What is the main ongoing work of the Holy Spirit?
Ask different types of churches and you’ll get different answers. Look at the actual practice of those same churches and you may come to different conclusions yet.
Draw people to Jesus. Regenerate the spirits of those who trust in Him. Enable believers to know that they personally are children of God. Empower the believers for miraculous signs and wonders. Empower the believers to live holy lives. Bring the Word of God to the church through prophetic utterances. Make the Scriptures come alive. Convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.
They’re all good answers, and most of us would probably agree that all of these are the work of the Holy Spirit today, unless you’re cessationist about miraculous signs.
The difference between our churches on this is mostly a matter of what we emphasise in practice.
More traditional, less Pentecostal/Charismatic type churches tend to emphasise the inward work – enlivening the Scriptures, quickening the spirit, enabling holiness of life – while more Pentecostal/Charismatic churches tend to emphasise the outward – demonstrating the Kingdom of God through miraculous signs and the prophetic word. We acknowledge it all as the work of the Holy Spirit, but in practice we tend to major on one or the other.
Most of the more Pentecostal/Charismatic churches have tended to so emphasise the outward at least in part out of a reaction against the cessationist or pseudo-cessationist milieu in which they came to be. It was a recognition that no, the Bible doesn’t actually say that once the canon of Scripture was completed that no-one could expect miracles any more. God is the same God today as the One who gave life to Lazarus, cleansed the lepers and parted the Red Sea. It might be that we don’t see many miracles today for the same reason that Jesus couldn’t perform many miraculous signs in Nazareth: because of unbelief.
But in some cases the pendulum has swung so far to the outward demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s work that we have no practical place for His more behind-the-scenes work. We acknowledge in theory that the Holy Spirit’s work in us ought to result in changed lives and holy character, but practically speaking we only talk about His demonstrative work of miracles and healings. When we don’t know what to do, sometimes we seek a prophetic “now” word from the Lord rather than implementing the answers He has already given in the Scriptures. We don’t teach people how to study the Bible; we teach them how to hear from the Lord in prayer.
It’s important that we expect God to show up in miraculous ways. It’s important that we expect God to continue to speak to us. It’s important that we train people to listen to His voice. It’s unnatural when we don’t: He’s the same yesterday, today and forever, and He calls Himself “The Word”.
But part of hearing His voice is learning to recognise who is speaking, and if we don’t know what He’s already said in the Scripture how can we identify if this new word is really Him or not? Part of God showing up is that our lives are changed and we don’t act like we once did, not just that we’re breathless with emotion and feel all tingly.
It’s vital that our emotions be involved in our Christianity. We are whole people, and our whole being must praise His name – emotions too.
But we are whole people, and our whole being must praise His name – mind as well. It’s not enough to really feel emotionally that we are His child, as important as that is. We must learn to be like Him and think our Father’s thoughts as well.
What if the answer to our sung “I want to know You” is “There’s a Book in your hand that’s all about Me. Read it!“
What if God shows up in our worship service without all the tingly feelings and bangs and noises?
What if His guidance and speaking comes mediated through His indwelling Presence in other believers and a big discussion and debate like the Acts 15 Council of Jerusalem?
What if the demonstration of His Presence is that we are all pouring out onto the streets to tell people about Him rather than that we’re all bouncing around in here practicing using His gifts on one another?
What if the evidence that we’ve really met with God is Jacob’s evidence? He spent all night wrestling with God face to face in bodily form, and he came away from the expecience not with new power for success and victory, but with a new name and a limp.
Not an empowering, but an impediment. And not a temporary impediment, but a permanent reminder to him of his new-found dependence on the Lord and of God’s trustworthiness to be all that Jacob needed Him to be. If God were to do that in one of our modern Holy Spirit-led worship services, would we even recognise Him?
Sometimes I’m afraid the answer for a lot of us might be “no”.