{ASK THE PASTOR} Holy Spirit.

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Question #1: “Who is it best to address our prayers to……God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit? Does it matter? How do we best have the Holy Spirit work/be in/with us on a daily basis? Songs and prayers even ask for the Holy Spirit to ‘fill us’ or invite Him in this place. From what I understand we are already filled with the Holy Spirit at the time of making a confession of faith in Jesus. I understand He; the Holy Spirit is a Person. So I am a little confused and appreciate so much some clarification. Thanks!”

Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill

The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer has diverse interpretations across the various traditions of Christianity. When we study church history we can see that an understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit follows a rich and diverse path. There are so many interesting aspects to explore concerning this topic, but let me paint the landscape of today’s church and help the readers move forward on this matter.

The bible describes two distinct roles of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians today—Acts 1:8 and Romans 8:9. The former describes a theme of empowerment to be effective witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world around us (with prophetic inspiration, boldness, and courage to just name a few) and the latter describes the Spirit’s presence within all believers who have confessed faith in Christ for the purpose of growing us into Christ-likeness in character and attitude. Moreover, the events of the Spirit described in Acts occur within those who are already part of the church—in other words, Acts 1:8 is not an experience of initiation (salvation) into the church.

I understand that this is already perhaps controversial, and so let me explain the textual (Scriptural) basis for this understanding. Nearly all Protestants except for Pentecostals/Charismatics and perhaps Anglicans would state that Acts 1:8 and Romans 8:9 describe the same thing: initiation into the church. Pentecostals/Charismatics have said that Acts describes an empowerment of the Spirit subsequent to salvation and Anglicans have said a similar thing with their sacrament of confirmation, whereby they understand the confirmed are imparted the Spirit by the laying of hands. (Interestingly enough, Catholics may also interpret Acts 1:8 differently than Romans 8:9 by virtue of their sacrament of confirmation.)

When we look at the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament we consistently see empowerment for select individuals to accomplish important tasks within the covenant community, Israel. This begins with Joseph’s ability interpret dreams, continues with Moses and the elders, the judges, the prophets, and the kings. Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2) states that this kind of empowerment would increase in its frequency and become available to everyone some approaching day—and Acts is the fulfillment of this prophecy, if for no other reason but the fact that Peter states this very fact in Acts 2.

We can also see from the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel (36:26) and Jeremiah (32:39) that there will come a day when Israel’s heart of stone (a reference to the stone the law was written upon) would be replaced with a heart of flesh. While the law maintained the holiness of Israel in the Old Testament, an indwelling of the Holy Spirit would maintain the holiness of the church in the New Testament. Although the direct moment of this occurrence in the New Testament is difficult to pinpoint (perhaps the John 20:22 passage, or when the curtain was torn in the temple upon Jesus’ death?) Paul clearly states in Romans 8:9 and then continually throughout his letters that the Spirit plays a significant role in our salvation. However, to interpret Acts 1:8 from that same soteriological perspective (i.e., as a salvation experience) so that it fits nicely within our New Testament Pauline theology—even though it was written by a different author—is nothing short of jettisoning the entire business of Old Testament pneumatology (i.e., theology of the Spirit) that Acts 1:8 stands upon.

The church must do a better job describing the difference between the indwelling of the Spirit at salvation versus the empowerment of the Spirit subsequent to salvation (which is called Baptism in the Holy Spirit by the Scriptures). This is where I feel the debate ought to be, and indeed is within the various Pentecostal/Charismatic traditions. However, lets not continue debating the very legitimacy of Spirit empowerment subsequent to salvation—unless of course the Old Testament informs nothing of our faith.

p.s. I’m not really sure it matters who we address our prayers to, as from a triune perspective God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all share in the one divine essence. Addressing one over the other will not give our prayers expedited servicing. Nevertheless, it may be personally edifying to address God the Father in matters of sovereignty and creation, Jesus in matters of salvation, and the Spirit in matters of empowerment and holiness (just to suggest a few ideas).

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