I recently heard a man teaching at a Seminary say, “Do you want to know what the meaning of Scripture is? Scripture is the meaning of Scripture.” In other words, there isn’t a magical incantation, translation method or pixie dust you can sprinkle on the pages to have what it means illuminated to you. Rather, it plainly (mostly) explains itself. I can’t even begin to explain how clear this was to me after I was able to take off the denominational blinders I had been wearing, throw the baby out with the bathwater as the saying goes, and just read it (Scripture) plainly for what it said.
As I explore more and more about the Spirit of God and what the Evidence of that Spirit on the life of a New Testament believer is, the more I realize the correlation. The Spirit IS the Evidence of the Spirit!
Look, my last article was written with the entire debate in mind, ‘Is Speaking in Tongues the Evidence of Receiving the Spirit of God‘ as the Oneness Pentecostal dogma claims. By the end of that article the reader would no doubt know my position. Perhaps even just by reading the title my position was made clear…(heresy is a strong word!)
But a most natural question comes from that conversation and to be honest, before that conversation. It was the biggest argument we had as a proponent of the Tongues theory, while I was in that camp to say, “How do you know you have God’s Spirit”?” To the mind wrapped up in that type of dogmatic approach, we were ALWAYS looking for a sign. (1 Cor 1:22-24) And for new converts seeking God the question is a natural one. How do I know God has saved me?
I can still remember clearly the altar calls after service in my Oneness Pentecostal church – the entire premise was seeking for tongues. For those visitors or new converts, the entire goal was to get them up to the altar, get them praying, hold their arms up, shout in their ears the words to say, encourage them to shout, scream, seek God…pray, and do it loudly. This would include other people surrounding them, holding their arms up, rocking them back and forth.
There were times when I was that guy, I would get so lost in the experience that when I next opened my eyes I was in a completely different section of the church. The movement, the rocking, the praying, the emotionalism, the hype…had gone on so long that I had slowly been moved around the church and I wasn’t even aware of it. And all of that was for the singular purpose of seeking tongues. Ministers would put their ears next to the mouths of those praying to ‘verify’ and listen for them speaking in tongues. And when someone did speak in tongues (allegedly) the place would erupt. That was the high water mark. Nothing mattered more than that moment. And from that day forward the goal was to seek it again, and again, and again…
You see, the problem with a sign is you need to see it over, and over again to believe it. We see Phillip asking Jesus, “Show us the Father…” in John 14. He wanted more proof… and Jesus rebuked him saying, “Have I been so long a time with you Phillip that you don’t know, when You’ve seen ME you have SEEN the Sign (Father)?” Jesus had the fruits of His Father’s Spirit.
Even the writer of Ecclesiastes told us of this problem in chapter 1 verse 8;
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
To drill this point home one last time, I remember also hearing it taught time and time again, a message that was so contrary to Scripture and yet…at the time we ate it up like Peppermint Bark sitting out on the coffee table on that Christmas Eve family gathering…
“No amount of good words, living right, helping others, feeding the homeless is going to get you in to heaven. You need to speak in tongues and be baptized in Jesus Name to make it! If you think Mother Theresa is going to be in heaven with you…”
And as the serpent beguiled Eve with just enough truth to make it sound good, so does teaching like that. So then the question becomes, what IS the Evidence of the Spirit?
Pardon the pun…I couldn’t help myself! That was too perfect a Segway, but while it may seem like a superficial pun it is a deeply profound paragraph heading. Our evidence IS Scripture – as Christians, as New Testament believers, our experience is shaped by the Word of Truth. The evidence of scripture is the foundation, laid by the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the Chief Cornerstone, of our experience. (Eph 2:20)
What then do we say of the Evidence of the Spirit? Can we describe it as an event? Something eccentric, erratic, overly emotional? Spontaneous, dynamic, fluid, evolving? Something not evidenced in Scripture, but as some Charismatics argue, it doesn’t have to be defined by Scripture?
Scriptural Evidence certainly wouldn’t describe it in that fashion, not even close. Certainly there was immediate results to the indwelling of the Spirit, there were hearts turned immediately to Christ by the preaching of the Word who then gave themselves to God, but how did we know they turned to God? Was there a thunderclap? Did everyone have a Damascus road blinding and later restoration of sight as Paul did? Does everyone experience the Acts 2 encounter of Tongues en masse as our last article dealt with? That answer of course, is No.
