Mission of the Holy Spirit
"I want to give you something," said a ten-year-old boy as he slipped up to me after Vacation Bible School one day.
‘‘Fine; what is it?"
"This," he said, shoving into my hand a small rock shaped like a heart. "I found it, and I want to give it to you."
"Thank you, but why do you want to give it to me ?"
"Because I gave my heart to Jesus when you preached."
The coming of the Holy Spirit made possible the fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:26-27: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes."
The disciples must have felt like soldiers during a lull on the battlefield after they had lost their general. They did not know what to do, and they feared what the strangely quiet enemy might be doing. They hiked back to the upper room where Jesus had met them so many times, both before and after the resurrection. Their minds must have been flooded with questions such as: If we were not able to hold out while Jesus was with us, what can we do without him? How can we be witnesses to the hostile world that has just killed our Lord? What will the Holy Spirit do that Jesus has not done? How long should we wait? How will we know when the Holy Spirit comes? Why doesn’t God do something quickly before some of our number run? In desperation, perhaps, they began to pray with one accord!
Meanwhile, Satan’s review of his own situation could have been something like this. "Jesus has defeated me and has returned to heaven, but he has left his defenseless disciples as easy prey. As disorganized and as confused as they are, they will be vulnerable to a frontal attack. They have never understood that the war is being fought in the spiritual realm and, therefore, are still considering natural phenomena. I will have no trouble with them and need not even attack for a few days unless they try something."
Today we face the same basic problem the disciples faced--trying to fight spiritual battles with human resources. A majority of Christians live and serve as if Pentecost had never happened. They bravely try to obey Christ’s commands in their own strength; yet they wonder how Satan so often outsmarts and overpowers them.
They ignore the mission of the Holy Spirit, who came to take Jesus’ place, to inspire, to empower, and to guide them. For them, the Holy Spirit is almost the "unknown God," because they think of him as an influence, an attitude, or just another way to express the omnipresence of God.
The answer lies in the reality of experiencing the Holy Spirit’s presence and power as the disciples did at Pentecost. Pentecost cannot be repeated anymore than Calvary can, but the power of Pentecost can be appropriated as surely as the redemption of Calvary can.
The lull between the ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit was not accidental. Little did Satan realize God’s next step. Satan can read the Scriptures, and even misquote them for his own ends, but he cannot understand them because the Holy Spirit does not illuminate them for him. He rested for ten days, thinking the field had been vacated and the game forfeited, not knowing it was only halftime.
Why did the Holy Spirit delay his coming for ten days? Of course, it is impossible for us to be certain. There are several possibilities. First, it could have been a sacred moment in heaven. Jesus had returned from his successful mission on earth. The Holy Spirit was preparing to continue that mission. It must have been a great time of rejoicing and of anticipation. In retrospect, Peter said, "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he [Jesus] hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:33).
Meanwhile on earth, the second reason for the delay could have been the preparation needed by the disciples. As the followers of Jesus waited, they studied the Word in the light of the crucifixion and the resurrection. They rehearsed the past events and agreed on their doctrine. They agreed in prayer that they wanted the promise of the Father to come upon them. How it increased their anticipation and expectation!
The third reason for the delay was God’s eternal plan. The Holy Spirit could not descend until the feast of Pentecost. God had planned for the Son to be crucified at the Feast of the Passover, because it symbolized Israel’s redemption from Egypt and death through the sacrificial lamb. He had planned for the Holy Spirit to descend at Pentecost, because it symbolized the first fruits of the harvest. The day the Harvester came, three thousand first fruits were gathered into the kingdom.
Pentecost fully ushered in the "last days," the period between the coming of the Holy Spirit and the second coming of Christ. We live in those days. This is harvest time. The Harvester has come to "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment’, (John 16:8) and to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). Since the advent of the Holy Spirit, God is intent on putting all things under the feet of Jesus as Lord and subduing all things. "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he bath put all enemies under his feet" (I Cor. 15:24-25).
