The Operation of the Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 1:21-22

Some Bible readers assume that the Holy Spirit’s activity in Scripture is limited to the New Testament. But actually He is quite active in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament the law was in the foreground and the Holy Spirit less prominent; in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is prominent and the law in the background. The full and final outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Israel and on the nations is still future.

Zechariah 12:8-11. “ In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. 9: And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.10: And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. 11: In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem.” This anticipates the work of the Holy Spirit to establish the ministry of the Messiah when He comes again.

The prophecy in Isaiah 11 is a preview of the Trinity working together, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son. The Spirit was crucial in helping God’s people anticipate the ministry of the Messiah. Looking forward to that ministry, the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to prophecy: "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him" (Isaiah 11:2). The Holy Spirit inspired Jesus with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fear of the Lord, righteousness, and faithfulness.

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus claims the fulfillment of the prophecy of Himself found in Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2: To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD...”

This ties together both the Old Testament and New Testament understandings of God’s grace. It also sheds light for our understanding of the Holy Spirit.

Some of the more notable actions of the Holy Spirit we find in the Old Testament are that the Spirit participated in creation in Genesis 1.

The Spirit gives life to humanity and the other creatures. It’s interesting that when Genesis says God endows people with life by breathing into their nostrils the “breath of life” in Genesis 2:7, the word for “breath” is the same word translated elsewhere as “spirit.”

Genesis 6:3, it tells us that the Spirit strives with sinners. This may be akin to His work in convicting people of sin as outlined by John in the New Testament.

The Spirit came upon certain Old Testament judges, soldiers and prophets in a way that gave them extraordinary power. Some examples are Joshua, Othniel, Gideon, Samson, and Saul. However, in the case of King Saul in the Old Testament, the Spirit later departed from him because of his disobedience to God.

In the New Testament, after the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentacost, the Spirit indwells every true believer in Christ and will never leave that person.

The Spirit also played a prominent role in Old Testament prophecy. David wrote, in 2 Samuel 23:2, that “the Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” Ezekiel stated that “the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me” Ezekiel 2:2.

And Scripture promised that, at a still future time, God would put His Spirit in His people in a way that would cause them to live according to His statutes. Ezekiel 36:27-28. “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

With these things in mind, let’s look at the threefold deliverance the believer has through the work of the Holy Spirit of God found in 2 Corinthians 1: 21-22.“Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”

In these verses we have at least the suggestion of every operation of the Holy Spirit of God that is brought before us in the New Testament. As far as the be­liever is concerned, there is no ministry of the Holy Spirit that isn’t touched on here. Verse 21 might read “Now He which establisheth us with you INTO Christ, and hath anointed us, is God."

Being established into Christ by the Holy Spirit speaks of being permanently and completely placed into the body of Christ which is the church.

There are three very definite operations of the Holy Spirit and they are all touched on in these two verses and elaborated on in many other scriptures in the New Testament.

First of all there is conviction, or sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Next comes the new birth by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And then there is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. All these are involved in the establishment of a believer into Christ. No one is in Christ by natural birth.
1 Corinthians 15:22. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

To be in Adam means that we are the un-regenerated descendants of Adam. There is no alternate method whereby we might be on this earth. He was our federal head; we belong by nature to Adam's race, and every human being is born a sinner and is under God’s judgment for sin because Adam chose to sin.

To be in Christ means that we have received life from Christ by being born again spiritually, called the new birth. Christ is the Head of a new race, and the believer is a part of that new race. The way we enter into that new creation is spelled out very clearly in the Bible.

First of all, no one would ever come to Christ if it wasn’t for the convicting and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit does not awaken a person to see his lost condition, and convict him of the truths of Scripture, no person would ever by his own will turn to Christ. That is a very solemn fact, but it is nevertheless a fact. Romans 9:16. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”

On the other hand, it is quite possible for the Holy Spirit of God to operate in a convicting manner on the heart of man and yet that man may do what the Jews did in Stephen's day that is written of them in Acts 7:51, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.” So it is possible to be convicted by the Spirit and yet to resist the Spirit. But without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, no one would ever come to Christ. Jesus said, in John 16:7-8; “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” The Comforter is the Holy Spirit.

