Since God’s working with mankind does not set aside the capacity of men and women to choose between life and death, that prompts a further question.

  1. If God doesn’t override man’s free will and provides an opportunity for man to repent, how can God, in all fairness, send an evil spirit upon men?

The sending of an evil spirit by God is recorded  in Judges 9:23, 1 Samuel 16:14, 18:10. In the  last of these quotations Rotherham translates the  word “prophesied” as “moved to raving”—an idea  supported by the rv margin which has “raved”.

There are two ways of looking at this issue of God sending an evil spirit upon man.

The first approach is to see the evil spirit as a consequence of God’s work, which finally culminates in the person themselves developing an evil spirit. God knows the thoughts of men and by manipulating circumstances which work like a series of chain reactions, He can providentially manoeuvre people in a direction that they themselves may be naturally inclined to go. God is the primary cause of the events that lead to a person adopting a specific attitude of evil intent. In this sense He sends the evil spirit.

The second approach is to see God influencing the behaviour and thoughts of the individual directly. As we have seen in questions 4 and 5, any action on God’s part in relation to this activity does not destroy a person’s free will to choose their own destiny. Neither does it involve unrighteousness with God because He uses the individual’s natural tendencies to outwork His will and we know from Romans 9:19–22 that His way of working with man includes the provision for that person to come to repentance.

Either way, God is the source of the evil without being evil or renouncing His majesty and righteousness.

Hence in the case of Abimelech and the men of Shechem in Judges 9, God used their innate wickedness and evil to further His purpose of judgment upon them. What they did was not foreign to their character, but God ensured that the seeds of rivalry were sown in their midst to reward them according to their deeds.

In Saul’s case, his spirit of jealousy, suspicion and paranoia (1 Sam 18:7–9) forms an introduction to the sending of “the evil spirit from God”. 1 Samuel 16:23 informs us that this evil spirit (ie a mind filled with depression and melancholy) could be removed by soothing music. This seems to suggest that it was a state of mind that, up to a point, was self-induced and could be minimised under certain circumstances.

It was “from God” in this way; firstly, in the sense that God brought into Saul’s life circumstances that exacerbated a predisposition towards jealousy; and secondly, in the sense that God induced a state of depression in his mind. It was not designed to make him stumble. It was not designed to interfere with his ability to choose between good and evil. It did not rob him of personal responsibility (cp 1 Sam 26:21). It was designed to bring him into contact with David so that he could learn by example what God requires of those who truly seek Him. In lucid moments Saul recognised David’s innocence and godliness (1 Sam 24:17–19), but regrettably he chose to give way to his paranoia and jealousy instead, until in the end he chose one that had a familiar spirit and destroyed himself.

  1. How does God answer prayers where we seek for guidance or spiritual growth or wisdom?

Brother Fred Pearce wrote these words in a book entitled, God’s Spirit in Work and Word (p122–123):

“But are there not numerous passages in both the Old and New Testaments which testify to the real help and comfort which God will grant to His  faithful? There are indeed—too many by far to quote, but here are a few:

Nothing in the world ‘shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:39)

‘Blessed be God … the Father of mercies, and  the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation…’ (2 Cor 1:3)

‘My God shall supply all your need’ (Phil  4:19)

‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Heb 4:16)

‘The God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you’ (1 Pet 5:10 rv)

What are we to do with such passages? Why, heartily believe them, of course. They encourage us to have complete confidence that God will do for us all that He sees fit in our daily service, and for all its needs. But we run into difficulties if we try to analyse exactly how God will do this. The Scriptures do not give us the exact analysis, and we shall do well to follow their example. In a very interesting article on ‘The Spirit of God’, Brother L G Sargent wrote this:

‘It is when we attempt to define how God works  in us that we get into difficulties. It is when, consciously or unconsciously, we picture ‘spirit’  as some type of substance that can come upon  us and fill us—very tenuous and intangible, no doubt, but something that can flow like a gas—it  is then that we find ourselves in all sorts of theological complications. The fact is that God  wills; He makes known His mind; He works His will. Let us accept the facts and leave the means’  (The Christadelphian, 1964, p 295).”

  1. What are the ways the Holy Spirit works today and what are ways that it doesn’t?

A correspondent asked Brother John Carter several questions in relation to the working of the Holy  Spirit (The Christadelphian 1956, page 163). Two  of these questions with their answers are given here to assist us in understanding the issues involved.

