The saying “God (or the Holy Spirit) is a gentleman” doesn’t mean that God wears a top hat and a monocle and speaks in a funny accent. It suggests that God politely waits for you to ask him for something before he provides it.
Sometimes God makes the first move, and sometimes he sits back and waits to be asked before he makes a move. That’s the idea behind the sayings “God is a gentleman” and “the Holy Spirit is a gentleman.”
These sayings are usually invoked in conversations about miraculous healing and the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues. The idea behind the saying is that God waits for us to ask him before he does something miraculous because he wants to confirm that it’s something we really want. In other words, God doesn’t want to override our wishes if we don’t really want him to act in our life in that way.
As you can perhaps imagine, there is a lot of theological material here that Christians can have a lively debate over!
Some Christians argue that God loves us and that he doesn’t wait for our permission before he does something good for us. After all, God didn’t wait for us to ask before he sent Jesus to save us. He just did it because he knew that we needed Jesus’s help.
But other Christians say that God places a high value on our free will and that he won’t force blessings or charismatic gifts on Christians who don’t want them or don’t feel that they’re ready for them. These people say that God wants to give us the blessings that we ask for. They say that God likes to work this way so that we get in the habit of always asking him for whatever we need.
There’s no easy way to prove that either side on this issue is all right or all wrong. This is just a complex area of Christian theology and practice.
On the plus side, however, now you will have an idea of what someone is talking about if they refer to God as a gentleman.
gentleman n. See the run-on entry below.
¶ the Holy Spirit is a gentleman Also the Holy Ghost is a gentleman; God is a gentleman; Jesus is a gentleman. A catchphrase that affirms the belief that God strictly honors each person’s free will and won’t act in someone’s life (such as by healing, granting the ability to speak in tongues, or saving from sin) until he is asked to do so.
Sometimes the expression is used specifically to affirm the importance of orderliness and decorum at church services in which people are speaking in tongues or manifesting other charismatic behaviors (see citations for 1966b, 1972, 1982).
Some Christians criticize the catchphrase’s implication that God can’t or won’t act in a person’s life until he receives permission to do so (see citations for 1994a, 1994b, 1995, 1999, 2002, 2006).
There are references to God’s being a gentleman that predate the citations given below, but these references have to do specifically with the conception of God as being similar in personality and morals to the English gentry. For example: “The Third Earl of Shaftesbury made another contribution to the reconstruction of the conception of God. The Hebrew and Christian God had been regarded and described as an arbitrary, jealous, inconsistent, cruel and revengeful being…. The gentle and esthetic Shaftesbury was repelled by all this…. He held that, while the attitudes and qualities of God in all probability far transcended the human imagination, we could at least go as far as to credit God with the urbanity and decency possessed by a cultivated English gentleman of the year 1700. It is for this reason that Shaftesbury is often described as the first man to discover that God is a gentleman” (Barnes World Politics in Modern Civilization (1930) 72); and: “They followed the advice of the first Lord Shaftesbury, ‘to be gentlemen and to believe that God is a gentleman who would hardly send one to hell for a few gentlemanly sins.’ It was these gentlemen, cool, rational, cultured, aristocratic, and loyal to old tradition and ritual, who voted with the Tory Lords against the Reform Bill in 1831” (Harrold, Templeman English Prose of the Victorian Era (1938) xxxi).
• 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.”