Life in the Holy Spirit: Some Questions and Answers
By Michael Harper
What can this mean?
“And they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another ‘ What can this mean?’ (Acts 2: 12 N.E.B.)
1. Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Third Person of the Trinity. ” Very and eternal God ” as Article V of the Church of England describes Him. He has no beginning or ending distinct from and yet equal with the Father and the Son. He is a person since He is said to speak (Acts 13: 2), to will (1 Cor. 12: 11) and can be grieved (Eph. 4: 30). We should never call Him ” it”.
2. When did He begin His work?
The first mention of the work of the Holy Spirit is in the second verse in the Bible when His work in creation is mentioned. He is also said, amongst other things, to have filled Bezalel (Ex. 35 : 31), strengthened Samson (Judges 15: 14), inspired David (Matt. 22: 43) and moved the prophets (2 Peter 1: 21). Later He was to fill John the Baptist and inspire Jesus to do His mighty works (Acts 10: 38). But at Pentecost His work took on a new prominence and became more comprehensive.
3. What exactly happened at Pentecost?
The waiting disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in foreign languages unknown to themselves. Both had been promised them by Christ (Acts 1: 5 and Mark 16: 17). Notice that they did not preach in these languages to the crowds. The words were being directed to God as an act of worship rather than witness. The crowd was not present when they began, but gathered later when they heard the disciples speaking in tongues.
4. How do you know that the Holy Spirit is still in the world today?
Because Jesus promised that He would remain with the Church for ever (John 14: 16) and also because the signs and evidences of His activity are still to be seen in the lives of believers.
5. What is His function in the world at large?
To bear witness to Christ and to glorify Him (John 14: 26, 16: 14). He does so chiefly in three ways to bring men and women to Christ and make them members of His Body; to make them like Him in character (the fruit of the Spirit) and deed (the gifts of the Spirit); to protect, guide and edify the Body of Christ, which is the Church He came to build.
6. When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
When we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who introduces us to Him and enables us to call Him “Lord” (1 Cor. 12: 3). But the New Testament uses the same expression to refer to another experience of the Holy Spirit, which is also called “the baptism in the Spirit “.
7. What is this “baptism in the Spirit” and when do we receive it?
It is something which in the N.T. is treated as distinct from the ” new birth ” or our entry into the Body of Christ. The new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit” bringing us into Christ” the baptism in the Spirit is the work of Christ, who is called ” the baptizer” (John 1: 33), bringing us into the power of the Holy Spirit. The new birth is essential for salvation, for without it we neither see nor enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3: 3, 6) the baptism in the Spirit is not. Ideally we should receive the experience of this baptism in the Spirit at the outset of our Christian life, but because of ignorance in some cases and unbelief in others, many Christians today receive it some considerable time after believing, and others have never received it.
8. Where do we see this baptism mentioned as a separate experience in the New Testament?
In the Gospels we see it in some of the promises of Christ. For instance in John 7: 37-39 it is related to those who already have “believed in Him “. We see it also in the Acts of the Apostles. On the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the disciples were already regenerate when the Holy Spirit came to them. When some of the crowd wanted to know what they should do, they were told that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after they had been baptized (Acts 2: 38). In Acts 8 we are told how the Samaritans received this experience after they had believed and been baptized. The same is true of Paul, who was filled with the Holy Spirit after his conversion, and who, in turn, laid hands on the Ephesians after he had baptized them in water (Acts 9 and 19). The same truth is also to be seen in the Epistles. For instance, in Ephesians 1: 13 Paul reminds these Christians of the fact that they were “sealed with the Holy Spirit “after they had believed in Christ. This same truth is brought out in several other passages in the Epistles.
9. If it is a separate experience, is it for those to whom God grants it, or for everyone who wants it?
It is promised in the N.T. to every believer (see Acts 2: 39).
10. Should every Christian seek the baptism?
Yes, provided they do it for the right reasons. We should want it, not only because it is promised to us but because by it we are better able to glorify Christ, edify the Church and evangelize the world.
11. How do we seek to receive it?
First of all, by seeing it as a clear promise in the Word of God. Then we should repent of every known sin. Then we should ask in faith and receive the promise.
12. Why is it that some never receive it?
There can be no failure on God’s part He is faithful to all His promises. The principal cause of failure to receive lies in unbelief and the best way to dispose of this barrier is through confession. Some fail to recognize faith as an active appropriation rather than a passive waiting.
