As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And when PaulGreek he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of theOr that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
One of the most noticeable features of the book of Acts is the significant role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church. As we read, we see the Holy Spirit is promised by Jesus (Acts 1:8), comes to dwell in believers (Acts 2:4; 8:17; 9:17; 10:44; 15:8; 19:6), fills those preaching and praying (Acts 4:8; 4:31), sustains those persecuted (Acts 7:55), comforts the Church (Acts 9:31), appoints leaders for the Church (Acts 13:2; 20:28), and as we see in this and many other passages, the Holy Spirit guides the apostles in their missionary journeys by giving them either a “red light” to stop (Acts 16:6-7) or a “green light” to go (Acts 10:19; 13:4; 16:9-10; 19:21; 20:22; 21:4). One simply cannot encounter these stories without concluding that the Holy Spirit was the one establishing, ruling, and growing both individual Christians and the Church as a whole.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the role of the Holy Spirit in Acts is so striking to us is that the Holy Spirit seems less present in our lives today. But make no mistake—the Holy Spirit is just as real and active today as He was in the days of the early church. Just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit is with us permanently (John 14:16-17) in order to point us to Jesus (John 14:26; 16:13-15). And just as the Apostle Paul commanded, we are to be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14) in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). So as J.I. Packer puts it, our question should not be, “Do I have the Holy Spirit?” but instead, “Does the Holy Spirit have me?” In other words, each of us must ask whether we are being established, being ruled, and growing by the Holy Spirit like those in the book of Acts.
If you are a believer, you likely long for the Holy Spirit to have this kind of influence in your life. But for many, the actual process of being, hearing, and following the Holy Spirit seems mysterious, perhaps even intimidating. Driving in response to actual red lights and green lights is one thing, but living in response to the Holy Spirit seems like a whole other ballgame.
So how does the Holy Spirit speak to us? And how do we know what the Holy Spirit is guiding us to do?
In the book of Acts, two principles quietly and consistently emerge.
First, the book of Acts shows that Holy Spirit speaks to us through God’s Word. We know this is true in a general historical sense; as Peter says, it was the Holy Spirit who “carried along” the men who wrote God’s Word (2 Peter 1:21). But in Acts, the apostles point out that the Holy Spirit also speaks to specific present issues through God’s Word. Peter refers to the Holy Spirit speaking about Judas’ death and the Jews’ opposition to them through the book of Psalms (Acts 1:16; 4:25). And Paul refers to the Holy Spirit speaking about the Jews’ rejection of Jesus through the book of Isaiah (Acts 28:25). God’s Word is living and active, and so the Holy Spirit not only illumines the timeless truths of God’s Word, but also the particular bearing of God’s Word on our lives today. If we want to hear God speak to us, the first thing we should do is open our eyes and read our Bibles, for there is no greater gift for our faith or message for our lives than God’s Word illumined by the Holy Spirit!
Second, the book of Acts shows that the Holy Spirit guides us through Christ’s Church. What the Holy Spirit speaks to us through God’s Word He then guides us to apply through our brothers and sisters in the Church. Whether in matters of obedience (Acts 5:3-8), doctrine (Acts 15:28), or mission (Acts 21:4), the book of Acts shows us that the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Church go hand-in-hand. While human beings are fallible and are subject to God’s Word, the Holy Spirit regularly guides us by wise counselors (Proverbs 5:7-14; 15:22) and godly leaders (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:5). If we want to be led by the Holy Spirit, we must emerge from isolation and engage in the community of the redeemed in Christ’s Church, where the Spirit Himself unites us for the good of all (1 Corinthians 12:4-13).
In closing, consider the question asked earlier: “Does the Holy Spirit have you?” Does He have your ear? Are you listening to Him speak to you through God’s Word? Does He have your life? Are you being guided by Him through Christ’s Church? May the Holy Spirit have us, and like the early church, may He then give us green lights to carry the good news of our risen Christ down every road to every nation.
1. J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, pp. 77-78.
Holy Spirit, living Breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Bring the presence of the risen Lord,
To renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see;
Give me passion for Your purity.
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.
Holy Spirit, from creation’s birth,
Giving life to all that God has made,
Show Your power once again on earth;
Cause Your church to hunger for Your ways.
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise.
Lead us on the road of sacrifice,
That in unity the face of Christ,
Will be clear for all the world to see.
Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “Holy Spirit” (2006)