The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
There is no teaching in the Bible about which there is so much muddled thinking as that of the Holy Spirit. I think that the least understood day in all the Christian calendar is Whit Sunday. I wouldn’t embarrass you, but I wonder how many of you could tell me when Whit Sunday really is? Let me just enlighten you a little. The word “Pentecost” means fifty days, and in the Acts of the Apostles 1:3 we read that, following the resurrection of our Lord from the tomb, He was seen of them forty days. And then there came a ten-day prayer meeting after his ascension, and if you add forty to ten you make fifty, and you arrive at the Day of Pentecost, which we call Whit Sunday and is observed always fifty days after Easter. Good Friday, when Jesus died, was the fulfillment of a great portion of Old Testament prophecy; but Pentecost was the fulfillment of the promises of the Lord Jesus which He gave us in the Gospels.
Many questions are asked about the Holy Spirit: Who is He? What is He? Whom does He indwell? What does He do? What is meant by the fullness of the Spirit? Can a Christian lose the Holy Spirit? What is meant by quenching the Spirit? It is quite impossible, of course, to deal with these all in one message. But there is one principle which I want to underline and to illustrate from the Word of God. It is this: the action of the Holy Spirit in and upon your life depends upon one thing, and only on one thing, and that is your attitude to the Lord Jesus Christ. There are four possible attitudes you may take concerning the Person of God’s Son. You may resist or reject Him; you may trust Him; you may yield to Him; and you may obey Him.
Now notice the action of the Holy Spirit to these attitudes. You reject Christ, the Holy Spirit convinces of sin. You trust Christ, the Holy Spirit enters your life and begins to indwell. You yield to Christ, the Holy Spirit immediately fills the yielded heart. You obey Christ, the Holy Spirit begins to use the obedient life. I repeat, the action of the Holy Spirit always and immediately corresponds to the attitude of the heart to the Saviour.
These are not two, they are one. The Holy Spirit convicting is, in fact, Jesus Christ knocking at the door. The Holy Spirit entering and indwelling your life is, in fact, Jesus coming to indwell the trusting heart. The Holy Spirit filling your life is, in fact, Jesus controlling the yielded life. The Holy Spirit using your life means that He is carrying out the will of Christ because you are obedient. So you see there are four possible attitudes to Christ that any of us can take. We must take one or the other and they are immediately responded to by four possible actions of the Spirit of God.
In the New Testament you read of the disciples being filled with love or filled with fear or filled with joy. That doesn’t mean that there was no room at that particular moment for any other emotion than love or fear or joy, but it does mean that at that time love or fear or joy was on top and in control. When a man is filled with the Spirit of God, it does not mean that he is oblivious to any other possible emotion, but it does mean that he is controlled and mastered by the Lord Jesus Christ who is on top in every area of his life.
Now with this very brief introduction, let us look very quickly at these four attitudes to Christ and the four actions of the Holy Spirit. Let us see them operating in the New Testament, and especially in the book which we call the Acts of the Apostles, but which should really be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit through yielded men.
The Holy Spirit has never been the Christian church. He is there indwelling the heart of every Christian, every believer, but there are hundreds of professing Christians from whom He could withdraw and nobody would notice any difference.
God’s great gift to the church was Pentecost.
God’s great weapon for counteracting sin was Pentecost.
God’s great counterattack against all the powers of evil is the Spirit-filled Christian.
God’s great answer to the need of your life is a real experience of the Holy Spirit.
What attitude are you taking to Jesus, and therefore what action is the Holy Spirit having upon you?
The first possible attitude to Christ is that of rejection, and if you reject Christ, then immediately the Holy Spirit convinces of sin. Read Acts 16, the familiar story of the Philippian jailor, and Acts 24, the story of Felix the judge. Both of these men had rejected Jesus Christ. Both of them listened to the Apostle Paul preaching. Both of them were convicted of their need. The Philippian jailor comes in following an earthquake and says to Paul, as he trembles under a spirit of conviction: “What must I do to be saved?” The judge Felix also trembled as he listened to the testimony of the same man. We read as Paul reasoned with him concerning judgment, temperance, self-control, Felix trembled.
I wish God would give to me in this pulpit constantly a ministry that would at least make people tremble; that there might be a ministry of such authority from my life and from my lips and from my heart coming from the very throne of God that would make people tremble as I would reason with them concerning self-control, judgment, temperance! As the Apostle Paul reasoned with Felix he trembled, but he said: “When I have a more convenient season, I will call for you. Go thy way this time.”
Both of these men, I repeat, rejected Christ. Both of them listened to the message of the Gospel. One of them said, “What must I do to be saved?” The other went on resisting and said, “At a more convenient season I will call for you.” Both of these men, because they rejected Christ, came under the conviction of the Spirit of God, and trembled with a sense of conviction.
