In the last post, we looked at “God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit.” In this post, we will be looking at…
Next, we need to understand that God the Spirit gives “grace gifts.” God’s abundant grace that we see demonstrated all throughout redemptive history issues in grace gifts. God expresses His grace concretely in the rich number of grace gifts He bestows upon the Church for its upbuilding. Schreiner observes this and says, “I would define spiritual gifts as gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church.”
The Spirit was vital at the beginning of the church and He continues to be on through to the consummation. He brought the birth of the Church, He hovered over the Church like He hovered over the water at the beginning. The Spirit does not bring charismatic chaos but the creation of order. That was the Spirit’s work at the beginning and it is the Spirit’s work today. There is no biblical warrant for believing in some big discontinuity between the work of the Spirit then and the work of the Spirit now in the last days. Actually, Scripture says, “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). We are in those latter days today and we still need the empowering presence of the Spirit.
The hodgepodge, unlearned, and often unimpressive group of Jesus followers did not see the messianic movement die. Instead, the people of the way (Acts 9:2) actually exploded in growth, this group of people that followed a crucified and cursed man who claimed to be God, this group of people who had no leader on earth. How did this group survive let alone thrive?
Because Jesus did not leave His disciples without what they needed. Jesus sent the Helper.
Jesus said, that it was better that He go. That seems shocking. As it should. And as it did for the first disciples. We are left asking, how could it be better that Jesus’ bodily presence not be with us?
Thankfully Jesus answers that question. He tells us that He will not leave us as orphans. He gives us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (See John 14).
The Grace Gifts Continue Today
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Will we? Will we receive power?
God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit
God the Spirit. Since we are considering the work of the Spirit within the church, it is important that we consider God the Spirit, who He is and what He does. First, without going into any detail, the Holy Spirit is the third person of Trinity. The Spirit is fully God. The Holy Spirit also has personhood; He is not an impersonal force. That is who the Spirit is.
Second, it is important that we briefly consider what it is that the Spirit does. The Old Testament teaches us various things about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit molds creation into shape and gives life to created beings (Gen 1:2; 2:7; Ps 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The Spirit controls the course of nature and history (Ps 104:29-30; Isa 34:16). The Spirit teaches and reveals God’s truth and will to His messengers. The Spirit elicits personal response to God. The Spirit equips individuals for leadership. We also see that the Spirit equips individuals with skill and strength (Exod 31:1-11; 1 Kgs 7:14; Hag 2:5; Zech 4:6).
The Spirit is given as our Helper (John 14:24). He takes what belongs to the Son and shares it with those who believe (John 16:14), beginning with the new birth (John 3:6), teaching and guiding (John 16:14), and transforming (2 Cor 3:5-18) in ways that surpass human capacity (1 Cor 2:10-14). He empowers believers to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). By indwelling believers (Rom 8:9; 1 John 2:27), the Spirit washes and renews (Titus 3:5), pours out divine love in our hearts (Rom 5:5), reproduces the divine virtues (Gal 5:22-23; Rom 14:17), enables us to resist sin (Rom 8:13) and pursue holiness (2 Thess 2:13), and build unity among the church (Eph 2:22; 4:3, 13; Phil 2:1-2). The Spirit hears, speaks, witnesses, convinces, shows, leads, guides, teaches, commands, forbids, desires, gives speeches, helps, and intercedes with groans. It is vital that we not leave out the most miraculous work that the Spirit works within people; He makes them new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 3:3, 6, 18; Titus 3:5-6; Ezek 36:25-28; Rom 2:28-29).
Introduction and Thesis
The Apostle Paul said, “Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware” (1 Cor 12:1). This is a very important subject yet sadly very divisive. The reality is “there is one body and one Spirit” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5) but there are many divergent views on the work of the Spirit within the Church. So we have all the more reason to carefully evaluate this subject.
This subject is important to consider because we want Christ’s church to be as healthy as it can possibly be, we want it to be adorned as Christ would have it. If there are good gifts that are available to the church for it’s upbuilding then we should want to and should make use of them. Especially because 1 Corinthians 12:31 tells us we are to eagerly desire the greater grace gifts.
I believe that all the good gifts that were available at the outset of the church continue to be available and will be until the consummation when the Lord Jesus comes back to get His bride. So my thesis is that God the Spirit continues to empower and provide various grace gifts to the Church for its upbuilding and these gifts should be earnestly desired and practiced in accordance with Scripture. This is very important to consider because “despite the affirmations in our creeds… and the lip service paid to the Spirit in our occasional conversations, the Spirit is largely marginalized in our actual life together as a community of faith.”
