On Sunday I preached on the Holy Spirit at church. Whenever the topic of the third person of the Trinity comes around, there’s no shortage of misconception about His nature and His roles. Unsurprisingly, people steeped in a rigorously secular culture like ours have a difficult time embracing, much less understanding, God the Spirit. So, here are a few interesting facts about the Holy Spirit that you may not know, but should.
The Spirit Works to Advance the Mission
If you were to visit some modern Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, you might reasonably assume that the role of the Holy Spirit was to make people act oddly and occasionally fall over. In fact, the manifestations of the Spirit are, without exception, given to advance the mission of making disciples. Luke’s writings make this cespecially clear. Here’s a fun chart (charts are fun, btw)1 explaining the miracles that Luke records in the book of Acts:
Miracle Associated with Peter
Miracle Associated with Paul
|Many signs and wonders were done by the Apostles, with Peter, among the Jews in Jerusalem (2:43)||The gospel was preached and many believed (2:47).||Many signs and wonders were done by Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles in Asia Minor (14:3).||The gospel was preached and controversy arose (14:7).|
|Peter, in the company of John at the temple gate, heals the man lame from his mother’s womb (3:1 sq.)||Praise, and all were filled with wonder, and the gospel was preached (3:10-16).||Paul, in the company of Barnabas at Lystra, heals the man lame from his birth (14:7 sq.)||The gospel was preached and many disciples were made (14:21).|
|Peter rebukes Ananias and Saphira, who are struck dead for tempting the Spirit of the Lord (5:1 sq.)||Fear came upon the church, more believers were added (5:11, 14).||Paul rebukes the sorcerer Elymas, who is suddenly blinded for making crooked the straight ways of the Lord (13:8 sq.)||The proconsul believed the gospel (13:12).|
|The building in Jerusalem is shaken, where Peter and the disciples were praying for strength from God (4:31)||Generosity, grace, and growth resulted (4:32-37).||The prison building at Philippi is shaken, where Paul and Silas were praying and singing the praises of God (16:25 sq.)||The jailer and his whole household believe (16:31).|
|Peter is so filled with the power of God that even his shadow is enough to heal the sick on whom it falls (5:15)||More believers were added (5:14).||Paul is so effective in working miracles that even handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from his body to the sick and the diseases left them (19:12)||People repented and the word of the Lord increased (19:20).|
|At Lydda, Peter suddenly heals the paralytic Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years (9:33 sq.)||The residents of Lydda and Sharon returned to the Lord (9:35).||On Malta, Paul suddenly cures the father of his host, Publius, of fever and dysentery (28:7 sq.)||Provision for the mission of God was given (28:9-10).|
|At Joppa, Peter restores to life the woman Tabitha, who had been devoted to works of charity (9:36 sq.)||Many believed (9:42).||At Troas, Paul restores to life the young man Eutychus, who fell down from the third story (20:9 sq.)||The disciples were comforted and the church meeting continued (20:10-11).|
|Peter’s chains are removed, and he is delivered from prison in Jerusalem by means of an angel (12:5 sq.)||Peter was free to preach the gospel (12:19).||Paul’s chains are suddenly loosed in the prison at Philippi (16:25 sq.)||The jailer is converted (16:30).|
The work of the Spirit is to advance the mission of making disciples and glorifying God. Always, only, ever.
The Spirit Didn’t Stop When The Bible Did
A common rejoinder from modern secular people is that when the cannon of Scripture was closed, the Spirit packed up all the party supplies (supernatural gifts and acts) and went home. The only problem with that is history. And the Bible.
In fact, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is uniformly attested to by the earliest post-biblical sources as not only normative, but critical to the mission. Early church leaders were pretty much expected to operate in the gifts of the Spirit.2 The are entire books on this subject, but here are a few choice quotes:
God imparts spiritual gifts from the grace of His Spirit’s power to those who believe in Him according as He deems each man worthy thereof. I have already said, and do again say, that it had been prophesied that this would be done by Him after His ascension to heaven. . . . Now it is possible to see among us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God.3
In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God.4
Others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years.5
The history of the early church is not all doctrines and councils. Its the story of the work of the Spirit to grow the church in the midst of a hard culture.
The Spirit Is Alive and Well Today
The fastest growing religious movement in the history of the human race is the the global Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.6 In fact, the story of the global church is one that is no longer shy of the supernatural, because it doesn’t share Western, post-enlightenment epistemological baggage. In his book The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins writes, “Making all allowances for generalization, then, global South Christians retain a strong supernatural orientation. . . . For the foreseeable future, though, the dominant theological tone of emerging world Christianity is traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural.”7 I love academic theology, and I love the exchange of ideas. But if we are to be academically honest, then we must admit that the engine which drives the forward progress of the gospel is not the power of the mind, but the power of the Spirit. He is alive and well and working wonders, and we need more of His power. I’ll let Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones say it best:
In the New Testament and, indeed, in the whole of the Bible, we are taught that the baptism with the Spirit is attended by certain gifts. Joel in his prophecy, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, foretells this. . . . Joel, and the other prophets who also spoke of it, indicated that in the age which was to come, and which came with the Lord Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, there should be some unusual authentication of the message. . . . My friends, this is to me one of the most urgent matters at this hour. With the church as she is and the world as it is, the greatest need today is the power of God through his Spirit in the church that we may testify not only to the power of the Spirit, but to the glory and praise of the one and only Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord, Son of God, Son of Man.80
- John Hardon, “The Miracle Narratives in the Acts of the Apostles,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 16 (1996): 303-18.
- Ronald Kydd notes that “[All the leaders] were expected to minister charismatically. . .; Ronald A. N. Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984), 10.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 6.1.
- Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 32.3.
- Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 2.32.
- Allan Anderson, “Global Pentecostalism,” A Paper presented at the Wheaton Theology Conference, 3 April 2015, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.
- For more on this see: Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2011)
- David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Sovereign Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1985), 26, 33.