“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you…”

May 23, 2018

When I was a teenager many years ago, I had a job bagging groceries at Kroger. I worked alongside a fellow high school student named Christine. She was Pentecostal, one of the first I ever knew. One day she told me something that has stuck with me. “I admire you Baptists,” she said. (I grew up Baptist.) Why? She said, “Because you have such strong faith in Christ, yet you never get to see any miracles.”

You never get to see any miracles.

Was this true then? Is it true now? While Baptists tend to be cessationists—meaning, they deny spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and miracles—and my present tribe, the Methodists, isn’t, she could say the same about most of us as well. Even if we believe that these gifts exist, most of us don’t live as if we expect supernatural events to happen. (Please note: Even many cessationists don’t deny the possibility of miracles or a prophetic word, only that individuals aren’t gifted with these abilities. So even many Baptists might take issue with Christine’s words.)

How different, therefore, are the Christians to whom Paul is writing in Galatians 3: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (v. 2) And then this, in verse 5: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”

Remember the context: False teachers have infiltrated the Galatian churches. They have been arguing that Paul’s gospel was wrong: in order to be justified, they have to not only believe in Jesus but also add certain “works of the law,” including being circumcised, following dietary laws, and observing Jewish festivals. Paul says no—emphatically. To add even one small requirement in addition to faith, Paul argues, is to lose the gospel entirely.

And in verses 1 through 5, Paul appeals to the Galatians’ experience: How did they receive the Holy Spirit when they first got converted (v. 2)? How do they continue to experience the Holy Spirit now (v. 5)? It is not by doing anything; it’s by faith.

But in order for Paul’s argument to work here, Paul knows that even the Galatians who have fallen under the sway of the false teachers would concede the fact that they’ve already received the Spirit. In other words, he knows that none of them would be able to say, “You say we’ve received the Spirit—but how do we really know? That’s a very subjective thing, Paul. Where’s the evidence that we’ve received the Spirit? Maybe we haven’t. In fact, maybe we need to start doing works of the law, after which we’ll receive the Spirit and experience the Spirit’s manifestations—including miracles.”

But no… Paul’s argument works because, from the Galatians’ perspective, there’s no question that they’ve received the Spirit! It’s beyond dispute! They’ve experienced him. They’ve witnessed his power!

Could Paul—if he were arguing today—make the same argument? Could he successfully appeal to our experience with the Holy Spirit? Or would we have to say, “How do we know we’ve received him?”—because keep in mind, cessationist or not, we all believe that we’ve received him. See Romans 8:9: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Contrary to what many Pentecostal brothers and sisters say, we receive him the moment we first believe. (Outside of Pentecostalism, this is beyond dispute, at least within evangelicalism.)

So… Have we Christians experienced the Holy Spirit? Do we experience him? How? Before I answer, I’m interested (sincerely) in what my readers have to say. Also, how important do you believe it is for Christians today to experience the Spirit to some degree—even in small, ordinary, “non-miraculous” ways?

2 Responses to ““Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you…””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Very thought-provoking. I read an article this month in Christianity Today by a charismatic preacher who says that the Church Fathers were charismatic, even though generally the Reformation leaders were not. I don’t know what to think about that, since I don’t have access to Church Fathers literature to check the claim out. For my part, as you know I am a cessationist. I don’t believe in the continuation of tongues, prophecy, and miracles (meaning, overriding natural laws, not that God does not “intervene”), much less that anybody has such “gifts.” However, even my now recently deceased Dad, a Southern Baptist missionary, believed in miracles, casting out demons, etc. So perhaps I should not be so dogmatic on the point.

    The main “proof” that I look to is (a) many “charismatic leaders,” such as those claiming to have the gift of miracles, are obvious frauds; (b) the denominations “trumpeting” this “continuation” have bad theology, such as a “second blessing,” as you note; (c) my own experience as a short-term charismatic worshiper myself; and (d) I just have never seen a miracle, despite being saved since five (less a “detour” for 10 years, of whatever theological or salvific significance that may or may not have had) and been in church and “on the mission field” in South Korea, which was experiencing explosive church growth, Baptist and charismatic. I totally reject the idea that for some reason charismatics should have a “lock” on miracles, etc. We can’t ‘steer” the Holy Spirit in such a manner that He would only perform miracles, etc. to those anticipating them and leave everybody else out. Thus, it is not because I don’t believe the Spirit COULD perform miracles, now or any other time, but that, based on (a)-(d) above, I don’t believe he DOES still provide such “miraculous manifestations.” I am happy to be persuaded otherwise–I just don’t see it.

    Finally as to your point about “experiencing” the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” I don’t know that i could say I “feel his presence” in the sense of some type of emotional “encounter” with him–I just know that I have believed as scripture says to and have complete confidence in my salvation. I have also seem some things happen that appear to be to have been “answers to prayer,” either my own or others. So I certainly believe the Holy Spirit is “active”–just not in a “miraculous” manner. Like I say–happy to be proven wrong.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    I agree with Tom for the most part. Why would God single out one denomination for this kind of connection?

    I have a different view of “charismatics”. I believe that some people are more deeply connected to the Holy Spirit than others. For instance, A.W. Tozer was generally credited with being charismatic. He himself said that he didn’t know what that meant, because he was just preaching from his heart. I think that John Piper might be put in the same category. Neither of these men ever claimed to have any special gifts, but both seemed to display an intensity of connection to the Spirit of God beyond their contemporaries.

    For myself, I can only say that my experience of the Holy Spirit has been deeply personal. It defies description, but I definitely feel connected to my God somewhere deep within my core. The intensity of the connection varies with my own attitude and intention. When I am deep in prayer or meditation the connection grows. I feel at peace. When I am angry or otherwise distracted, it is almost not there. But, I don’t mean to say that it is a connection that I can “summon”. Nurtured might be a better way of putting it, and it feels like a reciprocal nurturing.


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