10 Key Bible Verses on the Holy Spirit

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. Acts 1:4–8

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Read More

The promise of the Father refers to the gift that was promised by the Father, namely, the new and greater empowering of the Holy Spirit that the disciples were to await in Jerusalem (see Luke 3:15–17; Luke 24:49).

Baptized with the Holy Spirit looks forward to Pentecost (see Acts 2). John had contrasted his “repentance” baptism with Jesus’ “Holy Spirit” baptism (Mark 1:8). Throughout Acts, baptism and the gift of the Spirit are closely related. Repentance, forgiveness, water baptism, and reception of the Spirit comprise the basic pattern of conversion.

Jesus corrected the disciples’ questions (Acts 1:6) with a commission: “this time” (Acts 1:6) would be for them a time of witnessing for the gospel, and the scope of their witness was not to be just Israel but the world. Acts 1:8 is the thematic statement for all of Acts. It begins with the Spirit’s power that stands behind and drives the witness to Jesus. Then it provides a rough outline of the book: Jerusalem (chs. 1–7), Judea and Samaria (chs. 8–12), and the end of the earth (chs. 13–28). you will receive power. Interpreters differ over whether the Holy Spirit was at work in the lives of ordinary believers prior to Pentecost in a lesser way or not at all, except for empowering for special tasks. On either view, something new that needed to be waited for was here. This powerful new work of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost brought several beneficial results: more effectiveness in witness and ministry (1:8), effective proclamation of the gospel (cf. Matt. 28:19), power for victory over sin (Acts 2:42–46; Rom. 6:11–14; Rom. 8:13–14; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:10), power for victory over Satan and demonic forces (Acts 2:42–46; 16:16–18; 2 Cor. 10:3–4; Eph. 6:10–18; 1 John 4:4), and a wide distribution of gifts for ministry (Acts 2:16–18; 1 Cor. 12:7, 11; 1 Pet. 4:10; cf. Num. 11:17, 24–29). The disciples likely understood “power” in this context to include both the power to preach the gospel effectively and also the power (through the Holy Spirit) to work miracles confirming the message. The same word (Gk. dynamis) is used at least seven other times in Acts to refer to power to work miracles in connection with gospel proclamation (see Acts 2:22; Acts 3:12; Acts 4:7; Acts 6:8; Acts 8:10; Acts 10:38; Acts 19:11).

2. John 14:25–26

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Read More

He will teach you uses the masculine Greek pronoun ekeinos (“he”) instead of the neuter pronoun ekeino (“it”), which would have been expected for grammatical agreement with the grammatically neuter antecedent Pneuma (Spirit). Many interpreters have seen this as a deliberate choice on John’s part, indicating an awareness of the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit (though others disagree, suggesting that the pronoun is masculine in order to agree with the masculine noun Helper earlier in the sentence). John follows the same usage in John 15:26 and John 16:13–14. That he will teach the disciples all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you is an important promise regarding the disciples’ future role in writing the words of Scripture; see also John 16:13–15. Jesus’ promise here is specifically to these disciples (who would become the apostles after Pentecost), though there is of course a broader teaching and guiding ministry of the Holy Spirit generally in the lives of believers, as is taught elsewhere in Scripture (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:16, 18).

3. Ezekiel 36:26–28

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. Read More

God’s initiative moves from external to internal with the gift of a new heart and new spirit (see Ezekiel 11:19; cf. Ezekiel 18:31). The outer purification will be no use without the inner disposition to live rightly before God (Ezekiel 36:27). The connection of “water” (Ezekiel 36:25) and “Spirit” (Ezekiel 36:27) lies behind John 3:5. I will put my Spirit within you predicts an effective inward work of God in the “new covenant.”

