THE SPIRIT-FILLED CHRISTIAN
The purpose of this small book is to orient the new believer or inquirer to the foundations of the
Spirit-filled Christian life. The New Testament Scriptures are the basis of this study. Our goal is not
to foist upon the reader a particular brand of sectarian theology, but rather to shed light on the
resource of power available to every hungry believer. This resource of power is spoken of in the
Bible in terms of “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” or a being “Filled with the Spirit.” In these pages we
will look at the promise, purpose, necessity, reception, and attendant results of this Holy Spirit-filled
Our goal in this writing doesn’t stop at assimilation of information about Holy Spirit fullness. We
want for every reader an appropriation of this precious gift and a practical application of its
attendant resources. We trust that the Spirit Himself will inform you, inspire you, and infuse you with
His presence and power for meaningful service for Jesus Christ.
THE FULLNESS OF THE SPIRIT:
WHAT, WHO AND HOW
“Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians
Note that this is a COMMAND, not a suggestion. “Be filled with the Spirit.” It’s not up to our
personal preference. In fact, it is no less a command to be filled with the Spirit than the command to
refuse to be drunk with wine! The same God who prohibits drunkenness commands Holy Spirit
fullness. Disobedience to either is sin!
Note also that the verb here is in the present-continuous tense. Which means it could very well be
translated, “Stay full of the Spirit.” His point is that it’s not good enough to have had one saturating
experience with the Holy Spirit, we need to stay saturated! And since he contrasts being full of wine
with being full of the Spirit it is proper to say if we’re to stay full we must KEEP DRINKING (of the
Spirit that is)!
Let’s look further at what this gift is for, who the gift is for, and how to receive the gift.
What is the Gift of the Holy Spirit For?
It is our unction to function
You’ll remember in Acts 1:8 Jesus answers this question when He says, “You shall receive POWER
when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be WITNESSES...” The baptism in the Spirit is
to provide us with the needed POWER for being WITNESSES for Christ. It is our unction to
function with gumption! Remember also, Jesus’ words in Luke 24 after commissioning the disciples
to proclaim the gospel. He tells them to wait until being “clothed with POWER from on high” (verse
49). Here we have “The Great Condition” of “The Great Commission”!
This power to be a more effective witness may be as multifaceted as being a witness is. It includes:
- Power for morality. Part of being a witness for Christ is practicing what you preach.
- Power for the miraculous. In Mark 16:20 we’re told that, “the disciples went out and
preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His Word by the SIGNS
(miracles) that accompanied it.”
- Power for ministry. The Holy Spirit-empowered witness gets results! There’s an
effectiveness to the Spirit-filled believer’s testimony that tears down Satan-built walls and
draws people to Christ. If there’s a “power failure” among Christians it’s only because of a
failure to receive power from on high!
The gift of the Spirit is not for status. It’s not something so that we may boast and say, “I’ve got it,”
or “I speak with tongues.” It’s actually a humbling thing to know that in your own power you don’t
have what it takes to do the job. You need heavenly unction to do a heavenly job on earth! The gift
is also not a cure-all for every spiritual test or problem. Getting baptized in the Spirit doesn’t get you
out of all your problems, in fact it will probably get you into a few more than you had before (see
Proverbs 14:4)! The more you possess, the more you’re responsible for. Although the Holy Spirit is
referred to by Jesus as the “Comforter,” the purpose of the baptism in the Spirit is not to make us
comfortable, but rather to make us missionaries! Missionaries, if not to “Judea, Samaria, and the
ends of the earth,” at least to our own “Jerusalem” (see Acts 1:8). In other words, if you don’t care
to reach the lost, then don’t concern yourself with the Spirit!
In the gospels the disciples were hiding behind locked doors.
In Acts they were tearing down doors...
A.B. Simpson once wrote, “Being filled with the Spirit is like a bottle in the ocean. You take the
cork out of the bottle and sink it in the ocean, and you have the bottle completely full of ocean.
The bottle is in the ocean and ocean is in the bottle. The ocean contains the bottle and the bottle
contains the ocean.”
The twelve were transformed when baptized in the Spirit in Acts Chapter 2. In the gospels the
disciples were hiding behind locked doors. In Acts they were tearing down doors. In the gospels
they were always asking questions. In Acts they were answering questions. What made the
difference? They were “Clothed with power from on high”!
Don’t forget that even our Lord Jesus needed the empowering of the Spirit before launching out into
His ministry. He didn’t step out into public ministry without the Spirit’s anointing which He received
at His water baptism (see Matthew 3:16-17 and Luke 3:21-22). In His first public sermon He
declared, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE he has anointed Me to preach
good news to the poor... proclaim freedom for the prisoners... recover of sight to the blind, to release
the oppressed...” (Luke 4:18) If He needed the Spirit’s anointing, how much do we? Why run on
four cylinders when we have the potential for eight?!
The result of a thorough drenching in the Spirit of God is indeed an added measure of POWER.
But, just in case the concept of POWER frightens you, as though the Holy Spirit would sneak up on
your blind side and grab you, let me calm your unjustified fears. Granted, some people’s idea of
POWER only includes the first three letters of the word - “POW”! And you may be a victim of some
such excess. But, remember two important things about the Holy Spirit and His approach to
people. First, remember how He (the Spirit) came upon the Lord Jesus - not like an eagle,
swooping down on his prey; but like a DOVE, gently lighting upon a friend. Remember secondly,
that the Spirit’s anointing is called, ‘the promise of God the Father” (ACTS 1:4) . We needn’t ever
be afraid of a gift from our FATHER! Remember the words of Jesus, “If you, being evil, know how
to give good gifts to your children, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to
them that ask” (Luke 11:13). Notice that Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is not only the Father’s gift,
but is the Father’s “GOOD GIFT.”
What is the gift of the Holy Spirit for? For POWER! Secondly....
Who is the Gift of the Holy Spirit For?
In his sermon on Pentecost, Peter answers this question. He said to the convicted crowd: “Repent
and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.
And you will receive the fit of the Holy Spirit. THE PROMISE IS FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN
AND FOR ALL WHO ARE AFAR OFF - FOR ALL WHOM THE LORD OUR GOD WILL CALL” (Acts
2:38-39). It seems pretty clear that the gift is not exclusive. It is not only for special saints or just
for deacons or preachers.
Earlier in his sermon Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32, “In the last days, God says, I will pout out My Spirit
on ALL PEOPLE...SONS AND DAUGHTERS... YOUNG MEN... OLD MEN... SERVANTS BOTH
MEN AND WOMEN...” Review Acts 2, 8, 9, 10 and 19; and notice the diversity of people who were
baptized in the Spirit. Paul’s injunction to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) was not
directed toward only elders or bishops, but to all “the saints in Ephesus.”
The baptism in the Holy Spirit
is not an “elective,” but is most
definitely a “core course”
for every believer in Jesus!
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an “elective,” but is most definitely a “core course” for every
believer in Jesus! The gift is not “optional equipment,” like white-walls are for a car. It is “essential
equipment,” like a steering wheel! You can drive without white walls, but not without a steering
wheel. The Spirit-filled life is not the “Deluxe Edition” of the Christian life! It’s what God intends to
be the normal Christian life.
Who is the promise of Spirit fullness directed toward? Every Christian. But - remembering that the
purpose for the Spirit filled life is for power to be witnesses for Christ to a sin-sick world, let me
suggest to you that though it is the believer that receives the gift, it is actually the world around the
believer that receives the benefits of it.
Another of Jesus’ promises of the Spirit’s baptism is in John 7:37-38. He said “If a man is thirsty, let
him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, STREAMS OF
LIVING WATER WILL FLOW FROM WITHIN HIM.” In verse 39 the Apostle John interprets His
words by saying “by this He meant the Spirit...” Notice that the living water doesn’t flow TO us as
much as FROM us. Holy Spirit baptism is not something only to GET, but so that we may GIVE. It’s
not a goal, but a gateway; not an end, but a means to an end. It’s not only for our blessing, but so
that we may be a blessing. This is water to DRINK and to DISPERSE. It is true that you can’t give
out of an empty bucket. You must receive before you can give. It may be “more blessed to give
than to receive,” but you’ve got to receive before you can give. You must have you’re own thirst
quenched -- but don’t stop there!
Notice that this is “Living Water,” not stagnant water like the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is “dead”
because it has water flowing TO IT, but not FROM IT! There’s no outlet! The Father yearns to fill
us so that we may overflow to others. One version says, ...”out of him will GUSH TORRENTS OF
WATER!” This is no gentle stream, but a cascade down a steep mountain during a storm destined
for the refreshing of desert dwellers! Dennis Bennett said it well, “Imagine an irrigation canal... The
canal is dry, and so are the fields around. All the vegetation is dried up and dead. Then the gates
from the reservoir are opened, and the canal begins to fill with water. First of all the canal itself is
refreshed! The cool flow of water carries away debris and slakes the dust. Next, grass and flowers
begin to spring up along the banks, and the trees on either side of the canal become fresh and
green. But it doesn’t stop there; all along the canal, farmers open the gates and the life-giving water
pours out into the fields to make the ‘desert blossom as the rose’.”
Thus, our prayer for fullness shouldn’t be, “Gimme.” It should be more like, “Empower me and use
me!” God’s gifts are always to be used, never to be hoarded. II Corinthians 9:11 says, “God will
give you much so you can give away much.”
Who is the gift of the Spirit for? In one sense, the gift is for every Christian. In another sense, it’s
the world that receives the benefits of the believer receiving the plunge in power. Thirdly -
How Does One Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit?
Truth will not aid us until we first know it, and then secondly, participate in it! It’s not sufficient to be
theologically orthodox and scripturally sound if there is no change of life. To be informed about the
Holy Spirit is only the first step. You must also be endued with Him and His power.
A study of the passages in the Bible that pertain to Holy Spirit baptism and how to receive it shows
that there is more in the Scriptures about God’s giving of the Gift, than how to actually prepare to
receive the Gift. This indicates that receiving the Spirit is not based on a number of “methods.” It is
not a matter of “10 Easy Steps to Holy Spirit Fullness. There are no “sure-fire methods” to be found
Even though there are no “methods” to being baptized in the Spirit, there are some qualifications
and some “do’s and don’ts” involved.
There are THREE QUALIFICATIONS FOR RECEIVING THE GIFT OF THE HOLY
(1) You must be born again. You must be a Christian in order to be filled with the Spirit.
(2) You must desire to be used of God. As I said earlier, the Baptism in the Spirit is not for the
selfish purpose of “getting a blessing,” but rather so that we may be a blessing. The Spirit of God
comes upon those who yearn to be used by God.
(3) You need to know that you aren’t able in your own power to be a blessing. You must
know that you need God’s anointing to do God’s work. Jesus said in this connection, “If any man
THIRST, let him come to Me and drink...” (John 7:37)
Furthermore, there are THREE THINGS YOU DON’T NEED TO DO IN ORDER TO
RECEIVE THE GIFT:
(1) You don’t have to be a particularly mature Christian. This is not to imply that maturity is
unimportant for the Christian. We all seek to grow in Christ. But, what I mean is that in order to be
baptized in the Spirit you needn’t have reached a special level of sanctification.
Remember that in Samaria the people had been believers possibly as short as four days (see Acts
8). Paul had been saved for all of three days when Ananias laid hands on him (Acts 9). Cornelius
and his household received Holy Spirit fullness at the same time of their salvation! (Acts 10) None
of these three examples had even a chance to mature in Christ. They were all brand-new
The Gift of the Holy Spirit,
is just that, a “GIFT.”
Some people feel that you have to have been saved many years before being filled with the Spirit.
But, why wait years to get the power to do the job you should start now?! Some feel that though our
salvation is given on the basis of grace, Holy Spirit baptism is given on the basis of our dedication.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Everything we receive from God was bought for us by
Christ’s blood and is appropriated by faith. The Gift of the Holy Spirit, is just that, a “GIFT.” You
don’t earn a gift. Paul said to the Galatians, “I would like to learn just on thing from you: Did you
receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?...Does God give you His
Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you
heard?” (Galatians 3:2, 5)
(2) You don’t have to speak in tongues. People ask frequently, “I want to be filled with Spirit,
but do I have to speak in tongues?” The answer is, “No, you GET TO!” As we’ve already seen,
speaking with tongues isn’t what baptizes us in the Spirit. The truth of the matter is, that when
you're baptized in the Spirit you will receive along with it the ability for the spiritual language.
The miracle of praying or praising in an unlearned language will be dealt with later in this booklet.
But let me say now that tongues is not taught. You’re not instructed on how to speak in tongues in
order to be Spirit-filled. Teaching someone how to speak in tongues in order to assure them of their
Holy Spirit baptism is simply getting the cart before the horse. If your car isn’t running properly and
makes strange sounds out of the tail pipe, the answer is not to crouch down by the muffler and try
to teach it the right sounds. The work needs to be done on the engine where the real need exists!
Similarly, people that get filled with the Spirit will have the potential given them to pray in tongues. It
doesn’t need to be taught. It comes from the miracle of Spirit fullness.
(3) You don’t have to be afraid. The Spirit of God is a perfect Gentleman. He descends upon us
like a dove. You needn’t fear His approach or even the extremes you may have been told about or
exposed to. Someone rightly said, “Fear of extremes must not be allowed to keep us from the truth.”
And then there are THREE THINGS YOU MUST DO IN ORDER TO RECEIVE THE
GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT:
(1) Ask. Jesus said, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to you r children how much
more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ASK.” (Luke 11:13) James tell us, “You have
not because you ask not.” (James 4:2)
(2) Believe. In other words, you must ask in faith. Paul asks the Galatians the rhetorical questions
that we saw earlier. “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing...? Does God
give you His Spirit... because you observe the law, or because you believe...? (Galatians 3:2,5)
This gift, like every other gift from the Father, was paid for at the cross of Christ and is appropriated
(3) Receive. After commissioning the disciples, Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the
Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). He commanded them here to not only ask and believe, but also to
receive. You must take the gift offered to you, must as you did with salvation. In context of
receiving Holy Spirit fullness, Jesus said, “If any man is thirsty let him come to ME and DRINK”
(John 7:37). It’s not good enough only to “come,” but we must bend down and drink!
This gift, like every other gift from the Father,
was paid for at the cross of Christ and
is appropriated by faith.
A Sunday School teacher was illustrating the truths of believing and receiving to his class. He took
his watch off and offered it to the boy closest to him. Puzzled, the boy just looked at the offer and
turned it down. The rest of the boys followed suit until the last boy reached out, took the watch, and
said “Thanks.” The others immediately spoke up and said, “Is he going to get to keep that?!” The
teacher replied “Sure. I offered it to you first.” One boy retorted, “If I had thought you meant it...”
Each one said similarly, “I thought...” Everyone thought - only one received! Be a receiver not just
a believer! You must ASK, BELIEVE and RECEIVE!
THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT PROMISED AND POSSESSED
The New Testament book, The Acts of the Apostles, has often been called “The Acts of the Holy
Spirit,” and for good reason. He (the Holy Spirit) is mentioned over fifty times in the book, and is the
source of power throughout the narrative that covers about seventy years of church history.
Let’s look together at six key passages from this book that relate to the theme of this booklet: Holy
Spirit fullness. The first passage is one of the accounts of Jesus’ PROMISE of the baptism in the
Spirit (a synonym for being “filled” with the Spirit). The other five are accounts of different people
experiencing the fulfillment of that promise, and POSSESSING the fullness.
