ACST 51: The Regenerator


Jesus, the Messiah, cooperated with the Father’s plan by giving of himself, sacrificing his life on the cross as our atoning sacrifice. Christ gave himself when enabled us to have new life. He also gave us his Holy Spirit to complete the work of salvation that he made possible. The Holy Spirit gives us guidance, supernatural gifts and power for ministry, and produces the fruit of righteousness in our lives.[1] He is the Regenerator. He applies the atonement to our lives, and produces the change that the cross made possible.

Jesus Explained Regeneration

While conversing with a Jewish religious teacher, Jesus explained what regeneration is. Nicodemus, who should have understood these things, did not have a clue.

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you,

unless one is born of water and the Spirit,

he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That

which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that

which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not

marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born

again.’ 8 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]

People do not give birth to themselves. That was the nature of the rebirth process that Nicodemus could not understand. He asked “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”[3] As a religious professional, Nicodemus was used to being given a command, and working out how he was going to actively obey that command. He was a “hands on” religious practitioner. He did not ask “what?” or “why?” or even “who?.” He asked “how?” because he was comfortable with a religion that required him to do something.

But when Jesus said that regeneration was like a new birth, he implied that the one being born is passive in the process. No one gives birth to himself. The Holy Spirit is the active participant in the process, and the believer is the passive recipient. In natural birth, two parents come together, have sexual relations, and a child is conceived as a result. The child has no say in the process of his conception. He is conceived of flesh, planned by flesh, nurtured during gestation by flesh, and when his birthday arrives – there he is: a bouncing baby flesh.

Jesus taught Nicodemus that spiritual rebirth works the same way. It is God’s Holy Spirit within the life of a believer that produces spiritual life. An unregenerate person is a degenerate. He produces only works of the flesh. They may be noble works of the flesh, or religious works of the flesh, or popular works of the flesh, but they are not God. They do not produce godliness, because God’s Holy Spirit is not there.

In true regeneration, the Holy Spirit applies the sovereign election of the Father, and the atoning sacrifice of the Son to the life of every true believer. The works that are produced are God’s works. The life within is God’s life. He blows around like a strong wind within the human lives of believers and leaves evidence of his existence among them.


The process by which the Holy Spirit does this is sometimes called sanctification. It is tempting to define sanctification as the results of the Holy Spirit blowing around – in other words, the damage caused by the storm, the evidence of God’s existence that believers produce. After all, the New Testament does encourage believers to see our bodies as a temple, and set it apart for God’s use by “cleans(ing) ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”[4]

But the results of cooperating with the Holy Spirit within and cleaning up our lives for his use – however noble they are – are not what the Bible calls sanctification. Theologians usually divide the doctrine of sanctification into three tenses:

1. positional sanctification, or the change in our status or standing before God.

2. progressive sanctification, or the change in our present experience because of the Holy Spirit within.

3. perfect sanctification, or our ultimate future condition when we are glorified at Christ’s return.

When seen in that light, the vast majority of the Bible’s treatment of the

subject concentrates on the first tense, on what is called positional sanctification. Consider these texts as examples:

“And now I commend you to God and to the word

of his grace, which is able to build you up and to

give you the inheritance among all those who are



“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those

sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints

together with all those who in every place call

upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both

their Lord and ours:”[6]


“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who

became to us wisdom from God, and

righteousness and sanctification, and redemption”[7]


“we have been sanctified through the offering

of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”[8]


“Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own

blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp.”[9]


There is a process of sanctification. The New Testament refers to believers as “those who are being sanctified”. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, turning us into the people we are going to become. He’s changing us. He is manifesting himself in us and through us.

Ultimate sanctification (or glorification) is our destiny. When Jesus appears, raising us from the dead, or transforming us so that we will never taste death, we will be like him.[10] A transformation will have occurred. We look forward to the day when “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet .. the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”[11]

So, why does the Bible mostly present sanctification as a done deal? To understand this, readers have to stop thinking of sanctification as something that happens to us, and see it as something that happens from God. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier and the Regenerator. Our problem is that (like Nicodemus) we see things too much from our perspective. But the new birth could not be best explained from the perspective of those who experience it – the ones begotten. It had to be explained from the perspective of the one who begat – the one who caused the birth to happen.

The apostle Paul understood this quite well. Here is how he described sanctification to the Romans:

“For those whom (God) foreknew he also predestined

to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that

he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And

those whom he predestined he also called, and those

whom he called he also justified, and those whom he

justified he also glorified.”[12]

While he does not use the word “sanctified” in this text, he does use the word “glorified” – and put it in the past tense. But glorification is the future hope of the saints. We do not yet conform fully to the image of Christ, but we have been predestined to do it. It is our future destiny, not present reality.

But Paul spoke of God as having already glorified us. He skipped the process of sanctification and mentioned the event of glorification at the return of Christ and implied that both divine actions have already been accomplished. Did Paul slip in his grammar? No, he said what he meant to say. Paul understood something about God. He is not the God who was, and he is not the God who will be. God is always and eternally the “I AM.”[13] He is within time and outside of time at the same time. He has already accomplished all that he ever will accomplish.

Sanctification was accomplished the very moment the Father chose us to be his own. Sanctification was accomplished the moment the blood of Jesus Christ was shed on the cross. Sanctification was accomplished the very moment the Holy Spirit moved into our lives, and separated us unto God, reserving our lives for his purposes forever. We may not feel sanctified. We usually do not think of ourselves as having already been made holy. But from God’s perspective, it is a done deal.

The Holy Spirit is inside us, indwelling, transforming and regenerating us. He is changing our lives so that we reflect our destiny as glorified saints. He assists in the battle against Satan and sin, and guides us in the process of making decisions that reflect our new status before God. We do not always accept his guidance. We often stubbornly choose to do things our own way. But the God of all time is patient. He sees us not as we are now, but as we will be. So, it does not bother him to put up with our present, unfinished brand of foolishness.

Of course, if we do rebel against the divine Resident within, there is a price to pay. We often suffer simply because we refuse to walk in the Spirit. Our flesh wrestles with our spirit, who wants to cooperate with His Spirit. When we refuse to walk according to God’s wisdom, he will graciously allow us to stumble from our own foolishness. It is all part of the process.

The evidence that the process is indeed occurring includes three things which will be addressed in the next three chapters:

1. conversion: an immediate and ongoing change in our minds.

2. testimony: our attempts to communicate our faith to others.

3. life of faith: actions and attitudes that demonstrate that change has occurred.

[1] see chapters 37-42.

[2] John 3:5-8 ESV.

[3] John 3:4 ESV.

[4] 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV.

[5] Acts 20:32 ESV.

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV.

[7] 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB.

[8] Hebrews 10:10 ESV.

[9] Hebrews 13:12 NET.

[10] 1 John 3:2.

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV.

[12] Romans 8:29-30 ESV.

[13] Exodus 3:14-15.

