Category Archives: Holy Spirit Questions

Questions about the Holy Spirit: What Is the Spiritual Gift of Helps?

The spiritual gift of helps is found in one of the spiritual gifts lists. The Greek word translated “helps” in 1 Corinthians 12:28 is found only there in the New Testament; therefore, the exact meaning of the gift of helps is somewhat obscure. The word translated “helps” means literally to relieve, succor, participate in and/or support. Those with the gift of helps are those who can aid or render assistance to others in the church with compassion and grace. This has a broad range of possibilities for application, from helping individuals to assisting in the administration of the daily affairs of the church.

Helping in the body of Christ can take a variety of forms. Some see the gift of helps as given to those who are willing to “lend a hand” and do even the most mundane and disagreeable tasks with a spirit of humility and grace. Helpers are often those who volunteer to work regularly around church buildings and grounds, often laboring in obscurity. Others see helping as assisting the widows and elderly or families to accomplish daily tasks, coming alongside to render assistance in those areas where help is needed. Theses helpers render a gift of service in the broadest sense, assisting and supporting the body of Christ.

But there is perhaps a deeper meaning to the spiritual gift of helps. Since it is one of the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit, all of which are given for the building up of the body of Christ, the spiritual aspect of the gift of helps is perhaps even more important than the practical aspect. Those with the spiritual gift of helps are those who have been given the unique ability to identify those who are struggling with doubt, fears, and other spiritual battles. They move toward those in spiritual need with a kind word, an understanding and compassionate demeanor, and the unique ability to speak scriptural truth that is both convicting and loving. Their words are “like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11) to the spiritually weak and weary. These helpful Christians can quell an anxious heart with cheerful and confidently spoken words of truth and joy, and they often do more for a downtrodden believer than a month of Sunday sermons.

Praise God that He knows us so well with all our needs and challenges that He has given the gift of helps to special individuals, those who can come alongside others in mercy, grace and love. These precious saints can lift the heart by assisting and helping to carry a variety of burdens that we cannot, and should not, carry alone.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: What Was the Purpose of the Biblical Sign Gifts?

When we speak of the biblical sign gifts, we are referring to miracles like speaking in tongues, visions, healing, raising the dead, etc. There is no question among believers whether or not they existed, for the Bible plainly describes them. Where disagreement arises among believers is their purpose, as well as the question of whether we should experience them today. Some say that these gifts are a sign of one’s salvation, while others say they are a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and yet others say their purpose is to authenticate the message of the gospel. How can we know the truth? We must search the Scriptures to find God’s purpose statements about these things.

One of the earliest references to sign gifts in the Bible is found in Exodus 4, when Moses is being instructed by God about the impending deliverance from Egypt. Moses worried that the people would not believe that God sent him, so God gave him the signs of the rod becoming a snake, and his hand becoming leprous. God said these signs were “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you” (v. 5). If the people still did not believe, God told Moses to take water from the Nile and pour it on the ground, where it would turn to blood (v. 9). The purpose for the children of Israel was that they would believe God’s messenger.

God also gave Moses miraculous signs to show Pharaoh, in order that he would let the people go. In Exodus 7:3–5, God told Moses that He would multiply His signs and wonders in Egypt, so “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” God wanted the Egyptian people to know that He was the one working to deliver the Israelites. In Exodus 10:7, Moses told Pharaoh that the final plague, which would kill the firstborn, was to show that God distinguished between the Egyptians and the Israelites. The signs and wonders confirmed God’s message to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so they would know that Moses was sent by God.

When Elijah confronted the false prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), he prayed for God to miraculously send fire from heaven so the people would know “you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.… that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God” (v. 36–37). The miracles he and the other prophets performed were a confirmation that God had sent them and that God was at work in their midst.

Joel was given a message of God’s judgment on Israel, and within that message was a prophecy of mercy and hope. When the judgment came as prophesied, and the people responded with repentance, God said that He would then remove the judgments and restore His blessing, “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame” (Joel 2:27). Immediately after that statement, God spoke about pouring His spirit on the people, so they would prophesy, see visions, and see wonders happening. When the disciples began speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–21), Peter declared “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” What was the purpose? That the people would know the message brought by Peter and the others was God’s message.

