Issue #204 -------
August 15, 2005
There comes into my mind such an indescribable,
infinite, all-absorbing, divine, heavenly pleasure,
a sense of elevation and expansion, and I have nought
to do with it. I perceive that I am dealt with by superior
powers. This is a pleasure, a joy, an existence which
I have not procured myself. I speak as a witness
on the stand, and tell what I have perceived.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
I receive a considerable number of questions from readers regarding the Holy Spirit, and especially with regard to His involvement with our daily lives. I truly wish that I could say I have this topic "figured out." The reality, however, is that I myself have far more questions on the subject than I have answers. Understanding the nature of the Holy Spirit, and His function and purpose in our lives, is truly one of the most difficult areas of study in all of Scripture. I know of very few people who presume to speak authoritatively on this topic, and I certainly don't intend to here. What I can do is give my limited understandings and personal convictions, for whatever they may be worth to the reader. I do indeed have my opinions, and reasons for holding them, and don't mind sharing them with others, but I will not be so arrogant as to declare them infallible, nor demand other disciples agree with me in order to experience my fellowship. With these qualifiers in mind, I will seek to respond to a couple of questions sent in by two readers of these Reflections.
The first question has to do with the issue of indwelling. There are those who believe the Holy Spirit personally and literally indwells each genuine believer in God's Son, whereas there are others who assert He only indwells the believer indirectly (or perhaps even figuratively) through means of the inspired Scriptures. The latter is often characterized as the "Word Only" theory. As a rule, though certainly not exclusively so, the "Word Only" theory tends to be primarily embraced by the so-called conservatives within the church, whereas those deemed liberals tend to gravitate toward a personal, literal indwelling of the Spirit. Again, there are some note-worthy exceptions to this, but one will find this dichotomy to be generally true. The second question involves the nature and degree of Holy Spirit involvement within our individual lives and ministries. Just how much of what happens in our daily lives, if any of it, can be attributed to the direct working of the Holy Spirit? Or, is He completely passive in our lives? Again, the conservatives tend to favor a rather passive role for the Spirit, whereas the liberals gravitate more easily toward a more active role.
A beloved reader from the great state of Alabama recently wrote, "Al, In this part of the country there are two theories concerning the Holy Spirit. (1) The Holy Spirit now works through the Word only, and (2) the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian, although in a somewhat passive manner. Perhaps because of the above theories, or for other reasons unknown to me, the Holy Spirit is seldom mentioned in the services of Churches of Christ in this area. Please let me know if you are familiar with the above two theories regarding the Holy Spirit. I would be especially interested in what you think of them. I appreciate your work so very much, and recently looked at the titles of all of the many Reflections on your web site for one that dealt with the Holy Spirit, but was not able to identify one." As previously mentioned, I have far more questions than answers with regard to the Holy Spirit, thus have done little writing on the subject. However, I do have strong personal convictions regarding the above based on my study of the written Word.
I am convinced that the Scriptures teach a personal, literal, active indwelling of the Holy Spirit for those who have surrendered themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in obedient faith. Thus, I completely reject the notion that the Holy Spirit is limited to functioning ONLY through the Bible, and I also reject the idea of a passive indwelling. He involves Himself in our lives, interacting with our "inner man," transforming us into the image of God's beloved Son. There is nothing passive or removed about God's Spirit. He didn't go on an extended hiatus at the end of the apostolic age. He indwells each of us in a powerful way, limited only by our own degree of willingness to submit to His leading. Do I fully understand this indwelling and all the ramifications of it? No, I do not. Can I adequately explain it all to the satisfaction of others? No! Words fail me. But, I accept the reality of this indwelling and embrace it by faith, and I daily draw strength and guidance from His presence within me. I feel His presence, and see evidence of His presence, each day of my life. I thank God often for this marvelous gift of grace!
On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowds, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself" (Acts 2:38-39). "We must distinguish the gift of the Spirit from the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is the Spirit Himself, bestowed by the Father through the Messiah; the gifts of the Spirit are those spiritual faculties which the Holy Spirit imparts, 'distributing to each one individually just as He wills' -- 1 Cor. 12:11" (Dr. F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 77). "The free gift which is promised in verse 38 to those who repent and are baptized is the Holy Spirit Himself" (ibid). The Greek grammatical construction of this passage, when viewed contextually, makes it abundantly clear that HE is the gift being imparted to those who have embraced Christ Jesus through obedient faith. Acts 10:45, where the exact same Greek phrase ("the gift of the Holy Spirit") is used, makes it clear (vs. 47) that the gift was the Spirit Himself. As the apostle Peter affirmed, "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). God "gave to us the Spirit as a pledge" (2 Cor. 5:5).