It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit and of Him alone to do this. A man’s conscience will convince him it is wrong to break the law, but only the Spirit of God operating through the prayers of God’s people—and remember, won’t you, that a prayerless congregation always means a powerless pulpit—brings into a man’s life the consciousness that the greatest sin of all sins, for which there is no forgiveness unless it is repented of, is rejection of Jesus Christ. If you are unsaved, thank God for any measure of conviction that may be upon your heart now because you have rejected Jesus, don’t trifle with it. I would give to you this solemn word of warning, if you turn a deaf ear to the voice of the Holy Spirit your ear will soon become spiritually deaf and unable to hear a thing that God would say to you. My friend, you cannot be saved when you like. You cannot come to Christ when you choose. You can only become a Christian when God likes, and God likes right now. His time is always NOW. He never promises tomorrow. I repeat, therefore, to reject Jesus Christ is immediately to bring into your life the conviction of the Holy Spirit, even perhaps to the point of trembling, and even at that point you may go on rejecting. It’s a great thing when a man begins to tremble, when he becomes conscious as God would reason with him concerning temperance, self-control, judgment to come, that he recognizes that there is a God to Whom one day he is going to have to answer.
Our first attitude to Jesus, therefore, is rejection and the immediate action of the Holy Spirit is to enter the trusting life and begin to indwell. The very personality of the Godhead begins to live within this bit of human clay that is your body. Remember the stab of conviction that struck the congregation when Peter preached the Gospel on the day of Pentecost, “They were pricked in their hearts.” This was the fulfillment of the promise of the Gospel that when the Holy Spirit would come, He would convince the world of sin. On the day of Pentecost He came, and a man began to preach in the power of the Spirit and the people were pricked, convicted in their hearts. This was the immediate action of the Spirit of God upon that congregation: they were stabbed by conviction. What was Peter’s answer to it? It was this: repent, believe the Gospel, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise was in John 7:38–39, Jesus said: “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his inner man shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive…”
The new birth—that tremendous miracle that is an absolute necessity if we are to enter the presence of God, that encounter with deity that makes it possible for God to forgive sin on the basis of the cross of Jesus Christ—is absolutely impossible except for the operation of the Spirit of God upon your life. Jesus said: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63). “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Apostle Paul takes up the theme in Romans 8:9, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
The entrance of the Spirit of God into the life of a man is spoken of in Scripture as the baptism of the Holy Ghost. “There cometh One after me,” said John the Baptist, “Who shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” The message of the risen Christ in Acts 1:5 was, “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Every believer has the Holy Spirit. You do not pray to receive the Holy Spirit. You receive Him who was outpoured at Pentecost by trusting Jesus Christ as your Saviour.
That is breathtaking! The Spirit of God actually poured out at Pentecost is here in this building tonight, not floating in the atmosphere, but actually resident in the life of every believer. That is what makes a church service dynamic and revolutionary, capable of changing a human life forevermore. That is what makes a church service different from any kind of meeting under the sun. God is in the midst, and perhaps if we realized that, we would behave differently and listen more carefully. If we realized that, we would tremble more frequently and disobey less often. We would crawl under our chairs and say, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The outpouring of the Spirit of God, expressed in the life of a child of God, is the means by which a man who is an unbeliever or a backslider may come right back again through the convicting power of the Spirit into a life of blessing and victory. We are not here to have fun and games, or to entertain people, or merely to try and persuade them to have an interesting evening in church. We are here to plead that they might get right with God. We are here with a deep concern in our hearts that this church might see revival, and it will only do that when people inside it mean business with the Holy Spirit.
You do not ask to receive the Holy Spirit, but you trust Jesus Christ, and in that act of trust He [the Holy Spirit] comes to live within and indwell you. Oh, the mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God, the potential power that is available to the trusting heart tonight if only you trust in Christ!
Have you ever trusted Christ and committed your life to Him like that? Trust Him to bear your burdens and your guilt, to cleanse you from sin, and to come and live within you by His Spirit. Oh, what a miracle could take place in your heart right now!
The third attitude to Jesus that you may take is to yield to Him and, immediately you do so, the Holy Spirit’s action is to fill. While every Christian has the Holy Spirit, not every Christian is filled with the Spirit. That is why there are verses like Ephesians 5:18, “Be being filled with the Spirit.” And the fullness of the Spirit, God’s purpose for your life, the overwhelming power of the Spirit of God, comes in answer to your yieldedness. Don’t talk about surrender too much; that is a military term, this is a family word. A child doesn’t surrender to his father, he yields. That is not oppression or domination, but love, tenderness, the response of the heart, and a glad happy yielding to the father and mother. What a happy home it is when there is that spirit of yieldedness, but what a miserable business when it is enforced surrender!
When our attitude is to yield to the Lord Jesus, then the Holy Spirit fills in an action of love. At Pentecost, all of them were filled. In Acts 4:31, we read that they were all filled again, and the place was shaken where they were gathered together when they prayed. I’d love to be in a meeting like that! They were filled to overflowing, but the next chapter begins with an ominous word, “but.” It is the first “but” in the Acts of the Apostles, and you know you are in for trouble when there is a “but”! Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. They kept back part of the price of their land. They were not filled because they were not yielded; they were only playing the hypocrite because they had pretended to be yielded and they were not. They pretended that what they gave was everything. They have plenty of reproductions in 1961: people who pretend to give everything but don’t; people who pretend to yield to the Lord but they don’t; therefore they are not filled or yielded, and the Holy Spirit has never acted by coming into their lives in fullness.
