At Issue At Issue Index    Spiritual Discernment Index  Previous  Next

"Rediscovering the Spirit Filled Life"
by Richard Rice

Why are people seeking dramatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit in such numbers?

  1. One possible reason is theological fatigue. We have overemphasized doctrinal orthodoxy and precision at the expense of attention to Christian experience. When we interpret salvation as something entirely external—something entirely outside us—we create the impression that everything else in Christian life is strictly secondary.

  2. Another reason people may look for more drama in religion is unsatisfying worship experiences. for many people, nothing exciting seems to happen in conventional worship services. The same individuals lead out week after week. The order of service is predictable. The hymns are familiar, overly familiar. The sermons—and there are always sermons—are often uninspired, uninspiring, and unoriginal. Years ago a group of students were talking on a Friday night about the tameness of the worship services at the college they attended. To make a point, one of them opened the bulletin for the next day’s program, read the sermon title, and asked, rhetorically, "Is there anyone here who doesn’t know what the preacher’s going to say tomorrow?"

    A contributing factor to this dissatisfaction with worship services is the sleek form that popular entertainment comes in. People today are used to sophisticated programming—whether they are watching television, motion pictures, going to concerts or plays, or just scanning the internet. Popular entertainment is slick. It’s well-planned, it’s fast moving, it has great variety, and it’s highly stimulating. As a college professor I have class sessions that run from 50 minutes to five hours (the outside exception). It is a tremendous challenge to keep things moving. Especially when today’s students, even university students, are used to watching programs that literally fly past them. For years Seinfeld was the most popular sit-com on American television. In an average half hour broadcast, there were 8 minutes of commercials, 22 minutes of comedy, 20 to 24 separate scenes, and four interweaving plot lines. Viewers didn’t have to focus their attention on anything longer than a minute at a time. No wonder they find it hard to listen to someone talk for half an hour non-stop! People today are looking for religion in lighter, more compact, more stimulating doses.

  3. Then there’s the problem of tepid devotional lives. Many people find little joy, little excitement, in their attempts to reach out to God in the course of their day-to-day lives. They just don’t feel connected to God. Bible reading is just an exercise. In some families, daily worship is just another chore.

  4. Another reason people want excitement in religion is the deep desire we all have for assurance, or certainty, in religion. We want to know God, and we want to know that we know him. We are tired of wondering if we’ve worked enough, or repented enough, or trusted enough, to be saved. And we are tired of the suspense of waiting until Christ comes to find out. We want tangible evidence that we are right with God right now, that we are part of his kingdom today, in short, that we are really saved. And a dramatic manifestation of spiritual power offers provide that evidence. It provides a visible demonstration of spiritual security.

The answer to this deep desire, we need to recover the Spirit-filled life. And the way to find such a life is to look at the life of Jesus. He lived the most Spirit-filled life ever lived. In Gerald F. Hawthorne’s words, "His birth was singular, his life unexampled, his death remarkable, and his resurrection unparalleled."

The Holy Spirit in the birth of Jesus

The Holy Spirit, which had been silent for centuries according to the teaching of the rabbis, burst forth with a flurry of activity surrounding one particular life. The Holy Spirit was active in an extraordinary way at Jesus’ birth (Mt 1,18, Lk 1,35), at his baptism (Mt 3:16), at his temptation (Mt 4:1). There is also running through the early chapters of Lk statements such as: John the baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth (1,15); Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed about God’s new work in the world (Lk 1:41); Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied of God’s goodness (1:67); John the Baptist, as a child, grew and became strong by the Holy Spirit (1:80); the Holy Spirit came upon Simeon and gave him special insight and revelation and prompted him to go into the temple at the right moment (2:25-26). 54.

"And the angel said to her, ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon [overshadow] you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.’" Luke 1:35. 65. Luke makes clear that the conception of Jesus was not part of the normal course of things, but a miracle, the direct intervention of God into the course of human events, so that Mary’s child would be a gift of God in the fullest sense. 71.

