Why We Need the Holy Spirit

by Ron Clouzet 
Dean, Southern Adventist University


Exactly 1,482 years after the first Pentecost at the foot of Mt. Sinai,1 Jesus made good His promise to send the Spirit to give life to His New Testament church. Rabbis called Pentecost The Season of the Giving of God’s Law. The desert that day witnessed lightning, thunder, violent quaking, and fire, as God wrote His Law in the stone (Exodus 19:16-18). Later, Jerusalem witnessed noise like a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire, as God inscribed His character in the hearts of the disciples (Acts 2:2-4). The Law was God’s gift to His recently freed children, one that, if appropriated, would include all other blessings for God’s people. The Spirit was God’s gift for the New Testament church that, when claimed by faith, would bring "all other blessings in its train" (The Desire of Ages, p. 672). God’s moral Law was written in Sinai by the finger of God (Deuteronomy 9:10), identified in the Gospels as the Spirit of God.2 Now, Christ Himself would dwell within, through the Spirit (John 14:20).


God's Desire

This indwelling was the desire of God from times immemorial. At the foot of the mountain, three times Israel promised "all that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7). A thousand years later, through the exiled prophet Ezekiel, God promised to make up for such pathetic Israelite inability: "A new heart will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you. . . . I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26, 27). The fullness of the Spirit would no longer dwell in the hearts of a few individuals3 but, as Joel had foreseen, God would "pour out [His] Spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:28, 29). Sons, daughters, the old, the young, the humble. God would pour out His Spirit upon all! When John the Baptist, the man full of the Spirit from his mother’s womb, bolted to life between the Testaments, he too, uttered the glorious promise: I baptize you with water, but Christ will baptize you with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11). This promise is repeated by all the Gospel writers (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:32, 33) and twice again in the book of Acts (1:5; 11:16), something unequaled elsewhere in the New Testament.

Finally, on the night of Christ’s betrayal, the most important subject Jesus would discuss with His followers was the coming of the Spirit.4 God’s day had come: Calvary would open the way to God’s greatest gift (John 7:37-39).

Thousands of references are given in the Spirit of Prophecy regarding the Holy Spirit, hundreds having to do with the baptism and the infilling of the Spirit for the Christian, including this famous admonition: "This promise [of the power of the Holy Spirit] belongs as much to us as it did to them [Jesus’ disciples], and yet how rarely it is presented before the people, and its reception spoken of in the church. In consequence of this silence upon this most important theme, what promise do we know less about by its practical fulfillment than this rich promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit, whereby efficiency is to be given to all our spiritual labor?. . . Prophecies have been dwelt upon, doctrines have been expounded; but that which is essential to the church in order that they may grow in spiritual strength and efficiency, in order that the preaching may carry conviction with it, and souls be converted to God, has been largely left out of ministerial effort" (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 174).

Why such vital emphasis on the promise of the Father? Because without it Christ’s body would not survive, and the world would not be ready for His return.


To Witness

Note Christ’s burden right after His resurrection. We are told in Luke 24 that when He went to see the disciples in the upper room, He "opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" concerning His death and resurrection, and commissioned them to proclaim forgiveness of sins to all nations. Then He said: "You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:44-49). John’s description of the same encounter includes Christ’s command, "As the Father has sent Me, so send I you," and breathing on them, He added: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:21, 22). Two things appear inseparable: a witnessing commission to all nations, and the promised baptism of the Spirit to empower His disciples for such commission.5

Acts 1:8 makes clear that the commission is to witness more than to preach or proclaim or baptize, per se.6 To witness is to relay what one has personally seen and heard. In English we have just one word for both verb and noun, thus a witness bears witness. The ambiguity is helpful, for it is impossible to separate the meaning of the witness as a person from the content of the witness. This may be the reason why the New Testament word for witness is martus from which we get martyr. Martyrs are the ultimate witnesses, refusing to deny what they have seen or heard. Thus, those who have seen and heard Jesus, those who have experienced His love and guidance in a meaningful and personal way, are commissioned to witness.

