The Spirit of God - The Ministries of the Spirit for the Believer

F. Cundick, Luton

Part 3 of 6 of the series The Spirit of God

Category: Exposition

Having considered the chief historical records of the importation of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles, our minds are now prepared to consider in better focus what some of the Epistles teach concerning the Spirit’s operations in and for the believer.

There are good reasons for diligent enquiry into this subject. One leading reason is the greatness of the blessing of the unique work of the Spirit in the Church and in the individual believer. ‘It is expedient for you that I go away’: said our Lord, ‘for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you’, John 16. 7 R.V. Think of this, the gift of the Spirit came by virtue of Christ’s atonement and glorification! How precious then is the gift! One has said, ‘Rediscovery of the unique and essential work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the individual was one of the greatest bequests of the Reformation divines’. Another reason is the development of spiritual intelligence that respects the precise and perfect language of Scripture. Phraseology of ignorant sentiment such as, ‘A fresh baptism of the Spirit’, ‘Send Thy Holy Spirit’, or ‘Waiting for the Spirit’, is inexcusable in those who had had time enough to consult the Word of truth. In respect of these reasons alone we may consider some of the range of ministries the Spirit of God performs for us. Selections are made bearing in mind that some of the ministries are perfect and permanent in character being the result of a divine work in the believer. Others are progressive and are known in experience according to the measure of the believer’s personal appropriation.

1. The Gift and Gifts of the Spirit

As Paul traces the characteristics of the believer’s hope in the Epistle to the Romans, the statement he makes regarding its power is soul-stimulating, ‘and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us’, Rom. 5. 5. This gift is universal to everyone who knows redemption through the blood of Christ. Justification is accompanied by this gift of the Holy Spirit. Without the gift one does not belong to Christ, Rom. 8. 9. The relationship of fellowship, the Personal presence and individual indwelling of the Spirit as a gift were distinctly announced by our Lord to His disciples. ‘I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you’, John 14. 16, 17 R.V.

Later Paul writes of Christian responsibility saintward: ‘And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith . . .’, Rom. 12. 6 R.V. There are three great passages in Paul’s writings dealing with the subject of gifts in the Church. In Romans 12. 4 the gifts are imparted by God, in Ephesians 4. 7 they are bestowed by the Christ) the ascended Head of the body; in 1 Corinthians 12. 11 the gifts are given by the Spirit. It does not follow that everyone who has received the gift of the Spirit is possessor of all these gifts enumerated by Paul. Much that is unprofitable would be avoided if believers would give studied attention to the proper use of these gifts given for the edification of the body of Christ. The gifts do not all function the same way, at the same time or even to the same end. Let all seek grace to minister according to the gift received.

2. The Baptism and Fulness of the Spirit

In the New Testament there are six references to baptism ‘in the Spirit’ (see R.V. marg. of Matt. 3. 11; Mark 1. 8; Luke 3.16; John 1. 33; Acts 11. 16; and R.V. of 1 Cor. 12. 13). This was announced prophetically in the Gospels, historically fulfilled in the Acts of the Apostles, and its doctrinal meaning expounded in 1 Corinthians. The following facts are found in the Scriptures:

  • 1. The baptism in the Spirit was introduced on the day of Pentecost. It is, therefore, a distinctive truth and blessing of the present age (see Acts 1.5).

  • 2. It is received at conversion to God, and not as an attainment of advanced spirituality. Paul spoke of this baptism as a completed act in the past history of the believers at Corinth. Despite their carnality and sectarian strife this was true of them (see 1 Cor. 12. 13; cf. Acts 11. 15-16).

  • 3. It incorporates a believer in the body of Christ. It is not a passing phase of experience but a great foundation fact. Whilst personal joy and power in service may flow out of its initial work, its primary purpose is to unite the believer in the one body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12. 13).

Closely related to the baptism in the Spirit is the filling of the Spirit. Let the reader consider in the Acts of the Apostles the four references to companies (see 2. 4; 4. 31; 6. 35 13. 52), and the four individuals that were filled, Peter, 4. 8; Stephen, 6. 5; 7. 55; Saul, 9. 17; 13. 9; Barnabas, 11. 24, and it will become apparent that the filling of the Spirit meets the recurring need of spiritual power for the life of devotion to and service for God.

