Seminar Holy Spirit - Hattingh

Ministry of the Holy Spirit:
God's truth exceedingly great and exceedingly close

Prof WJ Hattingh

Presented & recorded at ATS' Seminar on the Holy Spirit, 9 Oct 2013

Download the audio recording


I was baptized in the Holy Spirit as a teenager more than 50 years ago with the experience of speaking in tongues as in Acts 2. Should you ask me: what is the meaning or benefit of being baptized in the Holy Spirit? My answer is: "I don't know." I have often preached on this subject which I thought I knew, but today I realize that I do not know the magnitude and the closeness of the experience. I just try my best to understand.


Hoekendijk wrote in the 1960's that we have to make ourselves at ease in the strange world of the Bible. By saying this he recommended that we have to accept the extraordinary, the miraculous story of the Bible.

The Bible indeed contains a very strange and fascinating story of truth and a Christian needs to believe it. There is no substitute for faith in the Bible. It is a key truth in the Bible. For we read in Hebrew 11 verse 6: "without faith it is impossible to please God". There is no real Christian religion without faith.

Let us for one moment reflect on this strange truth of the Bible and the importance of faith. The Bible asks us to believe that God created the total macro cosmos out of nothing, through his word and by his spirit. The whole story of Israel's birth, their deliverance out of Egypt and their journey to the promised land, was a story of signs and wonders.

The fundamental - the centre story of the Bible - the Jesus narrative concerning the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus from the death is an awkward, strange story for the world. Suppose you are a total stranger with no Christian culture background or any Christian knowledge whatsoever, how strange and unacceptable would the Jesus narrative be to you?

We as Christians proclaim very easily that we are born again and that Christ is dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit. It is a basic truth to us, and without it, our personal spiritual reality would fall apart. And think for a moment, by acknowledging this, you are telling people that the almighty creator God is dwelling in you through the Holy Spirit.

The second coming of our Lord and the expectations of a new heaven and earth are also strange.

Christ's truth is not only a strange story to our modern and post modern world of today, but when Paul preached in Athens about the resurrection of Jesus, they also mocked Him. When the persecution broke out after the murder of Stephen, the early Christians fled on the backs of donkeys and were scattered over the world. These fleeing Christians gave a strange answer to the people who asked them: "Who are you and why are you running away." Their answer was:

"We believe in a man of Galilee, Jesus, born of a virgin, who was crucified and who was raised from death on the third day, and, He is God." It is unthinkable to enter an unbelieving world with that kind of story!

This basic truth of the Bible does not change - we sometimes try to present substitutes like: great church institutions, churches with influence, power structures, liturgical ceremonies and proven theologies. But it never was and never will be a substitute for the strange story of Jesus, God's Holy Son!

There are people who believe that the Bible was written by people with a pre-modern world view - people full of superstition and who were not scientific thinkers.

I suggest that if you believe in the triune God of the Bible, that you never try to prove, or to cut back on the Bible story to make it acceptable. Instead, nestle yourself in the marvelous truth of the Bible and enjoy the strange story.

It is not only the strangeness of the Biblical truth that does not change - there are other things which do not change.

1.2. We have the same challenges as bible characters

Sometimes we as Christians make a mistake by thinking that we are entitled to easy Christian living, blessed by God in abundance with few problems. To some, the popular belief is: the greater our faith and more spiritual we are the lesser temptations and suffering we will experience.

Often the truth is exactly the opposite. If your life story is in harmony with the Bible stories, with the story of Abraham as an old man waiting on God's promises, Joseph in jail, Moses in the desert, David fleeing from Saul, Daniel in the lions den, Jesus dying on a cross; then you can feel at ease, knowing something is right. What happened with people of the Bible will happen to you.

If your life story synchronizes with Bible stories and often with extreme challenges, you may feel at ease.

1.3 The same is true of the kind of Christian life the bible offers us

We have the same experiences with God and the same possibilities as the Bible people

It is also true that the Bible characters, the believers in Bible times, are not a different class of people from the everyday Christians of today. They were not heroes, nor special people of God - entrusted with special power not known to us.

The truth is that we have the same experience with God and the same possibilities they had - the same strange, but marvelous truths, the same challenges and the same encounter with God. There is no "STREEP" theology that implies that certain spiritual truths were only for New Testament times. We are in the New Testament and the New Testament is in us.

