The Holy Spirit Revealed


True Bible Teaching - About You and God and Your Hope of Salvation

The Holy Spirit Revealed


On Holy Ground

This is a subject to be approached with reference and awe. God's Holy Spirit cannot be seperated from God himself. It is His mind, His character, His word and His breath. Very simply the Holy Spirit is God's power by which he created the world, sustains his creation, controls world governments and the lives of believers today. And it is so much more than this!

What does "spirit" mean?

The Hebrew word translated as "spirit" in the Old Testament strictly means "breath" or "power"; thus God's spirit is His "breathing", the very essence of God, reflecting His mind. It is not a separate person from God. It is a common Bible teaching that how a man thinks is expressed in his actions (Prov. 23:7; Mt. 12:34). A little reflection upon our own actions will confirm this; we think of something and then we do it. God likewise thinks and therefore does things: "Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand" (NIV, Isaiah 14:24).

The Holy Spirit of God moved on the face of the EarthMany passages clearly identify God's spirit with His power. In order to create the earth, "…the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (NIV,Gen. 1:2,3). God's spirit was the power by which all things, e.g. light, were made.

A comparison of Mt. 12:28 and Lk. 11:20 shows that "the finger of God" and "the spirit of God" are parallel - God in action is His spirit. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and their starry host by the breath of His mouth" (Ps. 33:6). God's spirit is therefore described as follows:

  1. His breath
  2. His word
  3. His finger
  4. His hand

It is therefore His power by which He achieves all things. The spirit given to us, and all creation, is what sustains our life. We have "the breath of the spirit of life" within us (AV,Gen. 7:22 ) given to us by God at birth (Ps. 104:30; Gen. 2:7). God is the life force which sustains all creation, His spirit is present everywhere (Ps. 139:2,7,9,10).

An understanding of the true God and His very real presence all around us by His spirit can totally change our concept of life. We are surrounded by the spirit, constantly witnessing its actions, which reveal God to us.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At various times in His dealings with men, God gave the use of His power ("Holy Spirit") to men. However, this was never in the form of a "blank cheque", as it were, enabling them to do what they wished; always the use of this Holy Spirit was for a specific purpose. When it was accomplished, the gift of the Holy Spirit was withdrawn. We must remember that God's spirit acts in a way which fulfils the purpose which is in His mind. The gifts of Holy Spirit were always to achieve specific things at specific times. Here is an example:

  • The TabernacleEarly in Israel's history, they were commanded to make an elaborate tent ("tabernacle") in which the altar and other holy items could be kept; detailed instructions were given concerning how to make all the items which would be necessary for the worship of God. To accomplish this, God gave His spirit to certain men. They were, "filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments..." etc. (AV, Ex. 28:3).

Reasons For The Gifts In The First Century

Remembering the basic principles which we have already learnt about the gifts of God's spirit, we now come to the New Testament record of the spirit gifts which were possessed in the early church (i.e. the groups of believers who lived in the generation after the time of Jesus).

Christ's last command was for the apostles to go throughout the world preaching the Gospel (Mk. 16:15,16). This they did, with the theme of Christ's death and resurrection foremost in their message. But remember that then there was no New Testament as we know it. As they stood in market places and synagogues speaking about this man Jesus of Nazareth, their story could have sounded bizarre - a carpenter from Israel who was perfect, who died and was then resurrected in accurate fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and who was now asking them to be baptised and follow His example.

In our day we appeal to the New Testament records of the work and doctrine of Jesus in order to prove that our message is from God; but in those days, before it was written down and available, God allowed His preachers the use of His Holy Spirit in order to underline the truth of what they were saying. This was the specific reason for the use of the gifts in the sight of the world; the absence of the written New Testament would have also made it difficult for the new groups of believers to grow in their faith.

As ever, these reasons for the granting of the Holy Spirit were made abundantly plain:

  • "When he [Jesus] ascended up on high [to heaven], he...gave [spirit] gifts unto men...for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry [preaching], for the edifying of the body of Christ [i.e. the believers]" (AV, Eph. 4:8,12).
  • So Paul wrote to the believers at Rome, "I long to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong" (NIV, Rom. 1:11).