ACST 42: The Producer

20064415326951One of the reasons the third person of the trinity is called the Holy Spirit is that he is the one who works within the lives of true believers to produce Christian character. He challenges their assumptions about what righteousness is. He forces them to come to grips with their need for godliness, and walks them through the slow process that eventually produces that godliness.

Galatian troublers

The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians because the churches of Galatia had missed this. They had been deceived into believing that they could handle their own sanctification. Paul saw this not as simple stubbornness or self-reliance, but as desertion. He told them that he was “astonished that (they) are so quickly deserting him who called (them) in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”[1]

The gospel is the good news of what God has done and can do for believers. God the Father loved them while they were yet sinners, and sent his Son to die in their place, giving them the chance to become members of his family. The Holy Spirit regenerates their hearts so that they want to serve God again, and transforms their minds so that they can accomplish what they want to do. He is the Spirit of holiness, the sanctifying Spirit.

The troublers came to the Galatian region teaching that people do not need the grace of God working supernaturally in them to do what God requires – they only need to follow the commands of the law. Paul aggressively attacks that heresy in his letter. He calls it a different gospel, and he places God’s curse upon its proponents.[2] The idea that one can simply make his mind up to be good and follow the ways of God without the prime moving being done by God himself is dangerous. It does not work that way. This is the message Paul gets across in Galatians.

how it works

Sanctification is an act of the Holy Spirit, who takes the believer’s willingness to submit to him and his grace, and turns it into manifestations of God’s character. The metaphor that Paul uses in Galatians to describe this process is that of growing fruit. The metaphor suggests some important facts every Christian should know about sanctification:

  1. Fruit growing is a long process. It takes a long time for a seed to germinate, and for a tree to get to the stage where it actually bears fruit. This is a helpful fact to keep in mind when thinking about sanctification. Believers often get discouraged when they have failed to live up to their own expectations.
  2. There are no real substitutes, but there are plenty of imitations. Nutritionists say that a good portion of our meals should consist of fruits and vegetables. The unfortunate thing is that many of the grocery products available to the average consumer contain very little actual fruit. In fact, the makers of many juice (or juice-like) products actually brag that they contain as much as 10% real fruit! Some products contain absolutely no fruit at all, yet are packaged and presented right alongside the fruit items as healthy alternatives. Also, even if one lucks up and finds a product with real fruit juice, it might have been enriched with extra sugar, making its health benefit questionable. The same phenomenon occurs in the world of sanctification. It is very hard to spot the real believer in societies where it is fashionable to appear religious, regardless of your real motivations. Many professing Christians who attend churches and claim a faith in Christ reflect the same morality (or lack thereof) of their non-Christian neighbors. Many true Christians so neglect this aspect of their Christian lives that although they may be theologically orthodox, their lives fail to match up with their profession. They are true fruit trees which bear little fruit.
  3. Fruit growing is not easy. Even areas where the soil may be conducive to fruit growing are hindered by poor planning, lack of investment capitol, adverse environmental conditions, or pests. Far too many who begin preparations for an orchard tend to get distracted or frustrated, and give up.

The same is even more true in the area of sanctification. The Holy Spirit is available to every believer to do the work in their lives which will produce God’s godliness. But all too often believers are convinced (like the Galatians) that there is a simpler, faster, easier way or that the growing process requires more strength, patience and power than they have. Growth is often hindered because getting from seed to fruit is seen as too hard. There are always some who seem to have accomplished the task, but these are explained away as super-saints who just had the right stuff to begin with.

The gospel of godliness is also a gospel of grace. It shows to the world that every soul that can respond to God’s touch can become a godly soul. It is the Holy Spirit who has the green thumb of sanctification. To suggest that my life is not capable of learning and manifesting godliness is ultimately to criticize him. It is to suggest that there is a work that even he cannot do. One cannot imply such a thing and remain orthodox in one’s theology because it denies the omnipotence of God.

the soil

The believer’s life is the soil in which God’s Holy Spirit plants his revelation of himself. Every social contact, every event one experiences, every decision one makes comprises that soil. Some soils are predispositioned to accept the Holy Spirit, and others are not.

Jesus’ parable of the sower/soils relates to this issue because Jesus was talking about how people respond to the gospel of God’s kingdom in their lives. In his parable, he described some soils as:

1. The Path – beaten down for walking on. Seeds fall but they cannot permeate into the soil. The birds eat them. The result is no crop.[3]

2. Rocky Ground – enough soil for immediate growth, but not enough to protect against the scorching sun. The result is no lasting crop.[4]

3. Thorny Ground – plenty of soil for immediate growth but too many weeds competing for the same nutrients and space. The result is no lasting crop.[5]

4. Good Soil – prepared so that it can take in the seed, enabling the seed to germinate, and protecting it from competition and harm while it grows. The result is a fruitful crop.

Jesus had been talking about a grain crop, and Paul was using a fruit orchard for

his analogy, but they both were essentially describing the same process: the process by which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to produce God’s kingdom of holiness. Jesus’ explanation of his parable of the sower/soils helps us to understand what the chief hindrances are to growth. In other words, he explains what elements of a person’s life make it hard for that person to experience growth toward sanctification.

1. Lack of Understanding. Jesus explained that “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.”[6] Human minds create all kinds of barriers that can keep them from grasping the impulse that the Holy Spirit is revealing. Often what God wants to reveal is obstructed by their lack of awareness of its significance.

One of the tasks of evangelists is to learn ways of saying the gospel message so

that their listeners are not immediately closed to hearing it. People who come to Christ often respond to the gospel message after hearing it presented a number of times, in various ways. When the time is right, they hear and understand. The Holy Spirit’s revelation of himself for the purpose of sanctification works the same way. All too often, believers hear of a change that must be made, but just nod their heads and continue as they were. Then, something happens, and they finally understand not only what change must be made, but also why. Until this happens, believers may accept the fact that change is needed, but still fail to commit to that change.

2. Lack of Depth. Jesus explained that some people hear the word and receive it with joy, but fall away at the first sign of tribulation or persecution.[7] Theirs is a fair weather faith. They have understanding enough to know that the gospel is the answer to their problem of estrangement from God. What they lack is the depth and endurance to hang on to that truth when others start betraying and rejecting them for being faithful to that word.

The same kind of thing can happen in the area of personal sanctification as well.

When the Holy Spirit reveals himself to believers, there are always things that the believers must change in order to live up to their newly recognized image of Christ. Their unbelieving friends will not appreciate their new commitments because they are not privy to the revelation.

Even other believers may be offended and seek to hinder them from taking that step. All people resist change, and usually do not appreciate it when our friends change. Cooperating with the Holy Spirit causes interpersonal problems. Some people that the believers thought they could count on to support them in your quest for godliness will desert them.

Growth is change. Spiritual growth puts down roots and enables believers to stay fixed to their faith while all those changes take place. As time progresses, believers become more mature and stable, while still being as faithful and faith-filled as ever. That is depth.

3. Presence of Distractions. If the enemy cannot hinder spiritual growth by keeping believers ignorant or by keeping their faith shallow, he will seek to hinder it by keeping them distracted. Jesus summarized the means of the distraction: the “cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.”[8] The tempter uses either their anxiety about problems of the present or their lusts for the possessions of the present. Either way, the enemy seeks to get them to forfeit their eternal rewards by making them concentrate on the now.

Although the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives now, his focus is always on

preparing them for a glorified eternity. People come to God just as they are and he accepts them by his mercy. He accepts them just as they are because it is only he who can transform them by his grace. They see their lives as empty fields and wonder how they can ever glorify God with those lives. He sees beyond the empty fields and is already celebrating the abundant harvest. With joy the Holy Spirit superintends the process because he can see beyond the things that distract. They see thorns, he sees thrones.

For believers, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit is to catch a glimpse of what he sees. Believers need to look beyond the thorns – because they will be there until the glorification at Christ’s second coming. They need to see the end product, and realize how significant it is.

Believers are often trapped in a life that is possessed by their problems (the cares of this world) or by their desire for possessions (the deceitfulness of riches). It is very difficult to concentrate on God and his ways when pain and want and worry keep presenting themselves and demanding attention. The lure of things and experiences is so strongly felt that believers sometimes forget about their desire for godliness. It becomes like a distant dream.

Sanctification reverses that disposition. Believers are still affected by their problems, and still want things. But the lust for life eternal has gained prominence. They want so much to be what they will be that they are more and more willing to set aside the passions of the present in order to grasp their future – their destiny.

godliness and the law

The Galatian troublers taught them that sanctification is a matter of conforming to what the law prescribes. That is not how sanctification works. The law reveals what believers should not do. Sanctification is about what they will do. The law is about their potential for failure. The Holy Spirit wants them to see their potential for success. The law is about limits – revealing what happens when those limits are transgressed. The Holy Spirit invites believers to look into a future as limitless as the life he promises. The law is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is all about prohibition. The Holy spirit offers the tree of life. He is all about abundant and eternal provision.

So the Galatian troublers were barking up the wrong tree. They were presenting a scheme that pretended to offer hope – but offered the same hopelessness that the Jews had experienced before John the Baptist introduced them to their Messiah.

Jesus did not base his offers of life on obedience to the law. He based them on faith in himself and acceptance of the Holy Spirit:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.[9]

It was not the commandments and traditions of the past that would change the lives of believers. It was the person and work of the Holy Spirit, transforming believers into God’s new sons. In other words, the Holy Spirit works his glorification from the future, backwards into the present. His presence in their lives is a guarantee of what is to come, because he is already there.

The law is holy, and righteous and good, but it is not their eternal destiny. It was their temporary “guardian until Christ came.”[10] Now that Christ’s death has paid the penalty for their sins, and the Holy Spirit has come into their lives for the purpose of their sanctification, going to the law as a means of gaining godliness is futility.

godliness and the Spirit

Godliness can be achieved by all Christians. The fruit of the Spirit can be manifested in their lives. It starts with surrendering to the Holy Spirit. It is his fruit, not theirs. All that they can achieve of themselves is the “works of the flesh.”[11] These are:

works of the flesh 

The Holy Spirit produces fruit in believers by replacing the inclination toward these works of the flesh and substituting himself. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of:

  • love,
  • joy,
  • peace,
  • patience,
  • kindness,
  • goodness,
  • faithfulness,
  • gentleness,
  • self-control[12]

Manifesting the fruit is not where works take over from grace. The fruit of the Spirit is God working by grace to change believers who surrender their own inclinations and passively let the Holy Spirit rule. Just as people cannot be saved apart from what Christ did for them by grace, so people cannot be sanctified without accepting the Holy Spirit’s fruit – given by grace. That fruit in one word is godliness.

The Spirit of Love

Because the Holy Spirit is love, he takes believers’ inclinations toward the sexual sins and replaces them with himself. Believers are free to invest themselves in the lives of others without selfishness or fear of hypocrisy. They can now see others not as competitors, but as people they have the privilege to show love to. That cuts the head off their carnal inclinations toward the social sins. The Holy Spirit within them invests himself in the lives of others. He does not compete with them. He shows believers how to love like that.

The Holy Spirit’s primary love is God himself. He accepts no substitutes, and seeks only the best for the Father, God and the Son, Jesus Christ. For that reason, he loathes the spiritual sins of idolatry and sorcery. he influences believers to reject those sins and to love God wholeheartedly.

The Spirit of Joy

Because the Holy Spirit’s roots go down to the deepest depths, he is not affected by the things that steal joy from people. In Jesus’ parable, the seeds of the word fall on rocky ground and are immediately received with joy. But as soon as tribulation and persecution arises, the joy falls away, and so does the one who felt it. The Holy spirit is rock-solid. His godliness is not affected by the changes that take place in this world. He is above them. He is above temptations. He can help believers overcome them, so that they do not lose their joy.

The Spirit of Peace

Because the Holy Spirit is not affected by the temptations to the social sins, he can help believers overcome their animosity toward others. Because he is the Spirit of holiness, he is the complete picture of health and wholeness described by the Hebrew word for peace: shalom. He invites them to receive of himself in exchange for their brokenness and emptiness. He is peace.

The Spirit of Patience

Being outside of the time sphere that defines them, the Holy Spirit does not experience the impatience they sometimes feel. He can be patient with them because he sees them already as they will be. The fact that they are not yet completely glorified does not bother him in the least. Believers can catch a glimpse of that future as well, and it can change them. All of the works of the flesh are motivated by a lack of awareness of eternity. Once they have a clear view of their destiny, the temptation to make things happen to meet their selfish needs seems ridiculous. Knowing that time is their friend helps them to keep a proper perspective. It produces patience.

The Spirit of Kindness

All of the works of the flesh are selfishly motivated. The sexual sins and the sins of excess seek pleasure for the self. The spiritual sins seek power for the self. The social sins seek self-dominance over all others. The Holy Spirit is master over all things, yet he is so selfless he does not even have a proper name. He expends himself on others so much that he rarely even manifests physically. When he does, it is as a symbol of peace (like a dove) or power (like fire), doing good in the lives of others. He is the Spirit of kindness. To be kind is to be constructively good. It is to invest oneself in the welfare and for the benefit of others. Christians who are filled with the Spirit can be most often seen helping others.

The Spirit of Goodness

The works of the flesh are personal choices that lead to harming others. Their extremes lead to the violence of rape, murder, child sacrifice, and death by drug overdose. The Holy Spirit is about helping others, not harming them. He invests his life in their welfare, and seeks to have a positive influence. He is the Spirit of goodness.

The Spirit of Faithfulness

The works of the flesh turn people away from God. What young Christian has not felt the frustration of sexual urges along with the embarrassment of knowing how ungodly those thoughts are? People who seek to feed those thoughts and impulses through pornography and promiscuity find themselves running away from God as fast as possible. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of faithfulness. He prompts people to be faithful to God and to each other in all areas of their lives. He creates faithful eyes who know where not to look and faithful hands who know what not to touch.