It is virtually impossible, at least in my view, to deny the reality of the Spirit's personal indwelling within the true believer. The New Covenant writings are filled with affirmations of this blessed gift bestowed. Indeed, there is teaching that declares if the Spirit does NOT indwell a person, that person is outside of a saving relationship with the Lord. "You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Rom. 8:9). "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you" (Rom. 8:11). The entire eighth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans is a powerful witness to the presence and work of the Spirit within us. How anyone can read and study this chapter and NOT come away with the assurance of His personal, literal indwelling is beyond my grasp.
We must also add to these many passages from the inspired New Covenant writings the widely accepted principle of biblical hermeneutics which states -- "All words should be understood in their literal sense, unless the context specifically dictates that they be understood otherwise." Thus, when one encounters the word "indwell," for example, one should understand that word literally, unless there is something specifically within the context of the passage itself that clearly and unequivocally suggests a figurative application or meaning of the term. "Figures are the exception, literal language is the rule; hence we are not to regard anything as figurative until we feel compelled to do so by the evident import of the passage" (Dr. D.R. Dungan, Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures, p. 184). I find nothing in the above passages, especially within Romans 8, that even remotely suggests a meaning for "indwell" other than its literal one. Those disciples who advocate the "Word Only" theory, however, will insist upon a figurative meaning for the term "indwell," even though there is no justifiable reason for doing so other than it fits their theory better.
It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit literally and personally and actively indwells the children of the Father. Bro. W. Carl Ketcherside, a man whom I admire tremendously, wrote, "The indwelling Spirit witnesses to the sonship of every child of God; every person in whom the Spirit dwells is a child of God" (quoted from his article "The Indwelling Spirit"). Later in this same article he declared, "If we are to recapture the power and purpose of the early disciples we must begin by re-affirming the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the believers. Nothing short of this can make us the agents or channels for the diffusion of universal blessing." It should also be noted that the Spirit is received by faith, not by sufficient accumulation of works of law. Paul asks those being led astray by legalistic thinking, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of law, or by hearing with faith?" (Gal. 3:2). A few verses later he asks again, "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit .... do it by the works of law, or by hearing with faith?" (vs. 5).
Hand-in-hand with the question regarding Holy Spirit indwelling is the question regarding Holy Spirit empowering. Are there spiritual gifts in evidence among the people of God today? Are God's children given "gifts" which enable them to better serve Him, or were all such spiritual gifts done away with at the end of the apostolic age? Does God still work miraculously within and through the lives of His people, or is the "age of miracles" now past? Some would say ALL gifts of the Spirit have ceased, and we must simply rely upon our own natural, innate abilities in service to the Lord. Others would suggest only the major miraculous gifts have ceased, such as miraculous healings, tongues, raising the dead, prophecy, and the like. As with the issue of Holy Spirit indwelling, the personal empowering of saints by the Holy Spirit is a volatile subject, and it has led to much heated debate and division.
I personally tend to occupy the middle ground in this debate. I believe some works of the Holy Spirit in the early formative days of the church's existence were largely "attesting signs" -- i.e., miraculous workings that served to confirm the spoken and written word being proclaimed. Thus, I personally do not believe that any preacher of the gospel today needs to raise up some unbeliever's dead mother or son, or wave a hand and make the blind see and the lame walk, to validate the gospel message. God has sufficiently validated His revealed Truth already and no longer needs such dramatic "attesting signs." This is my strong conviction, and I shall hold to it until such time as I witness an empty tomb or a newly grown leg on an amputee. On the other hand, I still firmly believe that the Spirit of God is active in the lives of His people today, and that our Creator is active within the physical creation about us. Neither God the Father, nor God the Spirit, nor God the Son are personally passive in the daily affairs of men, be they the saved or the lost. It is over the extent and nature of that activity, especially that of the Holy Spirit, that most debate centers.
Do I believe our Creator God acts within and upon the natural order of things to effect His will, at times even imposing His will supernaturally? Yes, I do. Do I believe He does this even today? Yes, I do. Do I believe our God can still work miraculously in the lives of people? Yes, I do. I have personally seen it. Let's be honest, brethren -- if we do not believe in a God who acts, and who even acts miraculously at times, why do we pray to Him to heal a loved one who is sick? To keep us safe on a long journey? To guide the hands of a surgeon? To soften the heart of an unbeliever? If we don't truly believe He still can and will alter the natural course of events, then why bother asking Him to do so?! The very fact that we go to Him in prayer for such intervention seems to imply to me that we believe He does intervene at times. So, YES ... I do believe in a God who still works miracles in the lives of His people, and who steps into time, space and history to effect His will, and even to respond to our fervent petitions and supplications. That is why I pray! Brethren, I pray expecting a miracle!! If not, why pray?!
