Professional race car engines are carefully designed and rigorously tested to ensure they will operate at high speeds for long periods of time. They produce far more power than the cars the average person would ever drive. Therefore, it would look foolish if a race car driver only drove his car on the streets of his neighborhood! Race cars were made for speeding around a track, not puttering down the block. In the same way, it is possible for Christians to live at a level far below what God has intended for us. The Holy Spirit lives within every believer, but if we do not understand His purposes for us and His work in us, we will not enjoy the fullness or the power of the Christian life. It is necessary for every Christian to believe certain truths about Jesus Christ, the Son of God – that by His death and resurrection we are redeemed and justified (Rom. 3:24). Most Christians also believe something about God the Father – that “God (the Father) so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). Perhaps these seem to be the essential points of the Christian faith, and thus some Christians may not focus at all on the activity of God the Holy Spirit.
But the Bible reveals to us a triune God – a unity of three persons – and clearly expresses the reality, divinity and personhood of the Spirit of God. If we leave out God’s Holy Spirit in our understanding of Christianity, we have settled for a deficient view of God that could make us susceptible to influences from false teachers, cults and the religious world views of others.1
The Gift Of The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit’s activity in the world is clearly apparent from the very beginning of the Old Testament when “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2 NKJV). He is, after all, “the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14). Yet there is a definite difference in His work in the New Testament or Christian era. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He told His disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” 2 (Acts 1:8). It is evident that the Lord was giving a new promise to His followers – the promise of divine, dynamic power through a different kind of relationship with the Holy Spirit than God’s people had ever known before.
About ten days later, at Pentecost, the disciples obtained the fulfillment of that promise. Because the Lord Jesus was now glorified in heaven, He received the Holy Spirit from His Father and poured this Spirit out upon them (Jn. 7:39; 14:16; 16:7; Acts 2:32-33). Subsequently, those who believed on the Lord that day also received the gift of the Holy Spirit, as did the Gentiles who believed at a later time (Acts 2:38; 10:45). God does not give His Spirit in small, limited portions (Jn. 3:34). This was true of Christ, and it is also true of those who believed Him. As the writer William Kelly said, “The astonishing thought is, not merely that Jesus receives the Holy Ghost without measure, but that God gives the Spirit also, and not by measure, through Him to others.” 3 The great need for us is not to get more of the Spirit but to allow the Spirit to get more of us!
Based on the collective teaching of these Scriptures, we can affirm that the Holy Spirit is given to every believer in this present Church era, whether Jew or Gentile. As Romans 8:9 declares, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Since God has made such an effort (as we might call it) to provide His Holy Spirit, how important it must be for us to understand Him! If we ignore the work of the Holy Spirit in our thinking, we are ignoring the source of power God has given.
This New Relationship
Some vital points about the Holy Spirit come from the lips of Jesus Himself. Speaking to His apostles at the Last Supper, He described the Spirit of God as the Comforter, or Helper, and also as the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:16-17, 26). This One would guide them to understand the Scriptures, and would remind them of what the Lord had taught them and also would tell them about future events. He would glorify Jesus, not Himself (Jn. 15:26; 16:13).
It is a weighty truth that the Spirit of God teaches us to understand the Word of God. We might remember what it was like for the two disciples in Luke 24 to hear the Lord Jesus as He opened up the Scriptures. Their hearts were warmed as they heard Him. For us today, the Holy Spirit is the same type of Helper as the Lord was then.4 Our Savior is in heaven, yet the Helper whom He and the Father have sent will be with us forever (Jn. 14:16).
In the same context, the Lord told the apostles that the Spirit had been dwelling with them but would soon be in them (Jn. 14:17). This is a key feature of the relationship the Holy Spirit has with believers today, unique to the New Testament. Paul wrote of the Spirit who dwells in us (Rom. 8:9,11; 2 Tim. 1:14); and he reminded the Corinthians, self-centered as they were, that their bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). In the Old Testament King David prayed that God’s Spirit would not leave him (Ps. 51:11), but there is no need for us to pray this today. The Holy Spirit is a permanent resident within every Christian.
This teaching has a collective aspect, as well. In a distinctive way, the Holy Spirit dwells within the entire body of living believers worldwide. It is He who forms the unity of the Church which was established at Pentecost when believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon them (Acts 1:5; 1 Cor. 12:13). This is not in reference to the symbol of water baptism, for baptism is not what joins Christians to the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who does so, inhabiting believers collectively and thus uniting us to one another in the body of Christ, forming a holy, worldwide temple for God, a dwelling place for God through His Spirit (Eph. 2:21-22).
It makes a great impact when we realize that God’s Spirit inhabits not only individual believers but also the Church as a worldwide body. It is God’s Church, not ours, and He dwells in it. Local gatherings of believers, as small representations of the whole, can and should function in ways that display our realization of this. This will both empower and humble us the more we understand it.
