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The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Don Matzat

There is disagreement and contention in the church today over the subject of the work of the Holy Spirit. What Charismatics claim is the reviving work of the Holy Spirit, other Christians define as deception. The advent of psychological techniques has prompted discussion over the nature and source of the "fruit of Spirit." The revival of ancient mysticism, and the growing popularity of new age methods has introduced "eastern spirituality" into the church.

We are living in an age in which clear definitions of the work of the Holy Spirit are vitally important if we want to avoid deception. While it is not possible to present a thorough treatment of the work of the Spirit in a brief article, let us briefly consider four specific biblical truths concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the practical implications of those truths for us today.

A. The Holy Spirit extends the ministry of Jesus:

In the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, God the Father accomplished all things necessary for life and salvation. There is nothing more that God is going to do to save, redeem, or justify sinful mankind. God, for example, does not have a plan to save America. He has already completed the plan at Calvary. When Jesus said, "it is finished!" he did not mean, "To be continued."

The Apostle Paul makes it clear in his Letter to the Colossians (1: 19-20; 2: 3, 9-10) that all spiritual blessings are found in Christ Jesus. The question remains, how do all of the blessings of life and salvation gained for us by Christ Jesus nearly 2000 years ago come to us today? What is the delivery system? This question is answered in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told his disciples, "It is better for you that I go away. If I do not go away, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will not come to you. If I go away, I will send him to you." (John 16: 7)

In Acts 1: 1-2, Luke speaks of his Gospel as the beginning of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. After he ascended into heaven, Luke says that Jesus continued to give instructions to his Apostles through the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit became the permanent resident within the Church, Jesus Christ returned to his disciples. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

When the Apostles described the work of sanctification, they readily interchanged the person of the Holy Spirit with the person of Jesus Christ. For example, being led by the Holy Spirit is the same as led by the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16: 6-7); being controlled by the Holy Spirit means being controlled by the Spirit of Christ Romans 8: 9); living in the Spirit means living in Christ; walking in the Spirit means walking in Christ (Colossians 2: 6); and being filled with the Spirit means being filled with the Presence of Christ. The Holy Spirit can not be separated from the Lord Jesus Christ.


1. If the Holy Spirit had not come, we would be dependent upon special appearances of the risen Christ so that we might believe in him and learn of him. Those Bible teachers and evangelists to whom Jesus appeared would be considered the apostles and Prophets of our age.

The problem is, Jesus never promised that he would continue to make appearances after he ascended into heaven. His ministry is extended through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul, when speaking of the appearance the Lord Jesus made to him on the road to Damascus, spoke of himself as one "born at the wrong time." (1 Corinthians 15: 8) In other words, it was beyond the age when Jesus made appearances to his disciples. Of course, it goes without saying that Jesus Christ is not a "spirit guide" and nor did he ever promise to send his Mother to us to reveal hidden truth.

On the basis of the words and promises of Jesus, we must conclude that claims to such appearances for the sake of providing wisdom and guidance are fraudulent. It is not a question of seeking to discern whether or not Jesus appeared to a person or whether or not Mary appeared at a certain time and place. When Scripture is clear, there is no discernment needed. The only promise that Jesus made was that the Holy Spirit would come and would lead us into all the truth.

Those who claim that Jesus appeared to them and revealed specific truths are attempting to entice you to accept the authority and credibility of their words. Do not be deceived!

2. Since the Holy Spirit extends and continues the ministry of Jesus Christ, to seek discernment by asking the question, "what would Jesus do?" in a given situation is very relevant. For example, would Jesus blow at people and knock them over? Would Jesus poke people in the stomach and cause them to laugh? Would Jesus throw his power across the room and knock over three rows of people? Would Jesus cause his disciples to be "slain in the Spirit" and have "carpet time?"

If we believe that specific antics and practices are not consistent with the ministry of Jesus Christ revealed in the four Gospels, we could readily conclude that they are either fraudulent, psychologically induced, psychic, or occult. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is an extension of the ministry I of the Lord Jesus. It is not "another" or a different ministry.

B. The Holy Spirit Glorifies Jesus

Jesus defined what the Holy Spirit would do and how he would be identified. He said that the Holy Spirit would "take from what is mine and show it to you." The Holy Spirit would not speak about nor glorify the Holy Spirit, but would speak about and glorify the risen, ascended Son of God (John 16: 12-15). The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus and to deliver to us the blessings of life and salvation that were won at Calvary.


1. The Holy Spirit will not draw attention to himself. You will not find the Holy Spirit where the focus is upon the Holy Spirit. You will find the Holy Spirit where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its truth and purity and where Jesus is worshipped as King over kings, and Lord over lords.

The Holy Spirit does not glorify himself. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit will lead me to say, "good morning, Holy Spirit" as the title of a popular book suggests. I believe he will lead me to reverently pray, "good morning, Lord Jesus."

2. Since the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ so that we might receive the blessings of life and salvation, there are no Holy Spirit produced manifestations, fruit, or life-changing dynamics where there is no faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Since psychological methods, mystical techniques, and the sociological dynamics of group pressure produce life changing dynamics for all people, regardless of their relationship with Jesus Christ, this can not be the work of the Holy Spirit.

When assessing movements that offer positive, life-changing results such as Alcoholics Anonymous, marriage encounter, or even "Promise Keepers," carefully identify the dynamic that is involved. If the dynamic produces positive results for all participants, regardless of their faith in Jesus Christ, this is not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is not to condemn the movements. Participating may be very beneficial, but the results are being produced by natural causes.

