When the Holy Spirit Comes, Expect Criticism

By Michael Brown Published on April 17, 2024

Christians worldwide are now in the period between Easter and Pentecost. (On the Jewish calendar, Passover begins April 22, with Pentecost — Shavuot in Hebrew — beginning June 11.)

During this period of time 2,000 years ago, the disciples were told to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, without which they could not complete their mission (see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8.) Similarly, today, many Christians are praying for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, recognizing that without it, they, too, cannot complete their mission.

But what can we expect when the Spirit comes? Will His work be accepted by all?

Revealing Hearts

When the newborn Jesus was being dedicated in the Temple, an old Jewish man named Simeon told His mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34–35).

Not everyone would accept Jesus’s mission, and it is the same with the outpouring of the Spirit. The Spirit’s work will reveal what is really in people’s hearts and will be a sign spoken against. As much as the Spirit will bring blessing, it also will bring division.

That’s exactly what happened in Acts 2 when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. As tongues of fire sat upon the heads of the disciples and they began to speak in new languages, many of the devout Jews who were in Jerusalem for that holy day heard them praising God in their own native tongues. This was a miracle and a sign from God (see Acts 2:1-12). Others, however, “made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine’” (Acts 2:13).

They all witnessed the same phenomenon, but some recognized what God was doing while others mocked it, thereby revealing the thoughts of their hearts.

Do It Anyway

This is what happened throughout Jesus’s ministry: many of the religious leaders rejected Him while many of the “common sinners” accepted Him. The former had an outward expression of religious piety but their hearts were far from God; the latter recognized their sin and came running for mercy.

When D. L. Moody, together with his worship leader Ira Sankey, ministered in England and Scotland between 1874 and 1875, some of the leading pastors in the region opposed the meetings. They went so far as to post warnings on buildings throughout Sunderland, England saying: “Part one, questionable procedure. Part two, probable evil results.”

The verdict of contemporary church historians is quite different, recognizing Moody’s ministry during those years as one of the greatest, most far-reaching spiritual events of the nineteenth century in the UK.

Some opposed Sankey’s ministry of song, saying, “Solo singing is not worship. It’s a parade of human conceit. It’s distracting, irreverent.” A deacon in Horatius Bonar’s church in Scotland, where musical instruments had not been used, even called Sankey’s melodeon “a devilish pump machine that wheezes out blasphemy.”

Moody replied, “We know we’re doing right. These men are two centuries behind Boston. Pity them and keep on singing, Sankey.”

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We can learn from Moody’s response.

An Offense to Many

There will always be critics, naysayers, and mockers, but it is a mistake to let them distract us.

Instead, when the Spirit is moving, we should stay humble, always willing to receive constructive criticism while refusing to be distracted by destructive criticism. Our eyes must stay fixed on the prize: the exaltation of Jesus and the transformation of lives.

In his book The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, which was written in response to critics of the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards wrote,

If they wait to see a work of God without difficulties and stumbling-blocks, it will be like the fool’s waiting at the river side to have the water all run by. A work of God without stumbling-blocks is never to be expected. “It must needs be that offences come.”

He continued,

There never yet was any great manifestation that God made of himself to the world, without many difficulties attending it. It is with the works of God as with his word: they seem at first full of things that are strange, inconsistent, and difficult to the carnal unbelieving hearts of men. Christ and his work always was, and always will be a stone of stumbling, and rock of offence, a gin and a snare to many.

That’s why John Wesley was wise to repeat this prayer of a Scottish believer: “Lord, if it please thee, work the same work again, without the blemishes. But if that may not be, though it be with all the blemishes, work the same work.”

Visit us again, Lord!


Dr. Michael Brown is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He is the author of more than 40 books, including Can You be Gay and Christian?; Our Hands Are Stained With Blood; and Seize the Moment: How to Fuel the Fires of Revival. You can connect with him on Facebook, X, or YouTube.


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