The Power of the Spirit - PROMISED
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave
Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For
John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." So when they
met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own
authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:4-8)
Notice some key words in this passage. In verse 4, Jesus speaks of the baptism in the Spirit in
terms of it being “the promise of the Father.” There are many promises in the Bible, but only one is
called “THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER.” Remember that promises always put the burden of
fulfillment on the promiser, not on the promisee! If this fullness of the Spirit is the Father’s promise,
we may rest assured in His ability to keep His Word!
Another key to this passage is the phrase, “BAPTIZED with (or in) the Holy Spirit.” This term,
“baptize” refers to a thorough drenching or saturation. It means to be entirely immersed in
something as with the sinking of a ship, the dying of a piece of cloth, or the tempering of a sword in
water. To be “baptized in the Holy Spirit” means to be plunged by Jesus into the Person and power
of the Spirit.
Notice also the word “POWER” in verse 8. This Holy Spirit-filled life is distinguished by its “power.”
The Greek word here is “Dunamis,” from which we derive our words, “dynamite” and “dynamic.”
As forgiveness is the gift received at new birth, “power” is the gift received at Holy Spirit baptism.
The Spirit comes “within” at salvation to produce
the character and lifestyle of Jesus, and comes
“upon” us at Spirit baptism to produce the power
and ministry of Jesus.
The tiny word “on” or “upon” in verse 8 is also an important term to note. Jesus speaks here of the
Spirit coming “upon” us at this experience. This is to be distinguished from the Spirit coming to be
“within” us at salvation. Read I Corinthians 3:16, 6:19 and II Timothy 1:14, which all speak of the
Spirit “within” as a result of salvation. Compare Acts 2:3, 8:16, 10:44, 11:15, 19:6 and Luke 24:49,
which refer to the baptism in the Spirit, and His coming upon us at that time. Thus, the Spirit comes
“within” at salvation to produce the character and lifestyle of Jesus, and comes “upon” us at Spirit
baptism to produce the power and ministry of Jesus.
The last crucial term in this passage is ‘WITNESSES.” Jesus says that the result of being filled with
the Spirit is that we’ll have “power” to be “witnesses.” A “witness” is a person who has seen
something and tells about it, as with a witness in court. Witnesses for Jesus are people willing to
lay down their lives, if need be, to tell about the One they’ve seen by faith. Christ stands at the bar
of the world’s opinion. We are His chief character witnesses. We give evidence concerning His
reputation and conduct. What He’s saying here is that in order to do that to our fullest potential, we
need to be empowered. In Luke 24:45-49, Jesus commissioned the disciples to tell the gospel to
the world as witnesses. In verses 45-48, He essentially says “GO.” In verse 49, He says, “WAIT
until you’re clothed with power.” He refers here to the Spirit’s baptism.
Thus, we have the experience of the power of Holy Spirit fullness PROMISED. Let’s look now at
five different examples of this power being POSSESSED in the Book of Acts.
The Power of the Spirit - POSSESSED
- When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like
the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were
sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each
of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as
the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
Exactly ten days from the PROMISE came the first instance of the promise being kept. What were
they doing between the promise and Pentecost? In 1:14 we’re told they did just what He had
commanded them to do, they “waited” in prayer. It says, “they all joined constantly in prayer” during
those ten days.
You’ll notice that when the Holy Spirit came that day and filled them, three things were indicators of
His presence. First, there was a “sound like a violent wind.” Second, there was what “seemed to
be” a big fire, that while hovering over them, separated into small flames shaped like tongues
(picture in your mind the flame over a candle), each of which rested on individuals. The third sign
was that everyone who was filled with the Spirit spoke in a language he hadn’t before learned.
In regard to this “speaking in other tongues (languages),” notice from verse 4 that they “began to
speak...” This, unlike the sound of wind and the flames of fire, was not a one-time experience,
never to be repeated. They began on that day the speaking of a God-given, unlearned language,
and continued throughout their lives. Read also verses 5-12 and you’ll see that a huge crowd that
heard the sound like wind gathered and heard the 120 speaking “the wonders of God” in their own
language. It doesn’t say that the 120 spoke all these languages, but that the hearers “heard” them
(verses 6 & 8). The content of what they were speaking was a declaration of “the wonders of God”
(verse 11). This was praise, not proclamation. They were worshipping God in an unlearned
language “as the Spirit enabled them,” they were not preaching the gospel.
In verses 14-41 we see Peter standing up and giving an explanation of this phenomenon.
Remember, this is Peter “with the Eleven,” who just days before had been shaking with fear behind
locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Peter had denied even knowing the Lord out of fear
for his own life. But, after being “filled with the Holy Spirit” he stands boldly to preach the Good
News before thousands. Later he stands undaunted in the face of beatings, imprisonment and
martyrdom while preaching Christ. What made the difference? He was now filled with the Holy
Spirit and His power!
- When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent
Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the
Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been
baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them,
and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on
of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that
everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Peter answered: "May your
money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! (Acts
Philip had gone to Samaria, preached Christ, and in the power of the Lord did many healing and
deliverance miracles (Acts 8:5-8). Many people responded to his message, believed in Christ, and
were baptized in water. News got to Jerusalem after a minimum of two days (the length of time it
took to travel the distance), and Peter and John arrived in Samaria at least two days after that. I
point out the chronology so that you will see that these Samaritan converts were at least “four days
old” in Christ (maybe even weeks or months old) before receiving the baptism in the Spirit. For
them, at least, it was not an experience that happened at the same time as their new birth.
Verses 15-17 tell us that Peter and John did two things. They, first of all, “prayed for them that they
might receive the Holy Spirit,” and secondly, “they placed their hands on them.”
In verses 18-19 we’re told that Simon the Sorcerer “saw” something when the new believers had
hands laid on them. What did he see? We can’t say conclusively, but when we compare this with
the rest of the accounts in the book of Acts of people being filled with the Spirit, it seems likely that
he saw them speak in other tongues as they did on the Day of Pentecost. He certainly saw some
sort of evidence, since he was willing to pay for the power to lay hands on people and get the same
Simon’s error was in thinking that it was Peter and John who gave the Spirit to the young
Christians. But, Jesus is the only Baptizer in the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 3:11). The “laying on of
hands” is symbolic of God’s hand already on the person. We merely stand in agreement with God
when we place our hands on others in prayer for healing, Spirit-baptism, or ministry (Mark 16:18, II
- Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother
Saul, the Lord --Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here --has sent
me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something
like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and
after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:17-19)
This chapter tells the story of the dramatic conversion of Saul of Tarsus. He was on his way to
Damascus in order to arrest Christians and bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem. His journey
was interrupted by a “light from heaven” and life-changing conversation with the Lord Jesus
Himself. He went into Damascus blind and went without food or drink. Commanded by the Lord in
a vision, a Christian man named Ananias, went hesitatingly to minister to Saul. Like Peter and John
in Acts 8, Ananias laid hands on Saul, and Saul recovered his sight and received the fullness of the
You’ll notice the passage doesn’t say that Paul spoke in tongues as a result of being filled with the
Spirit. But later to the Corinthians he declared that he “spoke in tongues more than all of them” (1
- While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the
message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift
of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in
tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being
baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that
they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a
few days. (Acts 10:44-48)
The tenth chapter of Acts is the fourth instance of the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus to fill
believers with the Holy Spirit.
In verses 1-43 we’re told of a God-fearing Gentile man from Caesarea, who hadn’t yet received
salvation through Christ, named Cornelius. He was visited by an angel who instructed him to send
for the Apostle Peter, who would enlighten him concerning the gospel. With Peter’s prejudice
against Gentiles temporarily overcome, he accompanied Cornelius’ servants back to Caesarea. He
was greeted by an extraordinarily receptive audience (see verse 33) and began to preach the Good
News about Christ. This is where verse 44 begins. Before Peter even completed his sermon, his
listeners had heard enough to savingly believe in Jesus, and at that same moment, received the
baptism in the Holy Spirit!
