Having established that the Holy Spirit is God and that he is a Person, we’re going to explore several ways in which we experience him. God has designed us to know him, to have a personal relationship with him; that is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. Let’s unpack some of the ways we experience him.
It might sound strange to say, but we experience the Holy Spirit before we become Christians. It’s entirely possible, however, we aren’t aware of that! Let’s look at John 16:8-11, where Jesus explains what the Holy Spirit does:
When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; and about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is working in the world, on people who don’t know Jesus; he is not confined to the church. Specifically, he convicts the world; that word means to expose, rebuke, refute, convince. The Holy Spirit works in people’s lives to bring them to the place of faith in Jesus. That process can take days, weeks, months or even years. Think back to how and when you became a Christian; you can probably trace his activity in your life with the benefit of spiritual hindsight.
What did Jesus mean by these verses? Well, the Holy Spirit convicts us of guilt before we are saved; it’s the process by which he brings us to the place of faith. He convicts us of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness and judgement. Sin: people don’t believe in Jesus, thus proving by their nature, attitude and actions they are sinners and in need of a Saviour – Jesus. Righteousness: Jesus said ‘because I go to the Father’ – meaning his claims to be the Lord and Saviour of the world are justified. He is proved right, and God the Father receives him as the Saviour and righteous Judge of all the earth. Judgement: The ruler of this world – the devil – now stands judged and condemned. The righteous Judge – Jesus has defeated him and guaranteed his future punishment.
It’s helpful to note that this process of conviction has no set timespan or limit. Just be assured that the Holy Spirit is working on people around you all the time. If you remember this it will help you when you share the good news with them: where are they in the process? Listen to what they say; and what they ask; how open are they or not to the Gospel? The Holy Spirit is at work!
Unless a person is born again, they cannot see the kingdom of God… unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3,5)
This is the experience where everything changes for us. When we repent of our sins, believe in Jesus as our Saviour and confess him as Lord (Romans 10:9-10), the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. That is when we are born again: he makes us new creations in Christ. The old you has gone and a brand new you has come into being (2 Corinthians 5:17) – you are born again or born anew. In that moment of new birth you receive all of the Holy Spirit, there is no more of the Holy Spirit to receive (we will see the importance of this in our next point). He comes to live in your heart or spirit (the New Testament uses both terms to describe the inner person, who we really are in essence). He comes and removes our old sinful nature and replaces it with a new righteous or holy nature – the nature of Jesus – the Righteous One. That doesn’t mean we become Jesus! No, but it does mean we are now as righteous and holy as Jesus is – we are no longer sinners but saints: look at Philippians 1:1, where Paul writes:
…To all the saints in Christ Jesus that are in Philippi…
He calls them saints: the word means holy ones. The New Testament never calls believers in Jesus sinners, it always uses words like this to describe them. Also look at Romans 8:11 –
Since the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living his life in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who is living his life in you. (Literal translation)
This is amazing! The Holy Spirit hasn’t come to live in us to help us live our lives; he has come to live the life of Jesus in us. This is so liberating; the Christian life isn’t difficult – it’s impossible! There’s only one Person who can live it – Jesus – and he has sent the Holy Spirit into us so he can live his life in and through us. In our new birth the Holy Spirit gives us the same righteous and holy status in the eyes of God our Father as Jesus.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit
After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise [immerse] you in the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)
In a few days you will be baptised [immersed] in the Holy Spirit…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. (Acts 1:5,8)
They were all filled to the maximum by the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to do so. (Acts 2:4)
The third way we experience the Holy Spirit is through being baptised in the Spirit. It is distinct from being born of the Spirit; you must be born again before being baptised in the Holy Spirit. Remember: When we are born again the Holy Spirit comes to live in us – in our spirits/hearts – to make us new creations. We receive all the Holy Spirit at that point. Once we are born again/born of the Spirit, we are saved from sin and guaranteed a place in heaven.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is for our life on earth before we go to heaven. It’s the way in which the resurrection life and power of Jesus Christ are released in us through us. As a result of being baptised in the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to live on earth now as new creations.
An Explosive River
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a subsequent experience to new birth in which the Holy Spirit, who is in you at new birth, fills or controls you thoroughly, affecting the way you think, speak, act, and behave. Jesus said: ‘You will receive power’. This word ‘dunamis’ means divine ability. It isn’t just power or the power of your personality or an extra shove to help you. The divine ability that created the universe begins to explode from within you. The Power is a Person – the Holy Spirit.
Jesus likened this to a continuous river that flows from within us:
On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have rivers of living water flowing from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit. Those who believed in Jesus were going to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been received because Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Note something very important here: the Holy Spirit flows from within us – at baptism in the Holy Spirit he doesn’t come into us again to give us more of himself. He flows and explodes from within us, with the resurrection life of Jesus. The Holy Spirit isn’t like fuel that we use up and then have to get filled up again. He is an eternal river flowing from within us all the time. The baptism in the Holy Spirit begins that flow.
Jesus baptises us in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). It might come through someone praying for us or laying hands on us; or at the moment of water baptism. It might also happen with nobody praying for us, as it did for Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:44-46), and indeed for the 120 believers in Acts 2. If I have the privilege of praying for somebody to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, I ask them to pray and ask Jesus to do it. He answers those kinds of prayer requests!
Christianity is a speaking faith (Romans 10:9-10) we become Christians by believing in our hearts and speaking or confessing with our mouths. We have faith and we speak. That continues in baptism in the Holy Spirit: the ‘river’ within us is released when we begin to speak to God in unknown supernatural languages or tongues – see Acts 2:4; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:1-5. Tongues are the doorway to the supernatural. They are complete languages unknown to your mind that you’ve never learned. You receive this when you are baptised in the Holy Spirit. Tongues are not just for being baptised in the Holy Spirit; they play an important role in the life of the believer. Let me encourage you to speak to God in your heavenly language frequently; it will benefit you in so many ways.
We have explored three ways in which we experience the Holy Spirit. In our final article we will take a look at what the New Testament calls living filled with the Holy Spirit.