Religious experience is problematic because there is no means of verification other than one’s own “experience.” For example, an individual might claim a vision of Jesus, a voice from above, the apparition of an angel, or, Ezekiel-like, transportation to an unfolding realm. To follow such a thing, a person must have more faith in the declarer’s experience than having faith in God. Through taking the word of a man we make ourselves susceptible to that individual’s influence. Thus it becomes possible for us to enter their game or delusion, which ever it may be. Maybe it is our own cog turning in the brain, an intense epiphany, a fluke, a little instability, or a hallucination. If so, we must disenthrall ourselves sufficiently to speak no more than what is in the Bible. As it is written; “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Beware, lest we be like the one who said; “I don’t care what is in the Bible, I know what I experienced.” Such things of the imagination are distinguished from the shared experiences of joy, grief, thanksgiving, and the like. They are shared because they are founded on events anyone can know, or ideas which can be expressed and examined even by those who do not believe.
The Holy Spirit was not sent by Jesus to provide us with a religious experience. He came to “. . . convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:8) This means the Spirit’s work has been impressed on the mind of the world. This implies the world’s accountability. The Holy Spirit was sent that the world might know the truth and be made free.
The New King James Version uses the word “convict.” Its meaning is borne out in the following: “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20) And – “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:9) Awareness is made to bloom through truth. This is conviction.
The truth was accepted from the young men who saw visions and the old men who dreamed dreams (cf. Joel 2:28 / Acts 2:17), because the Holy Spirit bore witness to such things by irrefutable signs; sight to the blind, the dead raised to life, the crippled made to walk. To what end was all of this? “. . . the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” (Mark 16:20) Or, as it was told to Cornelius by an angel – “. . words by which you and all your household will be saved.” (Acts 11:17) If you or I have a dream that seems meaningful, we may be able to learn a thing from it, if we derive the answer from the Bible. However, it is your dream, or it is mine. Thus it is not another chapter in the Bible. Our dreams are not to be held sacrosanct by the church because such are not the same as those inspired by the Holy Spirit in the first century.
There are various chemical agents which can induce powerful visions. Pharmakeia is the transliteration of a word from the New Testament which is variously translated sorcery or witchcraft. The implication is clear. Pharmaceuticals are sorcery’s means for delving into the spiritual world. However, one does not need an injection. Our bodies contain a stew of potent ingredients. All we have to do is set our conviction on the testimony of men, and a religious experience can be ours. Weird things may happen when we place our lives upon the uninspired altar of religious experience. Our bodies have an amazing capacity for dreams and visions. The Lord has not called us to follow that path.
We dare not trust even our own feelings (contrary to a most popular mantra). The Bible warns; “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.” (Prov. 28:26) How we feel comes from the way we respond to matters around us. Inspired words from the Holy Spirit give us enlightenment, give us comfort, and give us fear; the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The feelings result from acknowledging the facts. Do we believe and walk away? The answer is seen in the rich young man; “. . . he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:22) Do we believe and obey? Like the Eunuch from Ethiopia, we will go on our way with rejoicing.