Chapter 5

              How Champions of the Spirit Resist the Holy Spirit

We who experience the charismatic gifts of the Spirit find it hard to be patient with those who assert that God no longer acts and speaks today as He used to.  To us it seems that our critics are using the Bible to explain away anything that they don't experience themselves.  Teaching unbelief in works of power, they seem to be limiting the Spirit of God, since even Jesus could do no mighty deeds in Nazareth because of the unbelief of those who lived there (Mark 6:5).

We have a point, but are we seeing clearly enough to remove this speck from the eyes of our critics?  We may speculate all we like about the causes of their blindness - but in so doing we further deceive ourselves.  Jesus left no doubt about where the problem lies (Luke 6:41-42):

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, "Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye," when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

If we cannot see how to remove a speck from our opponent's eye, shouldn't we look first in our own eyes that cannot see?  Paul wrote, "In that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" (Romans 2:1).  We often fail to convince others not to resist the Spirit because we ourselves are resisting the Spirit of God.  Consider with me some of the ways in which we undermine ourselves.

We fail to answer the valid concerns of others, although we want God to answer ours

Many object that any continuing divine revelation must be impossible, imagining that all divine revelation amounts to adding to the Biblical revelation and changing the faith which "was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).  We have not been too successful in dispelling this confusion, often being content to dismiss our critics as unlearned about spiritual gifts when our mumblings fail to satisfy them.  But if we're having trouble giving them a coherent answer, who is really unlearned?  Let's consider two important questions.

Did divine revelation continue after the faith was fully revealed to God's people (Jude 3)?

Because God has no more to add to the faith, Jude 3 looks to some people like a clear statement that all divine revelation would cease once the Bible was no longer being written. Jude 3 reads as follows:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Does this verse actually say anything about when divine revelation would cease, or indeed whether it ever has?  When Jude was writing these words, which had not yet become part of the New Testament, divine revelation was indisputably still taking place.  The New Testament - Jude's letter itself! - was still being written, and had certainly not yet been delivered to the saints.  John MacArthur tries to dispose of this time problem by presuming that Jude's statement "looked forward to the completion of the entire canon." [1]  But what evidence does he find in the text to suppose this?  If there is any, he doesn't give it to us.

Someone will remind me of Peter's claim at Pentecost that Psalm 16 applies to Jesus the Son of David, and not to David himself who wrote it.  Peter did assert in this case that Scripture may well apply to future readers, and not to a present audience (1 Peter 1:10-12).

But when Peter preached the resurrection of Jesus from Psalm 16, did he claim that it pointed forward to the Messiah just because reading it that way suited his argument?  No indeed!  He showed his audience that Psalm 16 must be looking forward because it could not fully apply in its own time - David, the writer, had certainly seen corruption, and indeed his tomb was right there for Peter's hearers to see (Acts 2:25-31, Psalm 16:8-11)!

Unlike Psalm 16, our text in Jude in no way compels us to place it in a time after Jude wrote it, which may explain why no one has ever provided the crucial Biblical evidence that it should be read that way.

The plain sense is that Jude was writing to an audience in the present, not to a group of people that would come into being some time in the future.  At the moment Jude was writing, certain persons had already crept in to make trouble.  It was necessary right then, not just some time in the future, for his readers to contend for the faith - an instruction they could not carry out if the faith had not already been delivered once for all to the saints.

In fact, the Bible clearly states that the faith had already been delivered to the saints in its final form long before Jude wrote, no later than when Paul preached the gospel to the Galatians.  Some time after preaching to them, Paul wrote to them, "even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel other than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).

Even the letter to the Galatians itself could make no changes to the faith, because Paul wrote in that letter that the gospel was already being preached in its final form and that neither he nor anyone else, not even an angel from heaven, could change it in any way.  Indeed, he had said it before he wrote the letter (Galatians 1:9), so the entire letter to the Galatians was given after the faith had been delivered to us in its final form.

The New Testament was obviously still being written as Jude was writing.  Jude was writing of an earlier event, not the New Testament canon.  The faith was delivered to the saints in its final form long before the New Testament was complete, and divine revelation continued without changing the faith in any way.  To understand this is indeed of crucial importance.

Does the Bible teach that divine revelation is given while the Bible is no longer being written?

