June 15, 2016

How to Recognize a Spirit-Filled Church

by Eric Davis

Church advertisements can be interesting. I’ve seen things like, “Business healing services,” one that advertised a concealed weapons class, and “You have a friend request from Jesus: Accept? Ignore?” But one that confused me the first time I saw it was “Spirit-filled.” What does that mean? And are only some churches Spirit-filled? Or all of them? Or partially filled? What’s the difference between a Spirit-filled and non-Spirit-filled church?

Generally, the advertisement intends to mean that the Holy Spirit’s power and presence are observable in that local church. Praise God if that’s true. But, assuming accurate advertising, what ought we expect from such a church? What will that look like?

Here are 11 evidences of the Spirit’s power and presence in a local church:

1. A focus on the biblical Person and work of Christ.

Previewing the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus indicated the christocentric focus he would have:

John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name…”

John 15:26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.”

John 16:14 “He will glorify Me…”

Beyond this, Paul elaborated that central to discerning the Holy Spirit’s presence in someone is an affirming and embracing of the lordship of the biblical Jesus (1 Cor. 12:3).

J.I. Packer says it this way:

“When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior” (Keeping in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, 57).

floodlightThe Holy Spirit fills a people to floodlight Christ in all they do and say.

We can take this a step further. Since Christ is about building and blessing one institution (Matt. 16:18), the Spirit will be likewise. We should expect to see him busy as Christ’s agent to facilitate that building and blessing. So, the Holy Spirit is at home in the local church because Jesus loves his church.

All that to say, the Spirit-filled church will floodlight, from many angles, the biblical Jesus.

2. A congregation converted to Christ.

Since the birth of the church by the Holy Spirit, the most powerful thing he does is convert dead sinners to faith in Christ. No one in the universe except him has the power to bring spiritual life.

Scripture pictures conversion in ways beyond anything like a decision, prayer, or act of the human will. Instead, it’s pictured, for example, as a birth (John 3:5) and a brittle bone pile coming to life (Ezek. 37:1-14).

So when the Spirit fills a congregation, expect to see the miracle of spiritual life in that place. People will be genuinely saved. Don’t take for granted when you see it; even a church of 10 people converted to Christ. What you’re seeing is a colossal display of power; the greatest in the universe. It’s a glorious sight. And you can’t miss it anymore than you can miss the wind. A Spirit-filled church is filled with regenerate people.

3. A lot of godly people.

Even if you’re not a dendrologist, identifying a particular fruit tree is simple: look at its fruit. So it is with identifying the presence and power of the Spirit. His fruit (singular) in those he indwells is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

fruitAlong those lines, humility evidences a Spirit-filled church. In Philippians 2:1-8, humility (on our part), has the idea of, out of response to the incarnation and atoning work of Christ, accurately seeing onself in light of God, resulting in a servant’s mindset towards others. Thus, true humility is not possible apart from conversion to Christ, which is not possible without the Holy Spirit.

Similarly, Spirit-filling will look like a mutual yielding to one another in a congregation out of reverence for Jesus (Eph. 5:21).

To this, you could add holiness (being the Holy Spirit, those he indwells will bear his mark of personal holiness) and thankfulness (Eph. 5:20, Col. 3:17).

Overall, a Spirit-filled church will have the mark of godliness.

4. A love for God’s word.

Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 are parallel passages where the ideas of being “filled with the Spirit” and the “word of Christ” dwelling “richly” within are synonymous. So, a Spirit-filled church will look like a church filled with Scripture.

Practically, that will look like many things; a hunger for the word, a love for hearing and reading the word, a desire to discuss the word, a reverence for the word, a church governed by the word, and a people being transformed by the word. It will look like a priority to be equipped by the word over being entertained by the world.

the good soilThough some biblical truth will be piercing and hard to swallow, Spirit-filled people will not be saying, in response, “Umm, this is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” Though they may wrestle, that Spirit-filled congregation will be moved and humbled by the Spirit to say, “Where else shall we go? These are the words of eternal life.” The Holy Spirit will tame the otherwise boisterous flesh to embrace what he has said in Scripture.

5. A love for biblical preaching.

One thing that is obvious about that newly, Holy Spirit-hatched people in Acts: they loved biblical preaching. In the early church, it appears that there was biblical preaching going on about every day (Acts 2:42-47). Further, when the Spirit decided what to preserve for his people in Acts, a large chunk of it was biblical preaching (Acts 2:14-36, 3:12-26,7:2-53, 10:34-43, 13:16-41, 17:22-31, 20:18-35). Combine that with the Eph. 5:18/Col. 3:16 idea, and we can say that the Spirit-filled church will be a place where the pulpit is central. You can be sure that the Spirit is powerfully at work where the people crave the bible unpacked and doctrines explained; where there is a love for the explanation, illustration, and application of Scripture.

we love preachingA Spirit-filled church loves large doses of biblical exposition.

6. A lot of people serving.

In Paul’s pneumatological tome to the Corinthians, he makes a telling statement regarding true spiritual gifts: “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7) and “edification of the church” (1 Cor. 14:12, cf. v. 26). So, one certain expression of the Spirit will be people actively working to build up the church.

Also, many instances in Acts where God’s people were “filled with the Spirit” are revealing. In most of those cases (cf. Acts 2:4, 4:8, 4:31, 13:9), Spirit-gifts were exercised powerfully to both put Christ in lights and edify people.

