The Holy Spirit’s Role in the Coming of Jesus

We often associate the Holy Spirit with the beginning of the church in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. What is interesting is that the Holy Spirit also played a key role in kicking off Luke’s first volume, the Gospel of Luke:

  • Luke 1:15 – John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he is born
  • Luke 1:35 – The Holy Spirit will take part in the conception of Jesus
  • Luke 1:41 – When Mary and Elizabeth meet, both pregnant, John jumps in Elizabeth’s womb and it is Elizabeth who is filled with the Holy Spirit! It prompts her to speak a blessing on Mary.
  • Luke 1:67 – The Holy Spirit fills Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, and he prophesies. I am really unsure why this prophesy always gets the heading “Zechariah’s Song” when it is a prophesy.
  • Luke 2:25 – Simeon had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. He also had the Holy Spirit on him.
  • Luke 3:16 John the Baptist tells the crowds that the one who comes after him will baptize people in the Holy Spirit
  • Luke 3:22 – the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism (interesting that Luke says this happened “as he was praying” at his baptism)
  • Luke 4:1 – Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit as he went out into the wilderness to be tested.

The Holy Spirit played a huge role in the coming of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry. What is more, the Holy Spirit was present in the ministry of Jesus as well:

  • Luke 10:21 – The Holy Spirit wasn’t just present at Jesus baptism and temptation. The Holy Spirit was upon him in this verse as well
  • Luke 11:13 – Jesus says God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask
  • Luke 12:10 – a warning against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. This warning means the Holy Spirit was a driving force in Jesus’ ministry and miracles. That is clear because Jesus is warning them against calling his miracles from the devil and saying that to deny his miracles is to blaspheme the Spirit, which means the Spirit was at work in the ministry of Christ.

It is easy to think the Holy Spirit was absent from all of this because we spend more time on Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Spirit from verses like John 16:7,

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Some then assume the Spirit wasn’t much a part of anything until after Jesus ascended to heaven. As you can see from all the verses above, the Holy Spirit played a central role in the coming of the Messiah from before he was conceived, through Mary’s pregnancy, to his birth and through his ministry and then, finally, to the church. The Spirit’s involvement in the start of the church wasn’t anything new. It was very much in line with everything the Spirit had been involved in up to that point.

Spirituality is More Than Just Non-Physical Reality

ListeningSpiritGodGordon Fee is one of the most gifted writers on how to read scripture in the last 30 years. He is probably best known for some of his New Testament commentaries and his book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth“. I have been reading his book Listening to the Spirit in the Text and have found it very helpful on many levels. Fee is Pentecostal so there may be a few things in there many will disagree with when it comes to spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, etc. But there are still some nuggets of wisdom that I took away from this book.

The biggest thing that changed my perspective in this book was his discussion of the word “spiritual” in Paul’s letters. Fee wrote that in all his studies of Paul’s letters that he came to the conclusion that Paul’s use of the word “spiritual”/”pneumatikos” always refers back to the Holy Spirit. In other words, “spirituality” is not a blanket term for non-physical entities but is always related to the Holy Spirit. Here is what he wrote,

“The point that needs to be made is that the word pneumatikos, a distinctively Pauline word in the New Testament, has the Holy Spirit as its primary referent. Paul never uses it as an adjective referring to the human spirit; and whatever else, it is not an adjective that sets some unseen reality in contrast, for example to something material, secular, ritual or tangible.

