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. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
On the eve of His betrayal, Jesus offers His disciples hope in the form of the Holy Spirit. God sends us a person that we can have a personal relationship with. The Holy Spirit is not a power source, He is the third member of the Trinity, which also includes God the Father and God the Son. When Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit became the primary manifestation of the Trinity on earth. That is to say, He is the one who is most prominently present with us now, and we can access the Trinity through Him.
Throughout Scripture we see that the Spirit is indeed God. In the various passages that reference Him, we find that He is a distinct person yet at the same time He is fully God. The Holy Spirit is often referred to as if God were being mentioned. He is also spoken of as being equal with God2 and shares God’s incommunicable attributes of omnipotence3 (all-powerful), omniscience4 (all-knowing), omnipresence5 (present everywhere), and self-existence.6
Earlier in John, Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”7 The Greek word used for helper or counselor in this passage means the “same kind of helper.” This means that the person Jesus is sending is one who not only has all the attributes and abilities of the one who is leaving, but is of the same essence. The Holy Spirit is God and Jesus sends Him to dwell within us.
Although the disciples are sad about Jesus departure, it is best that He goes because this is when the Holy Spirit will come and empower all believers at once. Hence, the distinction that Jesus makes in John 14:17 between himself and the Spirit. Unlike when Jesus was on earth, the Spirit not only abides with the believer but He will be in the believer!
Even in just the two passages in John we have seen thus far, it is obvious that the Spirit has many roles. In each role, however, the Holy Spirit acts only on behalf of the other members of the Trinity. He creates,8 helps,9 gives life,10 leads,11 assures,12 intercedes according to the will of God,13 initiates into the body of Christ,14 illuminates,15 transforms,16 guarantees the redemption of those who are God’s possession,17 regenerates and renews,18 inspires,19 and brings about our rebirth20 all to the glory of the Father and the Son.
Traditionally, the wide variety of roles that the Spirit fulfills has given way to a great deal of confusion within the church about what exactly our interactions with the Spirit look like. Particular phrases like being filled with or baptized by or living by the Spirit have come to be interpreted in diverse and often contradictory terms. As a result, the same Spirit who is meant to bring unity to the Body of Christ has often been used by Satan to drive us apart.
But as Christians, we cannot abide by such confusion. The Holy Spirit is our only hope for understanding and living out the gospel. To allow Satan to turn the beautiful promise of a helper against us, is to condemn ourselves to a fruitless and futile faith even before we get started. So, let us examine the common sticking points together and see if we cannot arrive at a coherent answer.
Being Filled With the Holy Spirit
The only command in the Bible to “be filled with the Spirit” is located in Ephesians 5:18 which reads, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Below are two simple observations from the text.
- Drunkenness is compared with Spirit filling. The man who fills himself with wine chooses to put himself under its influence rather than controlling himself. Similarly, the man who intentionally yields to the Spirit is filled by the Spirit and is allowing the Spirit to control him.
- The verb used for filling is continuous in action, calling for the believer to be continually filled with the Spirit. While this could mean that the believer is to experience a special anointing each moment of every day, it seems far more likely that Paul is speaking of the pursuit of a godly lifestyle.
God can supernaturally control any person at anytime (and there are occasions where God gives a special anointing to a person throughout the Bible), but in this text it seems overwhelmingly probable that when discussing “being filled with the Spirit,” the Scriptures are referring to submission to God and His kingdom agenda.
The importance of yielding to the Lord cannot be overstated. Submitting ourselves to God’s control and influence through sincere and genuine confession, repentance, renewed commitment, and heightened faith is how we clean out the dark corners of our hearts and lives. As long as the yielding is sincere, there will certainly be growth in sanctification and deeper fellowship with God. We have concluded that yielding to the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit is the same thing.
Living or Walking by the Spirit
The answer to our sinful lifestyle is to “live by the Spirit.” The phrase, seen in Galatians 5:16, is literally translated “keep on walking.” As a believer walks through life he should depend on the indwelling Holy Spirit for guidance and power. This passage brings to light three nuances of our indwelling.
- The Spirit is present in a believer’s life, but the Spirit does not operate automatically in a believer’s heart. He waits to be depended on.
- When a Christian does yield to the Spirit’s control, the promise is that he will not gratify (meaning to “complete” or “fulfill” in outward action) the desires of the sinful nature.
- While no believer will ever be entirely free in this life from the evil desires that stem from his fallen human nature, he need not give in to them, but may experience victory by the Spirit’s help. As the apostle Peter notes elsewhere “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”21
Jumping ahead in Galatians, Paul gives us an idea of what happens to our sinful nature when we become Christians (and, thus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit). In short, he tells us we need not be responsive to our sinful nature because it has been crucified.
