Some Basic Principles on the Holy Spirit
1. The Spirit has worked in different phases of human history with different manifestations. The manner in which He works may differ from one period to another.
2. There is a significant difference in the work of the Spirit between the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). In the NT, the Holy Spirit shall dwell in man (Jn. 14:17; 23) after the ascension of Christ. This means that the Spirit will work within man, transforming God’s chosen people from within. In other words, life is to be directed by the Spirit from within man’s heart.
3. The work of the Spirit, working from within a person, is unprecedented, though there maybe examples in the overlapping period, such as Simeon, Elizabeth and Zacharias (who were filled by the Holy Spirit). Although these examples occurred before the ascension of Christ, they do not invalidate the teaching that being filled by the Spirit comes after receiving the Holy Spirit (as instructed by Christ). If the physical Jesus remained, the Spirit would not come (Jn. 16:7) but the Spirit would only come after His ascension, for those who believe in Him, the reception of the Spirit would be a unique experience which none has before.
4. In the OT, workers (in most cases) had the presence of the Spirit, and were even filled by the Spirit. But in the NT, God is not selective about giving the Spirit; the Spirit is to be given to all (Joel 2:28), though the time and authority to give remains with Jesus. Once the promised Spirit comes, He shall abide with His chosen people forever (Jn. 14:17), insofar as they keep themselves in the Lord (1 Jn. 3:24). This is a new dimension of work that the Spirit has taken on, which differs substantially from those as recorded in the OT.
5. The clear functions of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, having first received the Holy Spirit, have been outlined by Jesus and include the following point:
- The Spirit shall quench our thirst (Jn. 7:37; Isa 44:3).
- He shall abide with us forever as a Helper (Jn. 14:16).
- He shall dwell in us (Jn. 14:17, 23).
- He shall teach us all things and help us to remember the words of Jesus (Jn. 14:26).
- He shall testify of Jesus (Jn. 15: 26) and through Him we shall also bear witness of Christ (Jn. 15:27; Lk. 24:48-49; Acts 1:8).
- He shall guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13-15), and will declare who Jesus is to us.
- He shall give the church the authority to forgive sin (Jn. 20:21-23).
6. The coming of the Spirit upon the believers is uniquely evidenced by tongue-speaking, with the episode of the downpour of the Spirit as the initial pattern, the blueprint for the church (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-48; 11:15-17).
7. Jesus also states the starting point for the Spirit to work within a person; receiving the Holy Spirit is the starting point. Before one can experience the flowing of rivers of living waters (i.e. being fully immersed in the Spirit), one must first receive the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:39, 37-38).
8. When discussing the coming of the Spirit, two key parts must be explored. First, upon receiving the Holy Spirit, Jesus shall abide within us (Jn. 14:19-20, 26). The Spirit that we have received is not a partial Spirit but the full Spirit of God. Simply, Jesus said, ‘For God does not give the Spirit by measure’ (Jn. 3:34). Second, we who have received the Holy Spirit must yield to the Spirit, to live a Spirit-filled life.
9. Being filled with the Spirit comes with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). According to the book of Acts, those who were filled with the Spirit began to speak with other tongues. Cornelius, who later received the Holy Spirit, proves this point. When Peter and some brethren heard the Gentiles speak in tongues (there being no mention of being filled by the Holy Spirit), Peter concluded that their encounter of the Spirit was the same as theirs (Acts 10:47; 11:16-17; 15:8). Therefore, those who had been filled by the Spirit in Acts are those who had first received the Holy Spirit.
10. Receiving the Spirit also endues us with power from on high (Lk. 24:44; Acts 1:8). Obviously, the power of the Spirit is shown in full in the forgiveness of sins, particularly, in baptism. Paul teaches that it is the Spirit who baptises us into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Miracles, signs and wonders shall follow those who preach the word (Mk 16:17f). Paul clearly states that such power comes from the Holy Spirit (Rm. 15:19; Heb 2:4). (On a side note, we ought to bear in mind the need to discern the work of the Spirit from the work of Satan, when miraculous signs have occurred).
11. Prior to the downpour of the Spirit, the disciples had already been given the power to cast out demons (Mk. 6:7, 12-13). However, after Jesus’ resurrection, He instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8); this tells us that one must first receive the Holy Spirit in order to embark on any divine or evangelistic work that requires one to be sent. This shows the key principle as outlined in John, whereby the work of the Spirit after the ascension of Christ occurs in the hearts of workers. In other words, they must first be baptised by the Holy Spirit (to receive the Holy Spirit) prior to being sent out to serve.
12. When John said to those who came to receive his baptism, he sternly warned that they must bear fruits worthy of repentance (Lk. 3:8). The phrase 'fruit of the Holy Spirit' is not mentioned. The baptismal candidates were told to bear fruits, even though the Spirit had not even been poured out. After the ascension of Christ, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is uniquely the work of the Spirit after one has received the Holy Spirit. Hence, the phrase 'the fruit of the Holy Spirit' (Gal. 5:22f; Eph 5:9). One must not take the phrase out of context. It is the conclusion that Paul has drawn having spoken about the necessity of walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18).
13. Obviously, a person who has not received the Holy Spirit is capable of doing good work with God's help, but the difference is he has yet to receive the Holy Spirit. However, in the NT, the giving of the Spirit is a widespread phenomenon and no longer selective and just for a few. Joel said it was for all flesh (Joel 2; 28f). It means that after the ascension of Christ, the work of the Spirit should come from within. So, for one to experience the flowing of rivers of living water, be led by the Spirit, be filled by the Spirit and bear fruit of the Holy Spirit, one has to first receive the Holy Spirit. These are the phrases used specifically for the work of the Spirit within a person.
14. Ephesians 5: 18 states that we must be filled by the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the verse suggests that those who have not received the Holy Spirit are filled with the Spirit. This idea contradicts the very principle of the receiving of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Spirit from within a person. It is a practical truth and it therefore, cannot be argued that being filled by the Spirit may occur even when one has not received the Holy Spirit.
15. ‘As we have been baptised by the one Spirit… and have all been made to drink into one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:13). However, Jesus, being a God of order, has set the time for the invitation to drink of the Spirit in the NT to take full effect. He also has outlined how it would happen. John says that it shall come to pass after Christ has been glorified. Such a declaration basically puts a starting time to this invitation. It shall happen after His suffering and ascension (Jn. 7:39; 16:7). It clearly refers to the starting point as being the first downpour of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
16. The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent. By that, it means God’s presence is everywhere, including the fact that He is also amongst the wicked. However, His existence being everywhere must not be taken to mean that He is in people’s hearts, like He would be in those who believe in Him. When the Bible says the Spirit will come, the coming here surely strikes a marked difference with His existence being everywhere. His existence is already with those who believe in Him, thus for the Spirit to come into them, really represents the conscientious choice of God to dwell in them. Surely, this is not a response that the Spirit would have for someone who does not believe in God. Furthermore, the coming of the Spirit is a promise from the Lord (Lk. 24:49). In contrast, His existence being everywhere is not a promise. It is part and parcel of His infinity.