Sunday, October 3, 2010

What's in a preposition? The work of the Holy Spirit

Note: This post grew out of a discussion that we had in my home fellowship group.

Our pastor recently preached on three distinct workings of the Holy Spirit. To distinguish among these three workings, he spoke of three different prepositions that are used to describe the Spirit's interaction with people. Those prepositions are "With," "in," and "upon."  That is, the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit being with a person, in a person and upon a person.

What's the point?

Well, the point is that these three prepositions are convenient ways of describing three different activities of the Holy Spirit in a person's life. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the various roles of the Spirit in a person's life.  Whole books have been written on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.  A good one I would recommend is The Person & Work of the Holy Spirit, by R. A. Torrey.)

"OK, but does a preposition make that much difference?"  Yes, it does, actually.  Consider the use of those three prepositions with respect to water.  I can have water "with" me, "in" me or "upon" me--with three very different results or workings.  If I have water with me, I can cook or wash with it, but it's not quenching my thirst.  If I have water in me, it quenches my thirst, but it's not going to get me clean.  If I have water upon me, I will get clean but I couldn't use it for cooking.  Prepositions are powerful little words!

Prepositions and the Holy Spirit

In John 14:15–17 Jesus said:

"If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
Here we see two of the three prepositions: with and in.  Jesus clearly distinguishes two different states of the Holy Spirit with respect to a person.  At the time He spoke these words, the Holy Spirit was with the disciples, but Jesus promised that one day He (the Spirit) would be in them.  While the Spirit was with the disciples, He guided them and convicted them of wrongdoing.  When the Spirit would come in them, He would give them new life.  They would experience the new birth.

The Indwelling Spirit
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."—John 20:21–22
After His resurrection but before His ascension into heaven, Jesus gives His disciples a commission.  He tells them that just as He was sent into the world by the Father to proclaim the Good News, they were to do the same.  He then gives them the Holy Spirit.  But this is not all that they would experience with regard to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Although they received the Spirit, more was to come.  They could not fulfill their mission until something else happened.  In Luke 24:45–49, Jesus tells them that they will preach the good news, but they are not to start right away.  He tells them to wait until they have been clothed with power from on high (v. 49).

Why do they need to wait when they have received the indwelling Spirit?  What more could they get?  Jesus said they would need need power to do their ministry—power that they didn't have, even though they knew the gospel and the Spirit now lived in them.

The Empowering of the Spirit

Once again, Jesus tells the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the "gift" the Father will give them.  They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days (Acts 1:4–5).  In verse 8 of chapter 1, Jesus tells them, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  Here we have the third preposition, on, to describe the empowering work of the Spirit.  On the day of Pentecost it says that "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them" (Acts 2:4).

We can see that there are a few terms that seem to be interchangeable in Scripture:  "being baptized with the Holy Spirit", having the Holy Spirit "come on (or upon)" you, and being "filled with the Holy Spirit."  These terms are used to describe the same phenomenon:  the ministry of the Holy Spirit to empower someone to be a witness for Christ.

Being filled with the Spirit is a repeatable experience.  (See e.g. Acts 4:8, 31; 13:52.) It's not like regeneration (being born again) which happens only once.  In fact, believers are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  Without the infilling of the Spirit, we will be ineffective in being witnesses for Christ.  With the infilling of the Spirit, we will be bold and effective in our proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.

©2007-2009 Brian Andrews

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