Basics: A Holy Spirit Study

 The first thing that people often want to know: what/who is the Holy Spirit? First of all, He is not an it. We should refer to Him as a very personal being, a Him. He is a Person of the Godhead (the Trinity). Pneuma—Greek NT word for spirit/Spirit. Another descriptor is Paraclete: (Parakletos, Greek / in Christian theology) the Holy Spirit as advocate or counselor (John 14:16–18, 26). Read John 16:5–8, 13–14 for more about Jesus and His teachings about the Holy Spirit in what has been called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Jesus wanted His closest followers to experience the Holy Spirit. Read John 20:21–22. Jesus’ ministry continued in the Book of Acts, carried out by Spirit-empowered disciples: the power of the Holy Spirit obviously at work in the First Christian Church of Acts (e.g., Chapter 2). Also read Acts 1:8 and Acts 5:32.

Jesus and John the Baptizer spoke about the Holy Spirit early in their ministries. There were no requirements imposed on the Holy Spirit regarding how He would make a person act; there were no shared absolute responses or proofs of having the Spirit fall on them (e.g., speaking in an unknown language or “tongues”) in the early days of the New Testament. As John baptized Jesus in water, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus as a form similar to a dove, lighting on Him. This should be considered power coming directly from on high as God spoke audibly, “This is My beloved Son; in Him I am well pleased.” (See Matthew 3 verse 17.) We have no pretense for eisegesis or reason to expect that Jesus’ experience at His water baptism is normative to all; however, we are promised the gift of the Spirit at that time in Acts 2:38.

The Bible certainly contains evidences of the Holy Spirit coming upon people much earlier in history. In the Old Testament, there are examples of the power of the Spirit in the lives of people like Samson, Gideon, David, and others. Read Judges 3:9–10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:24–25; 14:6,19 and 15:14–16. See also 1 Samuel 16:13 and 2 Chronicles 15:1. We find a liberating experience in the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit is, according to 2 Corinthians 3:17, there will be freedom. James Burton Coffman describes this thoroughly in his commentary:

When a Christian is converted, receiving the Holy Spirit as an earnest of redemption, there is bestowed at the same time freedom: (1) from the law (Galatians 3:11)* ; (2) from fear (Romans 8:13); (3) from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2); (4) from sin (Romans 6:18); and (5) from corruption (Romans 8:21).**

*Galatians citation appeared to be incorrect in original quote. Edited here.

** Accessed on November 2, 2018.

The New Testament makes it obvious that the Spirit should be a big part of a Christian’s life, coming to Christ and beyond. Consider Romans 8:9 and Acts 2:38. Jack Cottrell in the book, Baptism: A Biblical Study (page 59), explains it like this: “The gift of the Spirit Himself as an indwelling presence is promised . . . ‘Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ The reality of the inner presence of the Spirit in our lives and bodies is a fact taught forcefully and clearly in Scripture.” See Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; 12:3; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Ephesians 1:13–14.

But we should point out a truth that cannot be denied; we have no access to the Holy Spirit apart from Christ. He is the One who would send the Spirit to His people. (See Luke 3:16.) It was prophesied of old; God promised to pour out His Spirit upon mankind in the Book of Joel (chapter 2 verse 28). But what does this mean for us today? Peter in Acts chapter 2 proclaimed that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled there on the day of Pentecost. But later, Paul commands us to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Passive yet imperative, this implies that there is some activity or obedience required on our part, yet it is obviously God who pours out His Spirit. Paul seems to be saying that this filling of the Spirit is ongoing, not just for the earliest days of the church of Jesus Christ.

I want to study this further and get into some current doctrinal issues associated with the Holy Spirit later in this multiple part study. This is the introduction. Expect more to come.



I have tried to teach what the Bible teaches about water baptism in a clear and direct way. That has to be the best approach. I have previously listed the purposes of water baptism. I have discussed it with others who have studied in Bible seminaries and institutions of learning. I have found some interesting points of view. They read what the Bible teaches, but many immediately just turn and follow a doctrinal book on the subject. These books are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. You may say they are written by men you trust on a myriad of issues. But, there is no direct inspiration. I ask again, “Should we not trust the Bible first and give it primacy?” When did we become so entitled as to have our own opinions about salvation?