In the OT the expression overshadow describes the protection that the power of God affords to those who trust in him. Ps 90:4, 139:8. Here in Luke it is an allusion to the same power coming upon Mary. As the tabernacle was full of the shekinah glory, so Mary was to carry within herself the Son of God, the glory of God’s people Israel (cf. Lk 2:28-32). 72.

The consequences of Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. Lk 1,35.

  • Jesus will be called the Son of God. Lk 1,35b.
  • Jesus will be called holy. Lk 1,35. Cf. Jdgs 13,7. Just what does the fact that Jesus was "holy" signify? It means that he was singled out for unique ministry for God. 82. Many people also feel that it means he was free from sin, the stain of original sin. The Holy Spirit produced perfect humanity for the Son of God to assume. 85.

  • Jesus will be full of the Holy Spirit from his birth. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while in his mother’s womb. Lk 1,15. Cf. Judgs 13,3-5; 16,17. Isaiah 44,2. So, Jesus was to be filled with Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. From the very beginning of Jesus’ existence and onward he was to be endowed by the Holy Spirit with those gifts of the Holy Spirit that would be necessary for his exercise of love, trust, and holy affection. Cf. Ps. 22.10.

The Holy Spirit at the baptism and temptation of Jesus

The baptism of Jesus is the most obvious point in his life where he connected with the Holy Spirit. And the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism clearly indicates that the influence of the Holy Spirit was to last his entire life.

There were three essential elements in baptism of Jesus: heavens open, Holy Spirit descends, and the voice comes from heaven. 122. (It is a testimony to the highly "spiritual" nature of the experience that there is no hint that any other person saw or heard the things that Jesus did. See Mk 1,10.)

  1. Heavens opened. "torn apart." "The language is cosmological, invoking the concept of a firmament that separates the abode of God above from the world of human beings below. 124. The language is apocalyptic—picturing the last times as having dawned, the age of God’s salvation as having arrived, the breaking in of the heavenly into the earthly. The language is prophetic—picturing God as answering the people’s plea (Isaiah 64:1-2, Mal 3:10). It all indicated to Jesus that God was on the verge of doing some great new thing, that God was about to manifest himself in some unusual way and to reveal his purpose in an unmistakable fashion, that God himself was going to come down and act in power.

  2. Descent of the Holy Spirit. Cf. Isaiah 63:14 and 19.
    The descent of the dove shows that the Holy Spirit had come to him to stay. Jesus was now the permanent bearer of the Holy Spirit. Luke say that after his Jordan experience Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit" (4:1). The descent of the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ anointing, his commissioning as the Messiah of God. OT kings and prophets were anointed. In Ac 10:38 Peter links the baptism of Jn with God anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power. 132

    In Jesus’ synagogue sermon of Luke 4, Jesus applies Isaiah 61:1 to himself: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. 133.

    From the moment the Holy Spirit descended to him, Jesus became aware of a new power within him to save, to heal, to bind the strong man and overturn his evil designs, to teach and preach, to release those held captive by sin, to command unclean spirits to come out of tortured people. 133.

    By coming upon him and into him at the baptism the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus with power and authority to carry out, fulfill, his mission as Messiah; filled him to a greater extent than before, permeating his being, pervading his thinking, directing his steps, empowering him (Lk 4,1-2). The Holy Spirit equipped him for service. 134.

    "He came to the Jordan as Jesus of Nazareth and left it as the Messiah of God." It was as a person filled with the Holy Spirit that he was marked to his followers as the Messiah, not any outward activity of a king that he might have displayed. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit within him gave reality to messianic claims. 134.

