The Holy Spirit: Understanding His Purpose and Work

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One of the most iconic, profound, and jam-packed scenes in the Gospels has to be the Last Supper. Seriously, so much happened in this one evening it’s hard to know where to begin. A Seder dinner leading up to the Passover celebration, this seminal event in the life of Jesus and His disciples took place mere hours before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Here are just a few of the standout moments that took place:

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1–20).

Jesus predicted His betrayal (Matthew 26:24–25; Mark 14:18–21; Luke 22:21–23; John 13:21-30).

Jesus predicted Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:31–35; Mark 14:27–31; Luke 22:31–34; John 13:36–38).

Jesus used the Seder elements to explain the new covenant and give us our example for communion (Matthew 26:26–30; Mark 14:22–26; Luke 22:14–20).

Jesus gave one of the most powerful and important discourses of His ministry (John 13–17), which included His revelation of a new commandment (John 13:13–35), the way to the Father (John 14:1–6), what it means to remain in Him (John 15:1–80, the prediction of persecution for believers (John 15:18–25), and the victory we can have in Him (John 16:16­–33).

But of all the significant, standout moments that took place on that night, for me, Jesus’ promise of the coming Helper, the Holy Spirit, takes the cake! At various times throughout His discourse, in John 14, 15, and 16, we see Him speak of the coming of the Spirit. Today, we’re going to explore the purpose and work of the Spirit and what the fulfillment of this promise means for us.

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

As simply as I can put this, the Holy Spirit is the third person in the triune Godhead. The title given to the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture give us a clear indication of His relationship to the Father and Son while also confirming His deity and place in the Trinity. All throughout the Old and New Testaments, you see references to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, or the Spirit of Christ. These are references to the Holy Spirit.

What Does the Spirit Do?

There are various works the Spirit of God performs. These works actually reveal to us the wondrous and beautiful personality of our Helper!

The Spirit teaches. Before Jesus departed, He encouraged and comforted the disciples by telling them He was sending “another Counselor” (John 14:16 HCSB). Just as Jesus taught the disciples, the Holy Spirit would also teach them and us. In fact, Jesus said He “will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26 HCSB). The Holy Spirit is purposed with carrying on the same kind of teaching ministry Jesus engaged in before ascending to heaven. And His teaching is so powerful, because it’s spoken directly to our hearts as He brings revelation and understanding of the things of God.

The Spirit testifies. Jesus promised the disciples the Holy Spirit “will testify about Me” (John 15:26 HCSB). Interestingly, the same word used for “testify” here is used to describe the disciples testifying about Jesus in John 15:27. This very intentional use of the same word here in succession is meant to show us that the Holy Spirit was sent to testify to us and through us about Christ; to testify that He had come from the Father to save us from our sins and that all the things He said were the truth of God’s Word. When we testify about Christ as believers, it is the Holy Spirit who is working through us to bear witness about our Savior.

The Spirit guides. Jesus proclaimed that when the Spirit would come, He would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). The picture Christ paints here is of an expert tour guide leading a searching traveler into unfamiliar territory. Paul tells us that those who are led by the Spirit are children of God (Romans 8:14). And not only does He guide us into all truth, but He guides us into the work God has called us to accomplish and helps us carry it out!

The Spirit convicts. John 16:8 speaks of the future ministry of the Spirit to convict the world. The word “convict” here means to “convince someone of something; to point something out to someone.” The Spirit is purposed with convincing sinners to repent, with persuading them to pursue the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ, to receive Christ, and be spared His judgment.

The Spirit regenerates. Anyone who receives Christ is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); they are born again (John 3:3). The one who has been born again is born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5–8), regenerated by the Spirit. Before we receive Christ, we are spiritually dead because of our sins (Ephesians 2:1–4). But when we receive Christ, His Spirit makes us alive just as He was raised from the dead (Romans 8:11). It is the indwelling of the Spirit that brings us back to life as we repent of our sins, follow Jesus, and receive His atonement.

The Spirit intercedes. This is such a beautiful and important aspect of the Spirit’s work. Paul tells us in Romans 8:26 that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. You see, we don’t always know what we should pray for, what we need, or what is best for us, but the Spirit does! So, He intercedes on our behalf with “wordless groans.” The Father understands and receives the intercession of the Spirit, answers the prayer, and works all things together for good in the life of the Christ-follower He has interceded for (Romans 8:28). The Spirit intercedes according to God’s purposes and will for us. The same word used here regarding the Spirit’s intercession for us is used to describe Christ’s intercession (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25), which tells us that both Christ and the Holy Spirit are advocating for us!

