The Outpouring: An Introduction to the 3rd Person of the Trinity
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
Cessationism or Continuationism? Unfortunately, the debate in the church today misses the bigger picture of valuing the identity and role of the third person of the Godhead as presented throughout the Bible. Jesus we know, the Father we understand, but the Holy Spirit is at best a curiosity, largely an enigma, and often simply ignored. But the importance of the Holy Spirit's role and value of His identity in the Christian faith cannot be overstated.
Identity & Role
I want to begin this study with a bold statement: in the Godhead the Father enables relationship and the Son enables redemption, but the Holy Spirit enables reproduction. This is why His role is so vital, because the church is on mission. We have a task to complete and indeed that task is the reason we exist, and the Lord has not yet returned.
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. -Mat 24:14 NASB*
The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. -Mar 13:10
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."... The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. -2 Pe 3:3- 4, 9
This may seem to be an odd way to begin discussing the Holy Spirit, but it is the key context to view Him in and begin to understand how crucial He truly is. This context helps bring clarity to the descriptors given of Him by Jesus in the book of John. But before we go there, we should start as John did in the opening of his Gospel—in the beginning. Though it should go without saying, along with the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit was present and active in the opening verses of scripture.
The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. -Gen 1:2
The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament of the Spirit of God is Ruach, which means "breath or wind." The New Testament Greek word used of the Spirit is Pneuma which has the exact same meaning. Turn now to the end of the Bible and you'll also see the Spirit at work as He spoke to each of the seven churches in Revelation (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29, & Rev 3:6, 13, 22), He was the one who revealed the vision to John (Rev 1:10, Rev 4:2, Rev 14:13, Rev 17:3, Rev 21:10) and He is present and speaking in the closing benediction of scripture (Rev 22:17). So from the beginning of creation to the end of time, the Spirit of God is active—this reality is both textually clear and theologically important. The Holy Spirit is a person of the Godhead and therefore is the same "yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8, Rev 1:8).
Due to the progressive nature of revelation of scripture, while the Spirit was very active in the Old Testament (which we'll discuss in a moment), Jesus is the one who gave key descriptors of Him in John 14:26 and John 15:26 calling Him "the Helper," and "the Spirit of Truth." In both the Old and New Testaments, one of the roles of the Spirit is that of a teacher who guides us into knowledge and truth.
You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst. -Neh 9:20
"...for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." -Luk 12:12
As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. -1 Jn 2:27
If that last verse seems a bit unclear who it is speaking of, wherever you find the "anointing" in scripture, you'll find the Holy Spirit.
With, In & Upon
There are three prepositions used in relation to the Spirit in scripture—with, in, and upon—each denoting a very different effect in their context. With is the presence of God which can be with anyone or anything in the Old and New Testaments. In is the peace of God which can only dwell in believers by definition, so this is reserved for the New Testament only. Upon is the dramatic one as it denotes the power or anointing of God upon someone or something and this too is present in both the Old and New Testaments (not unique to believers).
We see examples of with throughout scripture and is probably the easiest to accept as God's presence isn't a controversial concept in the church. From the aforementioned presence of the Spirit hovering over the waters of creation, and God's promise to be with Moses (Exo 3:12) and Joshua (Jos 1:9), to God's promise of His presence and protection to all of Israel (Isa 43:2-5), we see this theme throughout the Old Testament. His presence then continues into the New Covenant as Jesus promises that He will be with us to the end of the age (Mat 28:20). Jesus goes even further in John 14:16 to promise the Holy Spirit will be with us forever.
We see the very first example of in after Jesus' resurrection when He breathes on His disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22). Christians often use the term "the indwelling of the Holy Spirit" in this context, and it is the first phase of salvation called justification, or the renewal of the spirit (phase two being sanctification or the renewal of the mind, and phase three being glorification or the renewal of the body). While the Spirit only dwelt in man after Christ's death and resurrection, there were certainly prophecies in the Old Testament foretelling this reality (eg: Eze 11:19-20). Jesus Himself foretold it prior to His death.
"...That is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you... In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. -Joh 14:17 & 20 (emphasis added)
We can call the indwelling of the Spirit the peace of God because the New Testament texts state that it is only through justification by faith that we can have peace with God (Rom 5:1). This is quite a powerful statement as it is only through faith in the work of the Son that we can have the indwelling of the Spirit to bring us into relationship with the Father. All persons of the Trinity have an active role in our salvation.
There is one passage in the Old Testament which seems to challenge the "New Testament only" rule of the indwelling (Num 27:18) as it speaks of Joshua being a man "in whom is the Spirit." Some translations insert the definite article the before spirit in that verse (not present in the Hebrew) and many also capitalize Spirit, making it even easier to argue the Spirit of God indwelt in a man prior to the finished work of Christ. But a parallel passage in Deuteronomy clarifies the meaning of this phrase considerably by stating, "Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him..." (Deu 34:9). So this is actually an example of the anointing, not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Indeed it would be rather odd if Joshua was the only man in all the Old Testament to have been said to have the indwelling.
This reality is emphasized and expounded upon by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians when he contrasts Adam to Jesus by saying the first was a living soul while the latter a life-giving spirit (1 Co 15:45). Indeed, if you go back to Genesis, when God breathed into the nostrils of Adam, He did not breathe His Ruach (Spirit, breath, or wind) into him. Genesis 2:7 states that God breathed neshamah into Adam, meaning vitality or intellect. Adam had a spirit (wind or breath) in him, but not God's Spirit. When Jesus mirrored the creation event by breathing on His disciples in John 20:21-22, He was giving them a new spirit—His.
Of course the preposition which stirs arguments up and causes division in the church is the upon. But the anointing of the Holy Spirit has come upon men and women throughout history in both Old and New Testaments in order to equip natural men with supernatural power to accomplish an assignment given by God. In the Old Testament, the anointing typically came upon prophets, priests, and kings (leaders). In the New Testament era, the anointing became available to all believers (and even unbelievers) as we are co-heirs with Christ who is our high priest and King of Kings. The apostle Peter makes this clear by calling believers a royal priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices (1 Pe 2:5, 9). The prophet Joel also foretold this by prophesying that there would come a day when the Spirit of God would be poured out upon all mankind (Joel 2:28-30).
Many think of the "baptism" of the Holy Spirit as a uniquely New Testament phenomena, but actually Old Testament examples of the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone are even more numerous. From the seventy elders of Israel under Moses (Num 11:25) to the heathen Balaam (Num 24:2) and even Balaam's donkey (Num 22:28), whenever and whoever (or even whatever) the Spirit came upon, power and authority followed—usually in fantastic supernatural displays. A prime example of this can be seen in the life of Samson, who was anointed as a judge over Israel. Though known for his feats of strength, the source of his strength was a bit of a mystery to his enemies, which is why they kept asking Delilah to discover his secret. In other words, he wasn't built like the Incredible Hulk.
But of course it wasn't Samson's strength, it was the Holy Spirit upon him. Whether it was ripping a lion in half with his bare hands (Jdg 14:6), laying waste to scores of Philistines (Jdg 14:19), or snapping thick ropes like dental floss (Jdg 15:14), just prior to every time Samson did something truly awesome, the text clearly states "and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him..." But even the literal anointing of leaders often came with bursts of supernatural side-effects as the Spirit came upon them. Both in the previously mentioned case of the seventy elders under Moses and king Saul (1 Sam 10:10-11), they all began to prophesy when they were anointed as leaders.
Called and Anointed for a Task
This pattern remains utterly consistent in the New Testament texts, though the context and application certainly shifts a bit. What doesn't change is that the anointing of the Spirit comes upon those who God called to a specific task. But in the New Testament era, that task is building God's church, so when we see the power of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, that is always the context as the purpose of the anointing is to enable us to accomplish the mission Christ gave us. This was true even of Jesus Himself as He was not released into His ministry until after being baptized and having the power of the Holy Spirit come upon Him.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased." -Mar 1:9-11 (emphasis added)
Likewise, Jesus instructed His disciples to not begin their ministry until the Holy Spirit had come upon them as well (note that they had already received the indwelling of the Spirit when Jesus breathed on them).
Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." -Acts 1:4,5,8
The pattern is utterly consistent throughout all of scripture—God calls man, then God comes upon man to give him supernatural power and ability to accomplish His will. It is an unmistakable and undeniable reality found on virtually every page of the Bible.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners. -Isa 61:1
Common Objection: The Completion of Canon
At this point some readers may begin to feel a tinge of discomfort as the implications of this theological truth go beyond an academic study of biblical history and into our present reality. I understand, trust me. But if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we can't look at a universal pattern which permeates all of scripture, all of history, and both Old and New Covenants only to conclude it has no relevance today. But shockingly, many have done just that. So before I go any further, let's discuss the arguments which take a decidedly deist position and posit the Holy Spirit is no longer active in the world and the power of God is no longer necessary.
My first question for those who fall into the "cessationist" camp would be, explain the logic. Why does the church no longer need the power of the Holy Spirit? What happened in spiritual history which fundamentally altered our dependence upon a supernatural God where we as men can now build His church and accomplish His will largely on our own? The answer typically given is the completion of scripture. For some reason, having the final chapters of the Bible written suddenly made the Holy Spirit obsolete. Indeed the foundation of the cessationism claim lies in a passage interpreted to mean the supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit will cease when scripture is completed.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. -1 Co 13:8-10
The way cessationists interpret this passage is that the "perfect" is scripture (in completed form) and the "partial" refers to the tongues and prophecy, presumably the word of knowledge—and by implication, all the manifestations of the Spirit—mentioned in the previous sentence. But the passage continues and in verse 12 Paul states, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." Paul is saying now we know in part, but then when the perfect comes, we will see face to face and will know fully. So the simple question is, does a Bible allow the reader to see God or anything face to face and know God or anything fully? I think a far more sensible reading of this passage would conclude it is alluding to the return of Christ, not the completion of scripture. On that day we will certainly see God face-to-face and know Him (and all things) fully.
Interestingly, the word translated as perfect here is the Greek teleios which means finished or complete; that which has reached its end, term, or limit. A similar sentiment is used in Philippians by Paul using the related Greek word epiteleo—which is translated as perfect (verb rather than noun). Once again, the return of Christ is the context.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. -Php 1:6
Paul makes it even more clear in Corinthians however by opening the letter with this statement:
Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. -1 Co 1:7-8 (NLT)
So there is no logical reason why the Holy Spirit's role would be different once all the scriptures were written—the scriptures themselves clearly indicate the Holy Spirit will remain active until Christ's second coming. Indeed, this makes perfect sense as Christ promised us the Holy Spirit at His departure, so naturally the Holy Spirit's role will remain until Christ's return. Of course it's quite obvious the Holy Spirit's role would be different after Christ returns, judges the living and the dead, and dwells among His people for eternity. In that age, we won't need healing because no one will be sick. We won't need miracles or signs and wonders being worked through people as the perfect will of God will already be made manifest. Tongues will no longer be necessary as direct, face to face communication with the Father will be our daily reality. Obviously, prophecy will be of little value as all will have already come to pass at that point. But from 96 AD (completion of scripture) to the present, we are still very much in need of the power of the Holy Spirit to equip and empower us for ministry in a dark and lost world under the power of the enemy. Paul himself argues this point to the Corinthians.
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. -1 Co 2:1-5
Paul emphasizes that mere preaching, knowledge, wisdom, or persuasive arguments are not enough—the Gospel is effective and enduring when presented with demonstrations of power by the Holy Spirit. This is still true on the mission field today. Peoples who adhere to animist, Hindu, or other religious worldviews which acknowledge and operate in the supernatural are not convinced the God you are presenting them is all-powerful unless a demonstration accompanies the Gospel message. Even among Muslim, materialist, or atheist peoples, one miracle is worth a thousand sermons. This is why so many supernatural acts are recorded in the New Testament—because the Holy Spirit was moving upon people to empower them to preach the Gospel with evidence, and power, not just blind faith. Paul makes this abundantly clear just a few chapters later in Corinthians.
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. -1 Co 4:20 (KJV)
If that isn't clear enough in English, in the Greek Paul stated that the kingdom of God is not in logos, but in dunamis. This is a bold statement indeed as logos is the written word of God—scripture. Paul is saying the kingdom of God is not in doctrine, theology, or even canon, but in dunamis—miraculous power.
The evangelism context of the "gifts" of the Holy Spirit has not changed, which is why the vast majority of the miraculous and awe-inspiring supernatural testimonies come from the front lines of missions, not in local church services in Christianized nations. The Holy Spirit was primarily given to the church to empower her to go and spread, not to stay and clump. So until our task is completed and every tribe and tongue have been presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit's role is vital. But don't take my word for it—if you want to see the power of the Holy Spirit for yourself, go on the mission field where you will quickly be disabused of any notion of cessationism.
The other dynamic at play in why the Western church toys with the idea of cessationism however, is cultural—we are largely materialists who are skeptical of or reject the supernatural realm entirely. We believe in science, empirical evidence, logic, and intellect and grow quite uneasy when faced with the question of spiritual realities and unexplainable phenomena. Despite Paul's warning that the kingdom of God is not in word, it is precisely in this intellectual and theoretical realm which Western believers are most comfortable. We prioritize understanding faith over experiencing it, and knowing about God rather than knowing Him. As a result, culturally speaking, our faith is quite low and therefore the amount of miracles witnessed here is low. Remember that even Jesus could not perform many miracles in His hometown due to the people's unbelief (Mat 13:54-58).
Contrast this with other cultures where spiritual realities are embraced, and you'll find Christians there who operate in power on a rather shockingly regular basis winning souls, healing the sick, raising the dead, controlling weather, casting out demons and every other awesome experience you read about in the Bible. People in these cultures don't question the supernatural, have abundant faith, and therefore (without any coaching or theological instruction) receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit the moment they receive Jesus—it is often a singular event in those contexts. In other cultural contexts, often the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (salvation) happens first, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit is a separate event which happens later in their discipleship. Scripture clearly portrays both of these scenarios, so there should be no temptation to create a formulaic doctrine around one or the other (at point of salvation: Acts 10:42-48, separate event following salvation: Acts 8:14-17).
Common Objection: Only for the Apostolic Age
Variations of the "only then, not now" argument state that either the anointing of the Holy Spirit was only meant for the apostles themselves, or else was only in operation in the early church age when they were ministering. Of course the anointing of the Holy Spirit was not limited to just the apostles in the New Testament, it is pervasive throughout the entire Bible. But even within the New Testament texts there are very few passages which could be used to suggest that this power was reserved only for the apostles or even the spiritual elders—it was clearly available to every believer.
So is there any reason to believe that the Spirit operated in power only while the apostles were alive? None whatsoever. Jesus claimed supernatural power would be a sign of any and all of His followers, not just the original disciples.
"Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father." -John 14:11-12
"These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." -Mark 16:17-18
Notice Jesus also didn't give an expiration date for these signs or limit the promise to a specific people or generation—these statements are general and apply to every believer just as the Great Commission (Mat 28:19) does. This is also clear in Acts chapter 2 when Peter quotes the prophet Joel in his spontaneous sermon after the Spirit had come upon him.
"It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. " -Joel 2:28-31 (quoted in Acts 2:16-20)
According to Joel, these phenomena were signs of what the prophets called "the last days." John also sees these signs—the sun darkened and the moon like blood—in his vision (Rev 6:12). So the question is, if according to Peter the day of Pentecost began the period known as "the last days" (Acts 2:15-16), when does that period end? The answer is clear and obvious: at the return of Christ. So again, when should we expect the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit upon man to cease? Not when scripture was completed, and not when the apostles died out, but at the second coming of Christ. We are still in the last days, so the Holy Spirit's role remains unchanged.
Furthermore, evidence that the power of the Holy Spirit continued beyond the time of the apostles is clear. The writings of many early church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Augustine all attest to this fact.
"For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us." -Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho Ch 82 (circa 155 AD)
"Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ..." -Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk 2, Ch 32, Sec 4 (circa 180 AD)
"For this reason does the apostle declare, 'We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,' terming those persons 'perfect' who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms 'spiritual,' they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit..." -Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk 5, Ch 6, Sec 1 (circa 180 AD)
Augustine wrote two whole chapters about the miracles performed in the church at that time (circa 415 AD) in his treatise City of God, book 22, chapters 8 and 9. The actual title of chapter 8 is, "Of Miracles Which Were Wrought that the World Might Believe in Christ, and have not Ceased Since the World Believed." So there is ample evidence that the power of the Holy Spirit operated many generations after the apostles as well as many, many, many generations before them.
Common Objection: Experience
So if the biblical texts don't support the cessation of the role of the Holy Spirit in the current New Testament era, and church history attests to their continuance beyond the apostolic age, there are only a few other objections one could raise. Typically these are either a lack of any personal experience, or else bad experiences. Obviously a lack of personal experience is not a valid argument—it doesn't matter if ninety-nine Amazon natives claim snow doesn't exist because they've lived their whole lives on the equator. All it takes is one Eskimo to set the record straight.
But it surprises me how many people I've talked to who think their absence of experience is somehow proof of cessation. Imagine if our courts of law operated under this assumption: Well there were three eyewitnesses who saw the crime happen exactly as described, but the vast majority of people in the vicinity didn't see anything, so it must not have actually taken place... But this flawed logic does have a long history of being used. Even Augustine—who as noted before believed the Holy Spirit was still active—argued that tongues must have passed away as he had not witnessed them (Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John, sec 10).
The next logical fallacy is arguing that because there are demonic counterfeits or simply insecure flesh counterfeiting in order to draw attention to itself, all manifestations must be false. I can certainly sympathize with this argument as I have seen plenty of cringe-worthy behavior done in the name of the Holy Spirit among believers. But then again, I've seen plenty of cringe-worthy behavior done in the name of Christ too—yet I still believe in Jesus and His claims in scripture. The counterfeit does not invalidate the authentic, it just necessitates a method to be able to distinguish between the two. Lo and behold, God gave us just that in the gift of discernment of spirits. But it is a serious charge when Christians label certain things as a work of the enemy simply because they're uncomfortable with them. The religious elite said something similar in the book of Mark and Jesus' response was a sobering warning.
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons." And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand... Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit." -Mark 3:22-24,28-30 (emphasis added)
So rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater and be in danger of committing an unforgivable sin, I encourage believers to utilize the gift of discernment of spirits and err on the side of caution. Of course there is a bit of a catch-22 in that piece of advice as to operate in the discernment of spirits first requires one to acknowledge that the power of the Holy Spirit is still available to man and to actually receive that anointing.
The "Gifts" of the Holy Spirit
So with the objections hopefully addressed, let us move on to the actual nine "gifts" which have caused so much controversy in the church. I say "gifts" because that is a bit of a misnomer as it is the Holy Spirit who is the gift while the "gifts" are simply manifestations of His power as He wills (1 Co 12:4-7, 11). I make this distinction to dispel the common misconception that some people have certain gifts of the Spirit while others do not. If you have the anointing of the Holy Spirit (or baptism, or are "Spirit filled" depending on which lingo you prefer), you are but a vessel through which He can perform any supernatural act He so desires. That is not to say everyone will operate in each of the nine gifts equally, but we all have the ability and certainly the access.
So without further adieu, let's break down the nine manifestations given in scripture into three categories for the purpose of study: there are three that see, three that do, and three that speak.
Revelation Gifts (the Eyes of God)
- Word of Wisdom
- Word of Knowledge
- Discernment of Spirits
Power Gifts (the Hands of God)
- Gift of Faith
- Gift of Healing
- Gift of Miracles
Inspiration Gifts (the Mouth of God)
- Gift of Prophecy
- Gift of Tongues
- Interpretation of Tongues
1. Word of Wisdom
In this gift, God reveals a fraction of His wisdom regarding people, places, or things or shows how He wants to deal with a specific situation at that time. It is not the gift of "wisdom" (which comes through age, maturity, and experience) and has nothing to do with the soul's (mind, will, and emotions) capacity or academic ability of man. It is not learned, but received—it is a supernatural word for the believer in that moment, specifically for that situation which was given by the Holy Spirit.