I knew a woman who worked at the counseling center at a large eastern University. She interacted with numerous psychologists. One day she told me, "I work with some of the kindest, most loving men and women I have ever met, but most of them are atheists."

C. The Holy Spirit Works Through the Word of God

How does the Holy Spirit bring to us the blessings of life and salvation that are "in Christ Jesus?" What is the delivery system? Does the Holy Spirit operate directly upon the hearts and minds of people where and when he chooses, or does he need a vehicle through which he works? The issue of whether or not the Holy Spirit requires a vehicle was the source of much debate at the time of the Reformation. Martin Luther, responding to the claims of the mystics, enthusiasts, and "heavenly prophets," affirmed the clear biblical position that the Holy Spirit operates through the means of the Word of God. In Romans 1: 16, the Apostle Paul speaks of the preaching of the Gospel as "the power of God unto salvation."

In Romans 10: 6-17, he directs his hearers to the Word of God as the means whereby Jesus comes and creates faith. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

In 1 Corinthians 1: 21-24, the Apostle affirms the truth that God has chosen to save the world by the foolishness of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Ephesians 5: 18-19, the experience of being filled with the Spirit is connected to the practice of singing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs.

Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit is connected to the Word of God. While the Holy Spirit is our only teacher and will lead us into all the truth, the Bible is his only textbook.


1. The Holy Spirit is present in the midst of his people where the Word of God is taught and the Sacraments are administered. Some popular preachers claim to "release" the Spirit or call down the Spirit into an assembly. In some situations, a distinction seems to be made between the preaching of the Word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is almost as if after the sermon is over, "showtime" begins.

The Holy Spirit is not released via human agency. You receive the Holy Spirit from Jesus Christ who comes to you through the Word of God. There are no human dispensers of the Holy Spirit or "Holy Ghost Bartenders." Those who claim such titles are guilty of arrogance and presumption.

2. There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the power of the Holy Spirit connected to the Word of God is more effective in some ages than in other ages, nor is the desire of the Holy Spirit to bring people to salvation greater in times of revival and reformation than it is under more normal circumstances, This is a common misconception today among those who believe that revival comes as the result of praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout history there have been times of revival, of reformation, and of spiritual awakening, but this is not caused by a fresh outpouring or a new wave of the Holy Spirit. It would be very sad to suggest that there are people who ended up in hell because the Holy Spirit chose not to have a revival in their age. If the Holy Spirit works through the vehicle of the Word of God and the Word of God remains constant in every generation, the cause of revivals and awakenings would have to be sought in other variables.

In 19th century post-enlightenment Germany, a pastor by the name of August Tholuck preached, "And if perchance a hawker of indulgences were to appear among us, he would not do a good business; for nobody has a disquieted and alarmed conscience."

In the 16th century, as a prelude to the Reformation, the people of Germany had conscience problems. They were concerned with the issue of sin. When the Roman Catholic Church offered indulgences for sale, it became a good business. BUT... the condition was also ripe for the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, when Luther discovered the great truth of justification by grace through faith because of Christ and clearly proclaimed the same, a great reformation and revival occurred.

For revival to occur in our age, the preaching of the Law of God, the judgment of God, and the wrath of God is necessary so that the hearts of people are prepared for the hearing of the Gospel. If we down-play human sin because it is not a politically correct subject, emphasize self-esteem, and seek to promote morality without a relationship with Jesus Christ, we dare not complain about the lack of revival.

Rather than gaping heavenward and expecting God to bring revival, let us be about the business that God has given us namely, the preaching of the whole counsel of God - the Law and the Gospel. Praying for revival in our nation means praying that God would use the preaching of his Law as the instrument to break our human pride and bring us to repentance so that out of a guilty conscience we kneel before the Cross of Jesus Christ. Before such judgment will be extended to the nations, it must begin with the Church. A feel-good Christianity coupled with moralizing sermons and self-aggrandizing spirituality is a monumental hindrance to revival.

D. The Holy Spirit and the Human Will

Since the Bible defines unbelievers as being dead in their trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2: 1,5; Colossians 2: 13), there is nothing they can do by way of human reason or strength to be saved. Spiritually dead people can not make spiritual decisions. It is the Holy Spirit, working through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who brings the unbeliever to faith (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Theologically, this is called justification. In justification, the Holy Spirit acts upon the heart and will of the unbeliever externally. He operates through the Word of God that speaks to the human condition.

After conversion, the Christian is enabled to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. The Apostle Paul continually calls Christians to be active. We should think differently by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8: 5-8). We should deliver the works of our old sinful nature over to death and walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5: 16-25). We should sing spiritual songs and put the Word of Christ in our hearts (Colossians 3: 16).

In sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit is internal. While he still works through the vehicle of the Word of God that has been received into the heart, he sanctifies, leads, and guides the Christian via an internal operation, working upon the mind, the will and the emotions.


There are many churches who have a rich and dynamic understanding of justification, but are very weak in teaching sanctification. While they are quick to point out that there is nothing one can do to be saved, they fail to teach Christians how to live and walk in the Spirit now that they have been saved. Sanctification often becomes nothing more than a list of moral directives or some vague notion concerning doing good works. A clear distinction must be made between the work of the Holy Spirit in justification and the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification lest we create passive Christians.

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