New Life in the Spirit


Andrew M. Fountain

“God became the bearer of a body so that men might be bearers of the Spirit.”[1]

1. Introduction

As we study the work of the Spirit in the New Testament, several questions come to mind:

  1. What is new about the work of the Spirit? Old Covenant believers were regenerated by the Spirit and could be filled with the Spirit.[2] Yet Jesus made it clear that there is something radically new about the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.[3]
  2. In both the Old and New Testaments, unbelievers as well as believers can receive a supernatural gift of the Spirit.[4] How can this be possible in the light of Paul’s teachings in Romans 8?
  3. An oft-repeated teaching of the New Testament is that the Spirit is a gift to those who believe and obey. How does this square with Reformed belief that we are born again by the Spirit prior to our exercising faith?[5]
  4. If, as the New Testament clearly teaches, all believers have the Spirit, how is it that we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit?[6]
  5. What is our practical experience of the Spirit as we struggle to overcome sin in our lives and to serve God in a way that pleases him?

These are large issues, in many cases with a long history of debate. There is not space here to adequately treat the variety of views on these issues, but rather this paper will focus on the formulations contained in the New Testament describing the activity of the Spirit and attempt to draw some conclusions. With a topic so pervasive as this, it is tempting to cut down on the amount of work involved by picking a particular emphasis or aspect of the Spirit’s work and selecting a passage from the Scriptures that supports it. The weakness of that approach is that it risks distorting the broad emphasis of the Scriptures. We must let the Bible speak for itself and allow it to define not only the content of our doctrine but also the emphasis. For this reason we will begin with a survey of what the whole of the New Testament has to say about the Spirit.

2. References to the Work of the Spirit in the New Testament[7]

The word pneuma (Spirit) occurs 381 times in the N.T. In approximately 120 cases the reference is to an evil spirit or to the human spirit. (In some cases it is difficult to tell if the reference is to the human spirit or to the Holy Spirit.[8]) The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach which also means breath and occurs frequently with that meaning in the O.T. However there are many places where the context indicates that the Holy Spirit is in view. References to the Spirit in the O.T. will be considered where appropriate throughout the paper.

Initial coming of the Spirit

There are four references to the Spirit coming on Christ, and twenty-seven that refer to the initial outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost or related subsequent outpourings on the Samaritans, Saul, the Gentiles and the Ephesian twelve.

The verb most commonly associated with the Spirit in this context is baptize. Other verbs used include receive and fall upon.[9]

In many cases there is an explicit sequence of events. In every case the individual is already a believer, and in all cases but one[10] they have been baptized. The discussion of sequence will be taken up later in this paper.

The work of the Spirit related to evangelism or defence of the faith

There are twelve references. Often the Spirit is related to boldness, such as in Acts 4:8, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel…’”

A number of different verbs are used, the most common being to fill. The disciples, Peter, Paul and the gathered believers are all described as being filled with the Spirit as they spoke.[11]

Revelation or reception of the truth of God

There are twelve references. Most commonly these refer to the communication of truth to the Apostles, or bringing to remembrance (John 14:25-26) but there is also the important idea of the need for the Spirit in the reception of truth, taught in 1 Corinthians 2.

Specific Gifts of the Spirit (mostly supernatural)

This is the largest category, with over sixty references.

The gift most commonly mentioned is that of prophecy. There are a number of examples in Acts and Revelation together with instructions for its usage and testing in the Epistles.

In several cases pneuma is associated with a list of gifts. Sometimes there is a general reference to signs and wonders. There are a significant number of references to speaking in tongues, but many of them are found in 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul is critical of their misuse.

Leading of the Spirit

There are seventeen occasions where the Spirit is described as leading, permitting, forbidding, saying, telling, or some such verb. In almost all cases, the directions have reference to the spreading of the gospel, for example in Acts, Peter is told to go to the house of Cornelius (10:19; 11:2) and Paul is forbidden to preach in Asia (16:6,7).

Non-specific supernatural power

There are ten references. In virtually every case the supernatural power (dunamis) is the testimony of the Spirit as a witness to the truth of the gospel. Jesus promised this Witness to his disciples,[12] and both Peter and Paul make reference to this general power in their ministries.[13]

Regeneration

In twenty places, the work of the Spirit is associated with the new birth, with circumcising the heart, or with giving life. Since this category is so important to our understanding of the work of the Spirit in the life of the Christian, it will be discussed again later.

