Pentecost and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Jesus’s promise to his disciples.
Yet, few doctrines of the Church are as misunderstood as that of the Holy Spirit. I suspect this is partly due to the fuzzy image connoted by a name that conjures up notions of wraiths, mysterious life-forces, and formless impersonal beings which incline us to think of the Holy Spirit as “it” rather than “him.”
There’s also the matter of instruction. Although we give the Holy Spirit a nod in our slogans, mission statements, and church talk, he is largely ignored in our teaching. In my long Christian life, over a number of denominations, I recall hearing only one sermon devoted to the comprehensive ministry of the Spirit.
For folks who think of the Holy Spirit only as a New Testament gift to believers, his involvement throughout the Old Testament can come as a surprise.
In the opening verses of Genesis, the Holy Spirit is seen “hovering over the waters” of the unformed earth. When Elohim (the Hebrew plural name, in form, for God) said, “Let us make man in our image,” he was referring to the triune partnership of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Job’s friend, Elihu, confirms the Spirit’s creative role in his counsel to Job: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
From Creation to the Incarnation, the scriptures tell of the Spirit descending upon individuals who are tagged for some divine task: defeat a pagan foe, lead a rebellious nation, or speak a prophetic word. In contrast to the “indwelling” of believers in the Church Age, the Spirit’s “ondwelling” was temporary and selective.
But whether by “ondwelling” or “indwelling,” the Holy Spirit empowers humans to accomplish things that are humanly impossible, thus giving witness to the God “who is.”
The second letter of Peter is addressed to a church that was scattered, suffering, and swaying under the influence of heresies. To encourage the believers and help shore up their faith, Peter reminded them of the apostles’ accounts of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection; eyewitness accounts detailing the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies.
Peter went on to explain the Source of the prophetic accuracy: “No prophesy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the biblical narrative contains dozens of prophesies fulfilled in precise detail centuries after they had been predicted and recorded.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul introduces the concept “spiritual gifts,” writing: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”
Notice the Trinitarian partnership: spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit, in service of the Son, according to the sovereign purposes of the Father.
Paul goes on to say, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (Between this letter and Romans chapter 12, Paul lists 15 spiritual gifts, including things like wisdom, knowledge, serving, giving, prophesy, teaching, and mercy.) Also notice, that it’s not a question of whether a believer has a gift. It’s a question of what gift or gifts he has, and in what measure.
Although everyone has some capacity for each gift—with a number of them, like mercy, giving, and serving related to spiritual fruits that every Christian needs to cultivate—it is our primary gift that determines our spiritual role within the Church, whether as a member of the clergy or lay “helper.”
The gifts imparted by the Spirit support the roles established by the Son for the God-sized task of kingdom-building.
He Teaches and Convicts
With the Cross looming before him, Jesus spent his last hours on earth preparing his disciples for his departure. He promised not to leave them as orphans—he would send the Spirit to teach them and remind them of all they had been taught.
The good news, though it didn’t register at the time, was that unlike the pre-resurrected Lord whose company and wisdom they could enjoy only when he was physically present with them, the Spirit, unencumbered by the limitations of a material body, would reside in them, all of them, as an ever-present Teacher, Comforter, and Equipper.
What’s more, the Spirit’s ministry would extend to non-believers, as well. “He will testify about me,” Jesus told them, and “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” In fact, without the ministry of the Holy Spirit belief “unto salvation” is not possible. As Paul explained, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Continue reading here.