Proceeding from the premise that Biblical revelation ceased between Malachi and John the Baptist, many conclude that God gave no revelation whatever during this period.  MacArthur, for instance, stoutly affirms that between the last Old Testament writings and John the Baptist, "no prophet spoke God's revelation in any form." [2]  What he implies here, he states plainly elsewhere, that any kind of ongoing divine revelation means an open canon - to accept the reality of divine revelation today is to accept continual additions to the Bible. [3]

To refute this error and demonstrate that divine revelation can be given while the Biblical canon is closed, we must provide Biblical evidence that divine revelation took place at times when God was adding nothing to the Bible.

In Egypt before Moses, and also much later before Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1), God for a time stopped giving Holy Scripture.  Following this pattern, Biblical revelation ceased before the birth of Jesus - about 400 years if the Protestants are right to reject the Apocrypha, but over 150 even if the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are correct in accepting them.  Scripture requires our own time, before His return, to be much the same.  Just as John the Baptist had preceded the first coming of Jesus "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17), Elijah must first come to restore all things before His return (Mark 9:12-13, Malachi 4:5).  But how silent is God during these "silent" periods?

It's pointless to talk about the New Testament prophet Agabus, as some do, because the New Testament was being written while he was prophesying, but the Bible does give us instances of prophetic revelation being given at times when all agree that the Biblical canon was closed.

Well before Jesus and John the Baptist, during the "silent" years after the last Hebrew prophets, we find Anna the prophetess.  When she spoke of the infant Jesus at the temple to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem, she was already known to be a prophetess, and so she was certainly not prophesying for the first time (Luke 2:36-38).

Luke also describes Simeon, an old man who had known long beforehand that he would see the Lord's Anointed.  His words expressed the fulfillment of a longing that had long been unsatisfied - a revelation given to him by the Holy Spirit long after the last Old Testament writings, but many years before the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.

If God worked in this way in the silence of the intertestamental period, as Luke testifies, should He not do so today as well?  So Paul affirms in Ephesians 4:11-13: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to be given to the church to bring us to maturity.  The passage clearly states the duration of these ministry gifts - until we all come to full maturity.

If more Scripture needed to be written now in order to bring us to maturity, God would doubtless have it written.  It would be recognized as Holy Scripture because God would validate it to the entire assembly of believers, just as He has always been able to do in the past.  But if our need is to understand and obey what we already have, like the generation awaiting the birth of Christ, we should expect revelation designed to accomplish that end, and not to add to what is already given.

Nothing in the ministry of an apostle or prophet, in particular, implies that he should necessarily add anything further to the Bible.  Even most of the twelve contributed nothing at all to the Bible, but the Bible certainly doesn't allow us to conclude that they or their work were of minor importance - the twelve foundation stones of the holy city bear their names (Revelation 21:14).

We should certainly expect God to speak by revelation to His people, without impairing the integrity of the Scriptures.  Why then is genuine revelation so unusual, and why do those who claim to receive it seem no better off than others?

We resist what the Holy Spirit really says

One day my little son cried out for more food - and what he wanted was already piled on his plate!   "What do you mean, you want more? Eat what you have, and then you'll get more!"  Hearing my own words, I learned something myself.

Why do we cry out for prophecies and other revelations while often overlooking what the Holy Spirit has already given us right there in the Bible, and in such humble sources as the affairs of daily life, as the Proverbs lead us to expect?

Unless we put to good use what the Holy Spirit has already revealed, what will we do with anything else He might say?  If we seek revelation in order to feel more spiritual, and not in order to practice the humble stuff which we already know and don't do, will our intent escape God's notice?   Should we expect to receive anything more from the Lord (James 1:6, 4:3)?

We like happy news.  We want to hear how God will fill us with power and all kinds of riches, and how He gives joy and strength.  But the good news of God is only addressed to those who listen to His bad news, which is usually the first thing Jesus gave people who wanted to follow Him.

Jesus did great miracles and received wonderful revelations, but he was walking through the valley of the shadow of death to get them -the death of a cross!  If we want to do the things Jesus did, we have to do whatever Jesus is leading us to do, not pick and choose which deeds of Jesus we want to do.  Even he couldn't do that.  "Although He was a Son, he learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

If we really want the Holy Spirit, we want to hear everything the Holy Spirit has to say, good or bad.  The bad news of God is better to one who wants to hear God than any good news we can imagine.  But all too often, our attitude is, "Come Holy Spirit, and tell me just what I want to hear - no more."

