Please comment on the two passages, John 4:24 and Ephesians 5:18. Do they refer to the Holy Spirit or to something else?
John 4:24 reads, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Jesus spoke these words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in response to her comments about where a person should worship. The Samaritans were an Israelite sect associated with the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They felt strongly about the place where God should be worshipped, namely Mount Gerizim. This sentiment seems to have come from their belief that Joshua built a sanctuary on that mount, which was the center for all early Israelite worship. Their religious break with the Jews seems to have occurred around the time of Eli; they accused him of building a rival sanctuary at Shioh.
After being denied worship on Gerizim for a long time, the Samaritans were finally permitted by an Assyrian king to worship there again. But after the Babylonian captivity of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, the Jews regained their strength and burned down the Samaritan temple. In their eyes, there could be only one temple, the temple in Jerusalem. The bitterness that ensued was tremendous.
Though the Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with each other (see John 4:9), theologically they had some similarities. But the place of worship (Mount Gerizim vs. Jerusalem) was a major point of contention. Also, the Samaritans were often linked to the Sadducees, since they denied the resurrection of the body. They did not get along with the Pharisees, since the latter emphasized various traditions to the extreme. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans because the latter accepted only the Pentateuch as their Scriptures. Without the psalms and other Old Testament writings, the Samaritan Scriptures seemed lacking to the Jews.
While not attacking the thought of Jerusalem as the right place to worship, Jesus transcended the matter of where to worship and placed the emphasis on how to worship. In verse 24, He stressed that God is spirit. The rendering “God is a Spirit” is not the way the original language reads, for there is no article a in the Greek. God is spirit; He is not one among many gods. The verse, then, refers to God’s being, or essence. We are to worship God for Who He is. We are also to worship “in spirit” (have worship of a spiritual kind); worship comes from the innermost being of a heart that has truly been regenerated; it is not some outward show. Neither Judaism, Samaritanism nor any other religion saves. The Pharisees demonstrated that fact.
Jesus may also have been alluding to our Church Age. After His death, resurrection, and ascension, the temple of the Holy Spirit would be none other than individual believers’ bodies. Believers can worship God at any time. We are not restricted to a certain building or location. Nevertheless, it remains true that a person must experience the new birth before he can truly worship. And even a believer needs to be in right relation to God to worship and live as Christ would have him live.
As for Ephesians 5:18, I see no reason why this reference cannot refer to the Holy Spirit. The verse reads, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” [emphasis mine]. Various passages in the New Testament speak of individuals who were filled with the Spirit. Acts 6:5 tells us that Stephen, a deacon in the early New Testament church, was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.” Concerning the disciples in Acts 13:52, the verse indicates that they “were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.”
When we note the “filling” of the Holy Spirit, we must distinguish this condition from the “baptism” and “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a onetime event; it is the moment of salvation, when we are placed into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). A believer thereafter does not have additional baptisms of the Spirit.
At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit “indwells” the believer. The Holy Spirit is then a permanent resident of the believer. But the “filling” of the Holy Spirit is a repeated experience in the lives of believers. It is a condition in which the Holy Spirit controls the believer. The issue here is not how much we have of the Holy Spirit but how much He has of us! The Bible teaches that believers sin; they fall short of the glory of God. When this happens, fellowship is broken between the believer and God. Restoration to fellowship is brought about through confession of sin, obedience to Scripture, and yieldedness to God. Since we have a sin nature as well as the new nature, we do sin. However, we do not need to live in sin but rather use the means available to get back in fellowship whenever we sin.
The filling of the Holy Spirit is not an option for us, something we should have only if we especially want it. Ephesians 5:18 is a command. In contrast to the one who is drunk with an intoxicating beverage (“wherein is excess” speaks of ruin or lack of self-control), the believer who is filled with the Spirit (controlled by Him) overflows with praise to the Lord. He is enabled to radiate Christ rather than be characterized by emptiness.
How can we know if we are filled with the Holy Spirit? The context (the following verses) lists some of the evidences of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Verse 19 shows that one evidence is joy. This characteristic is evident through singing in various forms. Another evidence is a thankful heart (v. 20). Beginning with verse 21, we see submission to one another as an evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit. When we see women who long for and agonize over getting the fullness of the Holy Spirit, yet continue to be rebellious toward their husbands, we conclude something is wrong. When we see men who profess Christ but who are rough and inconsiderate of their wives and children and their needs, surely their behavior is not a sign of someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Likewise disobedient children could not be classified as being under the control of the Holy Spirit. A person learns about and grows in all of these matters as he matures spiritually. Basically, we are dealing with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, also mentioned in Galatians 5.
The original language of Scripture emphasizes the truth that we are to “keep on” being filled with the Holy Spirit, indicating again that it is not a onetime experience. Ideally we will so “grow in grace” that we will be more and more often totally controlled by the Holy Spirit.
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