spirituality and the Spirit

Earlier today in conversation I opined that the work of the Holy Spirit is fairly well-defined in Scripture, and that not every experience of an extraordinary or apparently supernatural nature can be attributed directly to the Holy Spirit.

This is specifically in the case of “tingly feelings” and other inexplicable things that people report, like having strange feelings just before an unexpected event, or at the same time as something unusual was happening unbeknown to a friend or family member.

Speaking frankly, it’s something that I have to overcome a lot of scepticism about even in the face of calm and rational friends insisting on the reality and impressiveness of these kinds of experiences. I don’t doubt that the experiences happened, but I don’t have a good sense of how to understand them. It’s not the kind of experience that the Scriptures hold out to us as something to be wished for, or indeed something that the Scriptures describe in much detail at all.

The lack of scriptural guidance on the issue is part of the reason why I think we should be slow to attribute this kind of thing to the Holy Spirit. It may well stem from a weak understanding of who the Holy Spirit is, when anything that can be loosely called ‘spiritual’ is considered to be an encounter with the Holy Spirit. It is completely mistaken, for example, to think of the Holy Spirit as being an impersonal sort of force that exists in the universe and can be channelled in mysterious ways to give rise to mysterious effects. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity – as much a person as the Father and the Son, and needs to be recognised and worshipped as such.

There is also a flaw in any concept of the Holy Spirit that fails to take account of the kind of works that we know he ordinarily does. From the scriptures, that would include primarily things like convicting a sinner of sin, regenerating sinners, enlightening the minds of sinners in the saving knowledge of Christ, sanctifying the regenerate, helping believers to pray, and so on. These are not perhaps his most striking works – maybe you could say that the equipping of the Saviour to undertake the work of accomplishing redemption would be a more impressive work, or inspiring the Scriptures, or confirming the message of the prophets and apostles through miracles from time to time – but these are the acts and activities which he is most normally engaged in on a day to day basis nowadays, and far from being unremarkable for that, they are after all divine works which do (if we were looking at them in a right frame of mind) gloriously display his own divinity and the miraculousness of God’s converting and sanctifying grace.

It’s maybe too much to ask that terms like “spiritual” and “spirituality” should be reserved for things which are indisputably linked to or fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit, but at least that sense of the term should be clearly safeguarded, so that it doesn’t get too muddied with experiences which, for all that they may be inexplicable and perhaps supernatural, are not particularly clearly part of the Holy Spirit does, or gives, according to the scriptures.

8 thoughts on “spirituality and the Spirit

  1. Would have been better if anything beyond the first paragraph had managed to come out in the actual conversation though :)

    Reading material on the person and work of the Holy Spirit:

    * George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
    * Thomas Goodwin, The Work of the Holy Spirit
    * Octavius Winslow, The Work of the Holy Spirit

    … further suggestions welcome


  2. Doesn’t spiritual just mean non-material(or relating to the non-material) ?

    With you on the general gist of your post, however. Sitting on hands trying not to write a post on your post!


  3. Think spiritual has to mean more than non-material, or in some contexts anyway. Eg Galatians 5 – the works of the flesh contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit – a spiritual person (in that context, ie someone who lives in the Spirit, walks in the Spirit) is someone characterised by the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, etc – there’s a definite moral/ethical dimension.

    Same in Romans 8 – they that are ‘after the flesh’ do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are ‘after the Spirit’ do mind the things of the Spirit, for to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace, because the carnal mind is enmity against God … Doesn’t really make sense to read that as material vs nonmaterial, or without taking regeneration/redemption into account


  4. I wonder about dropping the distinction altogether between spiritual and non spiritual. It s a Sufi idea, but I m sure it could also be Christian and pyobsbly others too. The idea is that everything is God and notions of seperatrness and categories of things are ultimately illusionary.


  5. That’s kind of the easy way out though isn’t it? – get some mystical idea of “God” and say that everything is God, saves a lot of hard work thinking things through

    Plus, it doesn’t really ring true to life. If these are all illusions, why do they seem so real? The Christian view has an idea of the “transcendence” of God, which includes the idea that far from everything being God, everything that is not God is vastly different from what he is or who he is.


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