To many the third person of the Godhead is a mystery. Maybe that is because he was never manifested in a way that could be experiences by the senses of man – that is, he is not empirically provable. The old English word “Ghost” has no doubt added to the mystique of his person. What does the Bible actually teach about the Holy Spirit?
I make no claim of knowing the answer to all questions regarding the Holy Spirit. I know of no one who does. People who are far better scholars than myself frankly admit that there are many things they do not understand about the Spirit. But there are things that are plainly stated that are understandable. We would be remiss were we to neglect the precious truths that are readily available to us.
There are differences between Bible believers on the subject of the Holy Spirit – especially over what happened on the day of Pentecost and the promise made to the penitent, baptized believers in Acts 2:38-39. Obviously what happened when the Spirit descended upon the apostles was quite significant. This event which was marked by them speaking in other languages was a great miracle. The sound which accompanied his descent attracted the attention of a great crowd and the apostles’ speaking gave them and understanding of what it all meant.
At the beginning of his speech, Peter quoted from Joel 2, a prophecy of the pouring out of the Spirit on “all flesh,” which, he said, was what was occurring at that time. Then, after having preached the gospel of Christ’s death burial, resurrection, ascension and coronation, and after the people had responded with their query as to what they must do in view of what Peter had preached, he told them …
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39).
It is over this promise that there has been so much controversy. Some of those who de-emphasize the necessity of baptism point to the promise of the Spirit being the main thing in verse 38 and others who stress baptism tend to minimize or overlook the promise of the Spirit.
What Peter says here is that those who repent and are baptized will receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” If this gift is, as Peter said, for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself,” we should be interested in learning all we can know about this gift because it is for us also.
I have heard it argued that the gift here is not the Spirit, but some gift the Spirit gives. If that be true, then we must ask as to what that gift is. In the context the forgiveness of sins is under consideration and this is what the gift is affirmed to be by some. But that doesn’t make sense. If the gift of the Spirit is forgiveness, then we can substitute the gift – “forgiveness” – for Spirit without changing the meaning of the sentence. How would that work? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the forgiveness of your sins.” Just doesn’t quite work, does it? It is redundant. It doesn’t even make good nonsense.
The gift is the Spirit, not a gift or all the gifts which the Spirit bestows. “We must distinguish the gift of the Spirit from the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is the Spirit Himself, bestowed by the Father through the Messiah; the gifts of the Spirit are those spiritual faculties which the Holy Spirit imparts, ‘distributing to each one individually just as He wills’ – 1 Cor. 12:11” (Dr. F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 77). “The free gift which is promised in verse 38 to those who repent and are baptized is the Holy Spirit Himself” (ibid). “the Holy Ghost, the gift, was a personal and abiding possession” (William R. Nicoll, – Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts/ Acts 2:38).
There are too many passages that state that the Spirit is given to believers to doubt the reality of this truth. The Bible states in no uncertain terms that he is given to believers and that he does dwell in us.
- “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. (John 7:3).
- “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32).
- “…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5).
- “…and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:22).
- “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 5:5).
- “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” (1 John 3:24).
We should note in these verses that the Spirit is identified as a person. In the New Testament he is always referred to with personal pronouns – he, who, whom, etc., or by the designation, Holy Spirit or Spirit, etc.
Notice in the above passages all the things the things the Spirit is said to do for believers. There are more besides these that emphasize even further that the Spirit acts in many different ways in behalf of believers.
He leads us to be children of God and is also witness with our spirit that we are his children (Rom. 8:14, 16). Paul said that the Spirit dwells in the body of a Christian.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
He said this to bring to their attention that they had the presence of God in the person of the Spirit who with them at all times. This awareness would serve as a deterrent to the immorality the Corinthians were so readily engaging in. He says the same thing about the community of the saints, the spiritual body of Christ.
It is in this idea of us, individually and collectively, being the temple that we connect to the original purpose for creation. We are God’s new creation in which he dwells in us as in the original temple of creation.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
A recognition and awareness of the Spirit within us would serve as a powerful deterrent against sin in the lives of Christians today. What would it do for the one who is tempted to cheat on his wife, lie, steal, be unkind, unfair, irreverent to know that The Holy Spirit is with him and not only is a witness, but is seeking to sway him against his action?
In Jesus’ promise to his disciples he said the Holy Spirit would serve as “another Helper.” (John 14:16-17). Jesus had been their “helper,” but he was going away. He told them he would not leave them bereft of someone to stand beside them and “plead their cause” as it were. Was his help only for them? Are we left to our own devices to withstand the forces that threaten to overwhelm us like a flood? Do we never need help that is beyond the power of man to supply?
The early church walked in the comfort of the Spirit (Acts 9:31). People were said to be filled with the Spirit and all Christians are admonished to be filled with him also (Acts 6:5; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9; 13:52; Eph. 5:18). Out of that filling there flows the ability to praise, to serve, to overcome, to have the strength we need for the challenges of each new day. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that God would …
“according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (Ephesians 3:16).
The Spirit does bestow gifts on believers. Many people get very leery when the Spirit’s gifts are brought up thinking someone is going to start speaking in “tongues.” There is no reason to be uneasy about the gifts the Spirit gives. In fact, we should be eager to receive them. He has always given people gifts as he sees fit. Yes, he did once give miraculous gifts and could still if he wished. He will not give you one thing that is not appropriate to your ability or need. “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Cor. 12:11).
He gives the gifts we need to be able to do the Lord’s work here in this world. Paul lists several in Rom. 12:3-8; prophecy, service, teaching; exhortation; contributing, leading and acts of mercy. In addition, Peter exhorts…
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
It is perhaps in this latter area that our greatest failure is found – our failure to seek, identify and use the divinely given empowerment available to us in the form of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When we rely on our own strength, we will fail. When we allow the one whom Jesus sent from above to be with us to come along side us, we cannot fail!
Christianity is a Divine power, a power which must be sought in faith, in humiliation, and in prayer; and till the Holy [Spirit] be duly honored, and His presence be humbly sought, the finest system and the most elaborate organizations will be found devoid of any fruitful life and vigor. (Expositors Bible Commentary; eSword/Acts 2:38).