Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. | Ephesians 5.17-21
This Sunday we looked at the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation, specifically, the work of regeneration. While there are numerous implications of this, one of the biggest is in the way we talk about the Spirit. What we see is that many things that we credit to the Spirit are something else entirely.
I have had people ask me if our church was ‘spirit-filled’ or had people tell me they would not come back to our church because the worship was not filled with the Spirit. What was meant by the questions is: doing things in a style that has been labeled ‘spiritual?’ The only way it would be possible for our worship not to be filled with the Spirit is if the church contained no Christians. What was being sought, it the name of the Holy Spirit was an emotional experience.
I have had people question my way of preparing a sermon. I study for hours, then outline the text, and then fill in the outline with a full transcript of what I plan to preach. This method has been defined by some as: too much planning, not enough Spirit. The entire time that I am studying, I am relying on the Spirit to communicate the truth of Scripture to me. As I write, I expect the indwelling Spirit to work through my work. When I get up to preach, having done this work does not make me less Spirit-filled, it simply makes me less improvisational (and a little jealous of those who can speak for 30 minutes from a set of loose notes).
To point out my own misuse of terms: I have often prayed that God would send His Spirit as we gather together. We certainly hope that the Spirit is present with us and that He is sent ahead of us to regenerate those we are called to evangelize. In the context of a church service, where the majority of those gathered are regenerate Christians (hopefully), prayer for the Spirit to be sent is a confused term. What I am actually praying for is that the Holy Spirit would make His presence known, through teaching, comfort, and belief, but what it sounds like is for a special force to fill the room for a period of time.
I point these things out, not so that we become terminology police, checking to make sure we never utter a wrong word or addressing God in a theologically incorrect way (He can handle it), but so that our understanding of the Spirit is isn’t lost in translation. When the Spirit regenerates a person, the Spirit is made present at all times. He does not come and go. He is there just as much when we feel on our own as He is when we sense the presence of God so tangibly it seems like we can touch Him. He is there in the mundane as much as the spectacular, in the ordered as much as the miraculous. The Spirit, as Jesus promised, is with us to the very end of the age.