    In this connection, it is noteworthy that there is no record that Jesus, the supreme recipient of the Holy Spirit, ever spoke in tongues. But there is a record about the impact of his speech on his hearers. The multitudes were astonished at his authority (Mt 7). Those who cam to arrest him exclaimed, "No one every spoke like this man. Jn 7,45-46." The conclusion? The Holy Spirit gave Jesus’ words extraordinary power and authority. The evidence of the Spirit’s influence was apparent in the effect his words had on people.

  3. Coming of the voice.
    The voice confirms and interprets the appearance of the dove. Jesus’ understanding of himself as Son of God was not only the result of the declaration from the Father, but also the result of the inner prompting or illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. 128.

    The voice confirms and interprets the appearance of the dove. Jesus’ understanding of himself as Son of God was not only the result of the declaration from the Father, but also the result of the inner prompting or illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. 128.

    The words Jesus heard are borrowed from two significant OT texts. One is Ps 2:7, "You are my son, today I have begotten you." The other is Isaiah 42:1, "Behold my servant in whom my soul delights." Ps 2 may have been an enthronement psalm, chanted during the coronation ceremony of David’s heir. In later Judaism my son was applied to Messiah, as it was in the NT (Ac 13,33; Heb 1:5, 5:5, 2Pet 1:17). 

    Isaiah quotation is from the Servant Songs (42, 49, 50, 52-53), which begin with God putting his Holy Spirit upon the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1) and conclude with the servant’s suffering and death by which he brings healing and redemption to the people he represents. 130.

    The combination of Ps 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1 gives insight into the person and mission of Jesus. As the Messiah he is to be the servant of the Lord, anointed with the Holy Spirit, thrust into the world not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. This pronouncement is "a panoramic view of his life." 136.

    Baptism as a turning point. From this moment onward the directing and empowering impulse of the Spirit of God ordered the way Jesus was to go, the things he was to say and do. 145.

Temptations in the wilderness. We also see the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life in the wilderness temptations. The savior’s victory over the tempter was due in large part to his being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to see the subtle dangers that underlay the seemingly innocent appeals of Satan to exercise his messianic powers on his own authority. And the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to resist these solicitations to take a course that would run counter to the will of God. 140.

The Spirit in the Ministry of Jesus

Following Jesus’ healing of a man with a withered hand, Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1-4. "I will put my Spirit on my servant." 146. There a two statements that refer explicitly to the role the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life.

Following the mission of the 72, according to Lk 10:21, Jesus "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit." 148. Directly following these words is Lk’s version of the famous statement (Johanine thunderbolt in the synoptic sky), "no one knows who the Son is except the Father or who the Father is except the son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Lk 10:21-33, cf. Mt 11:25-27). 150. It appears then that Jesus was conscious of being in a unique relationship to God, as Son to the Father, and was a developing one in keeping with his years and in keeping with his ability to understand and make use of it. It was spurred on by extraordinary events (e.g. baptism, temptation, transfiguration), by his own constant meditation on the meaning of certain key OT passages (e.g. 2Sm 7,8-16, Isaiah 42-53, Dan 2:31-35, 7:9-14, Zech 9) and by the illuminating activity of the Holy Spirit. 151.

Jn 3,34-35. "He whom God sent speaks the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit. The Father loves the S, and has give all things into his hand." Jesus excels all other messengers, because they receive the Holy Spirit in a measured fashion, only partially, but Jesus is given the Holy Spirit without measure.

"The Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at the baptism to be with him, to remain in him, to be fully active in his life (Jn 1,33-34) is the Holy Spirit who now in his fullness inspires Jesus and enables him to speak the words of God with power, to speak words that are in fact the very words of God. The conclusion of the matter is this: the teaching ministry of Jesus was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke as the Holy Spirit filled his mind with new insights prompting him to speak (cf. Mk 13,11). His words came forth with authority through the enabling power of God’s Holy Spirit." 153.

