Life in the Spirit – Chapter 1

Life in the Spirit
Chapter 1

The Scripture’s Witness to the Work of the Spirit

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” Joel 2:28.

These meditations on the Spirit’s work are based upon the references to the Spirit and the Spirit’s work found in the New Testament.
The most concise teachings about the Spirit are found in four primary texts: the teachings of Jesus in John 14 and the writings of Paul in Romans 8:1-17, 26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; and Galatians 5:16-26.
In addition to these four texts, the book of Ephesians contains numerous references to the Spirit. It specifically identifies the Spirit’s role in God’s eternal, redemptive purpose (Ephesians 1:13-14). The book of Acts records the Spirit’s work in the birth and expansion of the early church. Other New Testament writings make isolated references to the Spirit.

The Gospels

Each of the gospels speaks of the Spirit’s role in Jesus’s baptism, temptations, and the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee. They record John the Baptizer’s statement that the one who came after him would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Beyond these references to the Spirit in the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, the gospels of Matthew and Luke note the Spirit’s role in the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). The Spirit’s influence runs throughout Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth (Luke 1:41 – Elizabeth; 1:67 – Zechariah; 2:25-26 – Simeon). As they end, the gospels of Luke and John both speak of the Spirit as the means by which the ministry of Jesus would continue in and through the lives of his disciples. John’s gospel ends with Jesus breathing on the disciples, giving them the Spirit (John 20:22). The gospel of Luke ends with instructions for the disciples to wait for the Spirit who would clothe them “with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), setting up the book of Acts.

The Gospel of John

The gospel of John has more teachings about the Spirit than any other gospel. It records Jesus’s teaching about being born of the Spirit (John 3:1-10). It also records Jesus’s teaching about “rivers of living water” flowing out of the believer’s heart (John 7:37-38) which the biblical writer identified as a reference to the Spirit (John 7:39). Jesus’s most extensive teachings about the Spirit are found in what scholars call The Farewell Discourses (John 13-16).
In John 14, Jesus taught his disciples that he was going away — a reference to his death, resurrection, and ascension back into heaven. As a part of this teaching, he spoke of the coming of the Spirit. Although he was leaving them, he was not abandoning them (John 14:18). The Father would send the Spirit to live in them and among them (John 14:17; 16:7). Just as Jesus had walked with them, so the Spirit would walk with them by dwelling in them. The term Jesus used to speak of the Spirit captures the idea of one walking with them to help them. Jesus spoke of the Spirit as “one called alongside” (John 14:16). This term has been variously translated as Advocate, Helper (NRSV alternate reading), Counselor, and Comforter. Through the indwelling Spirit, Jesus and the Father would live in them (John 14:23). Unlike Jesus who was leaving them, the Spirit would be with them forever (John 14:16). The Spirit would continue to do what Jesus had done. Just as Jesus had revealed the Father to them (John 14:7, 9) and taught them the ways of God, so the Spirit — whom Jesus called the Spirit of truth (John 14:17) — would teach them, building on what Jesus had taught (John 14:26). The Spirit would lead them into even greater truth (John 16:12-15). In addition, the Spirit would empower them to do the things Jesus had done and to do even greater things (John 14:12). The Spirit would be like Jesus, doing what he had done and more.
John’s gospel records what, on the surface, appears to be a strange statement: “for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39b). The gospel writer linked the gift of the Spirit to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Jesus had to return to the Father before the Spirit would be given (John 16:7). The writer did not mean the Spirit did not exist. The Hebrew Scriptures clearly spoke of the Spirit and the Spirit’s work. (See below.) The writer meant the Spirit had not yet been poured out on the disciples as on the day of Pentecost.