This one objective, to witness, has an inward and an outward expression, much like a coin has two faces. "One interest prevailed; one subject of emulation swallowed up all others. The ambition of the believers was to reveal the likeness of Christ’s character and to labor for the enlargement of His kingdom" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 48). Witnessing to all nations would consist of both revelation of Christ’s character and persuasion for the kingdom. The accomplishment of these two tasks is the reason why Jesus poured His Spirit upon the early church, and why we need a renewed baptism of the Holy Spirit today.


Christlike Character

On that last great Passover night, Christ introduced a new commandment to His disciples, and He uttered it three times: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34; 15:12, 17). Can we really love one another like our Saviour has loved us? The servant of God says we cannot; it takes more than hearty willingness to do so: "The sanctification of the soul by the working of the Holy Spirit is the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity. Gospel religion is Christ in the life—a living, active principle. It is the grace of Christ revealed in character and wrought out in good works.…Whatever the profession, no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of Christ in the heart" (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 384).

Ellen White clearly admits that we cannot love others like Christ does, unless the love of Christ Himself is a reality in our own lives. She explains that it is only "when self is merged in Christ," that "love springs forth spontaneously" (ibid.). In this sense, it is not my capacity to love as much as it is Christ’s capacity to love others through me that makes the difference. No wonder Paul asserted that our bodies are to be the temple of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16)!

The early church experienced Christlike character. Whereas the early apostles were once selfish and fearful, soon their enemies would recognize their confidence and burden for others as earmarks of their Master (Acts 4:13). Whereas the disciples were once divided, seeking for personal advantage, now the Church is noted for its unity and its willingness to share liberally with those in need (Acts 4:32-35). Whereas Christ’s followers were once prejudiced, soon they were open to accept others and treat them as one of their own (Acts 8:4-6; 10:28, 34-35).

A little girl once asked her grandmother while in church, "Did the preacher say that God is bigger than us?" Her grandmother assented.

"And he said that God lives inside us?"

"Yes, precious," said the older woman.

"If God is bigger than us and He lives inside us, shouldn’t some of Him show through?"

The logic is impeccable. The indwelling of the Spirit is the indwelling of Jesus in our lives.7 When this happens, it is inevitable to reveal to the world the Christ within. Did not Paul say that those who lack the Spirit lack Christ Himself? (see Romans 8:9-11).


Christlike Mission

It is through the Spirit that the Christ within transforms us into His image. And through the indwelling Spirit Christ’s church will impact the world for God. A Christlike character leads to a Christlike mission to prepare the world for His return.

Unfortunately, the insignificant impact made in the world by many Christians today is a testament of the Spirit wanting. Carl Bates once commented: "If God were to take the Holy Spirit out of our midst today, about 95 percent of what we are doing in our churches would go on, and we would not know the difference."8 That was not so in the early New Testament church. Peter’s no-holds-barred sermon on the Day of Pentecost brought 3,000 to conviction (Acts 2:41). A second apostolic sermon brought 5,000 to Christ (Acts 4:4)! Signs and wonders accompanied the believers and "multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number" (Acts 5:14), even to the point that priests, their former enemies, "were becoming obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Thirty years of Spirit-led ministry by the New Testament church made Paul maintain that the Gospel had been proclaimed "in all creation under Heaven" (Colossians 1:23).

I’ll never forget hearing the story at the General Conference session a few years ago in Indianapolis. Elder Carl Curry told simply of Gao Hung Tse, a Chinese deacon who could neither read nor write, and who, having a poor memory, could not share with others the Bible as read to him. Yet, he had a great burden to share the truth. Desperate one Sabbath day, he lay prostrate on the floor of his humble home and begged God for power to witness. He determined not to rise until the Lord heard his plea. Suddenly, he heard a voice telling him to read Psalm 62. As he obeyed, he actually read Psalm 62! He was so excited that he ran to tell the elder in the village, and proceeded to repeat the psalm by memory only after having read it one time. This powerful anointing of the Spirit was the answer to his prayer, and the following year, he led 180 people to baptism. In addition, he was credited with several hundred miracles of healing in and around his village.

We know that the power of the Spirit in the last days will exceed that experienced by the early church.9 The prophecy of Joel 2 "received a partial fulfillment in the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost; but it will reach its full accomplishment in the manifestation of divine grace which will attend the closing work of the Gospel" (The Faith I Live By, p. 292). Without this new life, the church will not see Jesus face to face, and the world will not be ready for His return.


