The Work of the Holy Ghost (Entire Article)

By David Bernard

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And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

Mark 16:20


Start With the Scriptures


  • Mark 16:17-18
  • Acts 2:1-4
  • I Corinthians 12


A Supernatural Church


There can be no question about the supernatural nature of the New Testament church.

Among His last words to His disciples, Jesus said, “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:17-18).


This was indeed a way of life with the early believers. The church was born with a supernatural experience as some 120 were filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke in languages they had never learned (Acts 2:1-4).


Many wonders and signs were done by the apostles (Acts 2:43). While the details of only a few of them are recorded in Scripture, enough of the record is preserved to show how the Lord worked with them, confirming the Word with signs following (Mark 16:20).


These supernatural signs seemed to serve two basic purposes: first, they ordinarily helped hurting people; second, they dramatically drew the attention of people to the claims of Christ.


After the lame man at the Temple gate called Beautiful was healed through the ministry of Peter and John, “all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering” (Acts 3:11). This provided Peter an opportunity to preach Jesus.


Following the dramatic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5:11).


“And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women)” (Acts 5:12-14).


Here is seen a common response to the miraculous: Those who choose not to believe and obey are made aware of the supernatural nature of the work of God, and they carefully avoid it. But those who choose to believe are strengthened and encouraged by the manifestation of the power of God.


Signs and Wonders in the New Testament


References to signs and wonders are common from the Day of Pentecost forward. In his first message, Peter said that Jesus of Nazareth was, “a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22).


Following the Day of Pentecost, one of the contributing factors to the growth of the church was the fact that “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43).


When the early church was persecuted and commanded not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they prayed, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). Boldness did come to them, and after the dramatic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, the apostles were involved in working “many signs and wonders” (Acts 5:12).


Paul and Barnabas abode a long time in Iconium, “speaking boldly in the Lord” and working with signs and wonders (Acts 14:3). To the church at Rome, Paul described his ministry as one characterized by the miraculous (Romans 15:19). He made a similar claim to the Corinthians. (See II Corinthians 12:12.)


The role of signs and wonders in the confirmation of truth is seen in Hebrews 2:3-4: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”


When the nobleman whose son was at the point of death in Capernaum asked Jesus to heal his son, Jesus answered, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48). Some have thought Jesus’ statement to be a rebuke, but it seems better to understand it as a simple statement of fact. Jesus did, after all, proceed to heal the boy. Jesus recognized that, in addition to the very real help they give to hurting people, signs and wonders are a great aid to faith.


Indeed, John, explaining the purpose behind the Gospel he wrote, said, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).


Satan has a counterfeit to the miracle working power of God, and as a result there will be false signs and wonders. (See Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; II Thessalonians 2:9.) But the sincere Christian who allows the Bible to be his final authority, who confesses the absolute deity of Jesus Christ, and whose interest in signs and wonders is to bring glory to the true God and to minister to those in need, does not have to fear the spurious.


The Work of the Holy Ghost in the Church Today


There is no indication in Scripture that God planned for the supernatural manifestation of His Spirit to cease during the church age. Instead, it is evident that His plan was for Christians to continue to do the work of God with the supernatural tools He placed in the church.


For example, Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14).


Jesus also pointed to the supernatural signs which follow believers (Mark 16:17-18). The most evident way supernatural ministry is performed is by means of the gifts of the Spirit discussed in detail in I Corinthians 12-14.


While the church at Corinth had many problems, they did not come behind in any gift (I Corinthians 1:7). The gifts of the Spirit operated profusely among them in spite of their abuse of them. In his letter Paul wrote to correct the use of the gifts not to eliminate them.


The carnality of the Corinthians (I Corinthians 3:1-4) did not prevent the gifts from operating because the gifts of the Spirit are just that: gifts. They are not the evidence of spiritual maturity. They do not indicate that the person operating them has achieved advanced spiritual power. This is the difference between gifts and fruit. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) gives evidence of spiritual maturity. The fruit tells us something about the person’s character and spirituality. But the gifts tell us nothing about the person’s character or spirituality. Instead, they tell us about the nature of the giver, who is God Himself.


Many people confuse the distinction between the fruit of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit. They think the gifts of the Spirit can operate only in the life of one who is spiritually mature, of sterling character, and perfect in every way. When, in their view, genuine gifts do operate through a person, they tend to idolize that individual as one who is far advanced spiritually. They seem to think spiritual gifts can operate only through those who are exceptional; they have little hope they could ever reach the place in God where He could trust them with these gifts. But the Corinthians themselves are proof that the possession of gifts is not to be equated with maturity or perfection.


