Fear of the Power of the Spirit

Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.

1 Samuel 16:13

Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David…In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.

1 Samuel 18:12, 14-16

When the Spirit of the Lord comes powerfully upon a person, fear tends to be the number one reaction of those around that person. Saul had a few different reasons to be afraid of David, but those were just surface reasons. The deeper truth was that the Spirit of the Lord upon David stirred up a fear in the heart of Saul.

I have seen this over and over again in my own life and in the life of others. When a person experiences a powerful touch from God, the enemy often stirs up fear in those around that person. When I got powerfully touched by God, baptized in the Holy Spirit, and began to experience the supernatural power of God in my ministry, many people around me started to operate in fear.

Some were afraid I would become “too charismatic” and would go off the deep end. Others were afraid that I now thought I was super-spiritual and held it over them. Some were afraid that the power I was now experiencing was from the enemy. Others didn’t really believe I was any different but that I was exaggerating my experiences for personal glory.

Most of these fears came from wounds that already existed in the person. The enemy exploited these old wounds and insecurities in some of my friends in light of what God was doing in my life.

The reason fear is the primary thing that gets stirred up is because that is what the enemy is feeling. The enemy is afraid others will also catch fire and experience the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The enemy knows this is a huge threat to his kingdom of darkness. So because he is afraid, he projects that fear on as many people as possible in hopes they will distance themselves from the one who is experiencing the power of God. This strategy is as old as the story of David in the Old Testament. The enemy keeps using it because it still works today.

Imagine what would have happened in the life of Saul and in the life of Israel had Saul embraced what God was doing in David’s life through the power of the Spirit. Saul and David would have become a dynamic duo for God’s Kingdom, like Peter and Paul for the early church. But instead, what unfolded was a tragic story of Saul spiraling into ruin and David rising to the throne.

I remember the feeling of being unsure and scared of the supernatural aspects of the Kingdom of God. I remember feeling uneasy about the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. I too was faced with a fork in the road. It was the same fork I faced in college when I decided to reject the things of the Spirit in favor of a more reasonable, safe, and academic version of Christianity. By God’s grace, 15 years later, God once again put in my path another fork in the road. I once again had the opportunity to embrace or reject the powerful move of the Holy Spirit in my life. I just had to be willing to take the risk. I had to be willing to get beyond my fears, my prejudices against charismatics, and my unbelief.

Most of global Christianity has embraced the powerful, supernatural side of the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. Only a small segment of western Christians have not. While I once thought the Pentecostals/charismatics were the weird ones, I now realize by rejecting the supernatural gifts of the Spirit I was the extreme minority in the worldwide Church. I was the “weird” one.

Fear will always be the main tactic of the enemy to try to pacify the Body of Christ into powerless Christianity. Don’t let fear win. Don’t let fear keep you from an entire aspect of the Kingdom that you were born for. You were made, in Christ, to be supernatural. Don’t believe anyone who would tell you otherwise.

Convergence: social justice, the supernatural, and scholarship

I have noticed that streams of Christianity that have a limited view or limited experience of the Holy Spirit tend to err toward conservative, legalistic fundamentalism or universalistic and licentious progressive liberalism. Unfortunately, in the past, streams of Christianity in western culture that have embraced a full experience and practice of the Holy Spirit have tended toward anti-intellectualism and a cult of personality.

Thankfully, what is emerging now in America is a stream of Christianity that fully embraces the Holy Spirit and scholarship and is also informed by global, charismatic Christianity. Global Christianity sees no conflict between caring for the poor and believing in miracles. In fact, one informs the other.

The greatest representative of this convergence of social justice, supernatural Christianity, and scholarship is Heidi Baker. As a missionary she has run an orphanage for decades that cares for hundreds of impoverished children. She also happens to evangelize by using signs, wonders, and miracles. Specifically, she and her team enter a village, call forward the deaf and blind, and show the power of the gospel as they pray for healing and see most of them get healed. This all happens in front of the other villagers who, naturally, then want to know more about this Jesus who heals. She also has a PhD in systematic theology from King’s College London. She is currently launching a university in Mozambique. She daily lives out this beautiful convergence of social justice, the supernatural, and scholarship.

