Who or what is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is found all the way throughout both Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the Spirit has two primary purposes: • It hovers over the waters at the time of creation (Gen 1:2) and is understood to sustain creation (Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30). Some suggest that the Spirit is breathed into clay when humans are created (Gen 2:7), reminding us that God imbues humanity with life and that humans are created in the image of God (imago Dei) – and so have a responsibility to one another. • It temporarily comes upon individuals to outwork God’s purposes (usually the advancement of God’s kingdom through conquest, mighty acts, or prophetic words). Notable individuals include Joshua, Samson, Saul, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel.
As we move into the prophetic literature, we see several prophetic oracles (sayings) that the Spirit of the Lord will be poured out, first on his chosen servant (Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 42:1), and then on all people (Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:27; Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28).
In the New Testament, the Spirit of the Lord is present with Jesus, first at his conception (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:34-35), then coming upon him at his baptism (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:33-34). John the Baptist declares that Jesus will baptize his followers with fire and the Holy Spirit; in Luke 4:16-21, Jesus claims the words of Isaiah 61 over himself, declaring that the Spirit of the Lord has come upon him to outwork God’s kingdom.
In Jesus’ final days, he promises that the Spirit will come to his disciples (John 14:16-17), functioning in several roles. Among the formal titles given to the Spirit are Counsellor and Advocate.
In short, the Spirit functions as a conduit between humans and God, empowering humans to enact God’s will on earth. The Spirit comes upon humans and partners with them, giving us what we need in order to be ambassadors for God’s kingdom. Note that the Spirit does not possess or take over a person’s body or mind, but partners with the individual. The Spirit can be ignored and contravened by a person as they retain free will.What are the promised functions of the Spirit?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus promises a number of things to his disciples. The Spirit will:• guide their speech (Luke 12:11-12), • live in Jesus’ disciples (John 14:17); • teach the disciples and remind them of Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26); • bring them peace (John 14:27); • teach the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11); • guide the disciples into the truth (John 16:13);• speak the truth of Jesus and the Father (John 16:13-15)• provide the disciples with power in order to outwork God’s kingdom (Acts 1:6-8)
Here, we see that Jesus reinforces the idea that the Spirit comes upon people in order to help them to be better representatives of the Kingdom of God.
Some Pentecostal theologians have suggested that the Spirit of God not only works to empower believers for ministry, but also to combat inequality and to allow all people to “share in the community of the body of Christ.”The Signs of the Spirit
Following the outpouring of the Spirit in the Acts narrative, we see a number of signs that accompany the Spirit: • Speaking in tongues (Acts 2:3-4; Acts 10:45-46; Acts 19:6)• Supernatural healing (Acts 3:1-10)• Apologetic eloquence / defense of the faith (Acts 4:8-13)• Sharing of property in common (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-35)• Prophecy (Acts 19:6)• Dreams (Acts 10:9-17)• Radical equality between ethnicities (Acts 11) and genders (Acts 18; see Priscilla and Aquila)
These are not the only signs, but the most notable. It is worth pointing out that the initial Pentecostal revivals around the world (many of which occurred between 1900 and 1910) were all accompanied by similar signs. As time goes by, many of these signs are collated more systematically by Paul as the “gifts” of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12).
Many of those around the early church were enamored by the power of the Spirit because of the supernatural power of these signs / gifts. A good example of this is Simon the sorcerer, who attempts to buy the power of the Spirit in Acts 8:9-24. Whilst the signs are important, both Peter and Paul point out that it is the heart that is more important (Acts 8:20-23; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Paul urges the followers of Jesus to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and reminds us that the ultimate command is to serve one another in humble unity (Galatians 5:13-15).Receiving the Spirit
Conventional Christian theology points out that all believers receive the Holy Spirit at the point of conversion – many experience some measure of the signs of the Spirit in their lives regardless of denomination. However, Pentecostals argue that in line with Acts, believers may be “Spirit baptized” to the point of overflowing, allowing believers to be closely in tune with the activity of the Spirit and helping us to be more cognizant of the Spirit’s voice and actions in our lives. This is often a voluntary request; though some are clearly Spirit baptized at the same time as their water baptism, for many these can be distinct, separate events.
Spirit baptism is not a formula, nor is it always predictable. It is not reliant upon pastors or leaders, but can be asked for by any believer, for any believer. As pointed out above, the believer should be requesting Spirit baptism for the right reasons – for a deepening of their relationship with God, rather than for status or for power. There are a few common steps: the person requesting Spirit baptism should clearly indicate their request, and are encouraged to stretch out their hands as a sign of receiving. If other believers are present, they may lay hands on (reach out and appropriately touch) the person requesting as a sign of unity in the Spirit. There is no specific prayer required from any party, but some indicator of the request should be made.
Spirit baptism is marked in many different ways, and it may happen quickly or slowly. The most common and obvious sign is speaking in tongues, though other evidence may present themselves: laughter, crying, falling, prophecy. These are all normal, though may be a little bit shocking for those who have never experienced them before. Believers should be careful to discern the Spirit’s activity and to allow it to happen.
Sometimes, it may appear as though nothing has happened – this should not be taken as judgment upon the requester, but simply an indicator that the time or circumstances may not be quite right. If this happens, it may be helpful to spend some more time praying, or to take a rest and return at a later time. The requesters should not feel as though they need to force the issue, or to fake it.
Likewise, those who have received Spirit baptism should avoid overemphasizing particular traits, gifts, or signs, and instead should practice these as contextually appropriate. The Spirit generally does not call a person to draw increasing amounts of attention to themselves or the exercise of their giftings!Working with the Spirit
Following Spirit baptism, believers are encouraged to experiment and to begin learning more about the different gifts that the Spirit is activating in their lives. Believers should not expect that these gifts are fully developed immediately; like any other skill, these require mindful practice.
Most importantly, believers should not neglect their relationship with God through the Spirit in favour of exercising gifts; remember that the purpose of Spirit baptism is to empower the believer as an ambassador for God’s kingdom in the world, meaning that character is most important. As believers continue to develop their relationship with the Spirit, they may be convicted of particular acts or sins, or may find a shift in their attitudes, beliefs, or actions.
Believers should follow the guiding principle of 1 Corinthians 13: that the work of the Spirit should always result in increased love for others – both believers as well as those yet to encounter God. If a believer is unsure about the exercise of their gifts, this should be the test – so long as it builds others up, then it is worth doing. Like any relationship, this requires time and purpose to cultivate to the point where a believer can accurately discern the Spirit’s voice in their lives.Discussion questions:
• How have you seen Spirit baptism outworked in the lives of Christian believers?
• What are your own experiences of the Spirit?
• Are there particular gifts or outworkings that you desire, but have not seen? How have you responded?
• How does the Spirit communicate with you? What are some unusual ways this has happened?
• How do you create room to consciously partner with the Spirit on a daily basis?
Please note that some members may have further questions, or may come across as somewhat skeptical. This is perfectly fine and normal, and we encourage them to probe further. You do not have to have all the answers – you can always undertake some research together or ask someone more knowledgeable. Some may be quite strongly opposed to Spirit baptism; please do not force it upon them. It is, however, worth noting that Spirit baptism lies at the heart of CityLife as a Pentecostal church, both as ongoing practice as well as heritage.