Take note please of verse 44 where we have the common description of this experience: “The Holy
Spirit came on (upon) them.” The Jewish believers were awe-struck that not only could Gentiles be
saved, but also be baptized in the Spirit just as hey had. Notice the way that they knew these
people had been filled with the Spirit; “FOR they heard them speaking in tongues...” To them,
tongues was a strong evidence of the experience of Holy Spirit baptism. They knew it was the real
thing because they heard the tongues.
- While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus.
There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you
believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul
asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said,
"John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming
after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord
Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke
in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6)
Twenty years after the initial outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost in Acts 2, we have this fifth
example of believers receiving the Holy Spirit baptism. These twelve men are identified as
“disciples” in verse 1; as believers, ignorant of the work of the Spirit in verse 2; and as converts of
John the Baptist in verse 3. They seem to have had the status and understanding of Old Testament
believers. John the Baptist had led them to the Christ Who was to come, they went back to
Ephesus, and for over twenty years looked in expectation for His coming. They trusted in the
coming Christ as did Abraham, David, and the rest of the Old Testament saints; not realizing He had
The first thing Paul asked them was if they had received the Holy Spirit “when” they believed. Now
that’s an interesting question. It makes us wonder whether or not Paul noticed something lacking in
their walk, worship or witness. (Something will be lacking without the fullness of God’s provision for
power. Otherwise, why would He even provide for Holy Spirit fullness, if there isn’t a deficit apart
There is one other thing about this question that is significant. It proves that being baptized in the
Holy Spirit is not the same as being born again, and that these two experiences don’t necessarily
happen simultaneously. There was no need to ask this question if it’s automatic to receive the
fullness of the Spirit when we believe in Christ! Whether it’s translated “when,” “since,” or “after,”
it's all the same. Paul, apparently sensed something missing in their lives, and with years of ministry
under his belt, was able to accurately diagnose the deficiency. It would be like getting a physical
exam and your doctor notices certain symptoms of a particular vitamin deficiency. Believers not yet
filled with the Spirit have a definite deficiency.
These men provide us with a good example of long-time Christians ignorance of the availability of
Holy Spirit fullness. They loved Jesus but just didn’t know the facts!
There are those who would contend that these twelve men were not yet born again when Paul
found them, and that their reception of the Spirit was just their new birth experience. But please
notice that in verse 4 Paul clarified that Jesus had already come, then in verse 5 he baptized them
in water. Unless Paul baptized people not yet born again, we have to admit that these men were
doubtless saved by now. But, notice it was after they were baptized in water that “Paul laid hands
on them and the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke with tongues.” And so, whatever status
you give these twelve initially, it is conclusive that their salvation and Holy Spirit baptism were
THE TRUTH ABOUT TONGUES
We have already seen, in the Book of Acts, in three of the five incidents where people received the
Holy Spirit, tongues (the supernatural ability to speak an unlearned language) is explicitly mentioned
(Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6). We have also seen that in the other two passages where the Samaritans
and Saul were filled with the Spirit, it is implied that they spoke with tongues (Acts 8:18, I
Corinthians 14:18). In Mark 16:17 Jesus prophesied that certain “signs” would follow believers, one
of which was the speaking with ”new tongues.” The New Testament letter most full of references
to “tongues” is I Corinthians (see 12:10, 30; 13:1, 8; 14:1-40). Paul also alludes to praying in
tongues in Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and Romans 8:26-27. Jude also refers to the ongoing
practice of praying in tongues (see Jude 20). As has been mentioned, in Acts 2:4 people only
“BEGAN” speaking with tongues on Pentecost. The use of this miracle sign neither diminished nor
ceased in the first century, and is available as and active in our time as it was in theirs.
In this chapter I’d like to speak to three issues: What tongues is not, when tongues are used, and
what tongues is for.
What Tongues Is Not
An article in a secular news magazine spoke of tongues speakers as ...”in an ecstatic trance
- Spiritual language is never ecstatic or mindless babbling or gibberish.
bursting out in unintelligible and uncontrollable utterances.” Nothing could be further from the truth
about the Biblical practice of other tongues.
To begin with the experience is not “ecstatic.” In fact, the only time the word “ecstasis” is used in
the Greek New Testament in the same context as people speaking in tongues, it is used to describe
the LISTENERS, not the speakers! (See Acts 2:7, 12; 10:45) Furthermore, the person speaking in
other tongues no more gets into a “trance” than he/she does when speaking in his/her native
tongue. In fact, II Timothy 1:7 tells us that the Spirit given us by God produces “power, love and a
SOUND MIND.” That doesn’t sound very trance-like to me!
Another misnomer is that speaking with tongues is “uncontrollable,” as though it came on as some
spiritual spasm. This would be entirely out of character for the Spirit whose fruit it is to bear in us
the quality of “SELF CONTROL” (Galatians 5:23). It isn’t that the Spirit makes us speak in another
language. He does, though enable us to speak. On the day of Pentecost they “began to speak in
other tongues AS THE SPIRIT ENABLED THEM” (Acts 2:4). Howard Ervin wrote, “The Spirit-filled
Christian is INFUSED WITH, not INVADED BY the Spirit. The charismatic manifestations of the
Spirit are voluntary responses, not involuntary reactions to the Holy Spirit’s initiative.”
Speaking in other tongues is both human
and divine elements working
in cooperation with each other.
We also see from Acts 2:4 that it is not the Holy Spirit who speaks in tongues. It says rather that the
people spoke with tongues, the Holy Spirit supplying the ability. They supplied the capacity of
speech, He gave the ability for an unknown language. The miracle was not THAT they spoke, but
rather, WHAT they spoke. Speaking in other tongues is both human and divine elements working in
cooperation with each other. Someone said, “Without the Holy Spirit you can’t, but without you, the
Holy Spirit won’t.”
A good example of this principle of cooperation is Peter walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee
(see Matthew 14:22-29). You’ll notice that in verse 29 we’re told who did the walking, as well as
who made the decision to walk on the water. It says that “PETER got down out of the boat AND
WALKED ON THE WATER.” Before the miracle could happen Peter had to do his part. He didn’t
do anything supernatural. He “stepped out” in faith, but as always, it was God who did the miracle.
God did not lift Peter out of the boat! In the same way, God won’t speak in tongues! You’ll have to
use your lips and voice to speak just like Peter had to use his feet and legs to walk. But when you
do step out in faith as did Peter, the miracle of a new prayer language will be yours. Refusing to
step out leaves you in the boat with the rest of the disciples, doesn’t it? Many refuse to speak in
tongues for fear they’ll “get in the flesh.” Someone once said, “When Peter got out and walked on
the water, the ‘flesh’ were all still sitting in the boat!”
You can see from this that the exercise of other tongues is in no way “mindless.” Jack Hayford puts
it well when he said that tongues is not “infra-intellectual” (below the intellect) or “anti-intellectual”
(against the intellect).
This is not to imply that the mind is in “neutral” when we pray in our spiritual language. In fact, the
speaker’s mind is involved in at least three ways. First, the mind is involved in the decision to
speak. Second, the mind is actively involved in an awareness of Christ, unlike the mind-emptying
meditation techniques of the East. Thirdly, though the speaker may not know what exactly he is
praying, he will always know to Whom he is praying and he will usually know what he’s praying
about. His mind sees the prayer need, not knowing just how to pray, he prays “with his spirit” (I
Corinthians 14:14-16) in other tongues. The mind is indeed involved.
It isn’t necessarily a language known by some people or nation or culture (i.e. French, Russian,
- Spiritual language is not necessarily a human language
Spanish, etc.). I didn’t say that it couldn’t be, but that it isn’t necessarily a known language. In I
Corinthians 14:2 Paul says, “Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.
