THE HOLY SPIRIT

- by the Reverend Patrick Whitworth

No more exciting discovery has been made in the Church's life than the rediscovery of the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit. In the sixteenth century it was through the rediscovery of the biblical teaching of Justification by Faith that the Church was renewed; in the twentieth century it is through the fresh experience and understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the body of Christ, that the Church is being renewed. The Holy Spirit is not a doctrine, a concept, but the dynamic presence of God in the 'earthenware' Church who precipitates an 'event' wherever He truly works.

The Spirit in the Old Testament

Some Christians make the mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit did not arrive on the scene of human experience until He was poured out at Pentecost on the disciples. However, any acquaintance with the Old Testament soon dispels this idea. He was there at creation 'moving on the face of the waters' (Genesis 1; 29) . His activity is unmistakable, yet it was limited in contrast with His work in the ministry of Jesus and in the early Church. One of the chief distinctions that can be drawn between the old and the new covenants is that, in the former, the Spirit was given particularly rather than generally . So we find that the Spirit was given to particular individuals for particular tasks rather than to the entire people of Israel; for example, Moses and the seventy elders were given the Spirit in order to lead the children of Israel but the rest of the Israelites were given the commandments only . The Old Testament shows a partial giving of the Spirit to a few, for a specific purpose; yet Moses longed for the day when all God's people would receive the Spirit in the way that he and the seventy had. "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them" (Numbers 11; 29) . Throughout the Old Testament the tension is the same: on the one hand the Spirit is given to special individuals either for a lifetime or for a task but on the other hand a greater dispensation of the Spirit was supremely spoken of in the famous prophecy of Joel 2; 28 - "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men shall see visions" . It was, therefore, natural that Peter should see Pentecost as the dawning of this new dispensation and the conclusion to the Old Testament, now superseded by a far more wonderful covenant at whose heart was the Cross of Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus. (Acts 2; 22 - 36).

The Spirit and Jesus

Between the Old Testament and the birth of the Church at Pentecost stands the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is and was the bringer of God's Spirit. John the Baptist, describing the ministry of Jesus in St Mark's Gospel concludes his proclamation with the words "I have baptised you with water; but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1; 8) . Jesus was not only the bringer of the Spirit to the church (John 2O; 22) but His own ministry for three years was impelled by the power of the Spirit. The Spirit came upon Mary so that she conceived Jesus (Luke 1; 35) , the Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism (Mark 1; 10) , the Spirit drove Jesus out immediately into the wilderness to be tempted (Mark 1; 12) , the Spirit empowered His ministry (Luke 4; l8) . In fact, we may infer from the Gospel writers that not a word was spoken, a healing performed without the full power and authority of the Spirit. It was the Spirit who came into Christ's lifeless body in the tomb and raised Him back to glorious resurrection life. (Romans 1; 4, Romans 8; 11) .

Christ's ministry more than any prophetic ministry in the Old Testament was empowered by the work of the Spirit. But Christ was also the giver of the Spirit. Just as the Father had sent Jesus, so Jesus through prayer to the Father sent the Spirit to the new Christian community (John 14; 16) . The Spirit will guide the Christian community (John 16; 13) , He will glorify Christ (John 16; 14) , He will declare or manifest Christ to the believer (John 16; 15) . But the gift of the Spirit to the Church would only come after both the death of Christ (John 7; 39) and the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1; 4 & 5) . The Church therefore waited in Jerusalem.

The Spirit and the Church

From Pentecost onwards the true church became a Spirit-filled community. The disciples who had been an uncertain and timid group of people, unwilling to proclaim the news of their resurrected Lord were transformed after Pentecost. Many of them like Peter, Stephen, Philip and later Paul preached the Word of God boldly. The story of the growth of the early church as told in the Acts of the Apostles clearly reveals the dynamic of the Spirit urging and directing the evangelism of the early church. What Moses had longed for, and Joel prophesied had come about - the people of God were now linked intimately to Him by the work of the Spirit.

