John Calvin, of the 16th century Reformation, was later known as the theologian of the Holy Spirit. The largest section of his Institution of the Christian Religion deals with the workings of the Holy Spirit. Basically, he saw the role of the Holy Spirit as one of magnifying the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, who in turn glorified the Father. From Acts 2 we see that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in order to indwell God’s people and to extend the gospel world-wide.
The words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 are very instructive. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Let us take a closer look at the work of the Holy Spirit in Genesis.
THE SPIRIT ACTS IN CREATION
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is first introduced in Genesis 1:1–2.
“In the beginning ELOHIM created the heavens and the earth” (see second article). Elohim is the name for God used in Hebrew text. It reveals that God is personal (he has a name), He is eternal (He created in the beginning), He is powerful (He created), and He is a plural being.
Even from the very first revelation of the name of God, the mystery of the Holy Spirit as a divine person, equal-yet distinct from the Father and Son-is foreshadowed.
Genesis 1:2 reveals how the Spirit will work. The Ruah Elohim hovers over the unformed materials. Note that He is transcendent. He stands above creation, and later, above the human creature. It is important to stress this because New Age philosophy teaches that God’s Spirit can not only be found within ourselves but communicated with, within ourselves. In fact, spiritists claim that they can communicate with the Spirit or angelic force within themselves as well as outside of themselves. Christians believe that the Spirit abides in them; however, Christians do not carry on a “you-me” conversation with the Spirit. Our relationship is “I-Thou.” He is the unique creator and we are His creatures. He is a holy God in whose presence angels and saints bow. We must be like Isaiah, who, when he saw the transcendent God, fell on his face and confessed his unholiness.
Also note that in His creative work, the Holy Spirit is orderly. He creates out of nothing as well as ordering created materials according to natural law. When we behold the splendor of God’s creation and the wonders of naturaL cultural and human law, we praise the Spirit of perfect order and harmony. Therefore, disorderliness is not to be associated with the positive workings of the Spirit. Rather, disorder occurs in times of judgment and destruction, which are related to the workings of the Spirit. In the Church, all teachings and conduct are to be done decently and in order (I Cor. 14:40).
And finally, note that the Holy Spirit is submissive. He does not create until the Word is spoken. Imagine the scene. Before us lies the chaos of creation. Then we hear the voice of God ringing through the universe, “Let there be…” and instantaneously, the Spirit of God springs forth and accomplishes it. We see that in creation, there is perfect harmony between the sovereign will of the Father, the Lordship of the Son and the perfecting work of the Spirit. When the Spirit came at Pentecost it was because Jesus had accomplished His redemptive work, ascended into heaven, and took His rightful place beside the Father.
If submission to God’s ordained authority is characteristic of spirituality, then our personal lives, homes, work places, governments, society and church will be greatly blessed by spiritual Christians.
Throughout the Old Testament, as well as the New, the Holy Spirit is active in creation, providence, culture, and at times in miraculous ways (Gen. 41:38; Ex. 31:2–5; Judg. 3:9, 10; I Sam. 19:20, 23; Psalm 139; Mic. 3:8).
JESUS PRESENTS THE HOLY SPIRIT
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit by His own name, a divine name: Parakletos. He is the other helper, counselor, or comforter. The name literally means: “one who is called alongside.” He is the advocate, interceder who dwells in us to lead us — as the context of John 14 indicates — into truth (John 14:15–18).
When the Parakletos works in us, it is to convict, teach, correct, lead and pray. These are signs of His presence and are discernible from Scripture.
Jesus indicates that the Holy Spirit is a divine personality. The personal pronoun is used with the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Spirit speaks, wills, has emotions, witnesses, searches and intercedes.
Christians relate personally to the Holy Spirit, but always keeping in mind the transcendent, holy, orderly and submissive character of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus indicates that divine works will be accomplished by Him. He regenerates dead human hearts (John 3:3, 5). Man cannot regenerate himself. God must do it and this work is attributed by Jesus to the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Spirit is included, equally, in the Great Commission of Jesus (Mt. 28:16–20). Believing that the Holy Spirit is God is not optional. but commissioned by the Lord.
Do you believe that the Father is eternal? Do you believe that God the Father is eternally Father? Then, for Him to be eternally Father, He must eternally have a Son. God cannot be eternally Father without eternally having a Son. There is no eternal Father without a Son. If you believe the Father and Son are eternal, then you must believe that the Holy Spirit is eternal. Why? Because the eternal Son says so in the Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18–19).