13. Are there any conditions before we can receive it?
Repentance (Acts 2: 38), obedience (Acts 5: 32) and faith (Acts 11: 17, Luke 11: 13) are the three main conditions mentioned in the N.T.
14. How do we know when we have been baptized in the Spirit?
There is normally a heightening of one’s whole spiritual life, issuing in freer and more spontaneous love and worship and a greater sense of reality and assurance. But in the days of the early church, speaking in tongues was the usual sign given at the outset of this experience. You can see, for instance, that it was this phenomenon which convinced Peter and his friends that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10: 46).
15. Is it a physical experience or an emotional one?
There may or may not be physical sensations or healing as in the case of Paul (Acts 9: 18); there may also be emotional reactions “great joy and elation, tears or even laughter. None of these are promised in the N.T. and they are not often mentioned. But our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and our emotions are given us by God and we should neither be ashamed nor afraid if God touches them with His almighty power.
6. Surely the Bible tells us to be continually filled with the Spirit rather than seek one such baptismal experience?
The N.T. refers to no less than three baptismal experiences. There is water baptism, signifying our burial with Christ (Rom. 6: 3, 4); there is the baptism of suffering (Luke 12: 50); and there is the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3: 11). But we are also exhorted to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5: 18).
17. Surely if the baptism is so valuable God would give it to us all?
Eternal life is even more valuable, but God does not give it to everyone only to those that believe (John 3: 16). Every Christian is promised the baptism in the Spirit, but only those who
appropriate it by faith receive it.
18. Would you say that if someone did not have this experience they were not true Christians?
Certainly not. One becomes a Christian through repentance, faith in Christ and the miracle of the new birth. It is possible to know nothing about the Holy Spirit and yet still be a Christian.
19. What difference does this experience make to one’s life?
It should give one more power or ability to worship and love God with greater freedom and joy, to edify the Body of Christ more effectively by the Word and the gifts of the Spirit, to witness to unbelievers with new boldness, skill and success. It should lead to greater holiness of life and, if necessary, to release from bondages and physical illness. One should receive clearer and more definite guidance, a fuller and deeper prayer life and grasp of Christian doctrine and the Bible. It should give us fresh love for other Christians, including those of other denominations.
20. Why is it that some fine Christians have never had the experience but are so blessed?
God’s blessings do not hinge exclusively on our apprehension of the whole truth. We may be blind to this experience, and still be greatly blessed. Blessings depend rather on faith and obedience. Nevertheless, these fine Christians would certainly be more greatly used by God if they were to receive this experience.
21. How is it that some have this experience and are not shining Christians and even become backsliders?
This experience is no picnic, and introduces us to real spiritual warfare. There are bound to be some casualties. But we must remember that the baptism in the Spirit is not a merit badge for advanced Christians, but promised to all at the start of their Christian life. If one does not continue to trust and obey God and walk in the Spirit, then the blessing evaporates, and we can even be worse off than we were before.
22. Why is it that some who have received this experience condemn other Christians?
Carping criticism and a condemning spirit are repulsive, but sometimes may be seen in those who have received the baptism in the Spirit. This is because the experience may not have touched their inner natures. For this experience is not the same thing as “sanctification”. The bad example of the Corinthians should be enough to show that one can have much power and still be an immature Christian. But there is a sense in which the person who has had the beam taken from his own eye can see more clearly to help his brother remove the splinter from his, though a critical spirit should not go with this.
23. Do all those who are baptized in the Spirit subsequently speak in tongues?
The ability to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit is given, but there may be a delay due to fear, self-consciousness or unbelief.
24. Are there not cases in the N.T. when they did not speak in tongues when they received the Holy Spirit?
The argument from silence is usually a precarious one. The Acts does not tell us about everything that took place in each of the incidents. We can obviously only go on those occasions when we are told what happened. There are five of these, and in three of them we are told that they all spoke in tongues (and in the case of the Ephesians prophesied as well) these are Acts 2, 10 and 19. In the case of Paul, we know that he did speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14: 18), although we are not told when he began to do so. In the last incident in Samaria (Acts 8), although we are not told that they spoke in tongues when hands were laid upon them the strong inference is that they did, because there was a witness present (Simon Magus) who saw something so amazing take place that he offered money to the apostles for the same power.