Jesus’ ministry was accompanied by various signs and wonders. What was the purpose of His miracles? In John 10:37–38, Jesus was responding to the Jews who wanted to stone Him for blasphemy, and said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Just as in the Old Testament, the purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to confirm God’s hand on His Messenger.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a sign, Jesus said “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:39–41). Jesus was very clear that the purpose of a sign was so people would acknowledge God’s message and respond accordingly. Likewise, in John 4:48, he told the nobleman “unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The signs were a help to those who struggled to believe, but the message of salvation in Christ was the focus.

This message of salvation was outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:21–23, “… it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Signs have their purpose, but they are a means to a greater end—the salvation of souls through the preaching of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul states clearly that “tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.” God used miraculous signs like speaking in tongues to convince unbelievers that the message of Christ was true, but as the rest of the context shows, the more important thing was the clear declaration of the gospel message.

One thing that is often overlooked in discussions about signs and miracles is the timing and placement of them in the Scriptures. Contrary to popular belief, people in Bible times did not see miracles all the time. In fact, the miracles of the Bible are generally grouped around special events in God’s dealing with mankind. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and entrance into the Promised Land were accompanied by many miracles, but the miracles faded away soon afterward. During the late kingdom years, when God was about to place the people in exile, He allowed some of His prophets to do miracles. When Jesus came to live among us, He did miracles, and in the early ministry of the apostles, they did miracles, but outside of those times, we see very few miracles or signs in the Bible. The vast majority of people who lived in Bible times never saw signs and wonders with their own eyes. They had to live by faith in what God had already revealed to them.

In the early church, the signs and wonders were primarily centered around the first presentation of the gospel among various people groups. On the day of Pentecost, we read that there were “Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). It was to these Jews, who had been raised in other lands, and spoke those foreign languages (v. 6–11), that the sign of tongues was first given. They acknowledged that they were hearing in their native tongues about the wonderful works of God, and Peter told them that the only appropriate response was to repent of their sins (v. 38). When the gospel was first presented among the Samaritans, we read that Philip did signs and wonders (Acts 8:13).

Again, when Peter was sent to Cornelius, a gentile, God gave a miraculous sign to confirm His work. “And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:45–46). When Peter was questioned by the other apostles, he gave this as evidence of God’s leading, and the others “glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’ ” (Acts 11:18).

In every instance, the sign gifts were a confirmation of God’s message and messenger, in order that people might hear and believe. Once the message was confirmed, the signs faded away. We typically don’t have a need for those signs to be repeated in our lives, but we do need to receive the same gospel message.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: What Are the Spiritual Gifts of the ‘Word of Wisdom’ and the ‘Word of Knowledge’?

There are three spiritual gifts lists in Scripture (Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; and 1 Corinthians 12:28), but only one of them mentions the gifts referred to as the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8). There is much confusion as to just exactly what these two gifts are. Perhaps the best way to approach it is to describe what these gifts are not.

Some Charismatics/Pentecostals view the word of knowledge and word of wisdom spiritual gifts as the Holy Spirit speaking from one believer to another, giving revelation regarding a decision or situation. Those who use these gifts in that way will often say something to the effect of, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” In doing so, they claim to be speaking on behalf of God, and claim that their words are to be strictly obeyed.

This understanding of the word of knowledge and word of wisdom gifts comes dangerously close to denying the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. If God continues to reveal His will and wisdom through special revelation to individuals, then can His Word truly be sufficient to make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)? Has God truly given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), if we require other individuals to give us special revelation from God? This is not to say that God never uses another person to speak to us, but if we often need direct messages from God through other people in order to live our lives, is God’s Word truly sufficient, as it declares itself to be?