Global Christianity is teaching American Christians that churches which don’t operate in the power of the Holy Spirit are ineffective. Our brothers and sisters around the world are also teaching us that empowering women and caring for the poor is essential to the gospel. Likewise, they are warning the American church that caving to a sexual ethic that is at home in America but foreign to the Bible and global Christianity will weaken the Church and diminish the gospel. And as global Christians get beaten, imprisoned, and killed for the sake of the gospel, they expose universalism for the lie that it is.

The church in America is shrinking while global Christianity is exploding in revival. It is time we learn from them and from the convergence they represent.

He will baptize you…

“I baptize you with (or in) water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with (or in) the Holy Spirit and fire. 

Matthew 3:11

John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come. He prepared people’s hearts by preaching a message of repentance. He baptized people in water as they came to confess and seek forgiveness for their sins. But John also declared that the Kingdom shouldn’t stop with repentance and forgiveness of sins. John pointed to Jesus, the One who would baptize with more than water.

So many of our conservative evangelical and liberal mainline protestant churches have people who are only baptized in water. The gospel that is preached is mostly about repentance and forgiveness of sin, which was the message of John the Baptist. Many churches have yet to move on to the gospel of Jesus which offers much more than that.

Some people believe that when you receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you, that is what it means to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Even if we assume that is true (which I’m not sure it is), then what about being baptized in fire?

John prophesied that Jesus would baptize in both the Holy Spirit and fire. Where is the baptism of fire? Where are the messages that preach and teach about the baptism of fire? Unfortunately, it gets glossed over and lumped in with the salvation experience. I’m convinced there is more available to us because I’ve experienced it firsthand.

In the Gospel of John (John 20:22), we see the resurrected Jesus breathe on the disciples in the upper room, and we see them receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s very next words were about forgiveness of sins. Receiving the Holy Spirit within us is about being forgiven of our sin and being able to forgive others when they sin against us.

Then, before ascending back to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus says to His disciples (who’ve already received the Holy Spirit within them), “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high“(Luke 24:49).

Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, reiterates this same point in Acts 1 and brings meaning to the words of John the Baptist. Speaking about the resurrected Jesus before He ascended, Luke writes,

On one occasion, while he (Jesus) was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with (or in) water, but in a few days you will be baptized with (or in) the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5

Then in Acts 2 we see the disciples “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This experience in Pentecost was very different than what the disciples experienced in the upper room when Jesus breathed on them. This was a much more powerful and violent experience of the Holy Spirit. There was a sound of a violent wind, tongues of fire and speaking in tongues. This was the disciples being “clothed with power from on high.” This wasn’t about forgiveness of sins like the upper room experience in John 20. This was about the Spirit empowering the disciples for purity and powerful ministry.

One way to say it is that first the disciple received the Spirit within them and then they received the Spirit upon them. The first was the breath of God; the second was the wind of God. The first was for their own salvation; the second was for the salvation of others. The first came gently, intimately, and quietly; the second came powerfully, outwardly, and loudly.

If one still wants to maintain that we as Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit at salvation when we receive the Spirit within us, then we could still call the event that happened to the disciples at Pentecost a baptism of fire. It was still something more. John’s words stated that Jesus would baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.

For others, it is clear that baptism in the Spirit is a second event that results in us being “filled with the Spirit“(Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18) similar to what happened at Pentecost. Some experience this second event months or years after salvation and others experience it simultaneous with conversion. I didn’t experience it until over two decades after my conversion experience.

Either way, (whatever you want to call it – baptism of the Spirit or baptism of fire) the truth remains: There is more available to us than most Christians are experiencing! There is more power of the Spirit, more gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12), more supernatural encounters, and more freedom from sin.

So many churches in American have stopped at the ministry of John the Baptist. They preach a message of repentance and baptize with water, but never introduce their people to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. They have a room full of people on Sundays baptized in water but hardly anyone (if anyone) baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire.

No wonder the world is so skeptical of the gospel message. We claim to proclaim the message of Jesus but only experience the ministry of John the Baptist. We proclaim a supernatural God who came in the flesh in Jesus, performed signs and wonders throughout His ministry, and rose from the grave. Yet, people come to our churches and don’t see any of this: no supernatural gifts of the Spirit, no healings, no casting out demons, no supernatural encounters with God. It’s not too hard for people to see that, while we preach a supernatural God, there is nothing supernatural happening in the lives of many Christians or in the life of the church.

We need to be teaching our people that the Christian life is more than water baptism, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins. There is more than the ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus made available to us a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Have you had that kind of baptism?