The Spirit of Gentleness

God’s Spirit is capable of the strongest actions, but he is usually found not in the severe storm or earthquake or fire. Instead, he manifests as a gentle whisper. He is the Spirit of gentleness. He does not force his way or will upon others. He is considerate.

The Spirit of Self-Control

Many are afraid of the gifts of the Holy Spirit because they associate those gifts with the loss of self-control. He is not to blame for people losing control of their emotions and doing unexplainable things in his name. True, the Pentecost believers were thought to have gotten themselves drunk because they appeared to have released control of their dignity. But Peter explained that they had surrendered their lives and tongues to God, who was doing a work of grace among them.[13] As the book of Acts continued, it became clear that it was the enemies of the gospel who were losing control and in danger of rioting.[14] Wherever the Holy Spirit went, the Spirit’s holiness went. That turned warriors into people of peace. It turned thieves into hard workers. It turned passionate persecutors into apostles.

The lure of the law

Paul condemned the false gospel being taught by the troublers in Galatia because it sought to replace the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Legalism would have believers exchange their commitment-love for a cheap substitute – perhaps tithing or a shallow fellowship (just showing up). Love means more than not hating. The law can lure people into an almost-love, which is never enough.

The law can also steal the believer’s joy. If their commitment to God could be expressed by obeying certain external rules, believers would always be comparing themselves. since there would always be someone capable of doing more, the acts of righteousness would only lead to discouragement. Peace would be like sand, sliding through our open hands. Believers would be patient only up to the 490th infraction,[15] then all bets would be off.

The lure of the law would cause believers to judge their own acts of kindness by comparing them with others. Goodness would be demonstrated only when others are watching. Faithfulness would be shown only to those who were deemed worthy of it. Life in the Holy Spirit would be limited to what the current commentaries say it should be. The whole of the Christian life would be a series of carnal substitutes, taking over the lives of people not surrendered to the Holy Spirit.

The backwards infusion

If believers today were capable of looking through a lens that enabled them to see what they would look like in a million years or so, they would see the fruit of the Spirit. It would not look strange to them. They would see themselves acting quite naturally, and everything they thought and did would be holy. Their lives would be the lives of normal children of God. They would not think it strange that they felt no impulse to steal, or murder, or lie. It would not enter their mind to act that way. Those would not be the normal things for them to desire or accomplish. Those actions would not be them.

The Holy Spirit is there in that time, a million or so years from now. He takes that godliness, granted by the grace of God, and brings it back with him to the now. He is infusing believers now with the godliness they will know fully then. As a result, when they love, it is really them loving. The Holy spirit is not forcing them to go against their will. He is merely allowing them to see the potential they will have for eternity to love as he loves.

They manifest all of the fruit of the Spirit because the fruit are attributes of their spirits. They do not always feel those attributes, because they are not yet where they will be when their glorification is complete. They will, however, grow deeper and deeper into the godliness that is their destiny. Jesus has chosen them to go and bear abiding fruit.[16] The Holy Spirit is the producer who brings all of God’s resources to bear in order to make that happen.

[1] Galatians 1:6.

[2] Galatians 1:9.

[3] Matthew 13:4.

[4] Matthew 13:5-6.

[5] Matthew 13:7.

[6] Matthew 13:19.

[7] Matthew 13:21.

[8] Matthew 13:22.

[9] John 7:37-39.

[10] Galatians 3:24.

[11] Galatians 5:19-21.

[12] Galatians 5:22-23.

[13] Acts 2:15-21.

[14] Acts 19:40.

[15] a reference to Jesus’ instructions about forgiving (Matthew 18:22).

[16] John 15:16.

ACST 41: The Giver


The Holy Spirit is the primary equipper for the body of Christ. He gives gifts to each member of the body so that we can utilize those gifts to minister to the world, and to each other on the name of Christ. Pentecost initiated that process. The apostle Peter explained how the gifting first experienced at Pentecost is still present in the lives of the church.



The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 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. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.[1]

each has received a gift

He describes believers as not only recipients of God’s grace, but also as stewards of it. The Holy Spirit so distributes his gifting that no one person in a given fellowship has a monopoly. Each has a purpose because each has been gifted. Each fits into the plan of God because each contributes toward fulfilling that plan.

use it to serve one another

One of the most significant reasons that we have been gifted is that God the Holy Spirit wants to love us through each other. Peter tells the church that he is writing so that they are to “keep loving one another earnestly.” By exercising our spiritual gifts, we have the opportunity to show love to one another. The spiritual gifts were not gifts that we are intended to use up on ourselves. Rather, we are intended to use those gifts as a service to one another.

One of the benefits of knowing this fact about spiritual gifts is that it helps to eliminate envy. It is actually to my advantage if my fellow believer has a greater gift-mix that I do. I benefit directly from the grace God has given to my fellow Christians. If my neighbor across the pew has a more prominent gift of encouragement, then it works out in my favor, especially when I need to be encouraged. If she is a better preacher, I benefit from that gift. Every greater gift that I do not possess, is a gift to me through the person who has it.

Since that is true, there is no gift that I really do not experience. I possess some gifts because they are given to me to serve others. I benefit from the other gifts because they are given to me to experience through the ministry of others. Either way, I win. Either way, Christ is glorified. The Holy Spirit uses the gifts both to work through me, and to minister to me.

whoever speaks

Peter simplifies the whole matter of spiritual gifts by dividing all the possible gifts into two categories. He first mentions the category of speaking gifts because he is well known for his sermons. Peter had the spiritual gift of apostleship, among others. Apostleship is a speaking gift where the Holy Spirit uses the believer to proclaim his word in a new and different environment. Apostles cross cultural barriers to proclaim the gospel.

There are other speaking gifts mentioned in the New Testament as well. Among the most obvious are evangelism,[2] prophecy,[3] messages in other tongues with their interpretation,[4] and teaching.[5] Peter’s instruction here is that no matter what you say as a representative of God’s kingdom, assume that you are pronouncing “oracles of God.” Even if you cannot precisely place what you are led to say into the exact ministry of a particular spiritual gift mentioned in scripture, let the Holy Spirit use you anyway. This is helpful advice because believers often use “I don’t have that gift” as an excuse. Peter would have none of that. He encourages a broader understanding of how the Holy Spirit operates using the gifts.

whoever serves

Peter’s second major category is that of gifts of service, which is so broad it just about covers anything anyone does in service to Christ and his kingdom. It basically includes any spiritual gift that cannot be specifically described as a speaking gift. His instruction is similar to that he gave in reference to the speaking gifts. He says that if you set out to do anything in the name of Christ, assume that the Holy Spirit will give you the strength to do it.