It may be surprising to learn that out of over 260 references to the Spirit, not a single one is in connection with the new creation or the new man. However, there is an association of ideas which will be developed shortly.

Indwelling

Seven passages in the N.T. refer to this concept, with twelve actual statements of the Spirit indwelling the believer. One of the most important passages is John 14:15-24 where Jesus describes the coming “helper” and goes on to include the indwelling of the Father and Son. There are also two references in 1 John.

The second important passage is the discussion in Romans 8:1-11 which is vital to our subject since it links indwelling to our ethical response.

New fruit-bearing life in the Spirit

This is the second largest category with approximately fifty-eight references. It is here that in a number of places we cannot easily distinguish between a reference to the human spirit and the divine Spirit.[14] All of the references except for two in Acts and one in Jude occur in the Pauline corpus.

Positively, words that describe the blessings of the Spirit include, comfort, joy, love, help, peace, liberty, communion, fellowship, strengthening, and particularly unity. In addition there is the list of fruits in Galatians 5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” The Spirit also assists us with our prayer life.[15]

Negatively, the Spirit is described as locked in a conflict with the flesh (Rom 8:1-17; Gal 5:16–6:1) and providing the power to defeat indwelling sin where the law has failed to do so.

Eschatological hope for the future

There are five references, all in Paul, which speak of the Spirit in terms of sealing, guarantee, promise, firstfruits, and eagerly waiting for the consummation of our redemption.

General Filling

In six places, believers are described as being filled with the Holy Spirit without any manifestation being associated. The seven men chosen in Acts 6 are described as “full of the Holy Spirit”, particularly Stephen who is described twice as such. Barnabas was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24) and the Ephesian believers were exhorted to “be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). Peter tells us that when we are persecuted, “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:14).

Twice there are general references to the gift of the Spirit, and once the expression “the supply of the Spirit”.[16]

3. The Spirit’s Work of Grace in the Believer

A. The Old Covenant Believer

I have argued elsewhere that in the O.T. regeneration, or the “new birth” is pictured as circumcision of the heart:

[Old Testament believers] did not have to guess what circumcision symbolized because God told them many times. For example, in Ezekiel 36:26, God says to them “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” He goes on to explain in v. 27: “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”

So Ezekiel equates this circumcised heart to having the Spirit within us. God will put his Spirit within us. This idea of an obedient, regenerated heart is even clearer when we look at Romans 2:25. Paul explains: “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.[17]

This connection between becoming an obedient believer and the work of the Spirit is clarified further in the next few verses:

Paul goes on in v. 27: “And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?” And here is the climax in vv. 28-29: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”[18]

All of the elements of regeneration are found in O.T. saints. As Sinclair Ferguson points out, “The classical pattern of the work of the Spirit in evoking repentance is found in Psalm 51…”.[19] Salvation has never been by law, but always by grace through faith. This faith has always been a gift of God (Eph 2:8) and accompanied by repentance.

Is there any value in preaching to an unregenerate person? There is a close connection between the Spirit of God and the word of God. The first reference to the Spirit (ruach) in the O.T. is in Genesis 1:2, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” As the divine word was spoken, the Spirit caused it to be effective. Likewise with the new creation: the word of God is heard or read or remembered by an unbeliever, and as it enters the mind, at the moment of regeneration, the Spirit gives it power to change the heart and evoke a response.[20]

Since faith involves knowledge, it ordinarily emerges in relationship to the teaching of the gospel found in Scripture. Regeneration and the faith to which it gives birth are seen as taking place not by revelationless divine sovereignty, but within the matrix of the preaching of the word and the witness of the people of God. (cf. Rom 10:1‑15). Their instrumentality in regeneration does not impinge upon the sovereign activity of the Spirit. Word and Spirit belong together.[21]

This idea is powerfully summarized in Christ’s words: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

B. The New Covenant Believer

Does this mean that there is nothing distinctly new about the work of the Spirit in regeneration in the N.T.? In some ways there is nothing new. What then about the prophecies?

“Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh” Ezek 11:19.

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” Zech 12:10.

God had saved many people and given them new hearts back in those days. What is new is as follows:

The massive scale of the outpouring of salvation—there would no longer be a small remnant saved. The Gentiles would be included.

There would be a new (spiritual) nation of Israel in which every single person would be regenerate, (just as all of the old Israel were circumcised).

Every believer would be indwelt by the Spirit (Ezek 36:27) such that they could be led by him, and make independent judgments about truth, and not be reliant on a priesthood to interpret the Scriptures (Jer 31:33-34).

Whereas in the O.T. a few leaders would be given gifts of the Spirit,[22] every single member of the new people of God would possess a gift for the building up of the body.[23]

All this would be regulated by a new covenant.[24]

So in summary, the nature of the work of the Spirit in regeneration has not changed in the New Covenant, what has changed is the quantitative scale of the work, and the nature of the covenant which we are regenerated into.

4. New Life in the Spirit[25]

As mentioned above, there is no direct connection in the N.T. between the new creation and the Spirit. However, there is a close connection between Christ’s resurrection and our new life, and Christ is said to be raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit. In Ephesians 1:19-20 Paul says: “and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” Since power almost always has reference to the Spirit in the N.T., Paul is saying that the same power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is available in our lives and has “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6).

The same connection is made in Colossians 2:12-13:

“buried with him in baptism, in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”

Paul makes the application a few verses later, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).

A. Creator and created

It is vital to distinguish between the Creator and the created. We are indwelt by the Spirit but we do not become the Spirit. He is renewing us into the image of Christ, but we do not become divine.

Failure to appreciate this distinction leads to two opposite errors. In some Keswick[26] and Charismatic[27]/Holiness[28] traditions, there is an effective denial of any possibility of change in us. There is never anything good in us in ourselves. We cry “more of Christ and less of me” by which we mean that the only good thing about a Christian is Christ who indwells by the Spirit. The “self” cannot improve in any way. Increase in godliness consists therefore in “letting go and letting God.” The concept of spiritual transformation and renewal in the Christian life is absent.

In many cases this teaching is a reaction against a self-sufficient Christianity that denies the need for a moment by moment dependence on the power of God. It would be wrong to suggest that even the most mature and Christ-like Christian could survive for a moment without the power of the Spirit. Although we are being transformed, we are not being transformed into independence, but into increasing dependence.

The opposite error occurs in many traditions including some recent strands of Reformed teaching.[29] The emphasis is entirely on transformation. The Spirit is hidden in the background, providing a source of power to enable us to transform ourselves. He is relegated to being a force, not a person with whom we can have fellowship, who comforts, encourages and leads us.

B. The New Creation

These two aspects of the Spirit’s work, as indweller and as new creator, are usually distinct in the N.T. Romans 6–8 is particularly valuable because it is one of the few places where they are explicitly related together.

To summarize Paul’s argument in these chapters, union with Christ in his death and resurrection is the definitive basis for our new life. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Our participation in Christ’s death has severed the power of sin in our lives. Our participation in his resurrection has transported us into a new kind of existence—the new man who lives in the realm of the Spirit.

Romans 8:9 tells us that in the new covenant the Spirit indwells all believers. “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his.” His indwelling results in power for our future resurrection, “But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (v.11), and power for the battle against sin, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v.13). This presence enables us to live “according to the Spirit” and to set our minds on the Spirit.

The new creation is a new kind of man, a new order of existence. Christ was raised in the power of the Spirit as the firstborn of this new creation (Col 1:18). Even though we do not yet have new bodies, our spirits live in that new realm which is opposed to the flesh.

C. Power for the new life

The law is good, but it is utterly without power to change us (Rom 7:7-24; Gal 5:18-23). It is the presence of the personally indwelling Spirit that allows us to “put to death the deeds of the body”. At the root of our transformation is a renewal of our minds (Rom 12:1). Yet in order for this to begin, we must have a new mind that is spiritual rather than fleshly.

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” 1 Cor 2:12-14.