Do I believe God empowers His people with special abilities and talents and opportunities so that they might better serve Him by serving others? Yes, I do. It is my firm conviction that when God opens doors of opportunity for us (and I believe He does -- Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3; Rev. 3:8), that He also gives us the abilities we need to walk boldly through those doors and fulfill our mission and ministry. Paul urged the young evangelist Timothy, "Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you" (1 Tim. 4:14). I believe we all have such God-given, Spirit-empowered gifts, and we must not neglect them, but develop them through faithful use in His service. "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly" (Rom. 12:6). "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. ... But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:4-7, 11). "Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts" (1 Cor. 14:1).
We are empowered by the Spirit for functional service in the Body of Christ unto the common good. "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph. 4:7). When each part of the Body fulfills its individual function, it "causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" (Eph. 4:16). Some have the gift of teaching, others the gift of encouragement, or of giving, or exhorting, or leading. Some are musical, some are mechanical, some are able to mentor or mediate. We all are gifted and empowered to serve the common good and in so doing glorify our God who provides both the ability and opportunity to use it. It takes some people longer than others to discover their gifts, but they are there. Sometimes there are challenges and obstacles to exercising those gifts, but they can be overcome. If any of you feel you are not gifted with some ability that may be employed for the common good, then sit down with several of your trusted fellow disciples of Christ and explore this matter together; it could be they see your potential when you do not.
Speaking of the perceptions of others with regard to one's own spiritual gifts, I received the following email recently from a reader of these Reflections who lives and serves in southern Texas: "After recently discussing the topic of praying for healing with some fellow believers, and whether such healings had been done away with, a person interjected the concept of the gift of knowledge and whether it too had ceased. I made a statement basically stating that some people -- you and Max Lucado were two of my examples -- seem to have the miraculous gift of knowledge, whereas others seem to have a book knowledge gained purely through dedication to study. My statement was not to negate the tremendous amount of study that you obviously do, but rather to explain what I seem to see in you and others. I see the gift of being able to reach many thousands of readers with your Reflections as a miraculous gift you have accepted and recognized. You seem to use study and research as an aid to your gift, and not as the determining factor. I see many who probably study as much or even more than you do, and yet who have nowhere near the ability to reach the same audience. Do you consider your ability to reach these tens of thousands of people as a miraculous gift, as I do, or do you look at it as something purely earned through your personal dedication to God's Word? I think it is only human nature to believe we have accomplished something on our own, but I simply don't think you would be reaching all of these people no matter how many books you collected or how hard you studied if God had not given you the gift of knowledge and if He had not opened these doors to you. I would be curious to hear your thoughts when you get the time."
I do indeed believe that God has gifted me personally with certain abilities and opportunities .... just as He has you, and just as He has all of His people. Obviously, we are not all given the same spiritual gifts; our ministries and opportunities vary, yet they come from one and the same Spirit, and we serve one and the same Lord. Thus, none of us, regardless of the nature of our gifts or opportunities, are superior to another disciple in Christ Jesus, and we should not view ourselves as more exalted than another (Rom. 12:3). We are all one in Him, and all that we have is from Him. It is truly a "unity in diversity" that makes the Body of Christ functional. We should be thankful our Father has designed the church in this way, for in those areas where I am personally weak (ungifted), you or another brother or sister will most likely be strong (gifted). Thus, we find there is a divinely ordained balance and harmony within the One Body; we complement one another well .... that is, when each individual part is functioning properly and fulfilling its God-given, Spirit-empowered mission and purpose (Eph. 4:16).
Let me say a word about the "gift of knowledge," at least as I understand that concept. Paul wrote, "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all of these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:7-11). The gift of knowledge is said to be the ability, given by the Holy Spirit of God, "to correctly understand and properly exhibit the truths revealed by the apostles and prophets" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 269). This was not some secret information reserved for the spiritually elite (as was proclaimed by the Gnostics), but merely the gift of spiritual insight into what is revealed so as to proclaim it clearly and understandably to both lost and saved alike.
