What is Experiential Christianity?

There is a subjective element to the Christian life. There are seasons when Christ will draw near to the believer in an experiential way. We ought to pray for more of the subjective power and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christians.


We would like to know even more about the experimental aspect - the felt Christ. What are we talking about? What should we be looking for? Well, there are those seasons of encounters of a pervasive sense of the presence of Christ. I know in this age in which we live where deception runs rampant, that the subjective oftentimes is really frowned upon by reformed people. But it bothers me on the other hand that people go to such an extent the other way. It's all cerebral. It's all intellectual. There's nothing animated. There are seasons, friend, when quite honestly, I sense Christ drawing feelingly near. I struggled years ago, and I asked Brother Paul Washer, I said, Paul, what do you think my problem is? I just don't really feel like I'm connecting with Christ. There's just not that sense of God. And Paul told me, he said I think you've become too civilized. You know, you're just so theologically astute, there's no subjective whatsoever. And when Paul and I talked about it, I had had an encounter right after my conversion of a felt Christ, where I mean literally, for ten days there was such a sense of the presence of Christ that I walked in, and as Paul and I dialogued about this, Paul told me, he said, you know, brother, in our pursuit of Christ, if we're willing to tarry, if we're willing to persevere in our pursuit, He always comes. There is a dimension of the felt Christ. But quite honestly, we're just too busy. We're victimized by the barrenness of busyness. We're tired. We're dull spiritually. We don't take these things seriously. But I tell you, friend, there are times when you draw nigh to God, God begins to draw near to you. There's a sense of the felt Christ. And he buoy's you up and supernaturally sustains you, and enables you to even triumph over fatigue. Because God is in the midst. I don't know if you know what I'm talking about or not, but I'm telling you, I really believe the Scripture teaches this, and I want more of Christ. I want to sense and feel more of His presence. Now, when He comes, I'll just say this, there's not only joy unspeakable and full of glory, but there's a pervasive sense of the fear of God. And what will accompany that is great trial, great testing, where there will be a spiritual warfare that you'll begin to experience like you never have before. And so, this is what I mean, maybe I'm just rambling, but there is reality in what I'm saying here. And I want balance in my Christian life, but I've been way too cerebral and too intellectual and trying to be theologically precise, and yet there's more to the Christian life than that. There is the subjective side. I'm not talking about something that does not have any biblical basis. I'm not talking about something that's not biblically predicated. I'm talking about something though that's real, that's biblically warranted as we look to the Lord. And being strengthened with might by His Spirit is the great need of the hour. That's what we need to pray for in our churches is that we be strengthened with might corporately by His Spirit. I echo the same concerns. I'll just let the cat out of the bag, I'm a cessationist. So in my circle, in my camp, we oftentimes will frown on anything experiential. I think that's wrong. Because we're emotional beings. God gave us emotions. He gave us feelings. He gave us very real presence of that. But something that strikes me is when you have weakness - Paul says when I am weak, therefore I am strong. It's the power of God that comes through our weaknesses. When your Christian life starts to dry up, it's usually because you're relying so much on yourself and your ability to understand doctrine, or your ability to be powerful, or your ability to do whatever. Pastors are terrible for it. We do it all the time. But when we're weakened, when we sense our own sinfulness and we sense a lack of strength and power, and not knowing what to do... you can try to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but that's not going to do it. That's not the way that you persevere in the Christian life. That's fleshly. Paul says in Galatians 3, what came by the Spirit, is he going to perfect in the flesh? The answer's no. So, when we are weak, and we actually cry out to God and confess to the Lord, I've been prideful; I've been trying to do this on my own; and you beg Him to draw near like our brother said, He will. And I've been overwhelmed with a very emotional, a very real presence that He's drawing me to Him. Sometimes if I preach and I feel like I've got nothing, when I'm weak, He does something. He works in such a way. So I don't want to say be weak, but I'm saying use that weakness and rely on the Lord. Look to Him by faith, and He will draw you close to Him. But it's not going to be through pride. One final comment on that, Wasn't it Whitefield that used the phrase, "Preach a felt Christ." Whitefield. Of course, that phrase is not in the Bible. But in conveys something. What he was talking about was the experiential, present ministry of the Holy Spirit. That's what we're talking about. There is so much across the board from extreme fanaticism and extremely false teaching about the Holy Spirit, all the way to the other extreme of parts of the professing church that says once the Holy Spirit has regenerated someone, all that He ever does is illuminate the Bible and give your mind understanding of truth. We aren't to experience anything more. We shouldn't look for anything more. Anything more that's experience is counterfeit. And that's a wrong extreme too. It really is. Because the New Testament speaks about the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit. If you read most New Testament commentators that are honest about that, whether it's D.A. Carson, or Iain Murray is really marvelous on this; the very nature of the language is experiential. The Holy Spirit doesn't stop His work when He regenerates us and indwells us. He is alive. He is God within us. And so, He's a Person Who communes with us, encourages us, strengthens us, revives us, and He is Christ in us. We live in the dispensation of the Spirit. As John Owen said, the Old Testament was the dispensation of the Father, the Gospel era was the dispensation of the Son, and when the Son ascended on high and gave the Holy Spirit to the church in Acts 2, that began the era or the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. So, the Holy Spirit is Immanuel - God with us now. Right? So we should cultivate our relationship with the Holy Spirit. And we should welcome His fullness more and more. Luke 11:13 And we should cultivate our relationship with Him. He can comfort us, speak to us, quicken us. You've heard sermons that were just mediocre. And they weren't really speaking to you. All of a sudden, the preacher becomes animated and alive and there's power and authority; and God is speaking in the moment in a way that wasn't happening before. That's the activity of the Holy Spirit. And we should pray for that more and more in our lives and in our churches. And there are seasons for that. Just because you don't see the Spirit causing you to experience something, doesn't necessarily mean that anything's wrong. There are seasons where we just walk in obedience and we're to do what we're supposed to do. There are seasons when He will draw near and make Christ precious to us. Because that's His ministry. So, we need to be open. I was just reading on the life of Spurgeon and he said that it was a very rare occasion that He did not have a tangible sense of the presence of Christ right there beside him in the pulpit. If you read the works of John Owen, who in my opinion is Mr. Intellectual, yet he speaks of this felt, manifested presence of Christ. Now, what's important is biblically, where do we find this? Do you remember in John 14? "He that keepeth My commandments, My Father and I will come and make Our abode with him." Remember Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice! Let your moderation (the word means sweet reasonableness) be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand." He's not speaking of the coming of Christ. He's saying the Lord is right there. So, there are times you see in church history where this overwhelming sense of the presence of Christ comes on the scene. And God manifests His glory and His presence in just a very tangible way, subjectively or feelingly. One final thought: Scripture says with Christ is the residue of the Spirit. He was crowned Lord and Christ ultimately as the High Priest over the church and the Head of the church. He said I will send the Holy Spirit. He said the Father will send Him in my name. But He said I will send Him. So Christ poured out the Holy Spirit in His heavenly reign as the Head of the church, but any time in history there's ever been a revival, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Christ is pouring His Spirit out again on His people. Iain Murray's book, "Pentecost Today," is probably the best book any Christian can read on this subject. If you haven't read it, get it and read it. And it will help you immensely.