So, if the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge are not prophetic/revelatory gifts, just exactly what are they? We know one thing for sure: these gifts are given by the Spirit to build up (edify) the body of Christ, for the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The havoc that so often ensues in churches that practice the word of knowledge and word of wisdom as revelatory gifts clearly is not for the common good. Confusing, nebulous, and sometimes contradictory “words from the Lord” do not come from the God, who is not a God of confusion or disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33). Nor do they tend to bring Christians together for their edification; on the contrary, they tend to cause division and strife in the body. Often the word of knowledge and/or word of wisdom gifts are used to gain power and influence over other people, to make others dependent on the one who claims to possess those gifts. This misuse of the two gifts is clearly not of God.

With that in mind, we offer these definitions of the word of knowledge and word of wisdom spiritual gifts:

The word of wisdom—The fact that this gift is described as the “word” of wisdom indicates that it is one of the speaking gifts. This gift describes someone who can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skillfully apply it to life situations with all discernment.

The word of knowledge—Also a speaking gift that involves understanding truth with an insight that only comes by revelation from God. Those with the gift of knowledge understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: Is the Holy Spirit a “He,” “She,” or “It,” male, female, or neuter?

A common mistake made with regard to the Holy Spirit is referring to the Spirit as “it,” which the Bible never does. This is because the Holy Spirit is a person. He has the attributes of personhood, performs the actions of persons, and has personal relationships. He has insight (1 Corinthians 2:10–11). He knows things, which requires an intellect (Romans 8:27). He has a will (1 Corinthians 12:11). He convicts of sin (John 16:8). He performs miracles (Acts 8:39). He guides (John 16:13). He intercedes between persons (Romans 8:26). He is to be obeyed (Acts 10:19–20). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3), resisted (Acts 7:51), grieved (Ephesians 4:30), blasphemed (Matthew 12:31), even insulted (Hebrews 10:29). He relates to the apostles (Acts 15:28) and to each member of the Trinity (John 16:14; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). The personhood of the Holy Spirit is presented without question in the Bible, but what about gender?

Linguistically it is abundantly clear that masculine theistic terminology dominates the Scriptures. Throughout both testaments, references to God use masculine pronouns. Specific names for God (e.g., Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Kurios, Theos, etc.) are all masculine gender. God is never given a feminine name, or referred to using feminine pronouns. It should be noted, however, that masculine pronouns throughout history have been used for the collective sense of humanity, referring to both male and female. The Holy Spirit is referred to in the masculine throughout the New Testament although the word for “spirit” by itself (pneuma) is actually gender neutral. The Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is feminine in Genesis 1:2. But the gender of a word in Greek or Hebrew has nothing to do with gender identity.

Theologically speaking, since the Holy Spirit is God, we can make some statements about Him from general statements about God. God is spirit as opposed to physical or material. God is invisible and spirit (i.e. non-body)—(John 4:24; Luke 24:39; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17). This is why no material thing was ever to be used to represent God (Exodus 20:4). If gender is an attribute of the body, it seems that a spirit does not have gender. God, in His essence, has no gender.

Gender identifications of God in the Bible are not unanimous. Many people think that the Bible presents God in exclusively male terms but this is not the case. God is said to give birth in the book of Job and portrays Himself as a mother in Isaiah. Jesus described the Father as being like a woman in search of a lost coin in Luke 15 (and Himself as a “mother hen” in Matthew 23:37). In Genesis 1:26–27 God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness,” and then “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” Thus, the image of God was male and female—not simply one or the other. This is further confirmed in Genesis 5:2 which can be literally translated as “He created them male and female; when they were created, he blessed them and named them Adam.” The Hebrew term “adam” means “man”—the context showing whether it means “man” (as opposed to woman) or “mankind” (in the collective sense). Therefore, to whatever degree humanity is made in the image of God, gender is not an issue.

Masculine imagery and revelation is not without significance, however. A second time that God was specifically said to be revealed via a physical image was when Jesus was asked to show the Father to the disciples in John chapter 14. He responds in verse 8 by saying, “The person who has seen me has seen the Father!” Paul makes it clear that Jesus was the exact image of God in Colossians 1:15 calling Jesus “the image of the invisible God.” This verse is couched in a section that demonstrates Christ’s superiority over all creation. Most ancient religions believed in a pantheon—both gods and goddesses—that were worthy of worship. But one of Judeo-Christianity’s distinctives is its belief in a supreme Creator. Masculine language better relates this relationship of creator to creation. As a man comes into a woman from without to make her pregnant, so God creates the universe from without rather than birthing it from within … As a woman cannot impregnate herself, so the universe cannot create itself. Paul echoes this idea in 1 Timothy 2:12–14 when he refers to the creation order as a template for church order.