In the New Testament, therefore, spirituality is defined altogether in terms of the Spirit of God (or Christ). One is spiritual to the degree that one lives in and walks by the Spirit; in Scripture the word has no other meaning, and no other measurement. Thus, when Paul says that ‘the Law is spiritual’ he means that the Law belongs to the sphere of the Spirit (inspired of the Spirit as it is), not to the sphere of the flesh…So also, when Paul says to the Corinthians (14:27), ‘if any of you thinks he is spiritual,’ he means, ‘if any of you think of yourselves as a Spirit person, a person living the life of the Spirit.’ And when he says to the Galatians (6:1) that ‘those who are spiritual should restore one who has been overtaken in a transgression,’ he is not referring to some special or elitist group in the church, but to the rest of the believing community, who both began their life in the Spirit and come to completion by the same Spirit who produces his own fruit in their lives…True spirituality, therefore, is nothing more nor less than life by the Spirit.” (Fee, 5-6)

This sheds light on what it means to engage in “spiritual disciplines”. It means more than just doing something that has a non-visible effect. It means we are engaging ourselves specifically in the work of the Spirit. When it comes to reading and interpreting scripture we realize that it is a “spiritual” event in that the Holy Spirit is at work when we engage ourselves in those activities. I don’t know how the Spirit does it and I can’t place my finger on how it works all the time but that doesn’t keep me from believing it is true. If I am limited to only accepting as true those things that I can fully understand, there is no room left for faith and I end up limiting the work of God within me. This should encourage us to be more and more immersed in the Word of God because it isn’t about getting it done. It is about partnering with God and God’s work in us and through us by His Spirit. That is exciting!

Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

Can you imagine trying to describe your neighbor to someone if you had never seen your neighbor before? Not only that you pretty much figured that while they lived there you never would actually see them in the flesh. What is more you had never actually had a conversation with them either. You know they work about a dozen full time jobs and you aren’t sure if they are a man or a woman or neither…gets pretty confusing.

How do you describe the Holy Spirit? It gets kind of tricky because you have to start piecing together a whole bunch of pieces from thousands of years worth of biblical history starting with the second verse of the Bible and going all the way the fifth to the last verse. There is no book of the Bible dedicated to the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t speak directly to anyone in an audible way. There really aren’t any large summaries of the Spirit’s work either. Like the Father the Spirit is invisible but unlike the Father the Spirit doesn’t speak to us in an intelligible way as we find in scripture (unless I am missing something there…).

We can get to know the Holy Spirit in two ways. The first is through scripture. Although the Holy Spirit doesn’t get his own book of the Bible there is enough in there to give us a clue as to who the Spirit is and what the Spirit is doing. The second is a lot more difficult but nevertheless true. Because the Spirit works in our lives today we trust that we are more in tune with the Spirit than our sensory abilities and mental capacities allow us to experience and understand. One example of the Spirit’s work in our lives today is what Paul mentioned in Romans 8:26-27 when we don’t know what to say the Spirit is able to intercede on our behalf in accordance with God’s will.

Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

So what does Scripture tell us about God’s Spirit? First it was present from the very beginning (Gen 1:2). David writes that there is no where he can go where God’s Spirit cannot find him (Psalm 139:7). While the term “Holy Spirit” in only used three times in the Old Testament, God’s Spirit is mentioned 389 times. Coincidentally the Holy Spirit is mentioned 379 times in the New Testament. In the Old Testament God’s Spirit goes out and empowers people to do might deeds for God and His people. Over and over you read, “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon so and so and they went out and did such a such.” (Judges 11:29, 1 Sam 11:6 & Num 11:16-17). God’s Spirit inspired prophesy (1 Sam 19:23, Neh 9:30, Isa 61:1-2, etc). But what is most important God’s Spirit was pointing toward the messiah and the church (Isa 11:1-6 & Joel 2:28-32).

Holy Spirit in the New Testament

We see the Spirit full changing roles over time as God’s plan unfolds. As was just mentioned the Spirit pointed toward Jesus Christ. So what did the Spirit do once Jesus came in the flesh? The Spirit empowered Jesus ministry in a similar way to how it empowered men of the past but now in new and more powerful ways (Isa 61:1-2—–Luke 4:18-19). It showed Jesus was anointed and accepted by God (Mark 1:9-10 where you have all three parts of the Godhead “on the stage” at the same time”). What is more Jesus recognized the Spirit’s role in continuing his work when he departed (John 16:7) as a counselor for his followers (John 14:26) who would testify alongside them (15:26-27).

