Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 17, 1970
NUMBER 19, PAGE 3,5b-6

Is The Spirit Unpredictable?

[No. 2]

James D. Bales

Jesus said: "The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) Does this mean that the Spirit and the Christian are unpredictable? Is it impossible to tell from the Scriptures what the Spirit may or may not do today? If it is impossible, one cannot take the sword of the Spirit and slay any of the errors of the Pentecostal movement because no one can determine, from the Bible, how the Spirit will work today. As the author set forth in the previous article, this would make it impossible to determine whether anything is or is not of God.

Wind Or Spirit?

The American Standard Version says: "The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8). The margin translates it "The Spirit breatheth. . ." The word can be translated "wind" and it can be translated "Spirit." It is unnecessary, in so far as our discussion is concerned, to decide whether it should be translated "wind" or "Spirit."

If, as many think, it should be translated wind there is a comparison between its invisible working and the birth of the Spirit. Jesus did not say one cannot know anything about the wind and its movements. We can certainly tell in most cases whether it is from the north, east, etc. However, of any particular gust of wind we can hear its voice, but we do not know whence it came (its place of ultimate origin) nor do we know whither it goeth (its ultimate destiny). As Godet suggested: "Jesus does not speak of the explanation of the wind in general. He calls to mind only that, in each particular case, it is impossible to determine exactly the point where this breath is formed and the one where it ends."

Jesus does not say that there are no laws regulating the movement of the wind, but these laws are not made by man but are involved in the nature of wind itself. As Westcott observed: "The wind obeys its own proper laws, which depend on a complication of phenomena which we cannot calculate, and consequently for us it is a natural image of freedom."

There is a comparison between the action of the wind and the birth of the Spirit, for Jesus said: "so is every one that is born of the Spirit." The wind itself escapes the observation of the senses but its presence is proved by its effects. We hear its voice, and we see its impact on the grass and the trees. The unseen manifests its presence through its effects. As Westcott said: "The action of the Spirit on the believer is like the action of the wind in the material world. As the tree (for example) by waving branches and rustling leaves witnesses to the power which effects it; so is every one that hath been born of the Spirit. The believer shows by deed and word that an invisible influence has moved and inspired him. He is himself a continual sign of the action of the Spirit, which is freely determined, and incomprehensible by man as to source and end, though seen in its present results." As Orchard put it: "So, the man born of the Spirit shows effects that are perceptible, but the vital processes of the Spirit are invisible."

If it should be translated "Spirit" instead of "wind," is not the principle the same? We hear the voice of the Spirit, and we know not the ultimate source except that it is in God, and we know not the ultimate destiny except that we know it is to be with God. We do not see where and when the word starts working in a heart and we cannot foresee the consequences of it in a particular life. Those who are born anew experience "the spiritual influence, but find it incomprehensible in its origin, which is from above, and in its end, which is eternal life." (Plummer).

We know that the word is the voice of God (Matt. 22: 31); the witness of the Spirit to us (Heb. 10:15); and is the Spirit speaking to us (Rev. 2:1, 7). This word, this seed of the kingdom, is not erratic or lawless. Its source is not man, and it is not subjected to man's will. Instead it is the voice of the Spirit and its design is to bring man into submission to God's will.

We cannot see with our eyes the influences which the Spirit is bringing to bear on the life of the individual. We know the Spirit works through the word in convicting men of sin, righteousness, and judgment. But we do not see the word as it works in the heart. We do not know how long it may be in his mind before he yields to its influence. We see the effects of the word. By the actions of the individual we can tell that the Spirit is directing his life through the word of God. Even unbelieving husbands can see the influence of the word in the lives of their wives (I Pet. 3:1-6).

The invisible Spirit is not seen, but His voice, His word, is heard, and His impact on the lives of men and women can be seen as they accept the gospel and live the new life in Christ. However, this has no reference to unpredictability.

God Is Dependable

God is not unpredictable and changeable. Our hope is based on His constancy. As Hebrews says: "Wherein God, being minded to show more abundantly unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us." (Heb. 6:17-18). James said: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." (Jas. 1:17-18) His word does not teach that the laws of the new birth are unpredictable.

The unchangeableness of God does not mean that God conforms to man's ideas, so that man lays down what the unchangeableness of God means. We cannot know the mind of God except as He has revealed His mind (I Cor. 2:8-14). There were various stages in the revelation of God to man. This revelation of God flowered forth in its fulness in Christ and His gospel. This is the complete and final revelation of God to man on this earth. (Matt. 5:17-18; Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1-4; 10:1; John 14:8-9; Jude 3; I Pet. 1:25). The scheme of redemption through Christ was not all revealed at once, but it has now been fully revealed (Eph. 1:9-10; 2:13-22; 3:3-21).

We cannot depend on the traditions of men but we can depend on the word of God. And the only word of God which we have is found in the Bible.