Having said all of that, I do believe God, through His Spirit, does continue to operate in some manner within our hearts and lives to open our minds to more fully perceive His will. Exactly how He does this, I couldn't say! However, I rarely approach a study of God's written Word without first praying for greater enlightenment and discernment, not only of a particular passage or topic, but also that I might perceive its proper application to daily living and that I might be able to powerfully proclaim it to others. Yes, I believe God often provides that depth of knowledge to me; although at times, for whatever reason, it seems to elude me (perhaps because the biases and traditional perceptions of Al Maxey are standing in the way).
Do I have the "gift of knowledge" from God's Holy Spirit? I suppose some would say I might; others would clearly argue just the opposite. It is my conviction that there are two such gifts of knowledge enumerated in the Scriptures; one exists today, one does not. I most certainly do not have the "gift of knowledge" in the same sense that the apostle Paul did (none of us do, in my opinion). On the other hand, I do believe the Spirit helps guide my understanding into fuller appreciation of Truth (John 16:13), enabling, equipping and empowering me to effectively express these insights unto others in my writings and through my public preaching and teaching ministries. I firmly believe these abilities are gifts from God. Indeed, I pray for such abilities and doors of opportunity, and I firmly believe my God answers such prayers. There have been times, for example, after praying to Him prior to a particular study, that insights came to me that I had simply never seen before, or a passage suddenly "made sense" to me (the light came on), or words just flowed forth effortlessly as my fingers flew over the keyboard. Pure coincidence? Mere chance? Dumb luck? The product of my own human effort? Personal skill, aptitude, training? Perhaps. But is it really so "far fetched" to think that just maybe the Lord God answered my prayer?!! If we don't expect Him to answer, then why pray?! Is it really so awful, or even arrogant, to believe our God may actually use us as instruments in His service, even fine-tuning and empowering these instruments for more effective service?
I've seen people pray to God asking Him to heal someone, and then when that person was healed (the doctors saying they can't even find evidence of the cancer that was previously there), the people act surprised! "Wow! That was lucky. I wonder what happened?!" Duh!!! You prayed, God answered. That's what happened!! Some have almost seemed shocked at times that God has actually stepped into their lives and ACTED. We need to renounce this spirit of doubt and skepticism and start actually believing and trusting more in His providential care. Also, we really need to start believing, especially those of us in Churches of Christ (who have resisted this reality much too long), that the Holy Spirit does still personally empower us today. Whether we choose to call it "miraculous" or "supernatural" or "providential" is really irrelevant --- accept it and employ it to His glory and to the good of others!
Do I believe the Lord God has opened doors of opportunity to me personally? Absolutely!! The alternative is to believe I have accomplished everything I have accomplished in my 56 years of living completely by my own effort and merit. I don't believe that for a second. Nor do I believe that where I am today is simply a matter of luck or chance or a series of fortunate, though random, events. Shelly and I have many, many times witnessed our God actively ACTING in our lives, and, yes, at times even in a "miraculous" manner. We don't doubt His presence and providence in the least. Any credit for anything I have become or have accomplished goes to Him .... except, of course, for my many failings --- those fall squarely at my feet, not His. The fact that my weekly Reflections have reached so many people throughout the world and have been received so positively, the fact that my book is now published and doing well, the various locations throughout the world where God has sent me to preach these past 30 years (in both Europe and Asia), serving as a state-appointed chaplain at the only execution in New Mexico in almost 60 years (having led that inmate to Christ prior to his death -- see Reflections #17), a wonderful wife, fantastic sons and daughters-in-law, super grandchildren, godly parents and in-laws -- I can assure you, these blessings and opportunities have not come my way simply because Al Maxey "has it all together." They have been bestowed upon Shelly and me because a loving, merciful, compassionate God extended His grace even to "such a worm as I." Brethren, we serve an awesome God!! Let us never forget it .... and let us never cease praising His precious name for the gracious gift of the personal indwelling and empowering of His Holy Spirit!!
From a Reader in Florida:
Hello Al, A dear, generous friend of mine telephoned yesterday wanting to bless me with a gift of books or tapes that I would like to have. I said I really wanted "Down, But Not Out" by Al Maxey. I explained that the book was new on the market and was released by PublishAmerica, which is headquartered in Maryland. I said it may not be in the stores yet, but it may be at Borders or Barnes & Noble. She was going to go to a local Christian bookstore, so while there checked to see if they had your book. And they did have a book by that title, so she bought it. This evening when she gave the book to me, she pointed out that your name -- as I spelled it -- wasn't the name on the book she purchased (which was Wayne A. Mack). She and the sales person thought that the publisher had put your first name and your middle initial on the book and that your last name was spelled MACK -- not Maxey. So, I thought you might want to alert your readers that there is another book on the market by the same title ("Down, But Not Out"). Thank you for your weekly Reflections! I am passing the word to others about what a great blessing your messages are!
