In some circles, talking too much about the Holy Spirit might cause people to question your doctrinal credentials. We’re scared to go too deep in our experience of the Spirit’s presence and power because we’ve seen other people go to extremes.
There are several reasons for caution.
1. We see the danger of seeking the Spirit apart from God’s Word.
First, seeking an experience with the Spirit apart from God’s Word leads people into dangerous territory. They listen for voices in their hearts or seek “signs” from God in the heavens. They always seem to be talking about what God “said to them” through a stirring in their spirit or in a strange confluence of circumstances. Their worship gatherings devolve into chaos, with strange experiences distracting from God’s Word and His gospel.
In reaction to these unfortunate expressions, we rush to the other extreme. “We don’t want to go there,” we think, and so we minimize any expectation of hearing from God’s Spirit or experiencing Him at all.
2. We don’t want to cause controversy among believers.
Secondly, another reason we may be scared of the Spirit is because He is controversial. Christians come to different conclusions regarding the gift of tongues, or the Spirit’s baptism, or the Spirit’s filling. Often you’ll find that people in the same congregation differ on these questions.
In order to keep controversy from breaking out in a church, the members keep quiet about the Spirit altogether. They think that affirming the basic truths about the Spirit is sufficient. Anything more may lead to disunity.
It’s true that getting hung up on secondary questions can distract us from our mission. But avoiding the Spirit in order to avoid the secondary issues is another way of keeping us from experiencing His presence and power!
3. We are afraid of what the Spirit may do through us.
There is a third reason why we may be scared of the Spirit, and this reason is more personal. Perhaps we are afraid of the Spirit because of what He may ask of us.
We see how the Spirit worked in the early church, how He guided and empowered believers, and rather than be excited by such activity, we’re frightened. We find it more comfortable to keep God at arm’s length, to focus on our behavior rather than our hearts, to focus on Him doctrinally rather than experientially, because we’re afraid He will call us to step out of our comfort zone.
The Spirit of Joy, Not Fear
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul encouraged believers to avoid causing unnecessary offense to other believers. He spoke specifically about how Christians should avoid passing judgment on one another by what they eat and drink. But then, he described the kingdom of God in a unique way:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
According to this verse, the kingdom of God is righteousness (Christ’s righteousness given to us in salvation, and the righteous behavior He is working in us), peace (with God and with others), and joy granted by the Holy Spirit. Too often, we associate the Spirit with crazy manifestations, division in the church, or fear of what He may ask of us.
But this verse flips our way of thinking upside down.
The Spirit’s presence doesn’t lead to distracting and self-focused practices of piety, but the righteousness of God’s kingdom.
The Spirit’s presence doesn’t stir up division, but peace with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Spirit’s presence doesn’t grant us fear, but joy in fulfilling His will.