Jesus prepared the way for the Holy Spirit to come. Jesus took the place of the believer on the cross. In this great exchange, the Lord took on human nature in order to take it to its rightful end: the punishment on the cross for its sinfulness. Now the Father graciously grants new life, a new nature, a new lease on spiritual life.
Luke, in the book of Acts, tied in the work of Jesus to that of the Holy Spirit.
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles… (Acts 1:1).
Jesus tied His work to the work of the Holy Spirit when He said: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me…” (Acts 1:8).
In times of revival, the Spirit will illuminate the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE HOLY SPIRIT INDWELLS GOD’S PEOPLE
The indwelling of the Spirit was taught by Jesus. We learn this from His teaching to covenant people (Nicodemus: John 3) as well as covenant breakers (Samaritan woman: John 4). They were very different, yet they had one thing in common: they were both spiritually dead and in need of regeneration.
The mysterious relationship between regeneration and indwelling is resolved when the fruits of indwelling are evident. We see this at Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Spirit of God. We could spend a lot of time guessing whether one was regenerated and the other was not, but the indwelling gives us a clear indication.
Pentecost is a further development of the Holy Spirit’s work, fulfilling the initial workings of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus. Pentecost represents the perfect blend between the work of the Spirit in creation and the work of the Spirit in bringing forth the fruit of Christ’s redeeming work. On the one hand, the physical harvest and providence of God is celebrated (Ex. 23:16). On the other hand, it points to the coming of the spiritual harvest, the coming of the Holy Spirit (Num. 28:26; Acts 2:1).
The initial coming was to a particular few in order to reach many others. Even though the Spirit only came upon the Christian community, the whole covenant community and the onlookers saw the signs of the Spirit’s coming. The purpose for the Spirit coming upon a few was to reach the many. Twelve or a few more received the strange outpouring but 3,000 heard the gospel preached and were converted. Many more heard the gospel. but rejected it.
Why does God do it that way? It is to show that salvation comes from Him and not the manipulations of religious people. True Christianity was protected for over 1,000 years by small groups of monks, the Waldensians, the Hussites, a Wycliffe and a Tyndale. It only took one Luther to ignite the German religious revolution, one John Calvin for the French, one john Knox for Scotland, two Wesley brothers, one Whitefield and one Charles Spurgeon in England to preach to thousands of listeners, preaching which God used in a sovereign way to spread the gospel.
God’s appearance through the Holy Spirit was gracious and humbling. He came upon imperfect men: doubting Thomas, denying Peter and others. These men, were humbled before God. Having listened to the Word of the Lord, they were praying and waiting.
Church history shows us that the Holy Spirit is capable of breaking into new areas through the lowliest of ways. He infiltrated Rome through the jail system. Russia was greatly influenced by Christian slaves. Was it not the common people who flocked to join the Reformation? Did the Wesleys not preach to the miners, Whitefield to colonists, Edwards to the Indians, Carey to the Indians of lower caste, Ami Carmichael to abused girls and women, and countless others who were used by the Spirit to start at the bottom of society in order to conquer the society for preaching the gospel?
In Canada today there is much more Spirit wrought evangelism and revival among the immigrant ethnic groups and marginalized persons in our society. The cultural elite, the political powerful. and the wealthy do not fully perceive their need for the Savior and Lord.
God’s appearance was from a heavenly source. The sound came from heaven. It did not come from earth. The Spirit is not to be found in the wind, the rain or creation. He did not come from within. We cannot contain the Holy Spirit. He did not come from the temple. The Spirit came from heaven. The Spirit will always come from heaven. The Spirit, in the absence of Jesus, was the life-line of the believers between God in heaven and themselves on earth.
When the Spirit manifests Himself, He directs our thoughts to heaven. Any association of the Spirit’s work with animal sounds or human centered wisdom and knowledge is degrading. It is true that God is able to use animals to make human sounds, like Salaam’s donkey, and God can even use a Salaam to prophecy, but the Spirit does not degrade but upgrades in sanctification.
The Holy Spirit’s coming is identified in three ways: by the wind, flames of fire, and speaking in tongues.
