Prof WJ Hattingh gave the following presentation at Auckland Park Theological Seminary during the one-day seminar on the Holy Spirit on the 18th of October 2016.  This was the second presentation of the day following “The baptism in the Holy Spirit in perspective”.


This presentation will unfold as follows:

  • We will first discuss the general working of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life.
  • Thereafter, we will discuss the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a second experience after the new birth; the fulfilment of the promise made in Joel 2.
  • Jesus was introduced as the Baptiser in the Holy Spirit. We will explore the meaning of the words used to describe the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
  • The magnificent meaning of the working of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life will be discussed from Paul’s two prayers in Ephesians.
  • We will look at an example of the working of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life in this challenging world – the fight in a broken world, so that God’s good purpose can be fulfilled (Rom. 8).
  • The imperative to “live by the Spirit”.  

My aim is to help you experience the working of the Holy Spirit in its fullness in this challenging world.

This essay is included in the Holy Spirit study course and can be downloaded as a print-friendly PDF to be used by small groups.

You can listen to an audio recording of the article, watch a video of the article being read, or read it yourself below.

1.    The working of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life

The work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life starts long before he or she experiences the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit as God the Creator in action, is constantly at work and sustains all creation and living beings. 

In the previous essay “The baptism in the Holy Spirit in perspective” we discussed the problem of foreignness and reduction of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We looked at the Holy Spirit’s work in a Christian’s life, and with this in mind, we will first consider the general working of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life.  If you can recognise and foster the wonder of all the aspects of the working of the Holy Spirit, then you are already dealing with the problems of foreignness and reduction.

1.1   The Holy Spirit starts to work in a sinner’s life long before he or she accepts the Lord as Saviour.  The Lord has a way to communicate even to sinners.  Normally, they do not recognise it, but later, when they come to know the Lord, they will remember the events and recognise it as God’s dealings with them.  They will even testify of God answering their prayers while they were sinners.  By God’s grace, the earth is full of His presence, His interventions, and rulings but, we are too blind to see it and too deaf to hear it.

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8).  Any true conversion needs the conviction of the Holy Spirit – without it, an authentic rebirth is not possible.  With the conviction of sin, a person experiences God’s presence and holiness, and the subsequent feeling of guilt.  A Christian must be very sensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and should pray that the Holy Spirit will never stop precisely doing this.     

1.2   The new birth, from beginning to end, is a miracle worked by the Holy Spirit. In answering Nicodemus’ question: “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”, Jesus replied: The wind blows wherever it wants.  Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit” (John 3:2,8).

There is a cognitive understanding involved in accepting Jesus as personal Saviour, but this experience, called by Jesus: “born of the Spirit” is a miracle worked by the Holy Spirit. It is a transforming experience which involves a person’s spirit, mind, heart, and way of living.  He becomes a new creation, a child of God, and consequently Christ dwells in him through the Holy Spirit.  It is of utmost importance that Christians do not underestimate this truth and stay on a journey to discover the magnitude of it.

The Evangelicals and Pentecostals normally ask for a date; a date of accepting Jesus as their personal saviour.  As Christians, we must recognise this miracle constantly and live with excitement in this new, incredible, Spirit-created world.              

1.3   In Romans 8 and Galatians 4, Paul underlined the fact that a Christian did not receive a spirit that makes them fearful slaves, instead: “but you received the Spirit of sonship … now we call him, Abba, Father.  For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.   And since we are His children, we are His heirs.  In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” (Rom. 8:15,16).

The verb used here is in the present tense, which means that the Holy Spirit constantly affirms that God is our Father.  In this process, the Holy Spirit joins with our spirits to proclaim this truth. It is like a duet; the Holy Spirit and our spirits sing together, affirming the truth that God is our Father and with Jesus we share in His riches.  We, together with the Holy Spirit, sing this truth together.  We must sing this duet loudly, constantly, and daily, without ceasing.  

A Christian’s life is a long journey, from a life as a slave of a sinful world, with its situations and all its effects, to the marvellous world of a Child of God.  Some of these effects tend to stay with us – to stay in our minds, habits, and way of living.  The Holy Spirit is constantly bringing this new life into a Christian, bringing it very close, very personal, in his DNA, in his emotions, and thinking. 

NB:  We must be very aware of this specific work of the Holy Spirit, for today’s world is full of doubt and full of existential emptiness – there is a growing quest for certainty and truth.

