Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Holy Spirit in Missions


In times past God spoke with an audible voice through the prophets (Hebrews 1). In these last days, God has spoken to us by His own Son. This Son once walked the earth, God’s presence among men.

What could get better than that?

The Spirit! Now, believers possess the Spirit; and are also owned by that same Spirit. We are our Father’s prized possessions, kept and preserved by God Himself who gives us the Spirit as our seal – our arrabon – an earnest or pledge, an engagement ring for a wedding that can never be cancelled and for a marriage feast that will last forever (Ephesians 1:14; Revelation 19:7-10)!

We should not, therefore, long for some “good old days” when we could see Jesus with physical eyes and hear God’s voice with physical ears. Sight and hearing occur across distance. The Spirit, however, is too close for that. He indwells us (I Corinthians 3:16)!

Jesus Himself said that it was needful that He should go away so that the Spirit could come (John 14). The purposes of God did not take a step backward when the Spirit replaced Jesus’ ministry on earth. Jesus spoke of this as an advance. Jesus spoke of this as even a greater benefit than His very presence among men during His earthly ministry.

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God. The Spirit bears witness to Christ. The Spirit makes the work of Christ effectual. He applies it to us. The Spirit makes the Lord “our Lord.” He makes the historical Christ a living personal presence. The Holy Spirit makes the Gospel the Gospel for us.

We have no mere religion of facts or rituals. Our faith is not so much religion at all but relationship. And this relationship is so deep that is does not merely involve closeness; it involves actual indwelling! Not only is the Holy Spirit the presence of God among men; He is God’s presence living in men who believe! Whereas in times past, the Spirit fell “upon” men (Ezekiel 11:5; Judges 6:34; I Samuel 10:10) now the Spirit is “in” all who believe (Romans 8:1-11; Hebrews 10:16; John 14:17).

The basics we all agree on

Before we speak about the Holy Spirit’s role in missions, let’s cover the basics again:

We believe that the Holy Spirit is God of very God, and a personal one at that. He is not some impersonal force (Acts 5:3-4, 1 Cor. 3:16). He is omnipotent (Micah 3:8; Acts 1:8, Rom. 15:13,19), omniscient (Isaiah 40:13-14; 1 Cor. 2:10-11), and omnipresent (Psalm 139:7). He is not the privilege of some higher class of Christians, but inhabits all believers (Rom.8:9-16, Gal. 4:6, I Jn 3:24, I Jn 4:13).

In this article, I want to concisely speak of the Holy Spirit’s role in the great advance of the Gospel throughout the whole earth, the Holy Spirit’s role in missions and evangelism.

We need the Holy Spirit to bring us to salvation and then to lead us continually. We often forget, however, the role of the Spirit in missions, in bringing salvation to the ends of the earth. That, too, is His job. It is not as if Jesus died to bring some in and the Spirit is merely the mother that nurses her own.

The Holy Spirit, on the contrary is God’s great missionary. He is that “Lord of the harvest” in Matthew 9 that sends forth the labourers into the fields. He commissions, sets apart, equips and sends. Furthermore, once He sends people to do the work, He accompanies that work to make it effectual and is already there working in the hearts of the recipients once the Gospel is preached.

At all stages, beginning, progress, and end – missions belongs to the Holy Spirit. He saves. He calls. He sets apart. He sends. He directs. He is everywhere in the process and on both sides of the witness. He places words in the mouths of his sent out ones and He is already in the ears of the hearer, opening them to the truth. He commands us to go and yet He goes with us. If in our witness, we are dragged before heathen courts, the Spirit will even place the words in our mouths (Matthew 10:20). And when we arrive at our place of witness, the Spirit who has sent us has not only gone alongside of us (such as a paraclete would) but has also preceded us and is there waiting on us to announce those precious Words of Life.

A Concise biography the of Holy Spirit

From eternity past the Spirit fellowshipped in perfect harmony with the Father and the Son. At creation it was the Spirit that brooded over the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2) and gives life to all that live (Psalm 104:30). If the Spirit withdrew in all senses of the word, all life would cease (Job 34:14-15). Despite the Fall, sin and the Flood, the Spirit did not withdraw totally. The Spirit, instead, equipped those in the Old Testament for service (Numbers 27:18, Judges 3:10; I Samuel 16:13) and caused His prophets to speak of the Savior to come (II Peter 1:21).

It was the Holy Spirit that fell upon Jesus at His baptism, commissioning Him for service (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The Spirit compelled Jesus into the wilderness for His divine conflict with Satan (Luke 4), and afterward Jesus emerged victorious in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit also empowered Jesus to perform miracles. In fact, the Spirit came and remained on Jesus “without measure” (John 3:34-25; John 1:32) throughout His earthly ministry.

As Jesus prepared to complete His task and go away, He promised the Spirit to his disciples. True to that promise, the Spirit came in power to those in Jerusalem with a view not to stop there but to go to the whole world. The Holy Spirit led the steps of these first ministers and directed their outreach. The Spirit authenticated His Word with signs and wonders (Mark 16:20; Acts 2:22; Acts 8:6).

The Holy Spirit even settled disputes; when conflict arose over whether one needed to adopt Jewish cultural forms in order to become Christians, the verdict that was handed down was one which “pleased the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28). As Paul and his apostolic ministry team aimed to minister in new unreached areas, the Spirit even diverted their travel trajectory west into Europe rather than east into Asia (Acts 16:6).