Once Jesus ascended to heaven the role of the Spirit changed from empowering Jesus’ ministry to build faith in people to empowering the disciple’s ministry (Acts 2:1-4) at Pentecost. From there the Spirit became a part of the life of the baptized faithful (Acts 2:38) and worked in their lives to produce fruit (Gal 5:22-23). The Spirit also acts a a seal or guarantee of what is to come showing that we belong to God (Eph 1:13-14). Paul has much to say about the Holy Spirit. I can’t get into all of it here but for Paul it seems the Holy Spirit was a unifying element among the Jews and Gentiles because although they were different races God had given both the same Spirit so they were to be united. That broke down many ethnic, racial and religious boundary lines that had been in place for millenia. The Spirit also was evidence that their message was from God. That is what Spiritual gifts or gifts from the Spirit were all about. These gifts had the power of the Holy Spirit to enable people to do things they would not normally be able to do (like was mentioned in the Old Testament) but now they were prophesying and speaking in tongues or healing people. It was all to show that these people were not crazy and that God was living and acting in the world through them so that people would listen and put their faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, the Spirit fulfilled what Jesus said it would do by helping the early Christian testify about who Jesus is.

Obviously huge volumes have been written about the Holy Spirit. But one last thing I will point out. It seems to me that there is a ton of continuity between the Spirit’s work in both Testaments (in spite of the differences mentioned above). But one of the biggest differences was the in the Old Testament God empowered people with His Spirit very selectively. In the New Testament we find out we are all priests (1 Peter 2:10) and we all have God’s Spirit within us (Acts 2:38). God has done more for us than we could ever begin to understand.

What have you learned about the Holy Spirit that has been helpful to your faith?

Transcendence and Immanence – Holding the Two in Tension

There are some things we learn best about God when we hold two seemingly opposing characteristics of God in our minds at the same time. One of these pairs is God’s transcendence and His immanence. God’s transcendence means God is very much unlike us. He is so much greater and so high above us that we can’t even begin to comprehend the glory of God. When Solomon built the temple in 1 Kings 8:27 he prayed,

“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.
How much less this temple I have built!”

He went on to pray,

“Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:30

Solomon understood God’s transcendence. He was humble enough to recognize that mankind cannot build something so magnificent that it can contain God. But to fairly answer Solomon’s humble question, “Will God really dwell on earth?” The answer is “yes!” God is also immanent. John 1:14 tells us that God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. But God took it one step further. 1 Cor 3:16 tells us that not only did God dwell on the earth but He made the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit right here inside of us!

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”

Jesus lived in the flesh on the earth. God’s Spirit lives among His people. That is God’s immanence at its very best. God is so high above us, greater and more powerful than anything we can imagine. Yet he became a man. God is divine and immortal and yet became a servant and was crucified.

If we are really going to appreciate who God is, it is helpful to hold these seemingly opposite characteristics in our minds at the same time. He is One willing to live among us and yet He is so much greater than we are. He is great and yet approachable. He is approachable and among us and yet so far greater and more glorious than we are. When we hold these two things up next to each other it helps us find balance between extreme immanence (“buddy Jesus”) and extreme transcendence (God so far removed from us that we are approaching deism). This should also inform our worship. Until the last few decades our worship songs were more transcendent. Now they are heavily weighted toward immanence. We certainly need balance.

Books and Resources on the Holy Spirit

I am going to be writing some small group curriculum on the Holy Spirit. What resources have you found helpful in your studies? I am looking at the following:

The Bible!

Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan

Living in the Power of the Holy Spirit by Charles Stanley

The Shadow of the Almighty: Father, Son, and Spirit in Biblical Perspective by Ben Witherington

Theology for the Community of God by Stanley Grenz

Anything else you would add to the list?