• The wind (ruah in Hebrew). The sound of the wind refers to the Ruah Elohim of Genesis 1:2. Here the eternal. creating, plural. personal and holy name and presence of God is revealed.
• Tongues of fire. Calvin explains that the outward sign of tongues of fire was an indication of the inward work of the Spirit. As fire purifies gold, so the Spirit purifies God’s people.
The tongue of fire is also a means of illumination.
Certainly the Holy Spirit reveals, teaches and illuminates.
The tongue is a means of communication. The Spirit communicated. “All Scripture is God breathed…” (II Tim. 3:16), inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Speaking in tongues. The disciples spoke in unlearned, God-given languages of other peoples in order to speak about the wonderful deeds of God to the international visitors. The visitors were able to tell the apostles what they were saying. There was interpretation and discernment as to what was taking place.
In times of revival, the sovereign God may accompany the communication of the gospel with signs which, without a doubt, come from God and cannot be manipulated by man.
The message of the tongues was similar to the message of the preaching of Peter. There was no conflict between the message of the tongues and the message of the preached sermon.
The preaching of the gospel is the means which the Spirit uses to bring salvation to the thousands of listeners. “Faith comes by hearing,” (Romans 10:17). The baptism of tongues influenced a small handful; the preaching of the gospel in the language of the people brought thousands to conversion.
Peter’s preached message included personal application of the implications of the cross and resurrection: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (vs. 36).
• They were cut to the heart. It is the Spirit of God who does this cutting. Hebrews 4:12 says:
…the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight. but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
• They questioned their own spiritual condition. “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They took personal responsibility for what had happened to Jesus. Isaac Watts captures this idea when he writes in his hymn:
“Was it for crimes that I have done, He groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.”
Modern evangelism often does not allow for that question. It is a quick, “repeat the sinner’s prayer after me” for a salvation formula. This is formalistic rather than authentic and Spirit-led. More seriously, it does not allow the Spirit to convict us of what our ignoring of Christ and breaking of God’s law has done.
• They received the promise of the gospel and the Holy Spirit. They were given the good news of repentance and belief. They were promised the Holy Spirit. This promise was given to them, their children, and as many as the Lord would call.
In times of revival the Holy Spirit will convict the sinner of his own guilt in the death of Christ. The Holy Spirit will also convict the sinner of the truth that the promise of pardon for sins and power for service are believable.
Modern day movements “promising the Holy Spirit” do so in terms of the miraculous or the ridiculous. Like other religious traditions, there is a search to associate one’s religion with the miraculous. The miracle, rather than the message, becomes the qualifier for whether one’s religious experience is true. Where is the Spirit anointed presentation of the gospel? That is what the Spirit blesses. Acts 2 demonstrates this.
• The word was gladly received (vs. 41). Over 3,000 were reported to have believed. The Spirit had started a revolution which would never be stopped.
THE HOLY SPIRIT USES THE GOSPEL TO REACH THE WORLD
The Holy Spirit uses the tongue, verbal communication, for bringing the message of salvation to others. Pentecost is a perfect example. Communication from God (command, Scripture) leads to communication with God (prayer).
The communication leads to “the communion of the saints,” which is the church. Our task is: “To know Him and to make Him known.” In times of revival there will be a world-wide communication of the gospel.
Do you know this Holy Spirit? Have you received the Holy Spirit who worked with God’s people throughout the Old and New Testaments? Is He part of the Tri-unity of God? Is He personal? Is He powerful? Is He orderly? Is He holy?
Has the Spirit of God loosened your tongue to confess Jesus, witness to the marvelous works of God and proclaim the gospel? Has He called you to be a faithful member and/or leader in the church?
Are you under the preaching of God’s Word? Does the Spirit break and mend your heart? Does He bind you together in His Body?
Acts 2 cannot be repeated as an historical event, just like Moses will not be receiving the Law on Mount Zion again, nor will Jesus be crucified again. Pentecost is a one-time event. Yet, the Spirit of Pentecost continues to work in the Body of Christ. We can learn from Acts 2 about His workings and pray that we may be filled by the Spirit of Christ.
Was Acts 2 a revival? It certainly was a revival for the Jewish believers and the international visitors. God was preparing the early church to witness and receive persecution.
Dr. Neal Hegeman is Associate Pastor of the Cornerstone United Reformed Church in London, Ontario, Canada. He also serves as Executive Director of Ligonier Ministries of Canada.