Contemporary Issues in the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit—Part III:New Morality

[John F. Walvoord, President, Dallas Theological Seminary, Editor, Bibliotheca Sacra.]

The moral crisis of contemporary society is a pointed reminder of the need for a new morality. Such a goal is not achieved by lowering former standards of morality to correspond to present behavior. Such a move is simply to condone immorality and to develop an amoral society. Rather, in harmony with the doctrine of the holiness of God, the goal should be realized of achieving in a new way a morality in keeping with the Scriptures and the character of God. The realization of such a goal is possible only by supernatural power such as is provided by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

The relationship of the Holy Spirit to the moral and spiritual life of the believer in Christ is obviously a major factor in the whole program of God in the believer’s salvation. The design of God in the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to promote holiness and high moral standards in the experience of the believer through the work of the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Holy Spirit indwells the believer makes possible communication of the will of God not only in the understanding of the Word of God as it bears upon moral issues, but also in establishing integrity and sound judgment in ethical matters. The growth of understanding and maturity of experience combine to achieve the will of God as it relates to moral issues in the life of a believer in Christ.

In establishing a believer in Christ, the work of the Spirit which is related to salvation prepares the individual for a life in the will of God. There are a number of important factors bearing on this. The believer has (1) a new nature, (2) the life of God in him, (3) is related vitally to God and to other believers in the baptism of the Spirit, and (4) possesses the presence of God in his body and consciousness. This sets the stage for an effective expression of a life on high moral standards in keeping with the character of God. It is intrinsic in this new relationship that a young believer only recently entering into salvation in Christ can nevertheless experience and know the will of God and achieve a high moral standard. Sometimes the change is dramatic as compared to former life and fulfills the concept of conversion as it relates to a spiritual experience. Another factor, however, is evident and that is the maturity which is achieved only in time which gives the believer in Christ greater understanding of the will of God. Maturity must be developed in coping with situations that are not expressly covered by the Bible and relating the life of the believer to the total program of God as he understands it. Obviously maturity takes times whereas spirituality is a possibility for a believer immediately upon conversion. The major point in the whole relationship of the Holy Spirit to the believer’s morality is that prior to conversion the believer was hopelessly a slave to sin and incapable of pleasing God. In his new salvation he is set free and now has the principles and the power to lead a life that is in keeping with the standards of God.

Although his achievement of moral excellence may always be relative in this life, it is tied in with the power of the Spirit in his life and the degree to which the Holy Spirit fills him and directs him. A believer now has the power given by God to yield himself to God and be an instrument of righteousness instead of an instrument of sin. The subsequent holy life remains the pattern of experience to be followed today. There are three major factors in this: (1) yieldedness to the Spirit, (2) fellowship with the Spirit, and (3) the ministry of the Spirit.

Yieldedness to the Holy Spirit

The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer provides an inexhaustible and constant source of spiritual direction and empowerment. The ministry of the Spirit, however, is not automatic and is not effective without cooperation on the part of the individual, hence the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 to “Quench not the Spirit.” This command, included in a series of other exhortations, puts the finger upon an essential requirement for vital Christian life and conformity to the moral will of God. Quenching is a concept used in relation to extinguishing or suppressing a fire. In Hebrews 11:34 the heroes of faith are said to have “Quenched the violence of fire.” In the spiritual conflict discussed in Ephesians 6:16, the shield of faith is “able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Hence, it may be concluded that quenching the Holy Spirit is to suppress, stifle, or otherwise obstruct the ministry of the Spirit to the individual. In a word it is saying, “No,” and replacing the will of the Spirit with the will of the individual. This, in brief, is the whole issue of morality—whether man will accomplish what he wants to do or whether his life is surrendered and yielded to the will of God.

The major conflict of all creation is between the will of God and the will of the creature. This began with the original rebellion of Satan against God outlined in the five “I will’s” of Isaiah 14, summarized in the ambitious goal, “I will be like the Most High” (Isa 14:14). This original act of rebellion against God on the part of Satan was extended to the human race in the Garden of Eden. The conflict of the ages is accordingly between the will of the creature and the will of the Creator.

In order to attain a biblical standard of morality, it is necessary for the believer to be like God and this involves yieldedness of his own will to the will of God. Accordingly, in Romans 6:13 the exhortation is that we should stop presenting (present tense) our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness, and once for all (aorist tense) present ourselves to God as a single and definite act. In doing this we should let the Holy Spirit direct our lives and guide our steps and thus achieve the moral standards and goals which are God’s will for us.

A similar exhortation is found in Romans 12:1 where the believer is exhorted to present or yield (aorist tense) his body as a living sacrifice once for all and thereby achieve through knowledge and fulfillment “that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom 12:2). Many believers in Christ have never realistically yielded themselves completely to the will of God, and accordingly their whole life is spent in self-will and self-direction instead of achieving a high standard of fulfillment.

The command of 1 Thessalonians 5:19 is probably best interpreted as “Stop quenching the Spirit.” The implication is that there have been hindrances to the will of the Spirit being established in the life of the believer, and this action of hindering the Spirit should be stopped. There can be no achievement of the moral purpose of God in the life of the believer apart from an intimate and vital relationship between the guidance and direction of the Spirit and the life of the individual.

Yieldedness to the will of God implies, first of all, yieldedness to the Word of God and the standards of moral excellence which are set forth in the Scriptures. Many issues which face the Christian, however, are not taught explicitly in the Bible. Hence, second, there must be yieldedness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to the individual to provide guidance in these matters, that is, to apply the general principles of the Bible to the particular issue which is facing the individual.

Third, in addition to being yielded to the Word of God and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, yieldedness implies adjustment to the providential acts of God, whether it be Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” or anything else which might prompt rebellion against God’s dealings with His child. The believer must be willing to accept divinely appointed situations, although free to pray and ask God to change them. The role of the Spirit in comforting the believer is often related to providential situations in which, contrary to the believer’s own desire, God is fulfilling His purpose in providing a means and context for life which ordinarily would not be the situation of human choosing.

The supreme illustration of such yieldedness is, of course, Jesus Christ. This is described in Philippians 2:5-11, and speaks of His condescension and humility. Christ is revealed as being willing to be what God wanted Him to be, willing to do what God wanted Him to do, and willing to go where God wanted Him to go. In a similar measure Christians in the will of God may have unpleasant tasks to perform which require yieldedness of heart and the sustaining grace of the Holy Spirit. Like Christ, the believer must say, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Moral excellence in the life of the believer is inseparable from a vital communication and empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit which is only possible when the believer is yielded to the Holy Spirit.

Vital Fellowship with the Spirit

A second major factor in achieving holiness is fellowship with the Holy Spirit. The partnership of the believer and the indwelling Holy Spirit in all that is undertaken for God is absolutely essential to achieve the will of God. This in turn depends upon intimate fellowship between the Spirit and the believer. The entrance of rebellion and a continued state of being unyielded to the Holy Spirit will greatly harm and hinder the communication of the will of God and the power to accomplish it.

It is because of this obvious requirement for achieving excellence in moral experience that the believer is exhorted in Ephesians 4:30, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, by whom ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” This command directs our attention first of all to the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person who has intellect, sensibility (feeling), and will. The Holy Spirit has feelings and is sensitive to the presence of sin in the life of a believer. Rebellion against the direction of the Holy Spirit in the life constitutes an offense to His holy character and can result in great loss to the individual believer.

Grieving the Holy Spirit originates in quenching the Spirit or hindering the Spirit’s direction and empowering of the Christian life. When this is persisted in, it results in loss of intimate fellowship and the full ministry of the Spirit to the individual. He no longer is filled with the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, or taught by the Spirit, and in various degrees is removed from the effective ministry of the Spirit to him. The result is that the Christian is thrown on his natural resources and may often act much like a person who is not a Christian.

The emotional life of the believer may have its ups and downs, quite apart from the matter of spiritual fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and physical weariness, discouraging experiences, and hunger or pain may affect the spiritual experience of the spiritual life. The long-range effects of walking without the Spirit’s direction and power, however, soon become evident both to the Christian and those who observe his life. It is probably true that the great majority of Christians have in some measure grieved the Holy Spirit and are living on limited enablement in their spiritual life.

The decline of a person’s spiritual experience because of grieving the Holy Spirit does not affect his relationship to God in grace nor does it affect the certainty of his eternal salvation. Because a true believer is the object of divine grace, there is always the open door back into fellowship through confession of sin. According to 1 John 1:9, the remedy for having grieved the Holy Spirit is found in genuine confession of sin where the promise is given, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This assurance and invitation is given in a book of the Bible dedicated to the revelation of fellowship with God and is directed immediately to Christians. Confession of sin on the part of an unsaved person would not in itself provide forgiveness or salvation. The text presumes that there is already a relationship to God in grace to which appeal can be made. The forgiveness is not a matter of law or legal obligation, but rather a relationship between a father and his child. Just as for unsaved people the exhortation is summed up in the word “believe,” so for the Christian who has grieved the Holy Spirit his obligation is summed up in the word “confess.”

It is obvious that confession must be genuine, it must be from the heart, and in the nature of the case it involves judging the sin as sin which has grieved the Holy Spirit. Confession by its very nature involves self-judgment as brought out in 1 Corinthians 11:31. The text according to 1 John 1:9, however, assures the believer that upon confession he can be sure of forgiveness because God is faithful to His promise and just inasmuch as Christ has died for sin.

Confession is on the human side and reflects the adjustment that is necessary in human experience and personality to restore the marred fellowship with God. According to 1 John 2:1-2, it is clear that on the divine side the adjustment has been already made. Christ as the advocate of the believer has already interceded for him for, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Inasmuch as the divine side is always in proper adjustment, a Christian out of fellowship is obligated to perform his own act of confession and by this means is able to be restored into close fellowship with the Lord.

The necessity of a close fellowship with the Holy Spirit through yieldedness of heart and confession of known sin is indispensable to achieving the moral excellence required for a life that is truly honoring to God. Christians are solemnly warned that those who trifle with their moral obligations may subject themselves to God’s own discipline. As illustrated in the Corinthian church, Christians are warned, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor 11:31-32). God permits His child time in which to evaluate his life, judge his sin, confess it and be restored into fellowship. Failure to do so, however, invites the chastening judgment of God. As was true in the Corinthian church, it is possible for Christians to suffer physical illness and even death as a result of failure to walk in fellowship with God and avail themselves of the open door of restoration. It is so unnecessary for Christians to suffer needlessly as brought out in 1 Peter 4:15 where Peter states, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.”

The Ministry of the Spirit

The solution of the moral problem in the Christian life through the power of the Spirit is remedied by the Holy Spirit filling the life of the believer and enabling him to achieve the miracle of a God-honoring life. It is clear, however, that the ministry of the Spirit to a yielded believer who is walking in fellowship with the Holy Spirit has tremendous effects upon the total life of the believer, all of which are related in one way or another to the moral issue. An important result of the ministry of the Spirit to the believer is that he is taught the things of God. Christ in the Upper Room prophesied that the Spirit would teach His own. He told His disciples, “When he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of himself, but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you.” The Spirit of God is the Master Teacher, who as the omniscient God can guide the Christian in the comprehension of all truth. As such He will not speak primarily of Himself, but shall be a means of communicating to the believer that which God wants him to know. It is most significant that His primary task is to glorify Christ or to magnify the perfections of Christ, and make Christ real and precious to the believer.

Another major passage dealing with the teaching ministry of the Spirit is found in 1 Corinthians 2:9—3:2 . Here revelation is given that the believer in Christ is taught things by the Spirit which cannot be known by man naturally. This requires, however, on the part of the pupil that he be teachable, that is, be sensitive and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthians who were carnal or fleshly were able only to receive the milk of the Word, the partial and simple truths that were related to their limited spiritual experience. Inasmuch as comprehension of the truth of God is essential for intelligent life and service, so a walk of fellowship with the Spirit in which the divine Teacher can display the things of God is an important aspect of God’s present program for His own.