In the end, whatever our theological explanation, the fact is that God used exclusively masculine terms to refer to Himself, and almost exclusively masculine terminology even in metaphor. Through the Bible He taught us how to speak of Him and it was in masculine relational terms. So, while the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female in His essence, He is properly referred to in the masculine by virtue of His relation to creation and biblical revelation. There is absolutely no biblical basis for viewing the Holy Spirit as the “female” member of the Trinity.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: How is the Holy Spirit like a fire?

The Bible describes God as “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), so it is not surprising that fire often appears as a symbol of God’s presence. Examples include the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), the Shekinah glory (Exodus 14:19; Numbers 9:14–15), and Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1:4). Fire has many times been an instrument of God’s judgment (Numbers 11:1, 3; 2 Kings 1:10, 12) and a sign of His power (Judges 13:20; 1 Kings 18:38).

For obvious reasons, fire was important for the Old Testament sacrifices. The fire on the altar of burnt offering was a divine gift, having been lit originally by God Himself (Leviticus 9:24). God charged the priests with keeping His fire lit (Leviticus 6:13) and made it clear that fire from any other source was unacceptable (Leviticus 10:1–2).

In the New Testament, the altar can serve as a picture of our commitment to the Lord. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called upon to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1), engulfed by the divine gift: the inextinguishable fire of the Holy Spirit. At the very beginning of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is associated with fire. John the Baptist predicts that Jesus will be the One to “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). When the Holy Spirit began His ministry of indwelling the early church, He chose to appear as “tongues of fire” resting on each of the believers. At that moment, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:3–4).

Fire is a wonderful picture of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is like a fire in at least three ways: He brings God’s presence, God’s passion, and God’s purity. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God as He indwells the heart of the believer (Romans 8:9). In the Old Testament, God showed His presence to the Israelites by overspreading the tabernacle with fire (Numbers 9:14–15). This fiery presence provided light and guidance (Numbers 9:17–23). In the New Testament, God guides and comforts His children with the Holy Spirit dwelling in our bodies—the “tabernacle” and the “temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 5:1, 6:16).

The Holy Spirit creates the passion of God in our hearts. After the two traveling disciples talk with the resurrected Jesus, they describe their hearts as “burning within us” (Luke 24:32). After the apostles receive the Spirit at Pentecost, they have a passion that lasts a lifetime and impels them to speak the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

The Holy Spirit produces the purity of God in our lives. God’s purpose is to purify us (Titus 2:14), and the Spirit is the agent of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). As the silversmith uses fire to purge the dross from the precious metal, so God uses the Spirit to remove our sin from us (Psalm 66:10; Proverbs 17:3). His fire cleanses and refines.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives today?

Of all the gifts given to mankind by God, there is none greater than the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has many functions, roles, and activities. First, He does a work in the hearts of all people everywhere. Jesus told the disciples that He would send the Spirit into the world to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7–11). Everyone has a “God consciousness,” whether or not they admit it. The Spirit applies the truths of God to minds of men to convince them by fair and sufficient arguments that they are sinners. Responding to that conviction brings men to salvation.

Once we are saved and belong to God, the Spirit takes up residence in our hearts forever, sealing us with the confirming, certifying, and assuring pledge of our eternal state as His children. Jesus said He would send the Spirit to us to be our Helper, Comforter, and Guide. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Greek word translated here “Counselor” means “one who is called alongside” and has the idea of someone who encourages and exhorts. The Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in the hearts of believers (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, 12:13). Jesus gave the Spirit as a “compensation” for His absence, to perform the functions toward us which He would have done if He had remained personally with us.

