The Holy Spirit

In recent years a great deal has been said and written regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. One result of this has been an alienation between so-called Charismatics and the more traditional branches of the Christian Church. This chapter seeks to set out the Biblical evidence.


The Scriptures clearly assert the deity of the Holy Spirit as a person within the Godhead (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor.13:14). His personality was taught by Christ (John 14:16). Paul speaks of His mind (Rom.8:27), His emotion (Eph.4:30) and His will (1Cor.12:11). His deity is evidenced by His divine attributes such as omnipresence (Ps.139:7-9), omniscience (Isa.40:13,14), omnipotence (Zec.4:6), eternity (Heb.9:14) and His divine activities such as creation (Gen 1:2, Job 33:4), inspiring prophets (Num.11:25- 29), endowing with special skills (Exod.35:30), giving life to the dead (Ezek.37:9-14) and speaking with a divine voice in Scripture (Heb.3:7-9, 10:15,16).


The Holy Spirit was intimately involved at every point in Christ’s life – in his birth (Luke.1:35), baptism (Matt.3:16), temptation (Mk.1:12), preaching (Lk. 4:4ff),miracles (Matt.12:22ff), death (Heb.9:14), resurrection (Rom.8:11), ascension (Jn.16:7). Moreover, having been involved in the incarnation of the Word, He gave the written Word, which bears infallible witness to Him, both the Old Testament (2 Sam.23:1,2; Matt.22:43; Acts 28:25; Heb.3:7,8; 2Tim.3:16) and New Testament (Jn.14:26; 16:13; 1Cor.14:37; 1Pet.1:12; 2Pet.1:19-21). The Holy Spirit interprets and applies Scripture (1Cor.2:10-13) to the human heart (2 Cor.3:15-17).

The sovereign work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential if man in his natural state of total depravity and inability is to be saved. The Holy Spirit must effect the new birth (Jn.1:12,13; 3:3-6), convict of sin (Jn.16:8), grant repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and saving faith (Eph.2:8) before a sinner can and will receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. He then confirms his adoption (Rom.8:15,16) and gives assurance of justification (1Jn.3:23,24).

Not only does the Holy Spirit effect regeneration, thus bringing to life those who were spiritually dead, but He also sanctifies those whom He has resurrected from spiritual death. By this gracious work of the Spirit, the whole man is renewed after the image of God so that there is a hatred of sin and a longing for righteousness which result in evangelical obedience and a clear evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:2,23). The Holy Spirit guides the believer through the Word and unites him with others in the Church (Eph.4:3-6). In sanctifying He helps the believer in prayer (Rom.8:26,27), praise (Eph.5:18-20; Col.3:16), preaching (1Cor.2:4) and witnessing (Acts 1:5).


Baptism with the Spirit is referred to seven times in the New Testament. The first six of these refer to Christ’s work of “baptising with” (or pouring out) the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the coming of the Messiah as a time when there would be a universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Is.44:3; Ezek.36:25-27; 39:28,29; Joel 2:28). Christ referred to this outpouring as the “baptism” with the Holy Spirit and he saw this as the climax and completion of His work of redemption. Christ effected this baptism at Pentecost (Acts 2:17,39) and the Apostles recognised that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” had been bestowed. This meant that the day of Pentecost (and the extension of Pentecost to the Samaritans in Acts 8 and finally to the Gentiles in Acts 10:44; 19:1-7) was as unrepeatable as the other redemptive events, i.e. Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Viewed doctrinally in terms of the history of redemption, as described in the book of Acts, the baptism with the Spirit happened once-for-all at Pentecost.

In 1 Cor. 12:13 we are taught that Christians are baptised with the Spirit unconditionally at the very beginning of their Christian experience, i.e., at conversion. Paul is speaking here of the new birth by the Spirit, which issues in personal trust in Christ and union with the body of Christ. Thus the “baptism with the Spirit” is the initiatory experience of all believers.

There are no Scriptural grounds for a “baptism with the Spirit” as a second dramatic experience, to be accompanied by ecstatic utterances or experiences, following conversion. No Christian therefore ought to seek such an experience.

It is not to be denied, however, that the believer, subsequent to conversion may, on occasions, experience in greater measure the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. He may, after wrestling with and overcoming some particular sin, after a period of seeming spiritual barrenness, or after some trial of faith, feel anew the presence of God and the love of Christ, and be charged with a new zeal for the work of the Kingdom. But such an experience must be interpreted properly. It is not a ‘baptism with the Spirit’ in the sense that some understand it, namely, receiving of that measure of the Holy Spirit and His power not given at conversion. Rather, it should be conceived of as a special visitation of the Almighty at a time of special need resulting in the believer being especially filled with the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, it may be possible that this experience, instead of being subsequent to conversion, is the actual experience of conversion.

“Since we live by the Spirit” the command is to “keep in step with the Spirit” and not to “grieve” or “quench” Him through disobedience. The Christian is to be “filled with the Spirit.” This is a command to the whole Church and it is in the present continuous tense. To “keep on being filled” by the Spirit is therefore the duty of every believer. This will result, not so much in private mystical experience, as in right relationships in the home, church and place of work and in worship (Eph.5:18-6:9; Col.3:15-4:1).


