The early church assigned the title Acts of the Apostles to Luke’s description of the establishment and early development of the church. They might easily have titled it the Acts of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is one of the dominant themes in Luke’s book. According to New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie, the events outlined in the book of Acts mark the inauguration of the age of the Spirit. Guthrie writes, “The whole development of ideas in the early history of the Christian movement is dominated by the Holy Spirit.”
Luke’s theology of the Spirit highlights two aspects of His ministry to those who belong to Jesus Christ: empowerment and confirmation. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to tell others about Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). The early chapters of Acts describe how those who weeks earlier had denied Christ and fled from His enemies, were subsequently transformed into bold witnesses. Luke also shows how the Holy Spirit confirmed their testimony with signs and wonders. Consequently, Luke’s perspective on the Holy Spirit is more descriptive than didactic. As Guthrie explains, “As compared with the Epistles there is less reflection on the role of the Spirit but more on the actions of the Spirit.”
Failure to recognize this distinction has resulted in confusion about the ministry of the Spirit, leading some to conclude that the signs and wonders described in Acts should be normative in the life of every believer. This does not appear to be the case. The miraculous actions of the Spirit were primarily intended to confirm the testimony of the Apostles. Even in the book of Acts itself, signs and wonders play a more prominent role in the beginning of the book than in the later chapters.
The Holy Spirit is the source of miracles, but the greater part of His ministry to believers does not involve miracles. John Stott notes that many of the gifts that believers receive through the Spirit are quite ordinary: “There is nothing miraculous about the gifts of teaching and encouraging, giving money and doing acts of mercy.” All these are the work of the Spirit as well. We should not let our interest in the unusual work of the Spirit cause us to miss out on His ordinary work in the life of the believer.
FOR FURTHER READING
To learn more about the Holy Spirit’s work and ministry, read Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today by John Stott (InterVarsity).