Among those functions is that of revealer of truth. The Spirit’s presence within us enables us to understand and interpret God’s Word. Jesus told His disciples that “when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He reveals to our minds the whole counsel of God as it relates to worship, doctrine, and Christian living. He is the ultimate guide, going before, leading the way, removing obstructions, opening the understanding, and making all things plain and clear. He leads in the way we should go in all spiritual things. Without such a guide, we would be apt to fall into error. A crucial part of the truth He reveals is that Jesus is who He said He is (John 15:26; 1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit convinces us of Christ’s deity and incarnation, His being the Messiah, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, His exaltation at the right hand of God, and His role as the judge of all. He gives glory to Christ in all things (John 16:14).

Another one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is that of gift-giver. First Corinthians 12 describes the spiritual gifts given to believers in order that we may function as the body of Christ on earth. All these gifts, both great and small, are given by the Spirit so that we may be His ambassadors to the world, showing forth His grace and glorifying Him.

The Spirit also functions as fruit-producer in our lives. When He indwells us, He begins the work of harvesting His fruit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). These are not works of our flesh, which is incapable of producing such fruit, but they are products of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

The knowledge that the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in our lives, that He performs all these miraculous functions, that He dwells with us forever, and that He will never leave or forsake us is cause for great joy and comfort. Thank God for this precious gift—the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives![1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: What is the meaning of “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10?

First Corinthians 13:10 says: “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” “That which is in part” refers to the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and tongues (vs. 8–9). What Paul is saying is that there will be a time when these sign gifts will cease because something better (the “perfect”) will replace them. There is some debate as to what the word “perfect” refers to. The two most common views are the completion of the Bible and the glorification of believers in heaven.

There is a difference between how prophecy and knowledge come to an end, and how the gift of languages (tongues) does, as indicated by the Greek verb forms used. (Prophecy does not mean forecasting or telling the future. The gift of prophecy in its true biblical definition means simply “speaking forth,” or “proclaiming publicly” to which the connotation of prediction was added sometime in the Middle Ages. Since the completion of Scripture, prophecy has not been a means of new revelation, but is limited to proclaiming what has already been revealed in the written Word.)

Prophecy and knowledge are both said to “be abolished,” the verb indicating that something will put an end to those two functions. What will abolish knowledge and prophecy, according to verses 9 and 10, is “that which is perfect.” When that occurs, those gifts will be rendered inoperative. The “perfect” is not the completion of Scripture, since there is still the operation of those two gifts and will be in the future kingdom (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17; Revelation 11:3). The Scriptures do not allow us to see “face to face” or have perfect knowledge as God does (v. 12). The “perfect” is not the rapture of the church or the second coming of Christ, since the kingdom to follow these events will have an abundance of preachers and teachers (Isaiah 29:18; 32:3, 4; Joel 2:28; Revelation 11:3). The perfect, therefore, must be the eternal state, when we in glory see God face to face (Revelation 22:4) and have full knowledge in the eternal new heavens and new earth. Just as a child grows to full understanding, believers will come to perfect knowledge and no such gifts will be necessary.

On the other hand, Paul uses a different word for the end of the gift of languages, thus indicating it will “cease” by itself, rather than being abolished by something, as it did at the end of the apostolic age. It will not end by the coming of the “perfect,” for it will already have ceased. The uniqueness of the gift of languages and its interpretations was, as all sign gifts, to authenticate the message and messages of the gospel before the NT was completed (Hebrews 2:3, 4). “Tongues” was also limited by being a judicial sign from God of Israel’s judgment (Isaiah 28:11, 12). Tongues was also not a sign to believers, but unbelievers, specifically the unbelieving Jews. Tongues also ceased because there was no need to verify the true messages from God once the Scripture was given. The Bible, not the sign gifts, became the standard by which messages all are to be verified. Tongues was a means of edification in a way far inferior to preaching and teaching. In fact, chap. 14 was designed to show the Corinthians, so preoccupied with tongues, that it was an inferior means of communication (vv. 1–12), an inferior means of praise (vv. 13–19), and an inferior means of evangelism (vv. 20–25). Prophecy was and is, far superior (vv. 1, 3–6, 24, 29, 31, 39).

