Reflection for Today: Does a Church Appearing Fervent Mean That It Has the Work of the Holy Spirit?
Hello brothers and sisters of Spiritual Q&A,
Several months ago, I witnessed the pastors in our church vying with each other for the sake of fame and gain and jockeying for position, so much so that they even verbally attacked and disparaged each other during sermons. Their sermons were not enjoyable to listen to, and our spirits went unnourished. Furthermore, there was widespread cooling of the faith of brothers and sisters; they pursued wealth, they coveted physical pleasures and they followed worldly trends, giving all their attention to eating, drinking and having fun. Most of the time, some brothers and sisters simply did not attend gatherings, but instead only came when a disaster occurred in their lives or when there was some important holiday … Faced with this situation in our church, I left to look for a church that had the work of the Holy Spirit. I searched in many places, however, and discovered that most churches were just the same, and I began to lose hope. I recently found a church, however, which often put on shows and held events, and it even had pastors come from overseas to give sermons. The atmosphere in this church was very warm and enthusiastic, and many people attended each gathering. Looking at this church that was so ardent and at the brothers and sisters who attended gatherings so enthusiastically, I thought this must be a church that had the work of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t long, however, before I discovered that, although the church appeared ardent, the sermons preached by the pastors were unable to provide benefits for the lives of brothers and sisters and were unable to satisfy our spirits. The singing and dancing that went on only had the effect of changing the atmosphere in the church—while it was going on, we all felt very energetic, but as soon as we sat down to listen to a pastor give a sermon, we would begin to doze off. Moreover, brothers and sisters were always trying to outdo each other with donations and prayers. Whoever donated a lot was considered to be someone who loved the Lord, and whoever prayed for a long time and said nice words in their prayers was considered to be a spiritual person…. In this kind of church, the brothers and sisters not only had no honesty or humility but, on the contrary, their vanity just got stronger and stronger and they became more and more hypocritical. They focused on expressing themselves and showing off in front of others and were exceedingly self-righteous and arrogant. Whenever they encountered an issue, they just dealt with it however they wanted, and they didn’t listen to anyone else—they were just not keeping to the Lord’s teachings at all. Faced with this kind of situation in the church, I couldn’t help but wonder: Could such a church that appears to be so fervent from the outside have the work of the Holy Spirit? This question has always perplexed me, so I’d like to ask if you could answer it for me.
Your search for a church that has the work of the Holy Spirit is so wonderful and it entirely accords with God’s will. As for all the iniquity that goes on in those churches, we can clearly perceive that it goes against the Lord’s teachings, and that kind of church has perhaps already lost the work of the Holy Spirit. As for whether or not churches that appear fervent have the work of the Holy Spirit, this is not easy for us to discern. But actually, if we understand what results the work of the Holy Spirit is able to achieve, then we will naturally come to discern this matter easily.
In response to this question, let’s first read several passages: “The enlightenment of man by the Holy Spirit is not to sustain the passion of man; it is to open up a way out for the entry of man, as well as to allow man to come to know the Holy Spirit, and from that develop a heart of reverence and adoration for God” (“Work and Entry (2)”). “When the Holy Spirit works to enlighten people, He generally gives them a knowledge of God’s work, and of their true entry and true state. He also allows them to understand God’s eager intentions and His requirements for man today, so that they have the resolve to sacrifice everything to satisfy God, that they must love God even if they meet with persecution and adversity, that they will stand witness for God even if it means shedding their blood or giving their life; they will have no regrets” (“Practice (1)”). “When the Holy Spirit works, people are able to actively enter; they are not passive or forced, but are proactive. When the Holy Spirit works, people are glad and willing, and they are willing to obey, and happy to humble themselves, and even though they are pained and fragile inside, they have the resolve to cooperate, they suffer gladly, they are able to obey, and they are untainted by human will, untainted by the thinking of man, and are certainly untainted by human desires and motivations. When people experience the work of the Holy Spirit, they are especially holy inside. Those who are possessed of the work of the Holy Spirit live out the love of God, the love of their brothers and sisters, and delight in the things that delight God, and loathe the things that God loathes” (“The Work of the Holy Spirit and the Work of Satan”).
