The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

I am often asked what is the Job Description of the Holy Spirit. What does He do and what is His purpose? Some segments of the church have a well-developed understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but much of even the evangelical church today has so ignored or underemphasized the ministry of the Holy Spirit, that many if not most of their members are at a loss to define or understand Him. And yet His ministry is vital to developing Christian maturity.

The Holy Spirit as a distinct being is discussed throughout both the Old and New Testaments where He is often referred to as the Spirit of the Lord or the Spirit of God. If the translators have capitalized the word “Spirit,” they mean us to know that this is a personal being, known to Christians as the third person of the Trinity; i.e., the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has many ministries as seen in the Bible. He is also seen as the life force that sustains life in all living things. (Sounds like Obi Won Kenobi describing the Force ?.) If God the Father is our Creator and God the Son is our Lord and Redeemer, the Holy Spirit is our life force. The Holy Spirit sustains both physical and spiritual life as seen by the Scriptures. He is, therefore, both God’s spirit (the life force or the breath of life) and God’s Spirit (the third person of the Trinity).

Our Physical Life Force
Ecclesiastes 12:6 describes what happens physically when a man dies.

Eccl 12:6-8 For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. 6 Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; 7 then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. NASB

The “golden bowl,” a metaphor for the human body, breaks down or dies. Semitic writing uses repetition for emphasis as is seen in the equivalency of “the golden bowl,” “the pitcher” and “the wheel.” They all mean the same thing. They mean that man’s physical mechanism stops, fails, or dies.

The silver cord is the connector between the physical body and the life force (the spirit) in each man. As such, it is a metaphor for the soul. The life force of the soul and body is sometimes lauded as “the human spirit,” but it is the spirit or “breath” of God. That spirit of God (lower case “s”); i.e., the life force, at death returns to God who gave it. The physical man is now dead.

But when did God “give it,” i.e., embody us with His life-giving spirit? Well it depends on who you are. For Adam and Eve, it occurred at their creation when God breathed the breath of life into them and they became living souls.

Gen 2:7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being or soul (nephesh in Hebrew). NASB

The Hebrew word for the breath of God is neshamah and is translated divine inspiration, vital breath or life force. Let’s tackle what is meant by divine inspiration. If the second person of the Holy Trinity is often personified as “Wisdom,” the third person is often personified as “Insight” or “the mechanism of revelation.” In His role as “Insight,” the Holy Spirit gives all creation meaning. He makes sense out of it. He reveals it to us. He is the agent of “revelation.”

Physically the Holy Spirit manifests itself as energy and life (la Chayim). His is the ministry that makes us alive. The Holy Spirit is the agent of all life, the life force. He is God within all of us implanted in measure at conception and enduring in us until death.

So, if we are not Adam or Eve, when did God breathe the breath of life into us? Actually, I already gave it away. The answer is that it happened at conception. In my blog on God Created You Personally, I gave a more thorough explanation of this process, but suffice it to say that the process of conception involves the mother who provides the ovum, the father who provides the sperm (in great number) and God who determines which swimmer wins. The coming together of sperm and egg at the divine impulse of God is the moment the life of God is breathed into each person. Death is the moment when the life of God leaves each physical body.

The story of the conception of Jesus in the body of Mary gives us a good look at it. The conception was accomplished when the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her. That same divine impulse was at work. The Holy Spirit entered the ovum of Mary, but instead of implanting the seed of Joseph, He implanted the Word (or seed) of God. The conception of Jesus worked like yours and mine did making Him fully human except that His Father was the Living God.

Luke 1:28-35 And coming in, he said to her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end. ” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. NASB

Jesus the man died in exactly the same way as we do. He died when the spirit (life force) of God left His body. Had it not been so, had His body not really died, His death would have been a fraud and we would still be in our sins.

Luke 23:44-46 And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 the sun being obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last. NASB

If you had looked into His tomb Friday night or any time on Saturday, you would have found His dead body. His soul and spirit were alive in Sheol overthrowing the power of Satan and setting his prisoners free, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and a million others. (For more on this, see the blog Three Days That Changed It All.) It was not until early Sunday morning on His way to Heaven with a host of captives that He re-entered His body (resurrected), the first true resurrection of a man, but not the last (1Cor 15:20-23).

