I once attended a Holy Spirit revival in South Asia. The prosperity gospel was the focus of that meeting. The teacher kept saying, “Give your best seed to God, and He will give you the desires of your heart!” By “best seed,” he meant that we should give him lots of money. He said things like, “If you need a house, go and clean out your bank account. Give it to God! Then God will give you a house.” The teaching often broke for Holy Spirit times. The teacher would command the Spirit to come as a fire, lay hands on people, or speak a prophecy. Over 1,000 followers of Jesus gathered and made a great deal of noise as they writhed, fell down, and did all sorts of things, purportedly under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was by far the most charismatic meeting I have ever witnessed in my life. Probably 50 pastors from our city participated in all of these things.
Later, many of those pastors came to me and asked, “Do you think that the things in that meeting were from the Holy Spirit or not?” I loved it when these pastors came and asked this question. It gave an excellent opportunity to talk to them about what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit.
When they asked, I responded by asking, “What do you think? What does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit?” I was genuinely surprised when most of these pastors confessed that they did not really know what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit. So, we would open up the Scripture and talk about what the Holy Spirit does. Out of those discussions, I developed this teaching that I call the Seven Works of the Holy Spirit. I often teach believers this tool to help them understand the Holy Spirit. Muslim-background believers have found this teaching informative as they interact with local Christians.
#1 The Holy Spirit Transforms our Lives
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23
Galatians 5:16-25 teaches us that if we walk by the Spirit, we will be transformed by His power. First, “the works of the flesh” will diminish in our lives. These are things like sexual immorality, moral impurity, envy, and drunkenness (Gal 5:19-21). Second, the fruit of the Spirit will automatically emerge. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit works in our lives, our character changes. We are filled with love, joy, peace, and patience. Another way to say this is that the power of the Holy Spirit sanctifies us to make us more and more holy. If you claim to walk by the Spirit but are not characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, ask the Lord to transform your life. Jesus told His disciples to pray, saying “How much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13) In the same way, we should ask the Father to transform our lives and character by His Spirit.
#2 The Holy Spirit Convicts Us of Sin
“Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” John 16:7-11
If we have been saved and given the gift of the Spirit, we cannot be comfortable with sin in our lives. The Spirit will constantly convict our hearts. Some actively ignore the Spirit until that conviction begins to fade. But that is a perilous place to be! If we suppress the work of the Spirit in our lives until He no longer convicts our hearts of our sin, it means that we have grown to be quite far from God. Suppose the Spirit is genuinely moving in our lives. In that case, we are often led to repentance, turning from our sin to walk more closely with our heavenly Father. The convicting power of the Spirit is a gift from God to help us from wandering from our heavenly Father. We should be holy as the Lord our God is holy.
#3 The Holy Spirit Guides Us to the Truth
“I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” John 14:25-26
Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would remind us of the teachings of Jesus. In the same teaching, Jesus said, “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12-13a). If the Holy Spirit is truly working in your life, you will be driven to study the Scriptures. The Spirit will reveal His Word to us. As a result, we naturally move away from wrong beliefs to having better and better theology because of the power of the Spirit.
#4 The Holy Spirit Empowers us to Proclaim Christ
“When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31
In the book of Acts, the Spirit constantly empowered God’s people to proclaim the gospel. In Acts 2:4, the Spirit fell, and 120 followers of Jesus began to proclaim “the magnificent acts of God” in the languages of all the pilgrims to Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11). Then Peter stood up, empowered by the Spirit, and preached the gospel so powerfully that 3,000 took baptism (Acts 2:14-41)! In Acts 4:8, Peter and John were filled with the Spirit while on trial (as Jesus promised in Matthew 10:19). The Spirit gave Peter and John bold words to proclaim to the religious leaders of Jerusalem. After they were released, a group of believers prayed again until they were filled with the Spirit. The result was that they “began to speak the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). If you are filled with the Spirit, you will proclaim the gospel. The Holy Spirit guides us to proclaim the life-saving message of the gospel!
#5 The Holy Spirit Gives Us Spiritual Gifts
“Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God works all of them in each person. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good: to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of tongues, to another, interpretation of tongues. One and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
The Holy Spirit gives gifts to every believer. The purpose of these gifts is to serve the body and advance the gospel. There are two opposite errors that people make regarding spiritual gifts. Some emphasize spiritual gifts too much. When we listen to these individuals, it is as if the only purpose of the Holy Spirit is to give us these gifts. They deemphasize everything else the Spirit does to emphasize this one part. On the other side, some devalue spiritual gifts, usually in response to those who overemphasize them! We should aim somewhere between these two extremes by valuing spiritual gifts but not overly emphasizing them.
#6 The Holy Spirit Empowers Us to Worship
“And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-21
The Greek structure of Ephesians 5:18-21 is interesting. The central command is “be filled by the Spirit.” This command is modified by five participles, “speaking to one another,” “singing and making music,” “giving thanks always,” and “submitting to one another.” These five participles are either (1) how we become filled with the Spirit or (2) what happens when we are filled by the Spirit. In fact, I believe it is both of these. These five participles all refer to actions that occur in corporate worship at church. If you find yourself far from the Spirit, repent of your sins (you cannot be filled with the Spirit if you are filled with sin!) and join in other believers in worship and body life. As you do, you put yourself in a position to be filled with the Spirit. At the same time, when you are filled with the Spirit, you automatically speak to others in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs while giving thanks to God! In reality, this passage describes the ideal working of the Holy Spirit in the corporate body. These actions are not done individually but are done together as a church. The Holy Spirit fills his people as we worship together.
#7 The Holy Spirit Leads Us
“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia; they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Passing by Mysia they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts 16:6-10
The Holy Spirit often spoke to and directed His people in the New Testament. In Matthew 4:1, our Lord Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” in Acts 16, Paul and Barnabas were clearly led by the Spirit to go to Macedonia when they had no intention of going there. The point is that God often leads His people by His Spirit. We should be open to the gentle nudges and direction of the Spirit.
After sharing these seven works of the Holy Spirit with the pastors who attended the Holy Spirit meeting, I would ask, “You have seen what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit. Now I want to ask you a question. Did you see evidence of these works of the Spirit in the lives of those believers after the meeting?” I had this conversation with more than a dozen pastors. Every pastor simply confessed, “No.”
I feel that a point of clarity is necessary here. We should not necessarily expect that all seven of these works of the Spirit must be observed to say that something was from the Spirit. In fact, it is common to see one or two of these works present when the Spirit moves in an individual’s life. However, absence of all of these works of the Spirit should cause doubt of whether something was genuinely from the Spirit.
The next question each pastor asked was, “What does the Bible say about how to be filled with the Holy Spirit?” This is a question of extreme importance in the Christian life. Perhaps I will write a future blog on how I answer that question.
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Here are a few extra notes on the Greek text of Ephesians 5:18-21. In Greek, these five participles can either be participles of means or participles of result. They are present active participles modifying an imperative. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 639. Footnote: In Greek, the command “be filled by the Spirit” is a plural command, implying that it is not accomplished individually. Additionally, all five of the participles are plural, indicating the same. Last, the text is clear, even in English, that these are not individualistic actions. Speaking is done “to one another.” Believers also submit “to one another.” In Ephesians 5:18-21, being filled with the Spirit is a corporate activity.