Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Giving and Taking of the Spirit

Today I want to do a short follow-up from yesterday’s post, which was about bad songs that conservative evangelical congregations are singing these days.

My particular concern in that one was the really atrocious doctrine of the Holy Spirit that they seem to be teaching in song. I pointed out some of the raw falsehoods that are being sung passionately by those of us who really ought to know better: and I said that the victims of our error include all untaught believers and our own children, as well as the Spirit of God himself, concerning whom these songs promote raw falsehoods.

I ended with a passionate plea for us to stop.

And I really hope somebody is listening.

But there was one song I indicted in this regard, and I’m certain I’m going to get strong pushback on it. It’s the one that goes:
“Cast me not away from thy presence, O Lord
  Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”
And so on.


The pushback is likely to come hard and fast, for one very simple reason: this particular song is a quotation from scripture. It’s straight from Psalm 51, word for word. It’s from David’s song of repentance. So you might ask, “How can all the stuff you’ve said about the Holy Spirit be true if David, the ‘man after God’s own heart’, sang something different, and it was inscribed as scripture?”


Well, no.

If you’ve got your theology of the Holy Spirit worked out, you’re going to see why this response is wrong.

Backing It Up

Let me give you the short answer, then fill it out with proof. The short answer is this: the Holy Spirit acted differently in the Old Testament than he does in the New. To sing Old Testament experiences as if they were New Testament ones is to create a misleading view of the Spirit of God.

Now let’s fill that out a bit.

In the Old Testament, he came and went, but did not permanently and fixedly indwell people. He was only with a few particular people, and only so long as they walked faithfully; but would depart when they became faithless or disobedient.

Need proof? Look at Saul and David. In 1 Sam. 16:31-14, we find Saul being rejected as king, and David being taken up. And look what is said:
“… and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward … Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul …”
Now, I believe it was exactly this to which David was referring in Psalm 51, from which the “take not thy Holy Spirit” song comes. You’ll note, if you read the header on the Psalm, that this happened right after David did a great evil, taking Bathsheba as his wife and killing her husband. Naturally, he was terrified that what had happened to Saul would happen to him as well — the Spirit of God would depart from him, and the kingdom would be ripped from his hands. He would be rejected and cursed by God, and perhaps an evil spirit would even torment him henceforth. No wonder, then, that he pleaded with God not to let that happen: he’d seen it happen in Saul’s case, and it wasn’t pretty.

But that’s not an experience to generalize to the believer in the New Testament. And when we do, we imply that we too are trembling under the heavy hand of divine wrath. This is absolutely the opposite of the truth, in our case — and it’s an absolute denial of what the witness of the Spirit in us says.

How It Shakes Out

Now, just because somebody did something in the Old Testament, and it was right for them to do, does not mean it’s right for us.

For example, we could pray, “O Lord, smite the Amalekites.” And for Joshua and ancient Israel, that would have been perfectly legit. But it wouldn’t be legit for us. We are taught to love our enemies. Not only that, today there are no Amalekites. They all got smote. So that prayer wouldn’t even make sense. So some Old Testament things belong only to their time and place.

Not everything is for all time. Even true and good stuff. In this particular case, what was right for Old Testament people to believe is dead wrong for us.

That’s not to say that the song itself is evil. It’s scripture. But it’s not scripture addressed directly to us, and it’s actually false doctrine to act as if it is.

It’s all fine for an Old Testament believer to sing Psalm 51, just as David did. It’s also fine for another Old Testament believer to adopt it as his or her song. It’s not even technically wrong for a New Testament believer to sing it — BUT If we ever sing that song, it needs a very careful explanation of context.

In my experience with our modern versions of Psalm 51, that is never done. Rather, we just roll right into it, and sing it as if it’s our personal confession.

Sorry: that’s just wrong.


Read Psalm 51. Study it. Even sing it, so long as you keep it in context. But taken out of context, that song can be as misleading about the current work of the Spirit as any of the worst modern songs.

Let’s be careful with that one.

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