The Holy Spirit and the Birth of the Church
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Two essential truths stand out in the recorded history of the New Testament Church. First of all, there was a definite, historical encounter with the Holy Spirit which dynamically empowered God’s people to be who they had not been before: the Church. Second, there was an ongoing encounter with the Spirit through which the Church was continually recreated and re-empowered.
It began with this dynamic encounter, recorded by Luke in Acts chapter two, between the Holy Spirit and the men and women who followed Jesus. This encounter resulted in a radical change in their lives. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, fell upon them like a violent rushing wind, like fire, and “all were filled with the Holy Spirit.” This was an explosive, living encounter with God and all were impacted. Peter and Andrew, Mary and James and John and the others did not stand around discussing whether or not this experience fit their theological traditions. It did not. They did not convene a committee to decide if this experience is for everyone or only a few. All were filled. All were changed.
There were two necessary preconditions for this initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
1. First was a work of inner cleansing which would allow the Lord to place His Spirit in human vessels. Centuries before, through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord had said:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
This inner cleansing required a holy sacrifice, a perfect, unblemished Lamb by whose atoning work we would be washed, cleansed of sin. Jesus provided that sacrifice. All who repent of their sin snd place their trust in Christ as God’s holy Lamb are forgiven and cleansed of sin.
2. A second precondition was that the church wait patiently for the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit. Jesus had said, “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
The church was directed to wait for the outpouring of the Spirit but they were not waiting passively. This was a time of prayerful fellowship: “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer …” (Acts 1:14).
It was a time of joyful anticipation: “And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52)
It was a time of praise and worship: “and were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:52, 53).
There was even an administrative meeting — the selection of another apostle to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26).
Most important though, is how they were waiting. They were waiting in unity — with one heart and one mind and one spirit. In Acts 1:14 we read, “These all with one mind (or one accord) were continually devoting themselves to prayer.” The phrase, one mind, in the language Luke was using, is homothumadon. We read this word again in 2:1, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together (homothumadon) in one place.”
The most literal translation of homothumadon is like-passioned — of the same passion or breath. Those men and women gathered in the upper room shared one overriding passion: to know, worship and proclaim Jesus Christ. This was a precondition for the outpouring of the Spirit.
There was activity during this time of waiting — prayer, worship, rejoicing, administration, all in a context of unity. But we do not read of anyone being converted to the faith nor do we read of any miracles nor any acts of ministry amongst the poor — no evangelism, no outreach ministry.
This presents us with a very clear picture of the Church which Jesus desired to create: a Church which would not, which could not, move out into the world on its own but must wait on the Spirit for guidance, for inspiration and for power.
This outpouring of the Spirit is described in a number of different ways. In Acts 1:5 Jesus said, “You will be baptized (baptizo) with the Holy Spirit.” The word baptizo refers to something immersed in water and could be used in reference to a piece of wood at the bottom of the sea. It is not only immersed in water but saturated with water, water-logged. Jesus told His disciples to wait until they were immersed in, filled with, saturated with the Holy Spirit.
Baptizo is also used of a piece of bread dipped in sauce — it’s no longer the same bread after that. It has a different consistency, different taste. God wants us to have a different consistency through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Baptizo is used to describe the dying of a garment. The dye not only covers the garment but is in the thread, it infuses the cloth. God wants to saturate us, infuse us with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:8 resembles Old Testament language: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon (eperchomai) you.” Eperchomai has to do with the putting on of a garment. The idea is not so much that we put on the Holy Spirit but rather, the Holy Spirit puts us on, wears us as the human instrument through whom He can release the ministry of Jesus.
Acts 2:4 refers to a filling: “And they were all filled (pletho) with the Holy Spirit.” Pletho is a word that is used when there is an overflow, more than enough. In serving our Lord in this world, we don't depend on the scant resources of past experience or program. We receive the overflow of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:17 speaks of outpouring: “I will pour out (ekcheo) of my Spirit on all mankind.”
Ekcheo (ek keo) refers to an outpouring of abundance, a resource of release, like the opening of the gates of a mighty dam; though this produces a great noise as the water thunders down the wall of the dam, the purpose is not noise but energy which lights a city. So with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The purpose is a release of the life of God energizing a human life.