When John Mark deserted in his first term of missionary service at Perga, he was not filled or controlled by the Spirit. Demas went back because, as Paul says of him in 2 Timothy 2:10, “He loved this present world.” Poor fool! He chose to love this world, and you always do that which you love most. Demas went to Thessalonica and do you know what sort of folks he met there? “Certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.” Sure, they are always waiting! A man who does that isn’t filled with the Spirit because he isn’t yielded to Jesus Christ.
There were four men in the Acts of the Apostles of whom it is said that they were filled with the Holy Ghost, each of them was wholly yielded to the Lord, and the results are most interesting.
Acts 4:8, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost said unto them, Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel…” and then he went on preaching. He was yielded to Christ, filled with the Spirit, and he immediately received power to witness.
Acts 6:5, “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost…” and one day he was stoned to death. He was a man yielded to Christ, and therefore filled with the Spirit, given the power to suffer for Jesus.
Acts 11:24, Barnabas “was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord…” He was yielded to Christ, therefore filled with the Spirit, and he was used to win others for the Saviour.
Acts 13:9, “Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, ‘O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” This man was yielded to Christ, filled with the Spirit, and he had power over the devil.
Do not look at these things as mere theory. Think of this as your solemn responsibility in the sight of God and before heaven, in the light of the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. Think of your responsibility, for which you will have to answer in eternity if you fail to avail yourself of it. A man filled with the Spirit has power to witness: a man filled with the Spirit has power to suffer; a man filled with the Spirit has power to win other people; a man filled with the Holy Spirit has power to overcome the devil. I would suggest to you that those are the four things you need most in your life. Let us be done with the deception of Ananias and Sapphira! Let us be done with the desertion of John Mark! Let us be done with the backsliding of Demas! Let us be yielded to Christ and be filled with the Spirit and have power in all these areas. Our third attitude to the Lord Jesus, therefore, is yieldedness, and in response to that yieldedness immediately there is the Holy Spirit’s action of filling.
There is one other possible attitude to Jesus Christ that a man may take: Christ obeyed and the Holy Spirit using.
“The angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise and go toward the south…” (Acts 8:26). God commanded and Philip obeyed. In verse 29, God speaks to him again and says, “Go near and join thyself to this chariot”: I want to use you. Philip obeyed and was used by the Holy Spirit.
Again, in Acts 10:15, a voice had spoken to Peter and now “the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” Here the Lord is seeking to overcome prejudice against the Gentile world in the sight of Peter. He obeyed and notice his obedience, v. 21: “Peter went down…” v. 23: “Peter went away…” v. 27: “He went in…” He did exactly what God told him to do and finally, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word (v. 44). God commanded him, Peter obeyed, and the Holy Spirit immediately used him.
Acts 9:6, Paul said on the road to Damascus (as he met his risen Saviour), “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” The Lord told him what to do and he obeyed. In Acts 13:2, the Spirit of God said “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” So God commands, Paul obeys and the Holy Spirit uses.
Here then we see something of these principles worked out in the Acts of the Apostles. Now I would apply it to your heart and life, for your attitude to Jesus Christ determines the action of the Holy Spirit in your heart.
Now let me ask you a pointed question. What attitude right now are you taking to the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you resisting Him? If so, the Holy Spirit has been convicting you of sin unless you have resisted Him so long that you have become—tragedy of tragedies—spiritually deaf. What are you going to do about that? Has your attitude been to trust Christ? Then immediately He has come to indwell and the miracle of the new birth takes place. How gladly the Holy Spirit goes into action and begins to indwell!
Have you yielded your life completely to Christ? Then in answer to that yieldedness, immediately the Holy Spirit acts and fills. Are you willing to obey Jesus Christ without question, without reserve? Then for the first time in your life perhaps, the Holy Spirit will begin to use you.
As I think of the mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God, I realize the great power that is operative, and can be operative within the life of every Christian, and the tremendous things that could happen through this church, if only our attitude to Jesus Christ is right. I know that the Spirit of God has been acting in every one of our lives, either in conviction, or in entering, or in filling, or in beginning to use. What action has the Spirit of God been able to take? That all depends upon what has been your attitude to the Saviour.
Remember that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit if you are a Christian, and you are not your own, you are bought with a price. He lives within you and has the right to possess, to use, and to own you. One day you are going to stand before a holy God to give an account of the things done in your body. I would not like to face Him and know that the whole outpouring of the Spirit of God was made available for me personally, and yet I resisted and turned my back upon it because my attitude to Jesus was not right, and therefore God could not use or fill, but had to put me aside on the shelf, and my life became barren, dead and futile.