The Work of the Spirit

What is the work of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus taught us that the work of the Spirit was to glorify Himself.  He said, “He shall glorify me: for He shall take of Mine and shall declare it unto you.” (John 16:14)


How is the work of the Spirit represented in the Bible?

Various terms and analogies are used to teach us this.  One of these is baptism.


How is baptism a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit?

Because baptism represents a cleansing, and the Bible speaks of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.  The meaning here is that the Holy Spirit cleanses us from all sin just as our outward bodies are cleansed from filth and other impurities.  This happened on the day of Pentecost.


What does the Bible teach about being baptized with the Holy Spirit?

First, we find that this event actually occurred on the day of Pentecost.  This is the day when Jesus poured (Acts 2:17-18, 33; cf Acts 10:45) out the Spirit upon His assembled people in Jerusalem.  This entire event is described by Jesus as a “baptism.” (Acts 1:5)  Jesus had ascended into heaven and had received the Spirit of God from the Father. (Acts 2:33)  Now, Jesus baptizes His people in this Spirit.  This was the inauguration of the new covenant for which the people of Israel had been waiting and looking for so many years. (Acts 2:16) This was an event of such massive significance in the history of God’s redemption that it was accompanied by various signs and many miracles. (Acts 2:2-4, 43)

Second, Paul is the only author who tells us anything about what this Spirit-baptism actually means.


What does Paul say about Spirit-baptism?

First, he says in his letter to Corinth that this Spirit-baptism resulted in our saving union with Jesus Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)


Why do some translations render this verse “For by one Spirit…”?

Greek ASV 1901 NASB 1977 ESV 2011
καὶ γὰρ ἐν ἑνὶ Πνεύματι ἡμεῖς πάντες εἰς ἓν σῶμα ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἴτε Ἰουδαῖοι εἴτε Ἕλληνες εἴτε δοῦλοι εἴτε ἐλεύθεροι For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free… For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free… For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free…

The issue is how to understand the preposition in the phrase ἐν ἑνὶ Πνεύματι at the very beginning of the verse.  The ἐν could show agency which would mean that the Holy Spirit is the One who baptizes people into the body of Christ.  This is the idea behind the NASB update of what was originally in the ASV.  If you connect this verse with what happened at Pentecost, then this meaning is not correct since at Pentecost the Spirit was not the One doing the baptizing but was that which was poured out upon the assembled believers.  If Paul is speaking here of what happened at Pentecost, then the original ASV meaning is correct.  A better translation than all of these is to use the English preposition “with” which better captures what happened at Pentecost where the Spirit was poured out on the assembled believers.  The baptism there was not an immersion which is implied by the use of the preposition “in” but a pouring which is better represented by the preposition “with.”  


What other reason can be given in defense of the translation “in” or “with?”

The fact that Paul goes on in this verse to say that we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)  This also supports the idea that the Spirit here is not the one doing the baptizing but is Himself the substance of what is poured out upon the believers.


Why do you say this baptism was a cleansing?

Because the external ritual involved the application of water to individuals for the purpose of cleansing.


How can you show this from Scripture?

First, we can see the many purification rituals in Old Testament religion all of which were types of the baptism of the Spirit.  Second, we can see the practice and understanding of New Testament baptism which also was a purification ritual.


What are some examples of purification rituals in the Old Testament?

First, consider the washing required of the priests before they could perform their priestly work in the temple.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing; and you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it.  Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it; when they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, so that they will not die; or when they approach the altar to minister, by offering up in smoke a fire sacrifice to the LORD.  So they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die; and it shall be a perpetual statute for them, for Aaron and his descendants throughout their generations.” (Exodus 30:17-21)

From these verses, we see that this purification was a prerequisite to serving in the tabernacle.  They were to wash so that they would not die.  For anyone to come into YHWH’s presence unwashed was a sacrilege and was punished with death.  The psalmist also says, “I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Jehovah.” where the NET translation renders this: “I maintain a pure lifestyle, so I can appear before your altar, O LORD.”


– Purification for priests (Exodus 29:1-9, 30:17-21, 40:3-32 – Psalm 26:6, 73:13)
– Leprosy (Leviticus 13:6, 13:34)
– Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:20-28)
– Bodily discharges (Leviticus 15:1-29, Deuteronomy 23:10-11)
– Cleansing of the Levites (Numbers 8:5-7, 19:7-22)
– Contact with the deceased (Leviticus 5:2, 16:4, 16:24, 11:24-28, 11:39-40, 22:4-6 & Numbers 19:11-13)
– Unsolved murders (Deuteronomy 21:1-9)


The author of Hebrews writes:

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9 which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings [or baptisms], regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:8-10)


What are these baptisms in the Old Testament?

The author refers to various baptisms here. In subsequent verses, he mentions some of these.

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14)


Where do we read about these baptisms in the Old Testament?

The ritual involving the sprinkling of the ashes of a red heifer is explained in Numbers 19.


What was the purpose of this ritual?

This was a ritual for returning a person who had become unclean to a state of ceremonial cleanness again. This ritual was specifically for people who had in some way come into contact with a dead person either by direct contact, or by being in the tent when someone had died, or even accidentally touching a corpse or human bone in a field.


What exactly was involved in the performance of this ritual?

First, the water of purification לְמֵי נִדָּה had to be prepared. This special water had ashes mixed in it. To prepare these ashes, the priest took a red heifer which had no blemish and had never been used for plowing, killed it and burned it. As the animal burned, the priest would add to the fire some sticks of cedar, a branch of hyssop, and some scarlet yarn. When all this was burned, the ashes were collected and stored in a container outside the camp.

Whenever someone became unclean in the ways described above, they entered into a state of uncleanness for seven days. In order to become clean again, someone would run and fetch this container of ashes. Some of this ash was then mixed with water, and this mixture was sprinkled on the unclean person. This sprinkling would take place on the third day and on the seventh day. If this was done, the person became ceremonially clean on the seventh day.


What is meant by being unclean or being ceremonially unclean?

A person who was unclean was not allowed to participate in the worship of the Tabernacle (or temple) and was, in a sense, placed in a temporary position of probation. If they failed to deal with their uncleanness, they would be permanently cut off from God’s people. In the above instance, Moses taught the people:

Anyone who touches a corpse, the body of a man who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from Israel. Because the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him. (Numbers 19:13)

A person who was unclean was not necessarily a person who had sinned; many of the situations that made a person unclean involved no sin such as the above when someone died in your tent (Numbers 19:14).


What exactly was this water of purification?

In Hebrew, the term is לְמֵי נִדָּה which is literally “for a water of impurity” or water for the removal of impurity. As described above, the water itself was made from the ashes of an animal which had been killed as a sin offering. Again, the symbolism here is key.


Why does the author of Hebrews call this a baptism?

Because it involves the key idea of baptism which is purification.


What other baptisms are found in the Old Testament?

The author of Hebrews refers to “various washings” in the Old Testament ceremonial worship as baptisms. Hence, wherever there is a washing, we can conclude that this was understood by the New Testament church as a kind of baptism; cf. Leviticus 6:288:5–614:8–915:511-12. The real meaning of these rituals was understood as well; cf. Psalm 51:27Jeremiah 2:224:14.


How common were these washings?

These ritual washings must have been a near daily occurrence in Israel. The ritual of the red heifer would have occurred at least as often as someone died. It is no exaggeration to say that these purification ceremonies would have been routine in the life of a typical Jew.




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