First Corinthians 13:10–12 declares, “but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

When shall we see face to face? When shall we know fully, even as we are fully known? This will occur when we pass from this life and enter God’s glorious presence in Heaven. First John 3:2 tells us, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” It is when we are glorified in Heaven that we will truly have put childish ways behind us.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: What was the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament?

The role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is much like His role in the New Testament. When we speak of the role of the Holy Spirit, we can discern four general areas in which the Holy Spirit works: 1) regeneration, 2) indwelling (or filling), 3) restraint, and 4) ability for service. Evidence of these areas of the Holy Spirit’s work is just as present in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament.

The first area of the Spirit’s work is in the process of regeneration. Another word for regeneration is rebirth, from which we get the concept of being “born again.” The classic proof text for this can be found in John’s gospel: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). This begs the question: What does this have to do with the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament? Later on in his dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus has this to say to him, “You are Israel’s teacher—and do you not understand these things?” (John 3:10). The point Jesus was making is that Nicodemus should have known the truth that the Holy Spirit is the source of new life because it is revealed in the Old Testament. For instance, Moses told the Israelites prior to entering the Promised Land that “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). This circumcision of the heart is the work of God’s Spirit and can be accomplished only by Him. We also see the theme of regeneration in Ezekiel 11:19–20 and Ezekiel 36:26–29.

The fruit of the Spirit’s regenerating work is faith (Ephesians 2:8). Now we know that there were men of faith in the Old Testament because Hebrews 11 names many of them. If faith is produced by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, then this must be the case for Old Testament saints who looked ahead to the cross, believing that what God had promised in regard to their redemption would come to pass. They saw the promises and “welcomed them from a distance” (Hebrews 11:13), accepting by faith that what God had promised, He would also bring to pass.

The second aspect of the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament is indwelling, or filling. Here is where the major difference between the Spirit’s roles in the Old and New Testaments is apparent. The New Testament teaches the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19–20). When we place our faith in Christ for salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. The Apostle Paul calls this permanent indwelling the “guarantee of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13–14). In contrast to this work in the New Testament, the indwelling in the Old Testament was selective and temporary. The Spirit “came upon” such Old Testament people as Joshua (Numbers 27:18), David (1 Samuel 16:12–13) and even Saul (1 Samuel 10:10). In the book of Judges, we see the Spirit “coming upon” the various Judges whom God raised up to deliver Israel from their oppressors. What we can discern from this is that the Holy Spirit came upon these individuals for specific tasks. We also see that the indwelling was a sign of God’s favor upon that individual (in the case of David) and that if God’s favor left an individual, the Spirit would depart (e.g., Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14). Finally, the Spirit “coming upon” an individual doesn’t always indicate that person’s spiritual condition (e.g., Saul, Samson, and many of the Judges). So while in the New Testament the Spirit only indwells believers and that indwelling is permanent, the Spirit indwelled certain Old Testament individuals for a specific task, irrespective of their spiritual condition. Once the task was completed, the Spirit presumably departed from that person.

The third aspect of the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament is His restraint of sin. Genesis 6:3 would seem to indicate that the Holy Spirit restrains the limits of man’s sinfulness, and that restraint can be removed when God’s patience regarding sin reaches a “boiling point.” This thought is echoed in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–8 as in the end times, a growing apostasy will signal the coming of the end and God’s judgment. Until the preordained time when the “man of lawlessness” (v. 3) will be revealed, the Holy Spirit restrains the power of Satan and will allow it to be released only when it suits His purposes to do so.

The fourth and final aspect of the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament is in the granting of ability for service. Much like the way the spiritual gifts operate in the New Testament, the Spirit would gift certain individuals for service. Consider the example of Bezalel in Exodus 31:2–5 who was gifted to do much of the artwork relating to the Tabernacle. Furthermore, recalling the selective and temporary indwelling of the Holy Spirit discussed above, we see that these individuals were gifted to perform certain tasks, such as ruling over the people of Israel (e.g., Saul and David).