Another aspect of this relationship is that the Holy Spirit acts as a seal on our lives. In times past, when a government official sealed a document, he stamped his unique mark in the wax seal to indicate his authority. If the scroll or envelope still had an unbroken seal when it was received, it would also mean that no one had tampered with the contents. In the same way, believers are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). God has put His mark on us to show that we are His. He will not abandon us. Our salvation is as secure as the work of the Spirit Himself.
In direct connection with this point, the Spirit is also our “guarantee” (Eph. 1:14) that God will preserve us as His possession all through our lives until He welcomes us into His presence. Other translations use words like “earnest,” “deposit,” or “down payment” to indicate this truth. All these words have the same importance, showing that God will finish the work He began in us. Although He has purchased us through the death of Christ, we are not yet with Him in heaven. But this is no cause for uncertainty on our part; God has given us His Spirit to prove that He intends to bring us there (Eph. 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22).
The Activity Of The Holy Spirit
So far, we have considered aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work that display His relationship with us as followers of Christ. He empowers, teaches, helps, indwells and unites us; and He also seals us with the promise that we are the Lord’s. But He is also active daily within us, desiring to bring us closer to the image of the Lord Himself (2 Cor. 3:17-18). To that end, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). This is the standard for the Christian, and all true service for God must be done in this character. Stephen helped oversee financial support for widows, while Barnabas taught the Scriptures to new believers. Their acts of service were very different, yet both were “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:5; 11:24). However, the reality is that we are not always filled with Him.
For example, the first Christians in Jerusalem were filled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Later we read again that they were filled (Acts 4:31), which indicates that this filling was not a continuous condition. What is clear, however, is that Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit will speak much of the wonderful works of God and the glory of Christ (Acts 2:11; 7:55). Sometimes Christians were enabled to speak other languages in order to demonstrate the power of God’s message, especially to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:21-22). However, the evidence that a believer is filled with the Spirit does not rest only in that kind of event, but rather in his/her readiness to express the Word of God (Acts 4:8-12; Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16-17).
Another activity of the Holy Spirit is the provision and use of spiritual gifts. His work in this area is emphasized in 1 Corinthians 12. He divides spiritual gifts among believers as He chooses, He enables them to exercise those gifts (12:4-11), and He displays the unity of the body of Christ as those gifts are used (12:12-28; Eph. 4:3-4). Service done for the Lord must be empowered by the Spirit, not our own wills. As the Lord Jesus declared, whenever refreshing “rivers of living water” flow from His people, it is due to the activity of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:37-39). By that means we can serve Him and bless others.
Further, we are instructed to walk in the Spirit. Romans 8:4 and Galatians 5:16 suggest the daily activity of walking through life. Then Galatians 5:25 implies an orderly progression, walking forward at the same pace as the Spirit; some translations direct us to “keep in step with the Spirit.” Walking is a methodical, daily process and the Christian life is a daily process as well. Yet the Holy Spirit is so interested in our every step that the Bible tells us to be led by Him (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18). In both passages, following His leading is the way to overcome the demands of our own fleshly desires, which produce a multitude of destructive works.
Sometimes the thought of the leading of the Spirit is emphasized during a meeting of assembled Christians, as if He provides a special sort of leading at those times. But the Scriptures do not use the phrase that way, picturing instead a continuous sensitivity to His leading that permeates our lives before, during and after such meetings. This is described triumphantly as “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2) as He overcomes our natural propensity to commit sin.
These activities of the Holy Spirit bring God-honoring results! What’s more, they are not reserved just for a few super-spiritual Christians but are available to every believer. This is the way of victory in the world as we await the day when we are with the Lord in heaven.
1. This point is emphasized by Bayard Taylor in his book, Blah, Blah, Blah: Making Sense of the World’s Spiritual Chatter (Bethany House, Minneapolis MN., 2006, pp. 229-230). On page 100 the author notes that only in the Christian faith does it make sense to say, “God loves you!” The God of the Bible, being One in three persons, knows intrinsically what love is, for it is expressed in the divine relationship of the Persons of the Godhead before the world began, especially expressed between the Father and the Son. Upholding the teaching of the Trinity is essential to the faith.
2. Some Bible translations use the phrase “Holy Ghost” in this and other verses. The terms “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” are the same in the original Greek language of the New Testament.
3. Some translations add the words “unto Him” at the end of John 3:34, suggesting that only Christ received the Spirit without measure. But as Kelly further noted, that phrase lessens the impact of “the exceeding preciousness of what seems to be, at least, left open” as God’s general principle of the gift of the Spirit. See Kelly’s Introductory Lectures on the Gospel of John, available online at http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/kelly/3nt_int/johnint.html .
4. The Greek word for “another” in John 14:16 implies not a contrast, but “another of the same kind.”
By Stephen Campbell
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org