Pneumatology: The Gifts of the Spirit

When God works through man to accomplish His will, He adheres to a consistent principle which is recorded for us by the prophet Zechariah as spoken to Zerubbabel, when God commissioned him to complete the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. That principle is: “not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit, ‘says the LORD of hosts.’”

Christ Jesus our Lord is the perfect example of this principle, and the perfect pattern for us to follow. Jesus, being completely God chose to veil his glory, and limit himself as a man. As a man, he submitted himself to the leading of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God the Father’s will. This is recorded for us at his baptism. Upon coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and remained with him. He was then led by the Spirit to be tested. Having overcome every temptation by Satan, he returned in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work that God the Father had prepared for him to do. Nearing the conclusion of his earthly ministry, he prepared his disciples for his bodily departure, and commissioned them to continue the work of preaching the gospel, making disciples, and instructing and strengthening all those who would come to faith in him until his bodily return.

Jesus instructed his disciples on how this would be accomplished, as recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 14 and Acts chapter 1. “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another helper, that he may abide with you forever – the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; but you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” He also promised: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father.”

In these statements, Jesus outlines the work of the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit “dwells with” people, convicting us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). Second, when a person repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, the Holy Spirit comes “in” a person, and seals them as a guarantee of their inheritance. Jesus referred to this as being “born again” and “born of the Spirit.” When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a person, he imparts spiritual gifts to them in order for the person to accomplish what God has prepared for them to do as part of His ongoing work of redemption and restoration in the lives of people. The Holy Spirit also begins to produce fruit in the person’s life, the greatest of which is God’s love. Finally, the Holy Spirit comes “upon” a person, empowering them to be a witness of Christ Jesus. This is sometimes called the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The Scriptures also refer to this as being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. While some people think that this is a one-time occurrence, the Bible teaches us in Acts 2:4, Acts 4:8, Acts 4:31, Acts 9:17, Acts 13:9, Acts 13:52, and Ephesians 5:18 that this is something that can occur multiple times, and that should be ongoing.

In 1 Corinthians 12 we learn that there are many members within the body of Christ, and although we have the same Holy Spirit, God has chosen to distribute various gifts, ministries, and activities to each person according to His will. One of the more controversial gifts is the gift of speaking in tongues. According to 1 Corinthians 13:1 there are tongues of men and tongues of angels. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they “spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This exercise of the gift of tongues seems to be the tongues of men, since we further read that the Jews that were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost were “from every nation under heaven,” and they heard the disciples speak “everyone in their own language.” We see this again when Peter preaches the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius and his household. Unfortunately, the gift of speaking in tongues has become controversial because rather than being properly exercised as a “sign to unbelievers,” some have put undue emphasis on it, and use it to cause division rather than edification within the church. However, Paul, in writing the letter to the Corinthians and instructing them on these things imparts godly wisdom concerning the spiritual gifts. He exhorts believers to “pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Paul puts the emphasis on love, and the speaking of God’s Word, rather than on speaking in tongues. His argument is that love and prophesying edify, exhort, and comfort others as well as the church. Speaking in tongues only edifies the person speaking, and can even cause problems when not exercised properly within the church.

Finally, concerning the question of whether some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased, I suggest the answer is no for three reasons. First, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and what the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the New Testament to write for the instruction of the church is as valid today as it was during the early church. Second, I myself have seen the proper exercise of many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among believers in Bible teaching churches, including the gift of tongues and interpretation, the gift of healing, the discerning of spirits, and especially the gift of prophesying (both forth telling of God’s Word, and foretelling of future events.) And finally, until the church is called up into heaven to be with the Lord Jesus Christ prior to His bodily return to establish His kingdom on earth, the Holy Spirit will continue to work in the lives of every believer through the distribution of spiritual gifts, ministries, and activities “till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 2001.

Smith, Chuck, Living Water. Santa Ana, CA: The Word for Today, 1996, 2001, 2007.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1982.

Towns, Elmer L., Theology for Today. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning, 2008.

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