While I was speaking in tongues when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, I had the experience that I was standing next to Paul and Peter who were also speaking in tongues. We were looking at one another and could hear one another. At that moment I felt that I was in the Bible world and the Bible world was in me.

The point that I am trying to make, is:

Firstly: The Bible's truth is extremely strange and one dare not try to change it to be acceptable to a critical world.

Secondly: We as Christians today have to face exactly the same challenges. It may even accumulate as we become closer to the end-times.

Thirdly: You will only survive or comply to God's calling, if the same strangeness of the Biblical truth becomes part of your own personal experience.

My interest today lies in this third point.


I would like to speak on the same topic that Paul spoke on in 2 Corinthians 3: "Ministry of the Spirit". May I put it slightly different: "God's truth exceedingly great and exceedingly close."

2.1 All Christian experiences are miraculous interventions of God

Let me first say that the whole Christian truth is a miraculous intervention of God: from conviction of sin, new birth, faith, sanctification, joy, prayer, tithing, you name it, these are experiences totally dependent on the miraculous intervention of God by the Holy Spirit. From beginning to end it is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is much logic and sense in the gospel, but the gospel is not the acceptance of a philosophy or proven facts. This is a basic fact of Christianity.

2.2 The Holy Spirit is God the Creator in action

I once had a dream.

We previously had the custom in ATS to reconsider students' stay at ATS after their first 6 months of study. In my dream, the lecturers were busy interviewing the students to reconsider their continued study at ATS and while they were busy, a student entered the room and sang a song in German.

In every verse he describes different churches and how they understand and work with the Holy Spirit. Some churches do not even talk about the Holy Spirit, some talk about the Holy Spirit but do not understand his workings and presence. Some always talk about the Holy Spirit but try to manipulate the Holy Spirit for their own purposes.

Then he sang about the Holy Spirit who is God responsible for the creation and the sustaining of the whole universe. With a verse following about the Holy Spirit as the only One who knows what is wrong with a sinful and sick world. And He is the only one who can heal this world.

The work of the Holy Spirit does not belong to, and is not bound to a specific church or group of churches, even if they do consider themselves Pentecostals. I see myself as a Pentecostal. The Holy Spirit does not only work when somebody speaks in tongues or when the charismata/gifts of the Holy Spirit are at work. The Holy Spirit is everywhere and available to all.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Almighty Creator at work in the whole creation.

In my dream, I experienced Genesis 1:1 to 3 very vividly: "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." A formless world, void and in total darkness and then God said: "Let there be light: and there was light."

The Old Testament is not clear on the topic of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity, but one does find the idea of the Spirit of God as the almighty Creator God in action in this world. It was exactly what the early church understood when they used to call out in the liturgy: "veni, veni creatur Spiritus." Come, Creator Spirit come.

Luke tells us about the angel who said to Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." (1:35). The Holy Spirit as the power of the Most High is: "the one who is absolutely beyond all (Translator's handbook 1971:56). I want you to grasp the truth: The Holy Spirit is the Almighty God in action.

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit occasionally came upon certain special people, great men, like Moses, the Judges, kings and prophets. The Bible bears witness of the moments that God's Spirit took control of them, transcended them and worked and spoke through them to change the history of God's people.

2.3 Promise of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

BUT an amazing prophecy in Joel informed us of a future change in this situation: "And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.(NIV)

And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those will I pour out my spirit." (KJV) (Joel 2:28 and 29).

When Peter explained the event of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, he quoted Joel 2 and said that the Spirit will be poured out even on the slaves, the "doulos" and "doulas". At the end of his sermon he said: "The promise is for you and your children and for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2: 39)

The truth of the Spirit, of the Creator God with all its majesty on all his people, even on the little ones with no recognition, is exceedingly/unthinkable great.

The words of the Psalmist are spot on:

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers (just your fingertips), the moon, the stars (the macro cosmos), which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him ---?" (Ps 8:3).

This promise of the Holy Spirit was linked to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus made this promise possible with His death, resurrection and ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father.

Do you notice in the Gospels that Jesus was first introduced, not as saviour, but as baptizer in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said:

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Mat 3:11, also Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16).

Of course people must first accept Jesus and be borne again, but this was not the final vision of Jesus for his people, but his dream, his purpose was: the Spirit of God the Creator, or the Spirit of the resurrected Christ on and in them.

