The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Believer
Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
The Lord Jesus told His disciples that the future relationship that believers would enjoy with the Holy Spirit would be: ‘he dwelleth with you [i.e., by your side], and shall be in you’, John 14. 17, and that ‘for ever’, v. 16. So today each believer’s possession of the Holy Spirit is internal and eternal, personal and permanent, from the moment of conversion!1
Below we outline seven aspects of the present work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The important work of the Holy Spirit for unbelievers – as promised by the Lord Jesus – is that He would, ‘reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment’, John 16. 8, where ‘reprove’ means providing sufficient and convincing evidence and proof of the reality and importance of something. In the same way, even in the days before the Flood, we hear God saying, ‘My spirit shall not always strive [plead, JND] with man’, Gen. 6. 3. This implies that even in those wicked days the Holy Spirit was active in giving men such necessary evidence for them to repent.2 Today, anyone who accepts the Holy Spirit’s proof and believes on the Lord Jesus as Saviour is born of the Spirit, John 3. 5, 6, 8. Thus, Peter says, ‘Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit’, 1 Pet. 1. 22, while Paul says, ‘Ye have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God’, 1 Cor. 6. 11. Our salvation, and the justification it brings, is through the finished work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and is made effective through the activity of the ‘Spirit of our God’ in our hearts.3
In ancient times fixing a seal to anything signified ownership, authentication, or approval, see Matt. 27. 66. In the same way, the Holy Spirit in us is God’s seal.4 Similarly, the Holy Spirit is God’s ‘earnest’ for us,5 that is, His present pledge and guarantee of all the good things to come. In the same way we read about ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit’, Rom. 8. 23, where the firstfruits are the present proof of a future full harvest, i.e., our blessings when the Lord comes.
One important aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work in us is assuring us that we are really saved, and also guaranteeing that we have eternal security and cannot be lost.6 We know this because the Holy Spirit Himself bears witness, along with our spirits, that we are children of God.7
The practical side of sanctification is when believers live Christ-like lives that set them apart from the evil influences of the world, the flesh and the devil. This is the external consequence of the internal working of the Holy Spirit. Hence, we read that, in general, the fruit of the Spirit is of the highest spiritual quality, i.e., ‘in all goodness and righteousness and truth’, Eph. 5. 9, or viewed in detail, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance’, Gal. 5. 22, 23.
The believer’s life is a battlefield, where ‘the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other’, v. 17. The old verb ‘to lust’ meant ‘to desire’, ‘to long for’, ‘to crave or yearn after’ something either good or bad. So, on the one hand, we have the Holy Spirit desiring and able to produce His Christ-like fruit in us. On the other hand, we have the flesh longing to bring about, in general, ‘the desires of the flesh and of the mind’, Eph. 2. 3, or specifically, ‘the works of the flesh . . . adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like’, Gal. 5. 19-21.
We are reminded that the Holy Spirit who is in us is greater than ‘he that is in the world’, 1 John 4. 4, i.e., the devil, ‘the prince of the power of the air’, Eph. 2. 2. Also, ‘we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God’, 1 Cor. 2. 12.
The apostle Paul prays for the Ephesian Gentile believers ‘that [God] . . . would grant you . . . to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man’, Eph. 3. 16. Paraphrasing this we might say, ‘strengthened with power, through His Spirit, right into the inner man’. The measure or amount of this potential strengthening is considerable, i.e., ‘according to the riches of his glory’, 1. 18. There are quite a number of things in this prayer that arise from this first outcome, e.g., a Christ-centred life and a full comprehension of the things of God, see vv. 17-19.
Service for God can only be undertaken properly using the gifts that He gives, not relying on any natural ability. There are a number of passages in the New Testament where such spiritual gifts are described. The passage that goes along with our subject is 1 Corinthians chapter 12. The context is the local assembly and the gifts are the gifts of the Spirit, while in Ephesians chapter 4 the gifts are with reference to the body of Christ and are the gifts of the risen Lord Jesus, see verses 11 and 12. Lastly, in Romans chapter 12, the gifts are the gifts of God and are with a view to the individual believer, vv. 3-8.