The Spirit brought to the Church, and brings today, a multitude of gifts and ministries. The gifts of the Spirit which in Old Testament times had been the particular preserve of a few special individuals were now distributed amongst God's people. The New Testament churches had rich experience of God's varied grace distributed in gifts to individual members of it. Nor has that distribution of gifts ended (Romans 11; 29) . The list of the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12; 4 - 7, 1 Corinthians 12; 8 - 11 and 1 Peter 4; 1O & 11, are not meant to be an exhaustive list, but they are part of the Spirit's overall work in the Church. The gifts of the Spirit are God's grace and power made tangible and practical. They are for the edification of the individual and for the Church's witness to the reality of Jesus Christ's Lordship to-day (Acts 1; 8) . Every member of the Body of Christ will have a gift or gifts (1 Corinthians 12; 7) . "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" and the gift(s) should be sought (1 Corinthians 12; 31) , appropriated and exercised through the power of the Spirit in the context of the Body of Christ - the Church. They are indispensable in the spiritual warfare in which all Christians are engaged.

Not only did the coming of the Spirit mean the bestowal of gifts on the Church but it also meant and means the beginning of fellowship, a 'koinonia' that is family feeling. The Spirit bears witness in our hearts that we are children of God so that the Christian cries, "Abba, Father" (Romans 8; 15) . It is the Spirit who brings a sense of unity and family to Christians. Without this work the Church would be a heap of individuals without any binding relationships.

The Spirit and the Individual

Too often in the past evangelical Christians have stressed the Spirit's work in the individual. But the New Testament hardly ever speaks of singular or solitary Christians, it almost always speaks of a corporate Christian life of which we are individually members - "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12; 2f) . To join the Church, a Christian must be born of the Spirit, to live in the Church means to walk by the Spirit (John 3; 5, Galatians 5; 25) but both these two actions of entering into, and living in the Kingdom of God or the Church are the result of the Spirit's work in the individual. The healthy balance of Paul's words that we are the body of Christ but are individually members of it must be preserved. The tendency of Protestantism to 'individualise' the Christian's life so that he becomes independent and isolated, as well as the tendency to 'communise' a Christian's life so that he loses individual responsibility must be avoided, and the balanced Pauline teaching followed.

The Spirit's complete embrace

However, it is clear from Scripture that it is the Spirit who initiates every disciple of Christ into his discipleship. He, the Spirit, firstly convinces the unconverted of his sin (John 16; 8) . The Spirit then fills the repentant person with Himself (Acts 2; 38) , enabling him to say Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians l2; 3) and so make the essential profession of faith. This process of entering the Christian Community which is brought about through the work of the Father, Son and Spirit is technically called 'regeneration'. Many Christians have experienced a fresh encounter with God after their conversion which they have sometimes called "the Baptism in the Holy Spirit". Whatever the expression used, this infilling by the Spirit is the spiritual birthright of every Christian, and is technically part of true conversion although for some it is chronologically separated from it.

Just as the Spirit enables the individual to enter the believing community, so it is the Spirit who continues to sustain the life of the Christian within the church and activates the Christian in mission to the world. In maintaining the individual's life in the church, the Spirit interprets God's Word to the Christian's circumstance, He helps the Christian to pray (Romans 8; 26) , He assures the Christian of God's love (Romans 5; 5) . He bears witness in the Christian's heart that he belongs to God and to other brothers and sisters in Christ, (1 John 3; 24) . He gives gifts of the Spirit to each believer (1 Corinthians 12; 11) and He gives the energy of the Spirit to use these gifts in the service of the brethren (Colossians 1; 29) . In the course of the believer's time on earth He transforms his character through the growth of the fruit of love, joy, peace - that Christ-likeness that is the final testimony to the Spirit's reality in a believer's life. Thus the whole life of the Christian in the Church is sustained and developed by the work of the Spirit.

Equally the Spirit equips the individual for mission. This must be the main lesson of Luke's telling of the Acts of the Apostles - "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1; 8) . From this verse we can see quite clearly that the enduement of the Holy Spirit was to affect the mission of the early church dramatically. The Spirit's work is the same today, when He is to be found working in power, He activates Christians in mission.

As we said at the beginning, the Holy Spirit is not doctrine.......
He is a person who wishes to fill our lives with His presence.
To be filled with the Spirit, we must be surrendered to Jesus, repentant of our sins, and expectant.

"Are you sure that you want to be possessed by a Spirit who, while He is pure and gentle and wise, will insist upon being lord of your life. Are you sure you want your personality to be taken over by One who will require obedience to the written word? Who will not tolerate any of the self-sins in your life: self-love, self-indulgence? Who will not permit you to boast or strut or show-off? Who will take the direction of your life away from you and will reserve the sovereign right to test and discipline you? Unless you can answer an eager 'Yes' to these questions, you do not want to be filled, you want the thrill of victory or the power, but you do not really want to be filled with the Spirit" [A.W. Tozer].


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