So how then do we know someone has received the Spirit of Christ? Let’s look at some of the Scriptural evidence and ask the question, “Is the Evidence of God’s Spirit an Event, or a long string of events that show forth the praises of God?”
Recently I read an article that beautifully said what I believe, “But the real evidence of being filled by the Spirit is not an experience. The real evidence is the spiritual fruit produced in our lives.”
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.“
The heart, absent of the Spirit of Christ, wars against God – it is Hostile to the things of God. It wants to destroy God and God’s works. It hates God. A heart filled with the spirit wants God, wants to further the things of God, wants to work for God, selflessly, and praises God. The spirit filled heart will crave the Word, will rejoice in the Word and the law and seek it with joy!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.“
Humanity in all times of history, but splashed across the news and media screens today is antithetical to the Fruit of being filled with God’s Spirit. For the world, where is love? Where is peace? Where is forbearance (tolerance)? Kindness? Charity? Self Control? Where are those things?
Now, there is no doubt that people who call themselves ‘Christian’ can still exhibit the opposite of those things. And there is equally no doubt that those who are not ‘Christian’ can exhibit those things.
It is more true however, that those things, as a whole, come from the Spirit of God, and one fully submitted to God will exhibit them all, not just one, or two, or even a majority. They will exhibit them ALL in the Spirit.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.“
Selfishness is the root of many ills of the world – addiction, abuse, divorce, abortion (before I get skewered for mentioning this, it is critical to repeat that less than 2% of all abortions are done for any medical reason), murder, adultery, etc., Yet, the opposite is true of many good things in the world, Selflessness – and Selflessness is a fruit of the Spirit as seen in many places throughout Scripture.
The care of others (Mother Theresa…) is the hallmark work of the Church, both Spiritually and physically. And lest we forget the physical, there is a direct response to the “Thoughts and Prayers’ pandemic in the world today;
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
A great evidence of the Spirit is your care for those around you. A call to ministry, as a Shepherd itself then is simply a call to caring for the well being of others. Nothing more matters. Careers are often uprooted for that call. Long-term retirement plans are thrown out of the window. Fortunes, fame, wealth, tossed aside. For what?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Because the real evidence of being filled by the Spirit is not an experience. The real evidence is the spiritual fruit produced in our lives.
The conclusion is that there is no conclusion, until death – there is no grand finale like the end of the fireworks show where you know it’s completed. There is no moment on the cross where we can say, “It is finished.” There is no end in sight. Retirement isn’t a spiritual option. The evidence of the Spirit is enduring, endless, timeless, eternal and yet in progress, partial, morphing, growing, changing, expanding…
The final evidence I want to give is the last four weeks of my mothers life. I didn’t plan to talk about this (mostly because it is hard for me to do so) but as I write this last few paragraphs it is what sits in my heart to share.
The legacy of my mother, who passed from this life on 1/20/2017 in my home with her hand in mine, is one of endless love and the fruit of that love. You see, she loved everyone. It didn’t matter if they were the poor, the socially awkward, the lowly, the unaccepted, the ‘out’ crowd.
In fact, those were the mostly likely she would invite over. And she had so very little. Living on a meager Social Security check…I often paid for her bills, phone bill,and other loved ones would help cover groceries here and there. But, as little as she had, she gave freely. If there were three pieces of bread and five guests, she was splitting the bread and eating the left overs if there were any. She was mocked even by people in the church she attended for her ways, but of them all, and not just because she was my mother, but because of Scriptural Evidence, she was more Christ like than them all, and more than me!
The biggest take away that I repeatedly talk about regarding my faithful mother is that she never one time, knowing her end was coming, blamed God, stopped caring, put herself first, changed character, got angry, selfish, uncaring… To her very end she wanted to support, not be a burden…My greatest regret (typed tearfully) in this life is still moments of irritation and being ‘tired’ during the final weeks of caring for her has her body failed.
Jesus Christ himself said, that when He left, He would send the Spirit (comforter) in His Fathers Name. And that Spirit would guide us, give us love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.
To live a life, unto your last breath, exhibiting and dwelling in those fruits, IS the Evidence of the Spirit. To walk towards your end resting in peace and saying, “I’m ready to Go Home”, and never one time cursing God as Satan, through Job’s wife attempted to make Job do, was the Evidence of God’s Spirit.
Not tongues, or riches, or positions, or material things. The evidence is a heart turned to God in complete submission and adoration of Him, but then those who were created in His Image and serving them both. Amen.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:36-40, NIV