Then He rolled away the stone from the mouth of the tomb and left death in the dust. It was then that He encountered Mary of Magdala and told her not to touch Him yet because He had not yet presented the completed unblemished sacrifice to the Father (Jn 20:17). It was then that He led this host of captives (Lk 4:18, Eph 4:8) and challenged the long-locked gates of glory to open in His name (Ps 24:7-10).

After He presented Himself, the risen Christ (Messiah) to the Father, Jesus returned to us, walked through closed doors and offered us “hugs all around.” And Jesus did all of this by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that inhabits the believer even today.

Jesus told His disciples (including you and me) that everything He did we would do and more because He was going to send us the Holy Spirit.

John 14:12-17 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. 13 “And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. 15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. 16 “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. NASB

Jesus lived and operated in great authority and power, both of which He bequeathed to us through the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus taught His disciples and did many things, so many things that John tells us there are probably not books enough to contain them (Jn 21:25).

Many of these things are not written down, but one thing Jesus taught was so significant that it is written down and emphasized. He told them to go to Jerusalem and wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them so that they might receive the power to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. The Greek word for power is “dunamis” from which we get the words dynamite and dynamic. The word means both strength and authority.

Acts 1:6-9 And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” NASB

The Book of Acts tells us that one of the disciples apparently did not go and wait in Jerusalem as instructed. His name was Apollos. He was a good man and an uncommonly good teacher, but he did not know about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He had returned home before the feast of Pentecost and began to lead people to Christ, but he only understood the baptism of John.

Acts 18 tells us that he led 12 Jewish men to Christ in Ephesus. It was only after this that he ran into Prisca and Aquilla who told him about Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. After this he taught the full gospel including the role and purpose of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19 then tells us that Paul came to Ephesus where he ran into those Christians led to Christ by Apollos, but he noticed they were lacking in their understanding of the Christian life. They were missing dunamis, the power of the Holy Spirit. So, he asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered in a way many Christian people today would have answered, “We did not know there was a Holy Spirit!”

There is a significant difference in our lives as Christians when we try to live it in the absence of the Holy Spirit. It just lacks strength and authority. (And to be clear, this is not about speaking in tongues. Many dynamic, spirit-filled Christians do not speak in tongues, but more on that later.)

Acts 18:24-19:7 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he helped greatly those who had believed through grace; 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. 19:1 And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples, 2 and he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 And there were in all about twelve men. NASB

If we feel we lack strength and/or authority to live like Jesus and act in His name, it is always because we have not obeyed His commandment to go and wait upon the Holy Spirit. Too often we try to live the Christian life with our brains by too much focus on knowing right doctrine or with our flesh by trying to be good. Both of those lack the strength and authority of Jesus. Both of those can only be done well by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 18:8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” NASB

The call from Jesus to be His witnesses here, there and everywhere is not a call to say something. It is a call to be something. We are called to be His witnesses, to live a life of strength and authority in the Holy Spirit.

St. Francis is credited with saying that we should witness at all times and, if necessary, use words. Jesus’ call upon our lives is to be like Him and to live like Him and this we can only do by the power of the Holy Spirit as He tells us in Acts 1:8 above. This brings us to the second ministry of the Holy Spirit; i.e., to be our spiritual life force.

Our Spiritual Life Force

In addition to giving us our physical life force in this world, the Holy Spirit is the agent that gives us eternal life, spiritual life. That is a second separate ministry of the Holy Spirit, what Wesley called “the second blessing.” Adam and Eve were created already filled with the Holy Spirit. When Adam and Eve sinned, the Holy Spirit left them and they immediately died spiritually. It took much longer for them to physically die because God did not at the time remove His life force.

After the Fall, man became spiritually corrupted and sinful, having less and less spiritual understanding with each successive generation. It was not until Jesus came and gave us the power to become “born again” that the Holy Spirit once more came into human beings and remained with them day by day.

