doctrinal & practical writings

What Every Christian Should Believe About the Holy Spirit

by William Evans

William EvansWe may speak of three ages as characterizing the revelation contained in the Bible: the age of the Father, comprising the Old Testament; the age of the Son, as contained in the Gospels; the age of the Holy Spirit, comprising the remainder of the New Testament. In the first age God the Father is the prominent actor or executive; in the second, God the Son; in the third, God the Holy Spirit.

We are living in the age of the Spirit, and it becomes us, therefore, to familiarize ourselves with the Holy Spirit, His nature, being, person and work. The words of Paul to the Corinthians, "Brethren, concerning matters pertaining to the Spirit I would not have you ignorant" (1 Corinthians 12:1) are appropriate to us in this day when many Christians are in the same ignorant condition with reference to the Holy Spirit as were those Ephesian believers who did not so much as know that there was any Holy Spirit, or that He had yet been bestowed upon believers (Acts 19:1-7). In this primer of Christian doctrine we can only point out those things, and these only briefly, which are considered most necessary for the Christian to know for holy living and effective service.

The Holy Spirit is a Person.

"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he ... he ... he," etc. (John 16:13).

Because the ministry and operations of the Spirit are of a somewhat more mystical and invisible nature than that of the Father—in the creation, for example, and that of the Son—in the incarnation and redemption, and because the Spirit is spoken of in such symbolic and figurative expressions as wind, breath, fire, oil, etc, we are prone to look upon the Holy Spirit as less of a Person than either of the other Persons in the Godhead. So much is said in the Scriptures of the influence, grace, and power of the Spirit that we may be led, unless we are careful, to look upon the third Person in the Trinity as a manifestation of the Father or the Son or of both, rather than as a Person distinct as Father or Son.

Our conception of the Holy Spirit as a Person or an influence has its effect upon our life and service. It is of great moment for me to know whether the Holy Spirit is an influence or power which I may use in my life and service for God, or whether He is a divine Person who is to use me as He sees fit in order that I may glorify the Father and the Son in my life and service. We can readily see then how vital it is for every Christian to know all he can about the Holy Spirit.

That the Holy Spirit is a Person is clear from the fact that He takes the place of a Person—Jesus Christ: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (John 14:16). Only a person can take the place of a person. Jesus has announced His departure to His disciples. They are feeling sorrowful. He would comfort them by the assurance that the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, would take His place, and really do more for them than He himself had been able to do: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:12-13).

For this reason also personal pronouns are used of the Holy Spirit. No less than twelve times in John 16:7-8; 13-15 is the pronoun "he" (Greek: ekeinos—that one, He) used of the Holy Spirit. This is the same word that is used to describe Christ, whose place the Spirit takes (cf. 1 John 2:6; 3:3; 5; 7; 16). This is a fact of paramount importance when we remember that the Greek word for spirit is a neuter word and should have a neuter pronoun. In Romans 8:16; 26 the word "itself" in the Authorized Version should be "himself," as in the Revised Version.

A careful consideration of the Baptismal formula (Matthew 28:19), and the Apostolic benediction (2 Corinthains 13:14), compel us to attribute personality to the Holy Spirit, even as to the Father and the Son. How foolish and irreverent it would be, for example, to say, "Go, baptize them into the name of the Father and of the wind or breath."

The Holy Spirit possesses attributes of personality: He has knowledge (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). He distributes spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). He has will and mind (1 Corinthians 12:11; Romans 8:27). He speaks (Revelation 2:7), makes intercession (Romans 8:26), oversees matters pertaining to the Church (Acts 13:2). He may be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), insulted (Hebrews 10:29), lied to (Acts 5:3), and blasphemed and sinned against (Matthew 12:31-32).

What a wonderful truth lies in this phase of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit! And this is the truth that lies couched in the word "Comforter," which is a (or perhaps the) name of the Spirit, and meaning One whom we may call to our side in the time of trouble. Side by side He walked with the faithful in the early church: they walked "in the comfort of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 9:31).

The Holy Spirit is a Divine Person.

"Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." "To lie to the Holy Ghost"(Acts 5:3-4).

