What Does the Holy Spirit Do?
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
You might find it interesting that the words "Holy Spirit" are only found 104 times in all of the Bible and only 8 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, nearly half of the references to the Holy Spirit (42 out of 96) come in the book of the Acts of the Apostles--far outdistancing the number of mentions in any other book. Acts was written by the gospel writer Luke, so it should not be surprising that Luke's gospel has the second most references to the Holy Spirit.(14) If you scan the 96 times that the words "Holy Spirit" are mentioned in the New Testament, a picture emerges of Who the Holy Spirit is and what He does for Christ followers.
Empowerment: Before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus told the gathered disciples in Jerusalem that they needed to wait in the city until the Holy Spirit "comes on you" as they would "receive power" at that moment in time. (Acts 1:8) Reading between the lines, it is clear that the Lord is warning His followers that it is futile to try to be His witnesses unless they first receive the power that comes from the Presence of the Spirit in their lives. In fact, throughout the gospels, Jesus told His disciples that their job was to heal the sick, cast out demons and to preach the Kingdom of God. It is obvious to any right-thinking Christian that none of these assignments can be accomplished in our own strength, energy or will-power. We need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to fulfill our appointed, divine-given mission.
Encouragement: Luke writes in Acts 9:31 that the Holy Spirit encouraged the churches in Judea, Galilee and Samaria (in the wake of the conversion of Saul/Paul) and that, through the encouragement of the Spirit, the number of members of those churches grew. This verse is a timely reminder for the Christian Church today, especially in America. Sometimes we are tempted to think that if we have pastors who are really good speakers, or a rocking worship band, or a terrific youth ministry program, that our churches will grow. If those things are producing the growth in our churches, then any sort of challenge or difficulty, or a loss of any of these elements, will cause membership to decline in the opposite direction. Only the work of the Holy Spirit adds to the size of the Christian Church--not any church growth strategies or man-made mechanics. We need the Spirit's encouragement in good times and in bad times to grow individually and collectively.
Teaching and Specific Direction: In His final words to His disciples, Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would "teach you all things." (John 14:26) In other words, when we read the Scripture, anything we learn from that reading is taught to us by the Holy Spirit--not through our own insight or the words of any human teacher or pastor. That is why Paul called the Bible the "sword of the Spirit" in Ephesians 6:17. Whenever we read the Scriptures, we need to pray that we will hear the voice of the Lord, the Spirit, teaching us what we need to learn that day. And the Spirit will give us specific direction as we pray that way. In Acts 13:2, the Christians in the church in Antioch were worshiping God, fasting and praying for direction as to how they might live obediently to the Lord's mission for them as a body of believers. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit spoke to them with specific instructions to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work (the first missionary journey of these two men) to which God had called them. (By the way, the Antioch Christians then laid hands on the two men to receive empowerment from the Spirit for their mission--see above.) Likewise, Paul testified that the Holy Spirit had warned him specifically during his third missionary journey (Acts 20:23) that prison time and hardships were facing him up ahead--a fulfillment of Jesus' promise to Paul at the time of his conversion years before. We can expect that, on occasion, the Holy Spirit will give us specific directions if we ask Him while we can count on His teaching as often as we read or hear the Scripture.
Guarantee of Heaven to Come: I love this role of the Holy Spirit! Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians in his second letter to them that the Lord put His Spirit in their hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5) Some of you may remember that we lost our pet Bischon Frises dog Simon about seven years ago. About a year and a half later, we decided, as a family, that it was time to have a new dog in the house so we put a deposit down on a Shichon puppy (Shih Tzu and Bischon Frises mix.) After Janet and I had a special getaway vacation for our 20th wedding anniversary, we brought Keelie home to join our family. The point is that the deposit we paid was a guarantee that the puppy was ours and that she would be coming home with us. You can look at the Holy Spirit the same way. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a deposit, a guarantee, a promise that the Lord will take us home someday to heaven in just the same way that we brought our puppy home to be with us. Whenever we sense the work of the Spirit in our lives, it is as if the Lord is saying, "You are part of the family and I have a home for you forever where you will be with Me." Luke wrote in Acts 15:8 that God shows that He accepts us by giving us the Holy Spirit--it is His affirmation that He is our Father and we are His children. Because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, there is no doubt that Heaven awaits us up ahead.
Heavenly Father, thank You for coming to us as Spirit to give us power to live a victorious and fruitful life. Thank You for growing Your Church through the encouraging work of Your Spirit. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for teaching us what we need to know and to do to serve You and Your purposes each and every day. And thank You that we need never fear that we are alone in this world. You have a home and a destiny to which You are leading us and a family with whom to celebrate Your faithfulness and lovingkindness. We are so grateful and we praise You! In Jesus' Name, Amen.