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Two Common Myths about the Spirit-Filled Life

Many Christians believe the myth that ‘Spirit-filled’ or even ‘spiritual’ must indicate something or someone a little strange. Depending on how much exposure people have had to the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, they might associate the words ‘Spirit-filled’ with people who claim to be inspired by the Spirit to bark like dogs, scream, or roll around on the floor. Such people exist—I’ve seen them!

 

Eccentric Prophets

Some people try to justify their conclusion that it is spiritual to act strange by pointing to the eccentric behavior of prophets in the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah walked around naked (Isaiah 20:1–4)—some scholars say, wearing only an undergarment—and Ezekiel lay on his side for 430 days (Ezekiel 4:4–6). Some also point to Saul, who “changed into a different person” when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he prophesied (1 Samuel 10:6, 10).

These examples, however, don’t prove that one should expect to act strangely if one is to be truly spiritual. First of all, Saul might have just “changed into a different person” in the sense that “God changed Saul’s heart” before he prophesied (v. 9).

 

The Frantic Prophets of Baal

Furthermore, when you read about the prophets in the Old Testament, you don’t get the sense that the prophets were usually ecstatic and acting strangely. To illustrate the point, when Elijah had his standoff at Mount Carmel, it was the prophets of Baal who “danced around the altar they had made,” shouted, slashed themselves with swords, and engaged in “frantic prophesying,” while they endeavored to get Baal to send fire on their sacrifice (1 Kings 18:26–29). By contrast, when Elijah called on God to send fire on his sacrifice, he merely “stepped forward and prayed” (v. 36).

Strange or out-of-the-ordinary things might happen when people experience the Spirit—like speaking in tongues, dreams, or visions (Joel 2:28)—but such experiences are not the primary indicator of spirituality. That is a myth!

 

Spirit with Hardships

Another myth some Christians believe is that people who are really Spirit-filled will always experience victory. This belief is a cousin to the idea that if you have enough faith you will always experience health and wealth.

Just as faith doesn’t guarantee a life free of disappointments and hardships, the Spirit-filled life is not a life free of disappointments and hardships. Jesus is the epitome of spirituality, but he never became an earthly king. Instead, “through the eternal Spirit [he] offered himself unblemished to God” so his death might give us life (Hebrews 9:14).

In the Bible, “the one who is victorious” (Revelation 2:11) may suffer and face poverty (v. 9). Their victory is that they resist their culture’s anti-Christian values and are “faithful, even to the point of death” (v. 10). And their “victor’s crown” is eternal life, not achieving success in the eyes of the world around them (vv. 10–11).

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2019

About the Author: Andrew K. Gabriel, Ph.D. (McMaster), is an ordained minister with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and associate professor of theology at Horizon College and Seminary, an affiliated college of the University of Saskatchewan. He has focused his research on the doctrines of God, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, Pentecostalism, and Karl Barth. He is the author of Barth's Doctrine of Creation: Creation, Nature, Jesus, and the Trinity (2013), The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Attributes (2011), co-author of Johannine Writings and Apocalyptic: An Annotated Bibliography (2013), and a forthcoming book for pastors and laity, Simply Spirit-Filled: Experiencing God in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit (2019). You can download his free e-book Spirit Baptism in the Old and New Testaments (Not Just Acts) at his web page, www.AndrewKGabriel.com.

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