From these passages, we are able to understand that the work of the Holy Spirit is not there so that we appear to have a momentary surge of enthusiasm, and it is not there so that we observe some religious rites and rules. Instead, it leads us to understand God’s will and requirements, and to know our own deficiencies and shortcomings from within His words; it shows us the way of practice and enables us to obtain provision for our lives. Not only are we able to grow our understanding of our own corruption, but we can also constantly gain new knowledge of God, thereby giving rise to a God-fearing, God-loving heart, so that we can obey God, keep the Lord’s teachings and give our all to expend ourselves for God. With the work of the Holy Spirit, we will often be enlightened by the Holy Spirit and will always have light shining on us when we read God’s words; with the work of the Holy Spirit, if we speak or act in a way that goes against the Lord’s teachings, then we feel the Holy Spirit reproaching us and dealing with us, and when we know ourselves, repent to God and can practice in accordance with God’s words, the Holy Spirit will then continue to guide us, and we will get closer and closer to the Lord; with the work of the Holy Spirit, we have a place for God in our hearts, we are able to honor God as great and, no matter what difficulties, persecution or hardships we encounter, we will always have the resolve to seek to satisfy God, to act according to God’s requirements, to not be bound or constrained by the forces of Satan, and the lives we live can in all ways glorify God’s name; with the work of the Holy Spirit, we can treat as urgent that which God treats as urgent and think as God thinks, and we can show consideration to His will and perform our duties to satisfy God. In short, with the work of the Holy Spirit and with the Holy Spirit beside us, with God’s words to guide us when we encounter issues and with the resolve to practice in accordance with God’s words, then our humanity and what we live out will become increasingly normal, we will get closer and closer to God, and our spirits will feel at ease, peaceful and joyful. If, at church gatherings, we see those who pursue the truth achieving these results to differing degrees after a period of time, then this proves that this church is one that has the work of the Holy Spirit. As Sister Wenxi has just mentioned, although a church may frequently put on all kinds of shows, hold all sorts of events and appear warm and enthusiastic from the outside, no matter how many times we attend gatherings, there will still not be any new light when we listen to sermons, our real problems and difficulties will remain unresolved, our lives will remain unnourished and we will have no knowledge of God. Whether pastor, preacher or ordinary brother or sister, if their speech and actions go against the Lord’s teachings and they still feel no reproach and are not disciplined, then this is proof that this church is without the work or protection of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross” (Proverbs 26:23). If a church merely appears fervent from the outside, but people’s hearts shun God and they have no normal relationship with God, much less are they able to practice God’s words or keep the Lord’s commandments, then how can that kind of church be considered one that has the work of the Holy Spirit? Is it not then “a potsherd covered with silver dross”? Therefore, whether or not a church has the work of the Holy Spirit is not determined by how many people it appears to have, nor by its level of apparent ardency, nor by how many good deeds its members appear to do. Instead, it is determined by whether or not people are able to obtain provision for their lives and whether or not they constantly gain new knowledge of God. If we just cling to a few literal meanings and rules, if we are never nourished by the truth, if we never gain any new knowledge of God, if our lives never progress and our real problems are never resolved, then this kind of church is one without the work and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Actually, most brothers and sisters who sincerely believe in the Lord and who have previously experienced the work of the Holy Spirit are able to realize that desolation is now widespread throughout the religious world, and that it has lost the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. The majority of religious leaders do not practice the Lord’s word and they do not keep the Lord’s commandments. They hold only to human traditions that have been passed down and they focus on expounding biblical knowledge and theological theories in order to show themselves off and bear witness to themselves. They do not bear witness to the Lord or exalt the Lord at all, and they have strayed wholly from the Lord’s way. Believers generally live in a state of sinning and confessing, committing widespread sins, and they grow further and further apart from the Lord and feel no indebtedness to the Lord. Some even follow worldly trends and pursue fame, fortune and status, and they covet physical pleasures. It is evident that the religious