The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Light of God's WordThe dynamic of the believer’s spiritual walk is predicated to a certain degree on how much Bible knowledge resides in his soul. He cannot live what he does not know, and knowing God’s word necessarily precedes living His will. Knowing God’s word does not guarantee a spiritual walk, as the believer may follow the world rather than the Holy Spirit (Jas. 4:17; 1 Jo. 2:15). However, he cannot be spiritual without some knowledge of Scripture, and the more he knows, the more he’s able to surrender his life to God.

       Understanding the work of Holy Spirit in the dispensation of Grace enables the believer to live the spiritual life. The Mosaic Law system is not the rule of life for the church age believer, and sadly, too many Christians seek to live by it. How the Holy Spirit worked in the life of saints under the Mosaic Law is vastly different than how He works in the life of the believer today. For example, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law the Holy Spirit indwelt and empowered only a few believers such as Artisans (Ex. 31:1-5), Judges (Num. 11:25-29; Jud. 3:9-10), Prophets (Ezek. 2:2), and Kings (1 Sam. 10:6; 16:13); however, in the dispensation of Grace, every believer in the church is indwelt by Him (John 14:16-17; Romans 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19). Also, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law, the Holy Spirit could be taken from a believer as an act of discipline (1 Sam. 16:14-16), but this cannot happen to the believer under the dispensation of Grace, as the Christian is permanently sealed with the Holy Spirit Himself (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). Under the previous dispensation David could petition the Lord and ask Him not to “take Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11); but no church age believer should pray such a prayer, since the Holy Spirit does not leave when sin is produced. The sinning Christian may “grieve” and/or “quench” the Holy Spirit when sin is accomplished, and this he is commanded not to do (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19); but the disobedient Christian does not live under threat of losing the Holy Spirit if he fails to yield to the will of God. Certainly the Lord can and does discipline the erring child (Heb. 12:6), but not with the removal of the Holy Spirit, as was true under the previous dispensation.

       Jesus communicated these differences regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and prophesied that after His resurrection the Holy Spirit would be given to all believers to indwell them (Jo. 7:37-39; 14:16-17, 26; 16:13; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). An important note to observe is the fact that Jesus referred to the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit as future from His resurrection (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). This shows that what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Church age is distinct from what He did in the lives of some of the saints in the previous dispensation.  The Holy Spirit is working in the lives of two groups of people: unbelievers and believers. Regarding unbelievers and the world it is stated that He is:

  1. Convicting unbelievers of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8-11).
  2. Restraining sin in the world (2 Thess. 2:7).

       The Christian operating on the authority of Scripture knows the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of the unbeliever to convince him of “sin, righteousness, and judgment.” This convincing work of the Spirit regarding Christ, His work, and future judgment may be suppressed by the unbeliever—like other forms of God’s revelation—but it cannot be stopped. It is not the Christian’s place to convince the unsaved person about Christ’s Person and work, but simply to present the facts of Scripture and trust the Holy Spirit to illumine and persuade. Failure to understand what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of unbelievers may lead an ignorant believer to assume the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, and this results in frustration since the Christian is in no way equipped or commanded to tackle this momentous task.

       It is reported in Scripture that the Holy Spirit is now restraining sin in the world until the Church is taken to heaven at the Rapture (2 Thess. 2:7; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The terrible darkness that will consume the world when the restraining work of the Holy Spirit ends is manifest in the lives of those living during the time of the seven year Tribulation (Rev. 6-19; cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-12). It is obvious that there is much sin in the world now, and it staggers the imagination to try to comprehend how bad it will be after the Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry ends.

     Once a person believes in Jesus for salvation, he is then delivered “from the domain of darkness, and transferred…to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). This transference is instantaneous and permanent, and is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit at salvation. Once saved, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the Christian (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13-14), makes him a “new creature” in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), and gives him the spiritual capacity to live righteously (Rom. 6:11-14). The Holy Spirit then works to form the character of Christ in him, which is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit after salvation. Some of the works of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are as follows:

At salvation:

  1. Regeneration (John 3:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 2:13).
  2. Indwelling each believer (John 14:16-17; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19).
  3. Baptizing into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27).
  4. Sealing each believer with Himself (Eph. 4:30).
  5. Providing eternal life (John 3:16).
  6. Imputing Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
  7. Blessing with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).
  8. Providing a spiritual gift for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

After salvation:

  1. Glorifying Jesus in the believer’s life (John 16:14).
  2. Teaching directly through the Word and gifted speakers (John 16:13-15; Eph. 4:11-16).
  3. Recalling Scripture to mind (John 14:26; 16:13).
  4. Filling (empowering and guiding) (Eph. 5:18).
  5. Sustaining spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16, 25).
  6. Illuminating the mind and making Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).
  7. Promoting the use of the believer’s spiritual gift (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-10, 28-30; Eph. 4:11).