Indeed, NO ONE UNDERSTANDS HIM; he utters mysteries with his spirit.“
I know that this seems to conflict with what happened on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. But, it
never actually says that the 120 spoke in the languages of the listeners. In verses 6, 8 and 11 it
says that the listeners heard them that way. It is impossible to be dogmatic on this point, but we
never see in Scripture another example of hearers understanding the language of those speaking in
tongues. Therefore, two miracles happened on the Day of Pentecost regarding other tongues.
Miracle #1 - The 120 spoke in a spiritual language; Miracle #2 - Many in the crowd heard their own
language being used.
Some would assume that tongues is God giving us the ability to speak the language of a people to
whom we would preach the gospel as they did on Pentecost. But the error there is that when they
spoke in tongues on Pentecost they weren’t preaching at all, but rather praising God (see Acts 2:
11). There was no preaching until Peter stood up and spoke in the language common to all.
Other tongues is not usually a human language for the purpose of proclamation, but a divine
language for the purpose of prayer and praise.
That is what tongues is not. When then is tongues used?
When Tongues Is Used
There are two uses of the exercise of spiritual language: PERSONAL AND PUBLIC. The personal
use of tongues is given at Holy Spirit baptism. The public use is one of nine gifts of the Spirit listed
in I Corinthians 12 and requires the attendant gift of “interpretation.” The one is for the believer’s
personal devotional life for prayer, praise and personal faith-building (see I Corinthians 14:2, 4, 5,
14, 15, 16, 17,18, 28). The other is to be used in the gathering times when a word from God is to
be given (i.e. prophecy), and that word is preceded by a message in tongues (see I Corinthians 12:
10, 28, 30; 14:5, 6, 26, 27). The difference, you see, is a difference of function, not of kind. The
language may be the same, but the purpose of it varies. And though the purpose of this section is
to discuss the personal use of tongues and not the “Gift of Tongues” or public use, we must look
further into their difference and what Paul says regarding that difference in his first letter to the
In I Corinthians 11-14 we have the Apostle’s “Guidelines for Gatherings.” He begins by saying, “In
the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings are doing more harm than good.”
(11:17) Notice all the other references to public assembly in 11:18, 20, 33, 34; 14:23, 26, 28,33,
34, 35. The first problem with the meetings in Corinth was their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (see 11:
20-34). The second problem was their abuse of spiritual language and the gifts of the Spirit
(chapters 12-14). Their crimes regarding the Lord’s Supper and tongues are both dealt with by the
contents of chapter 13, the “Love Chapter.” The remedy to all of their errors was to love each other
like Jesus loved them.
They showed much disrespect for the needs of others and they showed-off instead of attempting to
meet the needs of others. In the case of tongues, the Corinthians confused its personal and public
use. There would be those who would interrupt a gathering with an outburst of their spiritual
language in order to look spiritual to others. They used the personal use in public, in front of all,
and since there was no interpretation, Paul concludes that it had no edifying quality to the listeners,
and was thus out of order. “If there is not interpreter,” says Paul, “ the speaker should keep quiet in
the church and speak to himself and God.” (14:28) It is interesting that he no more advocates the
banning of spiritual language because it was abused than he does the banning of the Lord’s
Supper! There were those who did discourage all tongues speaking, and to that Paul commands,
“Forbid not speaking in tongues.” (14:39)
Remember, their abuse of spiritual language was a confusion of its personal and public use while in
corporate gatherings. It wasn’t that they spoke with tongues, but that they spoke up at the wrong
time. It’s not that it’s wrong to speak in one’s personal use of tongues in a church meeting, but just
not in front of everyone. It is certainly all right to speak inconspicuously or even when all speak.
Remember Acts 2:4, 10:46 and 19:6. Take into consideration when you read I Corinthians 14 that
Paul’s point is to exhort them to work on the gifts that edify others (verse 12) when they are
assembled. But he also advocates the use of tongues in private as a means of being edified, so
that when we are in public we may be edifying. He says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more
than you all.” (verse 18). His purpose is to promote edification and prevent confusion (verses 39-
To sum up then, there are two functions of the spiritual language: First, there is the devotional
exercise of tongues, the potential for which is given at Holy Spirit baptism. Second, there is the
public exercise given at times of public gathering, the interpretation of which will edify the church.
We’ve seen so far that spiritual language is NOT uncontrollable babbling or necessarily a human
language. We’ve seen that it has two places of exercise: in the devotional life and in public
assembly. The question now is, what is tongues for? Why should I speak in tongues? What are
the benefits of it?
What Tongues Is For
We’ll list and discuss the three foundational benefits of tongues in the devotional life: Exaltation,
Edification and Intercession (or praise, personal edification and prayer).
By EXALTATION I refer to the believer’s praise and worship experience. You’ll remember that the
first time believers exercised the spiritual language was on the day of Pentecost. Those that heard
them, said that those speaking in tongues were “declaring the wonders of God” (acts 2:11). That is
exactly what praise and worship consists of. When we praise God, we are often rehearsing His
mighty deeds (see Exodus 15:1-18, Psalm 103, 136, 147; Revelation 4:11; 15:3; 19:1-2, etc.). In
Acts 10:46 we’re told that when Cornelius and his household were filled with the Spirit they were
heard to be “speaking in tongues and praising God.”
Speaking in tongues is
“praising with your spirit”
In I Corinthians 14:16-17 Paul tells us that speaking in tongues is “praising with your spirit,” and
that the one who does so, “gives thanks well.” He explains in this section that he is not dismissing
the value of praying or praising with “the mind.” But it only stands to reason that our finite minds are
only able to go so far in expressing thanks to the infinite Creator.
The paradox is that God is “knowable” yet “unsearchable” (Romans 11:33). Both of these
encourage us to praise Him with understanding, and yet beyond our understanding! With spiritual
language, He’s provided for us to worship beyond our intellectual capacity. This is no excuse for
laziness in seeking to know about God and His deeds. It is more like a “worship overdrive” that we
add to our praise with the mind. Praise in tongues is praise that isn’t limited to cranial capacity. It is
worship from the very depths of our spirit. The speaker in tongues “utters mysteries with his spirit,”
says Paul. He speaks mysteries about the majesty and glory of God yet to be revealed. Notice too
that God is pleased with such praise and calls those who exercise it good praisers (I Corinthians 14:
Praise in tongues is praise that
isn’t limited to cranial capacity
We have already looked at Paul’s command to the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit”
(Ephesians 5:18). Notice the results of that fullness, spoken of in the following verses (19-21).
Being full of the Spirit, Paul says, will result in “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and
spiritual songs, singing and making music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God....
and submitting to one another.” Three of these four evidences of the Spirit-filled life have to do
specifically with worship. Many feel that the “spiritual songs” he mentions are the same as “singing
with the spirit (in tongues)” spoken of in I Corinthians 14:15.
In John 4:24 Jesus said God’s worshipers “must worship IN SPIRIT and truth.” By “worship in
Spirit,” he means that we must worship as enabled by the Holy Spirit from the depths of our human
spirit. Worship is not just an intellectual thing. It must be intelligent, yes, but we must worship in
truth from our spirit. The spiritual language is our spirit’s direct means of praise expression.
Charles Wesley wrote these words in the 18th century: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great
Redeemer’s praise. The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace...”
The second thing the spiritual language is for is the EDIFICATION of the believer. In I Corinthians
14:4-5, Paul tells us that, “He who speaks in a tongue EDIFIES HIMSELF, “ and then he says, “I
would like every one of you to speak in tongues.” The word “edify” means to build up or to
strengthen. We get our word “edifice” from it. The one who uses the spiritual language consistently
is bolstered, encouraged, and enhanced in his Christian walk.
Someone may ask, “Isn’t it rather selfish to concentrate on things that edify only yourself?” My
answer to that is - not unless you consider the other means which we also employ for personal
edification (i.e. Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship with other saints) to be selfish. We do these
things so that our life is so enhanced that we may minister to others out of the overflow. The
practice of spiritual language is just another means of building us up in Christ so we’ll be more apt
to give to others.
