Someone has said that we must study doctrine in the light in order that it would sustain us in times of darkness. In a world where "truth" is often only as real as one's "experience," this is excellent advice! It is absolutely essential that we who claim to know Christ choose to ground ourselves securely in the sound teaching of Scripture.
This is especially true in regards to our understanding of the Holy Spirit. Exciting spiritual manifestations are great, and discouragement is difficult, but neither experience is a valid indicator of truth. I spent much of my early Christian life questioning my place in God's family, seeking dramatic demonstrations of His power, and struggling with false humility and guilt, not realizing that a healthy dose of biblical doctrine could alleviate the insecurities that gripped my heart.
I'd like to share with you some of the truth that anchored my faith and revolutionized my Christian walk.
Understanding that I am sealed in the Holy Spirit has brought tremendous security. In my early struggles as a relatively new Christian, I had a hard time believing that God really did love me, that He would never remove Himself from my life. Then I did a word study on the word "sealed" from Ephesians 1:13, "...having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise." I began to understand that as an adopted child of God, I am secure. God had placed his irrevocable seal on my life, and I belonged to Him forever, regardless of my circumstances or emotions.
Understanding the difference between baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit has given me a new identity. After a couple of years of confusion, a very careful study of the Scriptures liberated me from my search for multiple experiences of "baptism and filling." I came to understand that the baptism of the Spirit is a one-time, historical event that placed me in the body of Christ and gave me a new identity. The filling of the Spirit, on the other hand, is an issue of submission, commanded by God of every believer. As I give God full rein in my life, His Spirit will control me. As He controls me, I will see "fruit" in my life: a joyful heart, thankfulness in my spirit regardless of circumstances, and a genuine desire to serve and love others. This truth transformed me! "Doctrine," previously dry-as-toast historical dogma, began to reveal to me the keys of an abiding, very personal fellowship with God.
Understanding my spiritual gifts has given me power and freedom. It amazes me how few Christians realize that they have been given spiritual gifts, and the even fewer number that have discovered what they are! My life was transformed as I began to realize that God had equipped me to do a unique work in His Church. I was able to embrace the God-given characteristics that made me "me."
Understanding the Holy Spirit's work of conviction has relieved me from guilt. I have one of those sensitive consciences that are easily plagued by guilt. There have been times when I've struggled with feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or uneasy for non-specific reasons. But a study of Scripture has taught me that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16, 7ff), with a goal to restore. The enemy, on the other hand, accuses and condemns. Now when I feel a vague impression of ill will or guilt, a sense that God doesn't love me, my doctrine tells me that those feelings are not from God, and I know to do spiritual warfare. But if it comes to my mind that I was rude or insensitive to a friend, or had a specific negative, critical or lustful thought, that's the Holy Spirit convicting me. I can bring that to Him, confess it, take it to the cross and find forgiveness. Right doctrine, once again, revolutionizes our thinking.
Understanding the Holy Spirit's powerful presence in my life has given me great confidence in adversity. Santa Cruz, California, where we live, is a center for "spiritualism" of all sorts. At times, the sense of darkness and confusion in our town can seem overwhelming. But the truth of Scripture, specifically I John 4:4, assures me that the One who indwells my life is greater than any other force in the world. I am left with a tremendous sense of confidence, even in the face of adversity and "spiritual attack."
About the author: Chip Ingram is President of Walk Thru the Bible in Atlanta, GA, and Teaching Pastor of Living on the Edge, a national radio ministry.