Walking in the Power of the Spirit
“The Holy Spirit has long been the Cinderella of the Trinity. The other two sisters may have gone to the theological ball; the Holy Spirit got left behind every time.” Until recently, this observation by Alister E. McGrath in Christian Theology: An Introduction characterized the experience of most people in the church. The majority of believers have been content to acknowledge the existence of the Holy Spirit, but on the level of personal encounter, their relationship has been largely limited to the Father and the Son. But the winds of change have been blowing, and an unparalleled movement in the twentieth century has created a new awareness of the Person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. The past few decades have seen an explosion of worldwide church growth, and the fastest growing churches are those that have centered on the fullness of the Spirit. At the same time that a number of mainline denominations have experienced significant membership loss, the Pentecostal and charismatic renewal movements have reached tens and now hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Spirit-filled spirituality, though underemphasized by mainstream Christianity until the twentieth century, has been an essential part of spiritual formation since the days of the early church in the book of Acts. But it has been plagued by people’s tendency to move toward the two polar opposites of rejection or obsession. The extreme of rejection is marked by fear of experiential excess or loss of control, and by theological rigidity. The extreme of obsession is stamped by emotionalism, sensationalism, and vulnerability to manipulation and false teaching. A more balanced perspective combines an openness to the surprising work of the Spirit with a discernment that tests experience in light of the Scriptures and the fruit that it produces.
Walking in the Power of the Spirit
The Christian life is really the life of Christ in us; without a moment-by-moment reliance on the Holy Spirit, this level of living is impossible. Sanctification is both a state and a process; when we come to Jesus, we are set apart to God by the Spirit’s application of the work of Christ in our lives. We are called to realize this state of sanctification (God’s “inworking”— Philippians 2:13) in a progressive way by obedient conformity to the character of the indwelling Christ (our “outworking”— Philippians 2:12). This is accomplished as we keep in step with the Spirit; “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). To be sanctified is to be possessed by God’s Spirit, to respond to His transforming purposes in obedient faith, to bear the fruit of the Spirit by abiding in Christ (Galatians 5:22-23), and to pursue the process of maturation in holiness in our relationships with God, His people, and the people of the world.
Spiritual maturity is directly proportional to Christ-centeredness. To be more preoccupied with the subjective benefits of the faith than with the person and pleasure of Christ is a mark of immaturity. The Spirit bears witness to and glorifies Jesus Christ—spiritual experiences, whether personal or corporate, should center on Christ and not ourselves. The tendency of some people and movements to glorify the gifts of the Giver more than the Giver of the gifts is incompatible with the biblical portrait of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, many believers attempt to live the Christian life in their own power instead of the power of the Spirit. As A. W. Tozer remarked in Paths to Power, “the average professed Christian lives a life so worldly and careless that it is difficult to distinguish him from the unconverted man.” But even among diligent students of the Word there is a temptation to depend more on human initiative and effort than on the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. It is easy and comforting to reduce God to a set of biblical propositions and theological inferences rather than a living Person who cannot be boxed in, controlled, or manipulated by our agendas. There are common forms of Bible deism that assume (ironically without biblical warrant) that God no longer communicates to His people or personally guides them apart from the words of Scripture. When we make assumptions that are closed to the surprising work of the Holy Spirit, they have a way of determining and limiting our experience of the power of God.
Personal attempts to live the spiritual life in human power are written large in corporate attempts to worship and serve in human power. Although the church began and moved in the power of the Spirit, many in the church today are conditioned to think in terms of their own experiences rather than the experiences of God’s people in Scripture. This leads to a de-supernaturalized corporate expectation that in some ways is more informed by a naturalistic “closed universe” worldview than by a biblical worldview that is open to the unpredictable sovereign acts of God. The church is not primarily a socio-economic institution, but a spiritual organism that must depend on personal and collective visitations of the Holy Spirit for its continued vitality. In Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cymbala argues that unless congregations persistently call upon the Lord, their store of spiritual power will dissipate with time. Without the Spirit’s unction, the divine Presence will not be evident in our worship and service.
Taken from Ken Boa's Handbook to Spiritual Growth.