1 Kings 3:16-28—Solomon judges two women after receiving wisdom (1 Kings 3:9-12)
2 Kings 3:7-17—Elisha is given wisdom to solve a water problem
Acts 19:21, Acts 23:11, Acts 26:31—God tells Paul to go to Rome, then why, how, and when
2. Word of Knowledge
In this gift, God reveals a piece of information to the believer about someone or something in the past or present (not the future—that's prophecy) that is impossible for their carnal mind to be aware of. It is not knowledge that can be learned through study, observation or experience nor is it intellectual or academic.
1 Sam 9:17—God revealed to Samuel that Saul should be anointed king
Acts 9:10-12—God revealed to Ananias a street address to go to
Acts 10:17-21—God revealed to Peter that men were looking for him
3. Discernment of Spirits
In this gift, God gives the believer a glimpse into the spiritual realm making it possible to differentiate between angels and demons, flesh and spirit, and the spirit of Christ and Antichrist. As with all the gifts, this one is not “always on”—the Holy Spirit activates the believer according to His will. It is not the gift of discernment of character nor the gift of suspicion or judging of the human heart. It is not a woman’s (or a man's) intuition. It is a supernatural ability to perceive the identity of the spirit(s) which are behind different manifestations, activity, or behaviors.
1 Kings 22:12-14, 1 Kings 19-23—God revealed 400 prophets were speaking via a deceiving spirit
Acts 8:18-23—God revealed to Peter that Simon sought the gifts in his flesh
Acts 16:16-18—God revealed to Paul the words from a slave girl were from demons
4. Gift of Faith
In this gift, God gives the believer a great amount of faith for a specific situation to accomplish supernatural results. Every believer has a measure of faith and every believer can exercise and grow that faith, but the gift of faith is like a shot of spiritual adrenaline which the Holy Spirit supplies above and beyond what the believer has developed or cultivated in their lives in order for Him to accomplish His will in a specific situation.
Gen 18:10-12—Sarah laughed, but Heb 11:11 states she gave birth through faith
Mark 9:19-25—A father asks Jesus for faith so that his boy would be healed
Acts 6:8—Stephen was filled with faith and power (note that many translations say grace and power, but the Greek word used is pistis, which is faith—KJV gets it right)
5. Gift of Healing
In this gift, a special impartation of God’s divine healing power is given to the believer for a specific person, time or event enabling (usually) instantaneous healing of disease or sickness in the mind or body (some may include the spirit as well, though I'd put demonic oppression or possession in a different category). There are biblical cases where the healing was progressive or required further steps of faith. Any and all believers are encouraged to pray for the sick, however someone operating in the gift of healing will see a much higher percentage of those prayed for actually healed as they are being prompted by the Holy Spirit.
2 Kings 5:8-15—God used Elisha to heal an enemy of Israel through a process
Isa 38:1-5, 21—God healed Hezekiah through Isaiah with cake
Acts 5:14-16—God heals many through Peter's shadow
6. Gift of Miracles
This is a bit of a catch-all gift as God works through the believer to accomplish anything truly supernatural. Examples would include raising the dead, parting the Red Sea, walking on water, multiplication of the loaves and fishes etc. Technically this would include the re-growing of limbs or body parts as well, though some may call them “healings.” Again, those with this gift do not operate in it all the time—the Spirit moves upon us as He wills.
Exo 7-12—God moves through Moses and Aaron to cause the 10 plagues
1 Kings 18:36-39—The fire of God falls upon a sacrifice at the request of Elijah
Acts 13:8-12—God causes a sorcerer to become blind through Paul
7. Gift of Prophecy
In this gift, God gives the believer a supernatural utterance in a known tongue spoken under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to edify, encourage, strengthen, comfort, warn, or correct the church or an individual. It can be forth-telling (typically categorized as a word of knowledge) but is more universally recognized as foretelling (a word regarding the future). Prophetic words must always be judged (tested, weighed, see if they come to pass), never just assumed to be true. Technically, dreams and visions also fall under this category as in the Old Testament "seers" were known as prophets, though some may place dreams and visions in the revelation category.