The Time to Act Is Now

On a cold, frosty morning at the old farmhouse, a little boy tugged at his grandfather’s sleeve as he stomped on the frozen mud puddles, giggling with delight. As they reached the barn, the grandfather stretched his arm into the large rain barrel beneath the eaves and pulled out a gleaming sheet of ice. The five-year-old was beside himself with wonder. He twisted and turned the ice as he pointed it to the sun, his grandfather leaving him to enjoy the moment while he began milking the cows.

Suddenly, the frozen toy slipped from the child’s hands, shattering into a thousand shiny bits. Undeterred, the young lad pushed and wiggled his way up the rain barrel for another. As his waist reached the top, he leaned forward, stretching his arm, his prize within his grasp. But before he could cry for help, he plunged headfirst beneath the frigid waters, his arms pinned to the sides of the barrel. In a few seconds of struggle all went black. The noise of the milking machines had kept the grandfather from knowing what happened.

But God had not forgotten the child. The milk-truck driver suddenly pulled up, yet something told him to go to the barn right away. There he found the motionless legs of the little boy sticking out from the rain barrel. After pulling the motionless body out and calling for grandpa, the man began giving him artificial respiration. He forced his own breath into the mouth of the small boy again and again until the lad coughed. He would live to see another day.10

Douglas Cooper’s experience as a boy dramatizes for us our dire need for the Holy Spirit. Without the Breath of God, we are mere frozen children of circumstance. This is not what God has in mind for His church. "The Lord is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who serve Him than parents are to give good gifts to their children. For the daily baptism of the Spirit every worker should offer his petition to God. Companies…should gather to ask for special help…(The Acts of the Apostles, p. 50).

"There are many who long to help others, but they feel that they have no spiritual strength or light to impart. Let them present their petitions at the throne of grace. Plead for the Holy Spirit. God stands back of every promise He has made. With your Bible in your hands say, I have done as Thou hast said. I present Thy promise, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’…

"When with earnestness and intensity we breathe a prayer in the name of Christ, there is in that very intensity a pledge from God that He is about to answer our prayer ‘exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20)" (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 147).

With such wonderful promises at our disposal, what are we waiting for?



1. Adventist scholars reckon the first Passover in Egypt to have been on March 17, 1450 BCE. [This claim is unsupported by facts known to the editor. Adventist scholars do say that Passover probably occurred on Abib 14, but do not specify a year; cf. Exodus 12:6 and 1BC 549, 550. Ed.] Christ died in AD 31, during Passover, exactly 50 days before the Feast of Pentecost.

2. Compare Luke 11:20 with Matthew 12:28, where the finger of God equates with the Spirit of God.

3. In the Old Testament, the manifestation of the fullness of the Spirit was limited to the lives of prophets like Samuel, Elijah, or Daniel, as well as a few others God empowered for specific tasks, like Bezalel or Samson. This restricted influence (the Spirit is mentioned only 88 times in the Old Testament, but 262 times in the New Testament—a comparative increase of nearly 300%) became available universally after Calvary.

4. See Selected Messages, bk. 1, pp. 156,157.

5. I use the term "baptism" somewhat loosely in this context. It is the anointing, the outpouring, the endowment, the blessing of grace and power to be and to do what God desires, as we shall see more clearly.

6. Even the well known wording of Matthew 28:19, 20 implies this: The commission is to "make disciples" as one goes about life’s affairs. Go(ing), baptiz(ing), and teach(ing) are all participles, and participles signify action.

7. Many statements in the Spirit of Prophecy corroborate this fact. For example, "When on the Day of Pentecost the promised Comforter descended and the power from on high was given…the souls of the believers thrilled with the conscious presence of their ascended Lord" (The Great Controversy, p. 351); and "The impartation of the Spirit is the impartation of the life of Christ. It imbues the receiver with the attributes of Christ" (The Desire of Ages, p. 805).

8. Quoted by David Watson, I Believe in the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 166.

9. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 121; The Great Controversy, pp. 611, 612.

10. Douglas Cooper, Living the Spirit-Filled Life (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1985), pp. 37-39.