“Would I be right in inferring that your arguments and conclusions amount to a positive affirmation  that:

  1. a) There has been no direct Holy Spirit activity whatever in connection with any believer since the miraculous gifts disappeared eighteen  centuries ago …
  2. c) the only other help God may give is an entirely external manipulation of events or circumstances providentially favourable to one or another?”  Brother Carter answered in this way:

“a) Since the Spirit is the power of God suppose  we say ‘direct activity of God’ instead of ‘direct  Holy Spirit activity’. Then what believer would  deny it? The question is what form and by what means God is active. We know the spirit-gifts  ceased; and we believe there has been divine  activity with men through angelic ministration in what we may call the ‘ways of providence’. We  would say that in our view no one since apostolic times can affirm with certainty that there has been direct Holy Spirit activity in their lives and that they have been conscious of it at the time of such  activity. So far as our experience goes, where  spirit guidance in addresses has been claimed the words spoken, judged by Scriptural standard,  have not endorsed the claim. …

  1. c) We would not presume to say where and how God can and does help. We have heard claims made of divine help being given when a calm dispassionate view of all the circumstances would  cause more than a doubt. But in avoiding the presumptuous and the spurious claims we must avoid  denying any truth. Often in Scripture something is ascribed to God as the first cause when an agent  has been used; and this does not make it any less a divine action. Nothing that God does in any way nullifies our freedom of action. The effect of God’s calling is known to Him; our part is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling;  to fear, lest having called others to the race we should be cast away; to make sure that we do  not, as Esau, sell our birthright; to strive to enter in at the straight gate. And when we have done  all, we shall only enter the Kingdom as forgiven men and women.”

  2. What quotes do people use who believe that you need the Holy Spirit to open your heart and provide enlightenment and how would you best answer these quotes?

Here is a summary of an argument that was recently  presented in an attempt to prove that the Holy Spirit is necessary for enlightenment and character development. The argument goes like this:

  • The old covenant focuses on ritual and externals which make people dependent on their own ability and righteousness

  • The new covenant focuses on God’s work and His righteousness. God also provides people with a power to be changed to become the people He wants us to be. This power is described in Eph  3:16–21, Col 1:11, 2 Thess 1:11, 2 Tim 1:7, 2 Peter  1:3. This power is the Holy Spirit working within  us to accomplish His purpose of bringing us into His kingdom and transforming us into the likeness  of His Son

  • This Holy Spirit power sets us free and this is described as the new way (Rom 7:6) • We have a natural nature with its inclination to sin. We must be born again with a spiritual nature, that is  born of the Spirit. This new birth as spiritual beings is called being baptised with the Holy Spirit. This new birth happens at baptism

  • Our new birth includes baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit. In Mark 1:8 when John said of Jesus, “he will baptise you with the Holy  Spirit”, he used the Greek continuous present tense meaning that the work of baptising with the Holy Spirit would continue throughout the epoch of the new covenant

  • Salvation is the work of God’s Holy Spirit. God is the One who brings us to faith. Hence we are renewed by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4–7). We cannot call  Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).  Peter couldn’t understand that Jesus was the Christ unless the Father had revealed it to him independent  of the Scriptures (Matt 16:17). Everyone is given the spirit to drink (1 Cor 12:13)

  • The Holy Spirit is needed to change us to become holy. God therefore guides us and teaches us through the work of His Spirit (2 Cor 3:18)

  • God has given us help to overcome by giving us His Spirit (Ezek 36:26–27, Gal 5:16–18, Rom 8:13)

  • The transforming of character is called sanctification and it is the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:2, Rom 15:16, 2 Thess 2:13)

  • Every aspect of the new life in Christ requires the involvement of the Holy Spirit which

gives us hope (Rom 15:13)

assures us that we belong to God (Rom 8:16,  1 John 3:24, 4:13)

strengthens us (Eph 3:16)

helps us pray (Rom 8:26–27)

stirs our conscience (John 16:7–8)

teaches us (John 14:26, 1 Cor 2:9–14)

produces a godly character in us (Gal 5:16–25)

helps us to know God (Eph 1:17, 2:18)

enables God to live within us (1 Cor 6:19)

enables us to be loving (Rom 5:5)

enables us to understand what God has done for  us (1 Cor 2:12)

  • The passive tense is often used because they are things that happen to us, rather than being something we initiate. The work is God’s through the  Holy Spirit. All we can do is cooperate
  • Being filled with the spirit and renewed by the spirit does not happen simply through reading the Word of God. Those who are led by the Spirit will be eager to read it when it is available, but it can’t be the only source of understanding because the Bible has only  been made available on any significant scale since  printing was invented
  • There are many passages which are impossible to explain if we limit the Spirit of God to the Word of God. For example:

Romans 5:5—love is poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit

Romans 9:1—Paul’s conscience confirmed his sincerity in the Holy Spirit

Romans 15:16—believers are sanctified by the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 6:19—our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit

  • The Scriptures make it clear that we cannot rely simply on reading or studying the Word to make us holy

2 Corinthians 3:6—the letter kills; the Spirit gives life

John 5:39—the Pharisees studied the Scriptures because they thought that they could provide life but they can’t

2 Timothy 3:7—always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth

2 Corinthians 3:14–17—reading the law only puts a veil over the eyes

James 1:5—you gain wisdom by asking God. People didn’t have their Bibles back then

  • If God can only help us by our reading of the Bible why do we pray for guidance, help, wisdom and strength? Our God is more powerful than these things in His Word and can work powerfully in our lives.