This category obviously includes the more spectacular gifts of service, like healing,[6] and miracle working faith.[7] But it also includes the more mundane, but equally important gifts of service, like generous giving, leadership, and cheerful acts of mercy.[8] Wherever we can serve, God’s Holy Spirit can serve us, and can serve others through us.

that in everything God may be glorified

One of the major reasons for this outpouring of spiritual energy and power is that through the spiritual gifts, God can be glorified. His reputation is enhanced among those who witness the gifts in operation. Peter mentions someone speaking the oracles of God, and the natural assumption is that he refers to some kind of worship service where this is happening. There are many reasons to expect manifestations of the spiritual gifts when we gather as congregations for public worship:

1. The whole body is present.

2. Words are spoken in God’s name.

3. Words are sung in God’s name.

4. Prayers are offered.

5. Guidance is given.

6. Ministry is encouraged.

7. There is opportunity for giving.

Every element of the formal worship service is an opportunity for God to manifest himself through spiritual gifts. In fact, the first outpouring of spiritual gifts – Pentecost – serves as an example of this fact. About 120 people were all together in one place at the Jerusalem temple courts when all heaven broke loose.[9]

However, the gifts are not to be confined to public worship. Indeed, they cannot be. What took place after Pentecost shows this fact. The speaking could not be confined to the temple courts. Instead, “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”[10] Signs and wonders were being demonstrated by both the apostles and others so gifted (like Stephen) “among the people.”[11] The result was that evangelism was being given a helping hand, because the spiritual gifts in operation were proving the veracity of the witnesses. God was being glorified by his people.

be self-controlled and sober-minded

Peter is aware that practicing the spiritual gifts can become something much different than what it was at Pentecost. In the same passage where he encourages the use of spiritual gifts, he commands that believers exercise self-control and sober-mindedness. Spiritual gifts are not child’s play. Their exercise is serious business which calls for maturity.

Paul, speaking on the same subject, encourages believers not to “be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”[12] The fruit of the Spirit is self-control.[13] When it is the Holy Spirit speaking, he does not cause confusion and disorder. When it is the Holy Spirit working, he does not scare people, or cause them bodily harm. The Bible encourages the use of the spiritual gifts, but also cautions us against their abuse.

Often people who seek to use their spiritual gifts do so for childish reasons. Childishness says “this is my spiritual gift and I have a right to express it here and now.” Maturity says “will expressing my spiritual gift serve God’s purpose here and now?” Paul had gotten word that the Corinthians were showing a childish over-zealous attitude about the gifts. He encouraged them “since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”[14] Childishness says “let’s do this and see what happens,” but maturity says “if we are going to do this, let’s do it properly.” Paul’s advice to the Corinthians was “earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.”[15] Childishness says “let’s stir things up” but maturity says “will confusion honor God?” Paul reminded the Corinthians that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”[16]

keep loving one another earnestly

Coming back to Peter’s instructions on spiritual gifts, we find that mutual love is the atmosphere in which the gifts must be operated. Without the right atmosphere, the mechanics will not work right. For this reason, every major text in the Bible that mentions spiritual gifts also emphasizes love. The reason is that the New Testament authors expected believers to keep trying to use their gifts, and they expected us to get it wrong some time. Mutual love is required “since love covers a multitude of sins.”[17]

In fact, 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) comes sandwiched between two chapters on spiritual gifts. The reason Paul spoke about love is that he needed to explain something important about spiritual gifts. He needed to explain that – without mutual love, the speaking gifts are just noise,[18] and the serving gifts are nothing.[19] Love provides the atmosphere of forgiveness that enables imperfect people to minister to imperfect people, covering over the multitude of mistakes that will be made.

show hospitality to one another

God intends to minister to us through the lives of others – but only if we love them enough to let them get close enough. Love creates an atmosphere of hospitality that encourages the sharing of ourselves and our gifts.[20] One of the reasons the New Testament encourages believers to regularly gather together is for mutual encouragement,[21] and spiritual gifts can help us accomplish this. Or, our worship services can be stiff, formal, and with so little actual personal contact that we might as well stay apart and watch a sermon on television or the internet. The choice is ours.

The apostle Paul gives some systematic instruction on the issue of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

you were led astray

He begins by reminding the Corinthians that before they came to Christ they were in the habit of being deceived into believing the wrong things and doing the wrong things. This is an important truth for believers to remember when it comes to the exercise of spiritual gifts. Most of us were at one time gullible fools. We tended to believe what we wanted to believe, and often would not recognize the truth if it slapped us in the face. Then it did. Now – hopefully — we are a bit wiser, and a good deal more cautious.

led astray to mute idols

The Corinthian Christians had been animistic idol worshippers. They had been fooled into following images which could say nothing. They gave no revelation. they were just there. There was no instruction in the right way to go, or warning against the wrong way to go. The Holy Spirit is not like that. The Holy Spirit is going to provide all kinds of instruction and warnings and revelations. He is going to speak through the other believers. In his role as discipler, the Holy Spirit will continue Christ’s preaching and teaching ministry, and guide the church into all the truth.[22]

speaking in the Spirit of God

Just in case these Corinthians get a little too cautious because they had been burned once by deception, Paul gives them some ways to tell if what they hear is really God speaking through an actual spiritual gift. The Spirit is not going to contradict himself. He has declared that Jesus is Lord, so he will never lead anyone to say the Jesus is accursed. He has breathed out inspired words in the Bible, so he is never going to inspire a believer to deny, take away from, or add to that scripture.

the same Spirit

When the Corinthians were pagans, they got used to the concept of relativism. One person’s god demanded that he eat no meat; another person’s god demanded that she be a glutton. You never could tell what the right thing to do was, because it varied all the time. When they came to Christ, they realized that the God of the Bible is not like that. His ways are altogether righteous, and with him there is no changing like shifting shadows. He can be counted on to always stand for the truth, and that truth never changes. There was something refreshing about that fact that drew the Corinthians to Christ.

True spiritual gifts will manifest that same rock-solid continuity. Paul emphasizes this by using the word same so many times. The gifts are the work of the same Spirit,[23] the same Lord,[24] and the same God.[25] His gifts are not going to direct us away from his paths. He is going to continue to be consistent with himself. When we are being used by him for his purposes, we are not going to be at cross purposes with him or with each other.

varieties of gifts

There is diversity in the kinds of Spiritual Gifts, although their function is unified. Their function is unified because behind them all is the same Holy Spirit, doing the same will of the Father, fulfilling the work of the body of Christ. There are varieties of gifts because the work of the body is more than just one work. His work is not confined to only the sermon preached or the worship music or the children’s class. He is doing it all through the various gifts he has distributed throughout the body.

varieties of service (ministries)

Peter had divided the gifts into two categories: speaking and serving gifts. Paul uses another kind of classification. He talks about varieties of service, and varieties of activities. Perhaps a better translation of the Greek for service here would be ministry. What Paul describes here are all the gifts which the Holy Spirit imparts to believers which they regularly and consistently manifest as part of their ministry. These are the gifts associated with the Holy Spirit’s call to a certain ministry. It is not uncommon for an individual with a ministry gift to keep exercising that gift for a lifetime.