Acts 8:16 provides yet another insight into the Holy Spirit impacting believers, “For He had not yet fallen upon (epipipto) any of them.” Epipipto means to fall upon, embrace or seize. It is a word used in love letters of that time. It describes a person held completely in the embrace of another. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) the father ran to meet the son and fell upon him, embraced him — epipipto. It is the picture of a man capturing a long lost son in an embrace of overflowing thanksgiving and yearning compassion.
The Holy Spirit wants to capture us in heaven’s embrace, wants us to be caught up in the fulness of God's love and to overflow that love to others whom God would embrace through us. The Bible says that God redeemed us by the blood of Christ “according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7,8). The lavishing of grace upon us includes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit within us in an epipipto, an embrace of God’s life and power and love.
Acts 2:38 speaks of a gift to be received: “And you will receive (lambano) the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This word is also used in Acts 8:17, “They were receiving the Holy Spirit.”
Lambano means to take hold of, to seize or receive. This is the human side of epipipto — we take hold of, embrace, seize the Holy Spirit who desires to embrace us. This speaks of our willingness to receive, to yield, to take hold of that which God desires to give and to do in our lives. Jesus promised that we shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon us but we must receive, take hold of the promise.
Probably the most frequently used term in reference to this experience is “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” This is an acceptable term, since God the Father used it (John 1:33). God the Son used it (Acts 1:5) and God the Holy Spirit inspired both Scriptures. 1 We might say that the phrase “baptized in the Holy Spirit” has something of a Trinitarian stamp of approval on it.
Also, John the Baptist used the term (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and obviously the four evangelists in the preceding passages. Finally, the Apostle Peter used it (Acts 11:16).
What does it mean when we say, “The Holy Spirit fell on that person” or “He was baptized in the Holy Spirit” or “She was filled with the Spirit”? Stanley Horton, a noted biblical scholar, says that we are talking about an “immersion into a relationship with a divine Person.” 2 The word “immersion” is especially relevant here because as we said, in the classical Greek the word “baptize” is used in reference to a sunken, water-logged ship. But this is not immersion from the outside in — rather, from the inside out. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
The disciples in the upper room waited until Pentecost for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the church but from that day forward, when we repent of sin and place our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are not only forgiven of our sin, we are not only spiritually regenerated as new creations in Christ but also the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity comes to live in us.
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (I Cor. 3:16).
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (I Cor. 6:19).
“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9).
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).
The Holy Spirit resides in the believer from the moment of new birth witnessing to the believer of his or her new life. But we need more than an inner witness of the Spirit. We need the empowering, sanctifying life of the Holy Spirit washing throughout our whole being — through our emotions, our intellect, our body, energizing us to live the new life and progressively transforming us into persons who represent and overflow the life of and ministry of Jesus. The Lord desires to immerse us into relationship with Himself so that He can overflow our lives into the world around us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The Lord Jesus wants to extend His ministry through us as His Spirit empowers, inspires and guides us.
To visualize this, imagine the believer as a field of wheat with an irrigation canal running through it. There is a foot of water in the canal and this represents the witness and presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer. But it is not until the water fills and overflows the canal that the surrounding field will receive enough water for the wheat to prosper and grow.
So it is in the believer. As the Spirit fills the emotions and personality and intellect of the believer we see a blossoming, a ripening. We see old habit patterns being broken and new responses developing. The old life, characterized by self-effort and self-centered vices begins to give way to a new life, a new self characterized by a new center and source of motivation — the Holy Spirit. We see old talents made new and new gifts, natural and supernatural manifested in the believer. We see a greater vitality, a truer capacity to love God and people. Especially we see a deeper awareness of God’s presence and God’s will; and we experience a greater desire and empowerment to carry out that will. The Holy Spirit is present in all who have truly encountered Jesus, believed in Him and surrendered to His Lordship. But the depth of change and the empowerment for service corresponds to the yieldedness of the individual to this infilling river of the Spirit, overflowing the canal into the field, encompasing the entire being of the believer.
Then, the Holy Spirit is able to overflow our lives into the world around us. This is the Lord’s desire, “And you shall be my witnesses.” (By the way, the New Testament word for witness is martus which refers to being poured out — the poured out ones. That’s what the Holy Spirit wants to do — He wants to pour out through us the life and ministry of Jesus).
Another picture that can help us realize the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is to see ourselves as a house into which the Holy Spirit has entered. But does He have access to every room? As we invite Him into every aspect of our being, there is a progressive work of transformation which leads to a divine enablement to live this new life and a divine empowerment to be witnesses.