In the scripture just quoted the Holy Spirit is distinctly called God. He is also called Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18), a name, which, as we have already seen, is a name of Deity.

Attributes of Deity are fully possessed by the Holy Spirit. He is omniscient: He knows all things (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), and thus, knowing what is the mind of God and what is in our hearts, He is eminently fitted to be Intercessor and Pleader in our behalf (Romans 8:26). Indeed our prayers are true prayers only as they are inspired and indited by the Spirit of God; only then will our requests be "according to the will of God."

The Holy Spirit is omnipresent: He is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10). But only God fills heaven, and earth, and everywhere; therefore the Holy Spirit is God.

Omnipotence is ascribed to the Spirit: "the power of the Highest" is His (Luke 1:35). The creation of all things is ascribed to the Spirit even as unto the Father and the Son (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:30, R. V.). "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." The new and spiritual creation within the soul of man is the work of the Spirit (John 3:5-8), as is also the resurrection of the believer's body in that great day (Romans 8:11).

The Holy Spirit therefore is entitled to our worship. He is to be worshiped as God because He is actually God. It is a sin to withhold worship from Him. It is true that the Scriptures do not as distinctly enjoin upon us the necessity of such worship as they do in the case of the Father and the Son. There is a reason for such silence. It is pre-eminently the work of the Holy Spirit to bear witness, not to Himself, but to Jesus Christ. It is His work to keep in the background, as it were, and to make Christ prominent. "He shall not speak of Himself." "He shall glorify me." "He shall take of [the things] of mine and shall show [them] unto you" (John 16:13-15).

he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

THE RELATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THE BELIEVER

It is exceedingly important for every Christian to know what relation he sustains to the Holy Spirit. Success in the Christian life in all its phases depends upon the Holy Spirit. Ignorance in this respect means certain defeat and failure.

Every Christian has the Holy Spirit.

"If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9).

No man can come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour and the acceptance of Him as such unless the Spirit of God enables him so to do. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by [in] the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthains 12:3). His regeneration (John 3:3-5; Titus 3:5), and articulation into the body of Christ as a member thereof (1 Corinthians 12:13) is the distinctive work of God's Holy Spirit. He is the Executive of the Godhead, and applies to the soul of man the work of redemption wrought by the Son and planned by the Father (see Ephesians 1:3-14). It is erroneous therefore for Christians to pray that God would give them His Holy Spirit as though He were not already abiding in them, for He already possesses them, otherwise they are not children of God (Romans 8:9). The fulness of the Spirit they may not have, but His indwelling they most certainly have (1 Corinthians 6:19). At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to abide with the believer and the Church and He has never left them since, nor will He, until that day when he that restraineth shall be taken away (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

Every Christian does not have the fulness of the Holy Spirit.

"And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 4:31).

Egypt always has the river Nile, but not always the overflow of the Nile. And yet on that overflow the harvests of Egypt depend. When the Nile overflows its banks it leaves behind it a rich, alluvial deposit which moistens and enriches the soil and makes an abundant harvest possible. No overflow means famine for Egypt. Just so is it with the Christian in his relation to the Holy Spirit. He may have the Holy Spirit indwelling, but if He does not have the Spirit infilling and overflowing his life will be barren of the graces, gifts, and fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

To many believers this specific experience of the infilling with the Holy Spirit comes some time after their conversion, too often after long years of wearisome defeat and failure in life and service. Then, O glorious experience! there comes to them this blessing of "the baptism of the Holy Ghost," some call it, or the "filling with," or "outpouring of" the Spirit, others name it, and after that all life and service seems new, rich, and fruitful. There is no need, surely, that any given length of time should elapse between a man's conversion and this specific blessing of the Holy Spirit's presence and power. It is simply a matter of taking. We possess as much of the Spirit as we are willing to take and are willing to make room for in our hearts. We are straitened in ourselves, not in Him. The children of Israel had no need to wander forty years in the wilderness before entering the promised land. It was their unbelief that made wanderers of them (Hebrews 4:1-3). They could have entered Canaan a few days after they left Egypt if they had believed God and His promise.