We resist what the Holy Spirit really does

The clearest example of this may be in the area of spiritual warfare.  In our own sight, believers in charismatic gifts excel in spiritual warfare.  But if we are really any wiser than others, why are we so ineffective?  Why are we ourselves so often entangled in the corruption around us, so seldom able to break its power over others?  Like the Corinthians, although we regard ourselves as kings, we are walking just like other men, so that unbelievers know just what to expect of us.

By relying on flattery and appeals to our self-importance in their fund-raising appeals, even "Christian" ministries clearly testify that, in their experience, we are moved to give by our lust for the praise of men.  We prove them right by rewarding that approach.

Popular teaching about spiritual warfare generally consists of easy triumphs over demons, and bombastic prayers in which we supposedly break the power of ruling principalities.  In 1989, at the Anaheim Convention Center, a preacher announced a great spiritual breakthrough against the powers of darkness in the Los Angeles area.  I watched him induce the people to wave imaginary swords in the air, proclaiming a great triumph.

After he moved on, nothing changed at all, because nothing real had taken place.  But who lays it to heart?  The next time someone calls people to beat the air, multiplied thousands will do it again, rejoicing.

Spiritual warfare is real warfare.  There is no playacting in it.  Real spiritual warfare is not performed before thousands with no results that anyone can see.  It takes place in secret, with results that are obvious to all.

When Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized and to receive the Holy Spirit, his Father witnessed to him that he was His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased.  Then the Holy Spirit drove him out into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days by the devil.

At the end of the forty days, he grew hungry (Matthew 4:2).  Although the time appointed for fasting was over, where was his Father's provision?  At this point, when his Father seemed to be forsaking him, Jesus had to field Satan's suggestion that he command stones to become bread.

Jesus was where Saul had been when Samuel was late to their appointment (1 Samuel 13:8-14).  Saul's unbelief moved him to impatiently "help" God, but Jesus passed the test - he kept waiting for his Father (Isaiah 40:31).  There was a lot more to it than having the right Bible verses in his mouth.  Undoubtedly helped by his Father's acceptance of him at the Jordan River, which was witnessed also by John (John 1:32), he was able to trust his Father and wait even past the appointed time, when nothing exciting was happening, when God Himself was hiding and seemingly forsaking him.

At the end of the temptations, angels came from the Father to supply his needs, as they had done for Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:1-8).  Passing this test gave Jesus real authority to say concerning food and drink, "Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" (Matthew 6:32).

Here the victory was won that granted Jesus authority over sickness, demons, and even death in the ministry that followed, just as the obedience of the cross finally obtained for Jesus the Name above every name (Philippians 2:5-11) to be sure, because this was true from the beginning.  And when Jesus did these works, which he often hid from the eyes of men, he knew that the works the Holy Spirit was doing through him were propelling him to the cross.  After the Jordan, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, but after the wilderness the Holy Spirit drove Jesus inevitably to the greater test of the cross, where again he was apparently forsaken.

When we seek power, do we bargain for the hostility of men, for loneliness and misunderstanding?  Do we realize that the road to power with God is totally distasteful to our fleshly desire for a good time, prosperity, an easy life, and the admiration of mankind?

Jesus showed Paul the road to power: "My grace is sufficient for you because power is perfected in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Do we consider when we want the Spirit of God to breathe on us that "all flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field; the grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it" (Isaiah 40:6)?

On the contrary, we commonly seek power in order to be noticed and praised by men and to escape being tested by the absence of God, as Jesus was, and as Job was before Him.  James said that we ask and do not receive because we ask wickedly, to consume it on our own desires (James 4:3).

