The Heart of It All: The Holy Spirit

By Peter Amsterdam

July 16, 2013

The Holy Spirit Working in Our Lives

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

The Holy Spirit, manifested in the first disciples on the day of Pentecost and given to believers ever since, is a fulfillment of the prophecy from the book of Joel, quoted by the apostle Peter right after he was filled with the Spirit:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.[1]

Since the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit has dwelt in those who have entered the kingdom of God through acceptance of Jesus as their Savior. To enter that kingdom, individuals must become new creations—they must be born again, born anew, born of the Spirit.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[2]

God’s presence on earth within the Old Testament was seen in the pillar of fire and cloud, in the thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai, in the burning bush, and other theophanies. Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, was God’s presence on earth during His lifetime. Since the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, has dwelt in those who have been born of the Spirit. God’s Spirit dwelling in believers has been the main manifestation of God’s presence on earth since the time of Jesus’ ascension to heaven.[3]

The Holy Spirit is present in believers and influences our lives in a number of ways. Our telling others about Jesus and God’s gift of salvation is empowered by the Spirit. Our interaction with other Christians in fellowship, worship, and working together in outreach, church, or ministry, is enhanced through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit plays an important role in our personal walk with the Lord, our spiritual growth, and the manner in which we live our lives in conjunction with God’s will and ways. God’s Spirit guides, directs, and leads us as individuals. The Spirit teaches us and gives us understanding. Through the Spirit we receive assurance that we are God’s children, that we abide in Him and He abides in us. The Holy Spirit plays an important role in each of our lives.

The Spirit’s Role in Witnessing

Right before ascending to heaven, Jesus instructed His disciples to go back to Jerusalem and “wait for the promise of the Father,” letting them know that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

While staying with them He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”[4]

He then explained that when the Spirit came upon them, they would receive power to witness.

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 end of the earth.[5]

On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came upon the disciples, and over time they became witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and throughout the known world. There are numerous accounts of the apostles and disciples witnessing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of God who worked through the early church to reach others, who performed miracles through them, who caused them to bravely proclaim the message even in the face of opposition and martyrdom, dwells in Christians today. The commission given to the first disciples, as well as all disciples since that time, is to share the Gospel with others—and the Holy Spirit gives us power and anointing to do so.

One author wrote that the Holy Spirit is a “missionary Spirit.” When Christians are willing to share the Gospel with others, God’s Spirit can and will charge people with power to move beyond themselves and become a witness.[6]

As with other aspects of the Holy Spirit in our lives, much depends on our willingness to yield to God’s leading when it comes to witnessing. Jesus calls us to share the Gospel, and when we respond to that call, we are empowered by the Spirit in our witness. However, if we choose to not speak to others, and thereby “quench the Spirit,”[7] then the Holy Spirit isn’t able to work through us to bring the message to those in need.

The commission to witness is clear, the power to witness is present in the Holy Spirit, and when we do our part, when we choose to share the Gospel with others, we are empowered and anointed by the Spirit to deliver the message to the lost and needy. Through your witness, others hear the voice of God’s Spirit calling them to salvation, to become God’s children, to live with Him forever.

The Gifts of the Spirit

Besides empowering us in our witness, the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to equip us for ministering to others, both those we witness to and other Christians we are in service and fellowship with. The gifts of the Spirit are spoken of and named in six different passages in the Epistles.[8] These listings name a variety of gifts, as well as some offices or callings such as apostle or evangelist, and state that these are gifts which are given by the Holy Spirit for the common good, and that it’s determined by the Spirit which gifts are given to each individual.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit …To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.[9]

The gifts listed are the callings of apostles, prophets, teachers, as well as miracles, healings, helps, administration, tongues, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, distinguishing of spirits, interpretation of tongues, evangelist, pastor, encouraging, contributing, leadership, mercy, marriage, celibacy, speaking, and rendering service. The last two, which are mentioned in 1 Peter, can be seen as encompassing the gifts in general terms.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.[10]

There will be further explanation regarding the specific gifts of the Spirit in part 6 of this set of articles about the Holy Spirit.

All of these gifts can be used in our ministry of reaching others with the Gospel and in service to the Lord and one another. They are gifts which are used for the common good of the church, to enhance the body of Christ, of those you work and fellowship in the Lord with. They are also beneficial in your service to the Lord as you minister to others through your witnessing.

These gifts are a manifestation of God’s presence in the world today, as well as His presence in your life. Some of the gifts are called “supernatural” or “miraculous” gifts, such as miracles, healings, prophecy, tongues, and casting out demons.[11] Other gifts are seen as “nonmiraculous” gifts, such as serving, teaching, leadership, acts of mercy, etc. There is no specific distinction in Scripture between miraculous and nonmiraculous gifts; those are simply handles or categorizations that theologians have given them. Each is a gift the Holy Spirit gives to individuals. They are all gifts from the hand of God, and have great value in our lives and service to others.

Spiritual Growth

Another aspect of the Holy Spirit’s presence and manifestation in our lives is in regard to our spiritual growth, our becoming more Christlike. The theological term for this is sanctification. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives brings about a progressive growth toward godliness. God is holy, and His Spirit moves us to live our lives in a manner that emulates His nature and character. We grow in our faith, in applying God’s Word in our daily living, in making choices and decisions that are in alignment with God’s will, Word, and character. As we do, we grow in holiness and “are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”[12]

The fruit, or effect, of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is that we become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and we have more self-control. In short, we become more godly or holy. With our increased self-control, we are better able to resist becoming angry with others, as well as impatient, unkind, unloving, and hateful. We are less likely to act in ways that hurt others, or ourselves, through negative and ungodly actions and attitudes. We are better able to rise above our inherent human sinful nature.

We face a constant struggle between acting in our own best interests and behaving in the likeness of God, which is what God’s Spirit directs us toward.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.[13]

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.[14]

As we yield to the Spirit’s guidance in our daily lives, as we make the right moral choices by applying the principles of God’s Word, we progressively grow in our walk with the Lord. The Holy Spirit works within us to help us make the right choices by empowering us to resist sin, to choose to act in a more godly manner. Sin, and the temptation to sin, is never eradicated from our lives; but as we grow spiritually, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are better able to stand firm against it, to not yield to it.

The Spirit’s Presence

Within the New Testament, the Holy Spirit’s presence was manifested in a variety of ways. When John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the Holy Spirit’s presence was seen as a dove descending and remaining upon Him. On Pentecost, the Spirit was manifested in tongues of fire and the sound of a mighty wind, and in the disciples speaking in foreign tongues. Throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon believers, and it was clear that they were filled with the Spirit.

John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him.”[15]

Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[16]

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’[17]

The Spirit’s presence in this day and age continues to manifest itself in the lives of believers in a variety of ways. This manifestation is seen in the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit (see list above) and in miracles, signs, and wonders.

God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.[18]

Internally we see the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives through the witness the Spirit bears within us that we are God’s children and He is our Father; that we abide in God and He abides in us; and through the guarantee or down payment on the promise of eternity with the Father.

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.[19]

Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.[20]

It is God who … has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.[21]

Guidance and Direction

Within Scripture there are a number of instances in which the Holy Spirit directs and guides individuals. After His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He fasted for forty days and was tempted by Satan.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days.[22]

A further example is of the Spirit guiding Philip, who was one of seven deacons chosen to help manage the food distribution in the Jerusalem church.[23] After the stoning of Stephen, Philip left Jerusalem to bring the Gospel to Samaria. Being directed by an angel to leave Samaria and to go on the road to Gaza, he went, and while on the road the Holy Spirit gave him specific direction.

There was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”[24]

Other examples of direct guidance from the Spirit include the instructions to the Antioch church to send Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey, the Spirit forbidding Paul to speak the word in Asia and instructing him to not go to Bithynia, and Peter being told to go with the three men to Cornelius’ house.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.[25]

[Paul and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.[26]

While Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”[27]

These are some biblical examples of the Spirit giving guidance. When looking at the list of the gifts of the Spirit, we see specific ways in which the Holy Spirit leads and guides. The gifts of prophecy, wisdom, and knowledge are means to find the guidance of the Spirit. Guidance can also be given through the teaching and exhortation of men and women who have these gifts of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit can also teach us, speak to us, and give guidance as we read God’s Word.

Keeping the Presence of the Spirit in Our Lives

A beautiful quote from author Wayne Grudem says:

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with the immediate presence of God Himself, and it therefore will result in feeling what God feels, desiring what God desires, doing what God wants, speaking by God’s power, praying and ministering in God’s strength, and knowing with the knowledge which God Himself gives.[28]

As Christians, we have the privilege of the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us. We’ve been given the honor of our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit, of having God’s presence in our lives. It’s truly something to value.

While God’s Spirit is present in our lives, the degree of the manifestation of the Spirit’s presence depends on us as individuals, on how much we open ourselves up to the Spirit’s influence. In the Old Testament, there are examples of some who had the Holy Spirit’s presence and influence in their lives, but whose sins caused the Spirit to depart, such as Samson and Saul.

In the New Testament we are told to not grieve the Holy Spirit, or quench the Spirit. The Greek word that is used for quench in Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians is sbennymi, which means to extinguish, suppress, or stifle, which Paul cautioned them not to do in relation to the workings of the Holy Spirit both within and through them.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.[29]

Do not quench the Spirit.[30]

If we grieve or quench the Spirit, then the help we are able to receive, the comfort and peace we have, the guidance and direction given, are diminished. The Spirit of God is not forced upon us; however, the influence of the Spirit can be diminished by our lack of receptivity—through deliberate sin, lack of interest, disobedience, or unbelief.

The benefits of the Holy Spirit’s active involvement in our lives are many. The Holy Spirit influences our lives for good; helps us to be more effective witnesses and to better minister to others through the spiritual gifts bestowed upon us; causes us to be more godly and to resist evil and sin; and makes us tabernacles, or dwelling places, for God, so that others can see Him in us and thus be drawn to Him. This “gift of the Father” which has been bestowed upon us is the priceless gift of the presence of God in our lives. What an honor.[31]

[1] Acts 2:17–18 NIV.

[2] John 3:3–8.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 636.

[4] Acts 1:4–5.

[5] Acts 1:8.

[6] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 249.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

[8] 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:8–10; Ephesians 4:11; Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Peter 4:11. List taken from Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000) by Wayne Grudem, p. 1020.

[9] 1 Corinthians 12:4,7,11.

[10] 1 Peter 4:10–11.

[11] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1027.

[12] 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV.

[13] Galatians 5:17 NIV.

[14] Romans 8:12–14.

[15] John 1:32.

[16] Acts 2:2–4.

[17] Acts 11:15–16.

[18] Hebrews 2:4.

[19] Romans 8:16.

[20] 1 John 3:24.

[21] 2 Corinthians 1:21–22.

[22] Luke 4:1–2.

[23] Acts 6.5.

[24] Acts 8:27–29.

[25] Acts 13:2–4.

[26] Acts 16:6–7.

[27] Acts 10:19–20.

[28] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 649.

[29] Ephesians 4:30.

[30] 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

[31] The overall concept of this article was based on chapter 30, “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” from the book Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, by Wayne Grudem.


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