There is such a thing as "the law of the Spirit" (Romans 8:2). When we obey that law, even though it be the law of faith, we receive the fulness of the Spirit. He hath given the Holy Spirit to them that obey him (Acts 5:32). Obedience to the will and word of the Spirit is one of the conditions of being "filled with the Spirit." Are we, as far as we know from the Word of God (and are we diligently studying the Word of God to find out what His will is?) living up to the light we have received and gladly rendering full obedience? Disobedience to any known command will issue in a famine of the Spirit's power in life.

Jesus Christ must be enthroned in the heart and life if we are to enjoy the fulness of the Spirit's presence. "But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:37-39). By "the Spirit" here is meant the infilling and overflowing of the Spirit, as is clear from verses 37 and 38. If self rather than Christ is the ruler on the throne of our hearts, we cannot have the fulness of the Spirit. He came into the world to "glorify Christ," and Him alone. He will not give you power to run your own watermill. Christ is the beginning, as Christ is the end of the Spirit-filled life. Is He of your life and mine?

The Holy Spirit and His fulness is to be received by faith. Just as we received Christ by faith, so must we receive the blessing of the Spirit (Galatians 3:2-3). "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22). We are to wait for feeling in connection with the receiving of the Holy Spirit's fulness not one whit more than we waited for it in our receiving Christ. If we have met the requirements, if we have obeyed "the law of the Spirit," then it is our bounden duty to believe that God has kept His word and promise and filled us with His Holy Spirit. Feeling and emotion may or may not attend this wondrous experience of the Holy Spirit.

To some it comes at once, to many others not until some time after, and, usually in connection with some bit of work, done for Him in obedience to some newly revealed duty such as always faces the believer when he has taken an advanced step in the life of the Holy Spirit. We must believe God, whether we have any feeling or not. It is "a wicked and adulterous generation that seeketh after a sign." Blessed, yea, rather blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).

Some results of having the fulness of the Holy Spirit.

"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free "(Romans 8:2).

Assurance of our personal salvation is a work of the Spirit in our hearts. "In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13-14). It is the Spirit Himself who "bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16). It is not enough for a man to be saved; he should know he is saved (1 John 5:13). Yet how many Christians there are, real Christians too, who do not enjoy the blessing of assurance of salvation. They cannot be joyful because they are not sure that their "sins are forgiven" (1 John 2:12), that their names are written in the Lamb's book of life in heaven (Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:15), and that they are even now actual sons and daughters of God (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1-2). "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O, what a foretaste of glory divine!"

Fulness of power in life and service is the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). What a marked difference is discernible in the life and service of the apostles before and after Pentecost! What blunders Peter, for example, was continually making, and what a lack of power in testimony there was in his life before Pentecost, impulsive (Mark 14:47), headstrong and arbitrary (John 13:8; Matthew 16:22-23), cowardly (Mark 14:66-72), and even denying that he ever knew his Master (Matthew 26:34-35; 69-75)! Yet what a tremendous contrast after that the Holy Spirit had fallen on him! What calm, poise, courage, boldness, sacrifice was exhibited in his whole life after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit! Read carefully the account of his ministry in Acts, chapters 2-12, especially chapters 2-5, and note the change. And just this difference will be made in the lives of all who receive of His fulness.

Victory over sin is another result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. What a deep groan of defeat and hopeless failure issues from the seventh chapter of Romans! And why? Read it carefully and see, and note, as you read it, that the Holy Spirit is not once mentioned in the chapter. What a peon of triumphant victory issues forth from the eighth chapter! Read it over and see. There is freedom from condemnation; fulness and freeness of access to God; joy amid tribulations; a spiritual mind and disposition—a boon which we all so earnestly desire, for sins of the mind and disposition seem to be the last over which we get victory; a glorious knowledge of sonship and heirship; and, finally, the assurance of no separation from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Do we not cry out with strong desire for such a life as this? The secret of it all lies in the Holy Spirit. No less than sixteen times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in this chapter. It is the Spirit's work to war against the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17; Romans 8:2-3). The way to overcome that "law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:23), is to lay hold of the great truth that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2) which was in my members working defeat, and leading me to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? "

A deeper and more satisfying knowledge of the Word of God (John 16:13-15). The same Holy Spirit who inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21) must also illumine the saints of today to read and understand the same Scriptures. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. ... But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:14; 10). The natural understanding is darkened (Ephesians 4:18) and needs the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit before it is able to see the things of God as revealed in His Word (Ephesians 1:18; 1 John 2:20; 27). The "pure in heart" they "see God"; all others are in darkness. Would you have the Scriptures "opened unto you," until your heart burns within you (Luke 24:32)? Then pray that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit of God.

