Sunday, May 11, 2008 -
Here is an important question indeed: How can you know when the Holy Spirit is at work in your life? Is there any measuring stick beyond our changing, subjective feelings? Or is the measuring stick a good, moral life? We need to tread carefully here because there are atheists who lead very moral, upstanding lives. Or perhaps you’ve been at some meeting, or heard some speaker, or read some book, and you were sure the Holy Spirit was mightily present. Then you encountered someone else - someone who is very godly - and they weren’t moved at all when they read the same book or attended the same meeting. Who is right?
Are all the measuring sticks merely matters of opinion or feelings? Are there any signs of the Spirit’s presence and work that are absolutely telling and foolproof? That’s the subject of this series of teachings. We want to know how we can establish with certainty that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, and in our church. Some things may be signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence. That’s fine. But other things are definitely signs of the Spirit’s work in us. Those are the things we need to be on the look out for.
All of these studies will take the same pattern to make them easier to follow. Each week we will study certain signs that may be a work of the Holy Spirit, but may also be the result of something else, making them unreliable measuring sticks for His work. Then we will close each study looking at one or two absolutely certain manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s work. These signs can’t be anything else but the Holy Spirit.
1) EXPERIENCES THAT DO NOT NECESSARILY INDICATE THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN OUR HEARTS
Please remember, we are not saying these are bad experiences. And we are not saying these things can never be the work of the Holy Spirit. We are simply saying these signs, in themselves, don’t prove the Spirit’s presence and work. They are not reliable evidences of spiritual development.
a) It is not a certain sign of the Spirit’s work that a person is strongly moved or stirred in the exercise of his or her religion
Certainly it is a good thing to have our emotions involved when we come before the Lord - Psalm 68:3 - “But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” Paul is equally emphatic that God desires true religion to be a thing of life and power in our experience - 2 Timothy 3:1 & 5 - "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty....5....having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
And yet, the Scriptures also warn that emotional energy, in itself, is no guarantee of the Spirit’s life and presence - John 12:17-18 - “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.  The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.”
In verses 12 and 13 of this same chapter you will find a very large crowd shouting and waving palm branches. If you simply took a snapshot of that moment you would think you were witnessing a mighty revival. A few verses later this same mob will be howling for Jesus’ crucifixion. They were excited, but they were not transformed. Their hearts were never changed by the Holy Spirit.
The same can be seen in the Old Testament. Exodus 15:1-18 tells the story of the celebration of the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea. There is great shouting and jubilation. Chapter 16 has them grumbling that they ever left Egypt, demanding Moses take them back to their former life under Pharaoh.
Here’s why all of this history matters to you and me. It is very easy to train ourselves to measure the presence and work of the Spirit of the Lord by the state of our emotions. When this happens we will miss out on some of the deepest works of the Holy Spirit. We need something more solid than our changing emotional states to measure the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
b) Intense regret for failure, in itself, is not a certain sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Again, regret may be a sign of the Spirit’s work sometimes. But there are many examples of unspiritual regret in the Scriptures. One has only to look at the cases of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27), and Esau to make this point - Hebrews 12:15-17 - “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;  that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
2) A CERTAIN SIGN THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS AT WORK IN THE HEART AND MIND IS THE GROWTH OF A LOVE FOR GOD THAT IS INCREASINGLY FREE OF MERE SELF-INTEREST
I am not arguing that it is not a good thing to be genuinely moved at the mercy and compassion of God towards us. But even here, we need to be careful and balanced in our understanding. The Bible says that even the natural man, the man without the saving work of the Holy Spirit in his heart, loves to have good things done for him. Consider two important passages of Scripture:
Luke 6:32 - “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”Jesus teaches there is a kind of affection that is good, but common to all people. We all like to be treated well. There is nothing distinctly spiritual about such feelings. They are common to all people.
Job 1:9-10 - “Then Satan answered the Lord and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason?  Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” Satan accuses Job of having nothing more in his heart than the kind of love Jesus described in Luke chapter 6. Job, says Satan, loves God because God blesses Job’s socks off. Who wouldn’t love God. And, very importantly, God can’t live with the idea that this is the only kind of love Job has for Him. This would diminish the glory of God. The whole book of Job, far from being a book about the problem of evil or the power of faith is a book about the nature of genuine, spiritual love for God.
Don’t settle for less than a transformed heart. Look for a realignment of your affections. When this kind of work of the Holy Spirit begins to take shape in your heart (and it doesn’t happen all at once) your love for God won’t blow hot and cold with your emotional states. It will be as consistent as the beautiful character of God Himself.