Following one of our services, when I was a pastor, a first-time visitor told me, “This church is not a Spirit-filled church.” I replied, “What do you mean by a Spirit-filled church?” She responded, “Well it is dead. No one raises their hands in worship. No one claps. People just stand there...lifeless. The Spirit is not present. It’s just a dead church.”
Many times we hear people saying their church is a “Spirit-filled church”. Churches even market themselves as a “Spirit-filled church.” By this they mean their church has an emotionally moving praise and worship service facilitated by the praise band where “the Spirit is free to move” and where people outwardly worship God in song. To them this is a sign the Spirit is present in their church and people.
Other churches, marketing themselves as a “Spirit-filled church”, say their church is Spirit-filled because, along with the Spirit moving in the praise and worship music, people are free to “speak in tongues and have encounters with the Spirit”. They are “free in the Spirit”. They claim they are alive and the Spirit is present in their services, making them much different from the “dead churches” down the road.
Typically, when people come out of these type services, where they were moved emotionally, they say, “The Spirit was really moving today.” They associate a Spirit-filled church with emotions and experiences, signs the Spirit was in their service.
But is this what a Spirit-filled church is?
Is a Spirit-filled church one that has moving praise and worship music where people sing excitedly, are moved emotionally, and lift their hands highly? Is a Spirit-filled church one where people are “free in the Spirit” to speak in tongues and exhibit other behaviors that “moves them spiritually”? Could it be these external responses to the music being played by the church's band have absolutely nothing to do with a church being Spirit-filled? Could being a Spirit-filled church be something much different than people singing songs excitedly, being moved emotionally, lifting their hands highly, or speaking in tongues and having spiritual experiences?” The answer to these questions are found in the Bible.
To understand what a Spirit-filled church is we must go to the Bible, study it in context, and allow it to define for us what a Spirit-filled church is. I must tell you this is a very in-depth study where we will walk through the pages of Scripture, beginning when God first created the human race. Now let’s get started!
God is love. He created us to be in a love-relationship with us. He created our hearts to be filled with his love and for his love to flow through us to others. He created us to enjoy and experience his love, then to express his love to others. Yet mankind walked away from his love in the Garden of Eden. In doing so, we disconnected ourselves from his love, though he never stopped loving us, becoming people who can’t love. Our hearts, which were created to be filled with God’s love, were no longer filled with his love.
Immediately after we disconnected ourselves from God’s love in the Garden of Eden, acts of unlove begin to surface, such as when Adam and Eve began to argue. Eventually, Cain killed Abel. These unloving acts began to spread. Genesis 6:1 says, “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”
Obviously, the human heart was no longer filled with God’s love where love flowed from God to us then to others. Consequently, since our hearts are no longer filled with God’s love, we are all born with the inability to love God and others. It's what sin is...the inability to love God and others. This inability to love is evident in us all. Our hearts are filled with selfishness, impatience, and unkindness. Our hearts are filled with covetous desires. Our hearts are filled with jealousy and envy. Our hearts are filled with anger and hate. Our hearts are filled with pride and arrogance. Our hearts are filled with immoral desires, and on and on and on...
Take a look at how the Bible describes our hearts.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
About our hearts, Jesus said, “For from within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
In describing the hearts of everyone in the entire human race, Paul said, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts” (Romans 1:21).
How far the human race has fallen from our original purpose!
Hearts that were made by God to be filled with his love are now filled with everything his love is not. However, God’s heart is still filled with love for us. He never stopped loving us. He has not abandoned us. Actually, he has involved himself in the human race to restore us to our original purpose by reconciling us to himself in a love-relationship, so that our hearts are filled with his love and so that his love flows to us then through us to others.
Remember what Genesis 6:1 said, “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” As we learned earlier, the hearts of all people became filled with everything his love is not. The earth was filled with unloving people. This brought great wickedness upon the earth.