Between the Fall of Adam and Eve and the coming of Jesus, the Holy Spirit visited men and women from time to time, came and went, to empower them for certain tasks and ministries. He was “on them” or “in them” at times, but not all the time. No one in the Old Testament had the Holy Spirit on them or in them all the time. How do we know that? The Old Testament often refers to the Spirit of God as “coming upon” a certain person for a certain purpose. One has to be “born again” of the Spirit to have the Holy Spirit all the time.

No one in the Old Testament was born again. Then there is the testimony of John the Baptist. John wanted to be able to recognize the Messiah. God told John that the person on whom the Holy Spirit remained was the Messiah. The word “remain” in Greek is “meno” and means abide or continually dwell in.

John 1:29-34 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 “And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 And John bore witness saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 “And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 “And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” NASB

John clearly did not recognize Jesus naturally. Even though they were cousins and their mothers were great friends at the time of their pregnancies, it does not appear that John and Jesus ever saw each other growing up. John was raised as an Essene in the Qumran desert and Jesus was raised early on in Bethlehem and Egypt and then in Nazareth. Verse 31 above clearly says, “I did not recognize Him.” It was only when John saw that the Holy Spirit permanently remained on Jesus that he knew Jesus was the Messiah.

Jesus makes the point that while no one in the Old Testament was greater than John, the least person in in the kingdom of Heaven (the least of those who are born again) are greater than John. The difference is that the born-again man is baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Matt 11:11-12 “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. NASB

King David was a man who seemed to have the Holy Spirit a lot in his life. He wrote many Psalms under the influence of the Holy Spirit. His walk with God was at times particularly anointed and insightful, but not always. David realized that his sin kept the Holy Spirit from him and prayed that God would not let it happen permanently.

Ps 51:10-13 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will be converted to Thee. NASB

David knew that he was able to enjoy the presence of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. David knew that the frequent presence of the Holy Spirit caused him to walk properly before God and gave him joy. David knew that the presence of the Holy Spirit enabled him to lead others to God and away from sin.

Jesus is our best source of information about the Holy Spirit. Jesus is “the baptizer in the Holy Spirit.” It is our relationship with Jesus that allows us to be born again, renewed in the Spirit and/or to have eternal life. The Bible tells us that while John baptized people with water, it was Jesus who baptizes people with the Holy Spirit.

Matt 3:11 “As for me (John the Baptist), I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (fire speaks of purging). NASB

Jesus spoke often about the Holy Spirit, but He got very focused on the discussion just before his crucifixion and resurrection. He began to tell the disciples that He was going away to a place where they would not be able to find Him. They, of course, were dismayed that they were about to lose His presence in their midst. Jesus assured them that it was necessary for Him to go away so He could send “another helper like Me;” i.e., the Holy Spirit. The coming Holy Spirit would have two very important tasks from God. He would convict them of sin and He would teach them about Jesus.

John 16:5-16 “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. 15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore, I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you. 16 “A little while, and you will no longer behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” NASB

The Purpose of the Holy Spirit

It is the Holy Spirit’s main purpose to lead us into sanctification (hence the purging fire referenced above), to help us become like Jesus in this lifetime. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. Our first encounter with Him is one of which we are unaware. It is in the working of our conscience. Even the heathen is convicted of his sins by the Holy Spirit. But after we are filled with the Spirit or baptized in the Holy Spirit after we are born again, the Holy Spirit will reveal our sins to us fully if we will ask Him.
Even David understood this somewhat as we can see in Psalm 51. Having come under conviction for his sin with Bathsheba, David realizes that he has not been listening to the Holy Spirit as he had in the past. So, he begs God to “not take the Holy Spirit from me.” He asks for God to send the Holy Spirit to keep him under conviction so he can serve God better.

John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. NASB

The second purpose of the Holy Spirit is to teach us the truth, to teach us how to become like Jesus. This, too, is centered in the process of sanctification. If we wish to become like Jesus, we need to ask the Holy Spirit and He will help us. He is the “another Helper” Jesus promised us. It is to our advantage to have Him working in our lives. He will enable us to become righteous, that is, rightly related to God and to our neighbor.

