How Does The Holy Spirit Work Today? (Part 2)

When one discusses how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians, many in the religious world assume that this is only done so in a miraculous, charismatic way.  For example, many believe that one does not have a relationship with the Holy Spirit unless one is involved in some sort of supposedly miraculous deed, such as “speaking in tongues” (which in most cases is babbling nonsense rather than the biblical definition found in Acts 2:4-11 of speaking in other languages without having previously learned them), “fainting,” handling poisonous snakes or drinking poisonous liquids without harm, or “being healed” of various maladies.

This is understandable, because the Bible does speak of miraculous spiritual gifts that some of the early Christians possessed.  Paul mentions “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:1), and then talks of how there were “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4).  He then lists the different types of spiritual gifts, of which a study of each of them would reveal that they were miraculous in nature (12:8-10), and then specifically notes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (12:11).  He then spends the rest of chapter 12 and all of chapters 13 and 14 talking about these miraculous spiritual gifts.

One item worthy of note concerning these miraculous spiritual gifts is that Paul cited that not all of the early Christians had them (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23).  This is interesting, considering that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was promised to all who would become Christians through obedience to the gospel commands of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 5:32).  Is this a contradiction, or is there a difference between the “spiritual gifts” mentioned by Paul which were miraculous in nature and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised by Peter to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39) through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14)?

A careful study of the totality of scriptural data concerning this question (Ps. 119:160) reveals that there is a difference between the two.  The New Testament teaches that while “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was given to all who obeyed the gospel, miraculous spiritual gifts were given to selected Christians by the apostles through the laying on of hands.  The apostle Paul was known to give people spiritual gifts in this way (Acts 19:5-6; cf. Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6).  We see a more detailed example in Acts 6:1-6, where the apostles directed the Jerusalem church to select from among them seven men to serve in a benevolent work.  Stephen and Philip were among the seven chosen.  We read then that these men were brought before the apostles, who then “laid their hands on them” (6:6).  Only afterwards do we read in the book of Acts of anyone other than the 12 apostles performing miracles, in that Stephen (6:8) and Philip (8:6-7) were able to perform them also.

What is interesting is that Stephen, Philip, and the rest of these seven men had to meet certain qualifications in order to be chosen, among which was that they already be “full of the Spirit” (6:3).  Does that phrase mean that they already had the ability to perform miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit?  Not necessarily, because as stated earlier we read of no one other than the apostles performing miracles until after they laid their hands on these seven men in Acts 6:6.  However, when we remember that all who obeyed the gospel through penitent baptism for forgiveness of sins were promised “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38-39), we see that the qualification “full of the Spirit” refers to the promise given to all Christians when they are converted rather than the ability to perform miracles through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

To summarize before moving on, we see that Scripture brings out a difference between “the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “spiritual gifts.”  The former was promised by Peter to all who answer God’s call through the gospel by  choosing to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14).  The latter were miraculous in nature (1 Cor. 12:1-11), were not given to all Christians (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23), and were only imparted to certain Christians through the laying on of an apostle’s hands, as exemplified by Paul (Acts 19:5-6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6) and when the apostles laid their hands on Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:1-6).  In order to be chosen, Stephen and Philip had to have already been “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 6:3).  Yet, they did not perform miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7).  Therefore, they had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” at their conversion (Acts 2:38-39), but received miraculous spiritual gifts when the apostles laid their hands on them.

Scripture then records an episode in the life of Philip (Acts 8:5-18) which shows not only how miraculous spiritual gifts were given to Christians, but also how they were temporary in nature.  Philip traveled to Samaria, where he preached Christ and performed miracles (8:5-7).  Many in Samaria believed his preaching and were baptized, including a magician named Simon (8:9-13).  It is noteworthy that Simon, “after being baptized…continued on with Philip…and OBSERVED signs and great miracles taking place…” (8:13).  Simon, after his baptism, didn’t perform any miracles himself, nor did he request that Philip give him the ability to do miracles.  With this in mind, notice that Luke then records that the apostles Peter and John traveled to Samaria for the specific purpose that the Samaritans “might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For he had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (8:14-16).  Once Peter and John arrived, “they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit” (8:17).  Scripture then records how “Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (8:18), and offered them money for the ability to do the same.

Let’s notice several things from this passage.  First, the Samaritans would have received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” automatically upon their penitent baptism (Acts 2:38-39), thus making them “filled with the Spirit” just as Stephen and Philip had been before the apostles laid their hands on them (Acts 6:3).  However, just as Stephen and Philip did not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7), the Samaritans would not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts after their baptism until an apostle laid their hands on them.  This is why Peter and John made the trip.  Philip, after having been given miraculous spiritual gifts by the apostles laying their hands on him, couldn’t impart the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit himself.  Otherwise, the Scriptures would have said so, he could have saved Peter and John the trip, and Simon would have come to him with money rather than the apostles.

The fact that only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts upon certain Christians is very significant when determining how the Holy Spirit works today. Many are not aware that the New Testament teaches that miracles would cease.  In the middle of his discourse to Corinth about miraculous spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14), Paul prophesied, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.  For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will be done away” (13:8-10).

“Prophecy,” “tongues,” and “knowledge” all refer to miraculous spiritual gifts mentioned earlier in the epistle (12:4-11).  Notice that Paul foretold that these miracles (which he calls “the partial”) will be done away with when “the perfect” comes.  Some, understandably, believe “the perfect” to be Jesus Christ…but the original Greek word – teleios – refers to something which is fully complete or mature.  It is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to God’s Word (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25), something which was not yet complete at the time Paul wrote his letter to Corinth and yet would become complete within a few years afterwards.  Therefore, Paul was prophesying to the Corinthians that when God’s Word become “complete/perfect” (teleios), miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.  This makes even more sense when one remembers that the purpose of miraculous spiritual gifts in the first place was to confirm the Word of God that was being initially preached during that time (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4).

History tells us that by the time the Word of God was complete at the close of the first century AD, all of the apostles either had died or were about to pass away.  This is relevant to the question of when miracles ceased, because we’ve seen in this study how a Christian could only receive miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of an apostle’s hands.  Philip, one of those whom the apostles gave miraculous spiritual gifts in this manner (Acts 6:1-6; 8:5-7), could not impart the same to those whom he converted, which is why two apostles came to Samaria (Acts 8:14-19).  Only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts to others.  Therefore, when all of the apostles passed away, and all those on whom they laid their hands and bestowed miraculous spiritual gifts passed away, miracles ceased…all around the time Paul said that they would:  “when that which is perfect has come,” when God’s Word became complete.

So what is “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised to all who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38-39)?  The next article in this series will study the answer to that question.

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