We certainly see this change in those followers of Jesus who were gathered together on the day of Pentecost. They had walked with Jesus, had professed their faith in Him and had known something of the presence of the Holy Spirit — in John 14:17 Jesus said that the Holy Spirit was abiding with them and would someday live in them. Now in Acts 2:4 we read, that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” In the next few chapters, or might we say, in the next few hours and months and years of their lives, we see them moving on a level of gift and ministry which they had not known before. We see them living lives radically and dynamically different from the lives they had lived in the past.
True, there had been times during the ministry of Jesus when the disciples, the twelve and the seventy, had participated with Jesus in ministry but this was the result of limited anointing for particular seasons of service, not the result of Spirit-filled, Spirit-transformed lives. All too often the same old personalities were visible in the disciples, manifesting the all-too-familiar traits of self-reliance, self-centeredness and sometimes outright failure. But when the Holy Spirit filled and overflowed their lives, these men and women became more than they had been before — not just followers of Someone, not just disciples who believe in Someone but ministers who were able to actualize and live their beliefs.
It was no longer an outward to inward anointing — Jesus blessing them, Jesus laying His hands on them and commissioning them, Jesus rebuking or commanding them. After the infilling of the Holy Spirit it became an inward to outward anointing — ministry resulting not from outward compulsion or influence but from inner change brought about by the creative, transforming and vitalizing presence and overflow of the Holy Spirit.
This is not to say that the disciples were perfected at Pentecost — their personalities would continue to develop and mature throughout their earthly ministries. But now there was a new dynamic for ministry — the inner dynamic of immersion into Divine relationship. They relied on Jesus just as much, if not more, than ever before but it was no longer an outward Person they leaned on. Now, it was the inward Presence.
On Pentecost there was a dynamic encounter between the Holy Spirit and the men and women who followed Jesus. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” What were they saying? In 2:5-11 we read that the disciples, in a wide variety of languages, were telling forth the mighty works of God. They were preaching, praising and worshipping — testifying of the kingdom of God breaking into history.
This drew a large crowd and evoked an incredulous reaction. Peter’s sermon was in response to the crowd and was a continuation of the Holy Spirit’s gifting of the disciples. All true preaching is Spirit-inspired and therefore, miraculous, but Peter's sermon may have been doubly miraculous in that it was understood by everyone in that large and diverse group. This is obvious from the response recorded in 2:37. Either Peter was preaching in a common language understood by all, which is possible, or the Holy Spirit was translating his words into the individual languages as he spoke, which is also possible. Or possibly Peter was speaking in languages he had not learned as the Spirit enabled him. Or possibly other disciples were translating into the various languages of the crowd as the Spirit “gave them utterance.”
The point is not how this happened but that it did happen and a miracle occurred as Peter preached. He related the event of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the prophecy of Joel, thereby declaring the beginning of the Kingdom Age: “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29).
Even as the Holy Spirit worked in Peter to inspire the sermon, He also worked in the hearts of the listeners to convict and convince (which is one of the works of the Spirit, see John 16:8, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”). We know that the Spirit was at work amongst the multitude because in Acts 2:37 we read: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’”
No doubt the Spirit had long been at work in the life of each person present that day, calling to them through the events and circumstances of life, preparing their hearts to receive the word of truth. Peter preached that word of truth under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the people were convicted as the Spirit, climaxing a lifetime of work with each listener, applied the Word to each heart, piercing each heart with the laser scalpel of truth.
Under conviction, the people cried out for direction and Peter replied: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:38,39). The result was that, “Those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (2:41). Notice that the promise of forgiveness of sin included the promise of the gift of the Spirit.
So we see this outpouring, this “immersion into relationship” with God, was available not only to the disciples but to all who believed. The community was growing as the Holy Spirit empowered the preaching and no longer is this simply a community of believers and worshippers waiting on God. Now we see also a community of doers, ministers, evangelizers and proclaimers.
We see continuing evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit in the early Church community in seven areas: in a common devotion to truth, a devotion to prayer, a devotion to fellowship, the manifesting of miraculous signs and wonders, in a community life of praise and worship and favor and the continuing growth of the young Church (Acts 2:42-47).