Some Speaking Gifts which are often considered Ministries

1) Apostles – gifts enabling people to do cross-cultural ministry.

2) Prophets – gifts enabling people to speak for God.

3) Teachers – gifts enabling people to systematically train others in doctrine and ministry skills.

4) Tongues and interpretation– gifts enabling people to effectively communicate in languages other than their heart language.

Some Serving Gifts which are often considered Ministries

1) Miracles – gifts enabling people to perform extraordinary acts.

2) Healings – gifts enabling people to restore the health of those who are ill or injured.

3) Helps – gifts enabling people to render faithful service to others.

4) Administrations – gifts enabling people to manage the affairs of the Church with efficiency.

These appear to be what Paul referred to as the “higher gifts.” He encouraged the Corinthians to earnestly desire these gifts because through them the believers would consistently serve each other and their community. Without love, even these ministries could be abused, but when the ministries are performed in a loving way, they accomplish what the Holy Spirit wants.

varieties of activities (manifestations)

Paul’s second category is activities. This word probably refers to the times when the Holy Spirit works among us in ways that we do not expect. Since he is sovereign over the spiritual gifts, he is free to zap me with a gift I have never experienced before, and might not ever experience again. He may use me to heal someone, but that does not mean I should quit my writing and set up a healing ministry. This kind of gift is a manifestation. It is something the Holy Spirit does among us, and through us, but it is less permanent because it is not associated with a lifetime call.

Any of the ministry gifts may also appear as a one-time manifestation. Believers should be careful not to assume a calling simply because God used them once in a particular way. The beauty of the manifestation gifts is that believers cannot rule out the Holy Spirit using them in a speaking gift, when their ministries are usually serving gifts, and vice-versa.

the body of Christ

The predominate metaphor that Paul used to explain spiritual gifts is that of a body – the body of Christ, with each believer being a member (a limb or organ) in that body. The metaphor emphasizes the concepts of the Holy Spirit’s unity amidst the church’s diversity. It also implies another teaching that Paul stressed: we need each other. Paul asked “If all were a single member, where would the body be?”[26] It takes all of the limbs and organs for the body to function properly. For that reason, people in prominent ministries should not act as if they were the whole church.

What, then, is the role of those the Holy Spirit calls into lifelong ministry? Paul deals with that question when he writes about spiritual gifts to the Ephesians.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”[27]

Here, Paul stresses some of the same principles that he had taught the Corinthians about the spiritual gifts. To emphasize unity, instead of speaking of the one Spirit, he focuses on the one head. Since Christ is the head, our goal in ministry should be to get all the members to grow up into him. That stresses maturity as well as unity. Paul also mentions a variety of ministry gifts, not just one. We need each other. The Holy Spirit uses many to minister to all the saints, and the work of ministry belongs to all the saints.

to equip the saints

The specific role of the ministries listed in verse 11 is to equip the saints for the work the Holy Spirit calls and empowers them with, and manifests among them. Rather than becoming a club of separated professional clergy, these believers are to invest their lives and gifts in the training of all the others. They are not performing their gifts correctly if the others do not learn to perform their gifts. If the evangelist merely thrills everyone with her ability to convert the masses, she is a failure. She is called to convert the masses into evangelists. If the pastor merely encourages the weak in his own fellowship, he is a failure. He is called to produce more pastors.

This role of equipping the saints for ministry is the work of the local church, and cannot be passed off to bible colleges and seminaries. I speak as a graduate of a great bible college, and two wonderful seminaries, and as a professor at a bible college as well. These can be wonderful tools for ministry training, but they can never replace the role of ministry training within the local church. Places of specialized intensive training work best when they supplement work already begun in the body environment of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 6.

unity of the faith

Equipping ministries need to work together to build unity of the faith into the lives of all the saints. It is remarkable how easy it is to get sidetracked from this task. Many believers who know they are called to build unity actually spend most of their time fostering disunity. When we pit one legitimate theological stance against another for the purpose of accentuating the difference, we are more likely to foster disunity and separation.

Paul deliberately described a healthy body as “held together by every joint with which it is equipped.”[28] When the equipping ministries function properly, they serve as connecting joints for the body. It is their task to see to it that the limbs and organs do not go their separate ways, but function properly together. A church blessed with a biblical equipping ministry team will exercise its spiritual gifts, but will think of that process less in terms of individual ministries, but as facets of the overall ministry of the fellowship. It will be less “me” and “mine” and more “us” and “ours.” Equipping ministries help us be us, instead of individual me’s.

knowledge of the Son of God

Equipping ministries pass on information as well. Believers do not automatically gain the knowledge of who Christ is by being baptized. We need solid biblical teaching over a lifetime to gain insight into the person and work of our Lord. The Holy Spirit makes provision for that need by gifting faithful teachers who invest their time and effort into the hard work of passing on this information.

the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ

The ultimate objective of equipping ministries is more than just making us unified or educated. It is to make all of us mature and Christ-like. This is a life-long process that happens when believers submit themselves to discipling and faithfully stay with that commitment. It produces a mature, developed wisdom that a person can trust. The enemies of that kind of commitment are many, particularly in a community where the only recognized equipping ministers keep getting voted out.

We should not be surprised that the resulting immature church looks very much like the world from which it came.

Spiritual gifts used properly produce spiritual growth. The body functions properly as it continues to grow. The measure of that growth is not how I compare with the other limbs and organs of the body. The measure is Christ. Healthy living and proper use of spiritual gifts means that the church will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”[29]

[1] 1 Peter 4:7-11.

[2] Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5.

[3] Luke 2:36; Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; 13:2; 14:29, 32; Ephesians 3:5; 4:11.

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:30; 14:13, 27-28.

[5] Acts 2:42; 4:2, 18; 5:28; 13:1; 28:31; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 12:28-29; 14:6; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 2:7; 3:2; 4:11, 13; 5:17; 6:2; 2 Timothy 1:11; 2:2, 24; Titus 2:1.

[6] Acts 4:9, 14, 22, 30; 5:16; 8:7; 28:8; 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30; James 5:16.

[7] Acts 8:13; 19:11; 1 Corinthians. 12:10, 28-29; Galatians 3:5; Hebrews 2:4.

[8] Romans 12:8.

[9] Acts 1:15; 2:1.

[10] Acts 5:42.

[11] Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8.

[12] 1 Corinthians 14:20.

[13] Galatians 5:23.

[14] 1 Corinthians 14:12.

[15] 1 Corinthians 14:39-40.

[16] 1 Corinthians 14:33.

[17] 1 Peter 4:8.

[18] 1 Corinthians 13:1.

[19] 1 Corinthians 13:2.

[20] 1 Peter 4:9.

[21] Hebrews 10:25.

[22] John 14:16; 16:13.

[23] 1 Corinthians 12:4, 8, 9, 11.

[24] 1 Corinthians 12:5.

[25] 1 Corinthians 12:6.

[26] 1 Corinthians 12:19.

[27] Ephesians 4:11-16.

