FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Today is the anniversary of one of the most significant events in the history of the church - the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church at Pentecost. The word Pentecost is derived from the Greek word for '50' and this comes from the fact that it was a Feast that was celebrated fifty days after the Passover. It would therefore be most appropriate for us to consider the Ministry of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity. It is good for us to study this, because of the great confusion that many people have about the Holy Spirit and His work in the believer's life today, that have resulted in the Charismatic movement and the Signs and Wonders movement. And so we will trace the ministry of the Holy Spirit from the times of the OT to the NT and today. 

I. The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament Times 

A. It was the Holy Spirit who regenerated and dwelled in all the Old Testament Saints. 

Like all believers today, all believers in the OT had the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The indwelling of the Spirit is necessary for salvation both in the OT and NT. This is the Covenantal View of the Holy Spirit's ministry, which we believe is correct. However there are many who hold to the Dispensational View. Dispensationalists believe that the universal and permanent indwelling of the Spirit is distinctive of this present age and was not experienced in Old Testament times. (Ryrie, Holy Spirit, 43). They believe that the Spirit of God indwelt many (Dan. 4:8; 1 Peter 1:11) and came upon many others to endue them with special power (Ex. 29:3; Judg. 3:10; 1 Sam. 10:9-10). But there was no guarantee that He would permanently or universally indwell God's people as He does today. The evidence cited for this is 1 Samuel 16:14 where the Holy Spirit is said to have departed from king Saul. 

We believe that the Holy Spirit's work in each believer's life is necessary for salvation and is the same in both Old and New Testaments. This is because the human heart by itself is so sinful and depraved, that without the saving work of God the Holy Spirit, none can ever be saved. Now the saving work of the Holy Spirit consists of two parts: Regeneration and Indwelling. 

Regeneration is the initial act, which happens in just a moment. Indwelling, on the other hand, is the continued residence of the Spirit in the believer after regeneration. When the Spirit regenerates a person, He enters into him so that the person becomes a 'temple of God'. From that moment onward, the person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. All of us who have been saved from sin have been regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, though we may not even be aware that these took place. This is because the Holy Spirit's work is unseen. We only see the effects of His work as our lives are changed. Now the question is whether this happened to OT believers. 

1. All The OT saints were regenerated 

Can we prove that all the OT saints were regenerated? Yes, we can. Romans 2:28,29 tell us that in all the history of Israel, the true Jews were those who were regenerated: 'For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.' 

That is also why king David prayed for the salvation of his son, Solomon and of his people 'O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee: And give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart, to keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes, and to do all these things, and to build the palace, for the which I have made provision.' (1 Chronicles 29:18,19) This prayer clearly recognises that salvation is from God alone - He prepares the heart. How? By regenerating it! 

Now that we have seen that the OT saints were regenerated, the next question is 'Who regenerated them?' The answer is actually found in the answer that Jesus gave to Nicodemus. Jesus described regeneration as being born again.

He said, 'Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' (v.3) and then he explained who brings this about in v.6 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.' It is clear here that God the Holy Spirit is the one who regenerates the believer. Jesus was not talking to Nicodemus about something new, that comes in the New Testament alone, since in v.10 he shows that Nicodemus as a teacher of the OT should have known these things. He was talking of what had already been going on in the whole of OT history. 

2. All The OT Saints were indwelt by the Holy Spirit 

Now that we have established the truth that the OT saints were regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we will now see that this means that they were also indwelt by the Spirit after that, because they would need this in order to remain in a regenerated condition. The New Testament teaches that the believer is incapable of keeping himself saved, just as he is not capable of saving himself. One must ask, then, Did the Old Testament saint have an ability to keep himself saved that the New Testament saint did not have? The answer clearly is No. Therefore the OT believer must have been kept by God, and this surely means, surely, the Spirit of God. Since the Holy Spirit keeps the regenerated New Testament saint by indwelling, it is reasonable to conclude that He kept the regenerated Old Testament saint in the same way. 

Is there any scriptural proof for this? Yes, in Haggai 2:4b,5 'be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so My spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.'

But some may say, what about 1 Samuel 16:14 which says that 'the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul'? And why did David pray that God would not take His Spirit away from him in Psalm 51:11? The answer is that both of these verses do not refer at all to the indwelling of the Spirit, but to the filling or empowerment of the Spirit. Saul was initially filled with the Holy Spirit and was able to rule over Israel well. As long as he was filled with the Spirit, he was competent to rule over the nation. But after he lost the filling of the Spirit, he could not rule well anymore. Losing the filling of the Spirit does not mean that Saul had lost his salvation. 

The saving work of the Spirit is permanent, and so Saul was still indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In the same way, David in Psalm 51 was praying that he would not lose the filling of the Spirit. 