4. Acts 2:1–4

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Read More

filled with the Holy Spirit. This is a fulfillment of what Jesus promised. It does not mean that the Holy Spirit was completely inactive prior to this time (for the Spirit of God was active in the world from Gen. 1:2 onward), but now the Spirit was coming to people in a new, more powerful way, signifying the beginning of the new covenant age (the time from Christ’s death until he returns at some time in the future). to speak in other tongues. The word translated “tongues” (Gk. glōssa, plural) can also be translated “languages,” and that is the sense that it has in this verse. In this case the other languages were understood by various people present in Jerusalem, but in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul expects that no one present in the church at Corinth will understand the languages being spoken “in tongues” (see 1 Cor. 14:2). Acts and 1 Corinthians are probably not speaking of different types of gifts but different kinds of audiences: people who understood the languages were present in Jerusalem but were not expected to be present in Corinth (see notes on 1 Cor. 12:10; 1 Cor. 12:29–30; 1 Cor. 14:2). This is clearly a miracle of speaking, not of hearing, for the disciples began “to speak in other tongues.” As the Spirit gave them utterance indicates that the Holy Spirit was directing the syllables they spoke. Speaking in tongues in this way also seems to be the phenomenon experienced by those at Cornelius’s house (Acts 10:45–46) and the disciples of John at Ephesus (Acts 19:6).

5. 2 Corinthians 3:17–18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Read More

the Lord is the Spirit. Different explanations have been offered for this difficult and compressed statement: Paul may be saying that Christ and the Spirit function together in the Christian’s experience—i.e., that the Lord (Christ) comes to us through the ministry of the Spirit (though they are still two distinct persons). Another view (based on the reference in 1 Cor. 3:16 to Ex. 34:34, “Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him”) is that the “Lord” here refers to Yahweh (“the LORD”) in the OT (that is, God in his whole being without specifying Father, Son, or Spirit). In this case, Paul is saying that Yahweh in the OT is not just Father and Son, he is also Spirit. In either case, Paul’s primary point seems to be that the Christian’s experience of the ministry of the Spirit under the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:3–8) is parallel to Moses’ experience of the Lord under the old covenant—i.e., that the Spirit (under the new covenant) sets one free from the veil of hard-heartedness (2 Cor. 3:12–15). Paul regularly distinguishes Christ from the Holy Spirit in his writings, and that is surely the case even here, since later in this verse he speaks of the Spirit of the Lord. Moreover, it should not be supposed that Paul is teaching that any of the members of the Trinity (the Father, the Son, or the Spirit) are the same person, which would be the heresy of modalism; instead Paul is stressing the gracious unity of purpose among the three persons of the Trinity. There is freedom, though unspecified in the context, most likely refers to the many kinds of freedom that come with salvation in Christ and with the presence of the Holy Spirit: that is, freedom from condemnation, guilt, sin, death, the old covenant, and blindness to the gospel, as well as freedom that gives access to the loving presence of God.

6. Ephesians 1:11–14

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Read More

Sealed can mean either that the Holy Spirit protects and preserves Christians until they reach their inheritance (see Eph. 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22; 1 Pet. 1:5; Rev. 7:2–3) or that he “certifies” the authenticity of their acceptance by God as being genuine—they bear the “royal seal” (see John 3:33; Acts 10:44, 47). The first interpretation seems best here, though both ideas are biblically true.

God pours out his Holy Spirit on all of his children to guarantee (or to provide a “down payment” on [ESV footnote]) their share in his eternal kingdom because he applies to them all God’s powerful working in redemption. until we acquire possession of it. This phrase can also be rendered “until God redeems his possession” (ESV footnote). In that case it means that, like the Levites in the OT, believers are the Lord’s specially treasured possession (see Num. 3:12, Num. 3:45; Num. 8:14; Josh. 14:3–4; Josh. 18:7).

7. 1 Corinthians 6:19–20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. Read More

temple of the Holy Spirit within you. The Spirit of the Lord lives within individual Christians (1 Cor. 6:17), making each Christian’s body a temple just as the church, corporately conceived, is also a temple where God’s Spirit dwells (1 Cor. 3:16). You are not your own. As with other gifts from God (1 Cor. 4:2, 7), Christians are to exercise responsible stewardship over their bodies.

