The Signs of the Work of the Holy Spirit
Part 1: Being Spiritual People

One of my earliest memories comes from a time when I was working with my father. He used to have me help him when he worked around the house. Because I was so young that I could hardly do anything, he had me bring him things. In doing that I learned what tools were and what they were for.

One day he was repairing a washing machine, and he asked me to get him the screwdriver. I did not know what he wanted, until he pointed to it. I then realized he wanted what I had thought was a paint can opener. At that point I came into a new understanding of screwdrivers. Their purpose, what they had been created for, was not to open paint cans, but to turn screws. If I had never understood that, I would never have been able to screw and unscrew things. Other things can be used to open paint cans, but it takes a screwdriver to turn screws.

Now there is nothing wrong with using a screwdriver to open paint cans. A screwdriver makes an excellent paint can opener. But if I had never learned what screwdrivers were made for, I would not be able to do many things in life that I now can.

Something similar is true for what we have come to call “the baptism in the Spirit”. In recent years in the Charismatic Renewal movement, various things have come to the fore. For a period of time it was healing. You could have thought that Charismatic Renewal was a healing movement. Another focus has been spiritual gifts. It is now very common to hear people explain the Charismatic Renewal as a movement for the restoration of spiritual gifts. Equally strong has been spiritual experiences. Many sound as if they think that the key to good spiritual life is to be “slain in the Spirit” and to have some spiritual experience in the process.

Now none of these things is unconnected with baptism in the Spirit. It is the gateway to healing (or to praying for others for healing). It does lead to spiritual gifts, as well as to spiritual experiences. But if we ask the question, what is baptism in the Spirit for or what is the grace of Pentecost for, none of those is an adequate answer. The Spirit was not given on the day of Pentecost so that we could be healed or have spiritual gifts or have spiritual experience. It was given so that God could have a people who were in effective covenant relationship with him, who loved him and loved one another because the law was written on their hearts and because they had been given life and power through the Holy Spirit to do so.

What is the purpose of the gift and outpouring of the Holy Spirit supposed to do for us as individuals?

Being Spiritual People

In the third chapter of First Corinthians, there is a passage that provides a fundamental insight into the work of the Spirit in us (verses 1-4). Paul was speaking to the Corinthians, a church he had founded, and said,

But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?  For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men?

1 Corinthians 13:1-4

There were a number of problems in the newly established Christian community at Corinth when Paul wrote this letter. The chief seemed to have been serious disunity resulting in factionalization that was threatening to lead to division. As we can see in the above passage, Paul attributed this to the fact that they were not spiritual people. They were, as he put it, of the flesh and behaving like ordinary human beings, rather than like Christians.

To understand what he meant by that, it is helpful to look at what he said to them in the first chapter of First Corinthians in verses 4-12:

I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is… 

1 Corinthians 1:4-12

At the outset of the letter the lack of unity in the Corinthian church was clearly on his mind. There were dissensions and quarreling. Nonetheless he began by thanking God for them because they had received the grace of God. Even more, he said that they had received all the spiritual gifts. Now here is something extraordinary. The Corinthians had been baptized in the Spirit and had all the spiritual gifts, but, as he said in Chapter 3, they were not spiritual!

To understand what Paul is saying, we first need to understand that when “spiritual” is used in the New Testament, it almost never means “immaterial”. Rather, it means “of” or “related to” the Holy Spirit. Something is spiritual when it comes from the Holy Spirit or is somehow connected to the Holy Spirit. Second, we can usefully re-translate the word “spiritual” as “spiritualized”. This will allow us to speak and think more clearly about what Paul is saying.

As we can see from comparing the above two passages, the fact that the Corinthians were not spiritual does not mean that they were without the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nor does it mean that they had not experienced the Holy Spirit at work in and through them (cf. 1:4; Romans 8:9). Rather, it means that the presence of the Spirit in them had not transformed them, at least not in one very important respect. In short, there is a difference between having the Spirit present in us and working through us and being spiritual people, or, more clearly put, being spiritualized people.

Being of the flesh, as used in 1 Corinthians 3:1, means that the Corinthians were behaving in such a way that their way or manner of life was not spiritual. Flesh in this context refers to unredeemed human nature, so those who are of the flesh relate in a way that is characteristic of unredeemed people. They are like ordinary people, that is, people who have never been spiritualized.