Jesus had the Spirit. If the Spirit is unpredictable, Jesus was and is unpredictable. If this were the case, the prophets could not have predicted that He would go the way of suffering, rejection, and death. They could not have foreseen that He would be raised from the dead, ascend to reign at the right hand of God, and reveal and confirm His message to the world. If He is not dependable, how can we depend on Him for salvation? As a matter of fact, Jesus Christ was, and is, very dependable. We can count on Him. He is not unpredictable.


The Spirit works as He willeth, but this does not mean that His working is arbitrary. Instead, He works as God will that He work. The Spirit searcheth "the deep things of God," the Spirit knoweth the things of God, and the Spirit has revealed through the inspired men those things of God which God willeth for man to know. (I Cor. 2:10-13). In revealing the truth in all of its parts, the Spirit, Jesus said, "shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak.. . he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he taketh of mine, and shall declare it unto you." (John 16:13-15). When the Spirit maketh intercession for us, He does it according to God's will (Rom. 8:26-27).

We can know how God wills for the Spirit to work, and how the Spirit wills to work, by that which is contained in the "all truth" into which the apostles and prophets of the first century were guided. If we do not earnestly contend for this faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), we shall be unable to distinguish between the work of the Spirit of God and the work of the devil.

Laws Of The New Birth

We can judge the presence of the wind by its effects. We determine the presence of the Spirit in producing the new birth by the effects in the life of the individual. Since this is true, there must be some standard by which to judge the effects as to whether they are of the Spirit or whether they are not. We can know enough about what is involved in the new birth to know what men must do to be born again. We can know the instruments through which the Spirit works to bring about the new birth. Faith is involved. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." (I John 5:1). John does not here discuss whether repentance and baptism are involved. This must be determined from other passages. How is faith brought about? Through the sowing of the seed into good and honest hearts. (Matt. 13:16, 23). The reason the devil snatches it out of those hearts which cooperate with him is that "they may not believe and be saved." (Lk. 8:12). Paul said that faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). This faith leads to repentance and to baptism into Christ. This is the reason Peter and Paul preached the gospel. Peter said: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth and unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth . . . And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you." (I Pet. 1:22-23, 25).

Paul, therefore, told the Corinthians: "For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel." (I Cor. 4:15). How had he done this? Through preaching the gospel, and their reception of the gospel. "And Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." (Acts 18:8). They were baptized into Christ, so they were born of water and the Spirit into the kingdom. In speaking of God, James said: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." (Jas. 1:18).

If a person is not baptized into Christ, we know that the effects, produced by the Spirit in bringing about the new birth, have not been produced in that person's life; therefore we cannot affirm that he has been born of water and the Spirit. If the individual does not do what the Spirit says he is to do in order to become a Christian, what scriptural right do we have to affirm that the Spirit has produced the new birth in that life? The great commission revealed that people were to come into the kingdom through hearing and obeying the gospel, but how do we know that this is the way the Spirit does it now? Paul, inspired by the Spirit, tells us that when we are translated into the kingdom we are translated into Christ. "... who delivered u, out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption. . ." (Col. 1:13-14). To be in the kingdom was to be in Christ, for after saying we have been translated into the kingdom Paul shows that we are in Christ. Redemption is in the kingdom, and redemption is in Christ. To be in Christ is to be in the kingdom. How do we come into Christ? We come through faith, and this faith involves baptism into Christ. "For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ." (Gal. 3: 26-27). Paul shows that sonship is through faith and not through the law. This faith includes the obedience of faith in baptism. The word "for" in verse 27 introduces a substantiation of the affirmation in verse 26 (that we are children by faith) by showing how by faith we became children of God. We are sons of God in Christ, not outside of Christ. We are baptized into Christ. Baptism is an act of faith of the believing, penitent heart. It is into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:2-5, 17-18). We are under the same reign of Christ under which the great commission went into operation around 2,000 years ago. The reign, which was then proclaimed, continues until all enemies are conquered. The last enemy is death. This conquest does not take place until the judgment and the casting of death and hades into the lake of fire (Acts 2:34-36; I Cor. 15:24-28; Rev. 20:11-15).


The unpredictable person is the unreliable person. One cannot tell what he is likely to do. When an individual tries to follow certain principles, laws, rules, or regulations you can tell what he is going to do if he lives up to his principles. Of course, none of us are perfect and so we cannot always tell before-hand what he is going to do. However, to the extent that he is reliable to that extent he is predictable. If we know his principles, whom he is trying to imitate, and the understanding and information which he has at the time, we can know what he is going to do if he adheres to his principles.

Every Christian should strive to be reliable. Every Christian, therefore, should strive to be predictable. If one born of the Spirit is unpredictable, he is unreliable. If we cannot depend on what the Spirit has said and done in the Bible, if we cannot use the Bible to measure everything to see whether it is endorsed by the Spirit, the Spirit himself is unpredictable and we do not know on what to rely. From a study of the Bible we are thoroughly convinced that the Spirit is reliable and, therefore, we can predict that nothing is inspired by the Spirit, and endorsed by the Spirit, which is not taught in the Bible.

— Harding College, Searcy, Arkansas