“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Like many, I was turned off for years by Christians who seemed to be perpetually preoccupied with the gifts of the Spirit. Rather than focusing outwardly on Christ and His teachings, some of them seemed to me to be obsessed with performing magic tricks for the purposes of self-edification.
Make no mistake, there are Christians out there who match this description. And naturally they would gravitate to Spirit-filled churches in the same way a legalist might find his way to a Baptist church, or a cheap grace advocate to a charismatic church. There are abusers everywhere; there are also highly-flawed believers who, like you and like me, need repeated correction from our Father in Heaven before they start getting anywhere near the biblical mark.
Nonetheless, we should not let such things distract us from the Bible’s teachings. Just because there are “Christians” who deny the physical resurrection of Christ and happen to be preoccupied with social justice, does not mean I ought to steer clear of Christ’s clear teachings on feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. Because there is a such thing as legalism is no argument against practicing obedience.
Loved ones: just because there are people out there who abuse or mishandle the practice of spiritual gifts does not mean that we ought to back-burner a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Read the book of Acts and the letters that come afterwards. The gifts of the Spirit are not an aside that we can take or leave anymore than we can take or leave Christ’s teachings. If we neglect the Spirit, we are doomed to remain in spiritual infancy:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.
Do you want to move mountains? Cultivate a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.
Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him – a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?
Man-made religion typically starts as an attempt to capture a genuine display of spirituality and recreate that experience; it seeks to create a formula for reaching God by imitating those who have already done so.
Tearing one’s clothing was, in Joel’s time, considered to be a genuine and heartfelt display of mourning – the sort of mourning approved by God. But it wasn’t the literal rending of garments that was approved; it was the condition of the heart that led to the act. Tearing one’s clothing could be a righteous act of lamentation (Genesis 37:29, 2 Samuel 1:11); alternatively, it could be a malevolent and despicable display of blind self-righteousness (Matthew 26:65). In simple terms, God’s concern is not for your clothing, but for your heart.
Throughout scripture, God makes abundantly clear that He will not respond to the formulaic rituals and incantations of those who try to seek an audience with Him by any means by the front door, the key to which is a contrite and repentant heart that has been sincerely and humbly handed over to Jesus for safe-keeping.
I suspect this is the problem with the man who gets tossed from the great wedding for his inappropriate attire (Matthew 22:12). No one who enters the Kingdom of God will do so by cleaning the outside of the cup.
Should we reject the institutional church and go off in our own direction because it seems to represent the traditions of men? One can only hope such arrogance steers clear of our hearts. No, rather, we ought to be careful bring a clean heart and a right spirit to the Body of Christ (Psalm 51:10).
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.