One hundred years ago, as the 20th Century began, the Holy Spirit was not alive and well in the Church. Christendom was in bondage to the theology of Deism which held that miracles had ceased, all aspects of the supernatural (such as angels and demons) had been laid to rest, and that God was a grand old man in the sky, best identified as “The Great I Was.”
A Deceptive Doctrine
The Church had been deceived into adopting a theological argument which had the effect of stifling and quenching the Holy Spirit. The argument was based on a statement in 1 Corinthians 13:10 — “. . . when the perfect comes, the partial [prophecy, tongues, and knowledge] will be done away.” It was argued that the “perfect” was the completion of the perfect, inerrant Word of God. Thus, it was argued, all supernatural gifts of the Spirit, as well as other manifestations of the supernatural, ended with the completion of the New Testament canon around 95 AD.
To this was added the argument that gifts of the Spirit could only be passed along to others by the Apostles through the laying on of hands. Therefore, when the last Apostle died (John in about 95 AD), the gifts ceased.
The arguments were so neat. But they were full of holes. For one thing, they flew in the face of experience. Throughout Church history, there is abundant evidence of spiritual gifts being experienced on the part of the small minority who continued to believe in them. There had also been major outbreaks of the supernatural, as in the camp meetings on the American frontier in the early 1800’s.
The argument revolving around 1 Corinthians 13:10 was faulty because it denied the contextual meaning of the word “perfect.” In context, the word refers to the return of Jesus. This is made clear in verse 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then [when the perfect comes] face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully . . .” The argument also overlooked the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 1:7 that all the gifts of the Spirit will continue to be operative until Jesus returns: “. . . you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Finally, the argument about the Apostles passing the gifts along to others was a sham because it attempted to convert the gifts of the Spirit into gifts of the Apostles. The Apostles may have been able to lay their hands on people and pray for them to receive certain gifts, but the gifts came from the Holy Spirit, not from the Apostles. Furthermore, every believer receives at least one supernatural gift of the Spirit at the time of his or her salvation (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Paul put it this way: “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
An Important Prophecy
The anti-Holy Spirit mentality of the Church in 1900 also ignored the clear teaching of Bible prophecy that the end times would be characterized by a great outpouring of God’s Spirit. The key passage is found in Joel 2:28-29:
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
The Church’s position in 1900 was that this prophecy had been fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in 31 AD and was no longer applicable. It was argued that the “last days” began at Pentecost when the Church was established (Hebrews 1:2 and 1 Peter 1:20). Also, it was pointed out that the Apostles themselves quoted this passage from Joel when they were asked what was going on as they began “to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4).
More Flawed Arguments
But again, these arguments about Joel 2:28-29 ignored the context of the passage. Note that the passage beings with the words, “It will come about after this . .” After what? If you back up and read verses 18 through 27 you will see that the chapter is talking about the regathering and resettlement of the Jews in the land of Israel — something that did not occur until the 20th Century.
Also, the preceding verses speak of the outpouring of the Spirit symbolically as the “early and latter rain,” referring to the two rainy seasons of Israel. In other words, the prophet was saying there will be two great outpourings of the Spirit. The “early rain” was at Pentecost and continued throughout the early history of the Church, as recorded in the book of Acts. The “latter rain” would immediately precede the return of the Messiah in judgment. This is made clear again by the passage itself in verses 30-31: “And I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” This is classic language about the Second Coming of the Messiah.
Yes, the Bible speaks of the Church Age as the last days: “He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20). But it also speaks of the Lord’s return as the last days when it says Christians are being protected “by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time . . . at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:5, 7).
We have been in the “last times” since the Day of Pentecost. We are now in the latter part of the last times.
Joel 2:28-29 was fulfilled in part on the Day of Pentecost. Its total fulfillment was yet future in 1900, awaiting the “latter rain” that would be one of the signs of the Lord’s soon return.
A Move of God
The Church had its jaw set against the Holy Spirit as the 20thCentury began. But God was ready to burst on the scene with a great move of the Spirit in order to prepare the way for the return of His Son. That move began at a poverty-stricken school in Topeka, Kansas in January 1901 when a student named Agnes Ozman received the gift of tongues. A year later a great Holy Spirit revival broke out in the English area of Wales, led by a remarkable young man named Evan Roberts. Then, in 1906, the Spirit fell with great power on a home meeting in Los Angeles led by a black preacher named William J. Seymour.
At Seymour’s meeting, spiritual gifts were manifested, spectacular healings occurred, people were “slain in the Spirit,” and sinners were saved. The meeting grew quickly and had to be moved to a dilapidated building on Azusa Street. It continued for almost four years, with preaching every day, three times a day!
The Azusa Street meeting gave birth to the Pentecostal Movement. The latter rain had begun. But it was only a sprinkle in terms of its impact on Christendom at large. The Pentecostals were written off as “Holy Rollers,” and their religion was considered appropriate only for the superstitious and uneducated. But they were paving the way for a rediscovery of the Spirit.
The Latter Rain
The latter rain did not become a downpour until after the regathering of the Jewish people to the land of Israel (1900 – 1945) and the re-establishment of the state (May 14, 1948). Then, just as Joel had prophesied, the heavens opened and the downpour began — first, with the anointing of Billy Graham’s ministry in 1949 and then with the emergence of the Charismatic Movement in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Today, much of Christendom is caught up in the Third Wave Movement that grew out of the Charismatic Movement in the 1970’s and 80’s. It is made up of churches that fully recognize the ministry of the Holy Spirit, including the significance of Spirit-led worship, the continuing validity of spiritual gifts, the reality of spiritual warfare, and the importance of a Spirit-filled life in winning that warfare. However, unlike the Pentecostals and Charismatics, the Third Wave Movement does not put an emphasis on the gift of tongues as the sign of having been baptized in the Spirit.