3. Not All the OT Saints had the privilege of being Filled with the Spirit 

Up to this point, we have not seen any difference yet in the Holy Spirit's ministry between the OT saints and the NT saints. Both were saved by regeneration and after that, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Now we come to the difference between them, which is, that unlike NT saints, not all believers in the OT had the privilege of being filled with the Spirit. This was limited only to a selected few, like the leaders of Israel whether judges or kings, the prophets, and the ones who built the tabernacle. We notice that all of these people served important roles - roles needing wisdom, courage and strength from God. That's why they were filled with the Spirit. 

So let us remember this useful principle - The indwelling of the Spirit is for salvation. The filling or empowerment of the Spirit is for service. This brings us to the ministry of the Holy Spirit that is most obvious in the OT: 

B. It was the Holy Spirit who empowered some OT saints with the skills they needed to serve the Lord. 

A good example of this can be found in Exodus 31:2-5 'See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.' In the same manner, the Spirit of God gave physical strength to Samson (Judges 14:6) and leadership abilities to men like Moses, Jephthah, and Gideon. All these men were filled or empowered with the Spirit. Now that we have seen the Spirit's ministry in the OT we go on to consider: 

II. The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in New Testament Times 

The Holy Spirit is definitely more prominent in the New Testament than in the Old - 72% of all Bible verses dealing with the Holy Spirit are found in the New Testament. 

A. Christ's Ministry on Earth was Empowered By the Holy Spirit 

It was the Holy Spirit who filled Jesus Christ when He was baptized, to empower Him for His ministry. In Luke 4:18,19 Jesus said, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;' John 3:34 says about Christ, 'for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.' As Christ had been sent by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, He in turn would send them out to the world in the power of the same Spirit - John 20:21,22 'Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; This breathing was a symbolic act in anticipation of what Christ told them in Acts 1:8 'But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.' Jesus also told His disciples that as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they would be empowered to be witnesses to Him unto the uttermost part of the earth.

B. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit Came To Empower All Disciples of Christ 

This was all fulfilled after Christ's ascension, when the disciples were gathered in the upper room on a Sunday, at an event known as Pentecost, which is described in the text of scripture we read a while ago. The result of that was manifested in the rest of the book of Acts, which details how: The disciples were able to preach powerfully (Acts 4:8) and thousands were converted. Philip was directed by the Holy Spirit to preach in Samaria and to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29), and Peter to preach to the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:19,20). This is just like the empowerment ministry that the Holy Spirit had in the OT, but the difference is that now, that ministry is no longer limited to a few, but found in all the disciples of Christ. 

The prophet Joel had predicted that this would happen and the apostle Peter confirmed it when it happened at Pentecost 'But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy' (Acts 2:16-18). 

Even Moses had looked forward to this event: 'And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!' (Number 11:29) This is not the only ministry of the Holy Spirit that began at Pentecost. We look at at the second one which is: 

C. At Pentecost The Holy Spirit United all Believers Into One Body 

This union of believers is something that did not exist in the OT. Although Israel was God's people, there was no organic spiritual union among them. The OT saints were bound only by a unity of love, and not a unity of the Spirit. OT saints are never spoken of as being one in the Lord. Why? Because the spiritual union of believers became possible only after Christ had ascended up to heaven to become glorified as the head of the body (Ephesians 1:20-23). This explains why Jesus told His disciples in John 16:7 'Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.'

1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us about this wonderful unity that came about only after Pentecost: 'For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.' Ephesians 4:3,4 'Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling' It was only since the time of Pentecost that we can now enjoy this oneness in Christ with fellow believers. It was also at Pentecost that the various spiritual gifts were poured out on all believers so that each believer would have a specific role to play within the body of Christ in building up the whole body. 

A Reformed writer named Abraham Kuyper gives an interesting illustration to distinguish between the work of the Holy Spirit before and after Pentecost: 'The mild showers of the Holy Spirit descended upon Israel of old in drops of saving grace; but in such manner only that each gathered of the heavenly rain for himself, to quench the thirst of each heart separately. So it continued until the coming of Christ. Then came a change; for He gathered the full stream of the Holy Spirit for us all in His own Person. With Him all saints are connected by the channels of faith. And when, after His ascension this connection with His saints was completed, and He had received the Holy Spirit from His Father, then the last obstacle was removed and the full stream of the Holy Spirit came rushing through the connecting channels into the heart of every believer.'

This also helps us to understand why Pentecost is a one-time event that can never be repeated. The Holy Spirit was poured forth at the time that the body of Christ was inaugurated. Now that the organic unity and the Body of Christ is already established, the Holy Spirit is already working in the body of Christ. Hence there can be no further outpourings of the Spirit. All that remains now is for people to be added to the body of Christ by salvation. Then they will partake of the Holy Spirit, and can experience His empowerment. 