First, in 1 Corinthians 12, we note that, ‘the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal’, v. 7, reminding us that all believers are gifted, but there are a variety of these gifts, vv. 8-11. Having a gift is no reason for boasting because the Holy Spirit decides how each believer is gifted, ‘dividing to every man severally as he will’, v. 11. Neither is the use of a gift any reason for arrogance, for in each gifted person ‘worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit’, v. 11, cp. Phil. 2. 13.
No effective service for God can be performed without prayer, and twice in the New Testament we read about ‘praying in the Spirit’.8 Prayer should be motivated and governed by the Holy Spirit in terms of how and what we pray for. More than this, we are promised that, ‘the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’, Rom. 8. 26, 27; cp. v. 34.
Old Testament servants of God – prophets, priests, and kings – were anointed with oil as a demonstration of divine choice, consecration, and empowerment. Today, as God’s servants, we too have an anointing, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, viz., ‘ye have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One, and ye know all things’, 1 John 2. 20 and, ‘the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you’, v. 27.
Stipulations for truly experiencing the Holy Spirit’s work
To fully experience the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we should ‘walk in the Spirit’, Gal. 5. 16, 25, which simply means us choosing to move through life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, putting ourselves in situations where He can work in our lives, e.g., reading our Bibles, ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’, Eph. 6. 17; seeking the fellowship of God’s people, etc. If we make the decision to ‘walk in the Spirit’ then we will certainly ‘not fulfil the lust of the flesh’, Gal. 5. 16. Also, we should be ‘filled with the Spirit’, Eph. 5. 18, that is, we should ensure that our lives are not absorbed with other things, thus allowing Him to influence every area of our lives.
Otherwise, looked at negatively, we should stop quenching the Holy Spirit in our lives, 1 Thess. 5. 19. This has the idea of extinguishing a fire, cp. Acts 2. 3, i.e., not allowing the Holy Spirit to kindle a spiritual flame in our lives. Then, lastly and very importantly, since the Holy Spirit is a real person, we should stop grieving Him, Eph. 4. 30, i.e., disappointing and upsetting Him by not allowing Him to work effectively in our lives.
First of all, the Holy Spirit showed us beyond any doubt that we were sinners; then, through the new birth, using the word of God, He ensured that we became children of God. Next, having become God’s seal and pledge by permanently dwelling in us, He continued assuring us that we are now, beyond any doubt, children of God, interceding for us, and comforting us, helping and facilitating our prayers. He then leads, strengthens, gifts, guards, guides and works in us, so that we can live practically as children of God, manifesting the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. At the same time there are certain practical requirements on our part that we should fulfil if we are to enjoy these blessings to the full, i.e., not to grieve or quench the Holy Spirit, but, on the other hand, to walk in and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
1 The following twenty New Testament verses clearly show that believers are now truly in such permanent possession of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and do not have to look for His later or fresh entry into their hearts: John 7. 39; 14. 17; Acts 2. 38; 10. 45; 11. 17; 15. 8; Rom. 5. 5; 8. 9, 11, 15, 23; 1 Cor. 3. 16; 6. 19; 2 Cor. 1. 22; 5. 5; Gal. 3. 2, 14; 1 Thess. 4. 8; 1 John 3. 24; 4. 4, 13.
2 See, for example, Enoch and Noah’s walk and witness, 1 Pet. 3. 19; 2 Pet. 2. 5-9; Jude 14.
3 See also 2 Thess. 2. 13; and 1 Pet. 1. 2.
4 See Eph. 1. 13; 4. 30; 2 Cor. 1. 22.
5 See Eph. 1. 14; 2 Cor. 1. 22; 5. 5.
6 See Rom. 8. 16, 17; cp. Gal. 4. 6.
7 Rom. 8. 15, 16; and see also 1 John 3. 24; 4. 13; and 5. 10.
8 See Eph. 6. 18 and Jude 20.