While it is not mentioned above as one of the four aspects of the Spirit’s work, we could speak of the Spirit’s role in creation. Genesis 1:2 speaks of the Spirit “hovering over the waters” and superintending the work of creation. In a similar fashion, the Spirit is responsible for the work of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) as He is bringing people into the kingdom of God through regeneration.

All in all, the Spirit performs much of the same functions in Old Testament times as He does in this current age. The major difference is the permanent indwelling of the Spirit in believers now. As Jesus said regarding this change in the Spirit’s ministry, “But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: How does God distribute spiritual gifts?

Romans 12:3–8 and 1 Corinthians chapter 12 make it clear that each Christian is given spiritual gifts according to the Lord’s choice. Spiritual gifts are given for the edification of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:12). The exact timing of the giving of these gifts is not specifically mentioned. Most assume that spiritual gifts are given at the time of spiritual birth (the moment of salvation). However, there are some verses that may indicate God gives spiritual gifts later as well. Both 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 refer to a gift that Timothy had received at the time of his ordination “by prophecy.” This likely indicates that one of the elders at Timothy’s ordination spoke about a spiritual gift that Timothy would have to enable his future ministry.

We are also told in 1 Corinthians 12:28–31 and in 1 Corinthians 14:12–13 that it is God (not us) who chooses the gifts. These passages also indicate that not everyone will have a particular gift. Paul tells the Corinthian believers that if they are going to covet or long after spiritual gifts, they should strive after the more edifying gifts, such as prophesying (speaking forth the word of God for the building up of others). Now, why would Paul tell them to strongly desire the “greater” gifts if they already had been given all they would be given, and there was no further opportunity of gaining these greater gifts? It may lead one to believe that even as Solomon sought wisdom from God in order to be a good ruler over God’s people, so God will grant to us those gifts we need in order to be of greater benefit to His church.

Having said this, it still remains that these gifts are distributed according to God’s choosing, not our own. If every Corinthian strongly desired a particular gift, such as prophesying, God would not give everyone that gift simply because they strongly desired it. If He did, then who would serve in all of the other functions of the body of Christ?

There is one thing that is abundantly clear—God’s command is God’s enablement. If God commands us to do something (such as witness, love the unlovely, disciple the nations, etc.), He will enable us to do it. Some may not be as gifted at evangelism as others, but God commands all Christians to witness and disciple (Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). We are all called to evangelize whether or not we have the spiritual gift of evangelism. A determined Christian who strives to learn the Word and develop his teaching ability may become a better teacher than one who may have the spiritual gift of teaching, but who neglects the gift.

Are spiritual gifts given to us when we receive Christ, or are they cultivated through our walk with God? The answer is both. Normally, spiritual gifts are given at salvation, but also need to be cultivated through spiritual growth. Can a desire in your heart be pursued and developed into your spiritual gift? Can you seek after certain spiritual gifts? First Corinthians 12:31 seems to indicate that this is possible: “earnestly desire the best gifts.” You can seek a spiritual gift from God and be zealous after it by seeking to develop that area. At the same time, if it is not God’s will, you will not receive a certain spiritual gift no matter how strongly you seek after it. God is infinitely wise, and He knows through which gifts you will be most productive for His kingdom.

No matter how much we have been gifted with one gift or another, we are all called upon to develop a number of areas mentioned in the lists of spiritual gifts: to be hospitable, to show acts of mercy, to serve one another, to evangelize, etc. As we seek to serve God out of love for the purpose of building up others for His glory, He will bring glory to His name, grow His church, and reward us (1 Corinthians 3:5–8, 12:31–14:1). God promises that as we make Him our delight, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4–5). This would surely include preparing us to serve Him in a way that will bring us purpose and satisfaction.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Holy Spirit: Is there a biblical spiritual gifts list?

There are actually three biblical lists of the “gifts of the Spirit,” also known as spiritual gifts. The three main passages describing the spiritual gifts are Romans 12:6–8, 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, and 1 Corinthians 12:28. The spiritual gifts identified in Romans 12 are prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy. The list in 1 Corinthians 12:4–11 includes the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. The list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 includes healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. A brief description of each gift follows.