25. Is it not true that the Pentecostals themselves are divided on the issue as to whether this gift is the initial evidence of the experience or not?
All the Pentecostal denominations are agreed regarding the need for a sign or supernatural evidence for the baptism in the Spirit. The majority say that “tongues ” is that evidence, but some say that another manifestation is enough.
26. Surely tongues is just one of the gifts, and the least according to scripture?
All the gifts are important otherwise the Holy Spirit would not give them. Paul in
1 Corinthians 12 teaches that we must not elevate one gift above the others, nor abase one beneath the others. But they do not all have the same function. If Paul meant to teach that ” tongues ” is the least gift, then he is contradicting his whole argument in 1 Corinthians 12. The gift of tongues is the only one specifically declared to have the dual function of edifying the Church (with interpretation) and the individual (1 Cor. 14: 4, 5).
27. Why then do some Christians elevate it as if it was the be all and end all of the Christian faith?
Because, alas, there are always Christians who get stuck in the nursery class and never grow up. Speaking in tongues is like the ABC very basic, but not the only gift in the Spirit’s repertoire. We should go on to higher education and not behave like the Corinthians, who elevated some gifts and neglected others.
28. What exactly is “speaking in tongues “?
It is prayer to God in a language unknown to the speaker, but, as at Pentecost, one which may be recognized by others present. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the person this ability to pray; it is edifying to the person who prays and to the Church when it is interpreted.
29. Is it a language or gibberish, and is there proof of its authenticity?
The New Testament calls it “language”, never “gibberish”. Sometimes the languages are recognized, but as there are over 3,000 known languages in the world, it would be impossible to prove that every manifestation is or is not definite language.
30. Do not some of the sects and other religions practice speaking in tongues?
Yes, some of them do. But there are two elements in non-Christian speaking in tongues which are totally absent in the Christian practice and which sharply distinguish them. The Christian who speaks in tongues is always in full control of himself and the Holy Spirit is not a compelling Spirit, whereas in the case of other religions there is a giving over of oneself, often into a state of unconsciousness, for the gift to be manifested. And secondly, Christian speaking in tongues is never the result of working oneself up into a frenzy, so that other factors (psychic or psychological) can take over. This is common in cults like Voodooism.
31. How can one tell the difference between the true and the false?
Obviously first, by looking at the elements mentioned above. The real gifts edify and strengthen the bonds between God and His people, advancing His Kingdom, whereas the counterfeit strengthen the power of Satan over people, and His Kingdom of darkness. The gift of “discerning of spirits” will often be manifested in order to help us recognize counterfeit gifts, but every Christian should “test the spirits “.
32. How does one receive the gift of tongues?
Very often one receives it when one is baptized in the Spirit. Whether one does then or later, there is often the need for a positive step of faith and appropriation. On the Day of Pentecost the disciples “began to speak “, but it was the Spirit who “gave them the words to utter” (Weymouth).
33. Is not tongues just an emotional release for those who need it?
It may bring about an emotional release, and there are Christians who sometimes need this. But it is not this in essence. In fact there is nothing necessarily “emotional ” about speaking in tongues at all. The N.T. never calls it “ecstatic utterance”, this is one of the foibles of the New English Bible translators.
34. What good does speaking in tongues do?
It gives assurance to Christians of the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit; it edifies the individual who exercises it and the Church when accompanied by interpretation; sometimes it may be a sign to unbelievers, when they recognize the languages which maybe ignorant men and women speak, who could never have learnt them the normal way; it may also be used as a weapon against satanic attack.
35. Some have said that they first began to speak in tongues by making noises with their mouths. Surely this means that tongues is a man-created thing?
It is perfectly true that some have begun to manifest this gift in this manner, but it does not follow that the gift is man-created. Faith often involves us in activity. We have to make some practical response to the call of God. Going forward at an evangelistic meeting has never converted anyone yet! But it is sometimes a useful and practical response to a desire which has been given by the Holy Spirit. In a similar way, making sounds with the mouth is not speaking in tongues “, but it may signify an honest act of faith, which the Holy Spirit will honor by giving to that person the power to speak in another language. For this gift is always an act of partnership. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot manifest the gift, but without us, the Holy Spirit will not.
36. Why is it that in public tongues comes chiefly after noisy demonstrations and emotional fervor?
This is not necessarily true at least in my own experience. The gift is much more often manifested in the quieter moments of a meeting. But sometimes the Holy Spirit does move a meeting to become noisy, though never disorderly, and the gift may be manifested during this time.
37. Can one speak in tongues in public if there is no interpreter present?
Paul himself answers this question in 1 Corinthians 14: 28, ” If there is none to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church, and speak to himself and to God.” The answer is “no”, at least not aloud, but one can continue to pray in tongues silently, in which case there may be no need for interpretation. There is, however, one exception. On the Day of Pentecost there was no need for interpretation as the crowd that gathered understood the languages which were being spoken. But this is very unusual indeed.
38. Who interprets?
The person who speaks in tongues may also be the interpreter (1 Cor. 14: 13) but the implication of the principles of 1 Corinthians 12 is that it should be more normal for someone else to do this. It should also be added that the gift of interpretation is as much a manifestation of the Spirit as speaking in tongues itself, and that it is not to be confused with natural linguistic abilities.
39. If there is no interpretation does this mean the tongues gift was phony? And how can the interpretations be longer than the gift of tongues?
Not necessarily. The Holy Spirit may have prompted someone to give the interpretation, but for reasons of fear, unbelief or self-consciousness they did not do it. Remember too, that it is an interpretation not a translation, so it may be longer. After all, Daniel’s interpretation of the writing on the wall was longer than the writing itself!
40. What is “singing in the Spirit “?
Paul refers to this gift 1 Corinthians 14: 15. It is similar to speaking in tongues, but in addition to the words the Holy Spirit also inspires the melody. It may be exercised in public or private. In public Holy Spirit may weave the melodies into a harmony of sound which can be most uplifting.
41. What other gifts of the Spirit are there?
The utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, besides speaking in tongues and its interpretation. But God’s gifts to His people are very much more varied than this single list. Amongst them are helpers, administrators, benefactors, and also bachelors and spinsters (1 Cor. 7: 7)!
42. What is the main purpose of these gifts?
Briefly one can say that they are weapons in a spiritual warfare, intended for the edification of the Church and the evangelization of the world.
A modern army has radar (eyes), radio (voice), transport (feet) as well as offensive weapons (hands). The gifts can be likened to these. The utterance of wisdom and knowledge and the discerning of spirits are the eyes, prophecy and the other vocal gifts are the voice, and faith, miracles and gifts of healing are the hands of the Body of Christ. Miracles can also help with transport, if we recall Philip helicoptering to Azotus! Of course, God provides other vital weapons, not least “the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God”. But the gifts are important too.
43. Isn’t there a danger in the gifts becoming an end in themselves?
Yes, but this is equally true of all God’s gifts. The remedy is to be found in the rightful use of them, particularly with the true motive of love.
44. Should we not seek for the gift of love rather than spectacular manifestations?
Paul tells us we should seek both. It is a serious error to separate love from giving. True love will always want to give. A Christian who loves someone else, should want to bestow gifts upon that person. But manifestations of the Spirit are not necessarily spectacular anyway.
45. How does one know the gifts one has received?
I once heard someone put it rather vividly ” put your line in the water and you’ll soon know whether you have a shark on the end or not.” This is an over-simplification, but it points to the answer we need a spirit of faith and adventure. But the question implies a misunderstanding concerning these gifts. They are not permanent endowments, but momentary manifestations. It is true that one person may tend to manifest one gift more than the others, and so can be said to “have the gift “. (Or better the “ministry “, since it is the needy person who really receives “the gift “.) But generally speaking we should be alert at all times and ready to manifest any of the gifts as we are prompted to do so by the Holy Spirit.
46. Is it for us to seek all the gifts, or to be content with those God has given us?
We should do both. We should seek to manifest whatever gift is needed at the right time and indeed desire all of them (1 Cor. 14: 1). But we should also be content with whatever is granted to us, not envying the gifts of others, or despising our own.
47. Are the gifts being manifested in most churches today, and if not why not?
Many churches are woefully deficient in them today. One of the main reasons is the lack of the power of the Holy Spirit in the individual members, which is often itself due to the neglect of, or ignorance about, the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not expected in the life of many churches, and Christians are more warned about their abuse than taught about their proper use.
48. But in the N.T. these gifts are only mentioned in the Church at Corinth; they did not do them any good why should we want them?