From the people of the earth, God chose one man, Abram, later to be renamed Abraham, to be the Father of a great nation. We now know this nation to be Israel. Through Israel, God would reveal himself to the people of the world and from Israel he would send a Savior to save us by reconciling us to himself in a love-relationship.
Starting in Genesis, the Bible records the history of Israel. Part of their history involves the need for laws to govern their nation. These laws were needed because their hearts were not filled with God’s love, so God gave them laws, or commandments, to govern their relationship with God and to control their behavior toward others. These laws were given through Moses and are called the Law of Moses.
The beginning of these laws were initially given by God to Moses on Mt. Siani. They were called the Ten Commandments. These laws were written in stone and listed the behaviors that were expected and those that were not allowed. Violation of these law brought punishment. These laws could not change the evil heart of mankind, but were only in place to control the behaviors of people so Israel would not destroy itself as a nation. A nation without laws is a nation that will not last. This is because the hearts of people are not filled with love, thus the need for laws.
There were two commandments, or laws, that superseded all the other commandments. These were to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “...love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Jesus referred to these 2 commandments when someone asked him what was the greatest commandment out of the Ten Commandments. Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
It is important to understand that these laws given to Israel were given because the heart of man was evil, sinful, not filled with the love of God. Had the hearts of mankind been filled with God’s love, there would be no need for these laws. This is because love doesn’t need a law. Think about it. God’s doesn’t need a law. Jesus didn’t need a law on earth telling him how to live. He simply lived enjoying and experiencing his Father’s love, then he expressed love to others. No law needed.
Getting back to the people of Israel, God knew they could not love. God knew they could not follow his law. Even though he promised incredible blessings if they obeyed his law (Deuteronomy 29), and warned them of devastating consequences if they disobeyed his law (Deuteronomy 28), he knew they could not obey his law. Why could they not obey his? They could not obey because of their sinful, selfish hearts. Had their hearts been filled with love, they would not have needed a law to begin with.
Law does not change the heart. It may control a selfish heart for a short time, with blessings and curses, rewards and punishment, and benefits and consequences. But it cannot change the heart for a lifetime.
So how well did the people of Israel do obeying the law? They completely failed to obey the law. Consequently, they lived under the curses of the law, rather than its blessings. Genesis through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record the condition of Israel under the curse of the law and God’s gracious demeanor toward them to move them to return to him. Yet they never did.
Because God knew the heart of mankind was evil and that no law would change their hearts, he promised that he would circumcise or change the heart of mankind so they could love him with all their heart, all of their soul, and live (Deuteronomy 30:6). And how would God change the heart of mankind? He would do this by giving them a new heart, a heart that contained his very own Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Jesus spoke of the Spirit who would come (John 14:16-17, 25, 15:26, 16:13, 15).
Paul speaks about the Spirit in Romans 2:29 when he says, “circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” In Romans 7:6, he writes, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
In both of these verses, Paul refers to the written code. By written code, he means the Law of Moses. Paul is teaching that when the Spirit of Jesus takes residence in a person’s heart that person is released from the law and relates to God and others by love, and not by law. We will take a deeper look at this later. First, let’s take a closer look at the law.
In Romans, Paul says the ultimate purpose of the law was to convince us of our sin, condemn us to death for our sin (Romans 3:19-20), then lead us to Jesus (Romans 7:24-25; Galatians 3:24) who was charged with the guilt of and died for our sin (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
The acts of Jesus being charged with the guilt of our sins and condemned for them is called grace. The law revealed our sin, even increased our sin (Romans 5:20), so we would see our need for God’s grace.
Paul provides an example of this in Romans 7:7-8:1 when he describes a person who has a love for the law, but he can’t keep it. No only can’t he keep it, but he discovers in trying to keep it, he sins even more! Soon, he recognizes his sinful condition and his need for Jesus and the gift of God’s grace when he says, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
We are all like this man, in need of the grace of God that he has freely given us in Jesus. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of all that God is. But we also discover that we are justified by God. This means God has declared us righteous by grace through faith in what Jesus has done for us through his death and resurrection (Romans 3:21-25).
