On Eagles Wings Ministries
Liberty Under Control
We shall now go beyond the life of the individual believer to consider the general life and worship of a Christians congregation as a whole. The questions we shall seek to answer are these:
- What difference does the baptism in the Holy Spirit make in the life and experience of the congregation as a whole?
- What are the main features which distinguish a congregation in which all or most of the members have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and are free to exercise the power thus received?
- How would such a congregation differ from one in which none of the members has received this experience?
To answer these questions, we shall examine two main ways in which a free congregation of Spirit-baptised believers differs from one in which the members have not received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Under the Spirit’s Lordship
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).
Paul points out two major facts about the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit in a congregation. The first is that the Holy Spirit is Lord. In the New Testament the word Lord corresponds in use and meaning to the name Jehovah in the Old Testament. In this usage it is a title reserved for the one true God, never given to any lesser being or creature.
This title belongs by right to each of the three Persons of the Godhead. God the Father is Lord, God the Son is Lord, and God the Holy Spirit is Lord. When Paul says, “The Lord is the Spirit,” he is emphasising the supreme sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the church.
The second great fact pointed out by Paul is that where the lordship of the Holy Spirit in the church is acknowledged, the result in a congregation is “liberty” or “freedom.” Someone has sought to bring out the true significance of the second part of this verse by a slight change in the rendering. Instead of saying, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” we may say alternatively, “Where the Spirit is Lord, there is liberty.” True liberty comes to a congregation in measure as its members acknowledge and yield to the lordship of the Holy Spirit.
Thus we may sum up this first main distinguishing feature of a Spirit-baptised congregation by putting two words side by side. These two words are liberty and government.
At first sight it might appear inconsistent to put these two words together. Someone might feel inclined to object, “But if we have liberty, then we are not under government. And if we are under government, then we do not have liberty.” People do, in fact, often feel that liberty and government are opposite to each other. This applies not only to spiritual things but also in the political realm.
I am reminded of the political situation in Kenya, in East Africa, while I was serving there as a college principal from 1957 to 1961. During that period the African people of Kenya were looking forward with great eagerness to the time when their country would attain to complete independence or self-government. The Swahili word used for independence was uhuru – which means literally “liberty” or “freedom” – and this word was upon everybody’s lips. Many of the less-educated Africans formed wonderful pictures of what this uhuru or liberty would bring to them.
“When uhuru comes,” they would say, “we shall be able to ride our bicycles on whichever side of the road we please. We shall be able to travel as far as we like in the buses without paying. We shall never have to pay any more taxes to the government.”
To more sophisticated people in other lands, statements such as these might appear childish or ridiculous. Such people would argue that conditions such as these would not constitute true liberty but rather anarchy and disorder in their worst degree. Nevertheless, these simple African people were perfectly sincere in the picture of liberty which they had formed for themselves. Their own African political leaders often had difficulty in getting them to understand what liberty or independence would really entail.
The strange thing is that people who are perfectly sophisticated in their understanding of what political liberty means are sometimes quite childish in the picture they form of spiritual liberty.
Such people would smile at Africans who imagine that political liberty means they can ride their bicycles on either side of the road or travel in the buses without paying their fares. Yet the same people would behave in ways no less foolish or disorderly in the house of God, and then they justify their behaviour by the title of “spiritual liberty.”
For example, in some congregations, when one member is asked to lead in prayer and to present certain prayer requests to God, there are others who speak so loud in other tongues that it becomes impossible for the rest of the congregation to hear what the appointed prayer leader is saying. This means it is impossible for the congregation to say “Amen” with understanding or faith to a prayer which they could not even hear. In this way, through this foolish misuse of tongues, the whole congregation loses the blessing and the effectiveness of united, wholehearted petition and intercession.
Or again, the preacher may be presenting a logical, scriptural message designed to show to the unsaved the need and the way of salvation. As the preacher approaches the climax of his message, someone in the congregation suddenly bursts out with a loud, ill-timed utterance in tongues. As a result, the whole congregation’s attention is distracted from the salvation message. The unbelievers present are either irritated or frightened by what seems to be a senseless and emotional outburst. The force of the carefully prepared message on salvation is lost.
If the person responsible for this kind of foolishness should afterward be reproved, it quite often happens that he makes some such answer as this: “I couldn’t help myself! The Holy Spirit made me do it. I had to obey the Holy Spirit.” However, such an answer as this cannot be accepted because it is contrary to the clear teaching of the Scriptures.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (1 Cor. 12:7).
We may render this more freely: “The manifestation of the Spirit is always given for a useful, practical, sensible purpose.”