The Holy Spirit in the death of Jesus

The one text that makes the connection explicitly is Heb 9:13-14. Perhaps the writer thought of Gethsemane as Jesus’ greatest temptation, and that he overcame here as he had before, by relying on the strength of the Holy Spirit. Heb 10:7. So, "through the eternal Spirit," means that it was by the aid of, through the morally strengthening support of, by the power of the Spirit that Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God. As the Holy Spirit helped him throughout his ministry, it enabled him here to achieve his greatest accomplishment. 183-84.

The Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus

The Holy Spirit was the power by which God raised up Jesus from the dead and gave him life again. Recall that the Holy Spirit is the life-giving power of God in the world, from creation on and in salvation. 187.

Rom 1:1-4 mentions the Spirit of holiness in connection with Jesus’ resurrection.

Rom 8:11. "The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." The resurrection of Jesus was an eschatological event. It inaugurated the Last Days. That first event was the pledge and guarantee of the last event—the resurrection of Christians. 189.

The Holy Spirit in the lives of Jesus’ followers

Jesus bequeathed to his followers the power (and presence) that had guided and directed his life. Doing this accomplished several things.

On the day of his resurrection, Jesus breathed on his followers and said "receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22). This expression appears nowhere else in the NT, but it is the verb used of creation in Gen 2:7. This constitutes an anointing reminiscent of Jesus’ anointing at his baptism.

  1. Most obviously, it created a new dynamic for living, a new inner power, a new life, eternal life, the life of the resurrection. 2Cor 5:17.

  2. It bound Jesus’ disciples to him with ties that can never be broken. Jesus continued to be present in the world in the lives of his followers (Christ in you, the life I now live I live by Christ). The Holy Spirit is now the "spirit of Christ." So the Holy Spirit receives a new identity by virtue of the ministry of Jesus in the world.

  3. It created a new community in which believers would enjoy a closeness to each other that human beings had never found possible before.

  4. It empowered the disciples for service. It accounts for the dramatic things they were able to accomplish. The acts of the apostles were the acts of the Holy Spirit. 238. The AA shows what God is able to do though people who yield themselves willingly to the influence of the Holy Spirit: preach boldly, face crises with courage, face persecution and suffering, heal the sick and raise the dead, arbitrate differences and bring about peace, know where to go and not to go, what to do and not to do. 238.

The Holy Spirit is God present and active in the lives of Jesus’ followers—not to make life rich and comfortable for them, but to equip them to fulfill God’s mission in the world. And what it that mission? It is a mission of helping, serving, healing, restoring, giving, sharing and loving, a mission of binding up the broken, of being just and striving for justice, of proclaiming the good news that God is king, of taking the Gospel everywhere, preaching the message that God has acted to save the world and transform people in and through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. 243.

From what we have seen of Jesus’ own experience, and the experience of his immediate followers, it is evident that life in the Holy Spirit is a life of service, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit is intended to equip its recipients to enter into that life. The gift of the Holy Spirit is incomprehensible apart from the mission of the church. The Holy Spirit creates the church, the community of fellowship which extends back to Jesus’ own relationship with his disciples, and the Holy Spirit extends that community outward into the world to include more and more of God’s people within it.

If this is true, it is a mistake to seek the Holy Spirit just to satisfy our personal needs for spiritual assurance. We need the Holy Spirit to equip us for service. The Christian’s highest priority is not to gain personal salvation, but to further the work of God’s kingdom. We need to shift the focus of the Christian life from self to service, from the individual Christian to the community of Christians, from what God is doing for us and in us, to what God wants to do through us and among us.

Life in the Spirit as life with God

The purpose of Jesus’ ministry is also to unite us with God in a new and intimate way. To express this point as dramatically as possible, we must say that the goal of salvation is to bring us into the inner life of God. The Holy Spirit calls us to become children of God in and alongside the Son and to join in his self-surrender to the Father. So the circle of God’s own life reaches out to include us within his. We are invited inside the Trinity as joint heirs together with Christ. By the Holy Spirit we cry Abba together with the Son.