The Book of Acts

The book of Acts continues the story told in the gospel of Luke. The promise of the Spirit recorded in Luke 24 is repeated in Acts 1 as Jesus prepared to ascend back to the Father. Jesus instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of what the Father had promised, i.e., the gift of the Spirit (Acts 1:4). They would be baptized with the Spirit (Acts 1:5) and filled with power (Acts 1:8) so that they could be witnesses of Jesus and the kingdom to every ethnic group in the world.
The promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. As the disciples were gathered together in the Upper Room (Acts 1:12-14), the Spirit was poured out on each of them in the form of a tongue of fire (Acts 2:3). They were all filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4), empowering them to speak the language of the foreign visitors who had come to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). The biblical writer described the event using imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures — the rush of a violent wind (Acts 2:2), divided tongues, as of fire (Acts 2:3). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the presence of God is commonly associated with a storm (Exodus 19:16-18; Job 38:1; 40:6) and/or with fire (Exodus 3:2; 40:38). In using this imagery, the biblical writer was saying the presence of God descended upon them in the Spirit in the same way the presence of God descended upon on the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 40:34). That imagery suggests the disciples and the church were the new Temple, the dwelling place of God on earth (Ephesians 2:21-22).
Empowered by the Spirit, the disciples boldly bore witness to Jesus and the resurrection. Peter preached, interpreting the experience as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh (Acts 2:14-21; Joel 2:28-32). Three thousand people responded to Peter’s invitation to experience God’s forgiveness and receive the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-41). That response resulted in the birth of the church in Jerusalem. The church built their life around learning and living the ways of God that Jesus taught (Acts 2:42-47).
The Spirit played a major role throughout the book of Acts. The gift of the Spirit was the key indicator that individuals had become followers of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:14-17; 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 15:8; 19:2, 6). The Spirit empowered the early church to speak with boldness as opposition grew from the religious leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 4:31). One of the qualifications of the early leaders of the church in Jerusalem was that they be “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3, 5; 11:24). The pairing of the Spirit with wisdom suggests the Spirit provided the wisdom the leaders needed to address the needs of the church. The Spirit is again paired with wisdom as Stephen taught in the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:8-10). Stephen found comfort and assurance through the Spirit as he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:55). The Spirit directed Philip (Acts 8:29), Peter (Acts 4:8; 10:19; 11:12), Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11), Barnabas (Acts 11:22-26), and Paul with his entourage (Acts 13:4; 16:7; 20:22-23). The Spirit also provided guidance to the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3), the church in Jerusalem as they dealt with the issue of Gentiles in the church (Acts 15:28), and the disciples at Tyre (Acts 21:4).

The Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul taught extensively about the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer (Romans 8:1-17, 26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Galatians 5:16-26). His teachings echo the teachings of Jesus and reflect the experience of the Spirit recorded in Acts. We’ll explore those teachings, along with other references to the Spirit by other authors, in the following chapters.

The Hebrew Scriptures

The New Testament understanding of the Spirit and the Spirit’s work built upon and expanded the understanding of the Spirit presented in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Spirit is portrayed as being given to selected individuals, empowering them for the task to which they had been called.
The Spirit empowered those in leadership roles. The Spirit gave Bazalel intelligence and ability to design and built the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 31:3). Seventy elders were given the Spirit to assist Moses in leading the people of Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 11:17, 25-26). Joshua was filled with the Spirit when he was chosen to take Moses’s place in leading the people (Numbers 27:15-18, Deuteronomy 34:9). The various judges were filled with the Spirit to empower them to provide leadership to the nation before they had a king: Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Jephthah (Judges 11:29), Samson (Judges 13:24-25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). As the kings of Israel, Saul (1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 11:6; 19:23-24) and David (1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 23:2) were anointed with the Spirit as was Zerubbabel after the Exile (Haggai 1:14). The Spirit came upon Amasai, the leader of a coalition from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, as he aligned with David when he was a fugitive running from Saul (1 Chronicles 12:18).
The prophets spoke of a coming king, a descendant of David, who would rule with justice and righteousness, bringing about lasting peace (Isaiah 9:6-7; 10:33-11:9; 61:1-4; 65:17-25). This coming king would be anointed with the Spirit. He was thus known as the anointed one, that is, the Messiah.
The prophets who spoke for the LORD were also anointed with the Spirit: Balaam (Numbers 24:2), Elijah (1 Kings 18:12), Elisha (2 Kings 2:15), Zedekiah (1 Kings 22:24; 2 Chronicles 18:23), Azariah (2 Chronicles 15:1), Jahaziel (2 Chronicles 20:14), Zechariah, son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:20), Micah (Micah 3:8). The book of Ezekiel, recording the ministry and messages of the prophet Ezekiel to the people of Judah in Exile, is filled with references to the Spirit’s work in his life (Ezekiel 3:12, 14, 24; 11:1, 5, 24; 37:1; 43:5).
The prophet Joel foresaw what the New Testament writers experienced.
Then afterwards
   I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   your old men shall dream dreams,
   and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
   in those days, I will pour out my spirit (Joel 2:28-29).
Rather than being available to only select individuals, the Spirit would be poured out on all of God’s people — male and female, young and old, slave and free. All would be empowered to do the work of God. When Peter interpreted the disciples’ experience on Pentecost, he quoted this text from Joel (Acts 2:17-21). He said the gift of the Spirit was the fulfillment of this prophecy (Acts 2:16, 33). Peter went further to promise the Spirit to all who opened their lives to the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness Jesus proclaimed (Acts 2:38).