of the Spirit subsequent to salvation that was accompanied by significant external, tangible consequences.
A Literal, Grammatical-Historical Interpretation of Scripture
I would use the word dispensational, but it really is the conviction of a literal interpretation of Scripture, of course, taking into consideration figures of speech. This literal hermeneutic separates the institution of Israel from the institution of the church. The two are separate entities in the Bible. The outpouring of the Spirit on Israel hasn’t happened yet. We can’t take those promises to Israel in the Old Testament and relate them to an ongoing occurrence in the church.
The revival of the New Testament age isn’t a recurring outpouring of the Spirit. The normal body life of the church has included large numbers of conversions in a very short period of time. In the New Testament we saw it only in the church of Jerusalem in the first nine or ten chapters of Acts. Since then we have had certain periods where churches have seen the same, but that doesn’t mean that any obedient church isn’t revived. This is where I find myself at times agreeing with Murray, when he writes (pp. xx, 22):
This school of preachers held that the Holy Spirit has appointed means to be used for the advancement of the gospel, pre-eminently the teaching of the Word of God accompanied by earnest prayer. . . . They believed that strict adherence to Scripture is the only guard against what may be wrongly claimed as the work of God’s Spirit.
When Do We See Revival?
I believe it is wrong-headed to look at the regular obedience to the Word of God in the local church as something less than revival. This is where the no-condition explanation for many new converts, I’m convinced, falls short. A major contributing factor is the conditions being ripe for revival. Very often people turn to God when they are broken by tough external circumstances. A revived state that is just an obedient Christian life in a local church may lack the pizzazz required to be called revival.
You have revival if you have a church that loves the Lord and regularly and boldly proclaims the gospel throughout the community and beyond. Those are life endowing activities. Do we always want more to be saved? Yes. But we don’t pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to surprise us with a sudden burst of new conversions. We keep praying scriptural prayers and continue in obedience to the Great Commission and we have revival. Revival shouldn’t be measured by the numbers but by the spiritual state of the church—boldness in evangelism, husbands loving wives, wives submitting to husbands, children obeying parents, fruit of the Spirit, and the body of Christ manifested through the mutual spiritual giftedness of its people. We must be content that this is revival too.
In his day, probably no one was more well known for exhorting professing Christians to pray for power than the late Jack Hyles, the long time pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana and father-in-law of the present pastor there, Jack Schaap. He influenced thousands of men toward this practice. He wrote this in his book, The Fulness of the Spirit:
We prayed from 1:00 until 2:00; from 2:00 until 3:00; from 3:00 until 4:00; from 4:00 until 5:00 and sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning the sweet power of God settled upon us, and I knew that God had given me some fresh power, some fresh oil, as spoken of by the Psalmist in Psalm 92:10, “But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.”
Hyles said that prayer was the means of getting this power. He explained:
The question immediately comes: How may this power be obtained? Of course, there are obvious steps such as separation from the world, faithfulness to the cause of Christ, hours of studying the Word, obedience to the commands of God and to the will God, etc., but the main thing is for a Christian to be so sincere that he pays the price in agonizing and pleading and tarrying, begging God for His power. Notice Luke 11:5-13, “And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, saying unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” The word “importunity” in verse 8 means “much begging.”
Because prayer was the means Hyles believed was how to get the power that was a necessity for success, he reported:
On my desk I see the words, “Pray for power.” Behind my desk I see the words, “Pray for power.” In the Bible that is in my lap I see the words, “Pray for power.” On the mirror where I shave I see the words, “Pray for power.” On the door leading from my office into the hallway I see the words, “Pray for power.” Hundreds of times a day I plead with God for His power. Then, of course, there are seasons of prayer when I go alone with God to plead for the power of God.