The validity of a gift is not so much determined by an examination of the life of the person through whom it operates. It is determined by comparing its message with the Word of God and its fruit with the criteria of edification, exhortation, and comfort (I Corinthians 14:3, 12, 29).


The Nine Spiritual Gifts


While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to offer detailed teaching on the operation of all nine gifts of the Spirit listed in I Corinthians 12, a brief overview is in order.


For the sake of identification, these spiritual gifts are often divided into three groups of three:


The revelation gifts.

  • Word of wisdom
  • Word of knowledge
  • Discerning of spirits

The power gifts.

  • Faith
  • Gifts of healings
  • Working of miracles

The vocal gifts.

  • Tongues
  • Interpretation
  • Prophecy


While the above organization of the spiritual gifts is helpful in identifying something of the nature of each gift and in remembering them, it is also somewhat artificial. The person who begins to operate in the spiritual gifts will soon discover that in practical operation various gifts will work together to accomplish common purposes. For example, a person operating with the gifts of healings may discover that the word of knowledge works in conjunction with that gift, giving him information about the sick person’s condition. After healing has been ministered, he may find the word of wisdom in operation to give the healed individual direction as to how to conduct his life in a more spiritual or healthful manner.


It is important to know that the operation of the gifts are not to be taken as infallible. They are subject to the Bible, can be judged by the saints, and are under the authority of the ministry in the church. The Bible teaches us that the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet, that is, the gifts are channeled through Christians who are not perfect and who may fail to accurately reflect what God is saying and doing among His people. We should not be critical or doubters, but we are to act wisely and scripturally in the operation of spiritual gifts.


In our limited space, we will offer a few brief comments on each of the nine spiritual gifts. (Suggestions for additional study will be found under Expand Your Knowledge.)


The gift of the word of wisdom. This is not the “gift of wisdom”; it is the gift of the word of wisdom. Any believer may apply himself to the pursuit of wisdom and gain valuable progress (Proverbs 3:13-20; 4:5-13). He may pray and ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). But such wisdom is not the supernatural gift of the word of wisdom.


The gift of the word of wisdom may be defined as “a small portion (a word) of God’s total wisdom supernaturally imparted by the Holy Spirit.”


We must distinguish between “wisdom” and “knowledge.” Knowledge is information. Wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. (See Ecclesiastes 10:10.)


The gift of the word of knowledge. Like the gift of the word of wisdom, this is the gift of the word of knowledge. It is not the “gift of knowledge.” An individual can gain knowledge by study and research. He can gain great knowledge of the Scriptures. But this knowledge is not the supernatural gift of the word of knowledge.


The word of knowledge is information about which the believer has no personal knowledge but which is imparted to him by the Holy Ghost. The word of knowledge is a small portion of the total knowledge of God supernaturally imparted by the Holy Spirit.


The gift of discerning of spirits. This gift is sometimes mistakenly identified as the gift of “discernment.” It seems that those who so identify it have it confused with the gift of the word of knowledge. Actually, it is the discerning of spirits.


The word discern means “to recognize and distinguish between.” The person being used in this gift will discern or recognize what spirits are at work in a given situation. There are several categories of spirits in existence:


  • The Holy Spirit
  • Faithful angels (Hebrews 1:13-14)
  • Fallen angels
  • Demons or evil spirits
  • Human spirits


The gift of faith. There are three kinds of faith in the New Testament:


  • The faith that comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17)
  • The faith that is a part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22)
  • The gift of faith.


The gift of faith is a small portion of the total faith of God which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift may be operated in two ways:


  • A person can exercise faith before God on behalf of a person, object, or situation (I Kings 17:1; 18:41-45; James 5:16-18).
  • A person can exercise faith before a person, object, or situation on behalf of God (Joshua 10:12-13; Mark 11:12-14, 20-24; Matthew 17:20).


The gifts of healings. While there are similarities between healings and miracles in many cases, there are also important differences. A healing many times occurs gradually, almost imperceptibly, relieving the body of disease. A miracle, on the other hand, is usually instantaneous, usually perceptible, and may go beyond healing.


This spiritual gift is actually the gifts (plural) of healings (plural) (I Corinthians 12:28). This is important to recognize, for it reveals multiple acts of healing given by God through spiritually sensitive individuals as the needs are known.


The gift of the working of miracles. Miracles go beyond healings. They may involve the replacement of a bodily part which is missing or a visible and almost instantaneous change in some bodily part. Of course, a miracle may not involve a human body at all. It may involve an object, like the tree Jesus cursed or the sun and moon Joshua commanded to stand still, or it may pertain to a situation which is in need of divine intervention.


