Understanding the Holy Spirit and His Work
To be empowered by the Holy Spirit for life and mission, we need to have a proper understanding of the true personality of the One who empowers us.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is not a wind, an oil, a power, or any impersonal metaphor that the Bible uses to explain His work.
The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit is a personal being with a mind, will, and emotions (1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 12:7-10; Ephesians 4:30). He is a divine person. The pronoun “He” is used frequently throughout the Scriptures to describe the Holy Spirit as a person (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:8-15). He speaks, teaches, testifies, convicts of sin, guides, intercedes, and sends (Acts 13:1-4; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:8, John 16:12; Acts 16:6-7; Romans 8:26; Acts 13:4).
Jesus taught His disciples that another divine person would come who would take his place to comfort, strengthen, and guide (John 15:26; John 16:13). He would be eternal (Hebrews 9:14); He would be all-knowing (1 Corinthians 2:11); He would be everywhere (Psalm 139:7-8); He would be holy (Romans 1:4). The saints are called temples of God because “the Spirit of God dwells in [them]” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In 2 Corinthians 6:16, the Holy Spirit is called “the living God.” He is associated with the Father and Son (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Lying to the Holy Spirit is considered as great a sin as lying to God (Acts 5:3). Above all, from the very beginning, He has been involved in creating and sustaining life (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30). The Holy Spirit has a distinct personality from the Father and the Son (John 15:26; Acts 2:32-33; Matthew 28:19, Acts 20:28).
In summary, the Holy Spirit is not just some vague power—He is the God who was and is with God the Father and the Son from the very beginning. He is sent by God the Father at the request of Jesus to be with us till the end of the world (John 14:26; John 16:7).
The work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible
In the following paragraphs, we observe how the Holy Spirit is manifested and known through His supernatural actions in the Old and New Testaments.
- Holy Spirit in Creation
- Holy Spirit empowerment in the Old Testament
- Joel’s prophesy and the fulfillment in the New Testament
- Holy Spirit empowerment in the New Testament
Holy Spirit in Creation
Holy Spirit empowerment in the Old Testament
1. Holy Spirit empowerment for the work of the tabernacle: The work of the Holy Spirit is vividly present throughout the entire Old Testament, particularly during the building of the Tabernacle. He empowers Bezalel and the others involved in the process with wisdom, skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of craft works (Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11፡25-26; Numbers 27:18). This is a great reminder that the Holy Spirit empowers all of our work.
2. Holy Spirit empowerment for deliverance: The Holy Spirit empowers Judges (deliverers), kings, and leaders of the people for a mission. When Israel is in danger of defeat or capture by the surrounding nations and the people cry out for deliverance, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon various leaders (Judges 3:9; Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 14:6, Judges 15:14). Here, the presence of the Spirit is seen in triumphant defeats.
The work of the Holy Spirit is also tangible in the account of Samson’s life and leadership (Judges 13-16). He is a dedicated Nazarene, and the Holy Spirit is upon him on many different occasions (Judges 13:24). The text affirms that the Spirit of Yahweh begins to “move” Samson “at times” (Judges 13:25). This general statement teaches us that the work of the Spirit in Samson’s life is not only present but is significant; the Spirit seems to come upon Samson according to the purposes of God. In Judges 14:6, the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon him to give him the strength to slay a lion; in Judges 14:19, the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon him to help him slay thirty Philistines; in Judges 15:14-15, The Spirit of Yahweh comes upon him to help him slay a thousand Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. The amazing strength and victory seen in the life of Samson is from the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that came upon King Saul and King David.
3. Holy Spirit empowerment upon kings and prophets: When Saul is chosen to be the king of Israel, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him and he prophesizes (1 Samuel 10:10); the same Spirit later comes upon him to give him victory in battle (1 Samuel 11:6; 1 Samuel 11:13).
This same Spirit empowers the Old Testament prophets to give them prophetic inspiration and guidance. The Spirit-filled prophets speak the truth and stand for justice in contrast to the false prophets who speak out of their own spirits. In Israel’s history, we also read about kings Saul and David experiencing prophecy as a result of the Spirit’s power (1 Samuel 10:1-7, 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 1 Samuel 19:19-24).
David notes that “the Spirit of Yahweh spoke by me, and His word was in my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). In 1 Kings 22:24-25, the Spirit of God is involved in the words of the prophets as shown by the argument between Zedekiah and Micah. Then, specifically in 1 and 2 Kings, the role of the Spirit centers mainly on the prophet Elijah, to whom the Word of the Lord frequently came (1 Kings 17:2; 1 Kings 17:8; 1 Kings 18:1; 1 Kings 18:7-12).
The idea evident in these passages is that the Spirit can transport Himself from place to place, from person to person—Elijah is not simply being “led by the Spirit” subjectively or falsely. This reality is reinforced when the Spirit of God is mentioned in reference to Elijah’s life and ministry. In 2 Kings 2:16, the sons of the prophets tell Elisha that they want to look for Elijah in case the Spirit of Yahweh has caught Elijah up and placed him on some mountain or in some valley.
Elisha, the servant of Elijah, who saw the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Elijah, asks for a double portion of Elijah’s “Spirit” when Elijah is taken up to heaven by the Lord (2 Kings 2:9-15). After Elijah is taken from Elisha, the prophets’ sons recognize that the Spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha (2 Kings 2:15). The work of the Holy Spirit was tangible in the lives of God’s people.
Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit comes upon several individuals for different purposes (2 Chronicles 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 20:1-23; 2 Chronicles 24:20). In Nehemiah 9:30, the Levites remind Israel that in Moses’ day, God gave His “good Spirit to instruct them.” In Ezekiel 11:5-12, the Spirit of the Lord falls upon the prophet to induce a prophetic utterance. In Ezekiel 2:2, the Spirit certainly enters into the prophet as an introduction to his prophetic ministry recorded in the book.
In all these instances, it appears that the Holy Spirit came upon these people or filled them to give prophecy. The Holy Spirit enabled the prophets both in receiving and delivering the message effectively. The prophets received revelation, inspiration, direction, strength, and motivation for the ministry of promoting true allegiance to the Most High God.
Joel’s prophesy and the fulfillment in the New Testament
Joel prophesized about the coming of the Day of Yahweh when the Lord would pour out His Spirit on His people and those who call upon Him would be saved (Joel 2:28-32). In the future, when the Lord heals the land, He will pour out His Spirit on His people, on all people, and miracles will occur in the sky as part of the coming Day of the Lord. The New Testament portrays the heart of this message—that the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh at the end time. This special section is cited in Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:17-21); Peter turns to the Old Testament for an explanation of what has happened on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:17-21 becomes an invitation to humanity to recognize God’s power in the end times. We have such a great hope to participate in the new era in which the Holy Spirit equips the faith community for victorious life and a special task of ministry through His power. Though we live in a world full of evil and oppression, crises, disease, injustices, and disappointments, we have God, the Holy Spirit, who is present and brings restoration and transformation to the broken world in which we live.
Holy Spirit empowerment in the New Testament
Before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit because, without the power of the Holy Spirit, it was impossible for them to carry out the great task that was given to them (Acts 1:5-8). They waited in prayer, and when they received the power of the Holy Spirit, they became effective witnesses (Acts 2). Acts 2:17-21 is the fulfillment of the prophecy of God outpouring His Spirit as proclaimed in Joel 2:28-32. The message is about God pouring out His Spirit on all flesh. In the context of Acts 2:17, the word used for flesh is sarx and it denotes all of humanity (the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh, everyone who belongs to the restored community). It is all about the empowerment of the people of God to live lives of discipleship and serve His purpose with the power of the Holy Spirit. What was the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the lives and ministries of the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost?
The apostles witnessed to others by demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit that worked in them. The Holy Spirit filled them with boldness in the midst of persecution and, as a result of the empowerment, their testimony was demonstrated with power (Acts 4:30-37). Like the early Church, we all need the same power that the Holy Spirit gave the apostles in order to have boldness in our ministry. The Holy Spirit united their hearts together to share a common purpose and possessions; the believers were unselfish and were willing to share all they had.
As they continued to teach and proclaim the word of God with the power of the Holy Spirit, the number of disciples multiplied greatly. In Acts 1, there were 120; in Acts 2, their number grew to 3120; in Acts 4, to 5000. When persecution broke out in Jerusalem, Philip the evangelist took the Gospel to Samaria. The Samaritans listened to him, saw miracles (including healing and casting out of evil Spirits), had great joy, believed his message, and were baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 8:6-17).
When Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans, they also received the power of the Holy Spirit for ministry. The gift of the Spirit to believers at Samaria demonstrates that all, even a despised group like the Samaritans, are to engage in the missionary task and bear the shared responsibility given by the Spirit (Acts 1:8; Acts 8:12).
When Peter preached to Cornelius and his family and friends, the Holy Spirit came upon them in the same way as He had on the first disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2; Acts 11:12-18). The most significant implications of the Roman Pentecost are the impartiality of the gift of the Spirit (coming on all flesh), the unity of the body of Christ (just as the Spirit gave gifts of language on the day of the Pentecost), the sign of global unity of the body of Christ (as a reversal of the story of Babel), and the witnessing of God’s saving activity through their tongues (Acts 2:17-21; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:44-48).
In Acts 19:2, when Paul met with the believers in Ephesus, he asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Paul’s question implies something significant about the lives of these disciples. According to Luke’s narration, there is evidence indicating that these disciples lacked something critical—the outpouring of the Spirit for which Jesus commanded His own disciples to wait (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8). Indeed, the narration of Luke in Acts 1, 2, 4, 8, and 19 implies that the power of the Spirit for the disciples of Jesus was essential for the mission they were given.
From Luke’s narration, it appears these disciples in Ephesus did not reach out to anyone until Paul himself came to teach and preach to them for three years. These disciples were not part of the new movement and the initial experience of the Spirit’s power. Paul’s coming to Ephesus marks another decisive moment in missionary history—Ephesus was to be a new center for the Gentile mission, next in importance to Antioch, and these twelve disciples were to be the nucleus of the Ephesian church.
Indeed, Paul commanded the Ephesian church in his letter to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) with the sense that they should live under the power of the Spirit on a daily basis. It is normative for Christians in the new era to be under the power of the Spirit. In his letter, Paul indicated that power and unity in the Christian life and mission come through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16). The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s power is to bring full knowledge of God (Ephesians 3:18) because God’s power extends beyond our imagination (Ephesians 3:20). Both Luke and Paul are not talking about a one-time experience—they expect the power of the Holy Spirit to be a normative experience for disciples of Christ in the new era.
What is your knowledge of the Holy Spirit?
Who is the Holy Spirit to you?
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