This is all grace.
Romans 5:12-21 says that sin, condemnation, judgment, and death entered the human race through Adam, spreading to every one. But through Jesus, the gift of God’s grace overflowed to the many (the entire human race minus Jesus), bringing righteousness and eternal life to those who receive it. The purpose of the law, then, was to reveal our need for grace by showing us our sin then point us to Jesus.
Because we were guilty, the law locked us up as prisoners until Christ came. Jesus died for us. In his death, he took our place. Now that faith in Christ has come, we are not under the law. The law has done its job in convincing us of sin and condemning us for sin. We are now under grace (Galatians 3:23-25; Romans 6:14-15) and we stand in grace (Romans 5:1-2).
Galatians 4:4-6 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive our adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, you are also an heir through God.”
Jesus came to redeem people from the law. He came to set people free from the law. He came to set people free from the curse of the law (Deuteronomy 28; Galatians 3:13). And how did he do this? He did this by fulfilling the law in living a life of perfect love. Then, as a member of the human race, he died for us. By his grace, he tasted death for us all (Hebrews 2:9).
When we place our faith in Jesus, God sends the Spirit of Jesus to live in our hearts, enabling us to call God “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). Abba is the Jewish word for daddy or papa. It is an intimate word. It is a word filled with love. It is a word describing a relationship of love. Jesus redeemed us from the law so we could enter into a love-relationship with God as “Abba, Father”, “Daddy, Father” or “Papa, Father”. He redeemed us from the law so we could experience and enjoy the love of God, then express it to others.
This is the Spirit-filled life.
The Spirit-filled life is when a person doesn’t relate to God as a judge under law, living in fear of condemnation and rejection, but relates to God as “Abba, Daddy, Papa” under grace, living in faith and fully assured he is a loved, forgiven, and righteous child of the Father.
This person begins to view God as a loving dad. He sees God as a Father, a Papa, a Daddy who is full of patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness. He sees God as a Father who is totally controlled by love. This brings him great joy and peace. As this person experiences and enjoys his Father’s love, the Spirit begins to produce this same love in his heart. He begins to reflect his Father’s heart of love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness. His life begins to be controlled by his Father’s love. Therefore, there is no need for a law. (Galatians 5:22-23).
The Spirit leads this person away from the guilt of the law and to the love and grace of the Father (Galatians 3:2-3, 4:6, 5:18). This person doesn’t live by the flesh, trying to become righteous before God by obedience to the law or putting to death the sinful deeds of the body through obedience to the law (Romans 8:2-14). Instead, as a loved son or daughter, this person now lives by the Spirit, calling God “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15-16).
The mind of a person honestly seeking to become righteous before God through the law, yet through the law becomes aware of how unrighteous he is, is death...misery...torment. This miserable mindset was exemplified in the mind of the person living under the law in Romans 7:7-25. However, the mind of the person living under grace, where, by the Spirit he calls God “Abba, Daddy, or Papa, Father”, is life and peace.
The law-controlled mind (flesh) is misery, producing shame, guilt, and condemnation. The grace-controlled mind (Spirit) is peace (Romans 8:6). This person has a mind at peace because he no longer lives in slavery to the law, mentally enslaved to fear, shame, guilt, and condemnation. This person now lives in mental peace, knowing he is forgiven by God, righteous before God, at peace with God, under no condemnation from God, and a loved child of God (Romans 8:15-16). It pleases God to know that his child is living by grace and not the law, and is experiencing life in his heart and peace in his mind (Romans 8:8).
This person has been freed from the law! This person has been liberated from the law!
This freedom from the law...this liberation from the law is described in 2 Corinthians 3:3-18. In these verses, Paul writes how the letter, which is the letters engraved on stone in the Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses, or the old covenant, is a ministry of condemnation and death. But the ministry of the Spirit, under the new covenant of grace, is righteousness and life.
