I believe that one of the most essential things to grasp in regards to our understanding of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
What do I mean?
Well, for many, especially specific groups that might be identified as sects or cults, they only recognise the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father. And, because of this, they de-personalise Him simply recognising that He is a kind of extension of God the Father, His power-force at work in the earth.
Such theology might remain in tact if we only had the Old Testament on which to build our theology. But one important pneumatological aspect the New Testament shows us is that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. I believe this has bearings on two major theological areas: 1) the personal nature of the Holy Spirit and 2) the divine nature of Jesus.
The Spirit is no longer simply identified as the Spirit of the the Father, but also of Christ. And I believe this comes against the notion that He is simply a force (though there are points to consider with regards to the Spirit’s personality). And this also indicates what kind of nature Christ has, the divine nature just like the Father, since the Holy Spirit is His Spirit as well.
But where does Scripture identify the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus?
And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:7)
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:19)
And it is important to also look at Jesus’ discourse on the Spirit in the whole of John 14-16. Though the Father would be sending the Spirit (i.e. John 14:26) we also see that Jesus taught that He would, likewise, be the sender of the Spirit from the Father:
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
There is a differentiation from the Father, though not a complete disconnect, and a distinct connection of the Spirit with the Son. This is crucial within the Trinitarian framework.
But why such an emphasis on Jesus’ sending of the Spirit and the Spirit being identified as the Spirit of Jesus? Because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, would continue the exact same work that Jesus initiated upon His arrival. This is why Jesus could say: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14:18). And Luke could start out his second volume, Acts, with these words: In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.
The Spirit Himself, who was both the Spirit of the Father and Son, would be sent to continue the work that Jesus was sent to originally do. But whereas the work of the Son was limited in His incarnation, the Spirit would now indwell and empower the entire company of God’s people to accomplish the same ministry and works of Jesus. Going back to John:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
Now, I am aware of what I might term as the ‘selective group’ argument and the ‘time limit’ argument. What do I mean by these two terms?
Well, the ‘selective group’ argument states that these words of John 14:12 were only expected of the original twelve. But I’m not sure that is a very defendable position and we could simply start by pointing out that the verse utilises these words: whoever believes in me. But, maybe for some, it’s not as simple as that. So let’s move on.
Here is where the fallacy lies for some with regards to John 14:12. When we think of the ‘works of Jesus’ from this passage, at least for many, they jump to think specifically of healings and miracles. Of course, this passage does teach that those who believe will do greater works. But I don’t believe this is a qualitative statement, but rather a quantitative statement, since you can’t get much greater than the Son of God Himself in all His varied works.
Thus, some make that ‘jump’ that identifies the ‘works of Jesus’, at least in the context of John, as healings and miracles. Now, the works of Jesus do include healings and miracles, but they also include proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, mercy on the poor in spirit, compassion for the hurting, washing feet of our sisters and brothers, loving our enemies, words of knowledge, lovingly touching the outcasts, and so much more.
So, here is the point. There really is no ‘selective group’ in regards to the varied works of Jesus. We have got to stop identifying this statement as only referring to the ‘sign gifts’ or whatever we want to term them. This statement is much broader than that. It goes across the board with the works of Jesus.
But, if we want to reduce this statement to such specific acts of healings, miracles, signs, wonders, etc, then we have to recognise that quite a few others were used in just these such things beyond the twelve. Such examples are:
- The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
- Stephen (Acts 6:8)
- Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
- Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
- Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
- Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11)
- The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
- The Corinthians believers (1 Corinthians 12:8-10; ch.14)
- The Galatian beleivers (Galatians 3:5)
And by no means is that a complete list, nor if we listed every single biblical instance of these following Christ’s ascension does that mean that we have then identified every such act. Even Jesus did a lot more than was recorded in Scripture (John 20:30-31). I expect the same was true of His followers.
But one final note connecting back to the original passage quoted from John 14:12. Read the rest of John 14-16, since that is the fuller context. For those who want to argue that Jesus was only speaking to the twelve, notice how many times the language is much larger than the twelve, referring to the whole company of believers to come. Do we not see even these words below as relevant to us today?
13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:13-17)
Now I am quite fine to identify that Jesus was initially speaking to the twelve. But did Jesus expect all of these words to stop there? Can we really invest in the belief that this was for twelve and the twelve alone?
Ah, but what about the ‘time limit’ argument. Many will easily recognise that others in the ‘New Testament times’ were being used in such gifts of the Spirit. But sometime at the turn of the second century, possibly following John, the apostle’s, death, some of these Spirit-gifts came to an end. They had exhausted their purpose, at least their purpose for being normative in the life of the church.
But again, this thinking is very reductionistic. Why would we expect some portion of Jesus’ ministry to continue, say two-thirds or three-fourths or even 95%, but not all of it? Oh, I know the many arguments from varying passages and theological perspectives. And I guess I cannot address every twist and turn of the cessationist perspective here in this short post. But do we really expect any part of Jesus’ ministry to have ended? Or do we really expect any part of Jesus’ ministry to have become ‘non-normative’? Mercy and teaching and gentleness are for the regular life of the body. Prophecy and healings and words of wisdom are not. Huh?
Remember, Luke started off his volume two by saying his volume one recorded all that Jesus began to do (Acts 1:1). So Acts kicks off with an expectation for things to continue and you have a church launching out into the works, all the works, of Jesus. They stepped out with mercy, compassion, serving, prayer, praise, teaching, evangelism, prophecy, healings, miracles, and even something Jesus probably never participated in, tongues and interpretation.
Remember, the Spirit who is activating these very works, again, all of these works, is the very Spirit of Jesus. You could expect nothing less, absolutely nothing less than the exact things Jesus walked in. Why? Because this is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It’s really as simple as that.
Jesus comes doing the things of the Father (John 5:19). He even announces that if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:9). And so the Spirit comes initiating in Christ’s people the exact same things that Jesus started out with. And so the church, empowered by the Spirit, should be able to state, ‘We only do the things that Jesus did. If you have seen us, you have seen Jesus.’ If only that were our testimony more regularly.
And this is across the board. Not just with the fruits of the Spirit, but also with gifts of the Spirit. Not just with ‘signs and wonders’, but also with serving and washing feet.
The Father and Son sent the Spirit for a purpose. To help empower the entire body of Christ to accomplish the entire work of Christ across the entire planet. At times, it will involve laying our hands on the sick and seeing them restored. I remember a friend of mine who laid his hands on another young man’s hands that were filled with warts. He asked in Jesus’ name for the hands to be cleared, and when he removed his hands following the prayer, there was not a trace of warts. It softened that young man’s heart. But at times, it will involve serving a bowl of hot soup to a hurting and homeless refugee with a word of kindness. Both communicate the heart of Jesus. Both are wrapped up in the works of Jesus.
So let us look to see the Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself empower us to serve with the works of Jesus, however that may look today and tomorrow. We have a mission to accomplish and we will not complete it effectively apart from the Spirit’s work. We will not walk in the works of Jesus, in all their varied aspects, without the Spirit of Jesus Himself.