Concerning the use of the gifts to confirm the preaching of the Gospel, we read:

  • "God also testified to it [the message of salvation] by signs, wonders and various miracles" (NIV, Heb. 2:4).
  • "When the proconsul saw what had happened [i.e. a miracle], he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord" (NIV, Acts 13:12).

All this is summarised by the comment on the apostles' obedience of the command to preach: "Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it" (NIV, Mk. 16:20).

The Withdrawal of the Gifts

The miraculous gifts of God's spirit will be used again by the believers in order to change this present world into God's Kingdom, after the return of Christ. The gifts are therefore called "the powers of the coming age" (NIV, Heb. 6:4,5); and Joel 2:26-29 describes a great outpouring of the spirit gifts after the repentance of Israel. The very fact that these gifts will be given to the believers on Christ's return is proof enough that they are not possessed now. To any Christian, with eyes open to both Scripture and world events, the Lord's return must surely be soon.

From all the Biblical records of the use of spirit gifts, it is clear that they were given at particular times for particular purposes and were withdrawn by God when His purpose was accomplished:

"Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues [the ability to speak foreign languages, in order to preach], they will be stilled… but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears" (NIV, 1 Cor. 13:8-10).

As the Good News Bible clearly states: the gifts "are temporary".

Eph. 4:8-14 helps us understand this further. This passage explains that the gifts of the first century were to be given until the perfect, or mature, man was reached. Making such a fuss about possessing the spirit gifts is therefore not a sign of spiritual maturity. The progress each reader of these words should now make, is towards a deeper appreciation of the written Word of God, to rejoice in the completeness of God's basic revelation of Himself to us through it, and to respond to it in humble obedience.

2 Tim. 3:16,17 teaches that response to "all scripture" enables the man of God to be "perfect", complete, and mature. So once the New Testament was completed, towards the end of the first century, the gifts were no longer needed. They had achieved their purpose, of enabling the church to become "fully equipped" (Eph. 4:8 Weymouth). When the Bible was completed, the church was indeed fully equipped to preach the gospel of salvation.

Present Claims Of Spirit Possession

A number of other points have to be made concerning the repeated claims of those who think they now possess the miraculous gifts. Whatever one makes of the above arguments for the withdrawal of the gifts, the reality is that the present claims to Spirit gift possession are sadly in conflict with the nature of the gifts as recorded in the New Testament. Whatever is being done today is different from that which happened in the early church.

Present "speaking in tongues" tends to repeat the same short syllables over and over again e.g. "Lala, lala, lala, shama, shama. Jesus, Jesus...". This is not in the syntax associated with any language; when one hears someone speak in a foreign tongue, it is usually possible to discern that they are communicating something by the pattern of words they use, although we may not understand those words. Yet modern tongue-speaking does not feature this, underlining the fact that it is not building up the church, which was the purpose of the first century gifts.

Some Pentecostals claim that speaking in tongues is a sign of being "saved" and will therefore accompany every true conversion. This claim runs into serious difficulty with the description of the early church as a body, in which those possessing different gifts were like the different parts. Not everyone was an arm or leg, and so likewise not everyone possessed any one gift, e.g. tongues. 1 Cor. 12:17, 27-30 makes this clear.

Another problem for the Pentecostal argument is that Philip converted many people in Samaria - i.e. they were baptised in water after understanding the Gospel, but they did not receive the spirit gifts; because after this, Peter and John came to them: "When they arrived they prayed for them, and they received the Holy Spirit… the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands" (NIV, Acts 8:4-18).

Apart from a few specific examples it seems that the passing on of the Spirit gifts was only by this laying on of hands, which is not frequently practised by modern claimants. Thus Paul wanted to visit the Romans in order to give them the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:11 cf. Eph. 4:12). It would therefore follow that once the generation who had this power passed away, there was no way of continuing the gifts. If indeed they are obtainable purely by prayer, it is difficult to understand why Paul had to visit Rome to transfer the gifts to them there. The only answer must be that "through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given".