Fulton County Gospel News

a work of the mammoth spring church of christ



By Lee Moses

Is the direct operation of the Holy Spirit an experience common to all Christians? Certainly the Holy Spirit operates in behalf of Christians; and, through use of means, He influences Christians and potential Christians to do what is right (Nehemiah 9:30; Ephesians 6:17; Revelation 2:29; et al.). However, some aver that the Holy Spirit acts directly upon the mind of man; thus forcing, enabling, or otherwise influencing man's obedience to God. But is this true? One can know a doctrine is false when it implies a false doctrine. That is, when accepting one doctrine demands that one accept a second doctrine which is clearly false, the first doctrine is also false. There are only four possible ways known to this writer by which the Holy Spirit could directly influence the mind of manand each of them demands another doctrine which is clearly false.

The first possibility is that the Holy Spirit forces a person to obey God without any willing compliance necessary on the part of that person. This is the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace (see "Can Man Resist the Grace of God?" FCGN, January 2006). Whether applied to the Christian or non- Christian, such clearly violates the Biblical teaching that man has free will (Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Joshua 24:15; Proverbs 1:29). Every man and woman of modest intelligence has the ability to choose whether to do right or wrong, and this is why a just God can justify some and condemn others (Romans 2:2-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). If the Holy Spirit were to force one to obey God against that person's will, that "obedience" would not be obedience at all.

The second possible way in which the Holy Spirit could directly influence the mind of man is to prod him with subconscious "nudges." This position would teach that a person does not know when such nudges occur, and does not know they are from God. This might be done by causing the recipient of such nudges to feel pain at the thought of doing wrong or pleasure at the thought of doing right. Perhaps a woman might be enticing a man to indulge in sexual immorality, but a sudden jolt from the Holy Spirit would incline the man to choose otherwise. This would be akin to what Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas called a "Jedi mind trick." Such would also be a violation of free will, because the choice the person made really would not be that person's choice. Some will attempt to circumvent the obvious implications of this false doctrine by saying, "I don't know what the Holy Spirit's doing, I just know that He's doing something directly to me." If they do not know what the Holy Spirit is allegedly doing to them in a direct manner, it would have to be by subconscious nudges (or by absolute force in a subconscious way). If I were to offer to pay money to someone to be baptized, or were to threaten to inflict pain on a person who initially refused to be baptized, there would be doubt as to whether that person's obedience was saving obediencebut even then, he would have a choice. If the Holy Spirit is directly nudging a person's subconscious mind in this way, that person might never be aware he had a choice. It might be alleged by some that there is no difference between such direct nudges by the Holy Spirit, and the twinges of a conscience trained by the Scriptures and by faithful brethren. But there is no comparison. The Scriptures provide the Christian with the knowledge that he needs to overcome temptation (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; 2 Timothy 3:17). Fellow Christians can provide reminders of the importance of living by the standards of Scripture (Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25). Yet when temptation arises, the Christian still makes a choice. Hopefully he has armed himself sufficiently with the knowledge of Scripture; perhaps the words of a hymn sung or of a sermon heard in worship will come to mind in the face of temptation. These help the person to consider seriously the gravity of his choice, and to understand which is the better option. In no sense could such helps be said to violate that person's free will, unlike nudges to the subconscious mind that compel a person to make choices he otherwise would not make.

A third possible way in which the Holy Spirit could influence the mind of man is by direct revelation. This violates the Biblical teaching that special revelation from God has been completed. While the Old Testament was in effect, God had spoken of a pause that would take place in direct revelation from God (Amos 8:11-12). But He also implied that direct revelation would resume again, in order to give and confirm His perfect and final covenant with mankind, the New Testament (Jeremiah 31:31; Isaiah 2:2-3). Christ promised His apostles that they would receive direct revelation from the Holy Spirit that they might carry the Gospel to the world (John 16:13; compare with 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Others besides the apostles received direct revelation from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:28; 14:29-31). But even in this period of incomplete written revelation, direct revelation from the Holy Spirit was not an experience common to all Christians. As Paul asked, "Are all prophets?" (12:29). This rhetorical question is phrased in such a way as to demand the answer, "No, of course not." Direct revelation was given for the benefit of many, not just for the one receiving it (14:3, 30-31; Ephesians 4:11-12). And in God's Divine economy, direct revelation was to end as written revelation was completed:

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge (miraculous knowledge, LM), it shall vanish away. For we know in part (perhaps better translated, "from part" or "out of part," LM), and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect (literally, "the perfect or complete thing," contrasted with the previous way of receiving revelation, LM) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away (1 Cor. 13:8-10).

Thus we are told, "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3, emphasis LM). Jude speaks of "the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" (verse 3, American Standard Version, emphasis LM). The very means of receiving miraculous abilities, such as direct revelation, ended with the death of the last apostle (Acts 8:17-18). If the Holy Spirit were to speak to anyone today by direct revelation, He would be speaking either differently from the Bible or the same things as the Bible. Of course, He would not speak differently from the Bible (Numbers 23:19; Romans 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 14:33), and anyone who claims a special revelation from God differing from the Bible must be rejected (Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 2 John 9-11). If the Holy Spirit spoke the same things as the Bible, He would be redundant and in violation of His means of speaking to mankind today - through the Bible (Revelation 2:29).

The only other possible way this writer can conceive of by which the Holy Spirit might directly influence the mind of man is conscious "nudges." That is, the recipient would be fully aware that he was being prodded to do right. Of course, the Scriptures never portray the Holy Spirit working in this fashion. Samson was miraculously endowed ("And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him," Judges 13:25), yet he did not perceive when "the LORD was departed from him" (16:20). And the Holy Spirit's direct endowment of Samson had nothing to do with keeping Samson from sin! (compare with 14:1-3, 8-9 [compare with Numbers 6:6], 12-13; 16:1). If the person being consciously nudged were aware to the degree that (1) he knew it was the Holy Spirit nudging him, and (2) he knew what the Spirit was trying to say to him; this would be no different from direct revelation (see above). What that person would have to say about his nudges would carry the same weight as Scripture, since the same Spirit inspired both. However, the Holy Spirit never spoke to anyone by "nudges"He spoke by words (1 Cor. 2:13); He spoke "expressly" or "explicitly" (1 Timothy 4:1). This makes it even less likely that the Holy Spirit would nudge a person, but only to the degree that (1) the person could not be certain that it was the Holy Spirit nudging him, and (2) he could not be certain what exactly the Holy Spirit was trying to say to him. This would open the door wide for subjectivism (compare with Judges 17:6); whereas Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32, emphasis LM).

Yes, it is widely alleged that the Holy Spirit operates directly upon the heart/mind of man today. But neither the popularity of a sentiment nor the credentials of one holding that sentiment makes it true. There is no possible way that the Holy Spirit could operate directly upon the mind of man without contradicting Himself and His teachings in Scripture. Inevitably, if He did, it would follow that there would be either a violation of free will or continuous revelation of some kind, neither of which is taught by Scripture. Do you, dear reader, want to know what the Holy Spirit has to say? Then, please, hear His word!

1 "Questions expecting a negative answer are expressed by mee with the indicative." J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2000 printing), p. 197.

2 F. Wilbur Gingrich, Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969 printing), p. 192.

3 For further reading on the means by which the Holy Spirit operates, see "The Holy Spirit and the Word of God: Parts One and Two" by Ted J. Clarke, FCGN, Feb.-March 2004.



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