Family Treasures: Revelation, “Spirit baptism,” and spiritual gifts: an introduction.

(An Answer I gave when interviewing for a position with a non-Charismatic evangelical ministry on Continuing Revelation and Spiritual Gifts–it serves as a good introduction to some of what I eventually hope to discuss in this categroy.)

Jesus Christ is the active, living, present, complete Word of God. In Him dwells all the fullness of God. He is the revelation of God, and as John the Baptist said He came to immerse us in the Holy Spirit and fire in order that we may “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head” (Ephesians 4:15).

The Bible is the accurate Word of the Word. It is inspired by God and “supernatural revelation of Himself to man.” In that sense it is “complete in its revelation.” We need no further example of who God is; having “seen Jesus” we have seen the Father. Furthermore, God will not contradict what He has given us in the scripture.

However, Jesus states quite clearly, “my sheep know my voice.” Knowing the scripture is essential to learning to hear the voice of the Spirit, and learning to hear the voice of the Spirit is essential to growing up into Christ. That being said, any faith that does not allow for the ongoing speaking of Christ to His people by the Spirit is not Christianity but some Christianized Pharisaism. It is to them that Jesus says:
You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; (John 5:37-39)

Likewise, could not those very Words be applied to the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Christ. Cessationists do “not believe Him whom He sent” in the form of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it is impossible to accurately read the Revelation of the Bible apart from the active presence of the Holy Spirit. As Peter says:
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (II Peter 1:20-21)
The Spirit must move in us if we are to accurately interpret. All human science of interpretation will ultimately fail in interpretation because it seeks the understanding of the Spirit by means of the flesh. This is impossible.

Perhaps it would be helpful to distinguish between Revelation and revelation. The Revelation of scripture is complete and lacking nothing. However the revelation to man is lacking in two ways.

First, as Paul says, “how will they know without a preacher.” At one point Paul makes the radical claim that in his suffering he does his part in “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). Christ’s death is sufficient for the sins of the whole world, yet Paul understood that its application to all men was lacking. Likewise, the Revelation of scripture is complete in itself, but it must be ongoing revelation to men from the Church who is the Body of Christ empowered by the Spirit to speak “as one who is speaking the utterances of God” (I Peter 4:11).

The second area of lack is of a different kind and I bring it in here because of the limitations of language. We use the word revelation for many things and do not always mean the same thing by it. The above discussion was how the internal completeness of the Revelation of scripture lacked only in external revelation to those who have not heard. This second “lacking” is of a different sort entirely—it is the absence of information we need.

The Scripture (I say again because everyone gets horribly nervous in such discussions) is complete as the Revelation of who God is. It is even, on many levels, the complete revelation of who I am to be because I am to be like Christ. However, it does not “reveal” what I need to do right now, right here, in my specific situation of life. Certainly it provides general guidelines and goals, but not specific direction. I must be able to hear the voice of God. His sheep know his voice; logic, common sense, general consensus, and what I like are not substitutes for hearing and obeying the voice of the Spirit. This “revelation” must be ongoing. It will not contradict the written Word; it will apply that Word to the specifics of life.

In this sense, the discussion above is related to spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts do not bring further Revelation, but they do assist in both aspects of revelation mentioned above. Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes upon us we will receive power to be witnesses. This is not an issue of the Spirit dwelling within us. Note Jesus says “come upon” (Acts 1:8).

We are born of the Spirit at salvation; the Spirit comes to dwell within us. Spiritual gifts make us no more or less saved, no more or less holy, and not even more or less spiritual. Salvation is the life of the Spirit planted in us when we are “born from above.” Holiness is a matter of the fruit of the spirit, and being spiritual has more to do with matters of recognizing “the Lord’s commandment” (I Cor 14:37) or restoring a fallen brother in humility (Gal. 6:1) and other such actions that display the fruit of the Spirit.

The mistake of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is to equate spiritual gifts with some higher dimension of spirituality. Spiritual gifts are external—the spirit coming upon and empowering to aid some internal work. They can be edifying to my interior man (as Paul says, and I can testify to, when I speak in tongues I edify myself) but the point is they work from the outside in whereas fruit grows from the inside out. The ultimate purpose of the spiritual gifts is to edify others—to encourage the body and to spread the gospel.

That being said, I am Pentecostal/Charismatic and believe the mistake of much of the rest of the Church is to ignore Scripture. Fear of abuse or misuse has driven so many to ignore a direct command of scripture. Paul says, “Pursue love, yet earnestly desire spiritual gifts!” I have added the “!” because that is how it should be translated. The Greek words have to do with intense pursuit and “zealous” desire. We are wrong when we do not ask for and desire spiritual gifts because of fear, because while they do not make us more spiritual they might make us more effective. This is why Paul said, “I wish you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy” (I Cor. 14:5), and again “desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues” (I Cor. 14:39).

There is much more than can be said, however for the sake of brevity I will end with this final point. Many times Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal believers remain in disunity over the issue of “Spirit Baptism.” It is not my desire to argue over terminology, and I think much of the problem can be done away with by simple translation. If we take “baptism” to mean literally “immersion,” then should we not all want a continual immersion in the Spirit of God? I will end where I began. When John the Baptist and Jesus speak of Baptizing in the Holy Spirit and fire, there is certainly a comparison to the practice of John, but this does not imply a necessary institution of a specific event in the church like water Baptism (nor does it refute one). If we can simply agree that we are to be “being filled” with the Spirit daily and that the Spirit can work by growing fruit from within and anointing (“come upon” to use Jesus words) from without, then why should there be any problem with desiring the ongoing daily immersion in the Spirit of God.

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