- Galatians 5:24-25
We should not suppose Paul’s words to be a command to crucifixion of our physical bodies or self-mortification. Rather, he is referring to the fact that by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Christians are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. Paul declared that this had been his experience22 and that of all believers.23 While co-crucifixion took place potentially at the cross, it becomes effective for believers when they are converted.
The crucifixion of our sinful nature is not an eradication of it or even an inactivation of it. Instead, to say that we are crucified with Christ is to say that our sinful nature has been judged. Christ has provided victory over the sinful nature’s passions and desires in His death. Believers should stand firm and rejoice in that fact.24 And we must continually lay hold of this truth or we will be tempted to secure victory by self-effort.
Being in the Spirit
To be in the Holy Spirit is really to be in an atmosphere of God’s manifested presence.25 Many activities can be done “in the Spirit.” For example, we can rejoice in the Spirit.26 We can also decide something in the Spirit.27 It is even possible to just be in the Spirit. 28
According to the Scriptures, it is unlikely that being in the Spirit refers to a particular anointing or supernatural possession by the Spirit. Instead, it is most plausible to view being “in the Spirit” as being in the ‘realm’ or ‘area’ of the Spirit.29 Practically speaking, this means the believer lives life in God’s realm and sees things in His reality – having and being about God’s perspective, not man’s. We see this idea born out in Revelation 1:10, where John is not possessed but simply shown reality from God’s perspective, which is true reality.
Disruption of the Spirit
In contrast to being filled or in or walking by the Spirit is the notion of disrupting Him. All throughout the Old Testament the Holy Spirit came upon certain people. But Him staying was dependent on how they carried out the work of the Lord (i.e. 1 Samuel). Similarly in the New Testament, we see that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and cease to bring about blessing in a situation.30 Our hardened disobedience can even hurt the Spirit to such a degree that we do not allow him to continue his work of sanctification in our life.31
We must be very careful not to grieve or offend the Holy Spirit. He will not force Himself on us against our wills32 and, if we resist and quench and oppose Him, then His empowering will depart and He will remove much of the blessing of God from our lives.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
When it comes to baptism of the Holy Spirit, there are two main views. One we will call the charismatic view and the other we call the traditional view.
In the charismatic view, the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes after one has become a Christian and the result is great blessing in the believer’s life. Charismatics claim that the “baptism of the Spirit” reveals itself in many congregations through the speaking of an “unknown tongue.” Such “baptisms” are said to result in prayer and Bible study becoming much more meaningful and effective. An increase in worship is also reported along with the manifestation of different gifts (especially tongues!). Support for the charismatic view comes from the following Scriptural truths:
- Jesus disciples were born again believers long before the day of Pentecost.
- Jesus promises his disciples a baptism by the Holy Spirit just prior to his ascension.33
- The disciples are shown clearly experience this baptism on Pentecost.34
- Believers are instructed to ask for this baptism.35
While the support for the charismatic view is drawn from Scripture there is more to the picture. In piecing together a complete biblical view, we see that there seven passages in New Testament that speak of the event of people being baptized of the Holy Spirit.36 Because each of these verses use almost exactly the same expression in Greek, we can be certain they are speaking about the same baptism.
Out of the seven passages, 1 Corinthians 12:13 helps us best understand this baptism. It reads, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” The Greek word “baptizo” actually means “identification” or more exhaustively, the initiation into God’s fold (or flock of sheep). Therefore, ‘baptism by the Spirit’ is to be identified by the spirit as being put into the family of God. It is the proof that one has entered into the family of God. It seems, according to Paul, that baptism happens at conversion.
Now that we understand the context of baptism in the Spirit we can begin to make sense of what is happening in the first six verses. Remember, the day of Pentecost (that time period) was the point of transition between the Old Covenant identification (Jewish heritage) into the family of God and the New Covenant identification (all that believe—both Jew and Gentile) into the family of God. Each of these six verses speaks of this new identification into the family of God and they record a step-wise unfolding of that reality.
The first to experience this new identification are the faithful Jews who came on board with Jesus’ plan to be the new people of God. Jesus promised them that the Holy Spirit would not only be with them but in them.37 The supernatural occurrence of baptism or “identification” to served notice to the world and the disciples themselves that something new was going on. The true people of God, namely those who believed in Christ, were being revealed.
The result of the disciples’ baptism is that they began to speak in tongues. Tongues are described in the text as spoken languages on earth that people are given the supernatural ability to speak and others to understand and interpret.38
- Acts 2:4-11
This Baptism was meant also for another reason in addition to the first (which again shows the world and the disciples who the true people of God are, namely those who believed in Christ). However, a brief survey of Acts is required to demonstrate this second reason.
We begin with the first occurrence of people receiving the Holy Spirit after the Jewish disciples.39 It is recorded that the Samaritans (The half breed Jews) who were not seen fit by the ethnic Jews to enter the kingdom of God were reported as to have accepted the word of God. Therefore the leaders of the early church sent Peter and John (Jews) to lay hands on them to receive the spirit. After they did, the people indeed received the spirit of God.
