How do you know if your church is Spirit-filled?
One answer, the charismatic one, is to equate passion with presence. The presence of the Spirit is displayed in a congregation’s passionate expression and rockin’ music—to use technical language. As an example, the other night I spoke to a local minister who raved about a church that was “simply on fire.” How so? According to him, God’s work was evident because of their large attendance, loud singing, and expressive worship. For his sake and theirs, I hope he is right. But if numbers and noise are all it takes to qualify as “Spirit-filled,” the prophets of Baal would be headlining Christian conferences (see 1 Kings 18).
Another answer moves in the opposite direction. Since the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth (not falsehood), order (not confusion), and holiness (not irreverence), a Spirit-filled church is properly organized, doctrinally-sound, and dedicated the service of the Lord. Certainly, holiness does mark the presence of the Spirit. Truth and testimony will be present in a Spirit-filled church, but we can all imagine (and many of us have experienced) churches where truth is present, but love and zeal are not.
Our charismatic friends rightly react against this kind of “spiritual lethargy.” Still, activity in the church is no more a proof of life than putting a corpse in an elevator. Neither vigorous activity, musical expression, or doctrinal precision guarantee a real sense of the Spirit.
So what does?
Three Marks of Christ’s Real, Spiritual Presence
In John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple three times indicates the kind of work the Holy Spirit will do when Jesus sends him from the Father. From John 14:26; 15:26; and 16:13 we get a real sense of what Spirit-filled looks like. Continue reading
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
– John 3:16 –
While John’s Gospel includes many themes, one stands above the rest: belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In fact, John 20:31 discloses why John wrote his Gospel: “These are written so you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Coming right after Thomas’ pronounces his faith in Christ, “my Lord and my God” (v. 28), John reveals his intentions. He desires for you and I to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God as the singular way that we might find eternal life.
Belief in John’s Gospel
Once we tune in to John’s emphasis on belief, we discover that the verb ‘believe’ (pisteuo) occurs 98 times in John’s Gospel. Interestingly, the noun ‘faith’ (pistis) doesn’t occur at all. Clearly, John’s Gospel is meant to create faith in its hearers, not just describe what it is. Nevertheless, by paying attention to the way John speaks of believing, it is possible to learn what faith is. And importantly, belief is more than just mental agreement. In fact, when all the promises of eternal life are considered, it becomes apparent that saving faith savors Christ. That is, those who truly believe do far more than merely assent; they approach Christ the way a starving man approaches a feast.
Indeed, in a book that testifies to who Jesus is, the beloved disciple spends ample time considering the nature of saving faith. He indicates that Jesus knew of a faith that did not save (2:23–25) and so he labors in his Gospel to show that saving faith “receives Christ,” “comes to Christ,” “honor Christ,” and “feeds on Christ”—to only name a few descriptors. Although John states plainly in John 3:16 that eternal life is the reward of believing, we will see genuine faith does far more than simply believe. Continue reading