Seven Ministries of the Holy Spirit Found in the Old Testament

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When we think of the Holy Spirit, we often assume that the Holy Spirit comes to us on the day of Pentecost. If we take that assumption, we would make the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts, our starting point for understanding the Holy Spirit. However, this is not the case. The Holy Spirit is one of the members of the triune God and, therefore, we meet the Holy Spirit all through the Bible.

One way of thinking about the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is to examine every mention of the Holy Spirit and try to understand what we can learn about the Spirit. If you study all of the passages together, you will discover that there are seven key ministries of the Holy Spirit found in the Old Testament. Let’s explore each one.

First, the Spirit is the source of all life. The source of God’s life in us, in you and me, in everybody. This image of God is one of the marks that unites all of humanity. It is the Spirit of God who gives life to us and marks us as bearers of the image of God. Another way of saying this is that it is the Holy Spirit who makes us distinct from the animals. This is why Jesus, in John 20:22, breathed on the disciples and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” It was meant to be a recollection of the first creation, even as Jesus inaugurated the new creation which was now breaking in upon the people of God.

Second, the Spirit is the one who makes God’s revelation known to us. We believe that God is a God of self-­disclosure. That means that he longs for us to know him and to understand his ways. God has not only revealed his Word to us, but he helps us to understand it and apply it to our lives by his Spirit. This should be a normal part of our Christian experience as we read God’s Word, or hear it proclaimed. In fact, Paul makes the Spirit’s guidance in our lives one of the defining marks of the Christian when he declares, “those who led by the Spirit of God, are children of God” (Rom. 8:14).

Third, the Spirit grants us discernment and wisdom. We all face many decisions in our lives, as well as the need to understand how to raise our children, or how to respond to various challenges in the surrounding culture. This requires wisdom and discernment. The Holy Spirit gives us the wisdom and discernment when we need it. My wife and I, like many of you, have faced important decisions and major crossroads throughout our life together. As we prayed and asked God for guidance, he has faithfully led us through the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit. We see this in the Jerusalem council where the apostles asked for wisdom when they were responding to God’s work among the Gentiles. They preceded their decision by the wonderful phrase, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials” (Acts 15:28).

Fourth, the Spirit anoints us for effective service and leadership. The gifts of the Spirit not only include the gift to pastor or teach, but also the gift of administration or leadership or service. All of us have gifts that God has given us to use for his glory. The Spirit helps us to discover our gifts and then he empowers us for the effective use of those gifts.

Fifth, the Spirit convicts of sin and unites our hearts that we might not sin. This ministry of the Holy Spirit begins before we even become Christians, as he brings conviction of our sins and helps us to see our need for Christ. It continues on throughout our Christian lives as he purifies us and makes us holy. The Holy Spirit, for example, is the one who prompts our heart to ask someone to forgive us, or prompts us to pray for someone, or give them a word of encouragement. In the Upper Room teachings of Jesus, he taught us that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

Sixth, the Spirit manifests the power of God to heal and transform lives and society. The Spirit is always seeking to introduce God’s righteous reign and rule in the midst of a fractured, broken world. This work of the Spirit happens both personally (as when we pray for healing in our bodies) as well as in society, as he seeks to set things right which are not aligned with his kingdom. When someone is sick, we are commanded to call for the elders of the church to pray and “anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” and the prayer offered in faith will “make the sick person well” (James 5:14–15). Oil, as we shall explore, is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

Finally, the Spirit universalizes God’s presence to all nations. The Spirit is always beckoning us out into the world to extend God’s rule and reign to all peoples, particularly those who have not yet called upon him. It was the Holy Spirit who spoke to the church at Antioch and called Paul and Barnabus into the fruitful, church-planting work that we know today as his three missionary journeys (see Acts 13:1–3).

One thing that is so amazing about God’s Word (among many things) is that those seven ministries of the Holy Spirit, which are all taught in the Old Testament, are brought over, celebrated, and renewed in the New Testament. They bud in the Old Testament, and they come into full flowering in the New Testament.

Did you enjoy this entry? It is part of a book by Timothy Tennent titled, The Spirit-Filled Life. In its pages, Tennent studies acts of the Spirit in the Old and New Testament, historic conversion stories, as well as modern examples from around the world, exploring the three great channels through which the Holy Spirit works in our lives:

  • power for global witness
  • holiness for sanctified purity
  • discernment for faithful living

Are you ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Pentecost wasn’t just a one-time event but is an ongoing process—the knot that ties the church to its holy, empowered mission in the world.

Are you looking for the fire of God to fall upon your life? Be ready. You, too, can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and it will change your life and the life of your church forever.

Get it from our store here.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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