The ministry of the Spirit of Jesus in us is not only to bring us from death to life and from unrighteousness to righteousness, but also the ministry of the Spirit of Jesus in us is to convince us of the truths of the new covenant. The Spirit seeks to convince us we are not under the old covenant of law but under the new covenant of grace. The Spirit writes the truths of the new covenant on our hearts. He writes on our hearts justified, forgiven, righteous, alive, freed, and loved child of God. Where the law was to convince unbelievers of their guilt, the Spirit seeks to convince believers of God’s grace...all that he has freely and fully given to us in Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:10-15).
Sadly, many can’t see the fullness of God’s new covenant of grace because they still live with an old covenant mindset. They are in bondage to an old covenant way of thinking. They have not been freed...they have not been liberated from old covenant, law-based thinking. They relate to God through a performance-based, religious and moral system, thinking if they perform well they will be accepted by God, but if they do not, then they will be rejected by God, or, at the very least, be out of fellowship with God.
They have not been freed. They have not been liberated.
It is not that they can’t see it. Unfortunately, it is they have never been taught it.
Many of these people are not hard-hearted or close-minded to the message of the new covenant of grace. They just have never been taught it. They sit in churches day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, thinking they are in a Spirit-filled church, but their hearts are not filled with the truths of the new covenant of grace. That is because their pastor is not a minister of the new covenant as were Paul and his companions (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Those who don’t see it, yet have been taught it, have a veil over their hearts. They are hard-hearted and closed minded to the new covenant of grace, rejecting it and preferring to live with an old covenant mindset, a law-based, performance-based mentality. Also, they prefer for others live with this mindset as well. Many of those who don’t see it are the religious leaders in churches. This explains why people in churches don’t experience it. Just like in Jesus’ day, it was the Pharisees, elders, and teachers of the law who didn’t see God’s grace in Jesus. They were hard-hearted and closed minded to Jesus, rejecting God’s grace given to them in Jesus.
Who is the one who can see the new covenant of grace? Who is it that can break free from the enslavement of shame and guilt, and from the fear of condemnation produced by an old covenant mentality and a law-based, performance-based mentality? Who is it who can experience the veil being taken away from his heart and the truths of the new covenant being written on his heart?
2 Corinthians 3:16 says, “whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” This means those who allow the law (the old covenant written of stone) to reveal their sin and need for grace, and then turn to the Lord in faith to receive his gift of grace, life, and righteousness, are the ones who can see it. They can see it because they have been humbled by the law. This humility enables the Spirit to reveal to them and write on their hearts the good news of God’s grace. They see the futility of seeking righteousness, forgiveness, and acceptance with God through the law. They see the futility of seeking maturity through the law. They see their old-covenant mindset, their performance-based mindset, was wrong. So they repent. They turn to the Lord in faith to receive his gift of grace...his gift of life...his gift of forgiveness...his gift of righteousness.
Then something happens...they experience freedom...liberation from the old covenant, law-based, performance-based mentality as the Spirit of Jesus writes upon their hearts the truths of the new covenant of grace.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 speaks of this freedom...of this liberation in our hearts by the Spirit of Jesus: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
(Note: 2 Corinthians 3:17 - where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom - is taken out of context by many people to validate their “Spirit-filled” churches where the "Spirit freely moves about the service." That application of this verse misses the meaning of the verse completely. As you continue to read this blog, you will discover the meaning of this verse in context. You may also see my blog on 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Notice what happens in the hearts of people whose eyes are opened to see the new covenant of grace: Liberation, Radiation, and Transformation! They are liberated from enslavement to the law. They begin to radiate on their faces what has happened in their hearts, which is the revelation of God's grace by the Spirit. Then, they begin to be transformed by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus into the very image of the Lord, reflecting the glory of his grace, more and more and more!
