Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #2 Speaking in Tongues is a Needed Evidence that We Have the Holy Spirit
Read the series so far.
With over 40,000 members, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas is the largest church in the United States. For better or for worse, Lakewood and its leader Joel Osteen are profoundly influential. One significant area of influence is in the realm of spiritual gifts. A search of the terms “spiritual gifts” on Lakewood’s website produced (at the top of the list) a downloadable booklet called Understanding the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, from Joel Osteen Ministries, and authored by Lisa Comes. The booklet explains how and why one should speak in tongues, and cites speaking in tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (point 5, page 3). The view promoted in the booklet is not original with Lakewood, Osteen, or Comes—in fact, it is the prevailing view in Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations. But is it a biblical view? Is speaking in tongues needed evidence that we have the Holy Spirit?
First, as we considered in the previous article, Romans 8:9 emphatically notes that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” By contrast Osteen’s and Comes’s booklet cites Acts (2:17-19, 39), Luke (11:13), and John (7:37-39) to support the point that not every believer has the Holy Spirit. And it is true that Romans presents a very different picture of how one receives the Holy Spirit than do the Gospels and even the book of Acts. But rather than contradicting one another, these books consider different contexts—different times, and different ways in which God has worked over the ages (nothing contradictory at all). To illustrate, Joel Osteen has never (to my knowledge) advocated that believers today should present to the Lord two turtledoves or two young pigeons as is mandated in Leviticus 5:7. Presumably this is because Osteen recognizes that Leviticus was written about a different people and context than the church of today.
If we recognize there are distinctions between audiences, times, and contexts in the Bible, then we should be very diligent to recognize those distinctions in our Bible study. We should not be careless or hasty in proclaiming what the Bible does and does not say. We should not apply what God said specifically for someone else’s benefit to ourselves, unless there is direct exegetical warrant to do so, otherwise, we are saying “Thus says the Lord” when thus hasn’t said the Lord. And that’s obviously a sizable problem. In dealing with the issue of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts we need to first understand, and not ignore, the distinctions in the Bible.
Second, if the Bible is not teaching that speaking in tongues is necessary evidence that we have the Holy Spirit, then we need to take a look at what the Bible says is evidence of the Holy Spirit in us.
Evidence of the Spirit
Romans 8:9 describes how every believer in Christ from that time forward has the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 describes how believers are sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit who was promised, and how He is given as a down payment (or pledge) of our inheritance. 1 Corinthians 12:13 explains that believers are all baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ—any and every believer in Christ (at least from the time 1 Corinthians was written) has been baptized by the Holy Spirit. In light of these passages, the real question is not what evidences the Holy Spirit in us—to that end, Paul’s statements are as clear as can be. No, the real question is what evidences that we are believers in Jesus Christ. Because if we are in Christ, we have His Spirit. We know that if we are in Him, He is in us. But how can we be sure we are in Him?
This question is a major reason John wrote his first epistle. 1 John 5:13 gives one of his purpose statements for writing the letter: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” So that you may know. It is fascinating that in a letter written to believers to give them assurance—evidence—of their salvation, that never once does John mention baptism or spiritual gifts of any kind. He does, on the other hand, offer three evidences:
Evidence #1: Our love
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments [love God, love your neighbor]…whoever keeps His word…. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:3-5). “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).
Evidence #2: When our love fails, He does not
“We will know by this [love] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things” (1 John 3:19-20).
Evidence #3: The Spirit whom He has given us
“We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24)… “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13).
In these three ways, every believer can be confident of his or her position in Christ. The expression of love, and not some mystical gift, is our visible evidence of whose we are. When our love is insufficient and fails, He reminds us that we are His anyway (e.g., see Rom. 8:1, 28-39). His Spirit within us is another proof of our position in Him—not evidenced by any mystical manifestation, but simply by His presence, affirmed by the word of God.
Consequently, if we insist that manifestations of spiritual gifts are needed evidence of our salvation, then we commit at least two errors: (1) we misunderstand the function and purpose of spiritual gifts (for edification, not for evidence of position), and (2) we deprive believers of the biblical means of assurance and certainty. Once we have believed, our position in Christ is no longer a matter of faith—it is a matter of which we can be certain, according to John. There is great encouragement in that.
Christopher Cone Bio
Christopher Cone (ThD, PhD) is the President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, pastor of Tyndale Bible Church and author and editor of several books.
Christopher Cone’s article misrepresents the Charismatic position. This is not trivial, it is important. The traditional Charismatic position is that at salvation believers are marked with the Holy Spirit. They receive the Holy Spirit as Romans 8:9 says. They are at salvation baptized into the body of Christ and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. WHAT IS DIFFERENT about Charismatics is they believe there is an ADDITIONAL empowerment from the Holy Spirit called the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, see Acts 1:8 as the classic verse they see for this. In Charismatic theology it is separate from the in-filling of the Holy Spirit at salvation. Cone ignores this difference and it is important to realize. In fact, his article above IGNORES this fact, thus making his article worthless.