A Pentecostal group recently posted what they contended was a healing which took place during a water baptism. They highlighted verses like Acts 22:15 and 1 Peter 3:20 on the big screen at the church above the baptistry. These verses indicate that there is a washing, a cleansing, that takes place during baptism. But when I questioned the denomination’s poster about this church news video and the implicit meanings, all he would say was that baptism is just an act of obedience. Basically, they will only call it an ordinance and nothing more. Did they read these 2 verses and immediately have a mental block? We have turned; everyone to his own way. I invite you to read the verses for yourself.

I once heard a preacher claim that Paul (a.k.a. Saul) was baptized right there as he stood up—by the Holy Spirit—not in water (Acts 22:16). I don’t see many examples of Holy Spirit baptism being described as a washing agent in the NT (re wash away your sins). There have been arguments that Titus 3:5 is an example. But I interpret, as do many scholars, that water baptism is the place/time that the Spirit comes to indwell and renew (also in Acts 2:38). Most respected Bible students will tell you that when the phrase “baptized into Christ” is used in the NT, it is referring to water baptism. Spirit baptism has a different purpose.

What is the purpose of baptism in the Holy Spirit? It is for empowerment—for people who are already Christians. The disciples in the early part of the Book of Acts did not seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit for salvation. They had been with Jesus. Of course, they were already saved. Spirit baptism is for empowerment. See Acts 1:8. For a good explanation, I recommend a link from John Piper.

Context and setting in Acts 2:38

The setting: Peter has just preached a powerful, Spirit-led message to a large crowd at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Immediately following his message, the people were convicted and asked a pressing question. Peter responded with a direct answer to that specific question.

The main idea of Peter’s message was that Jesus was the true Son of God, and many of the Jews there had, at the very least, tacitly approved of His crucifixion. All authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Jesus, and He was sitting at the right hand of the Father. He is still there. This is His rightful place as Deity, an honored Person of the godhead. He was, and is, Lord and Christ. The blood, shed because of the sacrificial love and grace of Jesus, the atonement, was now their only hope. We know that the Law could not save.

So the people were powerfully convicted by Peter’s message, and they asked what they must do. Context becomes important here in verse 37. We must make an inference about what the question meant and place something in brackets to fully understand the question. Will we fill in the blank here with the proper contextual question? Will we conclude that the question referred to actions required because of their desire to receive salvation? Or, will we conclude that they had just received salvation and wanted to know what to do next?

Since Peter did not speak to them anywhere in this text about an outward sign of an inward change, it would be most logical to conclude that the people were interested in knowing what they should do in order to receive salvation. This is the proper context.

If you say that Acts 2:38 refers only to a response after salvation, the question in verse 37 seems a bit dramatic, implying that something needs to be done immediately even though salvation has already occurred. Does that make sense? I don’t think a post-salvation action would have prompted this feeling that something serious was about to happen, this sense of the anticipation of change. “What must we do?” The question gives us a hint of desperation/urgency and that some kind of transition is impending. So if we add a bracket for clarification, it must read, “What must we do [in order to be saved]?” Also “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” seems to be a direct result of what’s just happened in verse 38. Does the Holy Spirit initially indwell us post-salvation?

There are people today who would say this was a post-salvation question and would also now tell you that you can wait for an extended period of time to be baptized after you believe in Jesus (i.e., 2 or 3 weeks later during a monthly or quarterly ceremonial service). No hurry, right?–no critical timing involved. This delay does not square with Bible teachings. Should we also allow for delayed repentance (considering what Acts 2:38 says about repentance and baptism)?

Context here definitely would lean heavily toward the idea that the word for (eis) in “for the forgiveness of sins” means “leading unto,” NOT “because of.” See 1 Peter 3:21 and Luke 13:3 for the essential purposes of baptism and repentance. God bless you in your studies.


Jesus of Nazareth (from the film)

I found this video on YouTube which takes a few scenes from the end of Jesus’ life on earth and ends with His Great Commission (postresurrection) from Matthew 28:18–20. I also heard the actor who portrays Jesus in the film today on the Eric Metaxas show. The film aired 40 years ago; Robert Powell plays the part of Jesus of Nazareth. The director was Franco Zeffirelli. I also recommend that you watch from this film the Sermon on the Mount as it is known (can also be found on YouTube).