One way to attain and maintain
that strength in Christ is to
constantly be praying in the Spirit,
which in part is praying in spiritual language
In his one-chapter epistle, Jude writes nineteen verses describing the decadence of last day
humanity. Then in verse 20 he says, “But you dear friends, BUILD YOURSELVES UP IN THE
MOST HOLY FAITH AND PRAY IN THE SPIRIT.” He’s saying that if we want to be different from
the world, over whose head lurks the judgment of God, we had better be strong in the faith. One
way to attain and maintain that strength in Christ is to constantly be praying in the Spirit, which in
part is praying in spiritual language. Then notice in verses 22-23 he instructs us not to only EDIFY
ourselves, but also EVANGELIZE the world. Again, the point is that we can’t be edifying until we’re
How is it actually edifying to our walk with Christ to use our prayer language? The Bible doesn’t
specifically say how it works, it merely tells us to do it - and that’s good enough for me. But, I do
have a few thoughts about tongues that I know, from experience, help answer this question.
First of all, there’s an extremely humbling quality to the practice of spiritual language. It is very
humbling to speak a language that is not of your own origin. Any language foreign to us has a
tendency to sound weird or like baby talk. Our spiritual language may sound similar. It is also
humbling because it is something your intellectual capacity didn’t formulate. It says to us also that
we “don’t know what to pray for as we ought and the Spirit helps us in our weakness and prays
according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). Praying in tongues is humbling, and anything that
humbles us is ultimately edifying and good for us!
Secondly, tongues is edifying because it forces us to practice something by faith that God says is
good for us. We can’t make an intellectual analysis of what we’re saying because we are “speaking
mysteries,” thus it is often impossible to check for results. In other words, we may not see what it is
doing for us, but we make the “leap of faith” and trust God to keep His Word that it is indeed good
for us! It’s like Peter stepping out of the boat. If you’ll think about it, that miracle has only one
value. It was an opportunity to “step out” onto the Sea of Galilee in faith. Every time we do, we
grow in faith. And that step of faith leads to the next, which leads to the next, etc.
Thirdly, the spiritual language edifies us because it seems to be our introduction into a miracle
mentality. It’s a miracle language that initiates us into miracle living. You seldom find the Spiritual
Gifts (I Corinthians 12:7-10) in abundance where you don’t find people pray in tongues. We
participate in a miracle each time we use our spiritual language in prayer and praise. Some have
said that tongues is the “least of the gifts.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that. But I do suggest
you begin with tongues, and then press into the other manifestations of the Spirit available to every
The third benefit of tongues is the aid it gives us in the art of INTERCESSION. Paul tells us that
when we use the language God gave us we “speak to God,” we “utter mysteries with our spirit,” and
“our spirit prays.” (I Corinthians 14:2, 14)
An intercessor is a person who is a partner with God in furthering of His purposes through prayer.
Lewis P. Chafer said, “God has honored man with an exalted place of cooperation and partnership
with Himself in His great projects of human transformation.” We cooperate with His “great projects”
when we pray according to His will. What more accurate way to pray than to “pray in the Spirit”
In Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus said, ...”.I will build My Church... I will give you the keys of the Kingdom
of Heaven...” Notice He says “I WILL BUILD... I WILL GIVE,” In a nutshell, He is telling us that it is
His intention to build a Kingdom-extending people on the earth and that He invites us to be that
people in partnership with Him. Our responsible use of the “keys of the Kingdom” will be the means
of opening and closing doors conducive to the will of the King. One of those “keys” is prayer,
particularly intercessory prayer.
He has made us partners in business with Him. He tells us no checks are good, contract valid, or
expansion-decisions authoritative until both HE AND WE sign. Our signature is written by PRAYER.
We pray beyond what we know
when we pray in tongues!
What does that have to do with tongues? When we pray in our spiritual language we “speak
mysteries with our spirit.” In other words we PRAY BEYOND WHAT WE KNOW when we pray in
tongues! Don’t forget that it is often that we “do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit
Himself INTERCEDES FOR US with groans that words cannot express,” and “He INTERCEDES
FOR THE SAINTS IN ACCORDANCE WITH GOD’S WILL” (Romans 8:26-27). He’s saying that
many of God’s “business deals” are way over our heads! If we are to sign next to His Name by
prayer, we are going to need to pray OVER OUR HEADS! That is precisely what we’re doing when
we pray in tongues. We are giving our mouths to be the phone line for the Holy Spirit to talk to the
Father about Kingdom business! We are agreeing with the Father’s plan, signing a contract with
Him, making a Kingdom-decision operative and authoritative. And since we are praying beyond
what we know, He is doing “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)!
The spiritual language is not only useful praying BIG prayers, but also for praying ACCURATE
prayers. We may not know how to pray because we are ignorant of the best solution of a situation.
The best way to pray ON TARGET is to pray in tongues. It is impossible to pray out of God’s will
when you’re praying the Spirit.
Please take note that all three of these fundamental purposes for the spiritual language imply the
necessity of a consistent exercise of the language. EXALTATION, EDIFICATION and
INTERCESSION are all ongoing needs in the Christian’s life. Worship, growing in Christ, and
intercessory prayer are the daily affairs of every believer. It is therefore necessary for us to make
our exercise of spiritual language a daily affair as well. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions”
(Ephesians 6:18) is the Apostle’s advice.
Notice also the connection of the purpose of the language and the purpose of the Baptism in the
Spirit. Remember Acts 1:8, “You shall receive POWER when the Holy spirit comes upon you you
shall be WITNESSES...” Holy Spirit fullness is our unction to function with gumption. But how does
tongues relate to that evangelistic purpose?
As a matter of fact, tongues as we’ve seen it, has much to do with reaching the lost. Briefly, the
EXALTATION, or worship purpose of tongues is essential to the carrying out of the Great
Commission according to Psalm 8:2, 22:3 and 149:1-9. These passages all tell us that when we
worship God we align ourselves with His ruling activity, defy the enemy of our souls, and establish
the possibility of the perfect will of God being done among people. That is what I call evangelistic!
The EDIFYING benefit of the devotional exercise of tongues also has outreach implications. It’s
obvious that we can only be as much of a blessing as we are being blessed. If we’re not strong we
have little to give. It’s clear that much of the POWER of the Spirit-filled life is derived from the
consistent exercise of spiritual language. One of Church history’s most powerful men said, “I speak
in tongues more than all of you” (I Corinthians 14:18).
We do untold damage to hell’s purposes,
and pray ON TARGET every time when
we pray in the spiritual language
The dynamic that tongues gives to the INTERCESSORY life of any believer has obvious outreach
implications as well. One of the most effective ways of praying for the lost is to pray with the spirit.
We might as well use the most effective means available while plowing spiritual soil! We do untold
damage to hell’s purposes, and pray ON TARGET every time when we pray in the spiritual
language. Chafer said, “Soul-winning is more a service of pleading for souls than a service of
pleading with souls... The divine order is to talk to God about men until the door is open to talk to
men about God.” Paul said, “anyone who speaks in a tongue....speaks TO GOD...” We can only
wonder about the effect we would have on the lost world if we all consistently prayed in the Spirit for
THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT:
WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW TO USE THEM
- There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but
the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in
all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To
one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of
knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of
healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another
distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still
another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and
he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (I Corinthians 12:4-11)
The purpose of this section is to provide a brief overview of the gifts which the Holy Spirit makes
available to the Church to meet the needs of others. By no means is this meant to be an exhaustive
study. You won’t find answers here to every conceivable question regarding these gifts. But you
should be able, after studying these few pages, to define each gift mentioned in the Bible, and most
importantly, be able to begin to operate in these supernatural abilities.
“God has a full storehouse of gifts, He just can’t
find many distributors!”
