What Every Christian Must Know about the Holy Spirit

Volume 29, Issue 6, August 2023

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel

According to the 2022 Lifeway/Ligonier survey, fifty-nine percent of those who identify as evangelical Christians believe the Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal being. And this is in light of the fact that about ninety percent claim to believe in the Trinity composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the very least, we have to admit that even the most conservative slice of Christians is deeply confused when it comes to doctrine in general and the Holy Spirit specifically.

In the Old Testament, God the Father was primarily in focus. In the New Testament, God the Son took center stage. Throughout church history, most of the attention has been on the Father and Son, but the Spirit, while seldom in the spotlight, made appearances in both Testaments. In the Old Testament, we normally hear of Him when He came on someone to give them extraordinary power (like Samson) or to prophecy. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit plays a much more active role.

Throughout church history, the Spirit was largely ignored until the dawning of the Pentecostal movement in the 20th century. Among Pentecostal and charismatic teachers and leaders, He often overshadows both the Father and the Son in much of their teaching and music. However, according to John 16:14 and 15:26, when the Holy Spirit is at work, He never glories Himself; He glorifies the Son. “The Holy Spirit did not come to make us Holy Spirit conscious but Christ conscious.”[1]

Understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives is essential to Christian living; therefore, we need to determine who the Spirit is, what He does, and why it matters.

Who is the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4)?

Back in the days of black and white television, a favorite Saturday morning show of many was “The Lone Ranger.” At the end of every episode, as he rode off into the sunset, someone would ask, “Who was that masked man?” I remember thinking, “How could you not know who he was?” After all, how many cowboys were dressed in an almost white outfit, wore a black mask, rode a white horse, traveled with a faithful Indian companion, and cried out, “Hi, Ho, Silver” as we rode off? The Lone Ranger had many distinguishing features, and so does the Spirit of God. He is easily identified from the pages of Scripture.

While the majority of Americans, if they consider the Spirit at all, believe the Holy Spirit is some kind of force and not a personal being, it would seem that even evangelicals are at best confused. On this front, the Bible tells a different story. The Holy Spirit is not only a person; He is God. Acts 5 shows this clearly. When Ananias and Sapphira chose to lie to the church, Peter told them they had actually lied to the Holy Spirit (v. 3). One cannot lie to a force—we can only lie to a person. The very next verse (v. 4) makes it clear that lying to the Holy Spirit was the same as lying to God. He is unquestionably a member of the Godhead, the Trinity. When Jesus instructed his apostles to make disciples of all nations, He also told them to baptize these disciples in the Name (singular) of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 18:19). To link any name to the Father and Son in such a manner would be blasphemous, if that other name was not God.

What Does the Holy Spirit Do? 

Some in the Pentecostal/charismatic persuasion would accuse cessationists of leaving the Holy Spirit out of their theology and everyday Christian lives. If He is not producing miracles, giving new prophecies and the gift of tongues, then, they ask, what is He doing? Cessationists believe the sign gifts that identify and distinguish the Pentecostal/ charismatic movement have ceased because their purpose has been fulfilled. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is extremely active today, according to Scripture.

There are so many things that the Spirit does, that we only have space for a brief overview of some of His ministries the first being that He gives us new life. “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness, but in accordance with His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Observe the process:

He Washes Us

If you are dirty, you need a bath. Instead of a bath, some might dust themselves off a bit, plop on some powder or perfume, and declare themselves clean. But that does not work well because the dirt has not been removed – we are merely covering it up.  Sinners are spiritually dirty. They reek of sin. It is common to throw on some spiritual perfume or powder in the form of good works or religious activity and declare oneself clean. And while you might fool yourself or some people in the process, you are not fooling God. What is needed is a spiritual bath. We need our sins washed away, and the Agent of God who does this is the Holy Spirit.

He Regenerates Us

It is noteworthy that the full term Paul uses is the “washing of regeneration.” We must not totally decouple these two actions, but there is a distinction as well. Regeneration literally means new birth. It is the act of God by which new life is implanted in the believer. The word is found only here in the New Testament in a salvific context, but some other descriptions help our understanding. Some might recall that at Woodstock in 1969, its theme song was, “We are stardust; we are golden; and we have to get ourselves back to the garden.” This means the attendees of Woodstock thought they could bring themselves back to the Garden with rock music, sex, and drugs. They failed miserably. What they needed, as you and I do, is to be born again (John 3:3, 5, 7). Radical transformation has taken place in the life of the believer through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Christians have been given new life. That is often evident even at the moment of conversion as the new believer suddenly has a different perspective on life, new interests, and desires, but…