Free Book Download – Forgotten God by Francis Chan

I was about to offer Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spiritby Francis Chan as another free book giveaway book. So thanks to Dan Edelen for pointing out that it can be downloaded right now for free from christianaudio.com. Make sure to read the instructions to get the promo code for the checkout. Christianaudio periodically puts out free audio book downloads like this. You do have to create an account if you don’t already have one. Easy and free. Click here to download the audio file.

Romans 8 Greek Wordle

I left out the articles, conjunctions, etc to help the main themes of Romans 8 stand out better.

Wordle: Romans 8 in Greek

Here are some of the Greek wordles posted on the blog in the past:

John 3
John 1:1-18

Role of Prayer and the Holy Spirit in Acts

I love the book of Acts. It is action packed and so inspiring on how driven those men were to do the will of God. I love that we get so much great information from it on the church, church leadership, fellowship, giving, and all kinds of wonderful examples that we can follow today. As you read through the book of Acts there are two things that you just can’t miss. They are the Holy Spirit and prayer. What is also interesting is that when you see these two things working together you find God’s people filled with boldness to do what God has asked them to do. In fact, the word bold or boldness is used more time in the book of Acts than any other book of the Bible.

The word that comes to mind when you read about the Holy Spirit and prayer in relation to the people of God in the book of Acts is dependence. They realized that the mission they were on could not be accomplished by their own power and ability. It all depended on God. It all depended on God showing up and using them in ways only God can do.

Creation of the World & the Church:
The creation of the church in Acts was very similar to the creation of the world that we find in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 we find God the Father speaking the world into existence. We see the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters and we find Jesus Christ present as the Word that was the powerful agent of creation in the beginning (John 1). The same is true in Acts when it comes to the start of the church. In Acts 2 we see the presence of the Holy Spirit come among the disciples (Acts 2:1-6). A few verses later in Peter’s sermon we hear about how all that had happened was the work of God and Christ. The result is the start of the church. It is a God initiated event.

The Early Church’s Dependence on the Holy Spirit:
When you read through Acts you can’t miss their dependence on the Holy Spirit for many things. We find it empowering the apostles with words to say (Acts 4:8), ensuring believers to speak boldly against the powers of the world in the name of Christ (Acts 4:31), encouraging the Christians (Acts 9:31), speaking to them specific instructions of what they were to do (Acts 13:2), and warning of trouble ahead (Acts 20:23). They depended on the Holy Spirit for the mission to be a success.

The Early Church’s Dependence on Prayer:
You also can’t miss their dependence on prayer. They prayed when making major decisions (Acts 1:14, 24), when they faced persecution (Acts 4:18-31 & 7:59), when faced with prison (12:5, 16:25). What is more, the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s kingdom had prayer on both sides. Peter was on the rooftop praying (Acts 10:9) and Cornelius was praying at the same time (Acts 10:30-31). There is no doubt about the fact that the early church was a praying church.

The result – boldness:
The result of this dependence was boldness. Again, that word is used more in Acts than any other book of the Bible. They could be bold because they had the Holy Spirit and were in fervent prayer for them to be in God’s will and for God to guide and lead them through what they were doing. One of the most interesting verses where the Holy Spirit, prayer and boldness come together is found in Acts 4:23-31. Peter and John had been chastised by the chief priests and elders. They had been told not to “speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). How did they respond? They prayed. They prayed for boldness to speak anyway…”Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (4:29-31).

Message for us today:
I believe it is essential for our success in God’s mission to depend totally on God for our guidance. We have to realize that the Spirit dwells within us and plays an active role in our relationship with God (Acts 2:38, 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19, Rom 8:26ff). I wonder how many times we try to figure out why a ministry is not successful when all the while we were just depending on ourselves and not on God. Maybe it is time we look at the early church again for an example of how to depend more fully on God for the directions we take and the decisions we make.

Do Young People Really Care About Instrumental Music?

I don’t have any research to back this up but I do have a theory. I don’t know about the young people you know, especially the young adults. But one thing I have observed over and over again is that if people come to the place you worship on Sunday morning and they can easily and quickly see that people there take seriously the mission of God, chances are they are going to want to come back regardless of what type of worship you have. I think instrumental music in many ways can be a smoke screen to bigger issues. When churches feel like they can only engage today’s young people if the 30 minutes of singing in the worship is done with instruments there are probably deeper issues.

