Life In the Power of the Holy Spirit 2

Last weeks post looked at the start of the overarching promise of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. I looked at who the Holy Spirit is and how Old Covenant believers experienced the Spirit. This week I continue to look at the Old Covenant promises of what the Spirit would do and its implications.

The Spirit and the Law

The Spirit came upon specific individuals to empower them for specific tasks. However the contours of the promise came into even clearer focus as the prophets comforted Israel. God will indwell his people in order to empower them to holiness; “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes”[1] declares Ezekiel. The prophet Jeremiah does not explicitly state the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit but the regenerating work of the Spirit is certainly implied; “This is the covenant I will make with the people, I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”[2]. Law is spoken of in two primary ways in the Apostle Paul’s writing. Negatively as identity markers[3] and positively as being a reflection of the character of God[4]. Fee summarizes this tension between the covenants well “Discontinuity, therefore, lies in the area of Torah observance, the use of Torah either to identify the people of God or to identify one’s relationship with God. Continuity lies in the Spirit’s “fulfilling” Torah by leading God’s people in the paths of God to live in such a way as to express the intent of Torah in the first place – to create a people for God’s name, who bear God’s likeness in their character, as that is seen in their behaviour” (Fee, 1994 p.815-816). This New Covenant holiness however doesn’t come from legalistic obedience. It comes from the grace of God and the gift of the Spirit that inspires deep affection for and an overarching identification with the Lord “This one will say; “I am the Lord’s…and another will write on his hand “The Lord’s””[5].

The New Testament confirms that the Holy Spirit and God the Father regenerates the believer by enabling saving faith. Regeneration is defined by Wayne Grudem as “a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us; sometimes called “being born again”” (Grudem, 2007 p.1253). Regeneration is a work of God alone while the person being regenerated is passive. The person is “born again”[6] and made into a “new creation”[7] “not of the will of the flesh …but of God”[8]. The New Testament repeatedly teaches that it is both the “Father of lights” who “brought us forth”[9] and that we are “born of the Spirit”[10]. This means our “spirits are alive”[11] to God and we therefore put our faith in him and experience new desires for God. The Spirit implants desires of affection towards God and causes us to put our faith in Him.

The Continued Work of the Spirit 

Many classical reformed theologians at this point would speak of the reception of the Spirit and his continued work in the life of a believer under one category. If the category ‘Baptism of the Spirit’ is used or ‘filling of the Spirit’ or ‘sealing of the Spirit’ it would be viewed as referring to the same work of the Spirit[12]. This work would include many blessings such as the assurance of sonship (Isaiah 44.5 & Romans 8.14-16), the opposite of feeling orphaned (John 14.18), knowing God’s love (Romans 5.5) and receiving power for witness (Luke 4.14, Acts 1.8). However this is not consistent with the New Testaments narrative.

I will from this point make a distinction between being ‘Baptized in the Spirit’ and being ‘filled with the Spirit’. Lloyd-Jones’ insisted that there is no direct connection between the continuous filling of the Spirit (which concerns sanctification) and the Baptism with the Spirit (which concerns assurance, power for witness and Spiritual gifts). For example the church at Corinth had many baptized in the Spirit as evidenced by their spiritual gifts yet many were still infants in their sanctification as evidenced by their immaturity. Every Christian has the regenerating presence of the Spirit prior to conversion and may also be baptized in the Spirit at conversion. But these two events may not always happen simultaneously. A post conversion Baptism in the Spirit is possible as it was in Acts 1.4-8, 8.4-25 , 10.1-48, and 19.1-7.

Every Christian is encouraged to continue to grow in holiness through being filled with the Spirit, which is progressive sanctification. Whether one agrees with the classical reformed view or the charismatic view it is agreed that all Christians can and must continue being filled with the Spirit and seek for more of God’s empowering presence.

Next week I will look at how this promised is fulfilled and worked out in the New Testament. Thanks for reading and please do post your comments or questions as these are always a great source of learning, challenge and encouragement to me.

[1] Ezekiel 36.27

[2] Jeremiah 31.33

[3] Law brings the knowledge of sin (Rom 3.20; 7.7-12), Law observance is “mutilation” (Phil 3.2) and Christians are not under law (Rom 10.4, Gal 5.18, 23).

[4] Law is “holy” and “spiritual” (Rom 7.12,14), Jewish nation was advantaged for receiving the law (Rom 3.2) and the commandments of God are to be upheld (1 Cor 7.19).

