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In an earlier article we looked at 10 things we should know about the person of the Holy Spirit. In this article we turn our attention to the work of the Spirit. Continue reading . . . 

In an earlier article we looked at 10 things we should know about the person of the Holy Spirit. In this article we turn our attention to the work of the Spirit.

(1) The Holy Spirit serves us as a “down payment” on the future inheritance of our salvation (2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14).

The term (arrabon), translated “down payment” or guarantee, was used in commercial transactions to refer to the first installment of the total amount due. The down payment effectively guaranteed the fulfillment of whatever contractual obligations were assumed. "The Spirit, therefore," says Gordon Fee, "serves as God's down payment in our present lives, the certain evidence that the future has come into the present, the sure guarantee that the future will be realized in full measure" (God’s Empowering Presence, 807).

But there is more. As Peter O’Brien points out, in giving the Holy Spirit to us “God is not simply promising us our final inheritance but actually providing us with a foretaste of it, even if it ‘is only a small fraction of the future endowment’” (121). In other words, if you want to know in part what life in the age to come will be like, meditate on the glorious, comforting, empowering presence of the Spirit in your heart right now!

(2) The Holy Spirit also serves to provide us with the “first fruits” of our salvation (Rom. 8:23).

This metaphor is also used of Christ's resurrection as the guarantee of ours (1 Cor. 15:20,23). Similar to the idea behind “down payment”, the Holy Spirit as "the first sheaf is God's pledge to us of the final harvest. Thus . . . the Spirit plays the essential role in our present existence, as both evidence and guarantee that the future is now and yet to be" (Fee, 807).

(3) The Holy Spirit is also portrayed in Scripture as the “seal” of our salvation (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30).

There are at least three ideas involved in the Spirit as a “seal”. First, a seal serves to authenticate (John 3:33; 6:27; 1 Cor. 9:2) or confirm as genuine and true, including the idea that what is sealed is stamped with the character of its owner. Second, a seal serves to designate or mark out as one’s property; to declare and signify ownership (see Rev. 7:3-8; 9:4). Finally, the Holy Spirit serves to render secure or to establish (i.e., protect; cf. Eph. 4:30; Mt. 27:66; Rev. 20:3) us in our relationship to Jesus Christ.

Someone might ask: “With what are we sealed?” The simple answer is: the Holy Spirit. In other words, it isn’t so much that the Spirit does the sealing as the Spirit is the seal. Hence, sealing = the reception and consequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The question is also often asked, “When does this sealing take place?” Paul says this in Ephesians 1:13 – “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Thus we are sealed “when” we “hear” the word of truth and believe in the gospel.

(4) The Holy Spirit not only secures our salvation by means of special grace but also works in the world and in the lives of non-Christians via what is called “common grace.” What is “common grace”? Charles Hodge defines it this way:

"the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, of holiness, and of life in all its forms, is present with every human mind, enforcing truth, restraining from evil, exciting to good, and imparting wisdom or strength, when, where, and in what measure seemeth to Him good. . . . This is what in theology is called common grace” (Systematic Theology, 2:667).

Abraham Kuyper defines common grace as:

“that act of God by which negatively He curbs the operations of Satan, death, and sin, and by which positively He creates an intermediate state for this cosmos, as well as for our human race, which is and continues to be deeply and radically sinful, but in which sin cannot work out its end” (Principles of Sacred Theology, 279).

A simpler and more direct definition of common grace is given by John Murray, Common grace, he writes, "is every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God” (Collected Writings of John Murray, 2:96).

(5) The Holy Spirit is the element, as it were, in which all Christians are baptized or “immersed” at the time of their conversion. We read this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Here the apostle Paul is using two vivid metaphors to describe our experience of the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, at the time when we became members of the body of Christ, the Church:

Baptism, or immersion in the Holy Spirit, and
Drinking to the fill of the Holy Spirit . . .
the purpose or goal of which is to unite us all in one body.

Thus, our “saturation” with the Spirit, our experience of being “engulfed” in and “deluged” and “inundated” by the Holy Spirit results in our participation in the spiritual organism of the body of Christ, the Church.

(6) We must distinguish between being baptized in the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Spirit-baptism is a metaphor that describes our reception of the Holy Spirit at the moment of our conversion to Jesus in faith and repentance. When we believe and are justified, we are, as it were, deluged and engulfed by the Spirit; we are, as it were, immersed in and saturated by the Spirit. Spirit-baptism is therefore instantaneous (i.e., it is not a process), simultaneous with conversion, universal (i.e., all Christians are recipients), unrepeatable, and permanent.

Spirit-filling is also a metaphor describing our continuous, on-going experience and appropriation of the Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to come under progressively more intense and intimate influence of the Spirit. Spirit-filling can be forfeited and subsequently experienced yet again, on multiple occasions, throughout the course of the Christian life.

(7) There are two senses in which one may be filled with the Holy Spirit. First, there are texts which describe people as being “full of the Holy Spirit” as if it were a condition or consistent quality of Christian character; a moral disposition; possessing and reflecting a maturity in Christ (see Luke 4:1; Acts 6:3,5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:52). This is the “ideal” condition of every Christian. It emphasizes the abiding state of being filled.

Second, there are texts which describe people as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” to enable them to fulfill or perform a special task or to equip them for service or ministry. This may be either life-long; an office or particular ministry (see Luke 1:15-17; Acts 9:17); or, may occur in a spiritual emergency. The latter would be an immediate and special endowment of power to fulfill an especially important and urgent task. Thus, someone who is already filled with the Spirit may experience a further/additional filling. I.e., no matter “how much” of the Holy Spirit one may have, there’s always room for “more” (see Acts 4:8,31; 13:9; Luke 1:41,67)! Also, in Acts 7:55 Stephen, though “full of the Holy Spirit”, is again “filled” with the Spirit to prepare him to endure persecution and eventual martyrdom, as well as to “see” the vision of Jesus.

(8) To be filled with the Spirit is different from being baptized in the Spirit. There is one baptism, but multiple fillings. In no NT text are we commanded to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. There is no appeal to do something in order to be baptized; no exhortation, no imperative. On the other hand, we are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

(9) It is possible to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, to experience the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and yet not be filled with the Spirit (the Corinthian believers may well be an example of this). To be “full of the Holy Spirit” is to reflect a maturity of character; it is the ideal condition of every believer. To be “filled with the Holy Spirit” is to experience an anointing for power, purity, proclamation, and praise.

(10) We must remember that the Holy Spirit does not baptize anyone. Jesus is the one who baptizes “in” the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one in whom we are immersed and thus the one who continues forever to indwell and empower us.

In all texts referring to Spirit-baptism, the Greek preposition en means “in”, describing the element in which one is, as it were, immersed. In no text is the Holy Spirit ever said to be the agent by which one is baptized. Jesus is the baptizer. The Spirit is he in whom we are engulfed or the “element” with which we are saturated.

It should be noted that in the NT to be baptized "by" someone is always expressed by the preposition hupo followed by a genitive noun. People were baptized "by" John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Mt. 3:6; Mark 1:5; Lk. 3:7). Jesus was baptized "by" John (Mt. 3:13; Mark 1:9). The Pharisees had not been baptized "by" John (Lk. 7:30), etc. Most likely, then, if Paul had wanted to say that the Corinthians had all been baptized "by" the Holy Spirit he would have used hupo with the genitive, not en with the dative.


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