Arminian Today

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Strange Fire Review: Chapter 10

I have been doing an ongoing review of Dr. John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire.  The book focuses on the abuses that MacArthur sees in the modern charismatic movement.

Chapter 10 focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit and sanctification.  I am grateful that MacArthur does focus on the biblical truth of sanctification.  So many in our day want to ignore the work of the Spirit in sanctification.  They want to proclaim salvation through faith in Christ but they ignore the call of the Spirit to sanctification.  They fail to preach that true disciples of Christ must turn away from sin (1 John 3:4-10).  This is not negotiable.  True disciples despise, hate, and turn away from sin as part of repentance (Matthew 3:8).  I remember hearing MacArthur preach powerfully from Matthew 3:8 many years ago during the early 1990’s when the “Lordship” controversy was raging.  I was thankful to hear him preach hard against sin and preach that true believers must be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  Holiness is not an option for the disciple of Jesus (Hebrews 12:14).

2 Timothy 2:19 is clear on this:

But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

Holiness is to be preached and into’s modern church, it is hard to find teachings that cause people to hate their sin.  Few preach that God is holy and that He demands holiness from His people both in the Old Testament and in the New.  Few preach that God’s grace has been given to us not to help us live in our sins but to overcome sin (Titus 2:11-12).  How can we abound in sin when we have been set free by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Romans 6:1-4)?

But I am moving beyond the point of this post.  This post is on chapter 10 where MacArthur deals with the precious truth that the Holy Spirit  helps the true disciple be holy or sanctified.

However, MacArthur believes that the charismatic movement falsely teaches that there are emotional encounters with God that bring about holiness.  Rather than biblical teaching, the charismatics believe that their experiences bring them closer to God.  While MacArthur briefly points to the baptism in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophesy, etc., he takes aim the most at being “slain in the spirit.”  MacArthur rightly points out that there is no biblical warrant for such a practice.  He spends a couple of pages dealing with this issue but in my estimation, too much time.  I know some charismatics do practice this but I think that most level-headed Pentecostals would deplore such events.  Yet in the Pentecostal-Charismatic church I will admit that there is much freedom to worship God as you desire (as long as it is not out the flesh) and this has led to some “falling down” but is not encouraged nor discouraged.  It is just allowed.  I myself enjoy laying prostrate before the Lord.  In our church, a very conservative church, this would not be entirely welcomed sadly.  During my prayer times, I enjoy just laying before the Lord God and crying to Him.  I enjoy the freedom to do this and wish that I could do this when I am with other saints worshiping the Lord.

MacArthur dives into two main distinct teachings about sanctification and the Spirit and that is what does it mean to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and what does it mean to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25)?  He begins with the infilling of the Spirit.  MacArthur, of course, rejects the charismatic understanding of the baptism in the Spirit as separate from salvation.  He believes that the baptism in the Spirit occurs at regeneration (1 Corinthians 12:13).  MacArthur goes to Ephesians 5:18 and deals with this lone command in the New Testament for believers to be filled with the Spirit.  What did Paul mean?

MacArthur teaches from Ephesians 5:18 that:

  • This command is in the present tense of the Greek so this is an ongoing event.  This is not a special event apart from what Christ has already done for us in salvation.
  • While the Apostles and their brethren were filled with the Spirit repeatedly in Acts, this was for the purpose of the gospel and not for sanctification nor for ecstatic experiences.
  • To be truly filled with the Spirit is to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  To be truly Spirit-filled is to be controlled by the Spirit (Romans 8:5-9).  To be Spirit-filled is to seek to please God by pursuing practical holiness (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 3:18).