Thus, if the manifestation is directed to fulfilling the purpose for which it is given, it will always be in harmony with the plan and purpose of the service as a whole and will make a positive contribution to accomplishing that purpose. It will never be meaningless or distracting or out of place.
God Makes Sons, Not Slaves
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints (1 Cor. 14:32-33).
In other words, any spiritual evidence that is directed and controlled by God will produce peace and harmony, not confusion and disorder.
Any person responsible for an evidence that leads to confusion or disorder cannot excuse himself by saying, “I couldn’t help myself! The Holy Spirit made me do it.” Paul rules out this line of defence by saying, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” In other words, the Holy Spirit never overrides the will of the individual believer and compels him to do something against his own will.
Even when a believer is exercising a spiritual gift, his spirit and his will still remain under his control. He is free to exercise that gift or not to exercise it. The responsibility for exercising it remains with him. As we have said earlier in this study, the Holy Spirit never plays the part of a dictator in the life of a believer.
This is one of the main features which distinguish genuine manifestations of the Holy Spirit from the phenomena of spiritism or demon possession. In many phases of spiritism or demon possession the person who plays the part of the medium (or other vessel of satanic power) is obliged to yield complete control of his whole will and personality to the spirit which seeks to possess him or to operate through him. Very often such a person is then obliged to say or to do things which of his own free will he would never have agreed to say or do.
In some phases of spiritism the person who comes under the control of the spirit loses all understanding or consciousness of what he is saying or doing. At the end of such an experience, the possessed person may come to himself again in entirely strange surroundings after a lapse of many hours, without any knowledge or recollection of what has happened in the intervening period. In this way, both the will and the understanding of the demon-possessed person are entirely set aside.
God the Holy Spirit never acts in this way with the true believer in Jesus. Among the most precious of all the endowments which God has bestowed upon man are will and personality. Consequently, God never usurps the will or the personality of the believer. He will operate through them if He is permitted to do so, but He will never set them aside. Satan makes slaves; God makes sons.
We see, then, how wrong and unscriptural it is for Spirit-baptised believers to say concerning any spiritual manifestation: “I couldn’t help it! The Holy Spirit made me do it.” To speak like this is to represent the indwelling Spirit of God as some kind of despot and the believer as a slave in bondage. Believers who speak like this have not yet come to understand their privileges and responsibilities as sons of God.
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage [slavery] again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15-16).
We are thus brought face-to-face with an important principle which holds good in all human affairs whether political or spiritual: True liberty is impossible without good government. The kind of liberty which seeks to set aside all government or control of any kind ends only in anarchy and confusion. The final result is a new form of slavery, far more severe than the previous form of government which was set aside.
We have seen this happen time after time in the political history of the human race, and the same principle applies equally in the spiritual life of the Christians church. True spiritual liberty is possible only where there is spiritual government. The government which God has appointed for the church is that of the Holy Spirit.
We come back then to the statement of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17:
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
If we desire to enjoy the Spirit’s liberty, we must first voluntarily acknowledge the Spirit’s lordship. These two operations of the Holy Spirit can never be separated from each other.
We must also bear in mind another important fact about the Holy Spirit which we established earlier in this study. The Holy Spirit is both the author and the interpreter of the Scriptures. This means that the Holy Spirit will never direct a believer to say or do anything contrary to the Scriptures. If the Holy Spirit were ever to do this, He would be illogical and inconsistent with Himself, and this we know is impossible.
But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Jesus, who was preached among you by us – by me, Silvanus, and Timothy – was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes (2 Cor. 1:18-19).
Paul is saying that God is never inconsistent with Himself. Concerning any particular matter of doctrine or practice, God never says yes at one time and no at another. If God has ever said yes, then His answer always remains yes. He never changes to no later on. He is never changeable or inconsistent with Himself.
This applies to the relationship between the teaching of Scripture on the one hand and utterances and manifestations of the Holy Spirit on the other. The Holy Spirit, being Himself the author of Scripture, always agrees with Scripture. There is never a possibility of yes and no. Wherever the Bible says no, the Holy Spirit says no. No utterance or manifestation that is inspired and controlled by the Holy Spirit will ever be contrary to the teachings and examples of Scripture.
However, as we have already emphasised, the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is not a dictator. He does not compel the believer always to act in a scriptural way. The Holy Spirit serves as interpreter and counsellor. He interprets the Scripture; He offers direction and counsel. But the believer still remains free to accept or to reject the Holy Spirit’s counsel – to obey or to disobey.