The ministry of the Spirit is not only to instruct Christians in the revelation of the Word of God and to understand what might be called normative truth, but the ministry of the Spirit is also to apply this to the particular situation of the individual Christian in the form of guidance in decisions that need to be made. It is only as the Christian is a living sacrifice, is transformed by the renewing of his mind and not conformed to this world, that he is able to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom 12:2). Guidance is given those who are already committed to the will of God as illustrated in the servant of Abraham who testified in his search for a bride for Isaac, “I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren” (Gen 24:27). Guidance is not only the privilege but the mark of a true believer as brought out in Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The leading of the Spirit according to Galatians 5:18 is far superior to direction by the Law in that it is personal and adapted to the individual life.

One of the by-products of the ministry of the Spirit to each believer is that he has assurance of salvation. According to Romans 8:16, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” The same thought is brought out in Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:24; 4:13 . Obviously a real intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit speaks of a relationship which includes salvation and brings comfort and joy to the believer because of assurance of his present and future salvation.

In like measure the presence of the Holy Spirit leads the believer into a true worship of God and an admiration of the infinite perfections of God. The believer who is filled with the Spirit is able to enjoy worship, fulfilling the description, “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:19-20). As the Spirit reveals the glories of Christ and the perfections of God, the believer is inspired by the Spirit to worship in spirit and in truth. Such exercise of heart is far superior to the rituals of man which often lack reality of experience.

The ministry of the Spirit to the believer also is related to his prayer life inasmuch as he needs to be guided in his prayer life, burdened by the love of God for others, and constrained to become involved in the prayer needs of those about him. According to Romans 8:26, the Spirit also intercedes for Christians “with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Inasmuch as the Spirit is ministering to the believer as well as interceding for him, He can guide and direct the effective prayer exercise of a believer, presenting his petitions and worship to the Lord.

The ministry of the Spirit to the believer in all of these things—teaching, guiding, assuring, inspiring worship, and guiding prayer—is vitally related to the spiritual life and holiness of the individual believer and affects the quality of his life as it reflects the holiness of God.

The ministry of the Spirit also is manifested in holy works or service for God, and it is clear that only as the Holy Spirit works within an individual can he really have the bountiful life of service for others which is the Christian calling. This was anticipated by Christ in John 7:38-39 where He spoke of rivers of living water as proceeding from within the believer. Such an abundant blessing is not possible to man naturally and can only be fulfilled as the believer fulfills the good works for which he was created in Christ (Eph 2:10). The holy life of service is, therefore, also a result of the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the yielded believer and is related to the ministry of the Spirit to promote holiness in the life.

In addition to all these important aspects of spiritual life, it is obvious that the Holy Spirit of God also works in the character of the believer himself and produces in him the evidence of His working in the fruit of the Spirit. According to Galatians 5:22-23, in contrast to the works of the flesh, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.”

The entire work of the Holy Spirit is, therefore, related to the moral experience of the believer. This, of course, begins with his salvation which makes it possible for him to be released from the slavery of sin and able to choose the way of righteousness. The indwelling Holy Spirit is provided by God to give the enablement and provide the ministries which are necessary to the believer as he lives in this sinful world.

The most important aspect of the Holy Spirit in relation to the moral life of the believer is found first of all in the necessity to yield to the Holy Spirit and to let Him direct, guide, and empower according to His will. The inevitable areas of failure which come into the life of the believer through unyieldedness and sin are bound to require confession of sin and restoration according to God’s invitation. The child of God must be in fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit in order to achieve the high quality of moral experience which is expected of believers whose proper standard of life is the holiness of God Himself.

Many factors are related to the holiness of God as seen in the believer, including the ministry of the Spirit in teaching the truth of God, in guiding, in decisions based upon the normative truth of the Word of God, in worship, in prayer, in service, and finally in the transformation of the believer himself. The fruit of the Spirit is manifested through him and that which is so contrary to the flesh becomes the dominant experience and fruitage of his spiritual experience. It is only when all these factors combine that true morality is achieved and the believer’s life is indeed that which reflects the glory and perfection of God’s own infinite holiness. Although the experience of this is necessarily somewhat qualified and relative in this world, the believer is assured that his longing for complete conformity to the will and character of God will be achieved in eternity if only partially realized in time. The tragedy is, however, that so many are content with living in the low lands when they could be having the joy and peace of Christian experience and the fruitage in their own lives and in the lives of others that comes from dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Holy living is possible only by the Holy Spirit.

This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.