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What to say about the Holy Spirit?

In September I'll be teaching at UCCF's national student leaders conference, with a colleague, on the subject of Transformed by the Gracious God. Sessions 1 and 2 focus on the Father and the Son, and so on the third day we'll focus on The Holy Spirit. What to cover? The track is meant to give a gospel-centred, Trinitarian take on discipleship and change in the Christian life.

I'm finding David Watson to be helpful. He was a charismatic Anglican evangelist who died of cancer in 1984, aged 50. Converted under the Bash camps of E.J.H. Nash he was encouraged to pursue baptism of the Spirit by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His 1973 book One in the Spirit is based on talks done at a UCCF conference in 1972, and 38 years on the material is still fresh and helpful, thoughtful, engaging widely and persuasively.

So far, I'm thinking we'll talk about

1. The Spirit and the gospel - regeneration, conviction, being sealed, and in relation to our relationship with the Father which is expressed in the Son by the Spirit). We'll have covered some of this in the previous sessions so this will be a brief treatment in the introduction.

2. Being filled with the Spirit - on which Watson is particularly helpful. This remains controversial but I tend to find it more fruitful to consider than ignore things. I'd like to consider varying positions, how to be filled with the Spirit and what the evidences of that would be.

Watson argues that all Christians agree that all Christians have the Holy Spirit (Rom 8v9), and all Christians agree, from Ephesians 5, that we're not all filled with the Spirit but need to go on being filled. We don't need something different to what we started with - but we all want more. Rooted and built up and filled. All by grace.

He agrees that not all Christian agree about the term baptism in the Spirit but goes on to argue that baptism is linked with Christian initiation, is a plunging word, implies being initiated and overwhelmed, and that love and power are more important that which terminology we use (whether receiving/baptism/filing with the Spirit)

Leaning then on Watson to some extent... there seem to be a variety of different ways and evidences in what follows. The Bible is a bit messy on this. It's evident I'm drawing doctrine here from narrative, but if we can argue from Acts for persuasive preaching I think we can ask what Acts teaches us about the ministry of the Spirit in our lives too.

How do we get filled with the Spirit?
Repenting in response to hearing the gospel (Acts 2v38),
Or, Ask in the Father in the name of the Son (Luke 11v1-13),
Or, Hear the word of the gospel (Acts 10v44, 11v15),
Or, Thirst/desire after the righteousness of Christ (Matt 5v6),
Or, By the laying on of hands (Acts 8v7, 9v17, 19v6)
Or, Hearing the gospel with faith (Galatians 3v2)

How do you know if you have been?
Others can tell (Acts 10v45)
Or, Speaking the gift of tongues and praise to God for his gospel (Acts 10v46)
Or, Comfort and encouragement in the gospel. (Acts 9v31)
Or, Power to speak the gospel (Acts 1v8)
Or, Ability to speak in other languages to people about Jesus (Acts 2v4)
Or, Speaking in tongues, prophesying (Acts 19v6)

3. The fruit of the Spirit - being transformed to love the church. The whole track is largely rooted in Galatians and this will consider Galatians 5. As Galatians 3 says we start by the Spirit, and we go on by the Spirit. Saved by grace, live by grace. And that's not a work but the fruit of the Spirit in our hearts. True freedom.

4. The gifts of the Spirit - to serve the church, from 1 Cor 12-14. Grace gifts from the Spirit to build the church up as the body of Christ to the glory of Christ.

We'll be speaking to a broad evangelical constituency which means I want to honour a range of positions but doesn't mean I have to hide my own convictions. If you were me, what would you want to include? 


  1. Personally, I'd want to include something on the Spirit and the Word (how the Spirit not only inspired the Word but illuminates it) and something on the Spirit and mission (how the Spirit filled person is led/propelled by the Spirit to participate in the mission of God).

  2. I'd probably have the mission stuff under being filled with the Spirit, with power for mission and boldness from Acts 1 and 4 as evidence of the Spirit.

    The Word thing is a good call.

  3. John 16: 8-14 might be helpful; how you would work it in I don't know but remembering that according to John here being Spirit filled means - being directed to know and glorify Christ & being convicted of sin. Paul isn't a million miles away from this theme in Eph 3: 14-19 - being Spirit filled is knowing the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. ... There is so much to be said but those are my noddy thoughts.

  4. Keeping with the Galatians 5 theme: Walking with/being guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

  5. Would you also consider the idea that being filled with the Spirit is an occurrence that happens not only once but many times in the Child of God, throughout their lives. As we see in Acts, Peter is continually being filled with the Spirit.

    I never thought much about speaking in other languages and being filled with the Spirit. That's a very interesting and truthful comment.
    Would you say this would always be the case? Or just in certain situations?