Setting the Context
I have a number of questions that are important for us to honestly consider. Could it be the case that some people have a bias against the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Could it be that people do not have solid biblical reasons for believing that the “more miraculous” gifts of the Spirit have ceased? Could it be that most people’s beliefs in this regard are simply based upon what they have heard someone else say? Could it be that in this case, people have failed to check what was taught to ensure it was in accordance with Scripture (See Acts 17:11)?
Could it be that the Western enlightenment worldview has crept into our own view of the world and impacted the way we think about spiritual things? Many have adopted a view of reality that sees “the universe as a uniform system based strictly on the cause-and-effect relationships between its constituent parts, each in a determinate relationship one to the others, utterly closed to any dimensions of reality that transcend the natural.” Of course, many Christians rightly confess with Abraham Kuyper, that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” But, could it still be the case that “naturalism nonetheless deeply influences our view of the daily events of our lives”?
Can we concede that the continuation of the gifts would be a good thing? Should not we want all the grace that our good Father has availed to us? How can we say something is bad that our Father has called good? If the grace gifts are part of the “every good and perfect gifts” (Jas 1:17) that God has graciously given us then should we not receive them gratefully? If spiritual gifts are as bad and unhelpful as many make them seem, then why would the gifts have ever existed at all?
I have written on this subject elsewhere but here we’re going to look at the text of 1 Corinthians and evaluate what it’s says regarding the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit.
First, it’s important that we acknowledge that this is a controversial issue. And it’s important that we consider these questions from an unbiased perspective.
What we were taught in the past should not determine our beliefs. We also should not let misapplications or extremes that people have that hold a certain belief dissuade us from holding a certain belief. The validity of a theological truth must be determined by what the Bible itself says. It’s important that we first agree on that.
Scripture is the final say on wether or not the gifts of the Spirit continue, not whether or not we understand each of the gifts perfectly or whether or not those who believe the gifts of the Spirit continue practice everything in a way that builds up the body of Christ in accordance with Scripture. Those other things are distractions (in logical argumentation they are referred to as the red herring fallacy).
So, what does 1 Corinthians itself say about the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
First, I must say, this is a difficult question as there is much disagreement and misunderstanding on the topic. However, it is a very practical and important question.
“Pentecostal and charismatic theology generally maintains that baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second blessing, an experience of God’s grace subsequent to conversion.” However, Allison demonstrates that “the New Testament vividly portrays the initial work involving the Spirit with several interchangeable expressions.” To understand what our term, “baptized in the Spirit,” means we have to look at the extended context in which it is used. We also have to determine if Jesus’ followers were regenerate or not. If we believe that they were already regenerate then our term refers to a second or subsequent work of the Spirit. If they were not already regenerate then it does not refer to a subsequent work but to the conversion work of the Spirit. I believe that Allison has demonstrated that it refers to the conversion work of the Spirit and not to a subsequent work.
If this is true then “baptized in the Spirit” means something akin to regenerated by the Spirit or the initial giving of the Spirit. However, I think this term brings in more meaning. I believe that “baptized in the Spirit” (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16) means something close to immersed in the Spirit. It has to do with being engulfed in the glory and wonder of God by the Spirit. “Baptized” (Gk. baptizo) means dip, submerge, or plunge. So, the baptism of the Spirit, like the one at Pentecost, is an overwhelming experience (So, the LXX reading of Isaiah 21:4: “My heart wanders, and transgression ‘overwhelms’ [Gk. baptizo] me”).
It also seems that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in Scripture, has partly to do with being incorporated into the people of God. We see this for example through Paul’s use of a similar phrase. He says, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Yet, we also saw this at Pentecost: Jew and Gentile, together, we’re baptized in the Spirit. They were brought together through the overwhelming experience of the Spirit.
In Scripture, I think baptism of the Spirit is used to refer to the initial giving and overwhelming effect of the Spirit. The Spirit was poured out and overwhelmed God’s people in accord with Joel 2. However, in popular parlance it has come to mean something else. This is not surprising since many believe that the baptism of the Spirit was and is a subsequent work and not a converting work. It is also not surprising since the term in many ways is synonymous with filled with the Spirit. The term does perhaps especially emphasize the overwhelming effect of the Spirit. So, for instance, I think it would be okay to say, the Great Awakening that Princeton’s Jonathan Edwards was involved in was a type of immersion of the Holy Spirit. People were dipped, as it were, into the reality of God and His truth; they were “baptized by the Spirit.”
