Understanding the Role of the Holy Spirit

In answer to a young man’s question, I began to look into more of the specifics of how the Holy Spirit works as it is mentioned in accounts in the New Testament. Here are conclusions I have drawn from my study…

When I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord as a young teen, I was confused about the role of the Holy Spirit. I understood He would come and live in my heart. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I finally prayed and asked to be saved, I felt a little different, like an opening of understanding. As time passed and I grew older, I began to realize how the Holy Spirit seemed to impress upon me what I should do. Call it a very sensitive conscience, but it seems to me that I know now when He is prompting me to do something. When I do sense His prompting, I find myself compelled to obey.

It is interesting to know the Holy Spirit was present before Jesus came as a baby to Earth. The name is usually capitalized and if you have a Strong’s Concordance you can do a word search to see where it is used in capitals. I use the King James Bible exclusively. An important point that many do not realize is that the Spirit of the Lord (Holy Spirit) was present in Old Testament times. However, at that time there was no indwelling by the Holy Spirit. Check out 1 Samuel 16:13 which tells about the spirit of the Lord aka Holy Spirit “coming upon” David which enabled him to do the mighty acts he did. This wasn’t a continuous indwelling because the Holy Spirit only came upon someone to accomplish a specific mission at a specific time. When the mission was over, it’s implied the Holy Spirit was no longer needed. So we see the work of the Holy Spirit was ongoing throughout the ages.

Acts 1 talks about what happened after the crucifixion. The “promise of the Father” was the Holy Spirit, which seems to indicate His power would be needed by the disciples so they could become effective witnesses of Jesus in their ministry to others. Keep in mind that Jesus had already risen at this point, but had not yet gone to Heaven, so they had not received the “promise” of the Holy Spirit as yet. Acts 1:3 says Jesus was seen by them for 40 days before He ascended to Heaven. That’s how long it was before the Holy Spirit came. Verses 4-5 explain what Jesus told the disciples about when the Holy Ghost aka Holy Spirit would be given.

Believers were given a mission i.e. the Great Commission, (found in Matthew 28:19-20). We understand that the Holy Spirit is God and is present in the heart of the believer. That’s what Acts 1:5 is talking about. The Holy Spirit is the “earnest” from God that we are His, demonstrating He has kept His part of the “contract” of salvation. As Believers we are freed from the penalty of sin because Jesus paid the price we owed on the cross. We keep our promise by our submission and obedience.

The tongue speaking by the disciples in Acts 2 happened (according to online research) 50 days after Jesus’ death. The twelve apostles spoke in known languages, not necessarily known by them. Their speeches were heard by the multitude of people from all over the world. Cloven tongues of fire were seen above their heads. The cloven tongues of fire were visible when they were filled with the Holy Spirit who was enabling them to effectively give utterance or testimony of Jesus as the Christ. Again this was in specific languages. In fact the only speaking in tongues was always a known language so people listening could have understanding. It was never a babbling that was not understandable as is sometimes taught today. What would be the point to speak an unknown “language” if there was no interpreter to explain it? Speaking in tongues as is discussed in today’s world leads only to confusion.

In the New Testament in 2 Timothy 1:14, it is explained the Holy Spirit “dwelleth in us” because we have received Jesus as our Savior and Lord. This is explained in Acts 2 more fully. The Holy Spirit is that “Comforter” Jesus promised would come. After Jesus was raised from the grave, anyone who believed in Him, meaning that He is the Savior, the Son of God, would be filled with the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Spirit’s coming was to empower the Believers to do the work He commanded which was to prophesy, meaning to instruct in religious doctrine, to preach etc. (KJV dictionary).

Then we have the testimony of the disciples about the Holy Spirit. Remember Philip was one of the twelve. He proved it by doing miracles as did the other eleven. This was not witchcraft or tricks, but real change via the power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 8 tells us about Philip’s experiences preaching in Samaria. These people were somewhat despised. Their willingness to be baptized signaled a genuine belief.

At this time the door to salvation was extended to the Gentiles as demonstrated by Philip’s testimony to the Eunuch which was quite remarkable at the time.  This was rather an astounding development for the Word of God had not yet been preached to anyone but the Jews. The Jews had not considered that salvation was for any other people group besides themselves. Romans 1:16, 2:9 and other verses say the Gospel was to be preached to the Jews first then to the Gentiles. That’s the reason it was so shocking to the Jews that the Samaritans, who were outcasts, were preached to and had accepted Jesus as the Savior and then were baptized!

Then Peter and John went to Samaria also when they heard the people there had received the Word of God (Acts 8:14).  Gentiles were not in a favorable light with the Jews. They were considered unclean. Hence the message from Jesus about calling something unclean that has been cleansed.

Now that the Apostles understood the door for the Gentiles to be saved had been opened, they then told the new Samaritan Believers about the Holy Spirit and laid hands on them so they could receive Him. We don’t lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit today, for He comes in upon our acceptance. I believe the laying on of hands was a special thing that was done at that time because these Samaritans had accepted Jesus as the Savior, but had not received the Holy Spirit.  To my knowledge there is no other account where the laying on of hands took place. Other believers, namely believing Jews, had already received the Holy Spirit. You may remember also the story where Philip later ran to catch up with the traveling Ethiopian and shared the Gospel with him and then baptized the man, and he too received the Holy Spirit.

Notice that Philip was not noted as an apostle in this passage, but Peter and John were. I looked it up at this link and found a reasonable explanation: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/tools/ask-a-scholar/apostles-vs-disciples.aspx 

Basically, this passage is talking about the individual roles they were performing in this instance. Philip was acting in the role of a teacher, whereas Peter and John were acting in accordance with their mission or purpose as apostles. This article says that all of the original eleven along with the new members Mathias and Joseph aka Barsabas Justus are considered Apostles.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is where the confusion starts in trying to understand the presence of the Holy Spirit. Only Believers can have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who gives us understanding of spiritual things. Christians believe the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts when we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. Again it fulfills Jesus’ promise to us and is a sign of that promise being fulfilled.



Linda is an inspirational writer and photographer. Her writing has been published in Relate.com, Union Gospel Press, Gospel Blog, Frontline, Dollar Stretcher, Discipleship Journal - DJ Plus, At the Center magazine, Simple Joy, Cross & Quill, Hot Cars, and others. Linda's story "Stretched to My Limit" about dealing with dementia was featured in "Stolen Moments" by Elizabeth Bezant. Linda's first non-fiction book was "Homeschooling: The Modern Day One Room Schoolhouse." In it, she shares her experience as a homeschooling mom, explaining the basic principles of homeschooling for the beginner. She successfully completed her first fiction novel through Chris Baty's 2006 National Novel Writing Course (NaNoWriMo). Linda also writes inspirational articles on her Words of Encouragement Blog. Enjoy Linda's photos at Words of Encouragement Designs.

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