From the Comments: More Holy Spirit Questions (Does the Spirit take our free will?)

HolySpirit7A reader wrote,

To blame the Spirit for what every Christian thinks and writes hardly seems sensible. Yet I think that’s what I’m hearing Jay teach.

1. I might credit the Spirit with some things, but I blame it for nothing. The Spirit, as a part of God, can do nothing but good.

2. I’ve never remotely suggested that Christians lose their free will to the Spirit or otherwise. I’m not a Calvinist.

3. The world is not binary. It’s not either “the Spirit has complete control of me and I have no free will” OR “the Spirit has no control of me and I have unfettered free will”. Why must we assume it’s either one extreme or the other?

The scriptures plainly say that God himself will, by the Spirit, write his laws on our hearts and minds so that we’ll become obedient. Jer 31:31ff, Heb 8:8ff, etc. And we’re repeatedly told that God will change our hearts to soften them to become obedient.

And Paul in Rom 8 speaks of our being “led” by the Spirit —

(Rom. 8:14 ESV) 4 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

But Paul urges us to submit to the Spirit’s leading —

(Rom. 8:5-8 ESV) 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

He tells us to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.

Just so,

(Gal. 5:22-25 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. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

“Let us keep in step with the Spirit” is clearly an exhortation to allow the Spirit to bear fruit of the Spirit.

(Gal. 5:16 ESV) 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Again, we are urged to “walk by the Spirit,” meaning we can choose not to do so.

So which is it? Well, it’s something in between.

The Spirit is a person who influences us to the extent we will let him. We can resist (Acts 7:51), grieve (Eph 4:30), and even quench (1 Th 5:19) the Spirit. And we can be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14), walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16), worship by the Spirit (Phi 3:3), pray in the Spirit (Rom 8:26; Eph 6:18), and even be filled with the Spirit (Eph 3:18).

You can take advantage of this blessing from God or not — your choice.

One of my favorite analogies is power brakes. If you’ve ever had your engine cut off while braking, you realized that 90% of the work was being done by the engine — even though you were in complete control of the brake pedal.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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15 Responses to From the Comments: More Holy Spirit Questions (Does the Spirit take our free will?)

  1. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    I readily admit that I don’t have the Spirit all figured out. I still have lots of questions and much study ahead of me. But I do think I have a few things figured out, and I completely agree, Jay, that the world is not binary.

    In my view, a study of Peter provides lots of clues. He was an Apostle; he experienced a miraculous endowment of the Holy Spirit; and yet the Spirit did not prevent Peter from punting it in the stands in Galatia. Definitely not supportive of a binary view of the Spirit.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    I think translators have done a disservice by capitalizing “spirit” in MANY places where the HUMAN spirit is the subject. Surely I’m not the only Christian who has seen non-Christians doing marvelously unselfish things for others. Since the Spirit is not given to non-Christians. I’m very sure that Paul in speaking of gifts of the spirit is NOT referring to God’s Spirit but to the spirit of humans. That takes away our problem of wondering whether or not the Spirit is responsible for the good deeds we choose to do or that we see others doing.

    It’s by our free choice that we do good things. It’s not God forcing us to do them. What Paul speaks of is the good deeds done by PEOPLE, not by God. And we should SEEK opportunities to help others rather than depending on God to do good through us.

  3. Ray Downen says:

    Jay points out “Again, we are urged to “walk by the Spirit,” meaning we can choose not to do so.” Here also, I believe the apostle wrote about the human spirit which contrasts with human flesh. EVERY person has both flesh AND spirit. And EVERY person does both good and bad things. The Spirit of God HELPS Christians let their HUMAN spirit be their guide rather than giving in to fleshly desires. But the Spirit doesn’t replace our spirits. God has made humans FREE to choose either good or bad. He doesn’t replace our spiritual choices by His Spirit taking over from our spirit. We ARE FREE.

  4. ROBERT says:

    I would suggest that we understand which Spirit we are talking about. I know everyone is going to declare that there is one Spirit and to this I would agree. So maybe we need to discuss the method in which we received the Spirit in question. As was already brought into question by Ray. Are we talking about the gift of the Spirit or the Spirit poured out on the day of Pentecost or are we talking about a evil Spirit or are we talking about our own individual Spirit? I am also wanting to suggest that we identify the importance of how we receive the Sprite in question is important! Many today would say that it does not matter. I am offering to us all that we have the solid understanding of the differences.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    A few definitions would certainly be in order. Thanks for your question.

    1. No evil spirits are under discussion at present. (It could be an interesting discussion, but not for today.) Notice that no Christian would capitalize “spirit” in this context, as in modern English, the capitalization is reserved for the three persons of God.