Num 11:25-29—The Spirit comes upon 70 elders who begin to prophesy, Moses rejoices
1 Sa 19:20—The Spirit comes upon Saul's messengers trying to take David
Acts 21:10-11—Agabus prophesies to Paul of his capture in Jerusalem
8. Gift of Tongues
In this (controversial) gift, a supernatural utterance is given by God to the believer in a tongue (language) they do not know or understand. There are three different biblical contexts given for this gift: Speaking to God—aka, prayer—(Rom 8:26-27, 1 Co 14:2, 14), speaking to unbelievers (Acts 2:4-6, 1 Co 14:22) and speaking to the church (1 Co 14:27-28), only the latter of which requires an interpretation. Why? Because in the first context, you're literally partnering with God in His own intercession, so He obviously understands what you're saying. In the second context, God is speaking through you to a foreigner in their language, so they obviously understand what you're saying. But in the third context, you're speaking in a tongue (most likely a language of God, called a "tongue of angels" in scripture) which the audience does not understand, so an interpretation is necessary. Like all of the other gifts, tongues cannot be taught or learned—it is supernatural in nature.
Of special note is the frequency in which this gift operates—with prophecy in a close second place. Unlike the other gifts, tongues—and to a lesser degree prophecy—seem to operate on demand. In other words, the believer can seemingly operate in them at any time, while the other gifts are far less frequent. In fact, in the New Testament whenever the Holy Spirit comes upon someone, they immediately begin to either speak in tongues or prophesy. The reason the speaking gifts are so much more frequent and consistent (seemingly at will of the believer) is quite simple to explain however: God is always speaking.
The Spirit never ceases in His intercession for us, so we can partner with Him at any moment in tongues, praying the will of the Father. Furthermore, Amos 3:7 states that God does nothing without telling us first, so prophecy is almost as constant or available as praying in tongues. But the other gifts are much more context-sensitive (God is not always healing for example) so they seem a bit more inconsistent or sporadic. This is why Paul speaks specifically of tongues and prophecy as gifts which everyone could theoretically operate in at any church service (1 Co 14:23-24) and again why these two gifts are by far the most common manifestations when someone first receives the baptism or anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Num 22:28-31—God gave a donkey a tongue of men which Balaam understood
Acts 10:44-48—Gentiles begin speaking in tongues before being water baptized
Acts 19:5-7—Paul lays hands on 12 men who begin speaking in tongues and prophesying
9. Interpretation of Tongues
In this gift, a supernatural utterance is given by God to bring an understanding of a tongue given publicly in the church. The gift of tongues, plus the gift of interpretation of tongues, is the equivalent of the gift of prophecy in this context. It is an interpretation, not a translation—it conveys the meaning of the message and is not necessarily word for word. It operates whenever a tongue is communicated but not understood—which most often is when God gives someone an utterance within a church meeting setting (but not always). Technically, the interpretation of any prophetic utterance, communication, dream, or vision would be related to, or even fall under this category as well, if the recipient did not understand their meaning.
Dan 5:5-30—God gave Daniel an interpretation of His handwriting on the wall
Gen 40:8—God gives Joseph an interpretation of a dream
Isa 28:9, 11—God speaks of a time when interpretation will be needed of foreign tongues
1 Co 14:26-27—Tongues and interpretation are meant for the edification of all
1 Co 14:13—The same person who speaks a tongue can also interpret (again, we all have access to all the gifts)
"As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." -John the Baptist (Luke 3:16, emphasis added)
The next question we must address then is how one actually receives the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This is pretty straightforward in theory as the pattern and instruction we see in the New Testament (and even the Old) is pretty consistent in the laying on of hands (Deu 34:9, Acts 8:17-18, Acts 9:17, 1 Ti 4:14, 2 Ti 1:6 et al). However, there are exceptions to this pattern in scripture, so we shouldn't be dogmatic or formulaic. Remember that the power of the Holy Spirit can come upon unbelievers as well as even animals or inanimate objects—the heathen Balaam, his donkey, and the ark of the covenant being examples—and no one laid hands on them. Even in the New Testament there are cases where the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred without the laying on of hands and before the individuals had even come to faith—as in the previously mentioned Acts 10:44-48. Of course the disciples themselves on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4 also received the power of the Holy Spirit without the laying on of hands.