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Write in your own words the three possible reasons for the ten-day delay between the ascension of Christ and the advent of the Holy Spirit.
THE INSPIRER OF MISSIONS
The mission of Christ could not be accomplished without the mission of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came to make God’s people into the body of Christ. Christ had come to be with man; the Holy Spirit came to be in him. Through the Spirit, God enables man to become all he wants him to be. He is born of the Spirit and baptized into Christ’s body at conversion (John 3:6-7; 1 Cor. 12:13). Prior to Christ’s coming, the Holy Spirit came upon certain individuals for brief periods of time to accomplish specific tasks. After Pentecost, he came to live within each Christian forever and to minister through him in all events of life.
The Holy Spirit performs varied ministries within the body of Christ; he regenerates, sanctifies, teaches, guides, comforts, illuminates, and intercedes. But the most important ministry in relation to his mission is the filling of Christians for service. When Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they spontaneously shared the wonderful works of God with the people of many nations (Acts 2:4-11). The Spirit so inspired the first disciples that Peter had to explain what was happening. He said that the pouring out of the Spirit was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions; and your old men shall dream dreams" (Acts 2:17). Moses’ wish had come true: ‘‘Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:29). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit inspired the overflowing witness of the saints. They were so inflamed that when they were scattered by persecution, they went everywhere telling the Word.
The Holy Spirit is the executor and the administrator of the Great Commission. He, rather than the Great Commission, is the motivator of missions. The Bible does not mention the Great Commission after Christ’s ascension. Why? Perhaps the early church did not need it because the Holy Spirit had thrust them into missions and witness. If we were more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, we might not need to lean on obedience to the Great Commission as our primary motivation.
Since 1792, when William Carey urged Baptists to be missionaries to other lands, the Great Commission has been the basis of the modern missions movement. The Great Commission crystallizes Christ’s command in one brief statement, but it is the Holy Spirit who inspires men to carry it out spontaneously. How different it is to share the message out of obligation and to share it out of spontaneous, overflowing love!
Harry Boer in his book Pentecost and Missions illustrates this difference in motivation by the story of Adam and Eve. God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and replenish the earth (Gen. 1:28). However, they responded, not in obedience to a command, but because God had placed in them a desire to consummate their marriage and have children. Just so, when the Holy Spirit fills the Christian, he places a desire in the heart to fulfill the Commission.
If we are to experience a massive missions movement in our day, it will have to be motivated by the power of the Holy Spirit filling the people of God. When God’s people are revived, they witness. Any "revival" that does not result in Christians witnessing and in sinners coming to Christ has not been an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
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Examine your witness and that of your church to see if "this is that" which was prophesied by Joel and experienced by the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18). List the similarities and the differences.
THE EMPOWERER OF THE CHURCH
The disciples asked Jesus just before he ascended if the kingdom would be restored to Israel at that time (Arts 1:7). He told them that the Father kept the timetable and they were not to he concerned about the kind of power (ekousia) that comes from having authority. He said, on the other hand, that they were to be concerned about the kind of power the Holy Spirit brought to make them worldwide witnesses. Here Jesus used the word dunamis, from whir h we get the words dynamo and dynamite.
The power they received with the filling of the Holy Spirit was life-changing and world-changing because it was living, spiritual power.
The lordship of Christ gives the believer authority to bear witness to everyone. The presence of the Holy Spirit gives him the spiritual ability to make an impact on those hearing the testimony. The Spirit-filled believer never witnesses alone. The Holy Spirit works within the lost person to verify and to personalize the witness of the believer. He makes real the authority and the presence of Christ.
To witness without the power of the Holy Spirit is folly. Only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin, judgment, and righteousness (John 16:8-11). God’s mission demands God’s power. The power of the Holy Spirit is available to every believer who allows him to invade fully his life.
