Christian character formation is the result of three kinds of work of the Holy Spirit:
- Divine Dependence
- Dramatic Dealings
- Daily Discipline
These works are all motivated by the Holy Spirit and used by Him to transform our lives and ministries into the image of Christ. We need all three.
In this series, we explore the blessings and dangers associated with them, as well as the best intentional responses to them to facilitate them in our lives.
Today we discuss the dramatic dealings of the Spirit.
The Dealings of the Spirit
Dealings refers to the “crisis” events that God allows in our lives. As we properly respond to His dealings in our lives, the Holy Spirit changes us.
All of God’s dealings in our lives are ultimately positive, accomplishing both God’s glory and our advancement in His purposes. However, God uses experiences that are both positive and negative to do this. In that sense, we speak here of the dealings of God as being both “positive” and “negative.”
Positive events happen individually when God comes to His children in special ways and touches us with His love and His presence. They may occur while we are in prayer or worship, or during the normal activities of life. They also happen to us corporately. Many times as we worship God He comes and sets His people free, touching us with His love. This touch might be spiritual, mental, emotional or physical.
God also allows His people to experience “negative” crisis events through all kinds of trials (1 Pet. 1:6-7). This means many different kinds of trials – not just a great number. In persecution, for example, the devil entices leaders to give up their calling or even their faith for fear of suffering ridicule, financial loss, or physical harm. Temptation is a trial to see if we will choose holiness over sin. Suffering is a trial to see if we will serve God even when things go wrong. Praise can even be a test (Prov. 27:21).
Suffering is necessary for the building of character, for growth to maturity, for transformation into Christ’s image (Rom. 5:3). If gold that perishes must be tried by fire, how much more does our faith need to be tried and purified by fire? He is preparing us to reign with Him for eternity (Rev. 2:26; 3:21) and He wants our characters to be strong (Heb. 12:6-12; Rom. 8:17). We should not be afraid of these sufferings because God oversees all our trials for His own glory and for our perfection (1 Cor. 10:13). What He allows is always consistent with His infinite wisdom and eternal purpose.
Jesus experienced great crisis events in His life and ministry – both positive (His baptism, His transfiguration, His resurrection) and negative (His temptation by Satan, His betrayal by Judas, His agony in Gethsemane, His death on the cross). Paul was no stranger to the dealings of God either. He regularly experienced positive crises (2 Cor. 12:1-4) and negative crises (2 Cor. 4:7-11; 12:7-10).
Jacob had a profound encounter with God in Genesis 32. His wrestling with God resulted in a significant leap of growth in his character; his permanent physical limp no doubt represented his deep inward brokenness – a direct result of the dealings of God. King David sinned against God on several occasions and through the very negative dealings of God came to a higher place in his life.
The Perils of Imbalance
The dealings of the Holy Spirit must be balanced with dependency and discipline, otherwise they are dangerous to the life and character of the Christian leader.
A leader who places too much emphasis on the positive dealings of God can fall into spiritual lethargy. Without the work of discipline in his life or the motivation of continual dependency on God, he may lose an essential sense of initiative. He will float from experience to experience, avoiding anything that requires daily responsibility.
Furthermore, leaders who over-emphasize the dealings of the Spirit are constantly running around looking for “the next move of God.” Their lives are spiritual “roller-coasters,” ruled by their emotions instead of the purpose of God. They may worry that God has “left” them because their feelings of His presence are not as strong as they once were. They worry about offending God. They insert themselves into situations where He is moving in order to “recapture” His presence and favor. They forget too easily that God wants them to do something about their spiritual condition, to learn and mature.
An imbalanced emphasis on the “negative” dealings of God is equally dangerous. When leaders focus on their sufferings, they can fall into a different kind of spiritual lethargy. They become self-absorbed, infected with self-pity, and negative towards God and the Christian life. Passivity soon replaces responsibility in their lives as they consign themselves to their apparent defeat.
Facilitating the Dealings of the Holy Spirit
We can facilitate the transforming work of the Holy Spirit through positive dealings by putting ourselves in the place where God is moving. We should get together with one another and seek His face, asking Him to come (Jam. 4:8). When God comes, we must yield to Him and let Him have His way in our hearts and lives.
It is often easier for us to run from God during hard times, but we must seek the Holy Spirit in the midst of tribulation and trial. When negative dealings arrive, we should hold as tightly to God as we can. If we respond to these dealings in the right way, they give us opportunities to grow. But the dealings of God can harden us if we refuse to yield to Him when He comes, or if we respond with bitterness, anger, or offense. If we fall on the Lord Jesus with submission during the dealings of God we will find brokenness and grace, but if we resist God we will be “crushed.”
The dealings of the Holy Spirit impact the other two works as well. When we allow the Holy Spirit to change us through the crisis events that He allows, our inward fellowship with Him increases, and our devotional and inward disciplines are enhanced.
When we have all three in our lives there is balance and strength.
These three paths to transformation have nothing to do with human wealth, education, intelligence, physical strength or beauty, family, occupation, social status, religious status, or even the events of our lives in the past. They are not functions of human ability. They are the work of God’s grace in our lives. (1 Cor. 1:26-31)
If we walk on these three paths, God will transform our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit and we will be changed daily into Jesus’ image.