The Role Of The Holy Spirit In The New Testament

Holy Spirit in the New Testament church

The departure of Christ ushered in the era of the Holy Spirit. Since then, the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament church has not been completely understood. The Holy Spirit has taken over Christ’s role on earth and it is only in and through Him that Christ is made known.

The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15). Among the many titles assigned to the Holy Spirit in the scripture is

  • the Spirit of God (Mt 10:20; 12:28; Ro 8:9, 14; 15:19; 1Cor 2:11-12, 14; 3:16; 6:11; 7:40; 12:3, 14; Eph 4:30; 1Jn 4:2).
  • The Spirit of the Lord (Luke 4:18; Acts 5:9; 8:39; 2Cor 3:17-18).
  • Another Comforter (Jn 14:16).

It is of the utmost importance to believers that they clearly understand the role of the Holy Spirit in God’s eternal purpose for the New Testament church. Many professing Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is merely a force, or an influence emanating from God, but that is not correct.

The Holy Spirit is and has always been, an equal member of the Godhead from all eternity. It is vitally important that believers are very clear in their minds of His Deity and co-equality with both the Father and Christ in the Godhead (Isa 6:8-11 with Ac 28:5-8; 5:3-4; 1Cor 2:10-12; 3:16; 2Cor 3:17-18; He 9:14; 1Jn 5:6-7). These scriptures all teach the co-equality of the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead. In this research, we’ll discuss the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

The Holy Spirit In The Synoptic Gospels

The first three Gospel records of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew gives us the record of our Lord as the promised King, who came as such and offered the kingdom, only to be rejected by His own; Mark gives the record of Christ as a servant and Luke the record of His perfect manhood. The first chapter in Matthew mentions the Holy Spirit for the first time.

Book of Matthew 1:18

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” When Joseph thought of putting her away an angel informed him that “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (verse 20).

When Angel Gabriel brought the heavenly announcement to Mary, the Virgin mother of our Lord, he mentioned the Holy Spirit likewise. Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” The Holy Spirit produced the human body for the Son of God by a creative act. Of that body, the Son of God spoke as a prepared body (Heb. 10:5). It was impossible for one who is holy to clothe Himself with a body coming into existence by the natural generation. If that had been the case He would have had a body to which the taint of sin was attached. While it is true that Mary had a sinful body, yet the power of holiness in the Son of God, repulsed every particle of that, and the Holy Spirit in preparing the body could not permit anything unholy to enter the physical body of our Lord.

Book of Luke 1:15, 41 and 67

Luke 1:15, 41, and 67. These passages also mention the Holy Spirit. John, the forerunner was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. Elisabeth, the mother of John, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and so was Zechariah when he prophesied. The trinity is therefore seen in holy action in the very beginning of the New Testament. The Father sent the Son; the Son of God came to be incarnate. The Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin; she was conceived by the Holy Spirit. John was filled with the Holy Spirit and also Zechariah and Elisabeth. The same is said of Simeon, who had received a special revelation by the Spirit and was led by Him to the temple (Luke 2:25).

Matthew 3:11-12

Matthew 3:11-12. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire; whose fan is in His hand, and He will purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mark 1:18 and Luke 3:16 and 17 and the reference to the same promise in John 1:33). These are fundamental passages and need our closer attention.

We must remember that John, the Baptist, as we call him, was the herald of the King. He still belonged to the Old Testament prophets and did not announce under the name “the kingdom of heaven,” the church, nor this present dispensation of grace, but the kingdom, which is promised to Israel. The baptism which he practiced is not Christian baptism. It was a baptism unto repentance by which the Israelite signified that he was worthy of death on account of his sins. Then he announced that He, who came after him, the Messiah- King, would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Mark 1:12, Matthew 4:1,  and Luke 4:l

Matthew 4:l. “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested of the devil.” Also Mark 1:12 and Luke 4:l. The passage in Luke tells us that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit to be tested by the devil. The Son of God full of the Spirit is now guided by the Spirit to fulfill all which is written concerning Himself. The life He lived before He began His public ministry was also a life of perfect trust and obedience (see Psa. 22:9-10). The Spirit, as Mark states, drove Him into the wilderness. Some have said, that our Lord was anxious to meet the enemy face to face. That it was His spirit which led Him into the wilderness. This is incorrect. If our Lord had gone forth impatiently to meet the old serpent, He would have been the tempter of the devil. It was the Holy Spirit who led Him forward, who impelled Him to meet the foe, so that a test might be applied by Him, to find out that He is the Son of God, the Holy One. There are two reasons why the Son of God could not sin. The first is, because He is God, absolutely holy, and God cannot sin. The second is because the Holy Spirit of God was upon Him and He is the Spirit of holiness.

The Holy Spirit In The Gospel Of John

WE have seen that the Holy Spirit is comparatively little mentioned in the Synoptics. Besides the promise made by John the Baptist, there is but one other promise by our Lord that His Father would give the Spirit to them that ask Him.

