The Holy Spirit and Contemporary American Christians

Over the last couple of years I’ve been paying attention to conversations that I’ve had with various Christians that I’ve spoken with, particularly in regards to how they view the Holy Spirit’s work in a believer’s life. Frequently, whenever I am discussing a particular view that I hold on a specific doctrine the person I’m speaking with will say something like this: “Well, when I looked into that view that you hold the Holy Spirit led me to the opposing view.” Of course it is not said that bluntly but it catches the overall message. I want to point out a problem with replies like that and then a related larger problem within American Christianity in general.

First off, replies like that are an immediate trump card that virtually dismisses another believer’s opinion or belief. Who cares how much you’ve studied the topic? Who cares that there is a long sustained historical interpretation that supports the other view? The Holy Spirit led me to my position for crying out loud! What more proof do I need! When Christians drop the Holy Spirit led me card they are more often than not shutting down another believer (although I do not believe that to be their actual intention) and by implication they are insinuating that the Holy Spirit does not lead the other person in the same way as this enlightened believer is led. Does the Holy Spirit guide and work in believers life? Yes, we don’t want to over correct here. However, did Jesus teach that for each individual believer the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things.” (John 14:26a) I certainly do not think so, although I have heard this passage mentioned several times whenever I appeal to an authority (including the Bible) as being helpful and wise to guide one to come to a position on a doctrine versus them following their own individual feelings. 

There is a reason that the Bible establishes teachers and encourages believers to grow in knowledge. There is a reason the Word of God is so heavily praised within the Bible. The immediate context of that verse in John is Jesus talking to the Apostles in private (not a sermon to a vast body of disciples) and the very next line supports what the Spirit is doing, “and He will bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26b) So the Apostles were assured by Christ that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that He said to them. What does that mean for the individual believer? If we want to be guided by the Holy Spirit we need to “remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savor spoken by your apostles.” (II Peter 3:2) You want the Holy Spirit to teach you? Go to the Word! There is a reason that “God’s Household” has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the corner stone.”(Ephesians 2:20) The foundation is laid and we as Christians build off of that foundation together, by the work of the Spirit, in name of Jesus Christ and for the glory of God the Father.

The Church is a historic body of believers that the Holy Spirit has brought to spiritual life. The individual members of this body are not led against each other and the Holy Spirit certainly does not lead brothers and sisters in Christ to contrary truths. We are so desperate in America to justify our faith by looking within ourselves and not looking outward to the historic fact of Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection. The roots of this existentialist approach to the Christian view of the Spirit in America run all the way back to the post-reformation radical anabaptists that moved away from doctrine and creeds to a strong inward faith experience.

The movement has affected much of modern American Christian culture. You hear many people say that they know that Christianity is true because of a feeling in their heart, they even asked Jesus into their heart! What they typically fail to realize is that much of their terminology is never used in the Bible. The Apostle Paul actually defines The Gospel explicitly in I Corinthians 15. That seems like a good place to look at what the Christian message is all about and how we should view it. Paul says that this message of “first importance” is that “by which you are saved” (15:2) and it goes like this: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (15:3-5) He then goes on to describe a variety of Jesus’s appearances to others before His ascension. He also does not forget to mention that if this external historical message is not true then “your faith is in vain.” (15:14) For good measure he once again states that no matter what you feel inside or how great a personal experience you’ve had, if Christ has not been raised in time and space “your faith is worthless.” (15:17) I should add that this was all written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (I Timothy 3:16-17)

The same factors that lead Christians to describe the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives in very subjective terms are the same factors that cause many Christians to “defend the faith” by talking about a life changing personal testimony more than declaring a historic fact of God’s redemptive act for His entire church. The American Church has a lot of work to do in moving away form this very cultural and worldly expressive individualism and moving towards a more Biblically faithful corporate and historic faith.

Michael Horton puts the Holy Spirit’s work like this, “The good news is that we are in the age of the Spirit. The age of the Spirit is the age of witnessing to what Christ has done. The Spirit does not lead us out of the age of the Son, rather it is the age of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one age. As this present evil age is failing and fading, the age to come is breaking in upon us. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to actually raise us from the dead through the preaching of Christ!…The Holy Spirit isn’t on some free lance mission to tell you secret things in your heart of hearts, but rather to awaken you to the wonder and the splendor of what God the Father has done in God the Son, not only from all entirety, but in history when God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. That’s the Good News!” Amen. No matter what kind of feeling or emotion you have during a praise song, no matter how much you know it down deep in your heart, if the historical work of Jesus Christ is not consistently being proclaimed we have very little Biblical reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work. May the Holy Spirit fill our hearts and minds with hope, joy, peace, confidence, knowledge and faith as He guides us to look outside of ourselves and towards Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.


1. (35 min to 37 min)


Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

One thought on “The Holy Spirit and Contemporary American Christians

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  1. “No matter what kind of feeling or emotion you have during a praise song, no matter how much you know it down deep in your heart, if the historical work of Jesus Christ is not consistently being proclaimed we have very little Biblical reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work.” This is an excellent and timely message!

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