The filling of the Spirit is not a nebulous experience which you can only hope to possess. It is a definite, recognizable experience. Every believer has the Spirit within him from the time he experiences the new birth (Rom.8:16-17). However, all believers are not continually filled with the power of the Spirit. Jesus commanded his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. Look at Peter to see the difference before and after the filling of the Spirit (compare Luke 22:54-62 with Acts 4:5-12). See the boldness of the disciples when they were refilled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31). Note that the Ephesians were filled after they had been saved and baptized in Jesus’ name (Acts 19: 5-6).
Yes, the filling of the Spirit is a definite experience to equip God’s people for service. Ideally, it should occur initially when one is converted, as it did in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-45). Tragically, most Christians go years without knowing the difference between being indwelled by the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit.
The Bible commands all believers to be filled with the Spirit. "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph.5:18). Most Christians are more adamant about the negative command not to be drunk with wine than they are about the positive one to be filled with the Spirit. The Greek verb in Ephesians 5:18 makes it clear that being filled is a continual, repeated action. Every Christian is indwelled by the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conversion (John 3:5-6; Rom. 8:16), but every Christian needs to be filled continually with the Spirit. The filling of the Spirit gave the disciples boldness, wisdom, and the ability to witness. This scared, frightened, cowering group of defeated disciples experienced what it meant to be a part of the living body of Christ ministering to the world.
While I was a freshman in college, the Holy Spirit created in my heart an overwhelming desire to bear witness to Christ. In the months that followed, his presence overcame my natural shyness and thrust me out several times each week onto the streets and into bars to witness. However, l was not successful in leading people to Christ. I memorized Scriptures, studied soul-winning books, and prayed. But something was missing.
One day I received in the mail a booklet that told of the experiences of D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and others whose ministries had been transformed when they experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit.
I had a burning desire to be used of God, but I could not find anyone who could tell me how to be filled. Finally, a friend loaned me the book The Holy Spirit: Who He is and What He Does by R. A. Torrey.
For the first time, I realized that the Holy Spirit is a person who possesses us, instead of a power or an influence that we possess. Torrey showed that the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, wants to fill us for service. By the next evening I had finished the book and was ready to follow its instructions on being filled with the Spirit. l confessed all my sins, presented myself fully to God, and asked in faith for the Holy Spirit to fill me. As I confessed my sins, I realized how much the Holy Spirit had loved me and had been grieved by my ignoring him. Then I presented my body, will, emotions, intellect, and spirit to be used by God in any way. The most difficult part was accepting by faith the filling of the Holy Spirit without any outward sign or manifestation. I told God, "I will accept the fact that I am filled with the Spirit on the basis of faith in the Word, no matter what happens when I witness." There was no great emotional experience, but I had a deep awareness of the love of the Spirit.
The next morning when I went to class, the grass looked greener and the birds sang more sweetly. I was so aware of the Spirit’s presence that I wanted to move over on the sidewalk to let him walk beside me. That evening I witnessed to a boy on the street, and he accepted Christ as his Savior. Two nights later two black teenagers accepted Christ. The following night a man professed faith in Christ, the night after that another man.
I remarked to a friend: "I don’t see how this can continue. Every night I go out to witness, someone accepts Christ." That night no one did. I had to come back and ask forgiveness and be filled afresh because I had dared to think that I had won those people to Christ myself. God willingly refilled me with his Spirit when I was willing to confess my sins, present myself, and ask in faith. Once again people began to come to Christ.
In the years since that experience, the Holy Spirit has taught me the secret of being filled for each task of service. Thousands of times I have had to ask him to refill me when I have sinned, and he has done so. The filling of the Spirit energizes and empowers different gifts in different persons, but in every case the result brings glory to Christ and attracts others to him. In chapter 8 we will examine more carefully the gifts of the Spirit.
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Read Psalm 139:23-24. Ask the Lord to point out any sins that would prevent his filling you with the Holy Spirit. Confess those sins to him. Present yourself to him (Rom. 12:1-2) and ask him to fill you (Luke 11:13; 1 John 5:14-15).