The fulness of the Holy Spirit assures the believer of guidance in all the affairs of life. The Christian is "led by the Spirit of God" (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18). How full the book of Acts is of the guidance afforded God's children by the Holy Spirit! The believer is thus guided as to what he should say; where he should go; to whom he should speak; in what field he should labor, etc. (Acts 8:29; 16:6-7; 13:2-4; 10:19-20; 11:12). How often in life's journey the child of God comes to the fork of the roads, and hesitates because he knows not which way to turn! What great issues often times depend upon the decision of just such moments! Which road shall we take? He who is filled with the Spirit of God will hear, at such times, a voice within, or will get some very definite and clear word from the Bible, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." The indication of the Spirit's guidance may not come to you in exactly the same way it has come to others, but you will assuredly recognize the leading as beings yours and you will follow on to find that you were led aright.

THE RELATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THE WORLD

Probably there is no more vital aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit than this. It is He who first leads the soul into the light of the knowledge of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit reveals Christ to the World.

"No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by [in] the Holy Ghost" (1 Corianthians 12:3).

The teaching of Jesus Himself with respect to this particular point is clearly set forth in His farewell discourse to the disciples: "And he (the Holy Spirit), when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged" (John 16:8-11, R.V.).

It is the specific work of the Holy Spirit to take the words, deeds, claims, evidences of divine commission to be the Saviour of the world of the Christ, together with the resurrection as the proof of the genuineness of all these claims, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost which was the evidence to the world that God had accepted the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and He alone, to cause man to see all these things, and by seeing them to present such proof and evidence of the reality of Christ's claims and work as to leave the man who rejects Christ, without excuse, and the man who accepts the evidence and receives Jesus, saved.

Thus it is that men are regenerated or born again (John 3:3-5). The Holy Spirit is the agent in that regeneration of the soul of man without which no man will see, much less enter, the kingdom of heaven. Our salvation is through "the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).

As men listen to the preaching of the gospel and believe it, or read the inspired Word of God and receive its testimony concerning Christ and His redemptive work, the Holy Spirit falls upon their hearts and regenerates them through that Word and that faith (1 Corinthians 4:15; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:12-13; 3:5).

Herein lies the necessity on the part of the Christian worker to realize that the conversion of men is brought about "not by might, nor by power" that is human, "but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." We may scatter the flowers of poetry; we may diffuse the light of science; we may marshal words and phrases; we may present logical arguments, elaborately stated and eloquently discussed; we may roll the thunders of eloquence and display the powers of illustration; but not any one nor all of these can save a soul unless the Holy Spirit of God falls with power on the consecrated effort we have put forth. Dead souls cannot be argued, entertained, dazzled into life. The Holy Spirit of God must breathe life into them. Nothing but the Breath of God can make these dry bones live (Ezekiel 37).

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to produce in the heart of man the faith which saves.

"To [each] one is given ... faith by the same Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:9).

"No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by [in] the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

It is not enough that a man be convinced by the evidence of the Word of God that Jesus Christ is not only the divinely appointed Redeemer but also his own personal Saviour. Knowledge does not save. Not believing about but believing into Jesus saves a man. A man must not only believe the claims of Jesus, but must also receive Him to be all He claims to be. This is the truth of John 1:12, "But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." The power to "receive" Christ as Saviour is not of ourselves, but of God's Holy Spirit. Indeed the whole work of salvation from start to finish is of God, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it [your whole salvation from start to finish] is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).

O, to grace how great a debtor,
Daily I'm constrained to be!


Copied and lightly edited by Stephen Ross for WholesomeWords.org from What Every Christian Should Believe by William Evans. Chicago: Moody Press, ©1922. Photo courtesy of Moody Bible Institute Archive.


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