I mentioned earlier that many non-Pentecostal, non-Charismatic churches have a contemporary service where people freely raise their hands in worship. Many have incorporated not only the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit into their statement of faith but also the empowering and gifting work of the Spirit.
Oblivious to the work of the Holy Spirit, however, some churches in Santa Ana and the Southland remain in the dark ages of the Christian movement. One church’s statement of faith is to a large extent a statement of what they don’t believe in. They emphatically reject the Ecumenical Movement, Calvinism, Arminianism, Pentecostalism, New Evangelicalism, Pseudo-Fundamentalism, Contemporary Christian Music, Roman Catholicism, and individuals like Rick Warren, Chuck Smith, Billy Graham, Robert Schuler, Bill Gather and others. Indeed these organizations and these men are pretty much in the same category as the devil himself. This church’s statement of faith reminds me of Westboro Baptist Church, the hatemongering group that goes around picketing the funerals of “liberal” politicians or anyone associated with them (Elizabeth Edwards, supporters of Gabrielle Giffords, etc.), as well as service personnel who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
What I want to point out is that aside from their mention of the Spirit as part of the Trinity and the Spirit’s involvement in the birth of Jesus, not only is there an absence of any statement about the work of the Holy Spirit – there is no mention of the Spirit at all. They write of holiness and separation from the world but appear to know nothing of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. They write of Christian Militancy but not a word of the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Their “holiness” is in reality an extreme form of legalism and their power or militancy seems to be mere human effort void of the Holy Spirit’s presence. All this points to the importance of our continuing study of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Work of the Spirit in the New Testament before the Baptism of Jesus
Unique Conception. Not only would the Spirit be upon the Messiah, but from the very beginning the Spirit was upon his mother Mary, overshadowing her with the divine power of a new creation. This creative power of God reminds us of the Spirit hovering over the waters at Creation. But prior to this time no conception like this one had ever occurred. Nothing like it has occurred since then. The conception of the Messiah was truly unique. Still, this unique work of the Spirit was in keeping with the kind of activity of the Spirit we see in the Old Testament, especially in creation:
“And the angel answered and said to her, `The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.'” (Lk. 1:35)
The “Spirit…upon” denotes an “outer” working of the Spirit. God is again bringing into existence a new creation through one Man, a second Adam, with whom he will be well pleased and through whom he will create a new people of God.
An “Outer Working” Consonant with the Old Testament Era. In this Old Testament Era I am including not only the Old Testament period and the four hundred years between the testaments, but also the period between the incarnate birth and the public baptism and anointing of the messianic Son of God. The unique conception of the Messiah aside, there was no new working of the Spirit until his outpouring at the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist belonged to an earlier era than Jesus and his disciples. John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Old Testament era, was filled with the Spirit while still in his mother’s womb (Lk. 1:15). This of course was most unusual but not surprising considering his unique calling (Matt. 11:9). Nevertheless, it was a filling of the Spirit in line with the Old Testament sense of being filled.
The unique work of the Spirit in the conception of Jesus Christ the God-Man, and the other instances of the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament prior to the baptism of Jesus, are all identical to the way the Spirit operated in the Old Testament. Here we find the “outer” work of the Spirit empowering people for ministry, including, but not limited to 1) preaching that results in turning back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord (Lk. 1:35); 2) a prophetic pronouncement of blessing (Lk. 2:25-28); and 3) prophesying (Lk. 1:67), all in the tradition of the Old Testament with an emphasis on select individuals.
Pimpleimi. Whenever Luke uses the Greek word pimpleimi (“filled”) with the Holy Spirit the indication is an “outer,” empowering work of the Holy Spirit:
1) “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine of liquor; and he will be filled (pimpleimi) with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.” (Lk. 1:15-16)
The Holy Spirit will empower John to minister in the spirit and power of Elijah, (Lk. 1:17), enabling him to preach in such a way that many will return to the Lord. According to New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall this dedicated, committed, non-liquor drinking, ascetic prophet of the Lord displayed the mighty power of the Holy Spirit in causing many to repent and turn from their sinful ways to a genuine relationship with the Lord. (The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text)
2) “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled (pimpleimi) with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice, and said, `Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!'” (Lk. 1:41-42)
The filling of Elizabeth caused her to cry out with a prophetic pronouncement of blessing.
3) Lk. 1:67: “And his father Zacharias was filled ( pimpleimi) with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying…”
The empowering of Zacharias resulted in a prophetic word.
Another instance of this “outer” working of the Spirit is found in Lk. 2:25-30:
“And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation….’” (NASB)
The Holy Spirit was upon this righteous and devout elderly gentleman who kept the Jewish law. God’s oracle to him was that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. The Spirit led him into the temple. When Mary and Joseph entered carrying the baby Jesus, excitedly Simeon took the babe in his arms and (filled with the Spirit) he blessed God and made a pronouncement.
The “Spirit upon” signifies an “outer” working of the Spirit in this moving display of God’s awesome declaration that the baby Jesus is the salvation of the world – a word given through an old man filled with the Spirit of God, bringing his life and ministry to completion.