He Is also Renewing Us

As a continuation of our cleansing and regeneration, we are also in the process of being renewed. Regeneration is only the beginning. While we are now new creatures in Christ, we are far from being what God wants us to be. It might be like purchasing a fixer-upper house. That structure now belongs to us, but much renovation will need to be done to make it a home. So, while we now have new capacities, new desires, and new strengths, the renewing process has to be continued. The only other place in the New Testament where the word occurs is in Romans 12:2. There, our continued transformation into Christlikeness is dependent upon the renewal of our minds. We can see a linking of the Word with the Spirit. Our minds are renewed through the Word but also by the Holy Spirit. Renewal does not take place in a vacuum. It is not a mystical experience. Renewal takes place in the washed, regenerated saint as the Word of God is energized by the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Picture a brand-new baby. It is born physically and so, in some ways, is just like its parents. It has the same body parts, and a soul, and is made in the image of God as are the parents. But under normal circumstances, that baby does not remain as it was on the day of birth for very long. Physically, intellectually, and emotionally, it begins to grow and mature. That is what is expected of a normal, healthy baby. The same should be expected of those who have experienced the second birth through regeneration. With all that the Lord has provided through the Holy Spirit, this new birth should naturally result in spiritual growth.

He Indwells Us

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Seven times from verses twelve through twenty of 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul mentions our bodies. Here he says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. This is an astounding thought. There are two characteristics of a temple:

First, it is the sacred dwelling place of God. If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, then they must not be profaned with impurity. Our bodies are temples because the Holy Spirit dwells in them. How dare we bring impurity into God’s house, for His house is holy.

Next, it belongs to God (v. 20). People may take care of it, but no one owns a temple. It belongs to God. Our bodies, as God’s temple, belong to God, and therefore they are not at our disposal. They should only be used for the purposes for which they were designed. Let’s say, with some effort, I might be able to persuade the owner of an expensive luxury car into letting me borrow his prized vehicle for the afternoon. If I immediately took it out “mudding” in the creek bed, painted it a different color, and then welded a snowblade on the front, what would be the reaction of my friend when I returned it? I don’t think much imagination is needed. Why? Because the car does not belong to me, and I have no right to take such liberties with someone else’s automobile. Similarly, I no longer belong to me; I belong to God, and I must use my body in ways that He has designed and that honor Him.

He Baptizes Us into the Body of Christ

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is the only place in Scripture that tells us what the baptism in, by, or with the Holy Spirit means. The Gospels predict it; Acts tells that it took place; other epistles mention it; but only here, in all the Word of God, do we find out what it is.

Note that Paul did not say that we were baptized into the Spirit.  Rather, he said that we were baptized into one body. If you understand this, you understand Spirit baptism. All Christians have been baptized by Christ, through the instrument of the Spirit, into one body. Thus, all Christians are united—we are one no matter what our ethical makeup or social status is. All Christians, not some, have been made to drink of one Spirit. We are all part of one body, and the Spirit is the instrument that makes this possible.

He Seals Us

“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of the promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

To be sealed means that God has placed His mark of ownership on our lives, and that mark is the Holy Spirit. He is our sign of authenticity. Just as a signature on a letter attests to the genuineness of the document, the presence of the Spirit proves the believer is genuine. The example of registered mail is helpful, in which a letter is placed in an envelope, sealed, and sent to the recipient. As Christians, we have been placed by God into Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and sent to the Lord. The sealing ministry of the Spirit guarantees our safe arrival into the presence of God.

The Holy Spirit is also God’s pledge to us. The down payment of the Holy Spirit guarantees our final destiny. What He has begun in us is assured to be completed, and therefore nothing can separate us from our Savior.

He Fills Us

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:18). This means the Spirit controls and empowers our lives. Just as alcohol has a controlling influence over one who is drunk, so the Spirit has a controlling influence over the one walking in Him. Without this energizing power of the Holy Spirit, we are unable to live the Christian life. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers, and without that power, we are going nowhere spiritually.

He Prays for Us

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). In some way, beyond our understanding, without any words or speech, the Holy Spirit is communicating with the Father on our behalf. But He is not just talking about us, He is interceding for us. The original meaning of “intercede” is to rescue someone who is in trouble, to go to bat for that person to help them out of a jam. But since the Spirit is within us, His base of operation is our bodies, so that the prayers that are being uttered from the heart of the believer, as translated by the Spirit, are always in accordance with the will of God.

And contrary to what we might think, for the Holy Spirit to answer our prayer differently than we requested shows His great love and wisdom. How lame it would be if we thought we knew more about what we need than Him. No loving and wise parent gives their children everything they want. Children do not know what is good for them and would often harm themselves without parental control. As the children of God, we often think we know what is best, but our perspective is skewed, and our wisdom is limited. However, the Holy Spirit always knows what is best and prays for us according to God’s will. What a joy this truth should give us.