From 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 we can define the gifts of the Spirit as certain capacities which the Triune God gives to members of the body of Christ to fit them for a specific service within that body. In the four lists of gifts found in the Epistles (1Cor.12:8-10;28; Rom.12:6-8; Eph.4:11) there are no less than twenty mentioned, the majority of which are neither miraculous, startling nor mystical. No two lists are the same and so it seems the Apostle is selecting from a wide range of gifts, some of which are clearly distinct from others. Moreover, we see that the word ‘charisma’ (gift) is used flexibly in other passages (e.g., 2 Cor.1:11; 1Cor.7:7; 1Tim.4:14). The point is that every ‘charisma’ is simply a manifestation of God’s grace (‘charis’). Since the whole Church exists only because of God’s ‘charis’, it must be seen as ‘charismatic’ in all its aspects and activities. It is quite wrong for a group of Christians to call themselves ‘Charismatics’ to the exclusion of other believers, as if only a privileged few in the Church experience God’s ‘charis’. The Church is a ‘charismatic’ community and all Christians are ‘charismatic’ in the true sense. Spiritual gifts are bestowed on every believer (Rom.12:6; 1Cor.12:11; Eph.4:7) and he should use whatever ‘charisma’ (gift) he has received to serve others as a good steward of God’s ‘charis’ (grace) in its various forms (1Pet.4:10,11). Since gifts are bestowed for “the edifying of the Church” and for “the common good”, failure to use them will be detrimental to the Church. No believer should belittle his own gifts or despise the gifts of others (1Cor.12:15-25). A spiritual gift is not something spectacular to be anxiously sought; it is any capacity for service in the Church with which the believer has been endowed.


Some believers sincerely hold that all those gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament references above are still present in the Church. This would appear to be a mistaken view. There are four gifts which call for consideration in this respect: apostleship, prophesy, miraculous gifts of healing, speaking in tongues.

1. Apostleship

The term “apostle”, used in the strict sense, applied only to the disciples and Paul. These men were unique in that they were eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ, were called by Christ Himself to be apostles, were very conscious of inspiration and were used to perform miracles. Further, these men wrote and spoke with special authority and they were used in the writing of the New Testament. They laid a foundation on which the present Church builds and they continue to teach through their writings. The very nature of their office, i.e., to lay a foundation for the New Testament Church, means that they can have no successors.

2. Prophecy

A Prophet was one who spoke the very word of God. After the resurrection of Christ there was a measure of divine revelation through prophets. Since God’s direct revelation through His apostles and prophets is now complete and the canon of Scripture is closed, we see that prophesy has, in this strict sense, ceased and there are no such prophets today. Like the Apostles, the New Testament prophets were foundational to the organization of the New Testament Church (Eph.2:20). Moreover, since God has revealed to us all we need to know, it is dangerous error to seek for fresh revelation, thus ignoring the completeness and the all-sufficiency of Holy Scripture (Rev.22:18,19).

3. Miraculous gifts of healing

While the Scriptures teach that a Sovereign God can heal miraculously they provide no evidence to support the neo-pentecostal claim that God intends miracles to be a regular feature of the Christian life today. A careful study of Scripture reveals that miracles wrought through God’s servants established them as His spokesmen, giving to them authority to convey new revelation (Exod.4:5). Miracles in the New Testament had a special purpose as attesting or authenticating signs (Heb.2:3,4). They were signs of the apostles (2 Cor.12:12). They had a special function for a special time in the history of redemption, authenticating special revelation. Consequently, the miracles of the Bible coincide with great redemptive events when there was further revelation, e.g., the Period of the Exodus and the Life of Christ. It follows, therefore, that with the completion of Scripture, the age of miracles, as wrought through men, has ceased. There are, however, no biblical grounds for saying that miracles cannot happen today. It is God’s sovereign prerogative to demonstrate His Almighty power in works of miracles whenever He pleases. For example, in response to the prayers of His people, God may heal some for whom there is no further medical help.

4 Speaking in tongues

“Tongues” or Spirit-controlled speech in another language occurred at Pentecost in fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32, when many nationalities heard the gospel in their own tongues all at once (Acts 2:5-11). In 1 Corinthians 12-14, however, we find Paul seeking to regulate the abuse of tongues, pointing out the dangers involved, showing the harmful effect this may have on Christian witness (I Cor 14:23) and the relative unimportance of tongues when compared with the exercise of other spiritual gifts. Things were out of control in Corinth. There was utter confusion in this carnal and divided New Testament church. Many regard the ‘glossolalia’ (tongue speaking) of Corinth as the gift of speaking in other languages which could be “interpreted” or “translated,” rather than ecstatic speech or free vocalisation. Paul instructs that this gift, necessary before the completion of Scripture in a cosmopolitan city, was not for all; was inferior to prophecy; was not to be excessively used; was to be under the speaker’s control, only to be used when an interpreter was present (with only two or three speakers on any given occasion); and that it had the purpose of acting as a “sign” of God’s judgment for those who doubted (1Cor.14:19-32). He castigates the indiscriminate or involuntary exercise of such a “sign”. Moreover, he predicts the cessation of “tongues” and this actually happened in the history of the Church.

Consequently there is no justification in Scripture for the neo-pentecostal claim that tongues, in the sense of ecstatic, uncontrolled, free vocalisation, are an evidence of “baptism of the Spirit” and an important mark of maturity for all likewise “baptised.” The need today is rather for the exposition and application of the Word of God.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church asserts the full deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, acknowledges His sovereign work in salvation, and encourages her members to use to the full all the gifts He has given. These gifts are for the express purpose of building up the Church; failure to use them means quenching the Spirit and harming the Church. Moreover, the Church encourages her members to pursue holiness; otherwise the Spirit is grieved by disobedience.