Monday, May 14, 2012

The Holy Spirit, Part 03

What “Spiritual” is

Many people mistake emotion for spirituality, but in fact these two are quite distinct. “Spiritual” means having to do with the Holy Spirit. Emotional binges are not of the Holy Spirit; in fact, they are consumer experiences, and as such, are self-serving. The genuine workings of the Holy Spirit, although sometimes dramatic, are always characterized by their sobriety. The workings of the Holy Spirit, while they do not leave the emotions unaffected, nevertheless take place at an altogether different and deeper level of us than emotion does. We are taught that while a visitation of the Holy Spirit is in progress, one feels very reluctant to descend again to the level of emotions; one wishes for the emotions to remain quiet, so as not to distract him from what is happening spiritually.

Neither is the work of the Holy Spirit to be confused with bodily sensations. When our feet start tapping and our hands begin to clap, or when we can feel within our body the rafter-raising hymn stirring us up so that we nearly sing ourselves hoarse, that is not an effect of the Holy Spirit. It may even be a pious, subtle form of pride or self-satisfaction. The Holy Spirit never leaves us feeling satisfied with our spiritual condition. This is because there’s always infinite room for improvement! Nobody who loves God and is honest with himself is ever satisfied with the poor and partial manner in which he manages to return that Love.

Neither is “spiritual” the opposite of “material” or even of “bodily”. Christ Himself took a body. Indeed, the power of the Holy Spirit is very often manifest in the body, as in healings. It is manifest in material objects as well, such as the handkerchiefs and aprons of St. Paul. (Acts 19:11-12) “Spiritual” is more nearly the opposite of “animal” where “animal” is an adjective, as in “animal instincts.” Spiritual life is the opposite of mere biological life. This is what St. Paul means by the Greek word sarx, usually translated, “flesh”, when he writes such things as:
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors-not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:9-17)
St. Paul observes that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are joy (which someone defined as “what remains when happiness has fled”), peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) That last item, self-control, is especially to be noted. If some allegedly charismatic experience puts you temporarily out of control of yourself, it is bogus. You cannot give to God what is not yours to give; cannot give Him yourself if you do not have the control of yourself. Note, too, that such things as patience and gentleness, as practices, often have no emotional appeal whatsoever!

St. James writes, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)

What we might call the normal or everyday work of the Holy Spirit is to guide believers into all Truth, the Truth being Christ, to sound the inner alarm in the presence of falsehood, and to sanctify us. None of us should consider himself worthy of such additional gifts as clairvoyance, healing, prophecy, visions of Christ, and the like. We should always be suspicious of such experiences until they are very clearly shown to be of God.

The next part of this series will begin a discussion of spiritual discernment.