On Sunday I was preaching on Acts 9: the Conversion of Saul. I drew attention to some popular sayings and compared them with God’s dealings with Saul/Paul.
Two popular expressions I heard LOTS when I first became a Christian were:
“Jesus is standing at the door of your heart and knocking – waiting for you to open the door – there is only one handle and it’s on the inside.”
“The Holy Spirit is a gentleman – he won’t come where he is not invited.”
Yet, that’s not we see in Paul’s conversion – the Holy Spirit is less like a gentleman and more like a mafia mobster!
He isn’t standing and knocking at the door of Paul’s heart – he’s kicked the door open, gate-crashed his party and has taken him captive to obey his will.
Today I was reflecting further on this issue, and I decided to try and identify the source of the idea that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. Interestingly Google yielded immediate success. Someone had already done this. A website called Dictionary of Christianese has a great article on the Holy Spirit is a Gentleman. And it has a very useful list of quotes and dates of people who have used this phrase. What is particularly interesting is not only how popular the saying is but also the fact that it has been challenged almost as much as it has been promoted.
List of citations
• 1966 Collins, Defeating Alcoholism the Fairview Way 250 : God will never force his way into a life until that life freely opens the door, steps aside, and says, “Come in, God.” God is a gentleman. He will not intrude where he is unwanted. 1966 Nichol Pentecostalism 229 : That a greater emphasis has been placed on teaching Pentecostals to control their emotionalism is evidenced by the appearance of admonitions such as this one: It has been well said that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman—He does not disturb meetings. There is a proper time and place for manifestations of the Holy Spirit and it is not a time when it will inject a harsh note into the meeting and disturb either speaker, singer, or audience. 1969 Basham A Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism 54 : The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He works in our lives only to the extent that we are willing. He prompts and leads and woos and persuades, but He does not force. 1971 Mumford Take Another Look at Guidance 41 : We know that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He never forces His entry into our lives. He must be invited. 1972 Samarin Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism 162 : The rule that applies here is the saying, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman.” The sensitive glossolalist therefore looks for openings very much in the way a conversationalist does. 1974 Bennett The Holy Spirit and You 000 : As David du Plessis says, “The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman!” 1974 Link Help in Understanding the Bible 16 : God is a gentleman who will not force himself or his service on those who do not have a genuine desire. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is available only to those who want his teaching and leadership. 1974 Hagin Bible Faith Study Course 76 : The Holy Ghost is a gentleman. He’s not going to come in you and just take you over and run things on His own. You can find no scripture on any such thing. Devils, demons, and evil spirits will do that. They’ll make peoople do things they don’t want to do and force them into doing things but the Holy Ghost, all through the Bible, leads, guides, prompts, urges, or He’ll give you a gentle push. 1982 Ortlund Up with Worship: How to Quit Playing Church 29 : We have come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a Gentleman. We have never seen excesses in behavior. He is seemly! But we’ve seen His characteristics exhibited in living color: great tenderness, great compassion for those embarrassed by their own sin. 1990 Harper Gifted People 29 : I have found that the Holy Spirit treats us with respect. He is a “gentleman” as David du Plessis used to say. 1990 Ecumenical Rev. 108 : David du Plessis, the “patriarch” of the Pentecostal movement, often said: “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He does not force himself on us but comes only where he is welcome! 1994 Chevreau Catch the Fire: The Toronto Blessing: An Experience of Renewal and Revival 101 : John Arnott often reminds those gathered that there is no Scriptural basis for the common belief that “the Holy Spirit is a gentleman, and does nothing without our consent.” 1994 Alpha (Sep.) 3 : God is not a gentleman; God is God. 1995 Porter, Richter The Toronto Blessing, or Is it? 28 : Proponents of the Blessing have repeatedly stated that the old idea that “God is a gentleman” (both polite and English!) is out of date and inaccurate. It is repeatedly claimed that there is no biblical basis for the belief that “the Holy Spirit is a gentleman, and does nothing without our consent.” 1997 Lotz God’s Story xxxiv : Have you kept Him [=the Holy Spirit] standing outside your life because you have been unwilling to repent of your sin and have never invited Him to come inside? The Spirit of God is a gentleman. Although you can be aware that He looks longingly into your life, yearning to enter into all that you are, He will not force His way into your life. He waits to be invited. 1999 Heidler Experiencing the Spirit: Developing a Living Relationship with The Holy Spirit 19 : We’ve been taught that the Spirit is a “gentleman” who would never do anything you didn’t ask Him to do. That only shows how little we understand the grace of God. There are times when God’s love for us demands that He move in forceful ways. 2002 Bovier More God: From the Twelve Steps Into Deeper Faith 84 : In Twelve Step meetings I’ve often heard that God is a gentleman and won’t intrude where he’s not welcome. I don’t agree. While God is patient in many respects, the more I know him, the more I recognize him at work, and the more I can see that he was active in my life long before I was willing to acknowledge his presence. 2004 Bartkowski The Promise Keepers: Servants, Soldiers, and Godly Men 89 : As it was explained to me by several Promise Keepers, Jesus is a “gentleman.” The implication here is that a gentleman does not intrude but waits until he is asked to enter. 2005 Williams, Lee Spirit-Led Days: Day by Day with the Holy Spirit 9 : Kathryn Kuhlman said many times, “The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman. He will never do anything to embarrass or hurt you.” 2006 Tucker God Talk: Cautions for Those Who Hear God’s Voice 73 : Describing God as a “Gentleman” who requires an invitation is a weak effort to ascribe to God status and sophistication that is wholly unnecessary. In Scripture we find God speaking to many people uninvited, and there are scenes in the Psalms and elsewhere when God does not speak even when invited. 2008 Carson The Doors of the Church Are Closed 96 : I am fond of saying that God is a “gentleman God,” which means that Jesus will not force His way through the door any more than God would have forced Adam’s obedience in the Garden. We refer to this in theology as free moral agency. 2009 Giles If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going 62 : How many of you have heard the evangelical bunkum that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman and that when He wants to get your attention, He’ll woo you like a lover? I know, kinda weird, eh? 2011 Creed Awakening 32 : “Jesus is a gentleman, Charles. He would not heal someone who does not want to be healed.”
If we study the scriptures it should be obvious that the Holy Spirit is not a gentleman. Let me leave you with a quote from A.W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God.
How different is the God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular mind is the creation of maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence….To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent.