The Spiritual Gifts: Understanding the Spirit (Part 4)

The work of the Holy Spirit covers a broad array of activities within the pages of Scripture. Both within the Charismatic movement and without, Christians have tended to reduce the Spirit’s role to a small handful of works. It’s important, then, that as we move towards a focused study of the Spiritual Gifts that we begin by surveying the other activity of the Spirit. When we understand the Spirit’s role through these other works we can perhaps be more attuned to His purposes and activity within the charismata.

In the last post in this series we established six activities which belong to the Spirit: (1) Creating the World; (2) Creating a People; (3) Enabling the Messiah; (4) Recreating a People; (5) Writing a Book; and (6) Empowering a church. We surveyed the first three already and so now I want to turn attention the final three and consider what they communicate about the Spirit’s person, work, and purpose. We established earlier that the Spirit’s role is to manifest the presence of God in the world. It is this big picture purpose which drives these six activities of the Spirit. So, we will seek to connect that purpose with these final three activities.

Recreating a people –> The work of the Spirit is, to quote Ferguson, “moral and redemptive” (The Holy Spirit, 23). The Spirit has been called the “executive of salvation.” While the Father plans salvation, and the Son accomplishes it, the Spirit is the one who puts it into effect in the lives of people. We see this already indicated in the Old Testament. God’s people have rebelled against Him and, as a result, been sent off into slavery. Yet, God holds out hope of redemption, pointing to a distinct outpouring of the Spirit. He will recreate a people for Himself through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 37:11-14). Isaiah communicates the same hope (Isa. 43:28-44:1), as does the prophet Joel (2:28-32). In the New Testament this takes on the language of new birth, being born “of the Spirit” (John 3:1-8). It is the Spirit who gives life and “frees us from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Theologians speak of this in terms of the “regenerating” work of the Spirit. God’s Spirit makes us spiritually alive to salvation. This spiritual awakening is part of God’s plan to return and dwell among His people. The Spirit’s recreative work is part of God’s design to be present with His people.

Writing a Book –> God has always had a way with words, and as His presence among His people continues to unfold it comes to them through His divinely written Scripture. Even in the Old Testament this was clear. The Prophets would speak of the Spirit being “upon” them as the spoke (Isa. 59:21; 2 Sam. 23:2). Peter clarifies that the authors of Scripture were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). The language of “God-breathed” refers to the Spirit’s activity, for in the Old Testament He is often referred to as the “breath of God.” Scripture, then, is theopneustic, “coming on the divine breath as it were (Matt. 4:4), and is given through men borne by His Spirit” (Ferguson, 27). The Spirit’s work in writing a book uniquely manifests God’s presence because without the Spirit we cannot even understand this divinely written word (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 1:17-18; Heb. 6:4).

Empowering the Church –> From His first outpouring at Pentecost throughout the rest of the New Testament the Spirit manifests God’s presence among the church in power. The Spirit empowers the church to witness and testify to the salvation achieved by Jesus, to proclaim the gospel (Luke 24:48-49). Once they are “clothed in power” by the “promise of [the] Father” they will be “witnesses” of this gospel. We will address the precise nature of the language “filled with the Holy Spirit” in a future post, but suffice it to say that where that language is present in Acts we find believers who are empowered for ministry. In Acts 6, believers are “full of the Spirit” and are appointed deacons. In Acts 13 Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and rebukes Elymas. The very gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 are designed for the ministry of the body one to another. The Spirit manifests the presence of God in power among the church.

It’s important to keep each of these aspects in mind as we turn our attention more specifically to the so-called Spiritual gifts, and especially the Charismatic gifts. The Spirit does more than this, and He should not be reduced in impact and role. Yet, if in each activity His goal is largely the same, to manifest the presence of God among His people, then we ought to strive to keep that reference point in mind as we consider the nature, purpose, and continuance of the Spiritual Gifts. That purpose can provide a framework, then, for answering some of the most pressing questions about the gifts.

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