Beliefs of Our Fathers: The Holy Spirit (Chapter 3)
March 1, 2019
This continues a study on the beliefs of our forefathers, based largely on the Dordrecht Confession of Faith from 1632. This section tells about Pneumatology, or the study of the Holy Spirit. The article has been edited for space.
To read other chapters in this series on the Beliefs of our Forefathers, click below:
The Holy Spirit
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:13)
When learning about the person of the Holy Spirit, it is important to consider what we were taught about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our upbringing. In some Christian circles, these three are referred to as the Holy Trinity. John wrote, For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one (1 John 5:7).
What the Anabaptists Teach
Growing up, we learned a lot in church about our Father in heaven, and we learned about Jesus, God’s only Son, who died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the grave three days later.
As for the Holy Spirit, He was hardly mentioned at home during prayer times or in church. Sometimes we heard about Him on the day we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit seemed of little to no value in our everyday lives, maybe because He is most often numbered as the third person in the Trinity.
However, Article 1 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith says, “We believe in the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit: that He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of the judgment; that He indwells and comforts believers, guides them into all truth, empowers them and bestows certain gifts upon them for service as He wills, and enables them to live lives of righteousness.”
Although we read our morning and evening prayers from a book, the words were often difficult to understand and were spoken directly to the Father. . . . Later in life, some of us realized that the missing ingredient in our church services and family prayer times was the Holy Spirit and His power.
Until then, we didn’t know that the Holy Spirit took Jesus’ place at the end of His ministry. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you (John 14:16–17).
We didn’t know that the Holy Spirit plays an active role in the second birth. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:3–6).
We didn’t know that the Holy Spirit dwells in the body of the believer, empowers and equips the believer to overcome sin, and leads him in all truth every day. . . .
What the Scriptures Teach
Real prayer in the Spirit requires getting together with God and speaking from your heart from the deepest parts of your soul: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). Praying in the Holy Ghost (Jude 20). Real Christians, those born of the Spirit, are given divine and supernatural power from above. It is possible to sense the holy presence of God. Consider the following words from Acts 4:31-33:
And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul. . . . And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Today, many church-going people have given up the idea that anything like this could ever happen in our generation. It is not happening because churchgoers do not believe, . . . hindering . . . the Holy Spirit’s power and continued revival:
We refrain from talking much about the Holy Spirit and His power to avoid the risk of being mistaken as fanatics. We fail to wait on the Spirit for our needs when we have money to get the job done our way.
Let’s consider what took place in Acts 8, where a man named Simon tried to buy Holy-Spirit power: When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. (Acts 8:18–21)
Obviously, Simon had witnessed the working of the Holy Spirit, but when the apostle Paul met with some church members in Ephesus and the conversation turned to the Holy Spirit, they replied, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost (Acts 19:2). This statement from the Ephesian disciples concerning the Holy Spirit illustrates the sad and shameful treatment often given Him, even in our day. Far too often, the Holy Spirit’s existence has been ignored and His ministry misunderstood. Therefore, we need to shed light on the Holy Spirit—who He is, what He does in our world, and how He fits into our . . . lives.
We must remember that when the Holy Spirit does something, God is at work— creating, speaking, transforming us, living within us, and working in and through us. . . . Whenever the Holy Spirit is involved in our lives, God is working. For example, when Ananias lied, he lied to the Holy Spirit: Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God (Acts 5:4). Ananias wasn’t lying to a representative of God. He was lying to God.
When a lost, hell-bound sinner believes upon the name of the Lord, many wonderful things take place. That person is instantly forgiven of all his sins, translated from death to life, and removed from the kingdom of Satan and placed into God’s kingdom. But here is the most amazing part—the Father and Son, in the person of the Holy Spirit, move in to dwell inside every believer: As God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (2 Corinthians 6:16).
The moment we believe, Jesus comes into our lives. We become a living, walking, breathing temple, and the Spirit of God dwells inside us. Jesus said, Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you (John 14:17). Later, the apostle Paul wrote, Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16).
In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God came upon people and anointed them for service. That is how He inspired the Old Testament prophets to write the Scriptures, but this anointing was temporary. Now the Lord indwells people through the new birth, and they become His permanent abode.
Appearance of the Holy Spirit
Most people think of the Holy Spirit as being an invisible force. They think of Him as being untouchable and as some type of powerful energy that rules the universe. However, in the Bible the Holy Spirit is referred to as a dove (John 1:32), fire (Acts 2:3), oil (Luke 4:18), cloud (Ex. 33:9), voice (Psalm 95:7; Matt. 10:20), water (John 7:37–39), wind (John 3:8), and breath (John 20:21–23).
Deity of the Holy Spirit
It is important for true believers to recognize that when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, God dwells in us. Consider the fact that when we are born again, the Holy Spirit abides in us, as we saw in John 14:17. Also, Christ is in us: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). God is in us: No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4:12). That abiding presence is God Himself, the Three in One, and the source of eternal life. God the Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son and possesses the same characteristics:
He is everywhere at all times. David wrote, Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? (Psalm 139:7).
He is all-seeing and all-knowing. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10–11).
He is all-powerful and unstoppable. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).
He has no beginning and no end. How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14).
The Person of the Holy Spirit
It is easy to think of the Holy Spirit as a vague presence if you do not understand that He is a Person in the sense that the Father is a Person and the Son is a Person. The Bible shows us He has feelings. We know the Holy Spirit can be grieved (sorely disappointed), because Paul says, Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). We have already seen that He can be lied to (Acts 5:3). Paul also tells us to quench [smother] not the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and Stephen accused the Jews when he said, Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51). Jesus told the people that the blasphemy [denying, cursing] against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men (Matthew 12:31). In Hebrews we read of the insults flung at the Son of God: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29). So we see that the Spirit can be grieved, lied to, quenched, resisted, blasphemed, and insulted.
Author of the Old and New Testaments
In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit came upon certain people for specific reasons. When that reason was fulfilled, the Holy Spirit departed. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul (1 Samuel 16:13-14). King David recognized this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the Old Testament and prayed, Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me (Psalm 51:11).
Peter explains that the Old Testament was written by men moved by the Holy Spirit: For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). David agreed, saying, The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue (2 Samuel 23:2). Jeremiah wrote, Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth (Jeremiah 1:9).
This is also true of the New Testament: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). Paul wrote, Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13).
The Holy Spirit’s Ministry
The Person of the Holy Spirit was already present and active in the work of creation And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).
In Numbers 11, the people of Israel were complaining. When Moses turned to God with his problem, God told him to choose seventy men from the elders of Israel and bring them to Him. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone (Numbers 11:17). In verse 25, this was accomplished: And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
In 1 Samuel 11:6, the Spirit of God came upon Saul in power, and in 1 Samuel 16:14, the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit was involved throughout Jesus’ life on earth. The Spirit placed Jesus in Mary’s womb, and the angel of the LORD appeared unto [Joseph] in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:20). He descended on Jesus at baptism: The heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him (Matthew 3:16). And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1). A most amazing thing happened when Jesus was in the synagogue. He opened the book of Isaiah and said, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel (Luke 4:18).
It was through the Spirit of God that Jesus drove out demons: But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you (Matthew 12:28). By that same Spirit, Jesus was raised from the dead: If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you (Romans 8:11).
Jesus taught Nicodemus that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and of the Spirit (John 3:5). Jesus also taught, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37–38). John adds an explanation concerning the rivers of living water: But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive (John 7:39).
At age thirty, Jesus went into full-time ministry. People followed Him and listened to His teachings. Many of His followers thought He was the one who would deliver them from the Roman government and be their next king. They were surprised when Jesus said, Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away . . . because I said, I go unto the Father (John 14:28). Jesus’ disciples were astonished. In one short moment, their whole world turned upside down. They had given up everything and followed Jesus. He had taught them for three years. They knew no other master. Peter said he would give his own life for Him. Thomas asked Jesus to let them go with Him.
In Jesus’ final discourse to His disciples, we see numerous promises He would fulfill on their behalf. In John 14:15-26, we find the core of His message. He told them that after His departure, the Holy Spirit would come in His place:
If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
This brings us to John 16:7, where Jesus makes a powerful statement about the coming Holy Spirit: It is expedient for you [to your advantage or for your own good] that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter [Holy Spirit] will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. These were meant to be words of encouragement to His disciples: “Look, it is for your advantage that I leave, because as soon as I leave, I’ll send the Holy Spirit in my place.”