Sinclair B. Ferguson has said,
“Revival is the unstopping of the pent-up energies of the Spirit of God breaking down the dams which have been erected against his convicting and converting ministry in whole communities of individuals, as happened at Pentecost and in the ‘awakenings’ which have followed.”
I also believe that Pentecost was unique in some ways. Unique in that it may have been the first time that believers were indwelt by God the Spirit (there is much debate and necessary caveats regarding this statement). There were also prophecies that were fulfilled through Pentecost (Joel 2). It was also a very turbulent time and there was an especially significant need for God to demonstrate that He was behind the New Covenant and the inclusion of the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 15:8-11). This is not to say, that God does not still work in significant and similar ways. I believe He does at times. I do not believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have seized. This is only to say that we must see the special uniqueness of that time in the life of the Church.
I believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is closely related to the filling of the Holy Spirit and may or may not result in the sign gifts of the Spirit. That, briefly, is how I understand the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I would, however, like to further study this subject.
Filling of the Holy Spirit
From the point of our new birth we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are, amazingly, temples of the Living God (e.g. 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:13). However, we can still be filled with the Spirit. We need this filling for instance to be powerful witnesses, to put to death the wicked deeds of the body, and to know and love God as we should.
Paul wrote to the saints (who thus were indwelt by the Spirit) at Ephesus (Eph. 1:1) and yet he prayed that they would be filled with all the fullness of God (notice “filled,” “all,” and “fullness”) (Eph. 3:19). He prayed that they would have strength to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, this happens through the Spirit’s power (Eph. 3:16). So, I think the filling of the Spirit has to do with tasting the reality of God’s truth. It is more than cognitive consent.
So, for instance, I think Jonathan Edwards is getting at this when he says, “There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means… There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”
Yet, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not just about having this “sense.” It is also about being prepared for significant ministry. However, I think the two tend to go hand in hand. We see this in Scripture; it’s clear in the book of Acts. Many earlier church leaders were “filled with the Holy Spirit” before or as they carried out the Lord’s work (cf. Acts 4:8; 4:31; 7:55; 13:9; 13:52). “Furthermore, the same vocabulary is sometimes used to describe an honorable Christian lifestyle. The table servers (Acts 6:3), as exemplified by Stephan (Acts 6:5), and Barnabas (Acts 11:24) were characterized as being ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’”
So I agree with Allison, I think “the sense of the filling or fullness of the Spirit is being thoroughly and regularly pervaded by or permeated with the Spirit resulting in fruitfulness, seen in productive ministry and proven godly character.” We should all greatly desire, pray for, and seek this filling of the Spirit. We want to both have a sense of the great sweetness of God and His truth (cf. Ps. 34:8; 1 Pet. 2:3) and be empowered for significant ministry to God’s glory.
Continual Filling of the Holy Spirit
I believe that the Spirit fills us through a collaboration of means. He works as we sing songs, and hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). He speaks through Scripture. He works as we pray (Eph. 1:17ff; 3:16ff). We come to God as our good Father and ask Him to fill us with the Spirit (Lk. 11:5-13). “Sam Storms explains, baptism with the Spirit at salvation ‘does not preclude multiple, subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s activity… The New Testament endorses and encourages multiple subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s power and presence.’” We see this in Scripture. We’ll take our example from Ephesians.
First, Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), he says it as a command, not an option. We must also realize that he says it to believers, believers that are already temples indwelt with the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:13 cf. Titus 3:5; Jn. 3:3, 5). So there must be a way that we can be more filled (notice Paul’s language in Eph. 3:19). Second, the tense is present, so we could say that we are called to “keep on being filled with the Spirit.” It is not simply a once and done type of thing. We continually need to pursue the filling of the Spirit. Third, it is in the passive voice, we are filled and we cannot do the filling on our own. The Spirit does the work of filling us and we cannot fabricate or conjure His presence. However, that does not mean that we are inactive in our pursuit of being filled with the Spirit. Remember, Paul says “be filled.” It’s a passive imperative. Thus we pray (Lk. 11:5-13) and we sing (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). We kill sin (mortification) and live towards God (vivification). We purify ourselves to be worthy vessels (Rom. 8:4-6; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20; Gal. 5:16-25; 2 Tim. 2:21).
