The Gift of the Spirit

If a few years ago the Holy Spirit used to be described as “the forgotten person of the Trinity,” that is certainly no longer the case. The focus, however, is too often on the gifts of the Spirit to the neglect of the gift who is the Spirit. Acts 2 describes the pouring out of that gift, and in v. 33 Peter summarizes what is going on.

You need the Spirit whom Christ received from the Father. Pentecost is the result of Christ’s exaltation. The work of John the Baptist was preparatory and provisional, Luke 3:15ff. The coming Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. For that baptism not to be the all-consuming fire of judgment, Christ had to be the sin-bearer. Pentecost is preceded by Christ’s humiliation, his life of obedience, his suffering and death. The glorious conclusion of Christ’s work is his resurrection and exaltation. The climax of that exaltation (short of his return on the clouds of heaven) is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Remember that Pentecost is a Trinitarian event. The Spirit is received by Jesus from his Father. The Spirit is Christ’s reward for his completed work. Christ, in turn, endows the church with that Spirit, equipping it for the work he has called it to do. A living relationship with God comes only as the Spirit works faith in you. But as he does that, he unites you to Christ. Don’t purse the Spirit apart from coming to Christ. Come to Christ, knowing that it is the Spirit who enables you and draws you to him. How does the Spirit work in you? Not by your focusing on yourself. Rather, the Spirit draws you to Jesus Christ. He makes you able to trust him. He unites you with him. He uses the means of grace, primarily the Word, but also the sacraments and prayer, to nurture your growth in Christ to the glory of God the Father.

In the gift of the Spirit you have the fulfillment of God’s promises. This is the Spirit Christ promised his disciples. Suddenly the sound of a rushing wind fills the house and tongues of fire rest on the heads of the disciples.

In the old/new gift of the Spirit you have the marrow of all God’s promises. The whole Old Testament looks forward to this. Creation begins with the Spirit hovering over the unformed earth. In Genesis 2, the breath of life that God breathes into man is translated by the word for “wind” that Luke uses in Acts 2:1. The flames of fire recall the fire of the Lord that brought judgment to the disobedient. The event of Pentecost fulfills the promise of the covenant, see Galatians 3:14.

The Spirit was present and active in the Old Testament, see Psalm 51. But there is a fullness, a richness of blessing, that arrives with the completed work of Christ. Peter quotes from Joel to describe these last days, vv.16-21. The specific blessings that had been limited to the prophetic office in the Old Testament are now the appropriate possession of all of those who trust in Christ. All that was involved in God being with you is drawn together in Pentecost.

Christ has poured out his Spirit on you. The Spirit comes upon the church making it his temple. In his gift of the Holy Spirit Christ is with his church. In the coming of the Comforter, Christ does not leave his church alone. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to the whole church of all time. This does not distance the Holy Spirit, or make him inaccessible, but rather makes him part of every Christian’s experience. Every believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit. That event takes place as the believer is united to Christ’s body, a union which is sealed by the sacrament of baptism. Sinclair Ferguson sums it up: “The coming of the Spirit is, therefore, the evidence of the enthronement of Christ, just as the resurrection is the evidence of the efficacy of the death of Christ as atonement (Rom. 4:24).This is not to say that Pentecost has no existential dimension or contemporary relevance. But it does mean that we should no more anticipate a ‘personal Pentecost’ than that we will experience a personal Jordan, wilderness, Gethsemane or Golgotha. While such language has often been popularly employed, it is theologically misleading. Pentecost itself is no more repeatable than is the crucifixion, or the empty tomb, or the ascension. To assume that it was would be tantamount to producing a ‘pentecostal’ form of the medieval mass, repeating what is unrepeatable and consequently diminishing, if not actually denying, its true significance.” (The Holy Spirit, p. 87).

The gift of the Spirit equips you to serve your Lord. The Holy Spirit equips the church for evangelism and missions, Acts 1:8. That was true for the apostles as the gospel went from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. It continues to be true today for us who live in these last days, bracketed by Christ’s first and second comings.

The Holy Spirit is the power for obedience to the Word. The Spirit in you changes the way you see yourself. He gives you a focus, as the concluding paragraph of Acts 2 indicates, on the Word preached and taught, and on the breaking of bread and prayer. Keep on being filled with the Spirit. The once-for-all gift continues to make an impact on every area of your life.

Have you experienced the power of Pentecost? That’s another way of asking, do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you worship and serve the Triune God?

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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