Only once, for a period of ten days, have the followers of Christ ever been found in a state of waiting. The Lord himself was no longer physically present to teach his own, and the promised Spirit had not yet come. But as soon as the Spirit came that company was galvanized into purposeful activity. They were launched upon a witness which turned the world upside down.
The Greater Works
Evidently Jesus had selected his words with care when he told his chosen band in the Upper Room that it was expedient for them that he go away. If he did not go, he asserted, the Spirit would not come. His followers might well ask what could possibly be more to their advantage than the continued bodily presence of their Lord and Master? Yet now in one almost unbelievable day they had lived to experience the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement. The Spirit had come and with his coming the greater works had begun to unfold. A harvest of souls larger than Jesus had garnered through three long wearisome years of labor had been gathered in during this single day of Pentecostal blessing.
We need have no doubt about the accuracy of Luke’s report of that eventful day. Who would dare to claim for the preaching of the apostles a greater measure of success than had attended the efforts of the Lord Jesus? But this very success, even though it is attributed to the Spirit, creates a problem. Granted that Jesus had predicted this new era of power and achievement; yet its very realization seems to compromise his own uniqueness as the Mediator, the Founder of the Church, the supreme Lord. Is not the Spirit more potent than he? Do not the Spirit’s accomplishments outshine those of the Saviour?
All this is true in appearance only. Actually if the Son of God had not offered himself for the sins of men and if the Father had not raised him from the dead, there would have been no demonstration of the Spirit’s power at Pentecost. Further, the supreme authority of the Son is safeguarded in the very fact that he sent the Spirit. The economy of the Spirit is his own continuing work. The testimony of the Spirit is what the Spirit hears from the risen Christ (John 16:13,14). The Lord Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Spirit. The mighty deeds wrought through apostolic hands by the Spirit are equally attributable to the living Christ (Rom. 15:18,19). The gifts which the Spirit so freely bestows upon the Church are traced ultimately to the beneficence of the risen Lord (Eph. 4:8 ff). At no time does the Spirit act in independence of the exalted Son of God.
In view of the importance attached by Jesus to the coming of the Spirit in his teaching of the twelve and in view of the personal participation by these men in the experience of being filled and emboldened by the Spirit, it is not surprising that they attributed their decisions, their actions and the fruitfulness of their labors to the Spirit’s guidance and control. Later generations of believers could talk about the doctrine of the Spirit. These men knew rather the fact of the Spirit’s presence and power in their lives.
The Spirit’S Flame
The early Church was characterized by a limited emphasis on organization. We read of apostles and elders and deacons, to be sure, but the real guarantee of order, the real authority in discipline, the real ability in the ministering of the Word lay with the Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira learned that it could be fatal to try to deceive Him. Peter learned that he could safely move in company which his traditions and inclinations forbade as long as he was sure that the Spirit was sending him. Faced with the same prejudice against Gentiles which Peter originally had, the church at Jerusalem came to the point of acknowledging that these aliens from the commonwealth of Israel were to be admitted to Christian fellowship without any burden of law observance. It freely acknowledged that its decision was prompted by the Spirit of God (Acts 15:28). Indeed, it could scarcely have acted otherwise, seeing that the Spirit had already pointed in this direction by coming upon Gentiles as Peter preached to them (Acts 15:8). Another prominent congregation, the Gentile church at Antioch, itself the product of missionary labors, was constrained by the Spirit to thrust forth its most valued leaders to bear the message to more remote places (Acts 13:2).
This apostolic Church is the Church we forget. We remember that it was missionary, and we try to be. We recall that it preached the Word, and we admonish one another to sound forth the Gospel in no uncertain terms. But somehow the wheels drag heavily. We are burdened with our efforts. We delight in motion even when we cannot honestly call it progress. Men of like passions with ourselves made up the apostolic Church. They were guilty of disharmony at times. They made mistakes. But their crowning credential is that they lived and labored under the consciousness of the authority of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Church in our time can recapture this basic attitude, it cannot successfully minister in the present world crisis.