THE GUIDE IN MISSIONS
As executor of Christ’s will, the Holy Spirit determines the course of missions. Twelve times in the book of Acts it appears the witness might have been confined and that the disciples might have been satisfied with gains already made. But each time the Holy Spirit thrust them farther into the fields. Acts 1:8 outlines the Spirit’s movement: Jerusalem (Acts 2:1 to 8:4); Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:5 to 12:25); and the remainder of the world (Acts 13:1 to 28:31).
When persecution came, the disciples prayed, and "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). Later the persecution became an instrument of the Spirit so that "they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).
Philip went to the outcast Samaritans. Strangely enough, in the midst of a great spiritual ingathering in Samaria, the Spirit told Philip to go to the desert and to witness to one man. How often the guidance of the Spirit conflicts with the wisdom of man! Nevertheless, Philip obediently followed the Spirit’s guidance and won an important Ethiopian official who took the gospel back to his native land (Acts 8:26-40).
It appeared that the witness might be confined to the Jews and Jewish proselytes until the Spirit got Peter’s attention with a vision and sent him to witness to Cornelius (Acts 10). The Spirit had more difficulty getting Peter ready to go than he had with Cornelius who was eagerly waiting to hear. How often this is the case because we fail to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Another breakthrough occurred when Greeks in Antioch were saved. One year later the Holy Spirit separated Barnabas and Paul from the Antioch church to send them a step farther into the world with the gospel.
When Paul and his friends returned with the good news that the Gentiles had turned to God, it seemed that the Jewish element in the Jerusalem church might shackle the witness by demanding that Gentiles first become Jews. Once again the Holy Spirit intervened, and they wrote, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things" (Acts 15:28).
Paul and his co-laborers experienced the direct guidance of the Spirit to go to Philippi, but it came one step at a time. First, the Holy Spirit had to forbid them to speak the Word in Asia (Acts 16:6). Then he did not allow them to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7). Since he had been forbidden to go left or right, Paul assumed he should go straight ahead. But when he reached the Mediterranean Sea at Troas, he had received no further instructions. That night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us" (Acts 16:9), and they deduced that God must be leading them in that direction (Acts 16:10).
Only the Spirit is qualified to determine the place of service for his people. We are so limited in our understanding that we cannot predict the next move of the Spirit.
Paul could not have understood all the experiences the Spirit took him through to lead him to Rome, but who questions that it was God’s will? Surely more than once the situation appeared foolish to Paul, but he never lost sight of his mission to the Gentiles and of his faith in the leadership of the Spirit (Acts 26: 16-18).
God reveals our mission to the nations through the Bible, but the time and place for carrying it out are to be revealed by the Holy Spirit as he chooses. One fact is certain--Christians are to witness wherever the Holy Spirit has placed them until he directs them to another place. If a Christian is not being a missionary where he is, he need not expect to be led somewhere else to be a missionary. The Holy Spirit usually guides his people nearby before sending them on a distant mission.
Do not misunderstand. The Holy Spirit does not classify missions in one locale as better than in another locale. Anyone who thinks foreign missions is better than home missions has failed to realize that the Holy Spirit has charge of world missions. A person saved in one country is no more or no less valuable than one saved in another country.
Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit redistributes the harvesters from an area where there are many laborers to other places where there are few laborers. He must determine the need and redeploy the forces. When out of each five thousand Southern Baptists only one is a home missionary and one a foreign missionary, we have to wonder if we are allowing the Holy Spirit to select, to separate, and to send forth laborers into the harvest as he wants. We are all the people of God. Perhaps we are not spending enough time in fasting and in prayer to listen to the Spirits guidance as the Christians at Antioch did (Acts 13:2-3).
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List three ways the Holy Spirit fulfills his mission.
