This talk was delivered as the opening for the series ‘Encountering the Holy Spirit’ at Saint Mark’s Parish Church, Newtownards.
It’ll come as no surprise to the people here that know me, that I don’t drive! It’s not that I don’t just have a car. I don’t have a license. I started lessons when I was 17. To say I had a few difficulties would be an understatement. One of the worst was when I was coming over the carriageway from Belfast towards Newtownards. The instructor was an old fashioned type. Turns out I was speeding and he asked me to ‘hit the footbrake’. Never having heard it termed as that before and with my vocabulary only extending to ‘handbrake’ and ‘brake’, I pulled the handbrake. The rest as they say, is history. Although I did feel the need to correct the instructor’s bad language! Undeterred, I moved onto my second instructor. It came to an end when he told me that I was too far in the centre of the road. I overcorrected slightly and we ended up in a ditch. I arrived home soaked from the rain, covered in mud from pushing the car out and having made the resolution that it was time to take a break. After a five-year break, it’s still on my to do list.
Despite my lack of car and driving knowledge, I do know one thing. No matter how nice a car you have, if you don’t put in fuel you are only going to get as far as you can push it. This is like our Christians lives. Without the Holy Spirit, we can only rely on our own strength and we won’t get anywhere near as far as we could have. Equally, I know that if you put the wrong fuel in the car, you will not only have the same issues as if you had no fuel at all, but you could end up breaking the engine completely.
There’s a lot of debate in the church today about the Holy Spirit and the role that He plays in our Christian lives. There have been extremes on either side of the spectrum. On one side, we find those who completely neglect the Spirit and have almost reduced the trinity to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Bible. On the other side, we have probably all heard about the abuses in fringe sections of the charismatic movement – false faith healings, money making scams and so on. There have even been strange things happening which do not appear to be Biblical.
Broadly, I believe that people can fit into three main categories:
- Those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit moves today. These people are known as cessationists.
- Those who believe in an academic sense that the Holy Spirit moves today and is capable of the miraculous but they have not moved into the experiential aspect of this belief. This is the largest group that I have come across.
- Those who actively engage with the Spirit (although very few to their full potential – see my talk ‘Walking in Victory’ at stuartgibson.me).
Also in my experience, I have seen a tendency in churches and individual believers to either lean towards the word or the Spirit. The truth is we don’t have to, and shouldn’t, engage with one to the detriment of the other. In 1947, Evangelist Smith Wigglesworth stated ‘When the word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest move of the Holy Spirit that the nations, and indeed, the world have ever seen.’ (UK revival prophecy: Smith Wigglesworth 1947). R T Kendall gives some further perspective to the debate when he says ‘The Holy Spirit does not belong to you. Are you Charismatic? He is bigger than your signs and wonder events. Are you Reformed? He will not be limited by your theology’ (Kendall, 2014, p, XXXIV).
It’s crucial that in engaging with the Holy Spirit and approaching this topic that we have a solidly biblical rationale. It’s vital that we fill up the car with the correct fuel. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (ESV). We need to all, myself included, be open to what the Bible tells us, act on it and, if needed, be corrected or rebuked by it. Then we have to take what we learn and experience through the next few weeks and apply it so that it becomes a normal aspect of our faith.
So let’s biblically tackle the question. Who is the Holy Spirit?
First and foremost, the Holy Spirit is God. This is a central part of the doctrine of the Trinity, which we can define as ‘God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God’ (Grudem, 1994, p. 226). If we subscribe to this doctrine, which we all must, then we must all accept the equality and distinctiveness of the Holy Spirit as fully God. That’s a fact we can all safely agree upon.
A lot of wrong teaching, and therefore dangerous teaching, on the Holy Spirit stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of God. We don’t have time to outline those teachings, but I can point you in the right direction if you want to study them for yourself, but in short they all come down to a wrong view of God.
As R T Kendall reminds us ‘the God of the Bible is sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and Holy.