  • There is a sense of bondage in that we try hard to be better than we are and always feel guilty because we don’t seem to be making any progress. The Holy  Spirit sets us free from this sense of bondage.

  • How do we become filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)? By first being born of the Spirit and then asking God to fill us with His Spirit through prayer  (Luke 11:11–13).

Where are the Flaws in these Arguments?

The key expositional flaw revolves around the concept that every time the word “spirit” is used in the New Testament it is always used of the power of the Holy Spirit. For example when the argument is made that God gives us power, the immediate assumption is that holy spirit power is meant. When you examine the quotations provided, there is no mention of specific holy spirit power and in fact one of the quotes cited tells us how that power is achieved—“through the knowledge of him that has called us” (2 Pet 1:3). Knowing and believing the gospel generates power unto salvation (Rom 1:16). It is essential that each quotation that contains the word “spirit” is interpreted within its own context because, as we have seen, the word “spirit” is used in different ways in different settings.

Without going through every quotation used in this argument it would be beneficial to examine some of the key ideas presented.

The Power of the Spirit Word

Two points are frequently made in this argument  by those who say that the direct work of God’s  spirit power on our hearts is essential for salvation.

They are:

1) the word of God alone cannot save

2) if we try and change ourselves we are self-righteous  and doers of the letter of the law. It is grace that saves  us not personal merit. Reading and studying the word  of God is our own personal work and is an activity of  personal merit. The spirit of God is God’s work on our  heart and is God’s work instead. Hence we don’t need  to work out change in our lives—God’s Holy Spirit  will achieve this change.

How does salvation come? There is not one  single quotation that says that the direct indwelling  spirit-power of God is essential for salvation.  Instead we find numerous quotations where the  process of salvation is linked to hearing, believing  and understanding the Word of God. Consider this  sample of New Testament testimonies:

Acts 13:26—“Men and brethren, children of the stock  of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God,  to you is the word of this salvation sent.”

8  Acts 16:30–32—“And brought them out, and  said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they  said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou  shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake  unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that  were in his house.”

Acts 28:23–28—“And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his  lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the  kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of  the prophets, from morning till evening. And  some believed the things which were spoken,  and some believed not … Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”

Romans 1:16—“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

Romans 10:13–17—“For whosoever shall call  upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How  then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him  of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall  they preach, except they be sent? as it is written,  How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the  gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good  things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our  report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and  hearing by the word of God.”

1 Corinthians 15:1–2—“Moreover, brethren, I  declare unto you the gospel which I preached  unto you, which also ye have received, and  wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved,  if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

Ephesians 1:13—“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of  your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed,  ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise”

1 Timothy 2:4—“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

1 Timothy 4:16—“Take heed unto thyself, and  unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

2 Timothy 3:15—“And that from a child thou  hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

James 1:21—“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness  and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Each one of these references indicates that hearing and believing the Word of God is an essential part of the process of salvation. In the absence of any other power unto salvation we can only conclude that there is no other source of salvation given to mankind outside the Word of God. It was “God-breathed” and therefore His Spirit is in those writings.

The Word of God has been specifically designed to be understood through prayerful contemplation of its ideas. These ideas illuminate the mind by dispelling ignorance and through this enlightenment an understanding is created which leads to a new and changed way of thinking (Psa 19:7–11). Possession of the Holy Spirit power does not change a person’s character, but the Word of God can. If this change is not achieved it is not the fault of God’s Word. The Word in fact has virtually no effect on people who read it and do not understand it. Hence the parable of the sower defines the good and honest heart as a person who hears, understands and holds fast to the word that has been preached to them (Matt 13:23, Luke 8:15). Without this process there can be no transformation and consequently no salvation. Is reading and studying the Word of God a form of self-righteousness and merit-based work? How can this be when the apostle Peter exhorts us in this way:

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness … Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Peter 1:5–10)

Giving all diligence means that we are earnest and eager and diligent. This is not some form of self-righteousness. It is a response of dedication. Paul adds his testimony in Philippians 2:12 when he says: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

We listen to the Word of God; we develop faith in God’s offer of salvation, and our humble response is made in recognition of our own failure and in our own inability to save ourselves. Where is boasting and self-worth in this? It doesn’t exist.