[28] Ephesians 4:16.

[29] Ephesians 4:15.

ACST 40: The Reflector

Nov 08 092 If the Holy Spirit were a mere influence, it would not matter so much what our inner character was, as long as we succumbed to that influence. But the Holy Spirit is a person, sent not only to move us is a certain direction, but walk alongside us as we tread that path. He is a friend who goes with us as we go about our daily lives. Just as any other friend would be, he is affected by what we do and say. He reflects our relationship with the Father. When we were unbelievers – without hope and without God in this world – his connection to us reflected that lack of relationship.


resisting him

The unbeliever is born into this world with a natural disposition to resist the Holy Spirit’s influence. Although God continues to show evidence of his existence by what he has made, the unbeliever fails to see it. Stephen criticized his fellow Jews who were bombarded with evidence of God’s work in their lives, but “always resist the Holy Spirit.”[1]

To the saved, a tree is a marvel of complex design, enabling the production of oxygen, the provision for a habitat for people and animals, the cleaning of pollution from the air, the raw material for numerous products that enhance the quality of life, and a beautiful, majestic thing to look at. All these things and more are gifts from God, who created trees for our enjoyment and benefit.

To the unsaved, it is usually just a tree. That may be a simplification, but it demonstrates how differently the saved and unsaved react to the world around them. The difference is partly the fact that although all humanity was created with an appreciation for the world around us, believers have special access to God’s Holy Spirit. We are able to tap into that capacity for appreciation that otherwise might lie dormant. Our ears are open so that when God talks, we listen. Our eyes are adjusting to the brightness of his presence. It is as if we have muscles to use that unbelievers do not have.

Having these muscles is no guarantee that we will always use them. Christians are under divine obligation to resist the devil and to consciously surrender to the Holy Spirit, but we sometimes do the reverse. Often we find ourselves giving in to Satan’s temptations, but failing to listen and respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. We always have the capacity to use our spiritual muscles and walk away from sin, but we often take the easy way and give in to sin instead.

But the Holy Spirit does not simply prompt us to avoid sin. There is a whole world of holiness and creativity and things that bring glory to the Father. He wants us to experience all the treasures of that world, and is ready to take us by the hand and give us a guided tour. But we resist the Holy Spirit here too. There are many reasons that we resist his promptings toward miraculous living. Among them:

1. We are creatures of habit. Having lived our lives on a certain level, following a certain path, we are not inclined to stray from that path.

2. We fear the unknown. The unknown is just where the Holy Spirit wants to take us.

3. We identify mostly with others who are not likely to surrender to the truly adventurous life the Holy Spirit can offer. We fear the loss of their approval if we take up the challenge of the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

4. We too easily swallow the Enemy’s lies about ourselves. Satan tells us that we are so tied to the sins and failures and lusts of this life that God cannot make us different that we are.

There is no foundation for this lack of faith. Not one believer – no matter what his history – is tied to a life of mediocrity. We all have the potential to be much more than we allow ourselves to be. The call to break the habit of resisting the Holy Spirit is a challenge to us all.

quenching him

Most of us have seen or have otherwise experienced some special miracle where the Holy Spirit has manifested. Perhaps while hearing a sermon, or some teaching of the Bible, at some point a special message from the Spirit himself touches the heart. At that point one realizes that God is speaking directly to him through the human speaker. Or, perhaps that special message comes through the words of a song or a prayer. Sometimes the Spirit touches the heart through an act of kindness, or ministry that meets a need nobody was supposed to know about.

Our public worship services are times when such Holy Spirit manifestations should be common. Unfortunately, we sometimes sit through entire services that seem as dry as a desert. Collectively, the body is suppressing the activity of the Spirit. It is like a spiritual coma.

Paul warned the Thessalonians not to “quench the Spirit.”[2] The imagery is that of a fire, which, if allowed to grow, will do what fire does – burn. To quench the Holy Spirit is to put his fire out. That implies that there are times when the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish something, yet his revealed intention is stopped by the indifference or opposition of believers. Paul does not specify what type of ministry it is that can be potentially hindered. The implication is that many different types of ministry can be quenched.

Perhaps 1 Thessalonians 5:20, where Paul tells the same church not to “despise prophecies,” is a particular example of the general rule against quenching the Spirit. There are some times when the Holy Spirit would want to share a prophetic word from God in a gathering, but some believers present are not willing to accept that ministry.

To quench the Spirit is a dangerous thing. It takes resisting to a whole new level. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. If he encounters those who are not willing to accept his manifestations, he will often withhold them. Sometimes all it takes to encourage an entire body of believers to quench the Spirit is the fear of being labeled charismatic.

grieving him

Paul told the Ephesians that they had the opportunity to put off their old selves and put on the new selves “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”[3] He was talking about the Spirit’s role as a sanctifier, one who changes us into who we were meant to be. Yet, he warned the Ephesians that they can resist that transformation. He charged them not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”[4]

Living an unholy life when we were called to holiness breaks the Holy Spirit’s heart. It prevents the transformation. Our lives are like containers. They can hold holy things or unholy things, but we were not designed to hold both at the same time. We are temples, designed to house the celebration of God’s holiness. If those temples become defiled – the worship ceases. The celebration stops. The Holy Spirit mourns the quiet.

Defilement does not always manifest publically. A secret sin can shut down the celebration just as quickly as a public spectacle. What is taking place is a personal tragedy for the Holy Spirit himself. Paul implies that a church could remain doctrinally sound but still cause grief to the Holy Spirit who taught them their orthodox beliefs. All it takes is living like there is no God. If a church chooses to turn its back on the transformation the Holy Spirit offers, heaven turns quiet for them. That is the sound of the Holy Spirit grieving.

blaspheming him

There is only one sin against the Holy Spirit which Jesus deems irreversible and unpardonable. That is the sin of blaspheming him.[5] To do this is to set oneself against what God is doing and wants to do. It is to declare oneself in opposition to God’s will. It is more than simply resisting his call, and more than merely grieving or quenching his fire. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is purposely seeking to malign God’s name and oppose what he wants.

The Christian who consciously seeks to please God and seeks forgiveness for those aspects of her life that are not pleasing to him will never be in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Christian believers are much more likely to grieve the Holy Spirit by un-confessed sin, or to quench him when he wants to manifest.

It is unbelievers who consciously resist the promptings of the Holy Spirit – who are in danger of carrying that resistance to the point of blasphemy.

The Holy Spirit empowers faithful believers to manifest God in this world. He reflects the quality of our commitment to God, and can therefore withhold that power among those who resist his influence. Confession and forgiveness can lead to a re-connection with God’s power for personal ministry. Getting into the word of God and faithfully praying for him to use us are also ways to reconnect. God wants us to have a personal relationship with him where the Holy Spirit stays in constant communication with our spirits. May we manifest the faithfulness needed to stay connected.

[1] Acts 7:51.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

[3] Ephesians 4:22, 24.

[4] Ephesians 4:30.

