‘Though it is the quintessence of Enthusiasm to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written Word, yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written Word of God. Watch, therefore, I pray you, O believers, the motions of God’s blessed Spirit in your souls, and always try the suggestions or impressions that you may at any time feel, by the unerring rule of God’s most Holy Word. And if they are not found to be agreeable to that, reject them as diabolical and delusive!’
The Scriptures are clear — all religious experiences are not works of the Holy Spirit. Some of these experiences are produced by unholy spirits. How then are we to distinguish between the two? Has God given us a sufficient and authoritative guide?
The Experiential Nature of Christianity
Each true Christian on earth is unique in that he has physical life and eternal life. To think of one living without personally participating in life is absurd. Physical life presupposes experience. Likewise, to speak of spiritual life is to assume experience, or personal participation, in the spiritual realm. For instance, the new birth is not simply a theological concept to be discussed; it is an undeniable truth experienced by every Christian.
The Scriptures are replete with instances of God’s people experiencing emotions and feelings in relation to their faith.
David, upon bringing the ark into Jerusalem, rejoiced with dancing in the street.
The lame man of Acts 3, upon being healed, leaped with joy as he walked through the temple praising the name of God.
The Israelites, upon hearing Ezra magnify God, shouted in unison, ‘Amen! Amen!’
Isaiah, upon seeing the Lord high and lifted up, fell upon his face in worship.
The angelic host, at the announcement of the Messiah’s birth, broke forth in heavenly praise of our Lord.
Stephen, as he died at the hands of assassins, saw the glory of Christ and was filled with the peace and joy of God as he entered His presence.
These examples, along with numerous others in Scripture, verify one aspect of the experiential nature of Christianity. The emotions and feelings of God’s servants are real. No one who believes the Bible can reasonably deny this fact.
The Error of Trusting Subjective Feelings
Though emotions and subjective feelings are part of the Christian experience, they are not the totality of that experience, and they are not to be trusted as infallible rules and guides in discerning truth. Satan is a master deceiver. A chief device he uses is spiritual impressions. We are warned of this in I John 4 where we are told:
‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.’
We can see examples in Scripture of people who trusted their feelings rather than God’s clear word:
Many Israelites felt like Korah was right and they joined him in his rebellion against God and Moses. They later joined him in judgment as God slew them for their rebellion.
At the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Israelites followed their feelings. They began to fear because of Moses’s absence. Trusting their emotions, they built a golden calf and bowed down to worship it. God made them drink the god they had created.
When working on the affections of people, Satan uses three tools-sentimentalism, sensationalism, and enthusiasm.
Sentimentalism confuses fuzzy, subjective feelings with the voice of the Holy Spirit. It deceives a person into following tradition rather than the clear Word of God. Sentimentalism blinds a person to the fact that the old-time religion of today is quite often the heretical modernism of a past century.
Sensationalism confuses outward demonstrations of power with the work of the Holy Spirit. It spellbinds people into believing that all signs and wonders are accurate measures of truth. Again, the Word of God takes second place to experience.
Enthusiasm, like sentimentalism and sensationalism, serves to blind those given up to it. Unstable members of a congregation begin to look for enthusiasm of worship rather than truth. A preacher who can stir emotions is considered filled with the Spirit while a sound expositor of Bible truth is considered dead and dry. Emotional enthusiasm becomes the standard by which all religious experience is measured. The Word of God is inconsequential.
The Relative Ease in Trusting Experience
It is easy for a religious person to trust experience over the Word of God. It is a lot simpler for the preacher to say, ‘God told me,’ than it is for him to prayerfully study the Bible. Besides, if his congregation is prone to accept this error, the preacher will have almost complete dictatorial power over them.
Jeremiah wrote of men like this: ‘They speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.’
Likewise, it is easier for a congregation to trust its feelings than it is to accept the responsibility of searching the Scriptures. Individually they can stand and testify that God has shown them certain things even though those very things violate God’s Word. Following raw emotion in contradiction to God’s written word, they identify themselves as rebels rather than Spirit-filled saints. Though a person claims to be obeying the Holy Spirit, when he follows his subjective feelings in opposition to Scripture, he is obeying an unholy spirit.
The Excellency of God’s Word
The Christian does not have to wander through life, tossed to and fro by his fleshly emotions and subjective feelings. God has given him a sufficient and authoritative guide. That guide is the written Word of God.
The Bible is sufficient and authoritative because of its Author. Though men were the instruments used to pen the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is clearly revealed as the true Author of the Bible. Being God, the Spirit cannot deny Himself nor speak falsely. Therefore, what He has been pleased to give through the Scriptures is as infallibly authoritative as if God were to speak personally and audibly from the Heavens.
Psalm 119 is a beautifully penned praise of the Word of God. In it the Psalmist David confesses confidently, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’ The Word of God was David’s guide.
Infallible, indestructible, eternal–the written Word of God reveals everything a person needs in this life to walk with God and please Him. Indeed, it is the Christian’s sufficient guide. Such has been the testimony of the people of God throughout the ages. From the prophets of the Old Testament to the apostles of the New, men of God have declared, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’
Sola Scriptura was the battle cry of the Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, and others refused to acknowledge any authority above the written Word of God. With their lives they proved their faith. Historically, Baptists have championed the sufficiency and authority of the Bible, holding it as their ‘final rule of faith and practice.’
The Holy Spirit abides within every born-again believer. He is the believer’s Comforter and Teacher. Without question He utilizes the means of inward impressions to direct those within whom He abides. Never, however, does the Spirit of God work contrary to the written Word of God!
The person who lightly regards the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, regardless of his profession, does not have a proper relationship with the Author of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit.
About the Author
Charles Alligood is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Flowery Branch, GA.