MacArthur then contrasts this with the “Spirit-filled” movement and he points out that the movement is full of people who have not been controlled by the Spirit at all.  He points out the many sexual sins that have arisen in the charismatic movement

MacArthur continues to teach from Ephesians 5:18 by moving on to verses 5:19 to 6:9.  MacArthur shows the true Spirit-filled believers show the influence of the Spirit in their daily lives by making us not just right before God but to others as well.  The key mark of the true Spirit-filled believer is not experiences but love toward others (1 Peter 1:22-23).  MacArthur’s point: spiritual gifts are not the sign of the Spirit filling.  Sanctification is.  Spiritual gifts are given to saints to help saints.  God only gives gifts to those who have been sanctified (1 Peter 4:10-11).  Spiritual gifts are given to help others (1 Corinthians 12:7) and not to build up ourselves (1 Corinthians 13).

MacArthur spends the duration of the chapter speaking of what does it mean to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).  MacArthur concludes this is what happens as we abide in Christ by faith and trust in Him alone.  We look to Him to save us, to empower us, to fill us with His righteousness, to strengthen us to overcome the flesh, to help us during times of temptation, to glorify His name through us.  This is the key.  It is not striving in our own flesh but trusting in the Spirit to help us to be holy (Romans 8:1-4).  To walk in the Spirit is to live under His control by submission to His Word (Ephesians 3:16; 6:17-18; 1 Peter 2:1-3).  We are not saved by our own efforts (Galatians 3:3; Philippians 2:12-13) but by faith in Christ Jesus alone who sanctifies us by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Holy Spirit helps the believer be conformed to the image of Christ.  MacArthur points out that the Spirit was very much active in the ministry of the Lord Jesus.  While Jesus was God (John 1:1, 14), He depended on the Holy Spirit His entire life to glorify the Father and pay the price for our sins.  Even His resurrection was by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:11; cf. Acts 2:24; Romans 1:4).  Jesus, the perfect Son of God, depended on the Spirit so how much more should we?  After dealing with the work of the Spirit in Romans 8:1-27, Paul declares in Romans 8:29 that the work of the Spirit is to conform us to the image of Christ.  This truly glorifies God (Romans 8:30).


Pentecostals and charismatics who love the Word of God no doubt appreciate MacArthur’s focus on the Bible.  I appreciate this much about his ministry through the years.  His sermons, his books, his blogs, etc. are full of the Word of God.  His focus on expository preaching is excellent.  We all should copy this.  We should love the Word of God.

However, exceptions will be made with MacArthur spending too much time attaching “slain in the Spirit” and emotional experiences as basis for Pentecostal sanctification.  This is misleading and simply not true.  I grew up in a Pentecostal home and church and while I saw much flesh (as I believe you would see in any normal evangelical church), I often heard, “God does not care how high you jump but how you walk.”  While some will view this with legalism, I saw many godly people who lived this truth.   Yes there would people who would be in the flesh and people confused this with being “Spirit-filled” but I saw many saints who loved Jesus and loved to obey the Word of God.

My question is why would the devil give a person a spiritual experience that leads them to love Jesus more?  I am not advocating all charismatic experiences.  I would not.  I am simply wondering out loud why the devil would let people claim to be filled with the Spirit only to watch them become stronger disciples?  And I have seen this.  I have seen people who went to Pentecostal churches and claimed to be filled with the Spirit and this experience took them deeper in holiness, in worship of God, in their evangelism.  How does MacArthur explain this?  One could attack the language of the experience but why attack the experience itself?

Furthermore, what about countless Christians down through the years who claimed to have an experience with the Spirit?  I am not talking about charismatics either.  What about Spurgeon?  What about Wesley?  What about Whitefield?  What about Moody?  While these men did not agree 100% on theological issues, they all had deep experiences with God.  I recommend the book, Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians.  I also recommend Richard Taylor’s book, What Does It Mean To Be Filled with the Spirit?

I long for the Lord.  I want to know Him more and more.  This is why I study His Word.  This is why I pray to Him.  This is why I worship and adore Him.  I want to love Him and obey Him with all that is in me (Matthew 22:37-40).  I also long to have Him near.  I don’t want to just know Him abstractly.  I want to know Him deep within my soul.

I pray I have been faithful toward God in this review.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/30/2014 at 7:05 PM

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