Conversion—baptism and the "second blessing"

Looking at the Christian life from the perspective of the Holy Spirit leads us to conclude that conversion is "an event of the Spirit," to use Clark Pinnock’s happy expression. 162. Jesus became Christ by being anointed by the Spirit. 162. And we become Christians by a similar anointing. We may prefer the language of "receiving Christ" and "being born again" (Jn 3), but the NT speaks more frequently of receiving the Spirit when it describes conversion. Paul’s conversion, for example, is described in terms of his being filled with the Spirit. Ac 9:17.

Thinking of conversion as a "spirit event" requires us to take a new look at baptism. Baptism is the occasion when the Holy Spirit comes to us. It is that "part of the conversion complex in which the Holy Spirit is received." 167. So this is what makes baptism what it is—the transforming entrance of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Baptism is when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifested. It was that way at Jesus’ baptism, and it should be the same way at ours.

When we see that baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are intimately related, it is evident that the idea of a second blessing, or a separate baptism of the Holy Spirit, is theologically suspect. It divides what is inherently connected. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit then you haven’t been baptized, not in the full and true sense of the word. And if you have been baptized, then you have the Holy Spirit and you don’t need another endowment. So, the concept of the "second blessing" results from the failure to appreciate all that conversion involves. If we take Jn 3 seriously, baptism involves the Holy Spirit, not just water. So, there is no need for a second baptism of the Holy Spirit if the "first baptism" has been everything that a baptism should be.

There is growth in the Holy Spirit, of course. But this doesn’t constitute a second blessing, but the development of the "Spirit gift" to begin with. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is worked out over time. But there is no need for a "second blessing," an additional, subsequent endowment of the Holy Spirit that is separate from and greater than our original baptism.

According to Jerry Vines, this is the basic problem with the idea of the second blessing. For charismatics, he says, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is "an upgrade in the spiritual realm." 72. It represents a "distinct work of the Holy Spirit beyond, separate from, and in addition to salvation." (They also believe that certain physical manifestations show that a person has experienced this baptism.) You can be saved without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but with it you move to a higher spiritual realm. Vines rejects this two-stage approach. Spirit baptism happens to all believers. It takes place at the moment of salvation, not later. There is no indication that Spirit baptism moves one to higher level of Christian living or to special holiness. 79. Spirit baptism is part of the salvation package. When you are saved, you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. You are anointed by the Holy Spirit, baptized into the body of Christ. 80.

I believe that Adventists could do more to emphasize the dramatic, life-changing spiritual transformation that baptism signifies. If we made a "bigger deal" out of baptism, we might not have people who feel that their baptism didn’t mean very much to them. I have wished for a long time that we did more to celebrate baptism, to dramatize it, to identify it as the single most important event in a person’s life—more important even than birth, marriage, or death. In a way, of course, it is all three. It is death to the old life of sin. It is birth to a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Just as spirit is the source of physical life, the Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual life.) Conversion is also a marriage. It begins a lifelong union with Christ and his body, the church. It involves the soul’s union with Christ for eternity.

Life in the Spirit as life in the world

If the Holy Spirit filled life begins with baptism, or with the conversion experience that baptism signifies, and not later, what are its distinguishing features? And if dramatic manifestations are not essential to it, what does it consist of? Put briefly, it is a life of service, fellowship, and fulfillment.

The phenomenon of prophetic inspiration is instructive here. In his important study of prophetism, as he calls it, the Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel compares the experience of the great Hebrew prophets (particularly the 8th century prophets) to a wide range of spiritual, quasi-spiritual and pseudo-spiritual phenomena, including ecstasy, artistic creativity, mental illness and just mental confusion. He finds a number of things that distinguish prophetic inspiration from other experiences. One of the most important for us here is the fact that the focus of prophetic consciousness is on what God is doing or saying, not on the phenomenon of inspiration itself. In other words, the prophets were concerned with what they were seeing and hearing, not with the remarkable fact that they were the recipients of such unusual experiences. Another is the fact that prophetic inspiration was a means to an end, not an end in itself. As the word itself indicates, the prophet’s task was one of speaking for and speaking forth. It was communicating a message. The message was the important thing, not the act of receiving the message.