What did Jesus teach about spiritual power?  He began by demonstrating it (Matthew 4:23-25).  Afterwards, when Jesus went up on the mountain, those who wanted to follow him in the life he was demonstrating came to him, just as those who wanted to seek God had gone to Moses outside the camp (Matthew 5:1, Ex. 33:7).  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expounded the secret of his relationship with his Father to those who wanted to learn how to join him in it. The Sermon on the Mount is the foundation of spiritual power.  The essence of spiritual warfare is, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you,” because our adversary defends his kingdom by setting his prisoners against us in precisely these ways (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Need we look any further to explain why we don't receive the power we want?  We must count the true cost of spiritual authority and power and reckon truthfully with God and ourselves about our real intentions as we pursue these things.  Looking for other reasons for our emptiness before getting this issue straight is self-deception, the way of my dachshund that liked to hunt for a ball but kept going if his nose bumped into it.  This brings me to my next point.

We resist the Spirit of Truth

Jesus called himself the Truth and the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth.  Therefore, any disciple of Jesus, anyone walking by the Holy Spirit, will be a disciple of truth.  Whenever we reject truth, we are denying Jesus Christ.  What in the gospel is more obvious?  But when the world observes the Christian scene, do we astonish them by how we love the Truth?

If we revered the truth, being led by the Spirit of Truth, could Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart have gone as far as they went, finally having to be exposed by the secular press?

God did not expect us to know the things they did in secret.  God arranged in due time for those things to be shouted from the housetops.

But were we unaware of their love of money?  When they shamed the poor by their fancy clothes and their palaces, following the example of the evil king Jeremiah reproved (Jeremiah 22:13-17), was that in secret?  Should we excuse such people when they dishonor their fathers who were better than they are, who "went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground" (Hebrews 11:37-38)?

All of this was common knowledge even to outsiders.  The most callous of them could not endure it.  Being more able than the “ungodly” to bear the stench of this iniquity, we prattled on about not judging that we be not judged, caring not at all for what Jesus had in mind by that statement, or how He applied it in His own life.  We saw no need to practice the following words or the many others like them, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus believed and lived by (Proverbs 24:24-25):

He who says to the wicked, "You are righteous," peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.

By disregarding these words, we have certainly missed out on the blessings they promise, but haven't we jabbed ourselves on their sharp end?

Some even teach us to believe whatever we please!

Am I exaggerating?  It is commonplace in many fellowships for people to say, for instance, "I'm believing the Lord for a car."  In fact, the speaker is not really claiming that the Lord has ever actually said a word about it.  The idea is that if we decide to believe that God will do something, then He will honor this "faith" and do it.  There's no need to find out from God if He has anything to say about it - just believe whatever you please, and God will make it so.

In the so-called "Word Faith" doctrine, this kind of presumption is right in your face, but it is often heard among Christians everywhere.  The Scriptures (and highway accident reports) clearly teach that presumption is a capital offense, having no more to do with faith than corruption does with life, but this attitude goes virtually unchallenged.

If I went around saying, "I'm believing the President to nominate me to the Supreme Court," when the President had said nothing to me about it, people would give me some strange looks!  But if I say, "I'm believing God for a car," with no evidence that God has said anything to me about it, who will challenge my presumption?  Many will actually admire my "faith."

Does this require a reasoned rebuttal?  Amazingly, it does!  People fashion such teaching from the Bible!  For example, they bring forth Mark 11:22-24:

Have God's faith.  Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be taken up and cast into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him.  Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you.

Most translations, including the New American Standard Bible, render the first sentence "Have faith in God," but "Have God's faith" or “Have faith from God” is the most straightforward translation of the Greek text.  God believes His own words at all times and does them; He remains faithful to His truth because He cannot deny Himself.

If this says to you that you can get God to give you anything you want just by somehow convincing yourself that you have it, Bob Dylan has just the right question for you: "You think He's just an Errand Boy to satisfy your wandering desires?" [4]

What unexamined premise leads men to mishandle this passage, and others like it?  It is at bottom the idea that although we are saved by faith, that faith is at least partly the product of our own choice and will.  But God says, "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God"  (Eph. 2:8), and again, "Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).

Knowledge, prophecy, and tongues will become obsolete when we know as we are known, but faith will endure forever even in the full light of God's revelation (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).  Like hope and love it is an eternal attribute of God, not a product of human will or effort.

This faith which Jesus is telling us to have is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7).  So long as you have a hard time turning your household trash into gold bars, be assured that you cannot bring forth this faith on your own!