3. The Earnest and Entitlement of the Spirit

We read of the Spirit as the Earnest for the believer in the following three passages: 2 Cor. 1. 22; 2 Cor. 5. 5; Eph. 1. 14. In the first, the Earnest is connected with the promises of God, in the second, with the future ‘clothing upon’ of the believer, and in the third, with the coming inheritance of the saints. The word ‘earnest’ applied originally to the part-payment money deposited by a purchaser, but later was used to denote a pledge of any sort. The Spirit of God is in the believer as a pledge of all that God has promised relative to the future in glory. The olive leaf in the mouth of the dove that returned to the ark was a pledge to Noah of the coming new inheritance (see Gen. 8. 10-11). The two bracelets given by Abraham’s servant to Rebekah were a pledge of her coming marriage to Isaac (see Gen. 24. 22). And so the blessed presence of the Spirit in the heart of a saint of God is a pledge of glorious things to come. God’s pledge will be honoured!

The enduement of the Spirit directs our attention not to our prospect of glory, but to the need of power in witness. ‘But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you’, Acts 1. 8 R.V. The Christian witness at the beginning was sustained by this power alone, and today God knows of no other kind of power. ‘Music was not to be the power, nor eloquence, nor subtle argument, nor personal magnetism, nor mass psychology. The Holy Spirit was to be the power; and the heralds of the Gospel were to go forth with the assurance the He would be with them, enabling and empowering them, and backing up their message with the working of His might’, H. P. Barker.

4. The Regeneration and Renewing of the Spirit

Both these ministries are mentioned in Titus 3. 5. The first, ‘regeneration’ (birth again), is used of a spiritual event introducing a new state of things. The same truth is found in the record of our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus (see John 3). Physical birth brings one into a world with a fallen, corrupt nature. Nothing of that is used by God in the new birth. A new life is communicated which is altogether heavenly and holy. It is a transaction that is complete and essential for all who would enter the kingdom of God. The terms ‘regeneration’ and ‘born again’ refer to the same event, but are not synonymous. One has rightly said, ‘The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old’. It was most suitable that Paul should use the word ‘regeneration’ relative to the work of God’s grace in the island of Crete where lawlessness abounded in so many forms. This is the reason why the thought of government pervades the whole of the Epistle. How appropriate then was Paul’s choice of the word to teach the saints that they were brought into a new spiritual state, to own the government of God over their lives.

The renewing of the Holy Spirit refers to the Spirit’s power in the development of the new life. Confirmation of this meaning is found by noting the use of the same root word in Rom. 12. 2; 2 Cor. 4. 16; Col. 3. 10. The subject of renewal is ‘the new man’, ‘the inward man’, ‘the mind’, which is not the mind in its natural powers, but ‘the mind of the spirit’ (see Rom. 8. 6 R.V.). The pattern of renewal is ‘the image of him that created him’, and the process of renewal is ‘day by day’.

5. The Anointing and Teaching of the Spirit

These ministries are found together in the same context (see 1 John 2. 20, 27 R.V.). The anointing draws attention to the Old Testament symbol of the sacred oil which was used in the anointing of prophets, priests and kings to set them apart for their respective offices. John uses the term, by metonymy, of the Holy Spirit. Believers have ‘an anointing from the Holy One’, and are thus set apart to God. In the context John teaches how saints can be kept from imbibing the spirit of antichrist. First, there must be obedience to the revealed will of God in His word, ‘the word of God abideth in you’ v. 14; ‘he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’ v. 17. Secondly, they were to recognize the separate character of the Christian fellowship (see v. 19). Only those who possess eternal life can know the true place of the present family of faith. Thirdly, by a practical use of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. John seems to say, ‘You have the true chrism (anointing) while others have the counterfeits, the antichrisms’. That this anointing is permanent cannot be gainsaid. It is divine, indwelling and abiding. The oil poured upon David’s head, 1 Sam. 16. 13, was a pledge that he would one day wear the kingly crown. Despite the jibes of his brethren, Eliab’s reproof and Saul’s doubt, David knew he would not fall under the sword of the Philistine because the oil of his God was upon him. The believer, likewise, can with confidence look forward to the day of royal manifestation (see 1 John 2. 28).

The next fact must be observed, ‘his anointing teacheth you concerning all things’ v. 27 R.V. By the anointing the believer has the spiritual potentiality to discern error. ‘Knowing all things’ is definitely not perfection of knowledge. Neither is it intended to encourage independence of Godgiven teachers, a conceit which unfortunately has led many to leanness of soul. But just as there is a natural instinct and impulse in beasts, birds and insects, so is there in the Christian a spiritual awareness of what is of God.