John Murray makes a criticism of our traditional Protestant theology of sanctification:

The bearing of Jesus’ death and resurrection upon our justification has been in the forefront of Protestant teaching. But its bearing upon sanctification has not been sufficiently appreciated.[30]

It is surprising to read such a bastion of conservative orthodoxy as John Murray making such a sweeping criticism of his own tradition, but he goes on to say, “No fact is of more basic importance in connection with the death to sin and commitment to holiness than that of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.”[31]

He describes how this connection works:

The truth is that our death to sin and newness of life are effected in our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, and no virtue accruing from the death and resurrection of Christ affects any phase of salvation more directly than the breach with sin and newness of life. And if we do not take account of this direct relationship we miss one of the cardinal features of New Testament teaching.[32]

John Owen tells us to “Set faith on Christ for the killing of your sin.”[33] Yet he understands that it is the Spirit who applies this work to us. “This whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it.”[34] He then lists for us six reasons

(1) He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of sin.

(2) The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief.

(3) The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ.

(4) The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with sin-killing power.

(5) The Spirit alone is the author and finisher of our sanctification.

(6) In every prayer we have the support of the Spirit [35]

So in summary, the new “spiritual” man which we have become through our union with the resurrected Christ has the ability to receive the things of the Spirit and to benefit from his indwelling, resulting in transformation of our own selves into the image of Christ.

5. The Gift of the indwelling Spirit[36]

A. Ordo Salutis

Here we encounter one of the difficulties mentioned above. The indwelling Spirit is always spoken of as a gift that is given after belief. Below is a selection of Scriptures which suggest such a sequence.

John 7:39         But this he spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in him would receive;

John 14:15-17  “If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another helper, that he may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth.”

John 14:21       “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:23       “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

 Acts 2:38         “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 5:32          “And we are his witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

Acts 19:2          he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

Gal 3:14           that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Gal 3:2             Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Gal 4:6             And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

Eph 1:13          In him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.

It might be argued that the first four references from John are prior to Pentecost and so the sequence is historical and not soteriological. However the three references in Acts specify an unambiguous sequence of the gift following repentance/faith.[37] The two references in Galatians 3 support this idea, as does Ephesians 1:13.

How can this be squared with the testimony of the Scriptures that man without the Spirit is spiritually dead. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” John 6:63. Faith and repentance are the work of the Spirit, so how can they be conditional for the giving of the Spirit?

I believe that the answer is found in the previous discussion of the need to separate the New Creator himself from his creative work. His act of regenerating us is not the same as his gift of indwelling. How can it be! Indwelling, in the sense spoken of by Jesus (John 7:39; 14:15-26; 15:26; 16:7-14, also Gal 3:14; 2 Cor 3:6-8) did not occur until Pentecost, yet many were born again before that time.

Note here that I am proposing a logical distinction, not a temporal one. At this point the classical Pentecostal will want to make indwelling a second work of grace, subsequent to conversion. However, the words of Paul in Romans 8:9[38] totally rule out that possibility for the post-Pentecost situation. Just as in the classical reformed ordo salutis, the immediate response of the regenerate individual is to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, so the immediate response of God to that faith is to apply to us the benefits of salvation including justification and the gift of the Spirit.

Just as regeneration is logically prior to faith, but it is not possible to find a regenerate person who does not have faith, in the same way faith and repentance are logically prior to the gift of the indwelling Spirit. Since the gift of the Spirit follows immediately from faith and repentance, all true Christians have this indwelling.

B. The Spirit of the risen Christ

O.T. believers could not be indwelt by the Holy Spirit in the same way as after Pentecost, but there is another difference. We now experience him as “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” Rom 8:11. The victory that Christ won on the cross has made a radical change in our experience of the Spirit. The power of his resurrection is now available to us. The decisive victory has been won.

Christ’s own experience of the Spirit led him into conflict, persecution and death. Although these aspects are equally present in the pathway in which the Spirit would lead us, there is the new dimension of joy and victory which Christ only looked forward to. Paul prays that:

“the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” (Eph 1:18-20)

C. The wonder of the Gift

Repeated time and time again in the N.T. is the statement that the Spirit is a gift. The impact of this image can be lost on us through familiarity. It is good to take some time to meditate on what this means. He is given as a love-gift, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” Rom 5:5. We can get focused on the gifts of the Spirit and forget that the greatest gift is the Spirit himself.

