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Dr. J. Rodman Williams
THEOLOGY
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THEOLOGY

10 Questions on the Holy Spirit

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Theologian

1. Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is God. He is not some reality less than God or other than God. As are Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is also fully God. He has all the attributes of deity such as eternity, infinity, and omnipotence. The Holy Spirit is the one God and there is none other.

The Holy Spirit is a Person. He is not some impersonal reality -- an "it" -- such as a force or power. As are Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is through and through personal. He has all the attributes of personhood such as thinking, feeling, and willing. The Holy Spirit is intensely personal.

The Holy Spirit is both the only God and a distinctive Person. One God in three persons is the mystery of the divine Trinity.

2. What is the work of the Holy Spirit?

The work of the Holy Spirit stretches from creation to consummation. The Spirit of God was at work in the original act of creation (Genesis 1:2); He continually sustains the universe (Job 34:14-15); He is everywhere dynamically present (Ps. 139:7-8); and through His power the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary occurred (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit also brings about conviction of sin and by Him the new birth takes place (John 3:6 and 16:8); He indwells all true believers (Romans 8:4); He is the agent of ongoing sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18); and some day in the Resurrection, He will give life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11).

It is evident that the Holy Spirit is the Person in the divine Trinity who is powerfully at work in relation to all that God has made.

3. What is the baptism with the Holy Spirit?

Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a distinctive experience referred to in all the gospels and in the Book of Acts. According to Mark 1:8 John the Baptist said, "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." In Acts 1:5, Jesus Himself declared, "John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Accordingly, on the Day of Pentecost the promise of John and Jesus was fulfilled when believing disciples in Jerusalem "were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance" (Acts 2:4).

This baptism with the Spirit did not end with the Day of Pentecost. Years later in Caesarea there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believing Gentiles -- "The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also...speaking in tongues and exalting God" (Acts 10:45-46). About this event Peter later declared, "I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 11:16). Thus the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit was again fulfilled -- and continues to be fulfilled to this day.

On this latter point Peter had earlier declared about "the gift of the Holy Spirit" that "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). So to the present day baptism with the Holy Spirit is a continuing promise.

4. What is the purpose of baptism with the Holy Spirit?

Following Jesus' words about the soon to occur baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), He later added, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (1:8). Baptism with the Holy Spirit would result from the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples for power, and particularly for witness to Jesus Christ and the gospel.

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus first said, "You are witnesses of these things" (24:48), and then immediately added, "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (24:49). The key word in both Acts and Luke is power; and specifically power for ministry.

Peter later in Acts says of Jesus that "God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power and...He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil" (10:38). This close connection between the Holy Spirit and power for ministry is the basic purpose of baptism (or anointing) with the Holy Spirit.

5. How can I receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit?

First, you must be a believer in Jesus Christ. Peter's words on the Day of Pentecost about the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit are preceded by his injunction, "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" (Acts 2:38). Only those who belong to Christ can be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Second, recognize and affirm that the promise is a continuing promise. "The promise is for you" (Acts 2:39). You are not dealing with what may be God's will; you are claiming the unfailing promise of God.

Third, pray earnestly. On one occasion Jesus declared, "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it will be opened to you" and thereafter added, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:9, 13). Are you willing to be earnest and persistent in prayer? The disciples "were continually devoting themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14) prior to their baptism in the Holy Spirit. How much do you really want this gift of the Holy Spirit?

Fourth, consider the laying on of hands as a possible channel for receiving the gift. In several other passages in Acts, hands were laid on prospective recipients: the Samaritans (8:17-18); Saul of Tarsus (9:17); the Ephesians (19:6). You may want to request this ministry from others.

Fifth, keep in mind that as much as you may, and will, be blessed by this baptism with the Holy Spirit that the greater purpose is your becoming a better channel for ministry to others.

6. What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Paul writes about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. He begins by saying, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware" (12:1) and shortly thereafter declares that "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (12:7). Then a ninefold list follows: "For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues" (12:8-10).

There are other lists of gifts in Romans 12:6-8 ("functional" gifts by God's grace) and in Ephesians 4:11-12 ("equipping" gifts from the ascended Christ). However, the list in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 is designated as spiritual gifts (through the Holy Spirit). They are specifically "the manifestation of the Holy Spirit" (verse 12). Outside of prophecy (or prophets) which occurs in all three lists, the gifts of the Spirit are uniquely the operation of the Holy Spirit.

7. What is the fruit of the Spirit?

Paul gives a ninefold list in Galatians 5:22 -- "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."

These are set by Paul over against "the deeds of the flesh" (5:19), beginning with "immorality, impurity, sensuality...."

Inwardly, a struggle goes on -- "the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another" (15-17). There is victory, however: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (5:25).

8. What is the difference between the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit?

Although there is a ninefold list of both spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit, there are significant differences.

First, the lists are totally different -- there is no overlap between gifts and fruit.

Second, the spiritual gifts are ministry gifts -- "for the common good," hence to serve others; whereas the spiritual fruit refers to the believer's own growth in Christian character.

Third, the gifts of the Spirit may operate at any time ("distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11); fruit takes time to grow and develop.

We need both the operation of the gifts and the maturation of the fruit for a balanced Christian life.

9. What purpose do the gifts serve?

Spiritual gifts are given for the upbuilding of the body of believers: they are "power tools." As the manifestation of the Spirit, they are all supernatural enablements; for example, to speak a word of wisdom, to effectuate healings, to work miracles, to discern various spirits -- all for the benefit of others. When the spiritual gifts operate, the Holy Spirit is directly and powerfully on the scene.

An incidental purpose of the gifts is to bring about involvement of all believers. "To each one is given...." Not to a few -- such as pastors and teachers -- rather each person is to be a channel for some particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Everyone is to be actively involved, for the Holy Spirit wishes to manifest Himself not through a few but all.

Finally, the spiritual gifts, being totally different from natural capacities, serve to honor God. God, not man, receives all the praise and glory.

10. Have the gifts ceased to exist or do they exist today?

Paul writes that to each "is given" not "was given". If the Holy Spirit is no longer in the church at present, then there can be no gifts; but if He is present in power, the gifts are certain to flourish.

Some day the gifts will cease, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13 "If there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease" (13:8) when at last we see the Lord "face to face" (13:12). But until that glorious day we may be thankful for the ongoing and continuing manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Praise God from whom all blessing flow!

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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