Jealousy and strife were the sign that something was seriously wrong. The phrase among you indicates that the problem was corporate (and therefore that the problem was not necessarily with all the members). In other words, the Corinthian community was acting in a way that indicated it had not been fully spiritualized, and this was manifested in the way many of the members related to one another.

Not all conflict is seriously wrong, but if it turns into hostility or disunity (factionalizing) within a body of Christians, something is wrong. Of course, the cause of the problem might only be some people who are not spiritualized –  it only takes one side to start a war – but the existence of the war at least indicates something seriously wrong. Paul, then, was probably talking about a community problem and indicating that it was due to the fact that the members of the community, some at least, were not yet spiritualized in how they related to the life of the community and to one another. In short, the sign of deficient spiritualization in this instance was a personal relationship problem, a problem in love of neighbor.

Walking by the Spirit

In order to see the positive side, to see what spiritualization should look like when it is present, we will look at a different passage: Galatians 5:13-26. This is sometimes referred to as the Fruit of the Spirit Passage.

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Leviticus 19:18] But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh… 

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 

 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self–conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. 

Galatians 5:13-26

To understand this passage, we should recall some background. Galatians was written in response to people sometimes referred to as Judaizers, who wanted all Christians to “live like Jews” (2:14), especially to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. This implied that Christians who had been pagans (Gentiles) needed initiation into the old covenant in order to receive the full benefit of Christianity. Paul rejected such a view.

In the course of the letter, Paul taught that being in Christ and having received the Holy Spirit included all that the old covenant provided, and more. It was therefore unnecessary for Christians to add old covenant practices, like circumcision, to new covenant life. They did not bring a better or fuller relationship with God, and to say that they did was to deny an essential truth about what Christ did for us. On the other hand, he had to rule out the misconception that we could be in Christ and live any way we want just because we have been freed from the old covenant law, and so we have the exhortation in Chapter 5 on the fruit of the Spirit.

Being set free to love and serve one another

Paul began by saying that the Galatian Christians were called to freedom, probably meaning freedom from those aspects of the old covenant approach that came from its purpose in dealing with human sinfulness and imperfection. But he insisted that this freedom was not just lack of restraint. God did not free us so there would be an opportunity for the flesh, that is, so that the flesh, our unredeemed nature, could have its way unrestrained. Rather he intended us to serve one another in love. Christian freedom is the freedom to be what we were meant to be – sons and daughters of God and therefore people who live in his image and likeness.

In the course of the passage Paul listed off works of the flesh. These are the things the flesh will work [do] if left to itself. They include fornication, sexual impurity… idolatry…enmity, strife, etc. We would normally call these “sins”. They are patterns of behavior that are forbidden by God.

Instead of gratifying the desires of the flesh, that is, allowing the flesh to do what it wants, we need to walk by the Spirit. “Walking” is a Hebrew idiom for “behaving”, that is, for living a certain way. The way we walk is the way we live. To call what results when we walk in the Spirit the fruit of the Spirit means that this new way we should live will naturally tend to grow when the Holy Spirit is in us. The list of the fruit of the Spirit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and the like. The fruit that the Spirit produces, then, is good patterns of behavior or character traits, good ways of treating others, good ways of handling the circumstances of life.

There is an intrinsic connection between the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, and God has certain characteristics. He is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and so on. So the presence of God’s Spirit in us tends to make us act the way he himself would. The scriptures also talk about the result as our being in the image and likeness of God (for instance, Colossians 3:10 or 1 Corinthians 3:18). If the Holy Spirit is in us, he will be about restoring the image and likeness of God in us, making us more like God in the way we live.

This truth is sometimes expressed in a different terminology. Christian teachers, especially those who lived in Western (Latin) Europe during the Middle Ages or later teachers who have been influenced by them, sometimes speak about infused virtues. By virtues they mean good character traits or good patterns of behavior. When they say these virtues are infused, they mean that the Holy Spirit, who has filled us, produces these virtues in us (pours them into us, so to speak). They are not just acquired by our own efforts, but are given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit. The term “infused virtue”, then, is another way of speaking about the fruit of the Spirit.

Paul concluded with an important distinction when he said that if we live by the Spirit, we should also walk by the Spirit, or, translated with different words, if we have life from the Spirit, we should also live in a spiritualized way. In Romans 8, a similar passage, Paul makes the same distinction by speaking of the Spirit dwelling in you (8:9, 11) and giving [you] life (8:10-11) and our walking (8:4) or living according to the Spirit (8:5). Because Christ gives us the gift of the Spirit, that is, gives us new life through the Spirit, that does not mean that we will turn out the way he intended when he gave us the gift. We will not necessarily become spiritualized and so live in a spiritual way. In other words, it is one thing to live by the Spirit or have new life through the Spirit. It is another thing to walk in the Spirit, that is, live in a spiritualized way.