The have become new creations in Christ, no longer under the old covenant of law...it is gone! The new covenant of grace has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)! They no longer live under the condemnation of the law. The now live in celebration of grace, with hearts overflowing in gratitude to God for his grace. For the first time, they are seeing how great God is (2 Corinthians 4:15). They no longer see God as counting their sins against them. They know all of their sins were counted against Jesus. They no longer see God as being angry with them, but as having reconciled himself to them in a love-relationship. They longer see themselves as unrighteous in his sight. They now see themselves as God’s righteous ones (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
The ascended Jesus wanted people to experience his grace and be reconciled to God in a love-relationship. He gave the revelation of the good news of grace to Paul (Acts 20:24; Ephesians 3:1-2). Paul was sent out by Jesus as an ambassador of Jesus, speaking on behalf of him (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). He was sent out by Jesus to share with people the good news of grace and to start grace-based churches in cities everywhere (Acts 20:23-24). It was with this message of grace that Paul wanted to reach more and more people. He wanted them to experience God’s grace and see how great God is (2 Corinthians 4:15).
The Holy Spirit warned Paul he would suffer on his journeys to share God’s grace and to start grace based churches (Acts 20:23-24). Yet, because Paul’s life had been so transformed by grace (1 Timothy 1:12-14), he had no concern for the outcome of his life. Paul would go through any hardship, even die if necessary, to share God’s grace and start grace-based churches (2 Corinthians 4:7-18, 6:3-10).
These churches started by Paul would become the communication and education centers of God’s grace to the world by proclaiming God's grace within their cities. Some of the churches he or his co-workers started were churches in Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. After starting the churches in Galatia, all which were completely founded upon the grace of God given to them in Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus living in them, the churches deserted (Galatians 1:6) and set aside grace (Galatians 2:21). They went from depending upon Jesus alone for righteousness, to relying on the law for righteousness. They went from depending upon the Spirit to grow them, to depending upon religious activity to grow them. They had fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4). They were now depending upon adherence to a religious system and moral standards (the law) for righteousness and maturity, rather than Jesus alone. They had reverted back to an old covenant, law-based, performance-based mentality for righteousness and spiritual growth. They were relating to God as a judge under law, rather than “Abba, Father” by the Spirit. under grace. They were back in slavery to the law, living in fear, rather than living as loved children of God in joy and peace. They were devouring each other with law-based relationships, rather than building each other up and serving each other through love-based relationships (Galatians 5:13-15). The love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness that had permeated throughout the church was gone. Replacing these were judgmentalism, racism, and elitism. Impatience and unkindness was now permeating throughout the church and its families. The church had ceased to be a grace-filled, Spirit-filled church, controlled by the love of “Abba, Father”. It was now a law-filled church, controlled by judgmentalism, racism, elitism, impatience and unkindness.
The Galatian church, which was initially established in grace, and where the Spirit led them away from the law and to the Father’s love, producing spiritual growth and maturity, had now deserted and set aside grace. They had fallen from grace, totally abandoning the work of Jesus for them and the Spirit of Jesus in them (Galatians 3:1-3). They back to what the Spirit had led them away from...the law, a performance-based mentality where they were no longer depending completely upon Jesus for righteousness and the Spirit for growth, but were now depending upon their own adherence to a religious system and a moral standard for righteousness and growth. They were no longer a Spirit-filled church. They were a law-filled church.
The church in Ephesus, which Paul started, was a churched mixed with Jews and Gentiles. The problem existing in this church, as in other churches Paul started, was the believing Jews were adding the law to the church, when the law had been abolished (Ephesians 2:15). The Jewish believers were totally missing the fact that the church, God’s new family on earth where he was the Father, was established in grace and lived according to the riches of grace the Father had freely blessed them with and lavished upon them in Christ. In being a grace-based church, they related to God as one family with one Father by one Spirit, and not by the law (Ephesians 1:3-8, 2:18-22, 4:4-6 ).