    2. Just so, a person’s “spirit” is a reference to his life or to his attitude or emotional state. Again, lower case is required in English (and I know that Greek is different, but I prefer to type in English).

    3. The Spirit poured out on Pentecost is the Holy Spirit and is the “gift of the Spirit,” as I recently argued in a post. All major commentaries agree. The Churches of Christ are, to my knowledge, unique for having a significant number of members who insist that “gift of the Spirit” means “salvation.” That is a very unusual, very unorthodox view and I find it completely contrary to the historical and literary context. And it contradicts John 4 (as recently shown). The interpretation is driven by an a priori commitment to an indwelling representatively through the word only — which is also very unorthodox and unknown outside the Churches of Christ.

    Of course, being unorthodox does not prove something wrong. It does mean that the burden of proof is to overcome 2,000 years of church teaching on the subject. You cannot just declare your view and expect to be convincing. We of the more orthodox camp should also be able to demonstrate why we believe as we do — and I’ve done so extensively in the last several posts — and I’ve not nearly exhausted the biblical material. I’ve also noted that those who disagree don’t bother to explain the error in what I say.

    You see, until recently, there was no serious discussion of this issue in the Churches of Christ, and therefore the old debates and tracts don’t have canned answers for my arguments. No one bothered to read what Isaiah or Jeremiah said about the new covenant or the Spirit — and so now the standard reply is to change the subject.

    There has been debate regarding the role of the Spirit in conversion going back to Alexander Campbell, and so word-only advocates tend to push the debate in that direction, but that is not today’s subject. Those arguments are irrelevant to this subject.

    And, of course, no one is suggesting that the indwelling Spirit necessarily equips a Christian to write new scripture or even to have miraculous gifts of any sort. Obviously, this has happened in the past, but the historical focus of the indwelling — from Deu on — is on the transformation of the human heart by God writing his laws on our hearts by the indwelling of the Spirit. And I don’t know whether that’s a miracle or not (purely a matter of definition), but it is certainly a direct operation on the human heart — which many in the Churches of Christ deny as though somehow God shouldn’t be allowed to be active today. The attitude borders on Deism.

    If we write the “direct operation” passages out of the Bible, we have to give up some of the most marvelous texts in all of scripture. Jer 31:31ff prophesies and defines the ‘new covenant.” Jesus speaks of the new covenant in instituting the Lord’s Supper. Roman 8 gets tossed, along with much of Rom 12. 1 Cor 11, 12, 13, and 14 either get trashed or severely edited. John 4 and the Samaritan woman go into the garbage. So does Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus.

    In fact, I remember so many sermons condemning Jefferson for taking scissors to the NT, cutting out the parts he disagreed with (he really did). Well … don’t we do the same when we come to the text with an a priori assumption that the Spirit cannot work on the human heart and then cut out all the Spirit-works-on-the-human-heart texts?

    Oh, and we lose the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel, big chunks of Isaiah and Jeremiah, Joel, Acts 2 … there’s no end to the cutting.

  6. ROBERT says:

    Jay I don’t believe that we’re in disagreement with one another.:>) my concern comes from the first 2 paragraphs in #3 of your reply. I would like to be able to email you directly to define more clearly the differences detailed in Acts detailing this event. Because you combine all of the differences that one received the Spirit in Acts and in the end I believe that it becomes one and the same. In Acts 8 you have some that have been baptized in the name of the Lord but have not received the outpouring fall on them empowering them as the Apostles were empowered or able to empower others through the laying on of their hands. Also one needs to be clear that there are events that empowered the 12 Apostles that are unique to only them. Paul conversion answer empowerment is also unique. You have some that were empowered without baptism like those in Acts 10. In this unique case they were instructed to be baptized after their empowerment had fell on them. This happened due to specific reasons that the Holy Ghost was making known to everyone which was that God is offering salvation to all. But one need to identify why baptism in the name of the Lord was required. There are others that received empowerment through the laying on of the Apostles hands. Did this empowerment of the Holy Ghost say that the gift given through baptism become unnecessary? End the end were left with the empowerment of the Holy Ghost as described in Acts ceased to continue to be recorded and therefore one would reason that this is not needed today. But we’re still instructed to relieve the seal of the Spirit through the baptism in the name of the Lord. So this all remains clear to some that they’re one and the same , but should they not be explained individually? If not were5left with some assumptions that lead to wrongful paths and thereby causing some to be led astray.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Robert (Part 1),

    Believe it or not, I don’t like to engage in private exegesis. If someone disagrees with me, then by all means disagree publicly. It’s good for me and for the readers.

    Let me give you a general sense of my understanding.