Confusion About the Spirit
The 20th Century has been the century of the rediscovery of the Holy Spirit. Yet, widespread ignorance and confusion about the Holy Spirit still characterizes the Church. A 1997 poll by the Barna Research Group showed that only 40% of Americans believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit (as opposed to 90% who believe in the existence of God). But what was even more stunning was the response of “born-again Christians.” More than 5 out of 10 born-again Christians (55%) agreed that the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence or power but not a living entity! It appears that Christians have been brainwashed into believing that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal power like “The Force” in Star Wars.
Why is there so much continuing confusion about the Spirit? I think it relates in part to the self-effacing role of the Spirit. As we will see, one of the primary roles of the Spirit is to point people to Jesus as Savior and Lord. He does not draw attention to Himself. He works behind the scenes. Another factor relates to the many symbols that are used of the Spirit in Scripture — things like wind, rain, and fire. These symbols seem to communicate an impersonal force.
Our Creator God has been revealed to us as our Father. That is a concept we can grasp. Jesus took on a human body and lived among us. We have biographies of Him by eye witnesses. But for most people, the Holy Spirit is a shadowy entity difficult to grasp. Trying to get hold of the concept for many is like trying to nail jello to a wall.
The Identity of the Spirit
So, let’s look for a moment at the identify of the Holy Spirit. The first thing you need to keep in mind is that the Spirit is never referred to as an “it.” The Spirit is not an inanimate object. The Spirit is not, for example, the Bible, as some contend. The Spirit is intimately related to the Bible because it was the Spirit who inspired the biblical writers (2 Timothy 3:16), but the Bible is the “sword of the Spirit,” not the Spirit Himself (Ephesians 6:17). The Spirit works through the Bible to draw people to Jesus, although the work of the Spirit is not confined to the testimony of the Scriptures. The Spirit can witness directly to our spirits (Romans 8:16).
The Holy Spirit is a person. The Spirit is always referred to directly in the Scriptures as “He.” Referring to the Spirit, Jesus told His disciples that when He left, He would send a “Helper.” (“Paracletos” in Greek, meaning a helper or intercessor.) Jesus added, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:7-8). To Jesus, the Holy Spirit was “He” not “it.”
The Bible says the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3-4). It also says the Holy Spirit can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieved (Ephesians 4:30). These are characteristics of a personality. You cannot lie to a chair, or quench a wall, or grieve a light fixture.
The Holy Spirit is the supernatural presence of God in the world today. Paul put it this way: “The Lord is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Luke stated that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:6-7). Peter equated the Holy Spirit with God the Father when he told Ananias and Sapphira that they had lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3) and then added, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). Remember that old axiom in geometry: “Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.”
The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons who constitute the One God. That’s the reason we are told to be baptized “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). As such He is co-equal to Jesus and the Father, but He plays a different role.
The Work of the Spirit
This brings us to the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has two roles — one toward the unbeliever and another within the believer. With regard to the unbeliever, the Holy Spirit is the Father’s Evangelist. With regard to the believer, He is the Father’s Potter. Let’s consider these two roles in detail.
Jesus summarized the work of the Spirit regarding unbelievers. He said that the Holy Spirit would “convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Specifically, the Spirit convicts unbelievers of their sinfulness, impresses upon them the righteousness of Jesus, and points them to the judgment of Satan (John 16:9-11). The Bible makes it clear that no person can come to Jesus apart from the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Jesus put it this way: “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). And how does the Father draw unbelievers to Jesus? Through the Holy Spirit who bears witness of Jesus as the Father’s only begotten Son (John 15:26 and 1 John 5:7).
When a person responds to the witness of the Spirit by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, he is “born-again” (John 3:3), and the Father gives that person a very special birthday present — the Holy Spirit! That’s right, the Holy Spirit ceases to be on the outside drawing the person to Jesus. Instead, He moves inside the person and takes up residence within him (Romans 8:9). And when He does so, His role changes.
The Spirit in the Believer
Within the believer, the Holy Spirit is the Father’s Potter. His role is to shape each believer into the image of Jesus (Romans 8: 29 and Galatians 4:19), a process which the Bible refers to as sanctification (Romans 6:22 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13). The Spirit does this by first of all gifting us. Each person, when he or she is born- again, is given at least one gift of the Spirit, and sometimes more than one (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). And if we are good stewards of our gifts, using them to advance the Lord’s kingdom, we may be given additional gifts during our spiritual walk with the Lord.
The Spirit also accomplishes His work of sanctification by guiding us (Romans 8:14), comforting us (Acts 9:31), strengthening us (Philippians 4:13 and 1 John 4:4), praying for us (Romans 8:26-27), encouraging us (Romans 15:5), defending us (Luke 12:11-12), and illuminating us as we study the Word (1 John 2:27).
The work of sanctification is life long. It continues until we die or we are raptured to meet the Lord in the sky. The Holy Spirit wants to fine tune us into the image of Jesus because the Father is interested in nothing less than perfection in our lives (James 1:4 and 1 Peter 1:13-16). Yes, He is a God of grace who will accept us in all our imperfections, but He desires that we be perfected (Matthew 5:48).
Think of it this way — when a child takes his first step, his father rejoices. But no father is going to be satisfied with that one step. He will not be satisfied until the child can walk and then run without falling. For this reason, Christians are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).