The sinner has to recognize his utterly lost condition. The Holy Spirit has come to convict us of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Our Lord Jesus made the very important statement “Of sin, because they believe not on Me.”

The only sin that condemns a man to judgment and hell is the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God was not sent particularly to convict men of sins of the flesh and sins of a general character. Every person's conscience convicts him of the sinfulness of immoral living, of lying, and pride and vanity, and all the other things. If a person's conscience gets so dulled by continual sinning that these things no longer seem to register, there is still God's holy law with its “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” which will convict any honest person of the sinful­ness in his life.

The Holy Spirit came to convict man of the sin of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ. God took the entire sin question into account when Jesus hung on Calvary's cross, and because of what He did there, God is able to “be just and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Romans 3:26. But if a person rejects the Lord Jesus Christ, and refuses to put his trust in Him, he will go on to judgment and face his own sins. There they will be judged, every man according to his works. And yet there are people who pride themselves on their morality and on their respectability, and say, “I’ve never been guilty of breaking the moral code. Why do I need God’s forgiveness?”

If you have not yet received the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior and are still rejecting Him, you’re guilty of the worst sin that any one can possibly commit. It is actually the only sin you can commit that God hasn’t forgiven. God sent His Son to earth to bleed and die for our redemption. Can you imagine a greater sin or any worse offense in the eyes of a holy God, than to reject that Savior? You would be trampling on His grace, and rejecting His loving-kindness. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit to convict everyone of the sin of rejecting Christ, and then to con­vict them of righteousness, that is, to show men that although they have no righteousness of their own, God has provided a righteousness for them in His Son, Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote, in Philippians 3:9; “I would be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Paul didn’t believe that way in his unconverted days when he was known as Saul of Tarsus. It wasn’t until the Spirit of God convicted him of righteousness that he realized that he had no righteousness of his own.

The Holy Spirit comes to convict men of judgment and that means more than the judgment to come, it includes the fact that this world is already under judgment, and that every believer is brought out from under that judg­ment, and is raised up with this risen Christ, and so is called to walk apart from the world. Jesus said, in John 16: 11, “the prince of this world is judged.”

Satan is the prince of this world, and at the cross the ancient prophecy found in Genesis 3: 15, was ful­filled, “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” At the cross Satan bruised the heel of the Son of God, but Satan’s own head was bruised. Now he is a judged prince; everyone and everything that follows his authority is under judgment.

God’s judgment extends to every person in the world who will not accept His forgiveness brought about by the shedding of the sinless blood of His only Son, Jesus. Believers are called by grace to take our place with the Christ whom the world rejected.

Scripture sometimes uses another term for the convicting work of the Spirit of God; it speaks of the sanctification of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, the apostle mentions some very ungodly people, and then he says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Sanctification means to be set apart. Before we come to Christ for our salvation, we were a part of this ungodly world. We lived for the world and for self until earthly things began to fail us and we became deeply concerned about our lost condition. When we began to realize we couldn’t go on living like this, we wanted something better than the world has to offer. Our deep felt need finally led us to Christ and when we believed in Him we were justified and sanctified. That was the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that led us to Christ.

When the Holy Spirit leads one to Christ and he believes the gospel, he is immediately born again. 1 Peter 1: 23. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”

In John 3:5, the Lord Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” It’s easy to get confused about the water in that verse. Some think that it means Christian baptism, but Christian baptism had not been instituted when the Lord Jesus used those words.

The best way to find out what it means is to go through John's writings and see how he speaks of water. In John 4, Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” What "water" means in John 3, it means exactly the same in John 4, and Jesus is not talking about drinking the water of baptism. When we are baptized by complete immersion we close our mouth tightly; we don’t drink the water. Jesus is speaking of the water of life, another kind of water altogether. We read in Revelation 22: 17: “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.”

The water of life is the offer of life eternal that Jesus gives, which is the message that we have here in the Scripture. When we receive the Word in the simplicity of faith we are regenerated. Titus 3:5 states that it is “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Spirit convicts, sanctifies, and regenerates us through the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit puts us into the Body of Christ as attested to in 1 Corinthians 12:13. "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body.” At one time we were only individual souls and we were utterly uninterested in one another, but when we were led to Christ, we came to know that we have been brought into a blessed unity with all other believers.

We are members of that Body of Christ and our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head. That is what it means to be established into Christ.

Notice the next action of the Holy Spirit that is mentioned: “And hath anointed us.” The anointing is for service and understanding. You remember in Old Testament times three kinds of people were anointed with oil: prophets, priests, and kings. Oil is a recognized type of the Holy Spirit.

After His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Ghost and with power. When the Spirit of God de­scended on Him in a special way, that was His anointing for His threefold office. He was a Prophet on earth, He is Priest in Heaven, and He will be King when He comes again. This is the min­istry and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord Jesus Christ was God, yet in His Manhood, He chose to do all His works in the Spirit's power. As believers we are all anointed by the Holy Spirit, and even the youngest believer has this anointing. You may have been saved only a few days ago, but the Spirit of God now dwells in you and when you want instruction and power for service, you look to the Holy Spirit to give you understanding of the Word and the power to serve Him.

Then we read, “Who hath also sealed us.” A seal is like a padlock; it denotes ownership. The same Holy Spirit who regenerated us and bap­tized us into the Body of Christ dwells within us as the seal that denotes we belong to God.

No man can look at a group of people and tell a Christian from one who is not saved, but God knows every believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. He also knows who those are that the Holy Spirit does not dwell in. Romans 8:9 “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” The seal is the mark that we belong to Him, Ephesians 1: 13. “After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.” We also find the admonition not to grieve the Holy Spirit because we are sealed by Him until our redemption. Ephesians 4:30 “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”

There are two things to notice here: the first is how clearly it brings out the personality of the Holy Spirit. You can’t grieve anything that is not personal. You can cause those you love the most to grieve, and you can grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in you and claims you for Christ, and if your life as a believer does not reflect that, you are causing the Holy Spirit to grieve over your actions. Carnality or anything that is un-Christlike has no place in the life of the believer.

Thankfully, the Scripture doesn’t say “Grieve not the Holy Spirit, lest He leave you, lest you grieve Him away,” as was the case with King Saul in the Old Testament. It says, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”

We read in Philippians 1:6, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The very reason we should not grieve Him is that He remains within us whether grieved or not, but if our behavior is such that we are grieving the Holy Spirit, we are going to be a very unhappy Christian. Just remember that anywhere you go you are taking the Holy Spirit of God with you.

John 14:16-17. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17: Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” This was the prayer of Jesus, the Son of God, and God the Father has fulfilled it to the letter.

The apostle Paul adds this at the end of our passage in 2 Corinthians 1, verse 22, “And has given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”

God’s sacred promise that the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is our guarantee that we will receive the full blessing He promises us at the coming of Christ. The more the Holy Spirit is given right of way in our lives now, the more we will enjoy that fullness some day and so we see that the filling of the Holy Spirit is con­nected with the earnest. Every believer has the Holy Spirit in him as the earnest, or promise, of redemption.

The Holy Spirit is a Person, and He lives in you. You don’t need more of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit wants to possess more of you. The trouble with so many of us is we crowd the Spirit of God off into some one corner of our hearts. We may give the Holy Spirit His place in our religious lives, but He wants the rest of our life as well as our church life. We often live our lives in one way at home and another way when we are at church and even another way when we are out in the world. That’s not what God wants. The Christian life can’t be a happy, triumphant life until our life comes en­tirely under the Spirit of God. Letting Him have His way in everything is what it means to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

We have looked at every basic operation of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit gifts are not a separate work, they come under the anointing of the Spirit. God has given various gifts to each believer and we are fitted to use those gifts for our special service for the Lord through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.