In the Spirit of God is living energy and activity that produces marvelous results. This is seen magnificently in the first reference to Him in Scripture: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light” (Genesis 1:2–3). Here is great power in sustained movement, for light must travel at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. And this is a picture of the working of the Spirit of God in bringing to repentance and faith one who has before been in the darkness of sin and unbelief. Light dawns upon his soul, with its living, vibrant energy of sustained movement.
But the Spirit is not seen: It is the light that is seen, for light is both revealed and revealing. In the light everything is manifested as it really is. And natural light is beautifully symbolic of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Therefore, in Christ we see God revealed as He really is, and the light of His face fully reveals us also. Such is the first great work of the Spirit of God with our souls, in the marvel of our being brought from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the living God.
This corresponds to John 3:8: “The wind blows where it will, and thou hearest its voice, but knowest not whence it comes and where it goes thus is every one that is born of the Spirit.” A mighty work has taken place by an unseen power: One is born again by the Spirit of God, who remains the very energy of the new and eternal life implanted in the soul.
This power is real, but the Spirit of God does not draw attention to His own work within the soul. Rather, His work is to attract souls to the blessed Person and work of the Lord Jesus, as He Himself told His disciples, “He shall glorify Me for He shall receive of Mine, and shall announce it to you” (John 16:14).
His work in the dispensation of grace
But as well as the great work of the Spirit in new birth and eternal life (which was taking place before our present dispensation), there is a work now in which He is engaged that was never known before the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). For now the Spirit of God Himself has come to indwell the church of God. The beginning of this is seen in Acts 2; and since the Spirit of God has come, He has remained in every believer individually, and in the entire church of God collectively. “Do ye not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, which ye have of God; and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). This was said even to the Corinthians, who were called “carnal” and “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1) and needed serious reproof. Each individual believer was indwelt by the Spirit, though he was not manifesting this properly. Also, they were asked, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). This is not individual, but rather, unitedly the church is the temple of God, and the Spirit dwells in the church.
This reminder was urged upon the Corinthians, not to make them glory in the fact of their having the Spirit but to stir their exercise of heart in building up the church of God; that is, that we might be acting consistently with the Spirit’s working in the entire body of Christ, or as it is called here, “the temple of God.” The sphere where the glory of God is displayed in the world today. It is good, solid, vital work that the Spirit does, though He Himself is veiled as it were behind the scenes.
“Filled with the Spirit:” What does it mean?
If we are filled with the Holy Spirit,” such concern for the eternal blessing of souls and for the building up of God’s church will deeply affect us. For though the Spirit of God dwells in the church, this does not mean that the church is “filled with the Spirit.” And though all believers have the Spirit of God dwelling within them, none can dare to say that they are always filled with the Spirit. If so, we should not need the exhortation, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18–19). Notice, we are told to be filled with the Spirit, not to claim to be.
To be filled with the Spirit does not mean having more of the Spirit, for He is a living Person, not merely an influence. But it does mean to allow Him full control in every department of our lives, so that Christ Himself is the one precious Object set before our eyes, so delighting our hearts that all else is nothing in comparison. John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), his mother Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), and his father Zacharias (Luke 1:67) are spoken of as being filled with the Spirit before the day of Pentecost: All of them speaking of Christ. And this same blessed testimony is true too when the expression is used in Acts 2:4. The disciples were with one accord in one place; and when the Spirit of God came in His great power to introduce the new dispensation of the church of God, “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began. to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
The object of this was by no means their own personal enjoyment. In fact, those of many nationalities were present, and heard them speak in their own tongues “the wonderful works of God.”
The disciples were given power to speak their own thoughts in bearing witness to the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ, but in a language they had never learned. They knew what they were saying, for they were witnesses. And they spoke that which was intended for the true, pure blessing of all who heard it. Beware of imitations. Many since then have sought to imitate this great miracle. But these disciples were not seeking any such thing as speaking in tongues. This was the spontaneous, real work of God by His Spirit and the speaking in tongues was a precious sign that the Gospel of Christ was to be available for every nation under heaven, not only for Israel. It signifies that in the church there would now be a precious understanding brought about among believers of all nations, therefore a sign to promote blessed unity.
If one claims this gift in such a way as to draw attention to himself, this is false. If one speaks in a so-called tongue, not understanding what he is saying, this is a dangerous imitation, for it does not even edify himself, let alone edify others, which is the proper object of all gift. The Spirit of God does not work in a disorderly way: He does not give sensational experiences that tend to exalt men. He draws attention to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was true at Pentecost, and it is true now. When Stephen’s face appeared like that of an angel (because certainly filled with the Spirit of God), he did not speak in another tongue, for it was Jews he addressed; but he spoke the precious, solid truth of God, focusing the attention of his hearers on the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus now at the right hand of God (Acts 6:15–7:56).
Peter, in Acts 4:8, filled with the Holy Spirit, faithfully spoke to the rulers of Israel of Christ crucified and risen (Acts 4:8–12). In the same chapter (v. 31) the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the word of God with boldness. Paul (Acts 13:9–11), filled with the Holy Ghost, gave a solemn sentence of judgment to Elymas the Sorcerer for his perverting the right ways of the Lord.
Of all these occasions where the filling of the Spirit is mentioned, only one of them tells us of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4), and that because it was an occasion of especially outstanding importance, which will never be repeated.
But to be filled with the Spirit remains a precious privilege available to every believer, if he will willingly set Christ as the one absorbing Object before his soul. And this necessarily involves the honest self-judgment that does not allow the flesh to take any place of importance. How greatly blessed we shall be if we genuinely allow the Spirit of God to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ in personal and assembly life.