With so much strangeness floating around churches today, claiming to be “mighty moves of the Holy Spirit of God” and “true revival,” how does a believer know what is really of God and what is simply a counterfeit? As is always the case, the Bible is the believer’s safest place to look for answers. As believers, we should ask: “What does the Bible teach us about the interests of God’s Holy Spirit? What are the biblical characteristics of His activity that we see in the text of God’s Word?” Well, there is no better place to look than the book of Acts. There we will find case study after case study of the trustworthy records of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the early church. (Here’s a little hint regarding the results: The Holy Spirit’s interest overwhelmingly centers on putting the spotlight on God’s chosen Messiah and Savior, Jesus.)
A Comprehensive List of the Holy Spirit’s Activity in the Book of Acts
- Acts 1:8 – Shortly before Jesus left to ascend up to Heaven, He told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them and that they would then have power. Power for what purpose? To be “witnesses.” To be witnesses for whom? For Jesus.
- Acts 2:22-24 – When the Holy Spirit empowered Peter, what did he do? He preached the Gospel (good news) of Jesus to the listening masses. The apostles were given the ability to preach the Gospel of Jesus in many languages that day, and they preached to people from many nations who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Shavuot (Pentecost) festival.
- Acts 3:8-12 – The Holy Spirit came upon Peter again and healed a man through him. Peter declared to the masses that saw this miracle that Jesus was the one who had healed the man. He then proceeded to preach the Gospel of Jesus to all the listeners.
- Acts 4:8-12 – Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and declares the Gospel of Jesus to the High Priest and the priests, declaring that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
- Acts 4:23-31 – The believers are “all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the work of God with boldness” after they prayed for boldness to speak the Gospel of Jesus with boldness.
- Acts 5:1-11 – Two people strangely die for lying to the Holy Spirit of God and the apostles.
- Acts 5:27-32 – Peter says that the Holy Spirit of God witnesses to the sin-atoning death and resurrection of Jesus.
- Acts 6:10-7:60 – The Holy Spirit gave Stephen the wisdom to speak the truth in a way that the opponents of Jesus couldn’t resist.
- Acts 7:55-56 – Stephen is filled with and comforted by the Holy Spirit of God as he is being martyred for preaching the Gospel of Jesus. As Stephen is dying, the Holy Spirit miraculously allows him to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God — the place of highest authority.
- Acts 8:5-6 – Philip “preached Christ,” and he did miracles, healings, and exorcisms. Many believed the Gospel of Jesus.
- Acts 8:29-40 – The Holy Spirit of God led Philip the evangelist to meet up with a person seeking the truth about the Messiah and reading the 53rd chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Philip tells the seeker the Gospel of Jesus, and the seeker gets saved and baptized (mikveh) in the name of the Jewish Messiah. The Holy Spirit did a miracle and brought Philip away, and Philip found himself at Azotus and preached Jesus there too.
- Acts 9:17-22 – Paul trusts Jesus as His Savior and is therefore filled with the Holy Spirit. “Immediately he preached the Messiah’s arrival in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God….[and] proving that this Jesus is the Messiah.”
- Acts 9:32-35 – “And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus the Messiah heals you.’”
- Acts 9:36-42 – Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter healed a lady named Tabitha. It says that “it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.”
- Acts 10:1-22 – “The Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.’” This gave Peter, a Jew, the courage to go and share the Gospel with a Gentile — something that was typically unacceptable in first century Israel.
- Acts 10:38-44 – The Holy Spirit of God came upon Cornelius (the first Gentile believer in Jesus) in a miraculous way, and this served as proof to the Jewish believers that God was also willing to accept Gentiles — anyone who would trust in Jesus’ work on the cross.
- Acts 11:27-30 – A prophet named Agabus came and “showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world.” This gave the believers forewarning to make preparations to care for themselves.
- Acts 13:1-5 – In the church/synagogue at Antioch, some prophets and teachers got together and prayed and fasted. While they were doing this, the Holy Spirit of God said: “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” And this was the beginning of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey.
- Acts 13:9-39 – Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and what did he do then? Spoke boldly about Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
- Acts 14:3 – Paul and Barnabas were in Iconium, and “they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” Jesus was bearing witness of the Gospel Paul and Barnabas were speaking healing people through them and doing signs and wonders.”
