Functionally, how would we go about asking if one had received the Spirit? As you said in your book, there are atheists that blow us away in ways that look like Spirit fruit.
That’s a very good question. I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. Here’s how I see it.
Evidence 1: Faith
(Gal 3:2-6 ESV) 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
If the condition for the receipt of the Spirit is faith in Jesus, then the presence of faith in Jesus is assurance of the Spirit. And even more obviously, the absence of faith is a guaranty that the Spirit is missing.
Evidence 2. Love
(Rom 5:5 ESV) 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Those with the Spirit love others (see also 1 Cor 13 and 1 John).
Evidence 3. Hope.
(Rom 15:13 ESV) 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Now “hope” is the confident expectation of a resurrection in the new heavens and new earth.
Evidence 4. Peace and joy. And the other fruit of the Spirit
Of course, Paul credits peace and joy to God’s gifts in the preceding verse. In fact, joy is perhaps the one gift most frequently associated with the Spirit in the New Testament.
(Gal 5:22-23 ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Now, we should see that the gifts/fruit of the Spirit are very Trinitarian. It’s not just faith. It’s faith in Jesus. It’s not just love. It’s the love of God poured into us by the Spirit. It’s not just hope — in the sense of confidence and optimism — but the new heavens and earth to be re-created by God for our benefit.
Thus, the peace and joy experienced by Christians is not what atheists experience.
(Phi 4:7 ESV) 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Christian peace is deeper and richer than a peace that might come from our own efforts and understanding. It’s a supernatural peace.
Just so, joy is a gift —
(1Th 1:6 ESV) 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
I could go on … but the point should be clear. We don’t need tongues to see the Spirit in our brothers and sisters. Rather, we need the eyes of faith.
But we sometimes teach such a parched, Spirit-less Christianity that our members don’t evidence these things. We don’t see the joy, peace, and love in our worship because it’s barely there.
I think of the Spirit’s work as like the embers of charcoal. Sometimes it burns so brightly it could melt iron and be seen from great distances. Other times, the ember is nearly burned down to a flicker. Sometimes the Spirit isn’t quenched, but it’s grieved and struggling to survive in that place. Indeed, sometimes the coals are so cold we think they’re dead, when they’re really not. And so it can sometimes be hard to tell who has the Spirit.
But it can also be hard to deny the presence of the Spirit. I mean, who can read C. S. Lewis — an Anglican — and conclude that he’s an enemy of God, devoid of the Spirit?
And so, when I meet with a Methodist, and see that his prayer life is better than mine, that his faith is stronger than mine, that his love is much more in evidence than mine, that he has a more intense hope than I, and that his life is filled with fruit of the Spirit, I have no problem seeing the Spirit in him.
He may have a friend at the Methodist Church whose possession of the Spirit is much weaker than my own and much harder to see. But there are certainly many among the improperly baptized who evidence the Spirit intensely.