Basically, miracles are works contrary to nature. They are the accomplishments of the “impossible.” They involve sudden reversals of the order to which we are accustomed.


The gift of prophecy. It is important to recognize the difference between the ministry of the prophet and the person who operates in the gift of prophecy. Prophets will exercise the gift of prophecy, but not everyone through whom the gift of prophecy operates is a prophet.


The gift of prophecy is a brief supernatural manifestation rather than involving every aspect of a person’s ministry. Character is not involved; it is a gift. Prophecy is the act of prophesying (I Corinthians 14:31).


Prophecy is the speaking in a person’s own language words given by the Holy Spirit.


Like all of the vocal gifts, the gift of prophecy is in some measure placed under the control of the believer. There are therefore regulations given by Paul as to their proper use (I Corinthians 14:1-33).


Prophecy is to be used for three purposes (I Corinthians 14:3):


  • Edification
  • Exhortation
  • Comfort


The gift of divers kinds of tongues. The gift of divers kinds of tongues, while similar or the same in sound, is not to be confused with the speaking with tongues which occurs as the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The gift of divers kinds of tongues and the manifestation of tongues as a person receives the Spirit are the same in essence but different in purpose and function. Just because a person speaks in tongues when he receives the Holy Ghost does not mean that he has received the gift of divers kinds of tongues.


Distinctions between the tongues in which a person speaks when receiving the Holy Spirit and the gift of divers kinds of tongues can be seen from a study of the experiences in the Bible.


  • The Holy Spirit is for all people (Acts 2:39; 5:32; John 3:5; I Corinthians 12:13). The gift of divers kinds of tongues is not exercised by all (I Corinthians 12:11, 28, 30).
  • The speaking with tongues in Acts 2, 10, and 19 does not fit the order of I Corinthians 14:27. Acts 2 is God’s pattern for those initially receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; I Corinthians 14:27 is God’s pattern for those who, having previously been Spirit filled, operate the gift of divers kinds of tongues. The gift of divers kinds of tongues is to be operated by one person at a time, in order, and there is to be an interpretation. In Acts 2, 10, and 19, all believers spoke with tongues at once and no one interpreted.


We should not suppose, however, that the Spirit-filled person is not to speak in tongues unless an interpretation is given. On the contrary, in his private devotions, either alone or in the company of other worshipers, he may pray in an unknown tongue to God, and by this he edifies himself spiritually. But if he speaks with unction in a loud voice in a church service, he should then wait for an interpretation, either by himself or by someone else. If there is no interpretation, then he should not disturb the service again by speaking in tongues at that time.


The gift of divers kinds of tongues is the unction given to a believer by the Holy Spirit to speak in languages not understood by the speaker.


The gift of the interpretation of tongues. The gift of the interpretation of tongues is the anointing given by the Holy Spirit to speak in a language understood by the speaker the meaning of words previously spoken in a language he did not know.


It is important to realize that this is the gift of interpretation of tongues, not the gift of translation of tongues. This simple truth will help remove much skepticism concerning the operation of this gift.


The gift of divers kinds of tongues coupled with the interpretation of tongues is equivalent to prophecy (I Corinthians 14:5). The interpretation of tongues is for the edification of the church (I Corinthians 14:26).




Where people will believe God for signs and wonders, they will not be disappointed. One of the things which distinguishes the true church from those which merely profess Christ is the confirmation of the Word of God with signs following (Mark 16:20).


Test Your Knowledge


  1. What supernatural experience occurred at the birth of the church?
  2. What are the two basic purposes of supernatural signs?
  3. List the nine spiritual gifts and discuss their arrangement in categories.


Apply Your Knowledge


Since Paul said we are to “covet earnestly the best gifts” and to “desire spiritual gifts” (I Corinthians 12:31; 14:1), ask yourself, “What spiritual gift or gifts do I desire?” If God has given you the desire, He will give you the unction to use that particular gift.


Expand Your Knowledge


George Shalm, longtime missionary of the United Pentecostal Church International, wrote the book, Spiritual Gifts for a Dynamic Church (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1977). This is an excellent treatment of the nine spiritual gifts.


You may also wish to obtain the manual, Introduction to Signs and Wonders: A Guide to the Supernatural Realm, by Daniel Segraves.


This article “The Work of the Holy Ghost” was excerpted from Meet the United Pentecostal Church written by David Bernard, C. A. Brewer, P. D. Buford, Dan Butler, Gary Erickson, J. L. Hall, T. M. Jackson, Edwin Judd, Ralph Reynolds and Dan Segraves. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

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