In his book on the Holy Spirit, Francis Chan writes of the dissatisfaction that many people seem to face with the church:
We understand something very important is missing…. I believe that this missing something is actually a missing someone—namely, the Holy Spirit. Without him, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results. The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.
The new covenant church ought to show the reality of the Spirit’s power in a way that is obvious to all. The Confession, in 6.3 and 6.4, draw attention to the special ministry of the covenant in the new covenant era.
Although the Holy Spirit was already active in the Old Testament period, he was, according to the promises of the prophets, poured out in matchless abundance on the church after the ascension of Christ (Nehemiah 9:20; Isaiah 63:11; Acts 2:1–39). This happened on the Day of Pentecost, the Old Testament harvest festival. The Holy Spirit is therefore, in a special way, the Spirit of the New Testament harvest, which consists of the elect from the entire human race. His work is largely concerned with their calling and preservation in this life, and is accomplished by mediating Christ to his people (John 14:16–18; 16:8–11; Ephesians 1:13–14). Thus the work of the Holy Spirit in believers is absolutely essential for their salvation.
The Holy Spirit is the central gift of the new covenant (Ezekiel 36:27; Acts 2:16–21). Ever since Christ poured out the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, believers have received the gift of his indwelling presence immediately upon the exercise of saving faith (Acts 2:39; Romans 8:9). Thus, all true believers have been baptised in (or by) the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) and possess the gift of the Spirit—a gift which is not to be patiently tarried for or carnally peddled. (Sola 5 Confession 6.3–6.4)
The Confession notes that “the Holy Spirit was already active in the Old Testament period.” This is beyond dispute as you read the Old Testament, where the Spirit’s activity is displayed in several ways. For example, the Spirit was active in creation (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:30). He seems to have been the agent by which God created the world. The Spirit further empowered God’s people for the work to which he called them (Numbers 27:18; Judges 3:10; 1 Samuel 10:9–10). The Spirit also spoke through God’s prophets—that is, he was involved in revealing God’s word to his people (2 Samuel 23:2; Ezekiel 2:2). These are but a sampling of Old Testament texts that display the Spirit at work under the old covenant.
It is also beyond dispute, however, that the Spirit came in a particular way on the church at Pentecost. The Confession reads, “While the Spirit was active in the Old Testament, he was, according to the promises of the prophets, poured out in matchless abundance on the church after the ascension of Christ.” This “matchless abundance” can be seen in Acts 2:1–13. Recognising that Pentecost was a unique event, we notice that the Spirit’s outpouring then was more visible than it was in the Old Testament, with tongues of fire appearing above the heads of those who were indwelled. It was also broader in scope, so that it was not just individuals empowered (Gideon, Samson, etc.) but the entire church at the same time. The filling of the Spirit was obvious to those watching, which was not always true in the Old Testament.
The outpouring of the Spirit “happened on the Day of Pentecost, the Old Testament harvest festival.” The symbolism—that is the connection of the event with harvest—is significant because it shows that “the Holy Spirit is therefore, in a special way, the Spirit of the New Testament harvest, which consists of the elect from the entire human race. His work is largely concerned with their calling and preservation in this life, and is accomplished by mediating Christ to his people. Thus the work of the Holy Spirit in believers is absolutely essential for their salvation.”
John 14:16–18 and 16:8–11 highlight the role of the Spirit in bringing people to salvation. Recognising his role in this ministry helps us to stop thinking that we have done or can do anything to please God. If salvation were possible by self-effort, the ministry of the Spirit would be moot. It also helps us tremendously in our evangelism and our prayer for the unsaved, because it gives us hope that we don’t have to do the saving—that is the Spirit’s task. We must simply be faithful in our prayer and evangelism and trust him to do what he will do.
Paul further wrote of the Spirit as a “seal” and a “guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:13–14). The “inheritance” that is ours is full Christlikeness, including freedom from the effects of sin forever. The Spirit is the “seal” or “guarantee” that we will be brought to complete Christlikeness. There is no chance that one whom God has saved will fail to come to full Christlikeness, for that would indicate a failure on the part of the Spirit, which cannot happen, since he is God. We can be encouraged that the same Spirit who initially saved us will complete our salvation.
The Confession identifies the Holy Spirit as “the central gift of the new covenant and adds: Ever since Christ poured out the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, believers have received the gift of his indwelling presence immediately upon the exercise of saving faith.” This “central gift,” according to Ezekiel 36:27, would have an astounding result. It would result in a heartfelt desire by God’s people to obey his law. Israel had long resisted obedience to God, and their disobedience had highlighted human inability to keep God’s law. The gift of the Spirit would not only enable God’s people to obey him, but to do so joyfully and carefully.
According to Romans 8:9, the mark of belonging to Christ is the presence of the Spirit in the person’s life. Those who do not have the Spirit do not belong to Christ. Since the Spirit cannot be seen by the human eye, we must look for evidence of the presence of the Spirit in a person’s life. Ezekiel 36:26–32 details some things that characterise those in whom the Spirit dwells: They will display a heart that is soft and therefore amenable to the things of God. Hard hearts display an absence of the Spirit. They will display a willingness and deliberate care in obeying God’s laws. They will be steadily delivered from uncleanness loathe the sin that once characterised them. Since this is the work of the Spirit in their lives, and not the result of self-effort, these marks will be sustained and will grow.
The Confession concludes: “Thus, all true believers have been baptised in (or by) the Spirit and possess the gift of the Spirit—a gift which is not to be patiently tarried for or carnally peddled.”
The Confession hereby equates the filling with the Spirit with baptism in the Spirit. This is not the universal understanding of what it means to be baptised in the Spirit. For example, one large Charismatic church in South Africa identifies baptism in the Spirit this way: “The new birth is the work of regeneration that the Holy Spirit executes, by which he then indwells the believer. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience distinct and subsequent to the new birth…. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.” This understanding, however, conflicts with 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul wrote that all the Corinthians were baptised in the Spirit into one body. The language here, in its context, refers to believers being brought through conversion into the church. Significantly, as you read chapter 14, it is evident that the ability to speak in tongues was not a universal experience of every church member in Corinth. They had all been baptised in the Spirit, but had not all spoken in tongues.