[5] Isaiah 44.5

[6] John 3.3-8, 1 Peter 1.3

[7] 2 Corinthians 5.17

[8] John 1.13

[9] James 1.17-18

[10] John 3.8

[11] Romans  8.10

[12] John Stott for example in The Baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit


Fee G.D, (1994) God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the letters of Paul. Hendrickson Publishers

Grudem W, (2007) Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine. England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Lloyd-Jones M, (1984) Joy Unspeakable: Power & Renewal in the Holy Spirit. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers.


Grace – Rules don’t work

20Now the law came in to (ina) increase the trespass,

But where sin increased,

Grace abounded all the more,

21So that (ina) as sin reigned in death,

Grace also might reign through righteousness

Leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

                    Romans 5:20-21

We all want to “reign in life” (Romans 5:17,21).

But, the minute we here the Bible speaking about us reigning in life many us feel like even bigger failures. We can’t even reign at Tetris on our cell phone let alone reign in life! Perhaps at the beginning of a new year we feel like this year will be different. As Terry Virgo illustrates; it’s as if we have two doors to choose from. Law and grace. Rules regulations and plans to pray more, go to gym, eat healthy and then… the door of grace. Most of us have been down the way of law and we know it ends in failure and disappointment.

Why is law ineffective?

In Romans 5 Paul clearly states that all people are sinful. We were all in Adam and through his transgression, sin leading to death, entered our world.

  1. “…through one man sin entered into the world…” Rom 5:12
  2. “…by the transgression of the one, the many died…” Rom 5:15
  3. “…the judgment arose from one transgression, resulting in condemnation…” Rom 5:17
  4. “…by the transgression of the one, death reigns through the one…” Rom 5:17
  5. “…through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men…” Rom 5:18
  6. “…through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…” Rom 5:19

This story begins in Genesis with Adam and Eve and their fall. Before Genesis 3 there is peace and harmony, after there is dysfunction, murder, and inappropriate sexual behavior. In a word sin has arrived. Paul begins his letter to the Romans by stating that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom 1:18). He starts with all the obvious explicit sin in chapter 1. Then in chapter 2 he says that even religion is a form of slavery to sin. It’s another way of ignoring God and living life our own way. By chapter 3 he concludes “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11). Why are rules and regulations ineffective? They just aren’t strong enough to deal with our sin. They are manmade forms of religion devoid of any authentic spiritual life (Col 2:22).What we need is “the power of God for salvation” Rom 1:16.

Secondly, law makes you want to sin. Have you ever told a baby ‘don’t touch the TV’? Try it and watch them slowly drift towards the TV. ‘Don’t walk on the grass’, ‘no cell phones allowed’ all these rules actually cause people to want to do the forbidden action. In Rom 5:20 the Greek preposition ina is used. It indicates purpose. The purpose of the law was never to actually bring about spiritual transformation; it was too “increase the trespass”!

The law came to rub it in, grace came to rub it out – Terry Virgo

In Romans 7 Paul describes the law as this perfect husband who is good. But all he does is make you feel guilty for being so imperfect. Terry Virgo again illustrates that being under law is like being married to a husband who constantly holds us accountable (Rom 3:19). And he is right about his judgments. Slowly it sinks in, just how sinful, bad and enslaved to sin you are. To make matters worse the law is a really healthy husband who will live forever (Matthew 5:18). Is there’s no way out!?

By accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior we die. We have died with Christ so that we could be united to him (Romans 7:4). We are freed from our marital obligations to the law through our death. Now through our resurrection we legally belong to another; Jesus! Christians are therefore not under law because “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4). If you are in Christ you have his righteousness accredit to your account. Through Christ’s decisive work on the cross, even if you don’t feel like it, particularly if you don’t feel like it, you are the righteousness of God!

  1. “…so through one act of righteousness the result is justification of life to all” Rom 5:18
  2. “…so through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous” Rom 5:19

When you feel condemned because of your moral failure you must remember that your slate is cleaned permanently! All your mistakes and failings have been taken care of; past, present and future. Its counter intuitive but the more of a reality this becomes to you, the more freedom from sin you will experience. Paul uses the preposition ina again in verse 21.

“Grace abounded all the more, 21So that (ina) …grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life…”

Revel in grace and you will reign in life! Striving to be good leads to condemnation, while rejoicing in the grace of God leads to worship and holiness. “Thanks be to God” is always Paul’s response after speaking about grace (Rom 6:17; 7:25; 1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 2:14). As counter intuitive as this is, it’s the gospel truth. It doesn’t matter how many times you have blown it, God your Father loves you with an incomprehensible covenant love. Believe it! Rejoice in it! Worship God because of it!