It is characteristic of the allusions to the Spirit in the book of Acts that they are part of the life situation of the early Church. They are not items of formal instruction about the Spirit. For these we must turn to the Epistles. The extensive data cannot easily be subsumed under a few heads, but we propose to examine the teaching in terms of the Spirit’s relation to Scripture, to Christ, and to the saints.
Spirit And Scripture
We learn that no part of Scripture can be explained, from the standpoint of its initiation, as a human production. Rather, men spoke from God as they were borne along by the Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20,21). Consequently it is impossible to hold that the Bible is a humanly produced work which God subsequently endorsed. It is his Word because of the Spirit’s activity in prompting and controlling the human writers. From a companion passage (1 Pet. 1:10–12) we learn that some things given to the Old Testament prophets were so far beyond their own understanding that they required special illumination in order to comprehend the temporal aspect of their prophecies concerning the redemptive work of the Messiah.
The Word is not only a treasure house of divine information but an arsenal for the use of the Christian soldier. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual. In particular the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). It cuts deeply into heart and conscience. It overcomes the evil one.
If the Spirit has truly authored the written Word, that to which our Lord appealed whether in the midst of temptation or argument or calm instruction, how unthinkable it is for the Christian to depreciate that Word by alleging that there is a guidance and authority of the Spirit which transcends the Word and sets one free from the trammels of the ancient and static oracles. When Paul draws his contrast between the letter which kills and the Spirit which gives life (2 Cor. 3:6; Rom. 7:6), he has no intention of providing justification for this modern fancy. He is simply contrasting the economy of the Spirit, the Gospel dispensation, with the legal economy, the Mosaic dispensation.
The Lord And The Spirit
As we turn to consider the relation between the Spirit and Christ, it is well to note at the outset that here too a wrongheaded criticism has misrepresented the true state of affairs. Paul’s emphasis on Christ as Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45 and possibly 2 Cor. 3:17) has been construed as contradicting the idea of a bodily resurrection (an ironical twist to a passage embedded in the great resurrection chapter) or as an indication that for Paul the earthly Jesus of history mattered little; what is crucial is one’s perception of him in his present spiritual existence. The antithesis is sometimes put in this form: Jesus the man versus Christ the Spirit. In the hands of criticism this operates to impart to the figure of Christ a mystical vagueness. But when Paul linked the Spirit to Jesus, the actual result was not the etherealizing of Jesus into the Christ but rather the sharpening of the personality and historicity of the Spirit. Paul was already committed to the indispensability of the historic Jesus for Christian faith (1 Cor. 11:1).
A typical representation is that which the apostle gives in Galatians 4:4–6. God sent his Son to redeem; then into the hearts of those who received the Son he sent the Spirit of his Son, the same Spirit who rested upon him in the days of his flesh and who has now come to glorify him. How could this Spirit, in the fulfilling of such a function, divert attention from the historic Jesus, the One who sent him to realize in his followers the lively image of his character and to recall to them his words and deeds and to guide them into his truth?
Doubtless the tide Spirit of Christ is intended not only to glance back to the earthly life of Jesus but also to emphasize that it is only by means of the Spirit that Jesus, exalted to the right hand of the Father, can come to dwell in the hearts of his people.
The Spirit And The Saints
By far the richest teaching of the Epistles on the Spirit concerns his relation to the saints. Here the gamut runs from conversion to consummation. Every phase of the believer’s life is under the gracious and compelling influence of the Paraclete. Christian life in terms of the teaching of the Epistles simply could not exist apart from his enablement. He is, in fact, the bringer of life (Rom. 8:2,6,10).
The Spirit A Gift
Because of our familiarity with the truth that every believer has the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), we are in danger of overlooking the truth that he is ours by virtue of a divine gift. Christ was given once; the Spirit is given every time a heart is opened to the incoming of Christ. God’s gifts are not repented of. The Spirit’s dwelling is permanent. Yet one would not know it to judge from our prayers and our hymnology. Ever and again we implore the Spirit to come. Such a prayer would seem to be a confession that we have not rightly cultivated his presence, that we are still in measure strangers to the communion of the Spirit.