world has lost the work of the Holy Spirit and is detested and rejected by God. This precisely fulfills the Lord Jesus’ prophecy: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). This inevitably makes us think of the end of the Age of Law. The Jewish common folk of that time were unable to keep the laws and the priests made poor sacrifices; livestock and fowl were bought and sold in the temple and there was no discipline even if someone violated the laws. From the outside, it looked as though the temple was lively and bustling, with people coming and going, but in fact, it had long been without the work of the Holy Spirit. The main reason for the desolation of the temple in the Age of Law was that the leaders of Judaism at that time did not abide by Jehovah’s laws and they did not have God-fearing hearts. They only clung to the traditions of man that had been passed down, they discarded God’s commandments and strayed wholly from God’s way, and thus they were cursed by God. The most important point is this: Because God incarnate—the Lord Jesus—performed His work of redeeming mankind in the Age of Grace, which was a transformation of God’s work, all who accepted the Lord Jesus’ work of redemption obtained the work of the Holy Spirit and found a new path of practice; those who rejected and resisted the Lord Jesus’ work, however, were weeded out by God’s work, they lost the work of the Holy Spirit and they fell into darkness and desolation.
Nowadays, the religious world has lost the work of the Holy Spirit and is generally desolate, and no doubt God’s good will is behind this. It is prophesied in the Bible: “And also I have withheld the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain on one city, and caused it not to rain on another city: one piece was rained on, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered to one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have you not returned to Me” (Amos 4:7–8). The words “one piece was rained on” in the Bible mean the churches that have the work of the Holy Spirit and that, with God’s presence, people can enjoy the provision and watering of the water of life that flows from the throne; the words “the piece whereupon it rained not withered” mean the churches that have lost the work of the Holy Spirit. If we do not take the initiative to search for a church that has the work of the Holy Spirit, then we will lose completely the provision of the water of life, and we will fall into darkness and desolation. It is clear that God’s will is for us to take the initiative to search for a church that has the work of the Holy Spirit and to seek God’s footsteps, for only in this way will we be able to thoroughly resolve from the root the issue of desolation in the churches, and once again obtain the work and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Just as when the land of Canaan was struck by famine, only by Jacob and his family leaving that land and going to Egypt in search of food did they escape the famine and survive.
So how can we search for a church with the work of the Holy Spirit? The Lord Jesus did in fact tell us the way to do this long ago. In His prophecy concerning His return in the last days, Jesus said: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, 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” (John 16:12–13). It is prophesied in the Book of Joel, chapter 2, verse 29: “And also on the servants and on the handmaids in those days will I pour out My spirit.” And it is prophesied in many places in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation: “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” From these prophecies we can see that, when the Lord returns in the last days, He will speak more words and will water and supply us, and will enable us to understand all truths. If we can meet God’s requirement and find what the Spirit says to the churches, then we will be able to keep pace with the Lord’s footsteps and obtain the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must take extra care to see which church bears witness to God expressing new words and performing new works. We must listen to these words to see whether or not they can supply our lives and resolve our practical difficulties. We must determine whether or not the brothers and sisters of this church, while being watered and supplied by God’s words, are constantly gaining new knowledge of God, whether or not their lives are constantly progressing, whether or not their humanity and what they live out are becoming more and more normal, and so on. If these practical results are present, then this proves that this is a church that has the work of the Holy Spirit, and that it is a church in which God Himself works and in which God is present.
The Lord Jesus made us a promise: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). The Lord is faithful, and if we spend more time praying and asking the Lord, then we will surely find the words spoken by God who has returned in the last days, we will obtain the work of the Holy Spirit and become people who keep pace with the footsteps of the Lamb!
Thanks be to God. May God lead us!