What else is Hyles’ basis for this? He didn’t invent the subject, even as he argued:
I read about John Wesley, who at three o’clock in the morning on October 3, 1738, after having prayed with a number of preachers for most of the night was filled with the Holy Spirit. His ministry was never the same. I read about George Fox, who went alone for two weeks begging for the power of God, and how his life was transformed. I read about Peter Cartwright, who had been filled with the Holy Spirit and mighty power came upon him. I read of George Whitefield, who on June 20, 1736, was ordained to preach. As he knelt at the altar, Bishop Benson laid his hands on the young preacher and George Whitefield knew then and there that he was filled with the Holy Spirit! I read about George Muller, who was filled with the Holy Spirit the first time he ever saw Christians on their knees in prayer. I read how Billy Sunday used to preach every sermon with his Bible open to Isaac 61:1 and how the Spirit of God came on him. My heart began to burn from within! “Was this for me as well as for them? Was that power that Moody had and Wesley had and Whitefield had and Billy Sunday had available for little Jack Hyles, a poor country preacher in east Texas?”
Hyles sought the same experience for himself. According to him, he got it.
I began to walk in the woods at night. Night after night I would walk and cry and pray an beg for power. My heart was hungry. I got a Cruden’s Concordance and looked up the terms, “Holy Ghost,” “Spirit of the Lord,” “Spirit of God,” etc. I looked up every Scripture in the Bible that had to do with the Holy Spirit. I read in Judges 6:34 that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and in Judges 14;6 how the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson and in 1 Samuel 11:6 how the Spirit of God came upon Saul. I read in 1 Samuel 16:13 how the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. I read in Acts 9:17 where Paul was filled with the Holy Ghost and in Luke 4:1 where Jesus was full of the Holy Ghost. My heart burned! I needed something. I needed the blessed power of God. I needed the fulness of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t understand all the Scriptures. I read in Luke 3:16 the words, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” I read in Acts 1:4 the mention of the “promise of the Father.” In Luke 24:49 I found the words, “be endued with power from on high.” In Acts 1:8, I found the words, “after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” In Acts 2:17, I learned of the “pouring out of the Spirit” and in Ephesians 5:18, I found the term, “filled with the Spirit.”
I was not seeking sinless perfection nor was I trying to name what I wanted God to give me. I had no desire to speak in tongues nor did I even desire to have some kind of an experience. I just wanted God to work in the hearts of the people while I preached and witnessed. Could it be for me? Yes, it was for Samson, for Gideon, for Torrey, for Moody, for Billy Sunday, for Jonathan Edwards, for Muller, for Whitefield, for George Fox, for Christmas Evans, for Savonarola, for Peter Cartwright, for John Rice, for Bob Jones, for Lee Roberson, but was it for me? I was just a country preacher. I can recall how my eyes fastened on Isaiah 40:31 and Acts 2:4 and Acts 4:31. I was hungry!
“I must have results. I must have power.” I can recall saying to God, “I’m not going to be a normal preacher. I’m not going to be a powerless preacher.”
Night after night I would walk through the pine thickets of east Texas, up and down the sand hills, begging God for His power. If you had driven down Highway 43 outside Marshall, Texas, on the way to Henderson, Texas, in the wee hours of the morning, you could have heard me praying, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” and begging God to give me power.
I was losing weight. I couldn’t eat. What I did eat came back up! My family was worried about me. My deacons got together and said to me, “Pastor, you’ve got to take care of yourself. You are going to get bad sick.”
Then came May 12, 1950. All night I prayed! Just about sunrise I fell to my face in some pine needles and told God I would pay the price, whatever it was, for the power of God! I did not know what I was saying. I did not know what that meant.
In less than four hours, my phone rang in our little country parsonage. The operator said that it was a long distance call for Reverend Jack Hyles. She put the call through and a voice said, “This is Mr. Smith. I work with your dad. Reverend Hyles, your dad just dropped dead with a heart attack.” I put the phone down. I could not believe what I had heard. . . . On May 13, 1950, Mother’s Day afternoon, we had a little service in the chapel. We then followed the hearse about 50 miles south to a little cemetery on the northeast corner of Italy, Texas, where two of my little sisters were buried. Down near the creek was a hole in the ground. They lowered my daddy’s body in the grave. Not long after, I returned to that grave and fell on my face and told God I was not going to be a powerless preacher any more and that I was not going to leave that grave until something happened to me. I don’t know how long I stayed. It may have been hours; it may have been days. I lost all consciousness and awareness of time. I did not become sinlessly perfect nor did I talk in another language nor was I completely sanctified, but my ministry was transformed!
