The Ministries of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit’s Present Work In The Church
Dr. David Clifford is currently engaged in international Bible lecturing and teaching, and presently he makes his home in Plantation, Florida.
This study is a continuation of his extended series on the Holy Spirit.
God views the Church as one complete unit. This is the real existing ecumenicalism. All true believers in Christ Jesus form one body in the Lord, and even more than that, they together are spoken of as the Body of Christ in a spiritual sense. The amplified version of Ephesians 1:23 states it thus: “In that body lives the full measure of Him, Who makes everything complete,” and Christ lives in that body by His Spirit.
The three similes for the Church, as we see them in this same epistle, express, each in its own way, how the Church, by the Spirit’s indwelling, finds its oneness with its Head, even Christ.
The Body expresses the Church’s essential union, by His Spirit, to Christ the Head. The Bride expresses the Church’s essential union, by the Spirit’s indwelling, to the heavenly Bridegroom and the Building similarly expresses the Church’s union by the Spirit’s indwelling to Him Who is the chief corner stone. This cannot be referring to the keystone of an archway, but the main stone of the foundation of a building.
The first thing that must be said, therefore, about the Spirit and the Church is that He formed it and at the same time indwelt it, and still does. Pentecost saw the beginning of the Church. It could never have existed until the Spirit came, for it is “a habitation of God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22, KJV). Therefore, the Holy Spirit is:
1. The Divine Executor of the Church’s Calling
The Church is not only God’s representative on earth, but God’s dwelling place on earth. Now therefore, the Spirit indwells the Church to fulfill the will of God in and through her. To do this, of course, He must have liberty for His actions, otherwise the gracious Spirit will be grieved as he was with Israel of old when they rejected God’s way.
2. The Holy Spirit is the Dynamic of the Church’s Unity
“We are all baptized into One body by one Spirit” (see 1 Cor. 12:13). The coming of the Spirit upon a company of waiting disciples changed them from an aggregation of units into one corporate whole, the Church of the Living God. By the creation of the Church a new Temple was given to the world, a spiritual temple, a spiritual building. The Spirit in the Church and in every member unites them in God. This is the only ecumenicalism which He acknowledges; it already exists and need no organization, for it is a living organism.
3. The Holy Spirit is the Defender of the Church’s Faith
“No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit Himself is the only centre and the one abiding centre of authority in matters of faith and doctrine. That is what is being taught here in this passage. The foundation of all Christian doctrine is that Jesus is Lord. All that remains is built on this truth. The purpose of our Lord’s dying and rising and living is that he should be Lord (Romans 14:9), both of the dead and the living. It is the Holy Spirit Who makes the revelation of His Lordship, unfolding it step by step, here a little, there a little, making manifestations of the glory of our Lord, and the beauty and blessedness of His character to those who follow on to know the Lord.
4. The Holy Spirit is the Demonstrator of the Church’s Worship
“We worship God by the Spirit,” the Apostle said (Philippians 3:2, KJV), and he also added, “and have no confidence in the flesh.” Reliance on the abilities of the old nature or on external ordinances (as seen in the context) can never be helpful in an exercise which is essentially spiritual. To worship God by the Spirit must be to be reliant exclusively on the enabling of the Spirit of God, on His almighty unction, for “no man can … but by the Holy God.”
It also will mean a complete dependence upon Him to lead and guide united worship, in such a way that an open worship service does not become a mumbo-jumbo of bits and pieces thrown in by one another and, in any way, to fill in the allotted time or to adhere to some tradition, but instead there will become a progression of thought and a continuance of one or perhaps two themes. One person will be led by the Spirit to read a Psalm of worship; another will feel compelled to pray. The Spirit will always lead to the written Word, which He inspired, as well as to the Living Word, and so another will give a doctrine (remembering that the Christians are present to worship God), and another will (perhaps latterly) give an exhortation or a prayer of intercession. The flesh will ruin the worship, whether united or individual, but the Spirit’s control in this sphere will be marked by communion and peace. It is more important to give the Holy Spirit the liberty He requests than to give the Christians what they want or that which their tradition dictates.
5. The Holy Spirit is the Discoverer of the Church’s Truth
“God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God… The thoughts of God no one knows except the spirit of God … We have received… the Spirit Who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).
Our Lord had said that the Spirit would guide His own into all the truth (see John 16:13). He did this in the first place by inspiring and controlling the Holy men of old whom He bore along as they wrote the Scriptures and revealed the will and truth of God thereby. But the main import of the Corinthian, passage above is that the Spirit alone knows how to translate the things and truths of God, those already given, and how to apply them to the life and in the experience of the believer. The phrase: “The deep things of God” or “The depths of God” (literally), refers to the spiritual things which are unfathomable to human minds. The child of God should beware of the modern trend of depending upon human philosophy and any kind of existentialism, when the Spirit of God has been given to him to reveal the depths of the truth already revealed, whether it be in regard to God or man. This is the reason why the Scriptures are a closed book to a man not born again of the Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit is the Director of the Church’s Service
The gifts and talents and unction of every type of Christian service must come from the Spirit of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ “ascends on high … and He gave gifts to men” (see Ephesians 4:8). The gifts, therefore, are gifts of Christ the mighty conqueror (of whom David is a type when he returned from his conquest over the Amalekites and sent portions to those who stayed at home saying to them, “Behold a gift for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord”; see 1 Samuel 30:26), but these gifts are wrought by the Spirit’s guidance and power, and distributed according to His sovereign will (see 1 Corinthians 12:11).
7. The Holy Spirit is the Dispenser of the Church’s Power and in Particular Her Power to Witness
If, as we see in Acts 1, the exclusive subject of Christian witness was Christ (“unto Me”) and the exclusive agents of Christian witness were His own (“you shall be witnesses”), then the exclusive enabling for Christian witness was the Holy Spirit (“you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” v. 8). We read in Acts 13 that Barnabas was “sent out by the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit sends out men and women today and equips them in the same way as He did Barnabas, of whom we read, “He was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:24).
When the Lord Jesus sent out His own He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them (John 20:22), but now that He has sent His Holy Spirit from heaven to indwell all those who believe, that indwelling is their special anointing for service. The Apostle John in his first epistle reminds us: “The Unction which you have received from Him abides in you” (1 John 2:27, AV).