  6. In the last 2, maybe 3 years I've become theologically and textually persuaded to call myself charismatic. Experientially though I'm still a bit at sea - in terms of what I trust to be authentic experiences of the Spirit.

    So Dave a question in light of this: Do you think Romans 5:5 is talking about filling/baptism in the Spirit? If it is it could potentially be one of the most helpful passages in Scripture to explain the phenomenon - especially for those who have never ever spoken in tongues or prophesied (consciously at least) - which would be me.

  7. Jim - my inclination is to say, I'm happy to use baptism in the Spirit language to start with as a one off, ideally as near conversion as possible (ditto water baptism), and then repeatedly being filled.

    I think the phenomena that come from the Spirit seem to vary from situation to situation, those listed in Acts are at least examples.

  8. Stephen,

    "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" Rom 5:5

    ...that sounds like a comforting and deepening of what it is to be a Christian doesn't it, a realising of what is ours in Christ. You'd think that a fresh sense of the love of God that is ours in the gospel would be part of being filled with the Spirit, which might then be joined by certain gifts or not.

    Of course those who desire the Spirit, who desire Christ, who love the body, would also be eagerly desiring gifts - for the body.

  9. I like your definitions (or Watson's?) of baptism in the HS. It's a phrase which is often used but rarely unpacked and I think it leaves listeners imagining they have to have a "falling down in the spirit" experience. Those words you used - initiation, plunging, overwhelmed, receiving, baptising etc, are great.

    The illuminating the word stuff is a good call, yes, but it's also exactly what I'd expect from a UCCF talk on the HS. To be honest, that and not much else. I believe there's more to the HS than that as, it seems, do you.

    Great blog. Wish I could hear the talk too.

  10. Watson does begin with revelation and illumination before moving on to the rest of it.

    The unpacking of baptism in the Spirit is lots of Watson and a bit of me. Credit him with the good stuff. Thirty eight years ago at a UCCF conference you'd have got all of the above and more, so why not this year eh!

    The track wasn't recorded last year, not sure what the plan is this time.

  11. Looks good to me.

    Dave I love your comment: “a realising of what is ours in Christ. You'd think that a fresh sense of the love of God that is ours in the gospel would be part of being filled with the Spirit, which might then be joined by certain gifts or not.
    Of course those who desire the Spirit, who desire Christ, who love the body, would also be eagerly desiring gifts - for the body.”

    Reminds me of Tom Smail on the work of the Holy Spirit: "He simply takes what is in Christ and so works in us that it becomes ours also".

    Lovely union with Christ stuff.

    After all the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ who is always pointing away from himself to Christ who reveals the Father. He seals our union with Christ, making ontological? (sanctification) what was relational (justification). He is always united to Christ (the Word of God, who had the Spirit without measure), and so he is always united to the Gospel/Bible (Spirit-breathed).

    Salvation in Christ (as cosmic narrative) is still the big issue. I'd want to major on that. The work of the Spirit shows us that God's justifying word/Word (of forgiveness) creates what it declares (our righteousness/life) because of the power of the Spirit which accompanies it.

    If it was a seminar with a broad constituency it would be good to opportunity to think about how different streams/traditions within the church, and us as individuals, have separated the work of the Spirit from the Word of God (Christ/Gospel/Bible). I think all have been guilty in one area or another, and we tend to be much better at seeing other’s blind spots.
    e.g. Pentecostalism: ‘miracles’ (=magic) downgrading the objective work of Christ and preaching and our future hope.
    Catholicism: divorcing Spirit’s work in the sacraments from hearing the Gospel with faith.
    Liberalism: seeing the Spirit working in social action divorced from the Gospel.
    Conservatives: objective work of Christ is recognised to be basic (and our grasping of it with the intellect), but mistaken to be the end of the story (and so miracles and holiness downgraded).

    So, yeh, union with Christ would be my theme…. Focuses us on:
    > FAITH The Father sending the Son in the power of the Spirit to save: the Gospel (event and proclamation) as the essential beginning both involving the Spirit.
    > LOVE Regeneration and personal holiness as same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead applies his new life to us
    > LOVE Spiritual gifts to serve the body of Christ as they are formed in the likeness of God’s Son.
    > HOPE The Father’s glory in Christ’s glorification in us as the goal as the same Spirit who hovered over the waters completes his work of new Creation

    ... thinking aloud.

  12. Something on the Holy Spirit in the OT? Glory-cloud in the temple, leading in the wilderness, empowering the servants/ kings of God etc. is all massively important background for many key 'Spirit-texts' in the NT.


  13. The more I look at this, the more I could say. And yet I want to keep it relatively simple. I guess at root the question is, given that through the gospel I'm an adopted as son of the Father, how do I now live, and what's the role of the Holy Spirit?


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