It is different in the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. In this Gospel is revealed the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we have life through His name (20:31). John bears witness to the full glory of the Lord Jesus and makes known the teaching He gave concerning the Holy Spirit and His work in and for the believer.

The Holy Spirit held back from the pens of the Synoptics all these teachings which the Lord gave concerning eternal life and the work of His Spirit, as well as the more definite promises of the Spirit as the Paraclete because it was outside of the scope and purpose of the first three Gospels. We may well call the Gospel of John, written several decades after the Synoptics, the bridge which leads from Judaism into Christianity.

The Gospel of John is the portal through which we enter into the highest revelation as to redemption and the Holy Spirit’s part. This highest revelation is found in the Pauline epistles. We have already mentioned in connection with the testimony of John the Baptist, John 1:32 and 33, also 3:34, so that we do not need to quote these verses again.

Book of John 3:5

Chapter 3:5 is the first passage in which our Lord speaks of the Spirit in this Gospel. “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Our Lord had told Nicodemus the absolute necessity of the new birth to see the kingdom of God and when Nicodemus expressed a desire to know how a man can be born a second time, the Lord answered him in the above words.

The new birth is brought about by “water and the Spirit.” Ritualists claim that the water is baptism. Others claim that the right kind of water baptism is necessary to salvation. The water our Lord mentions in connection with the Spirit is no baptism at all. Water is the symbolical figure of the Word of God. Ephesians 5:26 employs the same figure. Than I Peter 1:23 and James 1:18 show that it is the Word of God out of which we receive our new birth.

In the Word the Holy Spirit is active. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. When a man hears the Word of God, the Holy Spirit in the Word and through the Word acts upon the dead condition of the human soul, and when the Word has believed the Holy Spirit imparts to the believing sinner the new nature and he receives eternal life.

Book of John 20:22

John 20:22. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” This passage contains the first mention of the Holy Spirit after His resurrection. He breathed on them, which was a symbolic action. Never before had He done this, nor is the Greek expression used elsewhere in the New Testament. It is also significant that the definite article before Holy Spirit is not in the original text.

In Gen. 2:7 we read, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It was the same Lord who did that in the hour of creation, who now breathed on His disciples, the breath of a better life, that, His own life, which had passed through death, the life which delivers from the law of sin and death. And so it is written, “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).

Since He said, “Receive ye Holy Spirit” and not “the Holy Spirit,” it is evident that the Person of the Holy Spirit was not sent down from heaven at this time when He breathed on them, for He had not yet ascended to the right hand of God.

He communicated to them the energy of His own life through the Spirit of God. It has been suggested that this breathing pointed to a revival of faith in the hearts of the disciples, while others see in it a gift of understanding corresponding to the statement in Luke 44:45, “Then opened He their understanding that they might know the Scriptures.” Still, others think that the Spirit was bestowed upon them for the fifty days between His resurrection and the day of Pentecost.

We believe, as pointed out above, it was a symbolic action. In the 23d verse the church, the body of Christ, composed of those who are born again and possess the life in Him, is anticipated. The authority to discipline is not conferred upon a priestly class, as Rome teaches, but upon the assembly of believers.

The Role Of The Holy Spirit In The New Testament

The church is called “Christ” in 1Cor 12:12-14 here and is compared to a human body with its many members. This shows how the church is constituted: the Holy Spirit unites repentant sinners with Christ as members of His body when they believe in Him for their salvation.

The role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament church is numerous, but the most pronounced include.

Regeneration (Impartation of New Life)

After baptizing new believers into the church, the next step in the work of the Holy Spirit is to impart new life to them. This is what Jesus calls being born again, and being born of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:3-8). Being born again expresses the change wrought in the life of a sinner after being converted to Christ. This is when sinners become saints.

Being born again is a process. It is not limited to the initial act when repentant sinners are first converted to Christ but is a continuous work of the Holy Spirit renewing and transforming their lives throughout the entire course of their Christian walk. In Jn 3:8 Jesus illustrates the activity and effect of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have been born again. Just as the wind is invisible but its activity and effect can be witnessed, so to it is with the Holy Spirit. He is also invisible, but the proof of His work is apparent.

There is undeniable and unmistakable evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of born-again believers (Ac 1:1-8; 4:33; 1Cor 2:1-5). Jn 3:3-8 teaches the doctrine of regeneration or the new birth. This is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith (Ro 12:2). The new birth is the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven. The water referred to in Jn 3:5 is the word of God – the gospel – which is the water of life.

Jesus uses water figuratively in the context of being saved by the word. Being born of water and the Spirit means being saved by the word of God and being renewed by the Holy Spirit (Psa 119:9; Jn 4:5-14; 15:3; Eph 5:25-26; Jas 1:18; 1Pe 1:23; Rev 21:5-6; 22:17 with Eze 36:25-28; Jn 7:37-39; Tit 3:5).