- The sovereignty of God refers to His divine right to do what He pleases. ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy’ (Rom. 9:15). He ‘works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (Eph. 1:11).
- The God of the Bible is omnipotent – all powerful. There is nothing He cannot do (Luke 1:37).
- The God of the Bible is omnipresent. He is everywhere, there is no place He is not present. Always be looking for His manifest presence. Peter called this, ‘times of refreshing’ (Acts 3:19).
- He is omniscient – He knows everything, past, present and future. Yes, He knows the future as perfectly as He knows the past, declaring the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10).
- The God of the Bible is a holy God. He demands holiness of us in our personal and private lives (1 Pet. 1:16)’ (Kendall, 2014, p.4).
We need to remember too that we are saved by our faith in Christ alone. By accepting that sin separates us from God. By believing that Christ was the son of God. That He, as both fully God and fully man, paid the price for our sins upon the across and rose again from the dead, beating the power of sin and death once and for all. Now whoever places their trust Him and commits their lives to Him are forgiven from all their sin and are no longer separated from the Father and can look forward to an eternity spent with Him. We need to hold tight to these central truths at all times in all places. They, along with keeping our relationship with God as a top priority, will guard us from falling into error.
The Holy Spirt was present at the very beginning of creation itself. In Genesis 1:2 we read ‘The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters’ (ESV). We’re also told that the Holy Spirit wrote the scriptures through chosen people. Interpretations differ over whether the Holy Spirit was at work in a lesser way in the lives of ordinary believers before Pentecost or not at all, except for empowering for special tasks. As we move, however, into the age of the New Covenant, that being the time of Jesus and beyond, the ways in which the Holy Spirit relates to us changes.
In John 16:7, Jesus says to His disciples ‘Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you’ (ESV). This statement from Jesus would have been almost nonsensical for the displaces. How could it be to their advantage that Jesus would go away? This verse makes it clear beyond any doubt whatsoever, that the Holy Spirt is to play a central part in our lives as Christians. But what roles does He play exactly?
In Acts 1:8 we read ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the the end of the earth’ (ESV). This is thematic statement for the whole book of Acts but I also believe for our individual Christian lives; Using the Power of the Spirit to advance the Kingdom.
The disciples, in all likelihood, would have understood ‘power’ to include not only the power to preach the Gospel effectively but also the power, through the Holy Spirit, to work miracles that served the purpose to confirm the message preached. To add credibility to this, the Greek work used for power here, dynamis, is used around seven other times in the book of Acts to refer to power to work miracles in connection with the gospel being preached – Acts 2:22, 3:12, 4:7, 6:8, 8:10, 10:38, 19:11 (Bibles, 2012, pp. 2080 – 2081). This should really come as no surprise, as wherever Jesus proclaimed the Gospel he demonstrated it. Proclamation, through the Holy Spirt, comes with demonstration. We as believers today, can demonstrate the Kingdom of God, just like Jesus did, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit can be defined as ‘to manifest the active presence of God in the world, and especially the church’ (Grudem, 1994, p.634). This powerful new work of the Holy Spirt found after Pentecost, brought with it several other benefits for believers.
- The Holy Spirit empowers us to be more effective in our witness and our ministry.
- The Holy Spirit equips us to give an effective proclamation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19).
- The Holy Spirit gives us power for victory over sin (Romans 6:11-14).
- The Holy Spirit gives us power for victory over Satan and demonic forces (Acts 16:16-18).
- The Holy Spirit gives us a wide distribution of gifts for Ministry.