While the laying on of hands certainly is the default instructed method, it is not necessarily fool-proof with guaranteed results. While I cannot think of a biblical example where the baptism of the Holy Spirit was prayed for but not received, I have certainly seen this many times in practical ministry—particularly in Western societies. I myself sought the anointing for a few years before actually receiving it during my preparation to enter full-time missions. But there are a few biblical explanations for this I believe: low level of faith, resistance via church doctrine, and the sovereignty of God.
We've already discussed the materialist cultural worldview in the West which erodes the baseline level of faith in anything supernatural—including the gifts of the Spirit—but church doctrine is also a problem. If you've been raised up under church teaching which ignores or condemns the active role of the Spirit in the world today, then you will naturally be much more resistant to receiving and walking in the baptism. Even if you have overcome the hurdles intellectually and acknowledge that the testimony of scripture is crystal-clear, moving that truth from knowledge to action can be challenging (Jas 1:22, Jas 2:17). The shift from materialism and cessationism (either practical or dogmatic) to the realities of the spiritual realm and the miraculous can be quite uncomfortable. I know this from first hand experience as a facts and logic guy with a degree in science and an upbringing in the United Methodist Church. My conversion to the supernatural implications of scripture was not an easy journey, but it was an honest and sincere one. So my encouragement to those who are seeking the baptism but have not yet received it is to keep seeking—or as Paul encouraged many times, earnestly desire it.
But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. -1 Co 12:31
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. -1 Co 14:1
Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. -1 Co 14:39
Gifts Versus Fruit
What is also painfully apparent in the church is that not all (or even most) who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit operate in the gifts maturely. This makes it easy to dismiss the gifts entirely as the ignorant zeal of the spiritually immature and unlearned. The reality however, is that this phenomena is not unique to Charismatic or Pentecostal streams—the church is not lacking in immaturity in any of its denominational or doctrinal varieties. Furthermore, the biblical account does not even remotely suggest that only the spiritually mature will move under the power of the Holy Spirit—quite the opposite in fact.
The principle we must understand is that gifts are given while fruit are cultivated. The gifts of the Spirit are a sign of spiritual authority (Mat 28:18) while the fruit of the Spirit are a sign of spiritual maturity. Therefore, we should never promote or elevate members of the church based on their gifts, ability, or performance, but upon their character. Because the uncomfortable truth is that the gifts of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29)—even when abused. This is evident in Moses striking the rock (Num 20:8-12), or Elisha sending bears to maul mocking kids (2 Ki 2:23-24). Jesus also alluded to this truth.
"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'" -Mat 7:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. -Gal 5:22-23
One of the signs of immaturity is that believers start seeking God's hand rather than His face. Power is alluring and supernatural experiences can be exhilarating, but they are no substitute for the depth of maturity gained from a life of sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Rom 5:3-5, 1 Pe 4:13). All too often God becomes a means to an end in the church and we must reprove any such thought or behavior. The focus must be on God and His redemptive mission—the power, authority, and miracles we experience along the way are just tools given to us in order to accomplish it and must never become idols or distractions. The Holy Spirit is the gift. It is He, as part of the Godhead, who is deserving of our awe and praise—not the effect. The disciples also fell into this trap as well and Jesus had to correct them:
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." -Luke 10:17-20 (emphasis added)
So let us earnestly desire to see the power of God move on the earth, not for the experience or effect, but for the outcome—to glorify God, to defeat the works of the enemy, to win souls into the Kingdom, and to bring God's will on earth as it is in heaven. The church has been called to an impossible task, so we must be empowered by a supernatural God to fight a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. -Eph 6:12
It is imperative that the church worship and serve God as He instructed—in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Neither are optional, both are required. Jesus was well-versed in truth, but even He required the baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness (Mat 3:15-16). Let us follow in His example if we call ourselves His disciples.
*All references quoted from the NASB unless otherwise noted