This is not really correct. Gifts are mentioned in connection with other churches (prophecy, for example, at Thessalonika, 1 Thess. 5: 20). It is generally recognized that all the churches in those early days had these gifts, and that the only reason why Paul says so much to the Corinthians was because they were abusing them and so little to the other churches because they were functioning properly. The strong implication of his remarks to the Corinthians was that they were common to other churches as well (e.g. 1 Cor. 12: 28).
49. How may individual Christians or churches receive the gifts?
To enter this charismatic dimension we need to receive the promise of the Father” the baptism in .the Holy Spirit. The continued benefit of their Use comes through an obedient walk in
the Spirit, faith in God for them, and a deepening love for the brethren.
50. Should these gifts be manifested in Sunday services?
They seem to have been in the N.T. churches, but in those early days the presence of unbelievers, or those unaccustomed to the gifts, was not nearly as common as it is today. But even in Corinth Paul teaches that the vocal gifts should be restricted if certain persons were present. Most of our churches are not yet ready for these gifts, and they are best exercised in the smaller meetings for the time being.
51. If all churches saw the gifts in operation would this have a revolutionary effect upon church life in Britain?
Not necessarily. There are other secrets of effectiveness, which, if neglected, can vitiate the blessings of spiritual gifts. There is the need for love and Christ-likeness of character for zeal in witness for sound teaching in other areas than spiritual gifts.
52. What are the fruit of the Spirit and how do they differ from the gifts?
Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5: 22). The fruit have mainly to do with character what we are, the gifts with service what we do. The fruit is present in some measure from the moment we first believe in Christ, whereas the gifts are usually first manifested after we have been baptized in the Spirit. Then, all of the above mentioned fruit should be seen in the life of each believer, but not all of the gifts of the Spirit may be manifested through each believer. The fruit too is the evidence of the genuineness of our profession as Christians, whereas the gifts are not necessarily signs of this, since they can all be counterfeited by Satan.
53. Do all Christians show the fruit of the Spirit?
In some measure they do or they would not be true Christians.
54. How then is it possible to have this fruit without the baptism in the Spirit?
Because the fruit grows out of our new birth our abiding in Christ, not primarily from the experience of the baptism in the Spirit.
55. How is it that some who have this experience of baptism, do not show forth much of the fruit in their lives?
Because, as we have already seen, the two are not necessarily closely connected, although the Holy Spirit does seek to glorify Christ in our characters as well as our actions. It all depends upon what you believe for and receive from God, and in what area you obey Him.
56. How can one see to it that the fruit grows in our lives?
By seeing that we have been crucified with Christ and allowing ourselves to be broken of self, which is another word for what the N.T. calls flesh “. Then by a conscious walking in the Spirit, and allowing both the death and life of Christ to operate in us, and the Spirit to empower us.
57. Why do we not hear about the baptism and gifts of the Spirit from pulpits today?
We are hearing more and more about these vital matters. In many cases, the silence springs from ignorance. In others, from prejudice or fear.
58. Does not this teaching divide congregations, and therefore ought not to be given?
Most preaching divides congregations, not least the Gospel! Some believe and some do not. Some obey the Word, and some ignore it. Some of the blind see, and others remain with their eyes shut. This particular message and theme however, if presented with love and tact, should no more split a church than any other.
59. What effect is this interest in the charismatic renewal having upon the Church throughout the world?
Ecumenically it is leading to a remarkable joining together of Christians of different traditions, mainly at the local church level. Liturgically it is affecting more the spirit than the form of worship, bringing services alive, and giving worshippers a desire to spend sometimes hours in the presence of God. Evangelistically, it is giving a new impetus and success to witness.
60. How widespread is this new interest?
It is affecting members of all the major Churches, including Roman Catholics. Members too of a number of missionary societies are involved. Individuals and groups in these churches throughout the world are experiencing the gifts of the Spirit. In England alone there are now well over one hundred Ministers who have been baptized in the Spirit, and have the gift of tongues, and in a few churches there has been a widespread move of the Holy Spirit affecting a high proportion of the members. Although small as yet, it is becoming a major talking point, and a number of prominent Church leaders have referred to it, and spoken of its importance.
This tract “Life in the Holy Spirit: Some Questions and Answers” written by Michael Harper is from the Logos Charisma Series.
This article may not be written by and Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”