It’s the Holy Spirit’s gifts for ministry, commonly known as spiritual gifts, that often tend to be the most controversial. It’s in using these, that I believe that we can have the maximum possible impact for Kingdom as individual believers and as the Church as a whole. On a personal note, I know that I am not yet fully walking in the full power of the Holy Spirt made available to me. Sadly, I must also agree with A. W. Tozer when he stated that ‘If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.’ So let’s have a look, briefly, at what the bible outlines these gifts as.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 states ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (ESV). From this passage we can biblically identify and justify the presence of at least nine spiritual gifts accessible to believers:
- Words of Wisdom
- Words of Knowledge
- The Gift of Faith
- The Gift of Healing
- The Working of Miracles
- The Discernment of Spirits
- The Gift of Speaking in Tongues
- The Gift of Interpreting Tongues
Each of these gifts are powerful and they are all direct, supernatural, miraculous manifestations directly from the Holy Spirit. In keeping with our definition of the work of the Holy Spirit, these gifts although different in their outworking, all serve the purpose of displaying the active presence of God in the world and the church. They serve to give us the power to not only proclaim, but to demonstrate the Gospel of Christ.
These gifts aren’t just for some exceptional people. The Bible makes it clear that they are for all believers. 1 Corinthians 14:1 tells us to ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy’ (ESV). There you have it. The Bible is telling us to eagerly desire spiritual gifts. We’re furthermore told in 1 Timothy 4:14 ‘Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see progress’ (ESV). Equally, in 2 Timothy 1:6 we’re told to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’ (ESV). These spiritual gifts are to be desired and sought after. They are to be practiced and walked in. They are to be developed and grown. This is the clear scriptural truth that makes sense of what Jesus said in John 14:12 ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father’ (ESV). It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do the works of Christ, and greater works still, in the world today.
Finally, we need to consider how we engage with the power of the Holy Spirit and how He works through us. In Acts chapter two we read about what happened when the promised Holy Spirit arrived and filled the believers. Today, we receive the Holy Spirit when we come to faith in Christ. Romans 8:11 tells us ‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you’ (ESV). The same power that raised Christ from the dead, lives inside each of us. The Holy Spirit resides in each of us as believers.
More than just living in us, we can actually be filled with more Him. This in turn will result in more incidents of the power of the Holy Spirit working through us. You see the Holy Spirit isn’t content just to stay inside us, He wants to spread from us to the world around us. Acts 4:31 reads ‘And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness’ (ESV). This passage makes it clear that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit more than once. Peter was part of this group and verse 8 in the same chapter stated that he had been ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ On top of this, all the disciples had already been ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:4). We can be filled with more of the Holy Spirit and His power. The Holy Spirit’s power in this case did not come automatically but rather in answer to the disciple’s expectant, believing prayer.
Everything we have looked at tonight is Biblical. I have taken key Bible verses, I’ve prayed through them and read commentary. I’ve looked at sources from various authors. All of this, I’m making available to you if you want to see for yourself. I am convinced that there is no book or chapter or verse in the entire Bible that states or implies that the work of the Holy Spirit that we read about in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts, has ceased in the present day. The Holy Spirit is moving in the same way today as He did when He appeared in the upper room with divided tongues as of fire (Acts 2:3). More than this, I am convinced that the Bible makes it clear that walking in the full power of the Holy Spirit is what the normal Christian life should look like. Jesus give us the Great Commission. He told us to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19, ESV). God wants to use you to build His Kingdom here on Earth. He wants to use you to bring the rules of heaven crashing into this present dark age. He wants us all to be people of power, who shine the light of His love wherever we set our feet. If we are to be as successful on this mission as possible and if we are to have the maximum impact for the Kingdom as we seek to reach our full potential in Christ, then we must step into the full power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s start that journey now as we take the example of the disciples when they prayed for boldness. Let’s expectantly ask the Holy Spirit to work amongst us now. Let’s pray earnestly for more of Him in our lives. For more of His Presence. For more of His Power. For His gifts. For His Boldness. For the salvation of this town.
Bibles, C. (2012) ESV study bible (Esv bibles). United States: Crossway Bibles.
Grudem, W. (1994) Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. 7th edn. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.
Kendall, R.T. (2014) Holy fire: A balanced, biblical look at the holy spirit’s work in our lives. United States: Charisma House.
UK revival prophecy: Smith Wigglesworth 1947 (no date) Available at: http://www.byfaith.co.uk/paulrevival5.htm (Accessed: 9 April 2016).