It was Paul’s prayer that the Spirit, deep within their hearts, would give them the revelation of the truth that Jesus now lived in their hearts by faith. He also prayed that the Spirit would give them revelation of how much they were loved by Jesus so they could be filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19). Remember, in the verses we read earlier, it was sinfulness that previously filled our hearts once we disconnected ourselves from God’s love. Now Paul’s prayer is for our hearts to be filled with God’s love.
In Ephesians 4:2-4, he encouraged the Ephesian church to be unified as one body, one family, through humility, gentleness and patience, which was the heart of Spirit. He encouraged them to not grieve the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit loved them so much (only love grieves), through anger, bitterness, and slander. But to be kind and compassionate to one another, having grace upon each other just as God in Christ had grace upon them (Ephesians 4:30-32).
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, telling them to be filled with or controlled by the Spirit toward one another...intoxicated with the Father’s love and the love Christ in their relationships. We learn from Paul in Romans 5:5, the Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts. A Spirit-filled person is experiencing and enjoying God’s love (intoxicated with God’s love) and is pouring his love out upon others.
In Ephesians 6:18, Paul instructed the believers in Ephesus to pray in the Spirit, meaning to pray in unity with each other. Paul encouraged these Jews and Gentiles, who for centuries hated each other, to now come together in prayer as one family, with one Father, unified in Christ’s love and established in God’s grace.
The church in Philippi was a church who worshipped by the Spirit. In context, this meant they were a church who did not seek righteousness or relate to God by the law, but instead received righteousness by grace through faith, relating to God by faith (Philippians 3:1-11). This church was established in grace when Paul shared the Lord’s message of grace to Lydia and her household (Acts 16). Paul and the Philippian people enjoyed God’s grace together (Philippians 1:6-8).
In the Church in Colossae, the people were changed by grace the moment they heard of God’s grace in all of its truth. The Spirit then produced in them fruit, growth, faith, hope, and love (Colossians 1:3-8).
In Thessalonians 1:2-10, Paul brought the message of grace to the city of Thessalonica. The Holy Spirit convinced the people of Paul’s message of grace. They welcomed it with great joy, joy produced by the Holy Spirit. The church, then, became a model of a Spirit-filled church as the Lord’s message of grace changed them and rang out from them, and as the Spirit produced in them faith, hope, and love.
There is one more church that Paul planted I want us to look at. It is the church in Corinth. It was a church that excelled in the gifts of the Spirit that were in operation then, but was not Spirit-filled. They spoke in tongues. Yet it was not Spirit-filled because they were not a loving church. They were not filled with God's love. So Paul wrote to them, in 1 Corinthians 13, telling them that even though they excelled in the gifts of the Spirit, they were not a loving church nor a mature church. They were misguided in the area tongues, thinking all should speak in tongues. Tongues were out of control in that church. So Paul wrote to them, telling them to put away their childish beliefs and ways, relating to tongues, and to focus on loving one another instead. He told them that what was most important was loving each other, not that all spoke in tongues, and that, one day, tongues would cease, but love never would.
Tongues is taught in some churches as a sign a person and a church is Spirit-filled. Leaders in these churches strongly desire for their members to “baptised in the Spirit”, as evidenced by speaking in tongues. This belief flows from a misunderstanding of the book of Acts. In Acts 2, the promised Spirit of God descended upon the disciples, enabling them to speak in tongues, or known languages of the many Jewish people who had come to observe Pentecost, a Jewish holiday. The disciples, in the languages of the people who came, told them about the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we see in the Bible that tongues was a gift enabling a person to speak in a known earthly language. It was not a gift all had, but only some.
So what do we learn from the Scriptures and these churches about a Spirit-filled church?