8. Romans 8:26–27

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Read More

Although Christians do not always know God’s will in prayer, the Spirit himself intercedes for them in and through their unspeakable groans (Rom. 8:23). This does not refer to speaking in tongues, since what Paul says here applies to all Christians and, according to 1 Cor. 12:30, only some Christians speak in tongues.

God always answers the requests of the Spirit in the affirmative, since the Spirit always prays in accord with God’s will.

9. John 16:7–15

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. Read More

it is to your advantage that I go away. This is because while Jesus was on earth he could be in only one place at a time, but the Holy Spirit would carry on Jesus’ ministry over the entire world at all times. In addition, in God’s sovereign plan for the unfolding of history, the Holy Spirit would not come in new covenant power and fullness until Jesus returned to heaven. The Helper refers back to the anticipation of the pouring out of the Spirit and the inauguration of the kingdom spoken of in OT prophetic literature (e.g., Isa. 11:1–10; Isa. 32:14–18; Isa. 42:1–4; Isa. 44:1–5; Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 11:17–20; Ezek. 36:24–27; Ezek. 37:1–14; Joel 2:28–32).

He will convict the world gives hope that many who are in “the world” (and currently opposed to Jesus) will not be part of “the world” forever but will repent of their sins and believe in Christ.

Because I go to the Father means that Jesus will no longer be in the world to teach about true righteousness, and so the Holy Spirit will come to carry on that function, through illumination (v. 13) and through the words of believers who bear witness to the gospel.

The Spirit’s ministry of guiding Jesus’ followers into all the truth is a promise especially directed toward these 11 disciples, and it finds particular fulfillment in the subsequent work of these disciples in personally writing or overseeing the writing of the books of the NT. The promise, like the other things that Jesus says in these chapters, also has a broader application to all believers as the Holy Spirit leads and guides them (see Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18). The activity of the Holy Spirit in declaring the things that are to come suggests that he knows the future, something that is true of God alone; this gives evidence of the full deity of the Holy Spirit. The word declare (Gk. anangellō) occurs over 40 times in the Septuagint translation of Isaiah, where declaring things to come is said to be the exclusive domain of God (Isa. 48:14) and where God challenges anyone to declare the things that are to come (Isa. 42:9; Isa. 44:7; Isa. 46:10; cf. Isa. 41:21–29, esp. Isa. 41:22–23; ISa. 45:19).

10. Galatians 5:16–25 - use notes on vv. 16, 18, 19, 24, 25

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Read More

Having contrasted the flesh with love (vv. 13–14), Paul now sets it against the Spirit. The only way to conquer the flesh is to yield to the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit implies both direction and empowerment; that is, making decisions and choices according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and acting with the spiritual power that the Spirit supplies. To “walk” in Scripture regularly represents the pattern of conduct of all of one’s life. The desires of the flesh would mean not just bodily cravings but all of the ordinary desires of fallen human nature (see examples in Gal. 5:19–21).

led by the Spirit. The verb (Gk. agō) implies an active, personal involvement by the Holy Spirit in guiding Christians, and the present tense (“if you are being led …”) indicates his ongoing activity. you are not under the law. The Spirit’s active presence in believers’ lives shows that they are no longer under the pre-Christian system (Gal. 3:2, Gal. 3: 5, Gal. 3:14; Gal. 4:6).

Works of the flesh means actions flowing out of fallen human nature and its desires. Apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, these are the actions toward which sinful humans instinctively gravitate.

Again, Christ and the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) come together as the source of the believer’s life. Christians have crucified the flesh, or died with Christ to sin (Gal. 6:14; Rom. 6:4–6). Now that the old order of things has passed away for believers, their old sinful selves that belonged to that order have crumbled as well—so they should pay no attention to them. “Flesh” here should not be understood to mean physical bodies but rather fallen, sinful human nature with all its desires.

keep in step with the Spirit. A different verb than in Gal. 5:16, meaning “walk in line behind a leader” (Gk. stoicheō).

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