If we could ask the Father for any present we wanted, anything at all, what better present could we possibly ask for than for he himself to be our possession. What better gift than that the Divine should take up residence in our being, and make his power available to us—not only his power, but also his intimate fellowship. This indeed is a foretaste of heaven. This is a reversal of the Fall where Adam and Eve were cast out of direct fellowship with God.

We cannot separate our experience of the Spirit from Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit the Spirit of Christ.[39] Our fellowship is not merely with the Spirit but with the whole Godhead through the Spirit. As Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

We can lose the sense of wonder at the generosity of this gift. Through lack of appreciation we can fail to enjoy the benefits of this level of intimacy with God that O.T. saints could never have enjoyed. This is the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry Abba Father! (Rom 8:15).

Even David, when he needed guidance about a specific situation (rather than a moral principle), had to go to the priest for a word from God. Yet we have God in our hearts who leads us. Authoritative revelation comes only through the Scriptures, and everything must be judged by this standard, yet the Spirit can lead us in many ways. It may be by bringing a particular Scripture forcefully to mind, or by causing us to understand some truth. It may be more subjective such as by giving us a burden, by causing us to feel uneasy or by giving us insight and discernment in a situation. Part of the process of Christian maturation is learning to distinguish the voice of the Spirit from that of our own flesh.

D. Repeated filling

If every Christian has the Spirit, how can we be commanded to be filled with the Spirit? As mentioned earlier, a number of individuals in the N.T. were described as being “filled with the Spirit.” Paul tells the Ephesian believers to “be filled [continually] with the Spirit” (5:18). Peter and Paul are both on occasion[40] described as being filled with the Holy Spirit, long after their initial baptism in the Spirit.

We can only conclude from this that we need to seek an ongoing filling. When circumstances arise that cause us to cast ourselves on the Lord, we may receive a special measure of grace and power. Those men and women who have been especially used in God’s service in the history of the Christian church, have often experienced one or more occasions where they had a special experience of the power of God, which had a transforming effect on their ministry. This should not be considered a “second blessing,” but an ongoing series of blessings and re-fillings.[41] How are we to obtain this filling? It is a gift for which we are invited to ask: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

6. The Gifts of the Spirit

A. In the Old Covenant

As was mentioned earlier, there are a number of references to men and women in the O.T. who had gifts of the Spirit.[42] These gifts were few and far between and given to those in a special position of leadership, or for a special task. Although in many cases there is an expression like “The Spirit of the Lord came upon…”, this was not an indwelling in the N.T. sense, but a gifting and empowerment for service. There does not seem to be a radical difference between the O.T. and the N.T. in the nature of gifts, but rather in their pervasiveness and purpose.

What may seem surprising is that in both the Old and New Covenants, unbelievers may on occasion be given gifts. This is only ever the case for those who claim to be true believers but it becomes apparent eventually that they are apostate. The most obvious examples in the O.T. are Balaam[43] and King Saul.[44] In the N.T. Judas must have received gifts along with the other members of the twelve.[45] The author of Hebrews condemns apostates who “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:4-5). Jesus tells us that on the day of judgment, the gifts of the Spirit will be no proof of salvation.[46]

Jonathan Edwards compares the graces of God with what he calls the “extraordinary gifts” which are not limited to believers:

The grace of God in the heart is a gift of the Holy Ghost peculiar to the saints: it is a blessing that God reserves only for those who are the objects of his special and peculiar love. But the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are what God sometimes bestows on those whom he does not love, but hates; which is a sure sign that the one is infinitely more precious and excellent than the other.[47]

B. In the New Covenant

This is not the place for a detailed discussion on which gifts may or may not be active today, and whether they might occur in some muted form. For a thought-provoking discussion of these questions see Wright[48] and Keener.[49] Wright believes that gifts such as prophecy have a modern-day equivalent in preaching. What is undisputed is the N.T. description of the church as a gifted community. Compared with the scarcity of gifting in the O.T., the generosity of God is astounding as he pours out his Spirit (Acts 2:16f. quoting Joel 2:28f.) One of the most remarkable characteristics of the new covenant community is that every single member is gifted. There is a danger of over-reacting to Charismatic excesses and down-playing the astounding generosity of Jesus Christ in giving gifts so freely to his people.