Hyles regularly told the story of begging on his father’s grave. What I noticed was that the details of the story often changed, especially how long he stayed at the grave. I would have a couple of questions about the power that Jack Hyles claimed to have received from God.
- Why didn’t the power work toward the raising of his son, Dave Hyles? How did it selectively affect one area, how big his church got, but it circumvented where the power should have been having the greatest impact, on his son? When Jack Hyles was disqualified from the office of the pastor, why didn’t the power take him the direction that the Bible takes disqualified pastors?
- If someone has that kind of power, why do they also need gimmicks in order to get people to church? Wouldn’t the power be a greater force for persuasion than a small toy or candy? And then in the end, God would be glorified, because it was His power and not a gimmick, wouldn’t He?
Those are just two sets of questions that commonly come to my mind when I think about the power of Jack Hyles. The Bible reveals the real manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life. We can be satisfied with those. The late John R. Rice, who had a lot of impact on Jack Hyles, in We Can Have Revival Now! talked of the same experience:
Charles G. Finney would frequently feel some lack of power and blessing and would set apart a day of fasting and prayer “for a new baptism of the Holy Ghost,” as he was wont to say. Moody sought God unceasingly for two years, until he was mightily endued with power. Dr. R.A. Torrey started the prayer meeting in Moody Church in Chicago and there prayed for two years that God would send a great revival. Then suddenly a committee from Australia came and sought out Torrey, the Bible teacher who had never been much thought of as an evangelist, and Torrey began the mighty campaigns in Australia that led him finally around the world, with hundreds of thousands of souls saved under his great ministry. Torrey learned to pray, so he learned to have revivals.
Hyles and Rice and that branch of fundamentalism are not alone in talking about this practice. In his article, “Philosophy of Evangelism,” the more recent Mark Herbster writes:
[The evangelist] must pray for power and liberty in his preaching. The evangelist must have this grace from God alone. He cannot and will not be able to carry on within his own strength and power. He must be filled with Holy Spirit fire.
You will find some of these same thoughts in some unlikely sources. The late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:
The prayer for power is always in evidence in the history of the Church prior to revival.
Robert L. Thomas comments:
[Paul] climaxes his own prayer in [Ephesians] 1:15-23 by pleading God’s power for believers. In 3:14-21, he commences his intercession with prayer for power. He seeks power from God, for “power belongs to God” (Ps. 62:11). . . . Such power from the God of power comes to prayer to Him.
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH CHRISTIANS TO PRAY FOR GOD’S POWER?
No. Scripture doesn’t teach us anywhere to pray for God’s power. I can understand people wanting a kind of power that can do the things that these men covet. I believe it is akin to a generation of people that seeks after signs. Of course, we know what Jesus said about that generation. This teaching, which isn’t in the Bible, comes from three sources: poor exegesis of the Scripture, personal experiences, and historical anecdotes. Certain scriptural truths clear this up.
We Already Have All of God’s Power the Moment We Are Justified
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Ephesians 1:3
God’s divine power has given us believers “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” Do you think that we need anything else to live the Christian life? The Greek begins the sentence with “all things.” That’s even the emphasis. We’ve got everything we need for our entire life in the way of any and every resource we need right when we’re justified. “Hath given” is a perfect passive participle in the Greek. The perfect tense expresses that all those things that we’ve been given can’t be taken away. They are ongoing for the believer.
God has also given us every spiritual blessing that there is. Do we need more spiritual blessing than every spiritual blessing? What are we saying to God when He says we have every spiritual blessing, but we come to Him in prayer as if we haven’t been given that. One of the passages quoted in support for praying for power was Ephesians 1:15-23. The pertinent section (vv. 17-19) reads:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.