From a New Reader in North Carolina:
I read your article on churches without elders. After working through the shock that someone would ask such a question, and that men would suggest that these churches are not really churches, I was glad to see the conclusion you came to. Didn't Jesus say, "wherever two or more are gathered..."? That's all I need to know. I'm glad that I have not been around churches where this kind of thinking prevails. I will continue to read your stuff. Send it on. May the Lord bless you.
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Brother Al, I find it amazing how some teach that "Scriptural congregations" must have elders, and so many unqualified men are appointed by otherwise "Scriptural churches," which just makes them unscriptural. When the Holy Spirit's instructions are studied and followed, it would appear that a church with good Christian men [and women] who work together for the glory of God, yet who don't have elders because they feel very strongly about the Spirit's commands concerning a man having to be fully qualified, are in fact totally Scriptural because they are following the Scriptures!! I wish more of our brethren would, or could, understand the meaning of "IF."
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I grew up in a church without appointed elders. In fact, that church has only had elders in place for less than 10 years. And it was under much pressure from the preacher at the time that they even installed elders in the first place! And deacons, too! I agree with you completely -- Elders are called by God, infused with the Holy Spirit with a devotion and unrelenting desire to serve the church of God. Otherwise, they are just men on a power trip.
From a Minister in India:
Dear Brother, Shepherdless Sheep Folds is illuminating clearly on the subject. It is very sad, even after 40 years preaching in India, the brethren in the churches here are not matured spiritually to become elders. We can simply count on fingers that have elders in congregations; this bothers me a lot. The teachers, preachers, ministers and evangelists are not interested in this; they have their own interests. Your article has initiated me to think and act to write and teach the necessity of this area. Thanks for writing on the need of this great responsibility. The beauty of your writings is they are simple, though scholarly; straight-forward and fearless in expounding the Truth. In the present Internet age, you are becoming a global Bible teacher and are reaching to remote places of the world. You are becoming a heart-throb and beloved in our community, and many folks are now following your writings. God bless you and your family. We love you. You and your work are in our prayers.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Once again you have produced a well thought out article on shepherds. I agree that the congregation who does not have elders is still acceptable to the Lord (as you so ably pointed out). Some time ago one of my teachers described the situation thusly: A congregation can be Scripturally "un-organized" (with no men qualified to be elders). A congregation can be un-Scripturally un-organized (having men who are qualified, but not ordained to serve). A congregation can be un-Scripturally organized (having unqualified men ordained). Or a congregation can be Scripturally organized (having qualified men who are ordained to serve). I have preached in places where there were no elders, and as a result had the responsibilities of "shepherding" thrust upon me against my will and desire. I have also preached in places where unqualified men (in my judgment) served as elders, with much the same result. Well done, Al!
From a Reader in Nevada:
Greetings, dear brother and Shelly! The one thing in favor of not having an "eldership" is that decisions are then made by the congregation -- something missing from most congregations with an eldership, since most elderships, in my experience, are looked upon as a "board of directors" who are charged with making all the decisions (something contrary to what is found in Scripture). I eagerly await each of your Reflections and frequently share them with my own email list. God bless you in this ministry.
From a Prison Minister in Oklahoma:
Bro Al, Where do all these folks get off dictating what can and can not be a congregation of the Lord's Body? Perhaps they are spending too much time behind closed doors with closed minds and not exposed to the real world. The first question that comes to my mind is: "What about all of the prison congregations around the country?" None of these people can qualify as elders, but do they not have equal access to the celebration party the Father gives for those prodigals who return home? I hope so, otherwise I have just wasted 10 very important years of my life, giving false hope to several hundred prisoners, and foolishly baptizing that many more. I suspect the naysayers all wake up every morning with the Luke 15 "older brother" attitude -- "I've been faithful all my life and these late comers, these shepherdless groups, are not deserving to be called family." May God grant them time to grow and repent.
From a Minister in California:
You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Al Maxey! It is very gratifying to stumble across a truth and find out that another brother has "discovered" it as well. I had not previously had the opportunity to get back to some of your earlier Reflections, but after reading them just now it doesn't surprise me one bit to find out that we have drawn the same conclusions regarding the synagogue system and Jesus' use of it, which shows He was not a legalistic patternist. My wife generally knows when I'm reading one of your e-mails because I let out an "Amen" or two while I'm reading them. Today was one of those times! I appreciate the body of work that you have accumulated and have made available to the world!
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