    1. There is but one Holy Spirit or Spirit. He’s a member of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.

    2. The Spirit gives spiritual gifts. In fact, in the Greek, “spiritual” means “from the Spirit” not “religious.” Hence, “spiritual gifts from the Spirit” is redundant.

    3. Some spiritual gifts are spectacular — even raising the dead. Some are more mundane — just God’s perfect law of love written on our hearts helping us love God and even our neighbors. All are supernatural. Hence, there is no real line between “providential” and “miraculous” workings of the Spirit. All are supernatural (or they wouldn’t be from the supernatural Spirit) but some are more obviously so. Trying to draw a line between “ordinary” and “miraculous” is impossible for this reason.

    4. The prophets and apostles refer to the Spirit being “outpoured” or “poured out.” Jesus calls the Spirit “living water.” John the Baptist spoke of being “immersed in the Spirit” (or “baptized in the Spirit”). These all refer to the same phenomenon, which all Christians receive. Paul says so,

    (Tit. 3:4-7 ESV) 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

    The same Spirit “poured out” in Acts 2 on the disciples is poured on all Christians. The gifts differ from person to person (1 Cor 12 is quite clear), but it’s the same Spirit.

    (1 Cor. 12:4-6 ESV) 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

    V. 4 is very important. Just one Spirit. All Christians receive “the same Spirit.” But differing gifts. (Not to be confused with the “gift of the Spirit” in Acts 2:38. Two different Greek words for “gift.”)

    (1 Cor. 12:7-13 ESV) 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

    And, of course, we can’t miss the water metaphor yet again. We “were made to drink of one Spirit.” Just one. But the Spirit is like water — Living Water, poured out, into which we can be immersed because there’s such an abundance of God’s presence available to us.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Robert (Part 2),

    Therefore, the H. Leo Boles/J. W. McGarvey theory of “measures” of the Spirit is simply wrong — and unnecessarily complicates something that is very simple. We make it so complicated that only an “expert” trained in a preacher school can explain it — taking it out of the hands of those who just have Bibles and concordances. But it’s simple.

    The “measure” theory comes from the Jewish idiom found in —

    (Jn. 3:34 ESV) For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

    The NET Bible translators explain,

    Grk “for not by measure does he give the Spirit” (an idiom). Leviticus Rabbah 15:2 states: “The Holy Spirit rested on the prophets by measure.” Jesus is contrasted to this. The Spirit rests upon him without measure.

    “Measure” refers to an amount, not a kind. Two cups and one cup measure differently. Water and flour differ, not by measure but by kind. The rabbis said that the prophets had differing amounts of the Spirit — not kinds of Spirit. This doubtlessly goes back to —

    (2 Ki. 2:9 ESV) 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”

    In some sense, some prophets have a greater measure of the Spirit. A similar concept is found in —

    (Eph. 5:18-21 ESV) 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

    It’s more common in the NT to speak of differing degrees of being “filled” with the Spirit. Obviously, if I’m to be “filled with the Spirit” I can be not fully filled — right?

    But it’s the same Spirit — but the Spirit gives differing gifts. Some are more influenced by the Spirit than others. Some are so influenced their very words are God-breathed, and their writings are scripture.

    Some are so influenced they can see Jesus in heaven as they’re being stoned to death.

    Some are so influenced that they address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. That’s what the text says. We ignore it, but that’s it says. “Addressing” in Eph 5:19 is a participle modifying “be filled.” It’s called (going from memory) a participle of consequence. It says what happens if you’re truly filled with the Spirit.

    And so we worry about a cappella (furthest thing from Paul’s mind when he wrote this passage) when he’s really talking about being filled (another water metaphor!) with the Spirit — so much so that we sing!! It’s not a command to sing. It’s a command to be filled with the Spirit — so that we’ll sing. When we try singing while denying the Spirit in us, we violate this passage. It’s not the presence of guitars that concerns Paul. It’s the absence of the filling of the Spirit.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Robert (Part 3),

    I believe that we are baptized in the Spirit normally (better: normatively) when we’re baptized in water. It’s that water metaphor yet again! But there are three important exceptions in Acts.

    The apostles were told to preach the gospel, first, to the Jews, second, to the Samaritans, and third, to the Gentiles.

    At Pentecost, the 120 disciples received the Spirit (not just gifts from the Spirit) when it was poured out from heaven, separate from water baptism. They were baptized in just the Spirit.

    In Samaria, the apostles had failed to honor their mandate to go there. Phillip, a deacon, had gone to Samaria to convert the Samaritans. They were baptized in just water. The Spirit did not come upon them. And so the apostles were sent for to endorse their conversion. Most baptisms were followed by laying on of hands. The apostles symbolically completed the baptisms of the Samaritans by touching them – which good Jews just did not do. They laid hands on them, joining belatedly in their baptisms, and the Spirit came — separate from water.