These Samaritans are said to have “accepted the word of God” and have been “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” It is clear they believed and it is equally clear that they did not have the Holy Spirit. Why not? Does this not contradict passages like Romans 8:9 which say that if you do not have the spirit of Christ then you are not a Christian?
There is something much more historically and theologically precise happening in these verses. God has made a new people around the person and finished work of Christ. However, contrary to the Jews thinking, this “New Israel” would not be for the few Jews that said yes to the claim of Christ, but the “New Israel” would encompass “all those who believed” both Jew and Gentile alike.
How would the world and more importantly the faithful Jewish-Christian realize this “New Israel” to be true and not simply a theory? Only if the same empowerment that was promised to disciples at Pentecost (which authenticated them as the new people of God) also happened to the Gentiles. Jesus had taught his disciples that the Gentiles should be a part of the family of God.40 But practically speaking, the believing Jew still found it hard to accept41 that the Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh” including anyone any non-Jew who believed in Christ.
Therefore, the supernatural occurrence of the Holy Spirit in these texts are to confirm first, to the Gentiles that they belong to the family of God (those that believe), and also to confirm to the Jews that the Gentiles belonged to the family of God. It was crucial that the Gentile’s faith be validated in order that entrance would not be denied as had been done historically.
To further confirm this line of reasoning, we see a similar situation however not with Jewish half-breeds but with Gentile sinners. In Acts 10 Peter has been commanded to interact with Gentiles. The reasoning becomes clear to Peter in verses 44-48. They have received the Holy Spirit and the Jews were “astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” The main point is that “they received the spirit just as we have.”
The authenticating tool that God would use to show that “all others” were to be included into the family of God could not simply be his words (which he proclaimed many times to his disciples). He would have to give them an identical external experience in order to confirm that the only determining factor in being part of God’s family is belief in Christ.42 As a result, we see Peter explaining his new theological understanding in Acts 15.
We encounter one final group in Acts 11, those of John’s baptism. They were faithful followers of John but for some reason never made the transition to the one whom he was pointing to. Nevertheless, when explained to them the meaning behind John’s prophetic words, they indeed believed and received the spirit. Therefore, the mission was complete which was to take all those who believed in Christ and to authenticate that all people can be a part in Gods family: Half-breeds, Gentiles, and even newcomers. It is exhaustively clear that baptism here was not meant to proclaim an extra portion of the spirit but to confirm full entrance into the kingdom of God for all who believe.
The Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity, which includes God the Father and God the Son. While He shares some roles with the other members of the Trinity, He also has His own distinct roles. When Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit became the primary manifestation of the Trinity on earth. The Holy Spirit is responsible for our spiritual rebirth in Jesus Christ and our ongoing renewal in his image. To “be filled” or “in” or “walk by the Spirit” is, first and foremost, to follow his prompting towards godliness.
- Are you walking in step with the Spirit? Or are you continuing to gratify your sinful nature?
- Are you asking to be filled by the Holy Spirit? Are you letting Him into every area of your life? Or are there sinful behaviors and thinking you still need to repent of and turn over to Him?
How does this study reinforce your belief in the gospel?
- Luke 1:34-35 (The conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit); Acts 5:3-4 (Lying to the Holy Spirit); 1 Corinthians 2:3-4 (The power of the Holy Spirit); 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (The indwelling of the Holy Spirit); 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (The Lordship of the Holy Spirit); 2 Peter 1:20-21 (The inspiration of the Holy Spirit); Psalm 139:7 (The presence of the Holy Spirit)
- Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:1-2
- Luke 1:34-35; Romans 15:18-19
- John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11
- Psalm 139:7-9
- Genesis 1:1-2; Hebrews 9:14
- John 14:16-17
- Genesis 1:1-2
- John 14:26
- Romans 8:11
- Romans 8:14
- Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:24
- Romans 8:26-27
- 1 Corinthians 12:13
- 1 Corinthians 2:12
- 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
- Ephesians 1:13-14
- Titus 3:5
- 2 Peter 1:20-21
- John 3:3-8
- 2 Peter 1:3
- Galatians 2:20
- Romans 6:1-6; Colossians 2:11; 3:9
- Romans 6:11-12
- Acts 9:31
- Luke 10:21
- Acts 19:21
- Revelation 1:10
- Grammatically this is known a “dative of Sphere.”
- Acts 7:51; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19
- Acts 5:3-9; Hebrews 10:27,29
- 1 Corinthians 14:32
- Acts 1:4-8
- Acts 2:1-4
- Acts 8:12, 1-17
- Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13
- John 14:17
- Acts 2:4-12
- Acts 8:14-25
- Matthew 8:5-13
- Galatians 2:11-20
- Acts 11:17