Is the Holy Spirit New?
In John 3 Jesus is talking with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, about the coming of the kingdom. Typically people conclude with the thought that Nicodemus just didn’t understand baptism. I’d suggest to you that the Jews were well acquainted with the act of baptism but not the connection to the coming kingdom. Nicodemus is struggling with what the new kingdom would be, who it was for, and how one became a citizen of that kingdom.
Jesus explains that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Now we could talk for hours about all the different aspects of this whole conversation with Nicodemus but I want to focus in on one thought. That thought is the Holy Spirt. Again with that being the thought we could also talk for hours about all the different aspects and things to consider regarding the Holy Spirit but I simply want to ask the question; is the Holy Spirit something new? That is, is the establishment of the church the milestone that marks the Holy Spirit’s dwelling and working in man?
Let me begin by saying that I by no means have all the answers to these kinds of questions and honestly don’t know that we have all the answers available to us with topics like these. But at least consider some thoughts and questions that I have come to in regards to this question.
Sometimes the take away is that being born of the water and the Spirit is really just talking about being immersed in water in the act of baptism. There’s no doubt that being born of the water in this context is definitely referring to water baptism. But then some turn and say being born of the Spirit is just a change in heart and attitude. Great effort is sought to make the point clear that this is not the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” in the same sense as the Apostles received or the household of Cornelius.
I agree that there is a clear difference between the “gift of” (Acts 2:39) and the “gifts of” the Holy Spirit that they received in (Acts 2:2-4). The problem is that sometimes that line is drawn so hard the conclusion that some draw is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t play apart in one’s baptism. Yes we are baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27), yes we were baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3). But one is also baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In Titus 3 after reminding us all of where we have all once walked he says our Savior appeared and saved us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…” (Titus 3:5-6).
The point is that when one obeys out of faith and buries their old self in baptism to be raised anew in Christ the Holy Spirit is part of that process and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That gift isn’t just the word of God. People are all to quick to clarify when someone talks about being led by the Spirit that it’s only through the “provocation of the word.” Well I would agree that “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…”(1 Tim 3) but don’t forget that the Word is Christ (John 1) and it was revealed through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t done working or taking a break but rather continuing to work through us. Romans 8:9 says – “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you…”
Just this aspect of a study of the Holy Spirit is studied and debated in great detail but the ultimate question I want to ask is what about before Christ. Some would suggest the no one had the indwelling or working of the Holy Spirit until the time of Christ, or until the establishment of the New Testament Church. Sure everyone will agree that the Spirit hovered over the face of the earth in Genesis 1 and played a part in creation but then suggest that the Spirit doesn’t really start playing apart in man’s life until we read of Him in John 3 or Acts 2.
I don’t have all the answers but I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit played a part in creating the world and then sat the bench until the time of Christ. What evidence do we have that would suggest otherwise? Psalm 51:11 – Cast me not away from you presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” That’s David pleading with God for forgiveness and part of that plea is for God not to take the Holy Spirit from him. Simple questions; why would David ask for the Holy Spirit to not be taken from him if he never had the Holy Spirit to begin with? How did David know about the Holy Spirit? What did He know about the Holy Spirit? How did the Holy Spirit work in him and lead him? Some of those questions are still being debated today but what we do know without a doubt…David knew about, had, and understood the importance of the Holy Spirit in his life. That clearly shows that even before the time of Christ the Holy Spirit worked with and through God's people.
Sadly many of the conclusions that we come to in regards to a lot of things, such as the working of the Holy Spirit, is in response to the teaching of the religious world around us. Many have misused and misapplied God’s word in regards to the Holy Spirit, faith, grace, etc. And so our knee-jerk reaction is to run to the other extreme. The Holy Spirit has always been working and continues to work through God’s people today.
There is no scripture that I know of that indicates that the Holy Spirit quit working. The Spirit sanctifies us (1 Pet. 1:2), strengthens us (Eph. 3:16), works within us (Eph. 3:20), empowers us (Rom. 8:13), intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26), and produces fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22). The Holy Spirit has always been working with and through God’s people and will continue to if we will allow the Spirit to do so.
Don’t let what others have taught or believed keep you from standing firm in what God’s word has taught us and offered us. Like David we can’t lose sight of the value and importance of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives each day.