*(I have friends who continue to ask questions, have discussions concerning this all-important topic. I am re-sharing some thoughts as a follow-up to "The Holy Spirit Is Not History" message recently. There is one more message that I will share later on the subject. I hope that these will be a blessing to you).
I had the opportunity to listen to a discussion one time among certain educators in our fellowship and the subject was the Holy Spirit. These individuals were scratching their heads, primarily, as it related to some good material concerning the Holy Spirit and His work. It was interesting to me that the best information that one of them could come up with was a work written in the 19th century! It is amazing to me just how little is said or has been written concerning such an important subject, especially given the critical role that He is supposed to play in the life of the Christian. Because of the mysterious nature of the Spirit, He has been a subject of discussion for centuries and it is not hard to believe that it is still the case. If there would be one definitive subject concerning how Christians come to discern freedom in Christ, it has to be in relationship to understanding the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. As little that is said publicly about the Holy Spirit, one would think that there is not much Biblical information concerning the subject. Yet, there are a host of passages to consider. For the purpose of this paper, we will be dealing primarily with Acts 2. Also for consideration will be Joel 2, Acts 1 and 2, Romans 8, Galatians 5, Ephesians 1 and 6.
This discussion begins with the important understanding that the Holy Spirit is a Person in the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Word of God reveals repeatedly that the Spirit is a "He". Part of the confusion concerning this subject has to be traced to the King James version which refers the Spirit with the unfortunate designation of "Holy Ghost". The King James may be a viable translation in many respects, but as it pertains to this subject, it misses the point. In the minds of many persons, this characterizes the Spirit as something “ethereal”...that He is some apparition and, therefore, that He is not “real”. This work will reveal that He is indeed not only real, but that He must be a genuine reality to Christians in their walk with the Lord.
In Acts 2, Peter preaches the first gospel sermon. His purpose is to convict the listeners of their horrific decision to crucify the Son of God. Many are convicted of their grievous sin and ask: “What can we do?” Peter tells them "repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself." (Acts 2:38-39, NAS). Jesus also foretold of these events related to Christian baptism when He was talking with a teacher of the Jews, Nicodemus. I am going to deal with this discussion in another place, so I will forego it here. Nevertheless, much of the context concerning Peter’s writing in this chapter is found in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not typically known for a vast amount of information as it relates to the Holy Spirit. We are most familiar with the fact that He was present and active at the creation, where He is “hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). We also note that David cries to the Lord in His penitential Psalm 51 (verse 11) that the Lord not take His Holy Spirit from Him. There are a few other references, but I believe the most significant one is found in Joel 2:28-29...“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” I think that it is important to note that the Holy Spirit did not stop his work with the message in Joel, but that He was just getting started. The question on the minds of many people would be...when are “those days” that Joel references. Peter provides the answer here. Some have contended that the Holy Spirit was given only to the apostles, and that this was the intention of Joel’s writing. It is true that the Spirit was initially given to the apostles, and that they received Him with power and the ability to do signs and wonders (see John 20:22-23, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4). Yet, both Joel and Peter (Acts 2:16-17) make it clear that the promise spoken of here was to be to all mankind...to sons and daughters, old and young, men and women, and particularly, not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles, as well. So, when we come to Peter’s message in the Acts, he wants these people to understand now that they have come to the realization of their sin that they are in need of a transformation. Baptism is the means by which this transformation can at least, in part, take place. This event is what puts individuals in touch with the cleansing blood of Jesus, empowered by His Holy Spirit. As with these individuals mentioned in this context, the Spirit convicts all sinners concerning their sin (John 16:8).
It is important to understand that this passage is dealing with the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer. He is the gift. Some have speculated from this verse that the Holy Spirit comes to bring a gift, that the gift is something objective. Now while it is true that Christians are blessed with certain gifts (which we talk about later), it is apparent when we bring in other data, that the gift being spoken of here is subjective...it is the Spirit Himself. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians (1:13-14) that "they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." It is this same promise that we see revealed in Acts 2. He tells them in chapter 6:17 of the same letter that they need to “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The Spirit is the wielder...and He uses the Word of God to teach and to train Christians to be whom the Lord wants them to be. He also tells the Corinthians Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that their bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in them. Perhaps the definitive proof of this concept is found in Romans 8:9, where Paul says “you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” He also tells the Romans that “the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God” (8:16). In fact, the entire eighth chapter of Romans is dedicated to discussing the concept of walking with and according to the Spirit of God in Christ.
I am aware that many people are more concerned with the gifts of the Spirit than perhaps with the Spirit himself...some for right reasons, others for wrong...some to glorify God, others to glorify self. I think that we need to be able to exercise the gifts that the Spirit helps to cultivate in us...gifts of grace such as serving, preaching, teaching, encouraging, giving, showing mercy and leadership (Romans 12:7-8). These are very important. Once again, he shares with the Romans that although we may not always know how to pray...what to say, that “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (8:27). He shares with the Corinthians, “...which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13). The Spirit is able to help those who seek His help...to pray, and to teach.
Paul tells the Galatian Christians that they need "to walk by the Spirit" (5:25). This is in the context (chapter 5) of explaining to them that if they are going to walk according to the Spirit of God that they are not going to gratify the desires of the flesh, but seek to allow the Spirit to bear fruit in their lives. While the gifts of the Spirit are important, I believe that they would be impotent without the fruit of the Spirit. It is interesting to note that this is not the “fruits of the Spirit,” as we may have been taught at one point, but a nine-fold “fruit” (sort of a spiritual fruit smoothie) – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We need to be paying attention to allowing the Spirit to work and grow these virtues in our lives.
This is really a brief synopsis concerning the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, but I believe that it is critically important to understand Him. Because of the mysterious nature of the Spirit, it is not possible to discern “everything” about Him, any differently than it would be to do so in relationship to the Father or the Son. However, Paul has laid down the gravity of understanding Him and His work and so it would behoove us to seek to understand. It would be very difficult to truly grasp and understand the liberty that we have in the Son without the work of His Spirit in us.