Think about a church’s “spiritual energy” as the total of hours and dollars participants give to the shared life and work of that congregation. Now consider these observations from church consultant Ed Stetzer:
- The Spirit-oriented Pentecostal and charismatic movements continue to expand, and many are shying away from oddities and excesses in their past, like speaking in tongues.
- Evangelicals are moving toward the theology of Spirit-filled and Spirit-led ministries.
- Forty years ago, 30% of the US population self-identified with mainline denominations; now it is about 15%. Their loss of energy is most obvious in empty pews and buildings.
A good way for a traditional church to regain spiritual energy is to focus more on how the Holy Spirit energizes Christian fellowships. Classical Lutheran and Calvinist theology left the biblical teachings on the Third Person of the Trinity poorly developed.
My intent is to offer fresh perspectives on what Jesus teaches about his Spirit and how Paul explains the role of the Spirit in Christian church life. Ultimately the Spiritual energy of a congregation is a reflection of how well the Spirit has energized the individual participants, who add their energy to that church’s fellowship.
A modern term gives focus to the Spirit’s work. It is “motivation”—the understanding of what moves people into action. There is no clear biblical equivalent. Motivation provides the missing link in the classical theology of justification by grace through faith, not by works. The act of trusting God’s love and accepting the free gift of Christ’s redemption brings us into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s empowering presence. Christ’s Spirit works on our hearts and brings new priorities that motivate our behaviors. In addition to being saved as a gift of grace, we can also live by the gifts of the Spirit as a second kind of grace.
Luke uses a unique phrase in his Gospel and Book of Acts. Eleven different times he describes a follower of God as “full of the Holy Spirit” combined with something else, best understood as an emotion. One of the ways to recognize the Holy Spirit at work today is in a follower of Christ proclaiming or acting boldly or with special wisdom.
Luke first used the phrase for Elizabeth, who when hearing that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah, was full of the Holy Spirit and burst out in praise to God. Her husband Zechariah, proud at the birth of his son John, was full of the Holy Spirit and proclaimed praise for the coming Messiah. After the resurrection, Peter was full of the Holy Spirit and boldly proclaimed the Good News to the Sanhedrin. Noting his courage, they marveled that such an illiterate could speak so well. The seven chosen to be food administrators were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
Have you had a special time when, overcome with emotion, you broke out in praise to God? Or have you had a time when you needed to speak about your faith to someone somewhere, and the right words just seemed to flow out of your mouth? Or can you remember when you came up with a unique idea that solved a problem at church that was recognized as especially wise? Now you have a word for it. Then and there you were full of the Holy Spirit. Gain confidence that the Spirit is leading you. Look forward to his next special visitation.
To be full of the Spirit at special times does not mean the Spirit is gone at other times. Like the dove who alighted on Jesus’ shoulder at his baptism, the Spirit is sitting on the shoulder of believers, constantly whispering into your thoughts how to keep in step with him as you go through your day, whether you recognize the Spirit or not. An old word for the Spirit’s nudging is following your conscience.
Paul uses the image of the Spirit being poured out on someone. Think of yourself as a jar receiving the Spirit. But your jar and mine have a hole in it called sin, and our resistance to the Spirit can be strong at times, leaving the jar mostly empty. And then when he is most needed, he comes in a special way, and we become “full of the Spirit” again.