People who have no experience with God through the Holy Spirit and who are depending on their senses to recognise reality and truth, have a problem to accept the reality of the work of the Holy Spirit.  To them, the world of God’s Spirit is an unknown world and they, therefore, miss out on God’s closeness and His working.

2.   The Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Our theme is a second experience following the “new birth”, namely, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

2.1   Do you remember Moses’ wish: “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them” (Num. 11:29).   This wish was a little premature as a lot still had to come to pass.  Nevertheless, about 600 years later, the Lord, through the prophet Joel, made a wonderful promise:

  “I will pour out my Spirit on all people,

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy,

Your old men will dream dreams,

Your young men will see visions,

Even on your servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28,29)

When reading this promise documented by Joel and keeping in mind the Old Testament episodes of the Lord’s Spirit sporadically coming on leaders and the impact it had on their lives, the details in the content of this promise are impressive.

To summarise:

  • The promise is applicable to all people: Your sons and daughters, old men, young men, servants, and handmaids (in Acts 2 it is slaves and slave women) – surely everybody.
  • Notice the closeness and variety of the work of the Holy Spirit in them: they will prophesy (proclaim God’s word – they will bubble up of God’s greatness and love), they will see visions and dream dreams (even when they sleep, the Holy Spirit will work in them).

The promise includes the Spirit of God, the Almighty Creator, the Triune God in action, working constantly in all people, the old and the young, in the leaders and the slaves.     

2.2 But we know that the promise of Joel 2 first had to be fulfilled through the death and resurrection of Jesus and His ascension to the throne of His Father.  Don’t rush over this statement – this fact gives the baptism in the Holy Spirit a solid and definite God-given foundation that we must not ignore.   

It is an important fact that Jesus was firstly introduced as Baptiser in the Holy Spirit and not as Saviour.  John preached: I baptise you with water for repentance … After me will come one who is more powerful than I … He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11).  Of course, Jesus was, and is, the Saviour of the world and everything started there, but He was firstly introduced with this end purpose in mind:  God’s Spirit on all His people!

In the Gospels, there are very clear promises of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but a discussion of these promises is not part of the topic.  There is also very clear documentation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.  According to the documentation, these were real experiences; you could see it, you could hear it, you could count the people, and see the results

2.3  Let us have a look at the words which are used to describe this experience, but let us immediately admit that it is much, much, more than what the words are able to communicate.  There is an inconceivableness in the experience: an incapability to put it in words.  How can you put this experience into words?  The Almighty God comes to dwell in you with all His fullness and He is working in you with His power?  The Holy Spirit reveals God’s love to you, but the Bible tells you that His love is more than you can think of.  He reveals God’s power working in you and again the Bible tells you that it is more than you can think of or pray for.

The words used are: baptise in the Holy Spirit (but there is no water ?); we are filled with the Spirit (but where does this filling take place?); we receive the Holy Spirit; streams of living water will flow from within us – it is like a fountain (from where within us? Our spirit?) – a happening which is beyond our understanding. 

Let’s try to put into words the perceptions communicated from the words which are used:

  • The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience coming from outside of you, coming from the Almighty God.
  • You receive it from above, or even better, it is an experience in which you receive God as Spirit himself.
  • You are filled with Him. 
  • It is a baptism, meaning an overflowing, overwhelming experience, God’s Spirit is transcending you.
  • BUT in actual fact, it is an experience from your inner being like streams of living water, a fountain from within you. 

Can we ever fully imagine the greatness of the experience, the closeness and oneness with God the Almighty Creator, the indwelling of the resurrected Christ?

3.    The meaning of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life

The magnificent meaning or impact of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is best explained in Paul’s two prayers in the book of Ephesians – the first prayer in chapter 1 and the second prayer in chapter 3.  There is an impressive fullness and depth in these two prayers regarding the working of the Holy Spirit.

I will discuss the two prayers jointly due to a lack of time.  I will try to combine its content since there are some similarities.  Bear with me for I will jump between the prayers. 

One first has to understand the context of the two prayers and what moved Paul to pray these two prayers?

The context of the two prayers: 

The first prayer in Ephesians 1 follows the most beautiful prose ever written on what the sovereign God planned for us before the creation of the earth and which He completed in Jesus Christ.  There is an inconceivable greatness in what the eternal God planned and did for us in Jesus.