This imposes a tremendous responsibility upon every Spirit-baptised believer. Every such believer is responsible to acquaint himself personally with the mind of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Scriptures and then to direct his own conduct and behaviour in regard to the exercise of spiritual gifts or manifestations – as in all other matters – so that these harmonise with the principles and examples of Scripture.
If through laziness, indifference or disobedience a Spirit-baptised believer fails to do this and, as a result, exercises spiritual gifts or manifestations in a foolish, unscriptural way, the responsibility for this rests solely upon the believer himself, not upon the Holy Spirit.
In this connection, a special responsibility rests upon every minister called by God to lead the worship and service of a Spirit-baptised congregation. Not only must such a man direct his own spiritual ministry in line with the teaching of Scripture, but he must also allow himself to be, in God’s hand, an instrument to direct the worship and ministry of the whole congregation in accordance with the same scriptural principles.
To do this successfully requires, in a high degree, special qualifications: first of all, a thorough, practical knowledge of the Scriptures, and then wisdom, authority and courage. Where these qualities are lacking in the leadership, a congregation that seeks to exercise spiritual gifts and manifestations will be like a ship at sea in the midst of powerful winds and treacherous shoals with an ill-trained and inexperienced captain in charge. Small wonder if the end is a wreck!
I have now been associated with full-gospel ministry for more than fifty years. During those years I have observed two things which have done more than anything else to hinder the acceptance of the testimony of the full gospel. The first is the failure to exercise proper control over the public manifestation of spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues; the second is strife and division among Spirit-baptised believers, both among members of the same congregation and between one congregation and another. Each of these has its origin in one and the same error: the failure to acknowledge the effective lordship of the Holy Spirit.
We are now in a position to offer a definition of true spiritual liberty: Spiritual liberty consists in acknowledging the effective lordship of the Holy Spirit in the church. Where the Spirit is Lord, there is liberty.
Times and Seasons
So many Spirit-baptised believers have their own particular concept of liberty. Some imagine that liberty consists in shouting. If only we can shout loud enough and long enough, they seem to think, we shall work ourselves up into liberty. But the Holy Spirit is never worked up; He either comes down or He flows forth from within. In either case His manifestation is free and spontaneous, never laborious or wearisome.
Other Spirit-baptised believers lay all their emphasis on some other type of expression or manifestation, such as singing or clapping hands or dancing. In many cases the reason for this is that God once blessed them along those lines and they have come to believe that God’s blessing will always continue to come along this same line and never along any other. God blessed them once when they were shouting, so they always want to shout. Or God blessed them once when they were dancing, so they always want to dance.
They have become so limited in their outlook and concept of the Holy Spirit that they can never conceive of God’s blessing them in any other way. Quite often they even despise other believers who will not join them in their shouting or their dancing or their hand-clapping. They may suggest that these other believers are not really “free in the Spirit.”
Let us be careful to add that there is not necessarily anything unscriptural in shouting or dancing or clapping hands. The Bible provides clear examples of all these things in the worship of God’s people. But it certainly is unscriptural and also foolish to suggest that any of these forms of expression necessarily constitutes true spiritual liberty.
A person who believes he must always worship God by shouting or dancing or hand-clapping no longer enjoys true spiritual liberty; on the contrary, he has returned under a special kind of religious bondage of his own making. Such a person is as much under bondage as the Christians at the opposite end of the religious scale who knows of no other way to worship God than with the words and forms of a printed liturgy.
A wonderful key to true spiritual liberty is found in the words of Solomon.
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace (Eccl. 3:1-8).
Solomon here mentions twenty-eight forms of activity, set out in fourteen pairs of opposites. In each pair of opposites it is right at one time to do the one and at another time to do the other. We can never say without qualification, it is always right to do the one or always wrong to do the other. Whether each is right or wrong is decided by the time or the season.
Many of these pairs of opposites relate to the life and worship of a congregation, such as planting or plucking up; killing or healing; breaking down or building up; weeping or laughing; mourning or dancing; gathering or casting away; keeping silence or speaking.
None of these is either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Each is right if done at the right time and wrong if done at the wrong time.
How, then, shall we know which to do, or when? The answer is, this is the sovereign office of the Holy Spirit as Lord in the church. He reveals and directs what to do, and when. A congregation that is directed by the Holy Spirit will do the right thing at the right time. This is the source of all true liberty, harmony and unity. Apart from this, there are only varying degrees of bondage, discord and disunity.
In the next session we shall go on to consider one further distinctive feature that marks the life and worship of a congregation where the members have been baptised in the Holy Spirit and have liberty to exercise this power.