The Holy Spirit’s Role in the Gospel Proclamation
The subject of the Holy Spirit can be a confusing one. Thankfully, God has given us ‘all things pertaining to life and godliness’ in order that we can clearly understand these things. And He does that through His word.
When it comes to the Holy Spirit, confusion lies with how the Spirit carries out His assigned purposes, and within what timeframe. This article will focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing and confirming the word of God-which has been His primary role throughout scripture-specifically the Gospel. As a way of distinguishing, let’s consider the imparting of the Holy Spirit to four different groups of people:
Impartation One – To the Apostles
John 14, verses 16-17, reads: ‘And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be with you.’ Verses 25 and 26 say; ‘These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.’
Jesus is preparing His apostles for His impending death on the cross. In this passage, He is assuring them that He will not leave them as ‘orphans’, but will send the Holy Spirit to guide them in their proclamation of the Gospel. This is an exclusive relationship that they will have and not intended for everyone, as stated in verse 17. This would also empower them to perform certain signs and wonders that would confirm their gospel message (Acts 1:4-8; Mark 16:15-20). This would begin on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5, 2:1-4) and would remain with these men ‘forever’ (John 14:16), which means, until their death. Note that Jesus says that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:6. In verse 8, this same event is described as ‘when the Holy Spirit has come upon you’. To baptize simply means to immerse. There should be no confusing this baptism with the baptism that Peter speaks of in Acts 2:38, which is the baptism for the remission of sins. Furthermore, Ephesians 4:4 tells us that there is only one baptism. So we should not expect to be baptized with the Holy Spirit today, at the exclusion of the remission baptism.
Impartation Two – To the house of Cornelius
In Acts 10, Peter is summoned to the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. From the events that take place there, God declares that the Gospel is for all men, including Gentiles. In order to confirm this, the Holy Spirit falls upon them, similar to the way it happened to the Apostles earlier in chapter 2. After this, Peter commands them to be baptized. This is in contrast to the order Acts 2:38, where they received the Holy Spirit after they were baptized. And although the word ‘gift’ is used to describe this impartation, it is different than the gift referred to in 2:38. And while it is similar in the way in which it was given to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost (11:17), this does not equate the two events, since the apostles received an exclusive gift. This event at the house of Cornelius was the Holy Spirit confirming that the gospel was also for gentiles. Note in Hebrews 2:4 that, ‘God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.’ Gifts is plural and God had the discretion to give these gifts out as He pleased.
Impartation Three – To the First Christians
From scripture, we see a couple of different ways the Holy Spirit was imparted to those first Christians. In Acts 2, we see the beginning of the Lord’s church on the day of Pentecost. Peter, having received the Helper (Holy Spirit) that Jesus had promised, delivers the first gospel sermon to those gathered in Jerusalem. He tells them that in order to be saved they must be baptized (v.38). After doing so, they would receive the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’. Note the order of these events. In verse 39, he says, ‘For the promise is to you and your children and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call’. This promise refers to that great promise to Abraham, so many years before (Gen. 12:1-3), of salvation for all mankind through the Christ (Gal. 3:16). The calling speaks of our Lord drawing all men to Himself by being lifted up on the cross (John 12:31). And since this is a promise to ‘you and your children’, this is not merely referring to a limited time period of miraculous events (see discussion on 1 Cor. 13 below) but of a promised salvation to all generations (Joel 2:28-32).
The gift of the Holy Spirit spoken of here is not necessarily an imparting of special miraculous powers; nor would it be given until after they were baptized. There is no mention of those who received the Holy Spirit at this event immediately being able to speak in tongues or perform any other miraculous things, as we see with the Apostles and Cornelius’ household. Rather, we see the signs and wonders being done by the Apostles (v.43). But those who believed were added to the church by God, as well as those believers in the following days (v.47).
The Apostles had the power to perform signs and wonders to confirm the message of the Gospel (Acts 2:43, 4:30, 5:12, 14:3, Heb. 2:2-4). They also had the ability to impart the Holy Spirit by laying their hands on others. We see this take place with Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:6), those in the city of Samaria (8:17), those in Ephesus (19:6), and even the evangelist Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6). With this laying on of hands, Stephen, Philip and the twelve people in Ephesus were able to then perform signs. It is not recorded for us if those in Samaria or Timothy were given this same power. The ‘gift within you’ is mentioned as Paul addresses Timothy, but it’s in the context of his ministry and faith. In the case of the Samarians, notice that they had been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.
In all of this, we do not see anyone other than the apostles being able to impart the Holy Spirit and/or miraculous gifts to others. (Of note, Simon the sorcerer asked for that power from Peter and John and not from Philip). Therefore, this kind of imparting ended with the death of the apostles. And from 1 Corinthians 13, we know that God designed it this way:
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away (vv.8-10).
In place of these signs would be the eventual, full revelation of God’s word, which we have today. The period of time that the Holy Spirit was working these miracles and guiding men to teach, preach and write the truth was transitional: from ‘in part’ to ‘perfect’. Again, the chief role of the Holy Spirit was to reveal and confirm the word.
Impartation Four – To All Christians
For those of us who are baptized for the remission of our sins today, do we also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit like those on the day of Pentecost? Yes, we do. But since the gospel has been preached and confirmed, there is no longer the need for us as Christians to perform miraculous signs (Col. 1:23). So our gift is salvation, among other things that the Holy Spirit freely gives to us; i.e. a guarantee of our inheritance, guidance in our own lives through the Word, etc.
The Holy Spirit has served in different capacities over time. He inspired all the writers of the bible (2 Pet 1:21), He conceived Jesus in Mary (Matt. 1:18, 20), He even spoke through the apostles (Mark 13:11), among other things. As we seek to parse out the Holy Spirit from God the Father and Jesus, we must understand that we cannot sever the unity that they possess (John 10:30). Therefore, any gift we receive is from the Father (James 1:17). During the period of time when the gospel was first being proclaimed, the Holy Spirit imparted different gifts in different ways to different people in order to reveal and confirm the gospel message. Understanding these differences assures that we don’t confuse one with another, thereby leading to an over complication of a relatively simple subject.