During the process of regeneration, believers must never take the Holy Spirit for granted. While the Holy Spirit alone can regenerate, He never regenerates alone. Their repentance must be sincere, and believers must be completely surrendered to Christ and the authority of God’s word for the work of the Holy Spirit to be effective in their lives. Their old sinful nature must yield to the new nature of God imparted to them for the Holy Spirit to complete His work of re-creation in them (2Cor 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Teaching and Testifying

Contemporaneous with convicting sinners of their need for salvation, baptizing them into Christ and into His body, the church, the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament church also encompasses teaching the church, testifying of Christ, guiding believers in all truths, glorifying Christ, imparting God’s love to believers, empowering them to overcome sin, bearing witness to their adoption as sons of God, making known the things God has prepared for them, distributing gifts to the church, enduing believers with power to be Christ’s witness in the world, helping them to pray, interceding for them with the Father, inviting all who are willing, to be saved.

These works are not conclusive but will suffice for this study. Also, they are not in any official order but are listed like this simply to show the extent of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament church (Jn 14:26).

Witnessing Christ

This work of the Holy Spirit is to enable believers to understand clearly and to recall the teachings of Christ in scripture (1Jn 2:20). Unction here (KJV), is the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon believers which enables them to distinguish between good and bad teaching in the church. This does not mean that human teachers are not needed in the church, but that believers, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, already know the truth and have no need of any instruction from false teachers who try to seduce them from the truth the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ.

He bears witness to believers, then through them, to the world. He glorifies Christ in the outworking in believers of all the Spiritual gifts and graces He distributes to the church (Rom 12:5-18; 1Cor 12:4-11, 28; Eph 4:7-16). The Holy Spirit testifies of Christ in everything He has done and is doing in believers. It is only in and through the Holy Spirit that Christ is made known (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15: 1Cor 12:3; 1Jn 5:5-6).

Raising the Dead

The Holy Spirit will also raise dead believers (Rom 8:11). Quicken here means to give life to. The Holy Spirit will raise dead believers to life at the first resurrection, when Christ comes again to take all the saints of God back to heaven with Him (Jn 5:25, 28-29; 14:1-3; 1Cor 15:51-58; 1Th 4:13-18; Rev 20:4-6).

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament church is God’s assurance to believers of their future resurrection and eternal inheritance in Christ (Ro 8:23; 1Cor 6:14; 2Cor 1:21-22; 4:13-14; 5:1-5; Eph 1:3-14; 4:30; 1Th 4:14). The word earnest in 2Cor 1:22, 5:5, and Eph 1:14 (KJV), is used figuratively of the Holy Spirit which God has given to believers in this present life to assure them of their final redemption.

Further proof of this is the love God has for believers which the Holy Spirit has poured out into their hearts (Jn 5:1-11). Eph 1:3-14 teaches that through their union with Christ, believers have already been made beneficiaries of every spiritual blessing from heaven in accordance with God’s redemptive plan in Christ. Whether redemption, forgiveness, bodily healing, gifts of the Spirit, the assurance of immortality, the promise of the resurrection, the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, the privileges of adoption, etc. The Holy Spirit is the source of them all.


This is not an exhaustive study but shows something of the vast sphere of operation of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. It is apt then to close the study on His empowering of believers for their witness to Christ in the world (Lu 24:46-49 with Ac 1:4-5, 8). Being endued with power from on high means being baptized in the Holy Spirit. The sure evidence that this has occurred in the recipient’s ability to speak in tongues (Ac 2:1-4; 10:44-46; 19:1-6).

When they are baptized in the Holy Spirit, believers are empowered to cast out demons; take up serpents; not be harmed if they drink any deadly poison; heal the sick; raise the dead; make the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak, etc. They can do everything and more, that Jesus himself did in His earthly ministry (Mk 16:17-20; Jn 14:12-14). This empowering by the Holy Spirit is the inherent right of every believer in Christ throughout the church age, from the day of Pentecost onward (Ac 2:37-39). All that is far off in V 39, includes believers today.


Elwell, Walter A., “Entry for ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit”. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 1997.

John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1954.

Mary Fairchild, Divine Works of the Holy Spirit. Christianity Guide. February 2012.

McQuilkin, Robertson. Life in the Spirit, Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers. 2000.

Ron Minton, The Role of the Holy Spirit in Giving Us the New Testament. Springfield, MO: Baptist Bible Graduate School of Theology, November 1996.

Schultze, Reimar, The Work of the Holy Spirit. Kokomo, USA:, 2000.

Smeaton, G. (1880), in The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Moody Bible Institute, 2012. Val, Boyle, The Work Of The Holy Spirit In The New Testament Church. 11 November 2006.

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