Consequently, the prophets were not preoccupied with the state of being in vision. The important thing to them was the message they were supposed to communicate. The preoccupation with "power" characteristic of the movements we are considering misconstrues the nature of the Holy Spirit’s manifestation. We should not look for vivid outward manifestations, but for effective consequences, for the benefits to others that might come from our ministry.

So, whatever dramatic manifestations may accompany the anointing of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we should never lose sight of the ultimate purpose of this bestowal—to equip us for service. There may be strong emotions when the Holy Spirit enters us, but they should not be the object of our concern. As Pinnock observes, the Holy Spirit fires the affections, warms the heart and makes the face shine. But "spiritual delicacies" (St. John of the Cross) are not given for excitement value but for fruitfulness. The purpose is to fire us up in the service of God. Augustine puts it this way. "If it pleases you to clap and shout for joy when you hear God’s love for you declared, it is well and good! But, if it excites you to praise his love in this way I hope you will be just as excited when I say that love must be a force that is at work in your heart, leading you to serve one another."

To put things in perspective, it also helps to remember the parables of growth that Jesus uses to illustrate God’s presence in the world. His kingdom does not come with fanfare, with displays of power and majesty. His kingdom is not of this world. We should look for it in unexpected places. The hidden of godliness, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it, is also instructive. There seems to be a conflict between Jesus’ counsel in Mt 5:16 and 6:1. As he points out in The Cost of Discipleship, the good deeds of the righteous man are hidden, but they are hidden from the person himself. Truly good people are typically the last to recognize that quality in themselves.

The hiddenness of godliness is even more dramatically displayed in one of the great parables of judgment, the parable of the sheep and goats (Mt 25). The king’s exchange with those on his right hand is noteworthy for several reasons:

  • This is the final judgment, where eternal destiny is at stake.
  • The king commends those on his right hand for "mundane" things.
  • The king identifies so closely with the suffering and the needy that serving them is serving him.
  • Those the king commends are mysteriously unaware of what they have done.

Life in the Holy Spirit is also a life of fellowship with each other. The items Paul identifies as the fruit of the Holy Spirit are relational in nature: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Gal 5,22. We know that we have passed from death to life, John writes, because we love our brothers and sisters. 1Jn 3,14.

Finally, life in the Spirit is a life of progressive fulfillment. To quote C. Pinnock once again, "The Spirit is given in baptism and is realized in experience throughout life." 173.

A Holy Spirit centered view of salvation gives us a new way to look at sanctification, a source of enduring perplexity for Seventh-day Adventists. What is the goal of sanctification? Does it lead to perfection in this life, or only in the life to come? And what is the process of sanctification? Does it mean giving something up, or taking something on? Looking at sanctification as life in the Holy Spirit gives us a new perspective on some of these issues.

In Christian theology, sanctification is traditionally identified as the work of the third person of the Godhead—creation is associated with the Father and redemption with the Son. Now, if sanctification is the Spirit's work, and if the Spirit's essential function is to give life, then we should think of sanctification as the enrichment and enhancement of our lives. In other words, to grow in grace is to become more and more alive. Too often, we think of sanctification in negative terms. It involves giving up more and more—overcoming bad habits, eliminating sins from our lives, avoiding transgression, and so on. But a Spirit centered view of salvation turns things around. The Spirit enters our lives not to take, but to give. Sanctification means gaining something, not losing something. In the final analysis, sanctification is not what God wants from us, but what God wants for us. It is the richest, fullest life possible. That’s what life in the Holy Spirit is.

At Issue Index    Spiritual Discernment Index    Previous   Next