       The works of the Holy Spirit at salvation are once for all, and occur immediately when faith is placed in Jesus as Savior. In contrast, the works of the Holy Spirit after salvation are regularly repeated in the believer’s life, and require a volitional response to the Spirit’s leading. The Holy Spirit seeks to guide the believer into God’s will, but does not force compliance.  The above lists of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are not exhaustive, but are representative of the major aspects of His work.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

The Filling of the Holy Spirit

       The Holy Spirit fills us to accomplish His will (Eph. 5:18).  The filling of the Holy Spirit simply means He controls, influences or directs us as we yield to Him and are willing to accomplish His will according to Scripture. 

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.  (Eph. 5:18)

       When a person consumes alcohol and gets drunk, eventually it influences his thinking, words, and behavior in an obvious and often negative manner.  The Bible does not condemn drinking wine, but it does condemn drunkenness, in which the believer loses control of himself.  Drunkenness is sin.  In contrast to being drunk, the Bible commands the believer to “be filled with the Spirit.” 

“Be filled with the Spirit” is God’s command, and He expects us to obey. The command is plural, so it applies to all Christians and not just to a select few. The verb is in the present tense—“keep on being filled”—so it is an experience we should enjoy constantly and not just on special occasions. And the verb is passive. We do not fill ourselves but permit the Spirit to fill us. The verb “fill” has nothing to do with contents or quantity, as though we are empty vessels that need a required amount of spiritual fuel to keep going. In the Bible, filled means “controlled by.” “They… were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28) means “they were controlled by wrath” and for that reason tried to kill Jesus. “The Jews were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45) means that the Jews were controlled by envy and opposed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. To be “filled with the Spirit” means to be constantly controlled by the Spirit in our mind, emotions, and will…But how can a person tell whether or not he is filled with the Spirit? Paul stated that there are three evidences of the fullness of the Spirit in the life of the believer: he is joyful (Eph. 5:19), thankful (Eph. 5:20), and submissive (Eph. 5:21–33). Paul said nothing about miracles or tongues, or other special manifestations.[1]

       As a Christian, I don’t ask the Spirit to fill me, as that’s what He already wants to do; rather, I submit to God and walk in the light of Scripture and trust the Spirit to guide and empower me. 

The work of the Holy Spirit in filling the believer may be simply defined as that ministry which is accomplished in the believer when he is fully yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Every reference to the filling of the Holy Spirit indicates a spiritual condition on the part of the person filled which is brought about by the complete control of the Spirit.[2]

       The Spirit wants to fill me and accomplish His will in my life, but I must be yielded to Him, willing to let Him guide me according to Scripture.  There must be an active submission on my part to say “yes” to what the Spirit wants to accomplish in my life, otherwise I’m resisting Him. 

To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when he placed Him there.  To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit: it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us.  We shall never have more of the Spirit than the anointing which every true Christian has received.  On the other hand, the Spirit may have all of the believer and thus be able to manifest in him the life and character of Christ.  A spiritual person, then, is one who experiences the divine purpose and plan in his daily life through the power of the indwelling Spirit.  The character of that life will be the out-lived Christ.  The cause of that life will be the unhindered indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21; II Corinthians 3:18).[3]

Charles Ryrie states:

To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit. The clue to this definition is found in Ephesians 5:18 where there is contrast and comparison between drunkenness and Spirit-filling. It is the comparison which gives the clue, for just as a drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he consumes, so a Spirit-filled Christian is controlled by the Spirit. This will cause him to act in ways which are unnatural to him, not implying that such ways will be erratic or abnormal, but asserting that they will not be the ways of the old life. Control by the Spirit is a necessary part of spirituality.[4]

       For the apostle Paul, the most obvious sign of being filled with the Spirit is the manifestation that follows.  After giving the command to be filled with the Spirit, the apostle Paul then states that Christians are to be:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father”  (Eph. 5:19-20). 

       The spiritual Christian tends to have a song in his heart and an attitude of thankfulness toward God.  This does not mean he cannot experience genuine grief or sorrow, or at times be angry while filled with Spirit.  Certainly Jesus got angry and experienced sorrow, and He was spiritual in everything.  However, as we follow Paul’s instructions in his letter to the Ephesians, the filling of the Spirit is followed by praise and thanksgiving in the believer. (Article taken from my book: The Christian Life, pages 71-75)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

The Filling of the Holy Spirit – by John F. Walvoord 

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? – compellingtruth.org  


[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2 (Colorado Springs, Col., Victor Publishing, 2001), 48.

[2] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 192.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 43-44.

[4] Charles C. Ryrie, “What is Spirituality?” Bibliotheca Sacra 126 (1969): 206.