So, the power and presence of the Spirit in a local church will look like an army of servants doing the work of the ministry, unprodded by people, but in light of Christ’s love.

The Spirit-filled church is the church full of people serving in many ways for the common good.

7. A humble focus on conviction and repentance of sin.

This is one of those unmistakable evidences of the Spirit’s power. You will never hear your flesh say to you, “I delight to cause you to see, hate, and turn from your indwelling sin so that you become more like Jesus.” The flesh cherishes sin like a good mom cherishes her newborn. It loathes the idea of anything putting it to death. And that is precisely what Jesus sends the Spirit to do. Whatever we say about the Holy Spirit, this is certain: he puts sin to death in everyone he indwells (Rom. 8:13).

Japan Nara

Sin is that thing that deceives, wrecks, kills, and damns humans. Yet nothing and no one has the power to execute it but the Holy Spirit. So, since Christ cares deeply for the well-being of his people, he sends in the big-guns to slay our indwelling sin. And when the Spirit lands, conviction and repentance will signify that the war is on and God is winning.

What the Spirit will do is enable knowledge of personal sin, hatred of it, sorrow over it because of its offense against God, confession of it, and turning from it (Ezek. 36:31, John 16:8). But he doesn’t stop there. In those healthy moments of conviction, he floodlights Christ so that the repentant see, embrace, and rejoice in him and his overwhelmingly adequate righteousness for us.

So then, the Spirit-filled church will look like a people humbly confessing their sin without fearing one another, sorrowfully discussing their sin without fleeing one another, intentionally turning from their sin without isolating one another, and always ending up at the cross.

The Spirit-filled church has a humble focus on the conviction and repentance of sin.

8. An atmosphere where it’s the norm to lovingly confront sin.

This is to be expected since the Spirit will employ those means of putting sin to death which he has spoken in his word. One of those means is other Spirit-indwelt people coming alongside of us.

helpFollowing his explanation of the Spirit in Galatians 5, Paul exhorts believers to gently address each others’ sin for the purpose of restoration on the basis that they are Spirit-indwelt (Gal. 6:1-3)

In a Spirit-filled church, then, this will look like an atmosphere where sin is safe but not safe. It’s safe, in the sense that there is a loving, family-like trust among one another where we can be confronted if necessary, but know that we will not be condemned. However, sin is unsafe because it will necessarily be confronted and eradicated by the Spirit.

A Spirit-filled church is one in which it’s the norm to lovingly confront sin.

9. A place where the flesh cannot last long.

Overall, the Spirit-filled church will be a place where the flesh can run, but it can’t hide. Christ cares too much for his church to have it any other way. This means that doctrine which is fleshly will be exposed and eradicated. Methods of doing ministry which are fleshly will eventually be discovered and destroyed. People who are fleshly will only be able to tolerate a Spirit-filled church for so long. If they are not converted by the power of the Spirit, they will typically leave. That’s because the flesh hates nothing more than the Spirit. It won’t bow to it. And even if it wanted to, it could never do so (Rom. 8:7-8, Gal. 5:17). Consequently, the flesh will be appropriately cornered in a Spirit-filled church. One of two things will result; repentance by the power of the Holy Spirit, or fleeing to a place more conducive to sheltering the flesh.

10. An orderliness and intelligibility when gathered.

orderlyMuch of the spiritual spanking Paul administers in the first letter to the Corinthians, as far as chapters 12-14 go, boils down to his desire that they focus on love, edification, and orderliness. Among other things, when they gather, it’s to be done in an orderly manner, where unintelligibility is absent and comprehension is present. That is what would reflect a presence and power of the Spirit. And it’s to be done in “all the churches” (v. 33). Though the Corinthians might disagree, so far from hindering the power of the Spirit, an orderliness when gathered invites and evidences his power.

A Spirit-filled gathering will be orderly and intelligible.

11. A desire to exist in unity with each other.

The Spirit-filled congregation will be one who prioritizes unity in the name of Christ (Eph. 4:3-4). A refreshing instinct to do so will be present. Consequently that which produces true biblical unity will be visible. For example: humility, believing the best about one another, looking for common ground, serving each other, a desire for relationships, grieving over and attempting to biblically solve division in the congregation, and an overall sharing of life among people with many surface differences.

Not only that, but there will be a desire to unite with Spirit-filled people from the past. The Spirit is eternal; the same God doing the same things generally as he carries out our Lord’s building plans for his church. As such, the Spirit-filled congregation has an instinct to actively unite with others in church history. They’re not consumed with originality, but faithfulness to what the Spirit has been doing; being another link in a long line of pneumatological fidelity.

See

A Spirit-filled congregation carries a refreshing desire for unity in Christ.

We could add many things to this list: an assurance that we are God’s children by the finished work of Christ (Rom. 8:15-17), a perseverance in suffering (Rom. 5:2-5), a cheerful diligence to obey God’s commands (Ezek. 36:27, Rom. 8:4), and a delight to sing biblically-sound songs with one another (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). All that to say, when the Holy Spirit is present in a local church, it’s going to be gloriously obvious. When he blows through a congregation, it will be unmistakable: he will gather a converted people whose lives are being enriched in Scripture such that they love, serve, and repent with the result that Christ is put in lights.

Eric Davis

Posts Twitter

Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.