Someone once said, “God has a full storehouse of gifts, He just can’t find many distributors!” That
is what every Christian is supposed to be - a “distributor” or “delivery person” of the Holy Spirit’s
gifts! We are to be an “HPS” (Heavenly Parcel Service) of sorts! The gifts of the Spirit are not
toys to be played with, or trophies which are earned. They are rather tools to be used to meet
human need and glorify God.
The Gifts of the Spirit:
Facts About Them and Functioning In Them
1. The Gifts of the Spirit Compared to the Motivational and Equipping Gifts.
The New Testament lists three distinct sets of gifts. Call them what you like, but they clearly depict
distinct kinds of giftings from God to His Church.
(1) The Motivational Gifts (Romans 12:3-8). Serving, teaching, giving, prophesying, administering,
extending mercy and exhorting. These gifts seem to function all the time in each believer; and they
function through the personality. These are: WHAT WE ARE. One of these is especially
expressive of each of us in daily life.
(2) The Equipping Gifts (Ephesians 4:11-12). Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher.
These are obviously people who equip the saints to be the best they possibly can be at BEING
WHAT THEY ARE.
(3) The Spiritual Gifts (I Corinthians 12:1-11). These are the SUPERNATURAL EQUIPMENT WITH
WHICH TO FUNCTION WHILE BEING WHAT WE ARE. Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom,
Discerning of Spirits, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues and Prophecy.
2. The “Gifts of the Spirit” Compared to the “Fruit of the Spirit”.
The list in Galatians 5:22-23 depicts the “Fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, long-suffering,
kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. These represent the character of the
Christian as compared to the Gifts, which speak of the power of the Christian. The one has to do
with the ways and motives of Jesus in the believer. The other has to do with the works and ministry
of Jesus, also in the believer. The Fruit is the result of the responsible application of salvation.
The Gifts are the result of the responsible application of Holy Spirit fullness. The Fruit grows from
within, while the Gifts are given from without.
It is important to note that it is not a matter of either/or. We don’t have to choose between the Fruit
and the Gifts. We are supposed to have both! I Corinthians 13 is not a comparison of love and
gifts. It is rather a comparison of gifts with love and gifts without love. I Corinthians 14:1 says
“Follow the way of love AND eagerly desire the gifts.”
3. The Gifts of the Spirit are Available to Any Spirit Filled Believer.
There are two qualifications:
(1) As He Wills - “He gives them to each one just as He determines” (I Corinthians 12:11)
(2) As You Seek - “Eagerly desire the best gifts.” (I Corinthians 12:31)
The Spirit’s gifts are all available to us when
He sovereignly chooses and we earnestly seek
These two qualifications set the Gifts of the Spirit apart from the Motivational and Equipping Gifts.
The Spirit’s gifts are all available to us when He sovereignly chooses and we earnestly seek. His
sovereign choice keeps the gifts in His charge. Otherwise, we would all go and clear out all the
hospitals with the gift of healing! But, as is indicated in Scripture, our fervent and active desire to be
used in such ways plays an important part. It is an old saying, “The windmill only works when the
wind blows.” That is, the gifts flow only when the Spirit wills. But, as windmills, we must catch the
wind and utilize it for constructive purposes!
4. The Gifts of the Spirit According to I Corinthians 12:31 - “But eagerly desire the greater
gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.”
(1) The best way to practice the gifts is out of a heart of “love.” That is, the only proper motive for
operating in the gifts is love for others, because it’s others who receive the real benefits of the gifts.
(2) The best gift is the one needed at the time. The best gift, if someone is sick is healing, not
tongues! If it’s counsel that’s needed, Word of Wisdom might be the best gift at the time, instead of
(3) The best way to enter the use of the gifts is to “earnestly desire” them by passionately seeking
God for their direct impartation.
5. The Gifts of the Spirit According to I Corinthians 12:7 - “Now to each one the
manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
(1) Gifts are not PRESENTS, but are announcements of His PRESENCE! That is, the gifts are
“Symptoms of the Spirit,” see I Cor 14:25.
(2) Gifts are not PERMANENT ABILITIES but MOMENTARY POWERS! They function like a
sailboat which only sails when the wind blows. The Gifts are not like a bus pass where you can ride
anytime you want. They are more like a ticket for a one ride at a time.
(3) Gifts are not so much something you HAVE, but something you GIVE. They are for the
“common good” - “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts
that build up the church.” (I Cor 14:12) Remember we are merely distributors, delivery persons.
6. The Gifts of the Spirit and the Balance of Responsibility.
(1) GOD’S PART: He distributes the gifts. (I Cor 12:11; Hebrews 2:4)
Though the gifts are the “manifestation of the Spirit,” God operates through a person as a
(2) OUR PART: We seek the gifts (I Cor 12:31, 14:1, 14:13, II Tim 1:6) The person operating in a
gift is not to be passive, but involved with his own will, mind, and body. It is participation is
intelligent and voluntary; not in a state of euphoric stupor. Though the gifts are the “manifestation of
the Spirit,” God operates through a person as a cooperative act. The person doesn’t act as a
puppet or function unconsciously. It is more accurate to say we respond to the Holy Spirit than
react to Him.
The Gifts of the Spirit: Defined and Identified
- Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you
were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I
tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one
can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the
same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different
kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the
manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the
Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same
Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to
another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to
another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of
tongues. (I Corinthians 12:1-11)
Although our purpose here is to define and identify the nine Gifts of the Spirit, it must be
remembered that deciding which gift it is, is not as important as using it! Labels are not as important
as contents. But we are thankful for labels in the grocery store. There is some value in having
some awareness of which gift is which.
The nine gifts can be easily broken down into three sections: The Knowing, Speaking and Doing
1. Information - The Knowing Gifts
(1) The Word of Knowledge: The supernatural impartation of a fragment of divine knowledge (I
Sam 9:19,20; 10:22, II Kings 5:26; 6:9-12; John 1:47-48; 4:16-18; Matt 21:2; Mark 14:13; Luke 22:
- What it is Not: Word of Knowledge is not “Christian Mind Reading” or “Christian ESP.” The
Bible clearly condemns fortune telling which is the devil’s counterfeit of Word of Knowledge. It
also is not the Gift of Knowledge. It is merely a “fragment” of knowledge, a piece of
knowledge. Lastly, it is not the Gift of Knowing the Bible. It’s the “Word of Knowledge” not
“Knowledge of the Word.” You may know the Bible by study alone.
- Its Uses: Word of Knowledge is vital in determining the cause of a problem, such as emotional
or physical sickness. It may also be used to expose sin in another. It is helpful to inspire faith
for healing. There are several other uses...
(2) The Word of Wisdom: A fragment of divine wisdom given by supernatural means. (Genesis
41:33-36; Luke 4:12, 7:22, 12:11-12; Matt 21:25, 22:21, 41-46; Jude 4:21; Acts 23:6)
This gift has also been defined as a “holy quick-wittedness” or “God-given tact.”
As with Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom is not the Gift of Wisdom. This gift does not make a
person wise for life. It is a “fragment” of divine wisdom momentarily given for a specific need.
This gift is used in counseling, in helping people come to some decision, or to help them find the
solution to a sticky problem. It is often used in evangelism while answering the “tough ones.” It is
used also in church government dilemmas.
As with the Word of Knowledge, expect this gift to function not only when talking to people about
God, but when talking to God about people! In other words, while you’re praying.
(3) Discerning of Spirits: The supernatural enablement to know the origin or cause of an event,
words or state. (Acts 5:3-6, 8:21-23, 13:6-10, 16:17-18; Matthew 16:23; I Kings 22:20-23;
Nehemiah 6:12; Luke 13:16)
This gift helps us to know whether an event, words or state are human, divine, or demonic (from
man’s spirit, God’s Spirit, or a demonic spirit).