Some may ask about the other apparent later 'outpourings' of the Spirit that are found in the book of Acts, e.g. among the Samaritans in Acts 8, and in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10. These must be understood in the light of the fact that God had entrusted the apostles and especially Peter with the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19). The Lord in Acts 1:8 had told the disciples the order in which the doors will be opened 'In Jerusalem, all Judea, in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth' At Pentecost, Peter unlocked the door to the Jews when he preached the gospel and 3,000 believed (Acts 2). Next, he laid hands on the Samaritans so that they might receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8). Finally he went to the home of Cornelius - a Gentile - who was saved under Peter's ministry (Acts 10). 

The reason why the Samaritans could not receive the Spirit under Philip's preaching alone is that Philip was not one of the apostles of Christ. It was necessary for the apostles to be the instruments of receiving the Holy Spirit so that the new believers in Samaria would submit to their authority and teaching. The apostles themselves also had to know that the promise of salvation was now given to the Samaritans, whom the Jews despised. The same reason applied to Peter's ministry at the house of Cornelius. These so-called 'outpourings' were only meant to convince the Jewish believers that the gospel is not restricted to the Jews alone and must be preached to all the world! So these events were unique and they cannot be repeated. There is no warrant to say that the same thing can happen today.

Now that we have seen the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the OT and NT we want to know what is most relevant to us now: 

III. The Ministry of The Holy Spirit Today 

A. Building and Preserving the Body of Christ 

It is quite obvious that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is still going on in the church today. This is why we can see that after 2,000 years since Pentecost, lives are still being transformed, churches are still growing and the gospel of Christ is still being preached in new places. There were many crucial moments in history when the Church of Christ could have been totally destroyed, or subverted with false teachings. And yet as Jesus said, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:18) 

This is because the Spirit of God has been actively working to build up and preserve the body of Christ. Isaiah 59:19 tells us that 'When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.' This also explains the revivals that have taken place in church history. At crucial moments, when the church of the Lord Jesus Christ all but fell into apostasy, the Spirit of God revived the church with new spiritual life (These were quite different from the outpourings in the book of Acts). Take for example the 16th century Protestant Reformation. It was clearly a revival movement because it was totally unplanned. Even Martin Luther later admitted that at the point when he nailed the 95 theses, he still believed in the Catholic Church and had no desire to separate from it. But the Holy Spirit moved the hearts of many to return to the Bible at the same time, and remove all the idolatrous practices. 

Then there was the time of the Evangelical Awakening that swept through Europe and New England in the 18th Century. We are told that at the height of this revival even illiterate coppersmiths could stand before great crowds and preach powerful sermons! Through this revival the Holy Spirit saved the Protestant churches from being destroyed by the atheistic thinkers of the Rationalist movement in Europe. More recently there were the revivals under Dwight L. Moody (19th Century) and under Dr John Sung (1930s). These were marked by repentance of sin, and turning back to God, returning to the Word of God, and fervent evangelism. These and other revivals were responsible for the great missionary thrust that the church has had in the last two centuries. They saved the church from being swallowed up by Liberal heresies. 

However, Charismatics claim that besides these revivals, the Holy Spirit is also working a great end-time revival today through spectacular signs and wonders, healing, prophecies and direct revelations, just like in the time of the apostles. In order to answer this, we must say that the apostolic church needed those signs and wonders then, because it was at that time in a crucial period of transition. The New Testament was still being written. Gentiles were being brought into the kingdom of God as never before, and the Jews needed to be weaned off the old system and mindset. Such a unique situation called for spectacular manifestations of God's power - e.g. a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (Acts 2;2), tongues of fire, speaking in tongues (2:3,4), signs and wonders. But once the church had reached maturity with the completion of the Scriptures and establishment of normal church life, the spectacular features of the apostolic age were no longer needed and so they ceased. 

Let us first look at Hebrews 2:3,4 'How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?'

Now this verse puts all the accounts of the Holy Spirit's work in the Book of Acts in proper perspective. It shows that the signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit was all done by God in the past for the purpose of bearing witness to the message of the apostles. These signs validated the eyewitness authority of the apostles, the ones who heard the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that their word is already confirmed and written down permanently in the Bible, there is no need for any further validation. Thus, the period of great and visible signs and miracles of the Holy Spirit is already over, and we are not to expect them today.

The New Testament epistles teach that the Holy Spirit's regular, ongoing work today includes: Regenerating the sinner's heart (Titus 3:5), bearing witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God (Romans 8:16), Making intercession for us when we pray (Romans 8:27), Changing us from within (2 Corinthians 3:18), Teaching us about spiritual things (1 John 2:27), Bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25) and Bestowing on us the spiritual gifts we need for witnessing and for service to God (1 Corinthians 12:7,8). All these are the Holy Spirit's work today in the believer's life, and therefore this is what we should be expecting and spending our time and energy in, instead of craving after signs, wonders, tongues and miracles.

If anyone here has been misled by hearing any erroneous teachings about the Holy Spirit's ministry, I trust that this message will enable you to know more accurately what the Scriptures teach about His ministry. And it is important that we understand his ministry well so that we may receive the fullest blessings by relating in the right manner to the Holy Spirit.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25