[5] Matthew 12:31.

ACST 39: The Empowerer

Red Lightning Flash The incarnation was a singular event in which the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. Pentecost was another such singular event in which the Holy Spirit came down and resided within the church and began ministering through us. Luke records this event:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And 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…[1]

From that time on, believers had the capacity to minister through spiritual gifts and miraculous ministries. That power came from the presence of the Holy Spirit. Although he has always been present everywhere, from Pentecost on, he has invested himself in the church of Jesus Christ.

the rifle era

Before Jesus, God’s Holy Spirit invested himself in people by coming upon them, to empower them to perform specific miracles, or the enable them to do a particular ministry.

· “And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse”[2]

· “The Spirit of the LORD was upon (Othniel), and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.”[3]

· “Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD…”[4]

· “Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon (Samson), and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat.”[5]

· “When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met (Saul), and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them.”[6]

· “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward.”[7]

· “Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied”[8]

· And (Saul) went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah.[9]

· “The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.”[10]

· Ezekiel said “And the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the LORD: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind….”[11]

The power of God at work could be described as that of a rifle, specifically targeting one person or group, and doing one thing at a time. During this time God’s power for ministry could be said to be available, but not predictable, and not prominent.

the ricochet era

The Messiah’s ministry was to be different than the ministries of these upon whom the Spirit came. The Messiah was to have the power of the Spirit without measure – without limit. The Holy Spirit would rest upon the Messiah and never leave him. Power from God is both available and predictable if you are looking in the right place.

· “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”[12]

· “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”[13]

· “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound”[14]

When Jesus Christ appeared for his public ministry, his baptism by John publically demonstrated that he was this Messiah. The Holy Spirit visibly descended and rested upon him. From that time on, the Holy Spirit manifested God’s power wherever Jesus went.

· “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”[15]

· “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness”[16]

· “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”[17]

The Holy Spirit manifested his power in Jesus’ life and ministry. That power did not dissipate once a particular miracle happened, but continued to manifest wherever Jesus was. It was like a bullet, which, after reaching its target, would ricochet to the next and the next.

the shotgun era

Jesus promised to pass on that special access to God’s power through the Holy Spirit. He predicted the event that we know as Pentecost. He told them “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”[18] He promised “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 end of the earth.”[19]

On that day, the Holy Spirit came, rested upon, and resided within the believers gathered. But unlike the Old Testament saints, this power was to remain in the believers for the purpose of witnessing the fact that Christ has been raised from the dead. The power was tied to the gospel message, and will not diminish until all have had the opportunity to hear that gospel. The power will remain as long as the mission remains.

· “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”[20]

· “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.”[21]

· “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God- so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel”[22]

· “and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”[23]

· “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”[24]

· “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”[25]

· “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us”[26]

· “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”[27]

This era in which we now live is both the era of the Holy Spirit, and the era of the church, through which the Holy Spirit chooses to operate. He has invested himself in us, and his power blasts through the obstacles as we continue to spread the gospel. The power of the Holy Spirit is like the blast of a shotgun, that permeates the whole area where the gospel is being proclaimed.

a powerless church?

Sadly, that power often seems to be missing in the church today. Some feel that this special power was only for the age in which the apostles began to originally spread the gospel, and therefore we should not expect the same kind of power today. They teach that the church should concentrate on showing love and other aspects of the sanctified life, because the special power and gifts have ceased.

It is true that Paul argues for an emphasis on love in 1 Corinthians 13, because the miraculous gifts do manifest temporarily. He was not arguing that the era of the Holy Spirit’s power would end in the first century. He was trying to correct an over-emphasis on the expression of supernatural gifts to the exclusion of the fruit of a sanctified life. Paul encouraged both the manifestation of spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit, because each has its place.

Perhaps one of the reasons that the church seems so powerless today is that she has lost sight of the dual role of the Holy Spirit in the presentation of the gospel. His power is available to both transform us into Christ’s image, and to proclaim Christ’s gospel. It can both build up believers and (through miracles) break down walls preventing belief. Some traditions emphasize the Holy Spirit’s role as a sanctifier, others stress his role as a miracle maker. Both must be seen together to get a clear view of who the Holy Spirit actually is. His power is available to change us, and to draw others to Christ.

baptism and fullness

Another helpful distinction can clarify the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. All believers have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. That is the initial act of entering into the life of someone who has confessed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul told the Corinthians “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”[28] The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not some extra blessing that a believers has to work for – it comes with being part of the body of Christ – no extra charge.

Simultaneous with the initial baptism with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the bible says “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”[29] This fullness of the Holy Spirit was a temporary phenomenon. It resulted in power for miraculous ministry. It came and went, as the apostles continued to spread the gospel.[30]

The church needs to continually seek this fullness of the Spirit to manifest the difference between who we were before Christ, and who we are now. Paul told the Ephesians “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”[31] The old life of debauchery must be replaced by a new life, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This new life involves manifestations of spiritual gifts in which the Holy spirit speaks, sings, and gives thanks through our voices. It also expresses itself in a sanctified life in which we submit to one another instead of trying to rule over each other. Here, again, spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit are working together for the same cause: advancing the gospel.

He is Here

The spiritual gifts and the fruit of the spirit and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit all have one source: the person of the Holy Spirit. They exist because he exists. They will never cease because He will never cease. Since he is here, his power is available to answer our prayers, and to surprise us with unexpected miracles. He is not a mechanistic power, so his work cannot be manipulated. That explains why our prayers sometimes do not result in the answers we expect. He is God, and does not curtail his own sovereignty.

But we should pray, precisely because he is here within us. He has chosen to invest himself in our lives. He has chosen to empower us to fulfill our mission. He has chosen to make us more like Christ. If we are doing what he wants us to do, we should expect his empowerment to do it.

[1] Acts 2:1-4.

[2] Numbers 24:2-3.

[3] Judges 3:10.

[4] Judges 11:29-30.

[5] Judges 14:6. (see also 14:19; 15:14).

[6] 1 Samuel 10:10. (see also 10:6; 11:6).

[7] 1 Samuel 16:13.

[8] 1 Samuel 19:20.

[9] 1 Samuel 19:23.

[10] 2 Chronicles 15:1-2.

[11] Ezekiel 11:5.

[12] Isaiah 11:2.

[13] Isaiah 42:1-3.

[14] Isaiah 61:1.

[15] Matthew 3:16 – 4:1.

[16] Luke 4:1.

[17] Luke 4:14-15.

[18] Luke 24:49.

[19] Acts 1:8.

[20] Acts 4:33.

[21] Acts 6:8.

[22] Romans 15:19-20.

[23] 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.

[24] 2 Corinthians 10:4.

[25] Ephesians 3:14-16.

[26] Ephesians 3:20.

[27] James 5:16.

[28] 1 Corinthians 12:13-14.

[29] Acts 2:4.

[30] Acts 4:8, 31; 6:8; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9, 52.

[31] Ephesians 5:18-21.