- Abuses of this Gift: This is not the gift of criticism or suspicion! It is not the gift of discerning of
sins, although “Hypocrite Hunters” may try to define it this way. It is not the gift of being able to
tell if someone is saved or not.
- Uses of this Gift: It helps us to properly diagnose the root causes of sicknesses: physical,
emotional, mental and spiritual. It then helps us to pray and act accordingly. Sometimes Jesus
attributed sickness to the demonic, and sometimes He didn’t. Discerning of spirits also helps to
expose doctrinal error and aids as a defense against deception. It is not, however, a
replacement for responsible study of the Bible.
2. Inspiration - The Speaking Gifts
(1) Prophecy: The proclamation of God’s mind and will at a specific time to a specific people.
- The Nature of Prophecy: Prophecy is not just “inspired” or “inspiring” preaching. Inspired
preaching may include prophecy, but is more than that. Prophecy is not necessarily
“foretelling” (although it may include prediction), but it is always “forthtelling.” That is, it is a
declaration of God’s heart.
It will inherently build up,
fire up and cheer up!
- The Purpose of Prophecy: According to I Corinthians 14:3 prophecy will always be three
things: edifying, exhorting, and comforting. It will inherently BUILD UP, FIRE UP AND CHEER
- The Misuse of Prophecy: Prophecy should never be added to Scripture. It is, “A word from
God,” not “The Word of God.” It should not be exalted above Scripture or used to develop
“new doctrine.” Prophecy also should not be used a sole source of guidance. It may be a
confirmation to be added to other means of determining God’s will. But it must not stand on its
own as a means of divine direction.
(2) Tongues: The public utterance of a God given, unlearned language to be succeeded by an
interpretation. (I Cor 12:28, 30; 14:6, 26, 27)
(3) Interpretation: The proclamation of God’s mind and will at a specific time, to a specific people,
preceded by a public utterance of tongues. (I Cor 12:30; 14:5, 13, 26, 27, 28).
We put these two particular gifts together because they always belong together when in operation.
In fact, Paul says in I Corinthians 14:27-28, “If anyone speaks in a tongue...someone must interpret.
If there is not interpreter the speaker should keep quiet in the church...”
It is vital to note that there are two uses of tongues among Christians. The first is the “Personal”
use which is referred to in I Corinthians 14:2, 4, 5, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 28. Its purpose (as we’ve
seen in the preceding chapter, The Truth About Tongues) is for praise (Acts 2:11, 10:46, I Cor 14:
15-17), personal edification (I Cor 14:4-5, Jude 20), and prayer ( (I Cor 14:2, 14). The second use
of tongues is the “Public” use, which is noted in I Corinthians 12:10, 28, 30, 14:5, 6, 26 and 27.
This public exercise of tongues is more specifically the “Gift of Tongues,” and is expressed during a
time when others are present; when everyone stops to listen to the “message in tongues.” This
“message” then must be “interpreted” into the language of the listeners, and represents that which
God intends to say to those present. The Personal use of tongues is not for the purpose of
communicating a message to people. It serves as an enhancement of the speaker’s life. The Public
use of tongues, on the other hand, is always interpreted so that others’ lives may be enhanced.
In I Corinthians 14:5 Paul says, “He who prophesies is greater (or does greater service) than one
who speaks in tongues unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” Basically, Paul is
saying that tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy. That is why our definition of interpreting of
tongues is identical with the definition of prophecy, with the exception that interpretation is always
preceded by tongues.
The preceding message in tongues may function in several ways. It may be a confirmation to
someone who is suppressing a prophetic word. It inspired him to speak that word out. It may be to
prepare the hearers for what God is about to say in the interpretation. It may sometimes be that the
message in tongues is a prayer to God (as tongues is designed to be), and the interpretation is
God's response to the prayer. It may at times be that the tongues is worship, with the interpretation
being in the form of praise. Or it may be God’s response to the praise offered in the message in
“Interpretation” is NOT the same as “translation.” The interpreter is NOT understanding the
language offered in tongues and merely translating. It is not a word-for-word rendition of the
tongues message. Interpretation operates just like prophecy. A message from God is imparted to a
person’s consciousness, and following the tongues being spoken, he speaks that message to those
3. Impartation - The Doing Gifts.
The Father is not only wanting us to know something and say something, He wants us to DO
something! He wants to inform, inspire AND impart!
(1) Faith: The sudden surge of supernatural certainty for a certain situation. (I Kings 17:1, 18:20-
40; Joshua 10:12; Mark 11:22; Acts 3:6, 16, 9:40)
The Christian operates in three different realms of faith. The first is “saving faith.” This is the kind
we exerted to come initially to Jesus for salvation. The second is “daily faith.” This is in operation
during the normal course of life when we trust God to forgive us, provide for us, etc. The third is the
“Gift of Faith.” This, as our definition indicates, is more of a “sudden surge” type of faith for a needy
circumstance. It is a faith dropped in the believer’s heart which causes him/her to be absolutely
sure of the results of their faith. It doesn’t grow like daily faith, it’s given. It’s not a constant thing,
instead it’s given suddenly when needed. It’s not something that’s feverish or worked up. It is a
supernaturally imparted confidence in God for a certain situation.
The Father is not only wanting us to
know something and say something,
He wants us to DO something!
(2) Healing: The supernatural cure of physical or emotional illness or injury. (Isaiah 53:3-5;
Matthew 8:16-17; Exodus 15:26; I Peter 2:24; James 5:13-16)
Healing of the body or soul is not only something that God promises to do; but is part of His identity,
His character, and Person. In Exodus 15:26, He calls Himself, “Jehovah Rapha,” which means
“The Lord Our Healer.” He doesn’t just heal, He is our Healer and our Physician. He does what
He does because He is Who He is!
The Bible indicates many human procedures through which God heals: Laying on of hands (Mark
16:17-18), praying for yourself (James 5:13), prayer of the elders
(James 5:14-15), prayers of and confession to others (James 5:16), anointing with oil (James 4:15),
the spoken word (Matthew 8:8, John 4:50, Acts 9:34, Psalms 107:20), and the performance of some
act of faith (John 9:1-38, II Kings 4:14). These various mediums or channels indicate that God is not
locked into one method, and that it is not the person practicing the method, but God who actually
He does what He does
because He is Who He is!
(3) Miracles: Divine supercession of “natural law” for the purpose of protection or provision of
people. (Exodus 14:16-22; I Kings 2:19-21, 4:38-41; Matthew 8:26; Exodus 17:6, 14; Matthew 14:19-
Bound by a mechanistic view of the world, many people struggle believing in the possibility of the
setting aside of natural law. When God parted the Red Sea, calmed the Sea of Galilee, walked on
the water, fed the 5,000, caught tax money in a fish’s mouth... He was merely superseding the laws
of nature which He Himself put into motion. After all, natural law doesn’t make anything happen. It
merely describes what usually does happen, that is until God decided it is gong to happen
differently at a given time!
In Acts 19:11-12, Luke speaks of “special” or “extraordinary” miracles happening in Ephesus. The
fact that he terms some “special” or “extraordinary” is indicative that the Ephesians were obviously
experiencing “ordinary” miracles on a regular basis. There were some miracles that were common
to them. They had a real “miracle mentality.” They lived with a supernatural mindset.
In light of what you have now read, I urge you to respond and become a receiver of all that God
offers you in Christ. We are not only promised power (Acts 1:8), we are commanded to receive
and retain Holy Spirit-power (Ephesians 5:18). You must not merely be INFORMED about your
need and God’s provision; but be ENDUED with power from on high!
In the last century Samuel Chadwick wrote, “It is possible to excel in mechanics and fail in
dynamics. There is a superabundance of machinery; what is lacking is power. To run an
organization needs no God. Man can supply the energy, expertise and enthusiasm for things
human. The real work of the Church depends on the power of the Spirit.”
Let’s be “Spirit-Filled Christians!”