The second prayer in chapter 3 follows on the revelation that God decided to reveal His marvellous truth, as announced through us, the church.  “For this reason, I am on my knees before the Father … of … heaven and earth …”

I will give the content of the prayers in my own words:

He prayed let the Holy Spirit work in them and accomplish the following:

3.1   Let the Holy Spirit tell them who God really is so that they will be able to truly know Him

Our greatest need is to understand who God really is, to know the eternal Creator in His greatness, His love, and closeness, and what He did for us in Jesus Christ His Holy Son. We do not know and will never know it in full.  We are on an endless journey to only grasp a little bit of who God really is.  The Holy Spirit, God himself, is revealing Himself to us.  We always need the Holy Spirit to reveal God and we constantly need this revelation.

This knowing or knowledge of God is much more than cognitive knowledge of facts, but an experience of God (according to Bratcher and Nida), an experience of His greatness and love.  We experience the changing effect of His greatness and love so that we too could become great and loving.

In the second prayer he asks for something like this:  Let the Holy Spirit strengthen their inner man, let them share God’s greatness in their spirits.

3.2   The second request asks for the following:  Holy Spirit, open their eyes, the eyes of their hearts.   According to the Old Testament scholar, Wolf, your will is situated in your heart – your heart is the place of decisions, the place where you say: “yes” or “no”.  So that they can be enlightened (come to the understanding) to know the hope of their calling and the wonderful riches He promised and planned for them.

You find it in this prayer, and you will also find it elsewhere in the Bible:  If you really experience God in His greatness and love, you will immediately experience God’s thoughts about yourself.  People under the anointing of the Holy Spirit will always find insight into God’s calling for them; His great plans for them, God’s destiny for them.  They will find the meaning of life; long-term, eternal meaning – existential meaning.  They will feel strong and will be filled with hope and joy.

3.3   The third request:  Let the Holy Spirit reveal to them:  The immeasurable greatness of God’s power at work in those who believe.  It is the same Holy Spirit power at work when Jesus was raised from the dead, who is still working in the same manner, in us.

It is also the same power which made Jesus to sit at the right hand of God in heaven above every ruler, authority, and power in this and the coming world – The Supreme Master of all. 

This power of the Holy Spirit, working in us, is beyond measure.  Paul put it into words: “… His power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: (TEV), “the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think …” (RSV).  The baptism in the Holy Spirit is about the power of the resurrected Christ in us.

I am talking about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent working of the Holy Spirit in us; God’s promise to every believer which was made possible by the Baptiser in the Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Son, Jesus. 

 3.4 There is another request from Paul regarding the working of the Holy Spirit to empower God’s people: I pray that the Holy Spirit roots and grounds them in God’s love just as a tree is rooted in the ground and a house is built on a foundation. The Holy Spirit brings God’s love in us and us into God’s love.

He broadened his request:  Let the Holy Spirit take them on a journey to understand or comprehend the width and length and height and depth of God’s love, but this journey will never end because the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge (RSV), “… never be fully known …” (TEV).  

Again, the context and words are suggesting with “know” or “understand” much more than just cognitively, but it points to experience; love is to be experienced, to be enjoyed, and to be empowered with.

The power and love experienced through the Holy Spirit are immeasurable and uncomprehending.

3.5   I have rearranged the requests to combine the two prayers.  Paul’s final or ultimate request to the Holy Spirit is:  Let Jesus Christ, the resurrected Christ, through faith dwell in them, make His home in their hearts.  Christ’s indwelling through the Holy Spirit is the sum total of every request.  He summarised: “… that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”.  Elsewhere he wrote that the fullness of God is in Jesus Christ. 

The Holy Spirit means:  The Almighty God with His fullness in us, the power of God in us, the love of God in us, Jesus the resurrected Christ in us.

4.    Example of the Holy Spirit working in a Christian facing this challenging world

I am going to deal with one account of the Holy Spirit working in a Christian facing this challenging world.  We will look at Romans 8 verses 18 to 30.    

Paul dealt with a broken world as a result of sin, a suffering world, and people who fell prey or became victims of evil.

A Christian must be serious about the Bible’s teachings about God, the truth of Jesus, God’s Holy Son, but also about the truth of the devil and the forces of darkness.   Biblical truths are questioned today – also the truth about the reality of evil and the devil.

In Ephesians 6 verse 9, Paul tried to name our enemy which is not of flesh and blood.  It is difficult for commentaries to explain the concepts of these evil powers because we are uninformed about this evil, although we experience the attacks daily. 