The exceedingly great Creator God, his truth and action, accomplished by his holy Son Jesus, comes to dwell in us.

Just as the fact that the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its workings are not linked to a certain group of people, it is also true that Baptism of the Holy Spirit or the receiving of the Holy Spirit as documented in Acts is not just an attachment to what Jesus did for his people, but his final empowerment of his people.

2.4 Jesus emphasized this exceedingly closeness of God through the Holy Spirit

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, He said to her: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. --- Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:10,13). Verse 24: "God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth."

That day Jesus lifted the worship of God to a total different level. On that day He did not promote an encounter with God by cultic actions, holy symbols, liturgical ceremonies with correct wording and perfectly executed or mysterious mysticism. It is amazing to imagine the close and direct encounter with the living Christ through the Holy Spirit and the impact of it on us.

In John 7:38,39 Jesus again underlined this closeness and inward experience of the Holy Spirit:

"If any one is thirsty, let him come and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him". By this He meant the Holy Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not been glorified.

The experience of the Holy Spirit is exactly what Jesus said: It is a happening in your spirit. It is not understandable to the "natural man" instead it is foolishness to them according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 verse 14.

2.5 Paul was impressed by the enormity of this truth. He compared the "ministry of the Spirit" with the receiving of the law on Mount Sinai in 2 Corinthians 3.

Paul wrote of God's glory on the mountain which was so much that the people could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory (7). When God came down, the mountain was in smoke, there was thunder and lightning, the trumpet sounded and the people were trembling.

Although knowing that very well he wrote about the ministry of the Holy Spirit: "For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory." (10).

There was a veil over Moses' face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away (13) but, according to Paul the veil was taken away by Jesus. He wrote:

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (17,18). The veil is gone – a real and close encounter with God is possible.

2.6 Paul called it a moesterion – a mystery

A mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints: "the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, --- the fullness of God in us" (Col 1:26,27, 2:9).

Jesus spoke much to his disciples about the promise of the Holy Spirit in the dark night when He was betrayed and touched on this mystery. He said: "..for He (the Holy Spirit) lives with you and will be in you --- and we (that is Jesus and his Father) will come to him and make our home with him ---. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." (John 14 and 16).

2.6.1 The meaning of this truth to us:

The book to the Ephesians contains two prayers of Paul. In both he prayed for the work of the Holy Spirit in his readers' lives and asked exactly what the Holy Spirit must do. I will discuss these two prayers together. He was addressing the Father of our Lord Jesus, the glorious Father - the great and almighty God. These are prayers for the working of the Holy Spirit in God's people in the battles of this world.

IN THESE TWO PRAYERS YOU LEARN WHAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS DOING IN AND THROUGH US He first prayed: Let the Holy Spirit reveal God to you, (suggestions of Nida) to "cause you to know the truth about God" or "cause you to know who God really is," or "to cause you to see God." To know and to experience God as he really is, is the goal of the Spirit in us (knowledge of him means more than facts about God according to Nida 1982:30). Our greatest need is to know and to experience God constantly. Who God really is, what God's will is, what Jesus' death and resurrection means to us and to the world. Sometimes we are busy with a lot of thumb sucking - we have many ideas of God. In this world there is a lot said about Him. The Devil is always making God small and darkens Him. He becomes smaller and also further away. It becomes a world loaded with huge problems with very small tracks of God. And following up, he prayed that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the eyes of our hearts in order that we may know the hope to which he has called us – meaning that we understand and experience God's calling, purpose and goal for our lives.

The truth is that when you experience God's greatness and love, you always experience something about yourself. You experience personal greatness, purpose of life and destiny. You experience freedom and hope. Paul wrote to Timothy: "For God did not give us a Spirit of timidity/nervousness, but a Spirit of power, of love of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7). Even when the Holy Spirit convinces you of wrongdoing in your life it is always an uplifting experience. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit helps us also to understand: "His incomparably (NIV) (Nida 1923:33 suggests the following possibilities: ‘exceedingly meaning: go beyond, exceed') great power for us and which works in us that believe." His prayer ends here and then he reflected on the nature of the power working in us. I quote his reflection: It "is the same as the mighty strength which He used when He raised Christ from death and seated Him at His right side in the heavenly world." The power of the Holy Spirit works in us in the same way as when the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death, when He delivered us from the bondage of sin, concurred all the power of darkness, and when He put Jesus in power at the right hand of God.

