It is often said that we need more of the Spirit in our worship. Is that true? And what leads people to make this statement? How can we know whether we have more or less of the Spirit than before?
Of the three persons of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is the most enigmatic. Throughout the New Testament he is ever present yet always just on the edge of the spotlight. The simple reality is that the Spirit doesn’t draw attention to himself, but, even in his most astonishing movements (Acts 2), always points others back to Christ. The Spirit’s work undergirds the whole of the Church’s existence and ministry and our experience of him is immediate and powerful even today. In him we receive all the benefits that are available through Christ. Moreover, it is in the Spirit and through the Son that we have access to the Father.
The Spirit and the Trinity
The word spirit is derived from the Latin word spiritus, which originally meant breath. Likewise the Hebrew ruah, the Greek pneuma, and the English ghost all have the same meaning in their original senses. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. But he is more than the exhalation of the Deity. In the Old Testament the breath is both the life and power of a person. Even so, throughout the Bible we see the Spirit working and acting as something more than an impersonal force – he is a personal being. The Spirit loves, teaches, helps, and can be grieved.
Whenever God acts, the three persons of the Trinity act together. The most common pattern of divine action can be summarized as coming from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. So, while the Father made all things through Christ, they came into being by the power of the Spirit and are preserved by his continued presence and action. The Son was sent by the Father to be sacrificed on the cross and rise again, but he was made flesh, lived obedient to the Father, ministered, and was resurrected by the power of the Spirit. We are reconciled to the Father through faith in Christ, but it is the indwelling of the Spirit that sanctifies us and guarantees our salvation. It is the Spirit who calls us to Christ by convicting of sin. Just as the Spirit preserves the created order, it is he who empowers believers for ministry, and matures us into the likeness of Christ, growing within us the fruit that bears his name.
The Spirit in Acts
This background allows us to make some helpful observations as we turn to the Spirit’s movements in the book of Acts. For the sake of simplicity, lets break these into two categories: the day of Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit that marked his presence with the disciples. Many, many books have been written on this topic. What follows here is simply a summary of my thoughts, not a detailed exposition.
The events of the day of Pentecost serve as a marker for the new creation that God has wrought in Christ. On that day, the Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem from across the known world heard Jesus' disciples from Galilee speaking the languages of their homelands. The message that was proclaimed gives us the clue to the importance of the event. Peter’s sermon called all those who heard to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be reconciled with God. The event forms a negative image of the events at the tower of Babel where God confused the languages of the people and scattered them over the face of the earth. Now, in the power of the Spirit, God is drawing all mankind to himself as a holy nation through Christ. This work of the Spirit serves as a foretaste of the day when our faith will be made sight and the divisions that separate us will fade away in Christ.
The gifts of the Spirit seen in the book of Acts provide an amazing picture of what it must have been like in those early days in Jerusalem. Yet, these, too, serve as heralds of the kingdom of heaven that was inaugurated at the resurrection. The gifts are always exhibited to proclaim the gospel or to highlight its acceptance in a new group of people. They are used as ministry tools for reaching those who have not heard the message. At no point in Acts do we see them used in corporate worship, though their performance often occasions worship. The Apostle Paul does mention spiritual gifts in worship in 1 Corinthians. He stresses two points in this regard: that everything should be done in an orderly fashion and that love is the greatest of all the spiritual gifts.
Seeing the extraordinary events and actions recorded in Acts as hallmarks of the Spirit’s action stems from a failure to understand the Spirit’s role in the divine economy. The Spirit is pointing back toward Christ just as Christ is point us back to the Father. This is what the Spirit does. He glorifies the Son, not himself. It is for this reason that he is called the shy member of the Trinity. The amazing events we see in Acts do not serve as paradigms for either worship or the Christian experience. The presence and work of the Spirit does not always manifest in extraordinary and miraculous ways, but his work is always present in the lives of believers. If we want to see the impact of the Spirit on worship, we will have to look deeper.