We do not want to resist the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That can be lethal. The only unpardonable sin is to be unwilling or unable (because we love our sin) to repent from our sins. As long as we can repent, we can be forgiven. Repentance is the ministry and grace of the Holy Spirit and He gives it to those who seek it. Resisting the Holy Spirit prevents us from finding repentance and, therefore, from receiving forgiveness. Resisting or rejecting the ministry of the Holy Spirit is called blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Matt 12:31-32 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come. NASB

As with all interaction with God, our hearts must turn to God voluntarily. God does all the work of salvation in us once we invite Him to do it. We cannot save ourselves, nor can we sanctify ourselves, as Paul told the Galatians.

Gal 3:1-4 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? NASB

The Holy Spirit is a gentleman in His approach to us. He will not force Himself on us. Like the Father, He woos us to hear and obey Him. Like the messianic Son of God, He is not loud or raucous. He is gentle, unaggressive and non-controlling. He will not put out a smoldering flax or break a bruised reed.

Isa 42:2-3 “He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. 3 “A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish…NASB

One of my mentors used to say that the Holy Spirit is like water. He comes down from above, takes the path of least resistance and freezes when He meets a cold reception. These are good images for us in understanding how He works. Sanctification must be a voluntary process or it will not happen to us at all. We need to invite the Holy Spirit to change us to become pleasing to God, to become like Jesus in this lifetime.

The deeds of the flesh are natural to us and evident, Paul tells the Galatians. But the fruit of the Spirit is supernatural and only comes into our lives through our relationship with God’s Holy Spirit. If we want to abandon the deeds of the flesh and live in the fruits of the Sprit (and become like Jesus), we must ask the Holy Spirit to change us.

Gal 5:19-26 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. NASB

Nancy and I met the Lord in a spirit-filled community of believers. We were taught and expected, as were all believers, to walk in the Spirit, in other words, to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our day by day lives. We were taught and expected to do away with the deeds of the flesh. If we were acting in the ways of the flesh such as enmity, strife, jealously, envy, anger, etc., someone would gently and lovingly suggest to us that we were “out of the Spirit.” It was an immediate reminder to re-orient our thinking and our ways to become more Christ-like, at once.

By becoming Christians in that community, we had already agreed to live in the Spirit. They were just holding us accountable to our commitment as we would have held them accountable. It was understood that if I was not operating in the fruit of the Spirit as partially listed above, I was wrong, at least in my manner.

The Holy Spirit has been working in all of our lives from the very beginning even before we knew God in a personal relationship. The Bible says that God loved us before we knew Him and while we were yet His enemies. The Holy Spirit is the dispenser of God’s grace. By giving us a conscience, He dispenses convicting grace. By guiding us before we knew God, He dispenses prevenient grace. By leading us to repentance, He dispenses regenerating grace. By causing us to continue in our repentance after being born again, He dispenses sanctifying grace. The Holy Spirit is our Guide and our Regenerator. That is His role. This is the main ministry of the Holy Spirit. Pray to Him to do His work in your life. That is His desire and His goal for you.

In closing, we need to understand that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives is vital if we want to grow spiritually in obedience to God’s call on our lives. The main ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and to teach us to become like Jesus. That is a process the bible calls Sanctification. It is a process that is meant to follow hard on the heels of salvation. Bob Mumford used to tell us that if it was all about dying and going to Heaven, we should shoot people right after Baptism?.

But the call on our life is to become entirely sanctified in this lifetime and only the Holy Spirit can cause us to get there. In the same way that we cannot save ourselves by good works, we cannot sanctify ourselves by good works either (as Paul told the Galatians). Both salvation and sanctification require the full-throated ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is time for us all to embrace the Holy Spirit and His ministry as fully as we have embraced the creative ministry of the Father and the Lordship of Jesus, Our Redeemer.

1 Thess 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. NASB