Just before Jesus’ death, he told his disciples that after his departure the Spirit of God would come. Shortly thereafter, in his post-resurrection body, he told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. All this might have provided some comfort to the disciples, but undoubtedly Jesus’ words were difficult to comprehend. Just what did it mean that the Holy Spirit would come, and what difference would that make in their lives?
Acts 2 finds the disciples gathered together. They were certain by this time that Jesus was the risen Savior, but they knew of little else to do but pray. Then the Holy Spirit came, and no one could miss His coming. That which appeared like tongues of fire seemed to rest upon them, and suddenly they began to speak in languages they had never learned. What were they saying? Scripture says they were declaring the wonders of God.
The whole scene could be said to demonstrate the power of the Spirit or perhaps establish the credibility of the disciples. But it seems to me to say more than that. It illustrates two primary aims of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First, it tells us that when the Holy Spirit is at work it speaks the language of the people. God, I suppose, could have made it such that if you wanted to learn of Him you had to speak or read Hebrew or any one of the other thousands of languages. But He didn’t do that, instead His Spirit worked in his disciples to meet people on their own turf, to speak their language. This should be a lesson to us. Too often, we want those who do not know Christ to speak our language, to dress in our clothes, to come to our churches, if they want to hear of Christ. But that is not the way of the Spirit. The Spirit puts us in different clothes, pushes us out of our homeland, and has us speak the language of others.
The second aim of the Holy Spirit demonstrated on that day He came upon the disciples is the declaration of the wonders of God. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came the disciples would be comforted by His presence (John 14:26-27). But don’t think that is the Spirit’s only role. The Spirit is about much more than making us feel better or calming our fears. The Spirit is about declaring the greatness of God. In fact, I would suggest that any real peace that derives from the Spirit is because He reminds us in our struggles and hardships of the overcoming greatness of God. And so on that first day, He wastes no time. The Spirit speaks through the disciples to the crowds and tells them the great things about God.
All this beckons some questions for ourselves. How much are we letting the Spirit go to work in and through us? And what would be the gauge of that? It seems that two of the most certain markers of His work in us would be our willingness to speak the language of others (and particularly that of unbelievers) and our willingness to speak of the wonders of God. Seeing just one of these two in our lives just will not do. Learning the lingo of the crowd or deftly operating on its turf falls short if one does not also seek to declare the greatness of our God. Similarly, boldly speaking of God but doing it in a manner that does not connect with your audience is hardly the way of the Spirit.
I do not know what your picture is of the Spirit-filled Christian. But whatever your conclusion, it ought to be shaped by what we see the Holy Spirit do on the day the church was born. The Spirit when at work in the disciples spoke the language of others. The Spirit when at work in the disciples declared the wonders of God. The Spirit when at work in you wants to do the very same.
John likes to help people wrestle with the big questions of life in his work with Search Ministries. He served as a pastor in Houston for 16 years, earned his doctorate at Biola University, and is a contributing author of Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Toughest Questions.