A second difference between gifts in the O.T. and in the N.T. is the purpose for which they are given. Gifts in the N.T. are (or should) always be for the building up of the body. This was particularly evident in the case of prophets who in the O.T. generally stood “outside” Israel, speaking words of judgment and covenant lawsuit, whereas in the N.T. they address a regenerate community, speaking words of exhortation, edification and encouragement (1 Cor 14:3,31).

Work of the Spirit possible?

  Regeneration Indwelling Gifts of the Spirit
Unbeliever No No Rarely: A false believer may have a gift but possession of gifts no proof of salvation
Old Covenant Yes

Not in the N.T. sense, although there was a continued work of grace in the heart

Rarely: only for those in leadership who need a special empowerment
New Covenant Yes Yes, by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ, bringing comfort, enlightening and power over sin Yes: every believer has some gift for the building up of the body

7. Our Experience

In the O.T., God’s special presence was located first in the tabernacle, marked by the cloud and the glory (Ex 40:34-35). Later the same glory filled Solomon’s temple (2 Chron 7:1). In the New Covenant, we are the temple of God. Paul says “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). God’s place of special presence is in our hearts. That is why Jesus can tell the woman of Samaria that when we worship God in Spirit and in truth, we are not confined to the Jerusalem temple.[50] God’s presence is with us every moment in the Spirit. We miss out on great comfort and encouragement by not exploring the blessings, joy and consolation of this presence.

But it seems that there is a special intensity of God’s presence when Christians are gathered together and ministering to one another with their spiritual gifts. Jesus told us that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Paul reports that when an unbeliever witnesses the presence of God as believers meet together to use their gifts to minister to one another, then “falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Cor 14:25).

The gifts were intended to be for the building up of the body. That is why Paul spoke so strongly against un-interpreted tongues at Corinth. Just as individual believers are called the temple of God, so is the community of believers. “…in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:21-22) As Paul shifts to the metaphor of the body, he explains that growth occurs when every part does its share: “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share” (Eph 4:16).

What an added motivation for gathering together with other believers if we know that we will witness a manifestation of the very presence of God as his people show a supernatural love to one another and unity in the Spirit.

May we never lose a sense of wonder at the promise of Jesus in John 14:15-22, that the Triune God himself would come and take up residence in us:

“If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another helper, that he may abide with you forever... At that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you... If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”


[1] Attributed to Athanasius

[2] E.g. in Luke 2:25,26 the Holy Spirit was “upon” Simeon and revealed truth to him.

[3] E.g. John 16:7, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you.”

[4] E.g. Balaam & Judas

[5] E.g. in Acts 2:38f. where Peter preaches the sequence: repent, be baptized, then you will receive the gift.

[6] E.g. Eph 5:18 “…be filled with the Spirit…”

[7] A 17 page document containing a complete, categorized listing of these references is available

[8] An example would be “For God has not given us a spirit (or the Spirit) of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

[9] lambano and epipipto. It is interesting that the only occasion in which pletho (fill) is used of an initial baptism of the Spirit is in the case of Saul in Acts 9:17.

[10] The first Gentile converts in Acts 10-11.

[11] pletho (to fill) is used in Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:29-31 and 13:9.

[12] John 15:26, “But when the helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify of me” and Acts 1:8, “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.”

[13] After miracles of healing and release from prison, Peter says, “And we are his witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32). See also Rom 15:19 & Heb 2:4.

[14] e.g. 1 Cor 6:17; Eph 4:23; Phil 1:27

[15] Rom 8:15-16, 26-27; Gal 4:6; Eph 2:18, 6:17-18; Jude 1:20

[16] Luke 11:13 “how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”; 1 Thes 4:8; Phil 1:19

[17] A. M. Fountain, “How Old Testament Saints were Saved”, The Gospel Witness, (Toronto, May 2002). Also found at http://tbs.edu/amf-docs/otsaints.htm

[18] ibid

[19] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), p.136f.