A vital detail in the passage is how we come to believe God -  "Have God's faith."  The only way to have God's faith is for God to give it to us.  Did Paul expect them to answer, "My faith!" when he asked the Corinthians, "What do you have that you did not receive" (1 Corinthians 4:7)?  How does God give faith?  "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Since faith proceeds from God speaking, faith depends on the power of God, and not on ourselves.  The way our faith increases is not by our making presumptuous "positive confessions," but by hearing what God has to say, just as Mary did when the angel came to tell her about the Son she was to bear.

Real faith comes by listening carefully and asking questions in order to hear what God actually wants to say (Psalm 27:4), not by finding ways to construe His words to mean what we think best.   For this reason, when Mary the sister of Martha sat at the feet of Jesus and was listening to Him, Jesus said, "Few things are necessary, really one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42).

The careless reader adds to the text the idea that he has the power in himself, by convincing himself that something in the Bible is true, to make it true for himself.  A hundred times a day he finds himself unable to eliminate small sins, but he has boundless confidence that he can eliminate his secret doubts!  He may know that hiding his sins from himself does not overcome them, but he imagines that he can overcome his doubts by denying them or explaining them away.  Such madness may finally persuade him that all he has to do is find something in the Bible and persuade himself it's true - and behold, it's true, in just the way he wants it to be!

But if we can make God do whatever we believe, there's no need to study carefully what He has said in an honest way, or indeed to listen to Him at all.  On the contrary, it seems better to look through the Bible only to find support for what we feel the need to "believe God" for, avoiding anything which might engender second thoughts.

For example, if I'm praying for other people in my family to be saved, I might encounter Acts 16:31, which says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household."  If I examine the statement carefully to find out what it really says, I might find out that it doesn't necessarily guarantee that everyone in my family will come to faith. Searching the Scriptures diligently, with a love of the truth rather than a desire to have my own way, turns up awkward statements like Matthew 10:34-36, in which Jesus promises division within our families on account of Himself.

The "name it and claim it" viewpoint actually teaches us to avoid a full and accurate knowledge of the Bible for fear that we may undermine our "faith" for things we wish to claim in accordance with our own will, unhindered by the truth which the Holy Spirit has spoken.  The whole counsel of God, so precious to Paul, and certainly to the Holy Spirit Who is given to lead us into all the truth, is actively resisted whenever it conflicts with "faith" in what somebody wants - and this resistance to the Holy Spirit is offered in the name of faith!

We resist the truth in the name of the faith which is given by the Spirit of truth.  We resist the truth in the name of love which rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).  All this is supposed to maintain the unity of the Spirit who desires truth in the inward parts, and to keep the peace which is the gift of God to those who welcome the truth.

Why do Christians everywhere resist the Holy Spirit?

Putting no confidence in the flesh is the result of a circumcision performed on the heart by God (Philippians 3:3).  Apart from this work of God, people will always trust their own willingness to choose well and to believe God on their own, whatever we may say.  We may hope to please God through such effort, but it never works that way.  To the degree that we think we can do it ourselves, we always lay the Holy Spirit off, or at least give Him a shorter workweek.  The Holy Spirit experiences this dismissal as resistance, just as unemployed people do.

The Reformers found this problem in Roman Catholicism.  Since Evangelical Protestantism has apostasized to the same optimistic self-reliance, except in our slogans, it should come as no surprise that we bring forth the same fruit: well-meaning piety, eager but ignorant; grandiose buildings and other showy projects by which to please God and impress men; worldly triumphalism; and a money-grubbing leadership, since unlike the power of God (Acts 3:6), impressive service in the flesh costs a lot of money.

If the errors of those who believe in charismatic experience were ours alone, it would make sense to find the problem in distinctly charismatic theology.  But if these errors are common to both charismatic and non-charismatic Christians, should we not find the cause in bad theology that we hold in common?

To become free to walk in the truth together, we need to help one another come to our senses.  We’ve had a look at how we who believe in charismatic experience subvert our own testimony.  How then have our critics made sure that we won’t listen to them and get some help?


1.  John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 61.

2.  Ibid., 61.

3.  Ibid., 64.

4.  Bob Dylan, "When You Gonna Wake Up" from the album Slow Train Coming (New York: Special Rider Music, CBS, Inc, 1979).

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