The Holy Spirit periodically breaks through the traditions and the prejudices of his people to thrust them out into the world as flaming witnesses. His moving among Indonesian missionaries in Central Java in 1971 spread to missionaries throughout the country and several other Southeast Asia countries. He changed lives and structures so radically that a new mission strategy for reaching the lost was named "The New Pattern."
The spiritual awakening began with brokenness over sin. On the first night of a prayer retreat, an atmosphere of acceptance was created that freed us to be honest. One person broke down and confessed his sins. Revival began as always with one person’s being honest with God and with his fellowmen. For two hours, the twenty-five missionaries confessed their barrenness, their emptiness, and their powerlessness. A spirit of expectancy rose the next day as various ones shared their experiences of being filled with the Spirit. Others shared insights from the book The Shantung Revival. The Spirit probed deeply into motives, relationships, and actions. Hypocrisy, bitterness, lust, hate, "rumblings, skepticism, selfishness, covetousness, and other sins of the flesh and the spirit were laid at the Lord’s feet. Lives were committed afresh to Christ, and the Spirit’s filling was claimed by faith. The planned program was laid aside as the Spirit took control. Mealtimes and bedtimes were postponed or ignored.
The men’s group was engrossed in urgent prayers for the lost and the sick. Some sobbed uncontrollably. Others fell face down on the floor. All worshiped the holy God. Someone began singing "The Lord’s Prayer" and, as others joined in, it was as if the Great Conductor led in the most beautiful rendition of the song any had ever heard.
Each day the awesome presence of God was felt. The worship times did not follow usual patterns, but nothing offensive intruded. Testimonies of victory moved into songs of thanksgiving and praise and prayers of intercession. When the weekend retreat ended at 2:00 a.m.. Monday, all knew that the Holy Spirit had moved among us to prepare us for some special ministry. One China veteran said: "When God sends revival, it is to prepare his people for harvest or for persecution. In China, it was for persecution. I don’t know what he is preparing us for, but he has gotten us ready."
Missionaries from other areas began to ask what had happened to change our lives so dramatically, only to be convicted themselves and later filled with the Spirit. Missionaries returned to their churches to confess to national Christians their bad attitudes. In many churches great numbers of people professed Christ, rededicated their lives, or committed themselves to service.
Four months later our prayers were answered as the Spirit moved among all the missionaries and their children at the annual meeting. Lives were changed radically. One mother who said that her Christian life had been like a Girl Scout fire, flaming up again and again only to go out, testifies to this day that the fire lit during the mission meeting is still burning. A missionary wife who confessed she had not seen a single person come to Christ as a direct result of her personal witness in fifteen years returned home to lead several to Christ.
The revival spilled over to the teenagers. Led by a student summer missionary, they passed out five thousand tracts, conducted a street service, and moved the service into the home of a woman that they had led to Christ. The summer missionary’s zeal knew no bounds. Throughout the rest of the summer, he daily rode his bicycle into the villages and rice fields, handing out tracts. Even though he did not know the language, he did more evangelism than many who did know the language.
A three-day strategy conference on mission work preceding the mission meeting extended to a full ten days of spiritual revival and resolute decision making that changed the structure of mission work in Indonesia and began to prepare God’s people to reach 125 million Indonesians for Christ. The impact of the awakening and the changes coming out of it have been felt throughout Southeast Asia and other countries.
The Holy Spirit works throughout the world to prepare men’s hearts for the gospel, but his primary work among God’s people is to send them forth with the gospel message. To march into the battle without the guidance of the Spirit is as foolish as an army’s marching into battle without a general. For us to testify of God’s grace without the power of the Holy Spirit is to fight without weapons. Satan, the evil spirit, fights for control over the lives of those whom he has seduced. His grip can be broken only by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works through God’s people to accomplish his mission.
Allen, Roland. The Ministry of the Spirit. World Dominion Press, 1965.
____. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962.
Boer, Harry R. Pentecost and Missions. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, l961.
Leavell, Landrum P. II. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Nashville: Convention Press, 1983.