[20] “…the word is the instrumental cause of regeneration, while the Spirit is the efficient cause. This is signalled in the New Testament by the use of the preposition ek to indicate the divine originating cause (e.g. Jn. 3:5; 1 Jn. 3:9; 5:1) and dia to express the instrumental cause (e.g. Jn. 15:3; 1 Cor. 4:14; 1 Pet. 1:23). Ferguson, p.125.

[21] Ferguson, p.126.

[22] Joseph: Gen 41:38; artisans: Ex 28:3; Bezalel: Ex 31:3, 31:31; Moses: Num 11:17; the seventy elders: Num 11:25-26; Joshua: Num 27:18; many of the Judges; Saul: 1 Sam 10:6,10,11:6; David: 1 Sam 16:13; also many of the prophets.

[23] “…the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” 1 Cor 12:7.

[24] “But now he has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as he is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, he says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’” Heb 8:6-10.

[25] For an excellent development of this theme, see Section 39. “The New Man” and Section 40. “Faith as the mode of existence of the new life” in Herman Ridderbos, Paul, An Outline of His Theology (London: SPCK, 1977) pp. 223-236.

[26] J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit , (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984) pp. 121-169.

[27] D. A. Alexander, Christian Spirituality—Five Views of Sanctification, (Downer’s Grove: IVP) pp. 133-170.

[28] Melvin Dieter, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).

[29] Jay E. Adams, Godliness through Discipline, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1972). This would certainly not have been true of Calvin or the Puritans who gave great attention to the work of the Spirit.

[30] John Murray, Collected writings of John Murray, 2: Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), p. 286

[31] Murray, p. 286

[32] Murray, p. 287

[33]John Owen, The Works of John Owen: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1967), VI, p.78

[34] Owen, p. 83

[35] Owen, p. 83

[36] For a useful general discussion on this topic, see James I. Packer, “The Holy Spirit and His Work”, in Applying the Scriptures, Papers from ICBI Summit III, ed. Kenneth S. Kantzer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987).

[37] This is not to suggest that baptism is a condition of receiving the Spirit, but the first act of obedience, giving evidence of a regenerate heart. For a discussion of the relationship between baptism and the Spirit see: G. W. H. Lampe, the Seal of the Spirit (London: SPCK, 1967); Lars Hartman, ‘Into the name of the Lord Jesus’—Baptism in the early church (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997); James W. Dale, Christic and Patristic Baptism (Philadelphia: W M Rutter, 1874); James D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970) and G. R. Beasley Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962).

[38] “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his.”

[39] As he is called in Rom 8:9 & Phil 1:19.

[40] “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel’” (Acts 4:8 ), “Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him” (Acts 13:9).

[41] Another example of re-filling would be when God answered the prayer of the church in Acts 4:29-31 and gave them a second, Pentecost-like experience.

[42] Joseph: Gen 41:38; artisans: Ex 28:3; Bezalel: Ex 31:3, 31:31; Moses: Num 11:17; the seventy elders: Num 11:25-26; Joshua: Num 27:18; many of the Judges; Saul: 1 Sam 10:6,10,11:6; David: 1 Sam 16:13; also many of the prophets.

[43] “And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him. Then he took up his oracle and said: ‘The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened, The utterance of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes wide open: ‘“How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel!”’” (Num 24:2-5)

[44] The Spirit came on him in 1 Sam 10:6 transforming him into a bold leader. He prophesied in 1 Sam 10:10, 19:20-24 and the Spirit was removed from him in 1 Sam 16:14.

[45] Jonathan Edwards reasons that, “Judas was one of those whom Christ sent forth to preach and work miracles: he was one of those twelve disciples of whom it is said, in Matt. x. 1, “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease.” And in the next verses we are told who they were; their names are all rehearsed over, and “Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him,,, among the rest. And in ver. 8, Christ says to them, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils.””, Jonathan Edwards, 16 Sermons on Charity and Its Fruits—An Exposition of I Corinthians Chapter 13 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, reprint of 1851 ed.) Sermon 2, III.4, p. 38.

[46] “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?’” “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt 7:22-23). It cannot be argued that these were false, demonic gifts, since Satan cannot cast out Satan.

[47] Jonathan Edwards, p. 38.

[48] Eric Wright, Church, no spectator sport (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1994).

[49] Craig S. Keener, Gift Giver—The Holy Spirit for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).

[50] Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father... But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-23)

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