Prophecy—The Greek word translated “prophesying” or “prophecy” in both passages properly means to “speak forth” or declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people. The idea of telling the future was added sometime in the Middle Ages and is in direct contradiction to other scriptural passages that condemn such fortune-telling or predicting the future (Acts 16:16–18).

Serving—Also referred to as “ministering” in the KJV, the Greek word diakonian, from which we get the English “deacon,” means service of any kind, the broad application of practical help to those in need.

Teaching—This gift involves the analysis and proclamation of the Word of God, explaining the meaning, context and application to the hearer’s life. The gifted teacher is one who has the unique ability to clearly instruct and communicate knowledge, specifically the doctrines of the faith.

Encouraging—Also called “exhortation,” this gift is evident in those who consistently call upon others to heed and follow God’s truth, which may involve correction or building others up by strengthening weak faith or comforting in trials.

Giving—Gifted givers are those who joyfully share what they have with others, whether it is financial, material, or the giving of personal time and attention. The giver is concerned for the needs of others and seeks opportunities to share goods, money and time with them as needs arise.

Leadership—The gifted leader is one who rules, presides over or has the management of other people in the church. The word literally means “guide” and carries with it the idea of one who steers a ship. One with the gift of leadership rules with wisdom and grace and exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in his life as he leads by example.

Mercy—Closely linked with the gift of encouragement, the gift of mercy is obvious in those who are compassionate toward others who are in distress, showing sympathy and sensitivity coupled with a desire and the resources to lessen their suffering in a kind and cheerful manner.

Word of wisdom—The fact that this gift is described as the “word” of wisdom indicates that it is one of the speaking gifts. This gift describes someone who can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skillfully apply it to life situations with all discernment.

Word of knowledge—This is another speaking gift that involves understanding truth with an insight that only comes by revelation from God. Those with the gift of knowledge understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word.

Faith—All believers possess faith in some measure because it is one of the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on all who come to Christ in faith (Galatians 5:22–23). The spiritual gift of faith is exhibited by one with a strong and unshakeable confidence in God, His Word, His promises, and the power of prayer to effect miracles.

Healing—Although God does still heal today, the ability of men to produce miraculous healings belonged to the apostles of the first century church to affirm that their power was from God. Although God still can and does heal, Christians today do not have the power to heal the sick or resurrect the dead. If they did, the hospitals and morgues would be full of these “gifted” people emptying beds and coffins everywhere.

Miraculous powers—Also known as the working of miracles, this is another temporary sign gift which involved performing supernatural events that could only be attributed to the power of God (Acts 2:22). This gift was exhibited by Paul (Acts 19:11–12), Peter (Acts 3:6), Stephen (Acts 6:8), and Phillip (Acts 8:6–7), among others.

Distinguishing (discerning) of spirits—Certain individuals possess the unique ability to determine the true message of God from that of the deceiver, Satan, whose methods include purveying deceptive and erroneous doctrine. Jesus said many would come in His name and would deceive many (Matthew 24:4–5), but the gift of discerning spirits is given to the Church to protect it from such as these.

Speaking in tongues—The gift of tongues is one of the temporary “sign gifts” given to the early Church to enable the gospel to be preached throughout the world to all nations and in all known languages. It involved the divine ability to speak in languages previously unknown to the speaker. This gift authenticated the message of the gospel and those who preached it as coming from God. The phrase “diversity of tongues” (KJV) or “different kinds of tongues” (NIV) effectively eliminates the idea of a “personal prayer language” as a spiritual gift.

Interpretation of tongues—A person with the gift of interpreting tongues could understand what a tongues-speaker was saying even though he did not know the language that was being spoken. The tongues interpreter would then communicate the message of the tongues speaker to everyone else, so all could understand.

Helps—Closely related to the gift of mercy, those with the gift of helps are those who can aid or render assistance to others in the church with compassion and grace. This has a broad range of possibilities for application, from helping individuals to assisting in the administration of the daily affairs of the church.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.