Understanding the Role of the Holy Spirit in the Church Today

Wes  —  April 20, 2016
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I don’t believe we talk enough about the Holy Spirit. This neglect has led to speculation and misunderstanding. While I’m quite certain I don’t I fully grasp everything Scripture has to say about who the Holy Spirit is and what His role in the church is (and there is far more on this subject that could be said), here are a few thoughts which might help us all to have a better understanding of the Holy Spirit and His role in the church today.

the role of the holy spirit

1. The Holy Spirit Is Not an “IT”

Too often we talk about the Holy Spirit as a thing, rather than a person. When we talk about the Spirit, we too often say things like, “It does this and it does that.” He is the third person of the Godhead. He is not an “it.”

I believe this is one reason we misunderstand the role of the Spirit of God, because we don’t understand He is a “He” and not an “it.” The Spirit of God cannot be controlled or manipulated. His presence isn’t brought upon by dimmed lights, fog machines, or music.

The Spirit of God isn’t a feeling. He is a person; just as the Father and the Son are persons.

2. The Holy Spirit is Experienced by Faith

I don’t know of any biblical evidence that supports the idea that Holy Spirit can be physically felt. Things like goosebumps, tingling feelings, or an inner warmness are commonly attributed to “feeling” the Spirit, but those things are simply not how the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit.

The way I experience the Holy Spirit is the same way I experience almost all things of God – by faith (see Ephesians 3:17). Scripture tells me that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and I believe it. I accept and experience that fact by faith. Meaning, I have “assurance” and “conviction” about Him, though I don’t experience Him with any of my five senses (see Hebrews 11:1).

There were times when the Holy Spirit worked miracles in and through individuals. He empowered certain people to prophesy, speak in tongues, and even raise the dead in order to confirm the message they spoke (see Mark 16:20; 1 Corinthians 2:4). But even in those times, Scripture doesn’t say someone got a tingling feeling because the Holy Spirit was dwelling in him or her.

By the way, Paul told the Corinthians a time would come when the Spirit of God would no longer empower Christians with miraculous gifts. So he told them the important thing was for them to focus on loving one another, because love is the “greatest” – or longest lasting – gift (see 1 Corinthians 13).

3. The Holy Spirit is Known by His Fruit

So the natural question is, “Then how do I know I have the Holy Spirit?” The answer is, by the fruit in your life. If God’s Spirit is living in you and you are walking by His Spirit, then your life will produce a fruit that has certain characteristics.

A living orange tree produces a fruit which is round, orange, juicy, covered with a peel, and contains seeds. A person, in whom the Spirit of God dwells, will produce a fruit that has the characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Paul’s point in Galatians was that the Law of Moses could not produce fruit of this quality; this fruit can only be produced by a group of people who are walking by the Spirit of God.

4. The Spirit Dwells in the Body

And now I want to get into the most important thought. We all know the church is the body of Christ. But, by “the church,” I don’t mean a local congregation or even all the Christians in the world. When I say, “the church,” I mean all of God’s people who are living now AND all those who have ever lived.

Though they’re dead, the apostles and prophets are still part of the church (Ephesians 2:20). I don’t mean they “were” part of the church. I mean, they “are” part of the church. God “is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32).

A person’s spirit is what gives his or her body life, strength, and power. Therefore, it is the Holy Spirit who gives the body of Christ life, strength, and power. He unites us and brings us together in love. He not only unites the living, but also unites the living with those who’ve gone on before. Though some are dead, they still speak (see Hebrews 11:4). The Spirit gives life to Scripture (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and He gives life to the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).

The Spirit of God edifies, encourages, comforts, teaches, and leads us through the various parts of the body (see 1 Corinthians 12). He carried along the prophets and apostles as they wrote Scripture (2 Peter 1:21). So when Scripture is read, the Holy Spirit is continuing to work through the inspired writers to strengthen the body of Christ. In the living church, teachers, evangelists, shepherds, and servants walk by faith, using their gifts to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). In this way, the body of Christ “builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16) through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit helps me through my Christian brother’s listening ear, through my church family’s passionate singing, through my elders’ leadership, and through the apostles’ perfect teaching. This is the body of Christ that is alive and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Bottom Line

I think we need to stop thinking the Holy Spirit will empower us the same way He empowered the apostles or even the Christians in the first century. Christ, the prophets, and the apostles, are not gone from the body; they are the foundation (see Ephesians 2:20). The Spirit unites us with them and edifies us through their gifts every time we open the Bible. The Spirit comforts us – not with a shallow and temporary warm tingling feeling – but through the physical and tangible service of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So if you want to know the Holy Spirit, you must be in the church where He does His work and you must read Scripture to hear the words He gave the apostles and prophets. The Spirit works in the church – of the past, present, and future – “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). He wants to work through you to strengthen and comfort others by your ordinary God-glorifying acts of service and obedience (see Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:7-11).

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams