When I was a teenager many years ago, I had a job bagging groceries at Kroger. I worked alongside a fellow high school student named Christine. She was Pentecostal, one of the first I ever knew. One day she told me something that has stuck with me. “I admire you Baptists,” she said. (I grew up Baptist.) Why? She said, “Because you have such strong faith in Christ, yet you never get to see any miracles.”
You never get to see any miracles.
Was this true then? Is it true now? While Baptists tend to be cessationists—meaning, they deny spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and miracles—and my present tribe, the Methodists, isn’t, she could say the same about most of us as well. Even if we believe that these gifts exist, most of us don’t live as if we expect supernatural events to happen. (Please note: Even many cessationists don’t deny the possibility of miracles or a prophetic word, only that individuals aren’t gifted with these abilities. So even many Baptists might take issue with Christine’s words.)
How different, therefore, are the Christians to whom Paul is writing in Galatians 3: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (v. 2) And then this, in verse 5: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”
Remember the context: False teachers have infiltrated the Galatian churches. They have been arguing that Paul’s gospel was wrong: in order to be justified, they have to not only believe in Jesus but also add certain “works of the law,” including being circumcised, following dietary laws, and observing Jewish festivals. Paul says no—emphatically. To add even one small requirement in addition to faith, Paul argues, is to lose the gospel entirely.
And in verses 1 through 5, Paul appeals to the Galatians’ experience: How did they receive the Holy Spirit when they first got converted (v. 2)? How do they continue to experience the Holy Spirit now (v. 5)? It is not by doing anything; it’s by faith.
But in order for Paul’s argument to work here, Paul knows that even the Galatians who have fallen under the sway of the false teachers would concede the fact that they’ve already received the Spirit. In other words, he knows that none of them would be able to say, “You say we’ve received the Spirit—but how do we really know? That’s a very subjective thing, Paul. Where’s the evidence that we’ve received the Spirit? Maybe we haven’t. In fact, maybe we need to start doing works of the law, after which we’ll receive the Spirit and experience the Spirit’s manifestations—including miracles.”
But no… Paul’s argument works because, from the Galatians’ perspective, there’s no question that they’ve received the Spirit! It’s beyond dispute! They’ve experienced him. They’ve witnessed his power!
Could Paul—if he were arguing today—make the same argument? Could he successfully appeal to our experience with the Holy Spirit? Or would we have to say, “How do we know we’ve received him?”—because keep in mind, cessationist or not, we all believe that we’ve received him. See Romans 8:9: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Contrary to what many Pentecostal brothers and sisters say, we receive him the moment we first believe. (Outside of Pentecostalism, this is beyond dispute, at least within evangelicalism.)
So… Have we Christians experienced the Holy Spirit? Do we experience him? How? Before I answer, I’m interested (sincerely) in what my readers have to say. Also, how important do you believe it is for Christians today to experience the Spirit to some degree—even in small, ordinary, “non-miraculous” ways?