- Acts 15:28 – The Holy Spirit guided the disciples and believers through a rough controversy regarding doctrine. The conclusion among the Jewish believers was that Gentile believers are saved by faith in Jesus alone, and that Gentiles need not be circumcised in order to receive salvation.
- Acts 16:6 – On Paul’s second missionary journey into the Gentile lands, the Holy Spirit warned Paul and Silas not to go on into Asia at that time. We read: “[T]hey were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.”
- Acts 16:7 – On Paul’s second missionary journey into the Gentile lands, Paul and Silas tried to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit “did not permit them.”
- Acts 16:9-10 – One night Paul has a vision of a man of Macedonia (Greece) pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Immediately Paul and Silas left for Macedonia, “concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
- Acts 16:13-14 – Regarding a lady named Lydia, we read, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. (Paul’s main mission on this journey was to share the Gospel of Jesus.)
- Acts 16:16-18 – While in Thyatira, Paul and Silas were preaching the way of salvation through Jesus. A girl was demon-possessed, and Paul said to the evil spirit: “I command you in the name of Jesus the Messiah to come out of her.” She was freed that very hour. The people knew that the girl had been freed through the authority of the name of “Jesus the Messiah.” In saying “Messiah,” they were proclaiming that Jesus was the anointed one sent from God that all the Jewish prophets had foretold.
- Acts 16:25-26 – Paul and Silas were in stocks in prison, and a miracle took place while they were “praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” A localized earthquake miraculously occurred, and the doors were opened and the shackles were loosed. Paul and Silas used this opportunity to preach the Gospel to the jail guard, saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus the Messiah, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
- Acts 18:5 – In Corinth “Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.”
- Acts 18:9-10 – Jesus spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you; for I have many people in this city.” This encouraged Paul, and he stayed in the city for another year and a half, “teaching the word of God among them.”
- Acts 19:1-7 – Paul came to Ephesus, and explaining the Gospel of Jesus to approximately twelve of John the Baptist’s (Yohanan HaKohen) disciples who lived there, they believed in Jesus and were baptized (mikveh) in His name. When they believed in Jesus and publicly declared their belief in Him through baptism in His name, Paul laid hands on them and they spoke in other languages and prophesied.
- Acts 19:11-12 – God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, and “even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.”
- Acts 20:17-25 – Paul tells the elders of the church in Ephesus that “the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” The Holy Spirit warned Paul of the troubles that he would face for “the ministry which [he] received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
- Acts 20:25-28 – Paul explains to the elders of the church of Ephesus that “the Holy Spirit has made [them] overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Paul here equates the Holy Spirit with Jesus, the One who purchased the church with His own blood.
- Acts 21:4 – This is a mysterious passage, but it seems to say that the Holy Spirit warned Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.
- Acts 21:10 – A prophet named Agabus came to Paul and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” The Holy Spirit warned Paul and the believers of the captivity that was to come for Paul by the Jews and Romans in Jerusalem.
- Acts 23:11 – While Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to Him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”
From what we have seen from our comprehensive study of the Holy Spirit of God’s direct activity in the book of Acts, it is clear that the Holy Spirit’s greatest and most-prominent activity is the highlighting and broadcasting of the Gospel message of Jesus the Messiah. This Gospel is none other that the message of Jesus’ substitutionary and sin-atoning death on the cross, His miraculous resurrection, and the pardon of sins that comes through faith in Him. All of the Holy Spirit’s activity centered around the empowerment of the words of those proclaiming this Gospel, the cheering and encouragement of the speakers of this Gospel, and the internal witnessing to those unbelieving listeners who heard this Gospel.
As believers, we should use this biblical data to help us determine whether a particular influencer, book, or movement is truly inspired by God. If the movement you are assessing seems to subtly divert attention away from Jesus and His sin-atoning work on the cross, then it is likely not the Holy Spirit behind the work. Even if the movement uses many religious words, the flurry of activity is probably not of the Holy Spirit if the attention is not placed on Jesus and His atoning work. This is what the biblical data suggests. By this biblical method of assessment we can know without a doubt what is and what is not truly a “move of the Holy Spirit.”
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