1. First, there was a church-wide love for the truth: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42).
New believers not only were Spirit-birthed into the kingdom of God as they listened to the truth but they grew, matured as they fed on that truth. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So it is only reasonable that people birthed into new life by the word of God would have a hunger for and devotion to apostolic teaching. God’s word is light and milk and bread, creative and dynamic, performing its work in us who believe (I Thess. 2:13).
A Spirit-birthed, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church has a deep hunger for the word of God.
2. There was a church-wide devotion to prayer: “They were continually devoting themselves to … prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Having spent a lifetime separated from the living God but now reconciled to God, the people were naturally drawn into conversation and communion with God. And that’s what prayer is. Prayer is an expression of restored fellowship between God and people. God is a social Being and a communicating Being. Created in His image, we too are social, we too have the ability and desire to communicate. Prayer is so much more than ritual — it is conversation and communion.
A Spirit-birthed, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church has a true heart for prayer.
3. There was a church-wide devotion to fellowship: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
This was a relational church centered on fellowship with God and one another.
a. Fellowship was first of all being built between the believers and God. Salvation is the restoration of relationship between God and forgiven sinners. Relationship with God is nurtured in the teaching of the Scriptures for it is the Scriptures that reveal the truth about God. As we learn about the Lord, as we see and understand Him more clearly, we grow in our desire and capacity to worship Him, commune with Him in prayer and serve Him.
The Apostle John later wrote, “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3). Through spiritual rebirth we are reconciled to God our Creator and Savior. Our communion with Him is the heart of a living church.
b. Because of this Godward fellowship, community could be built among the believers, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).
True and deep fellowship with the Father and the Son leads to sincere fellowship among the believers. This Spirit-based community was characterized by genuine concern for the wellbeing of each member of the Church, “And they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45). They were also “breaking bread from house to house … taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).
Obviously, if our primary fellowship is with God then our fellowship with one another will reflect the character of God. It is entirely natural, then, that the early Church was a community of compassion and joyful sharing reflecting the compassionate heart of a God who gladly pours out His blessings upon us.
A Spirit-birthed, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church loves to fellowship with God and people.
4. It was a church in which miracles — signs and wonders — manifested.
“Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (Acts 2:43).
Signs and wonders are expressions of the presence of God in our midst. God delights in revealing Himself to us — His kindness, His justice, His power, His mercy. In Acts 3:1-10 we read of the healing of a lame man — God displaying His goodness and might. Another continuing miracle was the great harvest of souls recorded in 2:41 and again in 4:4. When a sinner is raised from spiritual death to everlasting life, brought out of darkness into the light, translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom God, this is a mighty display of the greatness of God’s love and mercy and power.
These miraculous events glorified God, strengthened the faith of the believers and created a sense of awe in the hearts of all who saw them. The believers expected a God of power to work powerfully on behalf of His people and so the Lord did.
A Spirit-birthed, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church experiences powerful expressions of God’s presence.
5. Because of their new relationship with God and with one another and inspired by the works of power in their midst, the believers entered ever more deeply into a life of praise and worship:
“Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple … praising God …” (Acts 2:46,47).
Worship was not an occasional act or weekly option for busy world-shakers and church builders. Rather, worship was their lifestyle. Overflowing with gratitude to God, they were a community of worship, a people of praise.
A Spirit-birthed, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church has a passionate love for worship.
6. It was a favored church: “Having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47).
The joy and love which characterized this new community and the authority and the miracles released through them must have created a powerful attraction. Surely there was opposition, persecution and hostility, especially from the powerbrokers of Jerusalem, but ordinary men and women caught up in their struggle to live, to survive the tragedy and trauma and disappointment of life in a fallen world, were drawn to this new community.
A Spirit-birthed, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church finds favor with hurting, broken people.
7. The Holy Spirit gave evidence of His presence through the growth of the young church:
“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
The community of faith had no church growth strategies other than preaching the Good News of Jesus and living their faith. But dynamic growth occurred as a natural result of powerful preaching and the health and vitality and joy and spiritual authority of the Church.
A Spirit-birthed, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered church is a growing church.
1. Dennis and Rita Bennett, The Holy Spirit And You (Plainfield, New Jersey: Logos International, 1971), p. 18.
2. Stanley M. Horton, What The Bible Says About The Holy Spirit (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1976) , p. 138.
1. In Acts 2 we read of the evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. What are some of these evidences?