Will the debate over the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit ever cease? Maybe not, with many books coming out, debates being held, and conferences taking place on this controversial subject. One of the primary reasons for the intensity of this issue is that it directly relates to how we should live the Christian life. For those who hold that the charismatic gifts continue, we should seek these gifts in our lives so that we will live our lives in the fullness of God’s blessing. But what about those of us who believe these gifts were given during the apostolic age and have ceased with the completion of apostolic doctrine recorded in Scripture? How do we live our lives? What does the life of a cessationist look like? Here are three aspects of our life in Christ.
We are Filled with the Spirit
This may sound strange to some ears, but cessationists live the Spirit-filled life. I remember once visiting a charismatic church where a man came up to me after the service and introduced himself to me. He asked me where I was from and where I went to church, and when I told him that I was a Baptist, he replied: “I used to be Baptist, but then I came to believe in the Holy Ghost.” I’ve sometimes heard charismatics say that the cessationist Trinity is “God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Bible.” But these are gross and even dangerous misunderstandings of what cessationists believe.
Of course we believe in the Holy Spirit! He is the third person of the divine Trinity whom we worship. The Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, removing the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, giving us spiritual life. The Holy Spirit bears fruit through us, equipping us with lives of righteousness and devotion to God. The Holy Spirit empowers us, providing us the strength we need to obey God’s law and to serve His kingdom. The Holy Spirit seals us, guaranteeing the inherited blessings God has promised us. The Holy Spirit leads us to eagerly wait for Christ’s return when we will finally receive all of God’s blessings as we enjoy life in His presence. And until then, the Holy Spirit blesses us with spiritual gifts for the good of Christ’s body, the church. We are filled with the Holy Spirit through our faith in Christ so that we will live for His glory. What a glorious gift!
How frustrating it is then to hear the role of the Holy Spirit reduced to providing the charismatic gifts of prophecy, tongues, and miraculous healings in the minds of many. The Holy Spirit fills us without the extravagance of outward wonders. After all, His goal is not to get our attention and become our focus, but to direct us to Jesus Christ in whom we find our salvation and our souls’ rest.
We Hear God’s Voice
We also recognize that as God’s people, we need to hear from God. So how does God reveal Himself and His will to us? He speaks to us in and through His Word. The Bible is not simply a collection of ancient inspired writings that we are supposed to read. God speaks to me today in Scripture. I hear His voice, not through my ears, but through the Spirit’s illumination of my mind and heart as I read God’s Word. As a result, Scripture reading is more than a daily discipline for me. It is a blessed opportunity to hear from God and commune with Him.
At the same time, I also hear God’s voice with my ears when His people gather together in worship to listen to the preaching of His Word. God calls and sets apart men to become His mouthpiece as they stand behind the pulpit on the Lord’s Day and open His divinely revealed Scripture to us. Pastors have been appointed by God to speak to His people, and through them, when they correctly explain and apply the Word of God, it is our privilege to hear God’s voice weekly so that our covenant with Christ is reaffirmed by the gospel and our lives will be transformed through the renewal of our minds.
When the church meets for worship, it is not to see supposed signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, but it is to experience the Holy Spirit’s ministry as He applies God’s Word in my heart and works His Word out in my life. Furthermore, my daily communion with God does not depend on tongues from the Holy Spirit or a private prayer language, but on the Holy Spirit’s enlightening of my mind and enflaming of my heart as I read and study His Word.
We Rely on God’s Word
Finally, the life of a cessationist is one that is thoroughly committed to the sufficiency of Scripture, which gives us all that is needed for a life of godliness. We please God by our obedience to His Word. Our relationship with God does not depend on our subjective feelings, but it is nourished and flourishes by our devotion to obeying God’s objective revelation to us in Scripture.
If someone believes that he must have additional experiences from the Holy Spirit for his spiritual vitality (whether prophecy, tongues, or miraculous healings), then at some level he believes that Scripture is not enough. We need more to live the Christian life. The Holy Spirit must provide us with some kind of supplemental revelation to grow in the gospel and draw close to God. This will subtly undermine our commitment to God’s Word.
When we rely on the treasure of God’s Word, then we don’t need anything more. We are kept focused on the glories of Christ by the Holy Spirit’s work in us and desire to love God and love our neighbor because our Savior first loved us. Cessationism doesn’t forbid us from fully living the Christian life; it frees us to fully live the Christian life through the means of grace that God has given us.