He Produces His Fruit in Us

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). In the context, Paul has just discussed the deeds of the flesh (vv. 17-21). This ugly list is the product of the flesh—our human efforts, what our natural fallen human nature produces. Even as Christians, with a new nature and a new relationship with God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are still doing battle with the flesh. And as long as we are alive, the desires of the flesh will do everything possible to attempt to draw us into sin. What the Christian must understand is that our flesh never grows weary; it never loses its bite; it is always full of energy and ready to destroy the unguarded believer. We cannot kill the flesh. We cannot put the flesh to sleep or diminish its power in any way. So how can we have victory?

Victory is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are walking in alignment with the Spirit, He produces in our lives what Paul calls here “the fruit of the Spirit.” The word “fruit” is used instead of “work” to crystalize in our thinking that the Christian life is to be the product of a new and divine life that is implanted within us. Fruit is to be the natural, spontaneous result of the Holy Spirit’s work in us. It is something that He does in us, not something we do for Him.

In our yard at home, we have several trees. None of them are fruit trees. These trees might desire to be fruit trees. They might strain their little barks until the sap oozes out, trying to produce apples or peaches, but all would be in vain. To produce fruit, the life of the fruit tree has to be within it. Fruit is the natural product of the nature of a fruit tree. The only way our ash or maple or dogwood trees could ever produce a peach is for some supernatural miracle to take place in which the nature of those trees would be changed to become peach trees. 

The only way humans, who are dead in their sin and lacking the eternal life of God, can manifest the fruit of the Spirit is for a supernatural change of our nature to take place. As “sons of God” (3:26), we now possess a new nature. We are spiritually alive. In addition, the Holy Spirit now lives in us, and as we walk with Him, He produces His fruit in us. The evidence of the Holy Spirit residing in us is the spiritual transformation in our lives. 

He Is the Author of Scripture

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture becomes a matter of someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The only way that you and I can know absolute, eternal truth is by means of the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit is the agent of the Godhead who is responsible for delivering that truth to us through inspiring men to write God’s Word.  More on this subject when we examine what every Christian must know about the Bible, in our next article.

Why Does the Ministry of the Holy Spirit Matter?

By now, why the Holy Spirit and His ministry matter to us should be obvious, but let’s refresh our memory. The Spirit is the sign of our conversion—we belong to God. He is responsible for convicting us of sin and opening our eyes to understanding redemption found only in Christ.

He regenerates us and plays a role in our justification as well as in our progressive sanctification. He lives within both the individual Christian and the corporate church. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation and the pledge given to us by God that those who have come to Christ will not be lost along the way.

He empowers us to live in a way that pleases God and leads us in the path of holiness. He battles the desires of the flesh in our lives and, in turn, produces the life of Christ within us in the form of His fruits, including love, joy, and peace. And He enlightens believers so that they can grasp spiritual realities.[2]

If, as a Christian, you are seeking to live by your own resources rather than by the life of Jesus within you, you are like a man who goes down to buy a car and does not know that it comes equipped with a motor. Naturally, a man buying a car on that basis would have to push it home. When he gets there, he might invite his family out for a ride, so the wife gets in behind the wheel, the kids in the back seat, and he starts pushing from behind.

At that point, you might come along and ask, “How do you like your new car?”

“Oh, it is a tremendous car. Look at the upholstery, get an eyeful of this color, and, oh yes, listen to the horn—what a great horn this car has. But, I do find it rather exhausting! It goes downhill beautifully, but if there is even the slightest rise in the pavement, I find myself panting and struggling and groaning. It is very difficult to push it uphill.”

“Well, my friend,” you may say, “you do need help. You know, at our church we are having special meetings this week. Our speaker is speaking on the very subject you need to hear: ‘How to Push a Car Successfully!’ On Monday night, he is going to show us how to push with the right shoulder. On Tuesday night, he will illustrate the techniques of pushing with the left shoulder. On Wednesday night, he has colored slides and an overhead projector to show us how to really get our back into the work and push. On Thursday night he has committees and workshops organized that will help us all push more effectively, and on Friday night there will be a great dedication service where we all come down in front to commit ourselves anew to the work of pushing cars.”[3]

This little story, borrowed from a book by Ray Stedman, would be the best description of the Christian life if left to our own resources, but because of the active ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, we have God’s power and energy to live very differently.

[1] Quoted in Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life (Waco, TX: Word Book, 1978), p. 120.

[2] Thomas Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013) pp. 556-557; S-15#38.

[3] Ray Stedman, Authentic Christianity: A Fresh Grip on Life (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1975), pp. 74-75.


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