He puts it into two groupings:

Firstly, the evil powers of this sinful world, which are powers, rulers, and structures operating in our known world, and secondly, the evil spiritual powers from above

4.1   He wrote about the impact of our fight against these evil forces: 

For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain until now (Rom. 8:22).  The creation groans just the same as the Israelites groaned in Egypt while they were in slavery.  There is a similarity in the words used.  God heard the Israelites groaning and called Moses to rescue them.  The earth and nature which have been created and are sustained by the Spirit of God are suffering with pain due to the bondage of sin – waiting earnestly, hopefully, gazing to the future for Christ’s second coming and the new heaven and earth.

4.2 We, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, also groan.  We groan and suffer under the burden of a broken world, waiting for the redemption of our bodies at Christ’s second coming.   The Bible is full of these stories of suffering and death:  Stories like those of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, and Jesus.  We are also surrounded by a broken world full of dreadful stories.  We groan – but with hope, we only have the first fruits and when Jesus comes, the Spirit will even quicken our mortal bodies.

Paul wrote something very important to us while we are in this “groaning” situation:

4.3 We are weak – we do not even know what we should pray. We may think that we can pray, but can we really pray?  Do we know what to pray?  Is one of our problems not that we think we are able to pray in this massive battle?  Paul’s argument is an indication of the magnitude of the battle and our inability to handle it.  If we think that we are able to solve it with our own bare hands, we mislead ourselves.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul wrote something like this:  We cannot!  We are unable!  It is “… far above our ability … that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (verses 8,9).  The challenge happened so that Paul could learn that he cannot.  The truth of the Gospel is that we cannot save ourselves and our total Christian experience stands and falls with the working of the Holy Spirit.  

4.4   Then there is something amazing about the Spirit:  The Spirit groans with us.  We are not groaning and suffering alone.  But this is not all! In the book of Isaiah, God is crying like a woman in childbirth, God said: “I cry out, I gasp and pant” (Isa. 42:14).

But in this scripture, it is the Almighty Creator God in action: The Holy Spirit groans by interceding for us.   It is again a present tense verb, meaning: The Spirit is constantly interceding for us, without ceasing … Just as Jesus, the risen Christ, our High Priest, is constantly interceding for us at the right hand of His Father (Rom 8:34).

The Holy Spirit, God in us, God through us, is pleading on our behalf just as Jesus is also pleading for us.  God, pleading with God, in heaven and on earth, on our behalf

4.5   Pleading “with groaning which cannot be uttered (put to words)”. He nonetheless still tells us what the “groaning” of the Spirit is about.

The “groaning” is the Spirit who intercedes for us according to God’s will.   We don’t know what to pray and are unable to survive but the Spirit intercedes within us, on our behalf and according to God’s will.  God Almighty within us, crying and pleading with God Almighty.   

And then we read: And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”.

Something happens when the Holy Spirit groans with us.  He is interceding on our behalf and also according to God’s will.  But it is written: “God, who searches our hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit”.

While groaning on our behalf the Spirit is changing our hearts to understand and comply with God’s will.

This truth forms the context and the motive of the following promise: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

While the Holy Spirit is working in us in such a way, it is God’s opportunity to work His good in this groaning creation, in spite of all the dark powers in this world.

4.6   You will find an equivalent situation in Ephesians 6 verse 18 in the struggle against the powers in this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.  Paul commanded concerning the armour of God: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”.

5.     The indicative and the imperative to “live by the Spirit”   

A Christian must always bear in mind that Christian living consists of two sides.

Firstly, an indicative: a truth that is a fact. The fact of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, our truth in Jesus, and the truth of the Holy Spirit and His powerful working in us.

But there is also another side: an imperative: the command from God to us that is our responsibility. This is a command: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions …”.   Paul wrote in Romans 8: “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation … because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (verses 12,14).

In Philippians 3 he wrote something like this: “I grasp because Christ Jesus already grasped me”.  You can hear the definite effort of the imperative. Why this imperative? Why this command?

Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians 14 verse 18: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you”.  In verse 4: “He who speaks in a tongue, edifies/builds himself, …”.

Speaking in tongues is our submission to the Holy Spirit, our surrender to the Holy Spirit.  Again, don’t be rushed.  Speak in tongues for a long period of time. Experience the working of the Holy Spirit. Understand what He is busy doing.  Experience God’s greatness, His love, and His changing power working in you.  You are compelled to do exactly this, for there is a groaning, dying world outside and Jesus has died to save them.

May we, in the last days, adhere to Paul’s request: “Live by the Spirit”.  Make yourself at ease in the world of God’s Spirit.  Let God be God through His resurrected Son Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit.

This essay is included in the Holy Spirit study course and can be downloaded as a print-friendly PDF to be used by small groups.