In the second prayer he changed the subject of God's power working in us a little bit: "May the Holy Spirit make your inner being strong to the measure of God's glorious riches", "according to the riches of his glory" (RSV). Let the Holy Spirit bring God's greatness and power and make your spirit strong, to match something of who God is.

You will win the great battles of this world in your spirit through the Holy Spirit of God. It was in the same prayer that he prayed: "God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, ---".

God coming to us through the Holy Spirit is exceedingly, incomparable, immeasurably great and close to us.

When grasping that truth, Paul's thanksgiving is understandable: "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you." (1 Cor 14:18) the reason is: "He who speaks in tongues edifies himself, ---" (1 Cor 14:4). What it actually boils down to is that the Holy Spirit brings an experience of the power and victory of the resurrected Christ and everything that He has done and accomplished for us. He prayed that we be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

In the second prayer: "so that Christ may dwell continually in your hearts through faith." In Philippians 3:10 Paul wrote: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection ---". What God did in Jesus Christ is the greatest reality in this world and through the Holy Spirit we took part in this fullness. He also prayed something like this: May the Holy Spirit root you like a tree in his love and build your life like a house on the foundation of God's love. God's love is the greatest creative and changing power, love that is beyond understanding, too great to grasp, an everlasting love, the love from God in Jesus that nothing and nobody will be able to separate us.

2.6.2 A transforming experience of the Holy Spirit

This experience of God's greatness - too enormous to comprehend and his closeness too close to believe - is, through the Holy Spirit, a constant transforming experience - transforming a sinner to the image of Jesus, the resurrected Christ, to God Himself (2 Corinthians 3:18).

This truth: The triune God in us through the Holy Spirit is the utmost changing experience we can/may have. Anything else is improbable. A Pentecostal or Charismatic or whichever preacher who experiences the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in his/her ministry and sees it as something to boast of, or become proud of, or something to get influence by or to get rich from, may be guilty of the peak of sin. The late Dr. FP Möller said that the greatest sin of Pentecostal pastors is their proudness. We see the signs of this sin in some of the late night TV gospel programs and in Africa's charismatic bishops, prophets and apostles. All they need is to convince poor suffering people that if they will pray for them, God will give them instant riches and will heal all the sickness and they, as the esteem preachers will be well off.

Paul has total different ideas about the ministry of the Spirit and God's instrument. He, just after his argument for the ministry of the Spirit, wrote the following:

"We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us --- We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus ---".

And also:

"…we do not peddle the word of God for profit." (2 Cor 2:17).

To the Galatians he wrote:

"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with (be controlled by) the Spirit." (5:25).

Biblical ethics, Christian living was built on this truth, on this indicative fact: what Christ did for us and what became our personal truth through the Holy Spirit made us a different kind of people, therefore we have a different lifestyle.

I will not be true to my subject if I do not mention this matter of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit - the exceedingly great creator Spirit of God who is so intensely close to us.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 4:18).

Paul never saw these "jars of clay --- partake in Christ death", this submission as something negative. Instead this was something he boasted of, I quote him:

"Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that God's power may rest on me," or that God's power may pitch its tent permanently over me, his power always within me, while I am constantly changed to the glory of the resurrected Christ.

The important question is: Are you as a Spirit filled Christian allowing the Holy Spirit to change you?

2.6.3 I CLOSE

You will make two mistakes in this world, and even as I am telling you this today, you will continue to make them. You will only realize it when you see Jesus one day face to face. The two mistakes are: You under-estimate God's greatness – He is greater than you can think – and you will, therefore, work with the wrong facts about God – what a pity.

Secondly, you will under-estimate his closeness and his loving involvement in your life. God is closer to you than you can imagine. Through the Holy Spirit, more is happening between you and God than you realize. Therefore, you will go through this world with a lack of faith and understanding of God's involvement and closeness.

I do not know the magnitude of God's greatness coming to me through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and also do not know the constant closeness of God in me. I am badly in need of the working of God's spirit constantly in me.

I am on a journey – my unbelief, my rational way of thinking and hastiness are constant hindrances or obstacles to this marvel of God in me. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the greatest and most meaningful encounter of God is at my doorstep. To hook on by Jesus: Drinking living water from God's well and becoming a fountain of living water for God.

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The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

Luke 10:2