The description Paul gave of what the gift of the Spirit should produce makes the results sound automatic. Once we have received the Spirit, all we need to do is put up our feet, lay back and let good character and excellent behavior just grow – no fuss, no muss…and no effort. Now Paul certainly meant to convey the fact there is a new spiritual life put inside of us that gives us a new capacity and desire to live the way God wants us to. He did not, however, intend to convey that we will end up living that life automatically, with no effort.

The fruit of the Spirit

The way Paul exhorted the Galatians to show the fruit of the Spirit makes clear that there is a matter of choice and effort on our part. We have to crucify the flesh, put the flesh to death, that is, deliberately choose to depart from the old way of life. We also have to continue to avoid the old way of life. We have to, in an ongoing way, refuse to follow the flesh, the unredeemed or untransformed tendencies, which are still within in us. As Paul said in a similar passage (Romans 8:12), if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. We can successfully choose to live differently, but we need to be resolute, even at times violent, about doing so. We can do that by the power the Spirit gives us.

If we need to choose to live in the new way, we need a criterion to judge when we are being spiritual(ized) or not. This is why the word of God, scripture, and Christian teaching, is so important. We cannot always determine what is spiritual by direct intuition or discernment. We need to know what God intends the gift of his Spirit to produce in us so that we are not led astray (1 Corinthians 12:2) or deceived (1 John 2:26). We need to be able to test the Spirits (1 John 4:4) and so need to know the signs of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The criterion Paul gave us in the passage we have been reading is keeping the commandments, turning away from the works of the flesh and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in the way we relate to others. We do not need to do extraordinary things to be spiritual. We do not have to perform miracles or have great spiritual experiences, as Paul himself did (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-4). But we do need to treat others, our brothers and sisters in Christ, well. The sign of being spiritual, then, is loving God and neighbor (v. 14).

The well-known passage in First Corinthians 13:1-7, the “love passage”, is in fact about the importance of the right criterion to evaluate our spiritual condition:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Paul was not saying here that speaking in tongues, prophesying, understanding mysteries, moving mountains, giving away all our possession, letting ourselves be killed in martyrdom are bad without love. He was, however, saying that those things are not a criterion of whether we are doing well. That criterion is love, the fruit of the Spirit. The presence or absence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives will tell us if we are spiritualized people or not.

The communitarian aspect of being spiritualized also needs to be emphasized, because we live in such an individualistic culture that we tend to interpret the above passages as simply concerning being about individual Christians. We easily overlook the fact that the Paul was trying to instruct a group of Christians about how to live together, about how to be a body of people filled with the one Spirit of God. Even as individuals, we can only successfully become a dwelling place of God in the Spirit by being built into the new temple (the Christian people, the church), as we can see in Ephesians 2:17-19:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 4:17-19

There is, then, a direct connection between being built into a body of Christians and living the life of the Spirit. We are not normally first brought to life spiritually and then unite ourselves to others who are also alive spiritually. Rather, it is as we are joined to a body of Christians that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us in an ongoing way. We receive help to live the life of the Spirit by being part of a community that is living the life of the Spirit. 

True spiritual life and Christian community go together

Two truths are linked here and elsewhere in the Scripture. On the one hand, we become spiritual or spiritualized by living in a body of people who are living the life of the Spirit, and, on the other hand, relating to one another in a good way makes us a fitting place for the Holy Spirit to dwell in. Relating to other Christians in a good way should increase spiritual life in us, just as letting the Holy Spirit dwell in us should bear fruit in relating well to others. True spiritual life and Christian community go together.

The chief criterion, then, of being spiritual is how we love one another in a daily life way. Good relationships among Christians is what makes a body of Christians a truly spiritual temple. We are filled with the Spirit so that we can be a temple to the glory of God, a body of people who love God and love one another.


This article is excerpted from the book Charismatic Spirituality: The Work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Practice, Chapter 2, copyright © 2004 by Stephen B. Clark, and published by Servant Books, a division of Saint Anthony Messenger Press. Used with permission.

See Part 2: An Experiential Relationship with God

Top image credit: Christians praying together, from Bigstock.com, © by paul shuang, stock photo ID: 388455337.

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