By Mike Willis
The Jimmy Swaggart debacle has received national attention for several weeks now. The newspapers report that he hired a prostitute to undress before him and that he has been rather addicted to pornography for nearly twenty years. I take no joy in the sin of this or any other man. The man needs the grace of God to obtain the forgiveness of his sins in order that he may be saved on judgment day.
Nevertheless, his sin serves as an occasion to remind us of several biblical truths, which some writers have already done. One false doctrine which Swaggart propagated, and which has spread among some Christians, is manifested as transparently false by his commission of habitual sins. I speak of his doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Those who have watched the Jimmy Swaggart show have witnessed his testimonies to the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. He has told us how the Holy Spirit directly laid burdens on his heart, directly gave him a message which he was obligated to preach, enabled him to speak in tongues, so stirred him that he began dancing while he was preaching, and many other activities. Another work which was attributed to the Holy Spirit was the work of helping man to overcome sin. Pentecostal doctrine, like many other denominational dogmas, asserts that man has received an inherited depraved nature which inclines a man to commit sin. One is able to overcome the impact of this depraved nature by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which makes man able to resist the temptation to sin. Swaggart and Jim Bakker have repeatedly testified to the joys of their Spirit-filled lives which enabled them to live above the world, above those who did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit,
Apparently, the indwelling Holy Spirit was not effectual in enabling Jimmy Swaggart to resist sin. As a matter of fact, Oral Roberts had a vision indicating that Jimmy was demon possessed. He “saw demons with long fingernails digging the flesh into Jimmy Swaggart’s body.” The indwelling Holy Spirit could not prevent him from being demon possessed, if the testimony of Oral Roberts is to be believed, much less to resist the temptation to sin. The Scriptures teach that man can resist the devil and he will flee from him (Jas. 4:7).
Swaggart’s doctrine of an indwelling Holy Spirit has spilled over into the church (although its source may not have been Swaggart; however we need to be careful not to minimize the impact and spread of the false doctrines taught by television evangelists who have a significant audience). A few years ago, I sat in a Bible class and heard a person teach that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit enabled man to overcome his “sin nature.” He commented that all of the preachers whose marriages had broken up in recent years denied the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, implying thereby that had they believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (in a personal or literal sense) they would have been able to resist sin and avoid their marriage failure. Frankly, I have not perceived any superior moral character in those who believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Bible class teacher who implied as much being included. Those who have believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit have been involved in fornication, adultery, homosexuality, false doctrine, lording over churches, promoting majority rule, serving as one man elders, etc. the same as have those who denied the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and dozens of other Pentecostal preachers whose lives have moral failures demonstrate this fact without ever mentioning moral failures among our brethren.
One preacher among us listed the things which the Holy Spirit did for man by indwelling him:
The Holy Spirit indwells (Rom. 8:9); provides a habitation of God in us (Eph. 2:22); provides a motive for us to keep our spirits and our bodies clean (1 Cor. 6:19-20); enables us to keep the faith (2 Tim. 1:13-14); brings comfort (Acts 3:19); brings renewal (Titus 3:5); is present in times of reproach (1 Pet. 4:14); aids in our worship (Phil. 3:3); helps us live a consecrated life (Jude 20); produces fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:9); and many other things.
Notice these items: provides a motive for us to keep our spirits and our bodies clean; enables us to keep the faith; brings renewal; helps us live a consecrated life. If the Spirit enables us to do these things, separate and apart from the word of God by literally undwelling us, whose fault is it if we do not keep our spirits and bodies clean, keep the faith, have renewal, and live a consecrated life? Surely if it is the work of the Spirit to do these things and they are not done, the Spirit is at fault for not doing them! If the responsibility for not doing them falls on the Christian, he must be the one who is expected to do these things, not the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Those who teach the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit will want to divorce themselves from the Jimmy Swaggarts and Jimmy Bakkers, and understandably so. No doubt they will deny that such men were Christians and deny that they never truly possessed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, these men quote the same passages as do our brethren to prove that there is an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They give human testimony, the evidence of experience, to affirm that they have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The passages of Scripture are misinterpreted and human testimony is invalid, subjective evidence.
From the sins of Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Bakker, let us be reminded that the doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which these men have taught is false to the core, as confirmed in their lives and revealed by the study of Holy Scripture. In repudiating the extremes of Swaggart and Bakker along with the claims and theories of some brethren, we do not reject what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit dwelling in Christians and Christians in the Spirit. That spiritual relationship is wholly independent of the errors and antics we are opposing.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 9, pp. 258, 278-279
May 5, 1988