Why was it to our advantage that Jesus left and sent the Holy Spirit? Jesus was on earth as a man and could only be at one place at a time. However, the Spirit could be everywhere at the same time. Jesus ministered to people from the outside in, whereas the Holy Spirit ministers to people from the inside out.
When the Spirit showed up in Acts chapter 2, more happened in a few hours than happened in Jesus’ three years of ministry. Since that time, tens of thousands of Holy-Spirit-empowered missionaries have been sent throughout the world. As a result, millions of lost souls have been brought into the kingdom of God.
The Spirit’s Role in the New Birth
We are by nature the children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). In Psalm 51:5 David says, Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. We enter the world and are bent on being independent from God and running after the things of the world. Something has to happen to us if we are to be saved from the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10). We must be changed. Therefore, the Holy Spirit will reprove [convict] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8).
The new birth is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to see our sin as God sees it and to see our desperate need for a Savior. The Holy Spirit quickens (makes alive) a spiritually dead person. It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing (John 6:63). Paul wrote, The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians 3:6). When a spiritually dead person is made alive (born again), the Holy Spirit:
Seals the believer
In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise. (Ephesians 1:13)
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
Empowers the believer
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you. (Acts 1:8)
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
Is the earnest (guarantee) of the believer
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Is promised to reside in us
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you. (John 14:17)
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Is the believer’s partner in prayer
The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
The Holy Spirit as Gift Giver
Gifts of the Spirit are special abilities given by the Holy Spirit to believers for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 includes wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Similar lists appear in Ephesians 4:7–13 and Romans 12:3–8 and include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
The gifts of the Spirit are simply God enabling believers to do what He has called them to do. Ephesians 4:12–14 says He gave those gifts for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.
Regarding the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, we must be aware of two things. First, the supernatural gifts have long been the subject of controversy in Christian circles. They have caused family members to turn against each other and churches to divide. Some Christians believe and teach that certain gifts (speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, healings, and miracles) ceased after we received the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13:10). Others believe and teach that all the gifts are in operation now just like they were in the early church.
Secondly, some believers have become so caught up in the supernatural gifts that they have thrown out the foundational doctrines of the Bible. Additionally, they have made a religion out of the God-given gifts and have become worshippers of the gifts rather than worshipping the Giver of the gifts. For these sad reasons, other believers have chosen to walk in the opposite direction and have quenched and suffocated the power and the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Both approaches are off balance. Our focus ought to be to desire the best gifts, but in love. For that reason, consider the following Bible passage:
But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1 Corinthians 12:31–13:3).
How the Holy Spirit Speaks
It is clear from reading the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is able to speak like a human being, as well as speak in a still, small voice, to our spirit. When He speaks, the Bible commands us to listen to His voice. Consider the following instances when the Holy Spirit showed up and spoke to mankind in the flesh:
Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. (Acts 8:29)
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed. (Acts 13:2–4)
Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate [think about ahead of time]: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. (Mark 13:11)
Walking in the Spirit
Before we were born again, we had only one nature—the fleshly nature. Our decisions and choices were based upon our own flesh and desires. After the new birth, we should have a new nature, being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. This simply means that as born-again believers, we wake up in the morning and have to choose which master we want to obey. If we choose to obey our old fleshly self, we will often appear to others as one who has never been born again. If we choose to obey the Spirit, we will appear as one who has experienced the new birth. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would (Gal. 5:16–17).
Walking in the Spirit means walking in harmony with God and others. We must guard our hearts and tongues from continuing in our old ways of bickering, bitterness, and conflict. We must learn to rest in Him and let Him fight our battles. Resting in God’s power is a sign of true faith. If we truly walk in the Spirit, we will find the following list of “fruit” appearing in our everyday lives: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22–23).
The fruit spoken of in these verses cannot be faked or manufactured by the believer. Our part is to yield and trust. God’s part is to produce the fruit: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:4–5).
Dear Lord, thank You for sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in our bodies. Thank You for the many times He has comforted our hearts, led us in all truth, protected us from evil, and empowered us to do the work of the ministry. We stand in awe! My utmost and passionate prayer is that You, O God, would use this study to start a fire in the reader’s soul. Awaken us from our heavy slumber and dead religion and send a Holy Spirit revival. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Do your beliefs line up with our Anabaptist forefathers?
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To read other chapters in this series on the Beliefs of our Forefathers, click below:
Chapter Three: The Holy Spirit
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