Recently I've been teaching on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, including His work in our lives and specific discussions on the Gifts of the Spirit.
It is such a BIG topic to summarize, but this is the statement that has served as the cornerstone of my teaching over the last 5 weeks: "The Holy Spirit is coequal with God the Father and God the Son. He reveals Jesus Christ to sinners, permanently and completely indwells believers at the point of salvation, forms the likeness of Jesus Christ in believers through sanctification, guidance, the distribution of all the biblical gifts of the Spirit, empowers the mission of Jesus Christ through believers and unifies the Church."
Obviously a statement this big needs some explanation. If you are interested the videos are here.
In my study and in my teaching, I feel strongly that there is no clear biblical evidence of any sort of "second blessing" of the Spirit. This view that is held by some proposes that the initial work of salvation is separated by a second event where the Holy Spirit comes, usually evidenced by the gift of speaking in tongues. For instance, at the end of Peter's great sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:38-39 (ESV) we read... "And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive sthe gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.'”
The clear evidence here is that salvation would come with two great gifts, given in a permanent and complete fashion, "forgiveness of your sins" and "the gift of the Holy Spirit." This, among other passages, dispel any expectation other than the permanent and complete indwelling of the Holy Spirit at the point of salvation.
However, many Christians can attest to a gap between the initial point of salvation and a moment when they were filled with a passion for Christ and living for God in a way unlike ever before. This can often feel confusing and either cause people to question the validity of their initial salvation or cause them to think there is a "second blessing" of some kind though we have no good biblical evidence for such a claim.
I remember in my own life being genuinely saved at age ten, and then a few years later in the 9th grade, I felt like my Christianity "came alive." What was going on? I prefer to liken this phenomenon to what we see in the physical growth of children. Much of the growth that takes place in the early days of life are done with little understanding of what going on and without much effort on the part of the child. It's a child's parents who carry the lion's share of the burden for the growth of the child; they nourish and care for her until suddenly there is a growth spurt! With our kids, it seems they are eating like crazy and developing like crazy.
How do Christians experience "growth spurts?"
1. Discipleship. The early days of salvation require the care and support of the Church. This is why hands-on discipleship is so vital. We must take very seriously the early days of a new believer's life in the same way we would a newborn baby just home from the hospital. Matthew 28:19-20 makes this calling and priority clear, to "go and make disciples." This means that regular exposure to God's Word and helpful personal application. However, this is discipleship piece goes missing in many cases. Is it any wonder that these spiritual orphans go for some months or years with little evidence of spiritual fruit? If not for the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, these new believers may be forever orphans.
2. Modeling. Being involved in a community of people seeking to live for the Lord provides a vision for believers that serves as a model for how belief becomes action in the life of a Christian. This was Paul's call to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 "be an example to believers." Example is a powerful reality in the growing up process in all of life; it's no less in the Christian life. Examples give us the chance to import the experience of others so that we might grow in areas outside of our own experience.
3. Service. I have never seen anyone take significant steps of spiritual growth without a corresponding step of serving. This speaks to the need for spiritual demands that force us to greater and greater levels of dependence on God. Taking on some area of serving demands that i know God's word and seek the Holy Spirit's guidance more than before. Jesus shows us this in Luke 10:1-12 as He sent out the 70. He makes it clear that this mission would require of them to trust in God and not the provisions of man. Serving makes us more humble and God loves to lift up the humble!
4. Crisis. Sometimes it's the difficulties in life that heighten our awareness of our need for God. 1 Peter is a great place to turn to find out the biblical view of suffering and its power in our lives for obedience. I believe God uses these moments, and even seasons as a way to reacquaint us with trust and dependence. I think of the countless ways my kids have been reminded of their trust in me in the minor crises of their lives. Everything from a skinned knee to a bad dream, my kids cry out for me (or my wife) and are met with love and mercy every time. Isn't this the way of our Heavenly Father?
5. The Divine 2x4. This is by far the most difficult element to explain. There are moments in life when God Himself wishes to supernaturally get our attention. This is often His way of instigating us off of the spiritual plateau we might be experiencing. Though I believe God is a respecter of what we call "free will," I believe He is gracious to swing the divine 2x4 and wake us from our sleepy faith. This may come from a near death experience you unexplainably walk away from (Paul in Galatians 1). It may be a deep conviction that comes over you like a tsunami in a worship service (the house church in Acts 4:31). It may be in a dream (Peter in Acts 10) and you wake up with a startling awareness of His will, your need for Him and fresh conviction to live in obedience. Always remember, we follow a supernatural God that can and will do whatever He wants!
I think we can expect that throughout our Christian lives we will find ourselves in a season that feels like a spiritual plateau. With confidence, we need not question the purpose that the Holy Spirit has left us. The greater likelihood is that we need discipleship, modeling, service, crisis or the divine 2x4 to keep our faith from growing stagnant and predictable. I believe some combination of these three elements creates what seems like a spiritual "growth spurt" in our lives. One final thought...God's is committed to work in your life until the likeness of Christ is complete in you (Philippians 1:6).
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Describe when you experienced a spiritual "growth spurt." How did Discipleship, modeling and service play a part?
Post your comments here.