What is normal for a Spirit-filled Christian? What should we expect from a life of walking in step with God’s Holy Spirit?
If our expectations are wrong, then we may find ourselves confused or disillusioned. If we know what to expect, then we will not be disappointed because God is always faithful.
What was normal for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?
Abraham had three mysterious visitors one day. It turns out that they were angels sent from the Lord. The Bible never mentions angelic visitors to Abraham’s son, Isaac. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, wrestled with a man all night and then realized that he had come face to face with God.
Did Isaac do something wrong that God did not send three angels to visit him? Did Abraham fail somehow so that God did not wrestle with him all night?
God changed Abraham’s name and he changed Jacob’s, but not Isaac’s. God warned Isaac not to go into Egypt during a famine, but told Jacob that he should go to Egypt because of a famine. Did God contradict himself? Which one is normal?
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not share the exact same experiences with God. What they did share was a set of promises that God originally gave to Abraham. Those promises were passed down to Isaac, then to Jacob, and then to their descendants, the Israelites.
What about New Testament believers? What is normal for the people of God in the church age?
So-called “Pentecostal” teachers have challenged Christians to believe that only those who have spoken in tongues are initiated into the empowering Presence of God’s Holy Spirit. They point to the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, telling us that every believer should expect to undergo such an experience.
But the account in Acts 2 speaks of a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire resting over the believers (vv. 1-4). Pentecostal teachers insist on speaking in tongues but not audible wind or visible fire. On what basis do they choose speaking but reject hearing and seeing?
More than that, the tongues spoken on the Day of Pentecost were foreign languages. God miraculously enabled that small band of believers to speak so that out-of-towners could hear about his mighty works in their heart languages (vv. 5-11).
Should we believe that no one has God’s indwelling Spirit until they have miraculously spoken a foreign language? Is that what the New Testament teaches?
A quick reading of the Book of Acts shows that some converts spoke in tongues but others didn’t. Which is normal? What should we expect today?
To complicate matters more, Pentecostals often teach that new believers should expect to receive God’s Spirit at a time after they have been saved, separating a special “baptism in the Spirit” from confessing Jesus as Lord. Are they right?
When Phillip preached the gospel in Samaria, the new believers did not receive God’s Spirit until Peter came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them. This experience seems to support what Pentecostal teachers assert, that God gives his Spirit sometime after salvation.
But when Peter was preaching to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit fell upon those listening while he was still speaking, no delay. Which is normal? What should we expect?
Narratives about how God worked in the lives of his people may or may not present us with “normal” Christian experiences. James was killed by the sword (Acts 12:2). His brother, John, lived to be an old man. Which experience is normal?
Using the Bible’s narratives to define a normal Christian experience is a flawed approach. The interpreter must arbitrarily choose some experiences and ignore others. But this does not mean that “anything goes.” An experience is not from God simply because someone sincerely believes it to be so.
To answer the question about what we should expect in Christian life we must listen to the words of teaching in the Bible. As God’s promises united the various experiences of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Old Testament, God’s promises bind together the variety of experiences in the church age.
In the Book of Ephesians, believers are instructed to be filled with God’s Spirit (5:18). The text goes on to tell us what we should expect from the Spirit-filled life (5:19-6:20).
Spirit-filled believers have relationships with other believers which result in building one another up. Spirit-filled believers have a heart of gratitude toward God that fuels passionate worship.
Spirit-filled wives submit to their husbands. Spirit-filled husbands sacrifice for their wives. Spirit-filled children obey their parents. Spirit-filled fathers do not exasperate their children.
Spirit-filled workers labor for their managers as if they were working for the Lord. Spirit-filled managers treat workers with honor and respect.
Being Spirit-filled means being equipped with the full armor of God in order to stand against the devil’s schemes, praying in the power of God’s Spirit for God’s truth to be proclaimed in all the world.
If we cannot get along with fellow believers, don’t want to worship, don’t submit to our husbands, don’t sacrifice for our wives, don’t obey our parents, discourage our children, despise our bosses, mistreat our workers, ignore the battle against evil, and care not for sharing God’s truth, then we have quenched God’s Spirit in our lives and we are grieving God’s Spirit.
In the Book of Galatians, believers are instructed to be in step with God’s Spirit. When we are, God’s Spirit works to set us free from selfish pursuits so that we can serve one another in love (5:13-16).
If we are more interested in serving ourselves than others then we are not in step with God’s Spirit. If we are in bondage to pornography, sexual immorality, alcohol, drugs, anger, or any such things, then we are out of step with God’s Spirit (5:17-21).
When we walk by the Spirit we have power over sin. Liberated from selfish desires, we have freedom to love others as Christ loves us. We bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22-23).
So, if the narratives in the Bible do not teach us what to expect from God, then why are they included? The narratives are included in Scripture in order to show us how God has faithfully interacted with his people in the past.
We need to know that God fulfilled his promise to Israel and brought them out of the land of Egypt and into the Promised Land. But not every generation of Israelites needed to be saved from Egypt. The Exodus was vital, but not necessarily repeatable. Subsequent generations did not pass through the Red Sea on dry ground, but they did serve the same Lord.
We need to know that Jesus went into Jerusalem for Passover and became the ultimate and final Passover Lamb. We need to know that a small group of believers saw the resurrected Jesus ascend and a cloud hid him from their sight. Not every generation of believers will see Jesus ascend, but one generation will see him return.
Narratives in the Bible show us what God is capable of doing and inclined to do. They remind us that our Lord will often do something new and refreshing, something unexpected and exciting, but always something in accordance with his character and his revealed word.
Teaching in the Bible tells us what God promises to do in our lives, what we can and should expect. Narratives illustrate the teaching and the teaching explains the narratives. We need the teaching in the Book of Romans to understand the narrative record of Jesus’ acts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Bible makes another great promise about what we can expect. According to Scripture, God gives us an internal witness in order to confirm that his Spirit dwells in our hearts (Romans 8:15-16). God’s Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are his children; and by his Spirit we cry out to him, “Abba, Father.” This internal witness combines with the above-mentioned visible results of God’s presence to form a strong testimony.
As Spirit-filled believers we can expect victory over sin, triumph over evil, freedom to love like Jesus, and a personal experience of God’s presence that gives us confidence and peace in every circumstance.
May God’s empowering Presence enable us to bear the fruit of the Spirit always,