We read much of this work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles. This account of the “Acts of the Apostles” however, might more accurately be thought of as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Peter and Paul, after all, are not the main characters at all! The Spirit is the hero. He moves, energizes, equips and enlarges the New Testament church and deserves all the credit.

From the very first verses of Scripture (Genesis 1:2) to the very last (Revelation 22:17), the Spirit is present and working. Below are some specific ways He works, with a focus on the spread of the Gospel to the whole world.

The Spirit is our missions mobilizer

The descent of the Holy Spirit was the causative factor in the first great movement towards the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8: " But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Thus, like the pistol shot signaling the beginning of a marathon, the descent of the Spirit precipitated a rush towards the ends of the earth, a race that has been ongoing now for two millennia. Not only did a mighty rush of wind signal the Spirit’s descent but a mighty rush of souls into the kingdom followed. The Spirit was poured out in order to gather in some from every corner of the earth.

In Acts 8:29, the Spirit initiates another new outreach – to an Ethiopian eunuch. The Spirit tells Philip, “Go!”...and Philip runs to the chariot. Oh, what obedience to the call! After Philip’s divine appointment is completed, (v. 39) Philip is then “caught away” by the Spirit for further witness.

The Spirit labors to make men labor

Active and energetic human effort is always involved in great movements of the Spirit. Look again at the example of Philip above. He trekked to the desert and then ran after a chariot in order to witness to someone.

We cannot sit idly by and hope for the Spirit’s work. When was the last time we chased any chariots! However, we also cannot merely stir up a lot of activity without prayer or due regard for Scripture and call this revival. We are not to be idle in the means, nor are we to make an idol out of the means.

God moves, and then we move. This could be called “cooperation,” but such terminology contains baggage. I prefer to call it “us working because God works in us” (Philippians 2) or “walking in the good works that God has already ordained for us” (Ephesians 2). God works so that we will work. The Spirit labors in us to make us labor in the Spirit. Let us therefore engage in some holy sweat!

Notice the interplay in Acts 13 between those called by God, the larger corporate body and the Holy Spirit:

Acts 13:1-4: As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

From Acts 13, and also from Acts 15:22-28 we see that when the Spirit moves, His church moves. The Spirit approved. God’s sent ones approved, and the whole church approved such that this new effort “seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28).

The Spirit equips and empowers

The Spirit fell on select individuals in the Old Testament for special service (Numbers 27:18, Judges 3:10; I Samuel 16:13). The anointing with oil was symbolic of this. In this New Testament “fullness of time” how much more this is true. The Holy Spirit gifts the whole church with power and anoints each one of us with individual giftings (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4; I Peter 4:10). The Spirit empowers each and every believer to grow in the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The church, indeed, is “charismatic” in that it possesses the charismata, the giftings of the Spirit. These gifts of the Spirit need not be loud and visible, but they are real nonetheless. Believers, full of the Spirit, have bellies full of not just springs but “rivers” of living water (John 7).

Some Christians are called to special tasks. Often when these are called, they are usually overwhelmed with self-doubt and fears of inadequacy. There is much comfort in the fact that the Spirit is the one who calls; and those whom He calls He will surely equip and empower.

The Spirit gives the message of missions

The Spirit not only calls and equips people to witness, the Spirit is the one who gives the message to preach. The Spirit thus gives not only the motivation but the meat of missions. The message of missions is given by the Spirit, who moved in holy men of old to pen the Scriptures (II Peter 1:21).

The Spirit directs missions

Again, already mentioned above are clear examples of how the Holy Spirit guides missions and even directs new initiatives. How does the Spirit guide? The Spirit leads us to do His will by the Scripture, by legitimate desires (“if a man desires the office of a bishop...” I Timothy 3:1), and by the corporate decision of his church (Acts 15:28, “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit”). During the era of the writing of the New Testament the Spirit also directed by vision and prophecy.

The Spirit gives the fruit of missions

Finally, the Spirit is the one who blesses and determines the yield of our labor. Some plant and some water, but it is the Lord that gives the increase (I Corinthians 3:6). If it is Spirit that applies the work of Christ for salvation... then it is the Spirit that applies the work of Christ for salvation (John 3:5). Full stop. The Holy Spirit is not merely an aid and an advantage to mission; but an absolute necessity. The Spirit is not one ingredient among many, but the main ingredient that has no substitutes.

The Holy Spirit is the one who births new souls into life by regeneration (Titus 3:5) and thus we are “born of the Spirit” when we are saved (John 3). Thus it is “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). How much we need the Spirit’s leading every day!


This article is nowhere near exhaustive. Reader, please search the Scriptures yourself. Use this article not as an authority but as a jumping off point to research the richness of the Biblical record concerning our “Lord of the Harvest”- the Holy Spirit.

Revelation chapter 22 is at the very end of the Scriptures and these last verses of this last chapter are appropriate to become my last words on this subject of the Holy Spirit’s role in missions and outreach.

In Revelation 22:17 we read: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

The Holy Spirit and the bride of Christ, the church itself, invites sinners to drink of the water of life. Being the Spirit-filled body of Christ that we are, let us now be true to this Scripture and invite the lost around us to drink deeply.

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