The Spirit commands. In Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit commanded that Paul and Barnabas be set apart for the work of missions. Acts 13:4 continues and tells us they were sent out by the Spirit. Then, in Acts 16:6, the Spirit prevented them from preaching in Asia. In addition, we see the Spirit direct Philip to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29), lead Jesus into the desert (Matthew 4:1), and send Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22).

The Spirit sanctifies. In John 17, Jesus prays and asks the Father to sanctify us in His truth, which is done by the Holy Spirit. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 explains that as we believe in and embrace the truths revealed by the Spirit, the Spirit will work through that to sanctify us. Sanctification is a lifelong work the Spirit works out in us and carries to completion (Philippians 1:6 ESV). It is the process by which God, through the Holy Spirit, guides us to maturity in Christ.

The Spirit equips. The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit supernaturally equips us with gifts for the work of ministry, to accomplish God’s will, and serve one another. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines the gifts of the Spirit as “a divine endowment of a special ability for service upon a member of the body of Christ.” Note that a spiritual gift is not the same as a natural talent or a passion. There may be a relationship in that a natural talent or passion is enhanced and put to good use through one’s spiritual gifts.

But we must remember that a natural talent is an ability a person may have from birth and has honed and developed through practice and study, whereas a gift of the Spirit is given by the grace of God at the moment we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. For example, having a natural talent for public speaking isn’t a spiritual gift (there are many dynamic and charismatic orators who aren’t saved and haven’t received a spiritual gift), but having the spiritual gift of evangelism is. And in fact, a talent like public speaking is often found in someone who gifted with evangelism as a believer. Being gifted at working with kids isn’t a spiritual gift, but the gift of pastor-teacher is. And the person with this spiritual gift may choose to use it in tandem with his or her natural ability to connect with children.

The Spirit fills us. The filling of the Holy Spirit is different from His other functions in that it is conditional. This unique work of the Spirit is experiential and situation-based. It’s based on the will of God to accomplish a specific work in any given situation through us. Now, in order for us to be filled with the Spirit, we must be attuned to the Spirit, seeking the Lord daily, growing in Him, living in obedience and devotion. Obedience to Christ and His Word, to the commands and principles of Scripture, are necessary in order to be filled. So, when Paul commands us to be continually filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), he is also indicating that we must be engaged in a healthy, growing, and surrendered relationship with Christ. This means not grieving (Ephesians 4:30) or quenching (1 Thessalonians 5:19) the Spirit and walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).

So, how does this “filling” actually happen? Jesus tells us that we receive this gift of the Spirit’s filling much as we receive the gift of salvation; by recognizing our need for it, asking for it, and receiving it in faith based on God’s promise to give it (Luke 11:11-13). This may or may not result in a dramatic manifestation in that exact moment, the Bible doesn’t attach an emotional expectation to being filled with God’s Spirit. However, as we go about our day, we will experience the Spirit’s presence and power relative to our exact circumstances. He meets us in the moments when we need His supernatural strength, and uses our lives to glorify Christ. 

The Actions of the Holy Spirit in Acts

  • Provides power for ministry: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me. (Acts 1:8)
  • Enables to speak in tongues: They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)
  • Emboldens believers: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
  • Identifies/defines spiritual leaders: Seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business (Acts 6:3)
  • Strengthens/comforts martyrs: But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts. 7:55)
  • Leads to ministry opportunities: Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (Acts 8:29)
  • Comforts/encourages the Church: Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
  • Gives needed confirmation: While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. (Acts 10:19)
  • Leads and fills with confidence: Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. (Acts 11:12)
  • Reveals future events/needs: Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. (Acts 11:28)
  • Calls/ordains spiritual leaders: As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
  • Exposes/rebukes spiritual error/adversity: Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him…(Acts 13:9)
  • Fills with joy: And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)
  • Gives wisdom and guidance to spiritual leaders: For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…(Acts 15:28)
  • Checks/diverts our plans: They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.(Acts 16:6)
  • Compels to proclaim the gospel: When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:5)
  • Provides spiritual overseers for the Church: Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God. (Acts 20:28)

Final Thoughts

So what does this all mean for us today? It means we have unlimited access to God—access to His presence, knowledge, wisdom, power, compassion, strength, understanding, and peace. It means we can be bold and courageous because we know the Spirit will fill us, equip us, and work through us. It means we don’t have to fear because the Spirit is our guide, our comforter, and our counselor. What a privilege to be indwelled by the Spirit of God, to be the vessel and temple of our Lord! I pray you would align your heart to His leading, that you would walk in His work, and that you would continually be filled!

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About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.