April 21, 2014

The Subjective Ministry of the Holy Spirit

by Jim Oesterwind

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:15–16)

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)

The pastor moves toward the pulpit on a Sunday morning with a quiet determination. People look to him expectantly. Those gathered expect, “Please open your Bibles to the next section in our study in the Book of…” but instead hears, “The Lord laid a text on my heart this week that I cannot stop thinking about. I’d like you to open your Bibles to…” A separate instance involves a man who believes that the Lord has led him to ministry in a certain place, but he feels a need to seek confirmation from the Lord. So, he asks that God might give him peace about his decision. Did the change of direction for the pastor in the former scenario come from the Holy Spirit? Will the Lord provide peace for the man in the latter?

Sometimes our desire for accurate exegesis morphs into treating God as the object of our study instead of personally and intimately relating to Him. The Lord God is holy and transcendent. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil. But He is also our Father. The above texts teach that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit and that He is sent into our hearts for the purpose of confirming that we our children of God. There is a great need for that confirmation!

Zeal to maintain a cessationist stance when it comes to revelation has led to a depersonalization in our relationship with God. When one is in a desperate strait, he learns rather quickly that he needs God in a very personal and intimate way. I do not believe you will find this in a systematic theology. You find it when your child is wheeled in for open heart surgery or when your husband is battling life-threatening cancer. Facts about God are not enough. You need to relate to Him. You need Him to speak to your heart-need.

There is no question in my mind that sign-gifts ceased in the first century when the last apostle died. But the Holy Spirit did not cease to indwell believers. He is a Person. He is grieved by our rebellious nature as children. Jesus sent Him as another Comforter or Helper. Won’t these subjective ministries of the Holy Spirit affect us emotionally? How do we hear the voice of God? How are we led by the Spirit of God if subjective elements are not included?

Intellectually, I believe. Emotionally, I trust. I trust in the Person of the Holy Spirit. I trust that He will lead me. He will lead me objectively through the Scriptures and subjectively through internal prompting. Those promptings never contradict the word of God, often are derived from my interaction with the Word of God, but nevertheless are certainly not the same as the Word of God. I cannot explain this subjective ministry of God’s Spirit, but I know that it is a way in which God leads me. You may say that these subjective feelings I have are less than reliable, but I trust that God is close to me and will provide the blessing of His leading and comfort in subjective ways.

What does the Bible teach about the Holy Spirit? Perhaps we have erred in our zeal to counter extra-biblical revelation. How do we handle the Scriptures and wrestle through interpretation issues? If the Spirit of God indwells us, then how does He bear witness that we are children of God? I contend that He does so relationally and subjectively.


Jim Oesterwind is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, CA. He blogs at  http://www.pastoralpondering.blogspot.ca/.

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