This was used by Robert Thomas from Master’s Seminary to back up a point to pray for power. The prayer is for a spirit of wisdom and knowledge, so that your understanding is enlightened so that you will “know” what is the exceeding greatness of his power. The prayer is not for power. It prays for a kind of knowledge that would know the power that a Christian already possesses. “Know” there is experiential knowledge. Paul prays that the Ephesians believers will experience the power that they already have. Our problem is not that we lack in power. We have that. Our problem is that we forget that we already have it so that we don’t use it.
The Holy Spirit is God, so He possesses all the power of the universe. The Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the waters in Genesis 1:2 and created energy—gravitational force, electromagnetic force, and nuclear force. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers.
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Romans 8:9-11
We don’t need to pray for power because we already have the power. The prayer for power is actually a lack of faith. We need to access the power we already possess. We experience the power by yielding to the Holy Spirit. We don’t need power. We need yieldedness. I feel sorry for people who are praying for power. They feel like spiritual have-nots and they don’t have to.
Let me illustrate. Fred gives you all his money, a million dollars. You need ten dollars. You don’t use the million that you already have. Instead, you ask Fred, who has given you all of his dollars, to give you the ten. It is absurd. It questions the sufficiency of God’s provision at your justification. It is not a prayer in God’s will.
Some may ask and rightly so, “Well, if these famous men prayed for power and they didn’t actually get anything out of that prayer, then why is it that they saw so many great things happen?” This is where biblical discernment comes in. I’m not responsible to explain everything that happens. I’ve got to judge based on what God’s Word says. Lots of false beliefs look like they’re working. One amazing blessing about this particular branch of false doctrine is that now we have some history to see where a lot of these results ended. We get the gift of hindsight to see that the extra-scriptural and unscriptural behavior didn’t have long-lasting results in many cases. It even often hatched monstrosities.
Yes, many times the consequences do last and good things turn out. God is a good God. He will bless despite us. That doesn’t justify unbiblical beliefs and activity.
The Holy Spirit Was Poured Out in the Book of Acts and Will Be Again Just Once in the Future
We don’t pray for the Holy Spirit because He’s already here. We don’t pray for the Holy Spirit’s power because the Holy Spirit is God. He already has unlimited power. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which was prophesied by John the Baptist, was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. For the next outpouring of the Holy Spirit to occur, He will have to leave, which He will (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The Holy Spirit will be outpoured one more time, when He comes to indwell Jews saved in the tribulation period (Joel 2:28-29).
The reason the apostles were praying for the Holy Spirit in Luke 24:49 and taught to pray for Him in Luke 11:13 was because He hadn’t come yet. Something similar is Jesus’ teaching that we should pray for His kingdom to come. When we get into the kingdom, we won’t be praying to get into it anymore. Even so, since we already received the Holy Spirit, we don’t need another outpouring of Him. Saved Jews in God’s tribulation will get the second outpouring. That is not for believers today who have already received the Holy Spirit the first time.
When you read Hyles’ teaching above from his book on the fulness of the Spirit, you see that he strung together a whole lot of verses from all over without context or explanation to come to the conclusion that he wanted people to make. Usually he proceeded to stories from there and that was where Hyles real authority came from. People were knocked over by his personal examples. If you heard him enough times, you started to discern that parts to the stories would change and contradict.
If you pay attention to the verses and even look up their contexts, you would see that Hyles isn’t careful to differentiate between “filling” and “baptism.” This is a common error for the revivalist. The two do not mean the same thing. Jesus had the disciples praying for the baptism of the Spirit. In Luke 24:49 He instructed them to do so, that is, stay in Jerusalem and pray for that particular event or experience. However, once the Holy Spirit had come, they were to be filled with the Spirit. The baptism was an event. The filling is ongoing.
I hear people pray for Holy Spirit filling. I believe that many of them do so because they are mixing those two words around. We don’t pray for baptism of the Spirit because that’s already over. They prayed for that and then it was answered. Filling isn’t something we pray for. We are filled with the Spirit by yielding ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s control. Then we are filled. When I hear someone praying for Holy Spirit filling, I believe he is confused about his responsibility. God commands us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so it isn’t something we pray for. We just yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and He will fill us. He wants to do that.