We learn that a Spirit-filled church is one that is not established in law, but is established in the riches of God’s grace, which he freely and abundantly gave to us in Christ. The people of a Spirit-filled church are free from an old covenant, law-based, performance-based mentality, where they no longer seek God’s forgiveness, righteousness, acceptance, and fellowship through religious systems, activities, or experiences, or by meeting moral standards. A Spirit-filled church is one that has not deserted or set aside grace for righteousness. It is one that has not fallen from grace by going back to the law. It is a church that teaches that righteousness is not gained by obedience to the law, but is a gift of God’s grace and is received by faith.
A Spirit-filled church is one where God lives by his Spirit in the hearts of the people, where they call him “Abba, Dad, or Papa, Father.” It is a church where people experience and enjoy the Father’s love, expressing his love to one another. It is a church where the Spirit is producing the Father’s love in the hearts of his dearly loved children. It is a church where the Spirit, deep in the hearts of the people, has given an understanding of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. It is a church that is free from judgmentalism, racism, and elitism. It is unified through humility, patience, and gentleness, all produced by the Spirit. It is filled with the Spirit, evidenced by the people being filled with love and grace toward each other, lavishing grace upon each other, and praying for and with one another.
The biblical Spirit-filled church is quite the opposite of what comes to our minds when we think of a modern-day “Spirit-filled church”. As we said earlier, a Spirit-filled church is often thought of and marketed as a church with great praise and worship, where people lift their hands in worship, and where the “Spirit moves people emotionally and moves about freely”, enabling people to speak in tongues and have “spiritual experiences.” Typically, people would not see this as a dead church, but as a church “alive in the Spirit”, “on fire for God.” But it just may be a dead church.
Actually, this church may be like the people in the book of Hebrews, full of dead, old-covenant religious works, where they are seeking to be righteous through the law, while totally resisting, disobeying, and insulting the Spirit of grace with a sinful, unbelieving heart, as the Spirit seeks to convince them to rest in the new covenant of grace...the promised land of grace, where God knows us relationally and remembers our sins no more (Hebrews 3:7-4:11, 8:6-13, 10:15-18, 29).
So was the lady correct when she told me the church where I was the pastor was not a Spirit-filled church, since people were not singing and clapping loudly and raising their hands highly as the band played? Was the church not Spirit-filled because there was no external evidence the Spirit was there, since no one was having any visible spiritual or emotional experiences?
What I can tell you is this… She had no biblical understanding of what a Spirit-filled church is. Her definition of a Spirit-filled church was not scripturally based...not at all. I can also tell you she did not know the people who were members of our church family. She had no idea the people’s lives had been changed, transformed by grace, as the Spirit convinced them of the good news of grace. She had no idea that people at our church, after being in churches for years, had come to understand, for the first time, they were not under law but under grace. She had no idea the Spirit had freed them from law, from an old-covenant, law-based, performance-based mentality, where they worked to gain God’s forgiveness, righteousness, and acceptance, and now they simply rested by faith in what Jesus had done for them. She had no idea the Spirit, in the hearts of people, was drawing them to God as their loving Father, where they experienced, enjoyed, and expressed his love to others.
She was completely unaware of the many conversations I had with people who told me their lives had been totally changed by grace. And, as a result, they become better fathers and mothers and husbands and wives. They became people who reflected “Abba, Father’s” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. She was unaware the Spirit of Jesus had written on their hearts the truths of the new covenant.
Therefore, it was impossible for her to know if our church was Spirit-filled by the way people conducted themselves as the band played. People respond in churches to music based upon their personalities. Introverts, like myself, typically stand still. Extraverts, like my wife, may clap and raise their hands. Yet neither is a sign of whether a person is Spirit-filled or spiritually mature.
I like music in a church. Music in a church is great. People enjoy different kinds of music. What is great, though, is when the words of a song being sung at church convey the truths of the new covenant of grace, and are not mixed with law-based words. What’s even greater is when the pastor and music leader are both ministers of the new covenant of grace, which is reflected in the message and music.
That is truly the beginning of a Spirit-filled church!