Looking at the document he cites, what I say is listed in the first few paragraphs:
“In salvation, every believer is born again by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. Ephesians 1:13 says, Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. A seal in Bible days represented ownership. The Holy Spirit in us represents the fact that we belong to God.Therefore, if you are saved, you do not have to seek the Holy Spirit’s in dwelling presence because He lives and abides in you. However,the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate experience from salvation that every believer should seek and receive.”
What Cone should have done is realized the actual views of Charismatics and then shown that they are incorrect rather than build a straw man that the article he cited specifically said is not the case in the second paragraph!!!
I thank you for your candid critique. I truly appreciate it. Whether your criticism of the article is warranted or not, you came away from the article perceiving it to be “worthless,” and that certainly gives me pause, but I think you aren’t giving the article a fair reading. Please consider a few points:
First, I did not misrepresent the traditional Charismatic position. I cited a specific document and said “The booklet explains how and why one should speak in tongues, and cites speaking in tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (point 5, page 3). The view promoted in the booklet is not original with Lakewood, Osteen, or Comes—in fact, it is the prevailing view in Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations.” That statement is completely factual. The view I am referencing is that tongues is necessary for evidence (hence the title of my article).
Second, while the booklet does say that all believers have the “mark” of the Holy Spirit, it is clear that the booklet argues that not everyone has “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” My article critiques this view to show that you can’t have one without the other. I am not misrepresenting traditional positions - I am arguing that this position is untenable. So whether or not one agrees with that conclusion, is another matter entirely.
Finally, the logical fallacy of strawman is often employed (usually, unwittingly) to strengthen one’s own case at the expense of a contradicting view. In this case, I suggest there is no strawman in play. Instead, the position I am critiquing is caught in an incongruity that its advocates do not seem willing to consider: The Holy Spirit is the gift for all believers (as the booklet correctly referenced and cited Ephesians 1). And we either have Him or we don’t.
Thanx again, Mark. I hope and pray you have a blessed day!
this topic doesn’t generate much interest. I don’t know why…its not like there aren’t millions of Charismatic Christians out there…but hey, it is what it is.
Christopher, all I can say is your approach is to claim that Charismatics don’t believe that they receive the Holy Spirit at salvation. That is simply not correct, as the document from Lakewood attests. I have seen many people witness to Charismatics claiming they don’t think they have the Holy Spirit unless they speak in tongues. That is not the case. I have known PENTECOSTALS who think that, but not Charismatics. Charismatics, while we disagree, believe there is an experience AFTER salvation that believers are to seek called the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I appreciate that you disagree, but claiming that Charismatics think that not having the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the same as not having the Holy Spirit will lead to a dead end…and it is wrong imho.
Once again, I do not “claim that Charismatics don’t believe the receive the Holy Spirit at salvation.”
I make no claims about Charismatics except the very specific one that the booklet’s view on “how and why one should speak in tongues, and cites speaking in tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit” has historically been shared by that community. (This statement has nothing whatsoever to do with what the Holy Spirit does or does not do at salvation.)
The claim I made regarding the booklet itself went further, because the booklet (which Osteen endorses) makes clear that not all believers have “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” If you don’t like that wording, then please take it up with the writers/editors/endorsers of the booklet. I am only representing what the booklet says.
As our disagreement underscores, the booklet is duplicitous in that it claims on the one hand that believers have the “mark” of the Spirit, but then it suggests believers don’t have “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Once again, not my words but theirs.
The entire point of the article is to suggest that the schizophrenia of such a position is not Biblically tenable, and that tongues is not a necessary evidence of the Holy Spirit in the believer.
I hope that helps to clarify, and I hope you have a very blessed day!
Have a great day.
Christopher, for what it is worth, I read your article exactly the way Mark Smith did. I saw a misrepresented view of Charismatic theology set up as a straw man. I started to respond but stopped figuring “what’s the point.”
Thank you Mark and Jeffrey for your interaction. It looks like I need to communicate better next time. Thank you both.
for what its worth, after exchanging with you I think you are clear on the issue in your understanding. For me as a former Charismatic I try to be really precise on this topic. You are correct that Charismatics are wrong thinking the gift of the Holy Spirit is separate from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at salvation. For me it is important to say Charismatics, in general, believe they have the Holy Spirit at salvation, though they tend to think that is from John 20:22 whereas traditional thinking is that the Holy Spirit came to the Church in Acts 2. The wrong thinking for them is that there is something else to get a la Acts 2 (the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit) after they have the initial indwelling of the Holy Spirit! Thanks for your work on this topic.