 Ibid., 11. Sinclair B. Ferguson also says that “Luke-Acts speaks of being filled with or being full of the Spirit as an ongoing condition, but also describes particular occasions when individuals appear to experience distinct fillings” (The Holy Spirit, 89).
 see Ibid., esp. 10-14.
 Max Turner gives a good and brief biblical analysis of what the term means to different authors. He says:
“The phrase, ‘baptize in (the) (Holy) Spirit (and fire)’ in the NT is found on the lips of John the Baptist, Jesus (Acts 1:5) and Peter (Acts 11:16) and, perhaps, in the writings of Paul (1 Cor 12:13). It is only just beginning to be realized (cf. Hummel, Fireplace chap. 14) that these usages are not uniform but amount to different metaphors-topic and illustration being subtly different in each case:
(a) John the Baptist uses the phrase as a metaphor for the end-time ‘deluge’ of Spirit-and-fire that will destroy and recreate the world (Mt. 3:11 f.). All will experience that. (b) Jesus uses the same language, this time as a metaphor for the deluge of Spirit experienced by the 120 at Pentecost (Jesus’ re-use of end-time language in connection with events in salvation history is characteristic: cf. his use of ‘kingdom of God’ language at Lk. 11:20 for example). At Acts 1:5 there is no suggestion that any further such mighty deluge of Spirit (before the end) is actually indicated.
(c) Peter (Acts 11:16) sees Cornelius’ experience and ‘remembers’ Jesus’ vivid metaphor. (The inference is that this was not the usual experience and ‘baptize in Spirit’ not the usual language of Peter’s circle: this surprising experience recalled that metaphor.)
In conclusion we can say that the speakers in Luke-Acts use ‘baptize in Holy Spirit’ as a metaphor for being ‘deluged’ or ‘overwhelmed’ by the Spirit (albeit in different ways). Luke, like Josephus (see Turner, ‘Spirit Endowment’ 50ff.), uses ‘baptize’ metaphorically to compare an experience of the Spirit (or wine, or sleep or whatever) with how a deluge or floodtide overcomes and engulfs a man. The phraseology is used to denote a dramatic experience which overwhelms. Few in the NT are described as having such an overwhelmingly powerful experience of the Spirit as to suggest the metaphor (Pentecost and Cornelius in Luke-Acts); and few today have such a powerful experience that this language commends itself.
(d) Paul’s use in 1 Cor. 12:13 ‘for by one Spirit we were all baptized into the one body’ means God, in spirit, ‘immerses’ us into Christ’s body. All experience this, but Paul’s metaphor is not Luke’s. He is using ‘baptize’ language to compare the Spirit’s placing of us into the body of Christ with the way a man immerses or sinks an item into a fluid. The point of comparison is ‘total incorporation’, not ‘overwhelming experience’. Stott, Dunn and Bruner are right to insist (in Pauline terms) that all Christians are baptized by the Spirit into Christ: but they wrongly read Luke’s language this way. Charismatics rightly see that Luke’s phrase denotes overwhelming experience, but wrongly assume Luke thinks it happens to all before the parousia (then, of course, it will happen to all!) and wrongly apply it to many experiences today for which the language can only charitably be called a gross exaggeration.”
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 90.
 “A Divine and Supernatural Light.”
 Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 14.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 14.
“Are the gifts of the Spirit for today?” This is a big question and an important one because it impacts the church, missions, and individual’s spiritual lives. It is an important question because many denominations and individuals are divided over it.
Truly and sadly very often “those who [speak] most loudly of being led by the Spirit [are] the very persons responsible for quenching the Spirit’s work.” Interestingly, this was also true of the Corinthians of Paul’s day. Yet, Paul does not say, “Away with the Spirit!” Instead, he says, “Don’t quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19)! The Spirit is not the problem; we are.
I think both camps, cessationists (they believe the gifts have seized) and continuationists (they believe the gifts continue), are right on some points and wrong on others. “Error is much more likely to be propagated, when it is mixed with truth. This hides deformity and makes it go down more easily.” Those who believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit continue and those that believe they do not both very often sound right. This likely means that both arguments have been construed wrongly.
Neither side is understanding the question rightly. Of course, I will not satisfy everyone, or, perhaps, anyone. But this is my attempt to satisfy myself on this subject. And I hope to bring you along as well.
We will first look at four negative arguments that people make that believe the charismatic gifts have seized. Then we will look at one positive argument in favor of the continuation of the charismatic gifts. I also have included a long excursus that outlines a somewhat chronological example of the ongoing powerful and uncommon work of the Spirit since Pentecost. Finally, we will look at a few practical reflections.