Broadly stated, the Spirit is given to us for the development of the potential of our new life in Christ Jesus. He is ever the Servant of our blessed Lord even as Christ took the place of the Servant in relation to the Father during the days of his flesh. In sanctification the order is not, as in salvation, Christ, then the Spirit, but the reverse. We are to be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man for the fullest measure of the realization of Christ who dwells in our hearts (Eph. 3:16,17). The goal is the new man in Christ which is being formed within us (Gal. 4:19).
The truth is in order to goodness. A part of the Spirit’s work is to lead the people of God into the truth, disclosing the deep things of God to them, that they may become “spiritual,” which Paul defines in terms of possessing the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). From the plight of the Corinthians we learn that the very truths of the Word which are needed to build us up can be kept from us by such things as divisions and strife, which belong to the old life but are out of place in the new. From the Spirit we must “learn Christ,” discovering what is alien to him as well as what is in harmony with his will.
The Spirit And The Flesh
One can hardly consider sanctification without some attention to the recurring title, the Holy Spirit. Almost nonexistent in the Old Testament, it appears occasionally in the Gospels, profusely in the Acts (over 40 times) and moderately in the Epistles (approximately 25 times). But when we look for a connection between the use of this title and the situation in which it is employed, it is seldom apparent in the Gospels (perhaps Luke 1:35 is the only instance). In the Acts the tide is almost conventional, although 5:3 may be an exception. In the Epistles, however, the title seems to be deliberately chosen at times to reinforce the demand for inner conformity to his holy presence (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 4:8).
Paul is fond of putting the Spirit in sharp antithesis to the flesh. If the flesh (which includes mental attitudes as well as bodily appetites) is powerless to please God in a man’s unconverted state it is equally true that the flesh which lingers in the believer cannot please God. The only hope for overcoming the pull of the flesh lies in hearty submission to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16).
Presence And Fullness
In the Epistles, as in the Acts, a distinction is recognized between the presence of the Spirit and his fullness. In salvation, the believer is the passive recipient of the Spirit, who comes in as the divine seal of the transaction. But in attaining the fullness of the Spirit, the will of the child of God is active. We are commanded to have such fullness (Eph. 5:18). That this is no esoteric experience is evident. The command is addressed to all—wives, husbands, children, slaves, all whose peculiar obligations are sketched in the ensuing verses. Surely the implication is that even the homely demands laid upon them cannot be fulfilled apart from the Spirit’s fullest enablement. But this fullness of the Spirit is not linked to the realization of somber duty alone. It is more immediately seen as working out in terms of joyfulness and thanksgiving, so that obligations may be addressed with a light heart (Eph. 5:19,20).
Logically the fullness of the Spirit is closely connected with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23), even though, in the immediate context, Paul prefers such terms as being led of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. He distinguishes these states from simply living in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Some believers in our day, as in the apostolic age, are enamored of the spectacular gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues. Even if these should be sought and cultivated, it is well to remember that the apostle points to the fruit of the Spirit (which does not include the spectacular gifts) as the more excellent way. Unless the fruit of the Spirit is present, the power of the Spirit does not result in edification. Love has the preeminence in building up the saints.
This leads to the observation that the same Spirit who joins the individual believer to Christ unites the saints to one another. The term body of Christ is highly significant. Just as man is constituted of body and spirit, so the church is more than a mass of individuals viewed as a whole. It becomes a living organism because of the Spirit who indwells it.
Delicate indeed is the task of the Spirit. In the Word which he has inspired he must speak of himself. But he does so with consummate modesty. He gives himself no name. His titles are scarcely distinctive, for God is Spirit and God is holy. As the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ, he places himself in apparent dependency upon the other members of the Godhead. He nowhere asks for a specific act of faith toward himself. He turns us ever toward the Son of God and through him to the Father. It is his glory to glorify Christ. No man speaking by the Spirit of God called Jesus accursed: and no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12:3).
Everett F. Harrison was born in Alaska of missionary parents. He holds the A.B. degree from University of Washington, A.M. from Princeton University, Th.B. from Princeton Theological Seminary, Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania. Since 1947 he has been Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is author of The Son of God among the Sons of Men and is presently engaged in writing a Life of Christ.
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