I think we have made our young people out to be too shallow. We haven’t given them enough credit. Somehow we have dumbed down the draw of worship to what appeals to people rather than asking ourselves the question, “How are we actively engaging the members of this congregation in the mission of God?” Or this question, “Does our worship put God front and center in the service or has something else replaced Him?” Those kinds of questions make the main thing the main thing. Young people can smell a fake a mile off. They can tell when we are just putting on a show. But if they come and see that we are serious about the same things Jesus was serious about they will want to be a part.

The mistake some have made is what we think draws people. Entertainment might draw more people but does it make disciples or are you just pouring water on seeds in rocky soil? Bring people to experience Jesus and Spirit-filled community and they will walk away changed. If we are going to make rocky soil into good soil and thereby give those seeds a chance to grow it is going to come by them encountering Christ through our Christian community and worship rather than simply entertaining them for an hour.

Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians when it comes to outsiders in the worship and what draws them in:

“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25

I think speaking in tongues might be far more fantastical to witness than hearing a prophesy. That’s just my opinion. Paul says it is not the ecstatic experiences of the Spirit that are going to reach the outsider, it is the prophesy (words from God) that will convict them and lead them toward repentance and worship. It is not a mean guitar solo, an amazing set on the drums, or an outstanding choir that will bring people to their knees in as rich a way as will pointing them to the words and life of Jesus Christ. We have to keep the main thing the main thing and not try to incorporate new aspects into our worship to mask symptoms and postpone addressing deeper issues that may be present in a given congregation such as spiritual shallowness, the entertainment mentality, and an appreciation for ancient and meaningful forms of worship.

Trendy does not always equal greater spiritual depth.

God’s Desire for Christian Unity

The problem I run across the most in the letters of the New Testament seems to be unity in the early church. The newly established and multi-racial church of the first century really struggled with overcoming social, religious, and ethnic boundary markers in order to have full unity and acceptance of one another.

Why is this so important? It was and is important because since the beginning God desired all nations to worship him in unity. So this is all part of God’s plan and the apostles understood the need to achieve unity in order to be pleasing to God. In Romans 15:3-5 Paul tells the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome about three things that all come together to give them unity and which result in a unified glorification of God through their worship (15:6).

  1. He mentions the example of Christ who was not out to please himself. If Christ had only tried to please himself he would not have endured the cross. He would not have suffered shame. And so we, as believers and followers of Christ, are not out to get our own way at the expense of unity. Instead we should be willing to suffer to a great degree to maintain unity in God’s church.
  2. Next he mentions the scriptures that were given to encourage and give endurance. We turn to the examples of those God has dealt with in the past in order to press forward in the identity God has given us and the mission he has in store for us.
  3. Last he mentions God himself who also grants endurance and encouragement. But God gives something in addition to what the scriptures give. God gives a spirit of unity. Notice he says that spirit is given as we follow Christ. Well, Christ wasn’t there in the flesh to be followed. Instead, we all come to perfect unity when we are walking as Christ would walk and follow his example.

There is a fourth thing that brings unity to God’s people that Paul doesn’t mention here but mentions in Galatians 3-4. In Galatians Paul constantly refers back to the Spirit and its role in bringing unity to God’s people. This is probably the number one aspect of the Holy Spirit we miss out on in our teaching. Because all Christians have God’s Spirit inside them, all Christians have a unity that comes by that same Spirit (See Eph 4:3-4 as well). In other words, if we create disunity toward someone who has by the grace of God the same Spirit inside them that we do, we fail to grasp or understand the very nature of our existence and reality of God’s dwelling within us through his Holy Spirit. But if we realize that all Christians have been blessed by God with his promised Spirit then we should by nature seek out unity and peace with our fellow believers.