    In the case of Cornelius, God was so anxious to accept the Gentiles he poured his Spirit out before they could be water baptized!

    In each case, God broke the usual, normative pattern of Spirit baptism being received simultaneously with water baptism — and each case God’s decision to do this pushed the gospel further outward to a new class of recipients.

    God’s pouring out the Spirit in Acts 2 brought in the first converts — Jews all — on Mt. Zion. It was the sight of the Spirit being poured out that drew the crowd and demonstrated that the Kingdom prophecies were coming true.

    God withholding the Spirit in Acts 8 forced the apostles to leave Jerusalem and to formally accept the Samaritans into the church. Had God not withheld the Spirit, there might be a Samaritan church and a Jewish church. God insisted that the leaders cross racial lines and lay hands on the Samaritans.

    God’s pouring out the Spirit on Cornelius proved that God accepted Gentiles — regardless of what the Jewish Christians thought or wanted. He forced their hands. “Who can refuse baptism?” And in Acts 15, this event was offered as evidence that circumcision is not required to become a Christian.

    Hence, God normally gives the Spirit at water baptism. But he doesn’t have to.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Robert (Part 4),

    Sorry for over answering. But I need to add …

    1 Cor 12 is clear that we receive whatever gifts of the Spirit God chooses. We don’t get to pick. We don’t get to complain. We don’t get to brag. God chooses.

    If I can’t heal or raise the dead, it’s because God has so chosen. If God wants to go 50,000 years without giving the power to heal, that would be his business.

    In OT times, there were times when there were many prophets, and times when there were no prophets. God’s choice. There are no rules. There are no laws. God chooses.

    (Jn. 3:8 ESV) 8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    I’m not a Cessationist. I believe the Spirit is still alive and active. But I’m no Pentecostal or charismatic.

    I don’t blaspheme the Spirit by calling all amazing things the work of demons. I’m not gullible enough to believe all “miracles” are miracles. Some are frauds. Many are frauds. But I have no right to prejudge. The command is to “test the spirits,” not to “prejudge the spirits.” Have an open mind. Be skeptical. Don’t be gullible. Don’t tell God what he cannot do. It’s not our place.

  11. ROBERT says:


    Sorry I was not disagreeing I was only looking checking on my own understanding to see if I understood what you were saying followed what I have come to understand. I am not a preacher and wanted assured that my knowledge was following what you were saying. I apologize if it came across as argumentative.

  12. ROBERT says:

    Amen Jay nice Job!!! : >)))

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Nothing to apologize for. I thought you asked questions many readers may also have. Didn’t see it as a contentious debate, just a great chance to teach about the Spirit — which I love doing.

    Ray Vander Laan quotes the Jewish rabbis as saying that the lesson you prepare is your lesson. But when you find yourself answering questions you didn’t expect, that’s the Spirit’s lesson. Maybe not the Spirit’s actual teaching but the Spirit moving the class in the Spirit’s preferred direction. Hence, I take questions very seriously — when I have time and energy.

  14. ROBERT says:


    Thanks for putting in your time and resources that are not readily available. I was clearly lacking in understanding on why the Samaritans had not received the Spirit. Though I could not find your answer to this issue regarding the Apostles lack of motivation that you gave as an explanation to this issue, I found it reasonable and easy to follow. Up until now I have been thinking that it made no sense say that God was not present in Spirit considering the information recorded in Acts concerning baptized Christians! I also found it interesting when your account of the event that occurring on the day of Pentecost was understood differently than what I understood. It seemed strange that power from the Father that I always understood was promised only to the eleven plus the one that replaced Judah were given this promised outpouring in the upper room in Jerusalem. Thanks so much! Your an awesome resource!! It is very difficult to fill in the unrevealed truths when so many have different answers.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I was taught the explanation for the Samaritans by Frederick Dale Bruner in A Theology of the Holy Spirit many long years ago.

    I’ve since learned that we should think of Acts as a narrative not a book of rules. And the story follows the outline: Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, based on the words of Jesus to the apostles in Acts 1. If we see the big picture — the story of the spread of the gospel to the nations — then the pattern emerges. God is the star of the book, the protagonist, the one the book is about — as Father, Son and Spirit. God is in charge of the unfolding of the story the world had been waiting for.

    And when we see God in control and winning the victory for us, then it’s not so much about finding a hidden book of rules by which the Spirit is bound and compelled to operate. It’s GOD the SPIRIT — not bound by rules. Rather, the Spirit, at God’s behest, is driving the story.

    We aren’t in charge. Some hidden rulebook isn’t in charge. God is in charge — and if God wants the Samaritans in his church, then he’ll see that it happens.

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