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People of the Spirit

AG general superintendent Doug Clay answers the question, 'Who are we as Pentecostals?'

The Pentecostal Church was birthed on the Day of Pentecost, when early Christians received the Holy Spirit. But the Feast of Pentecost was celebrated hundreds of years before the birth of the Church. Pentecost was a celebration of the summer harvest that occurred 50 days after Passover, thus the term Pentecost.

But on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, the Church started its mission to spread the gospel to the whole world. This took place 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus and fulfilled prophecies by both Jesus and John the Baptist about people being baptized in the Holy Spirit.

It’s doubtful the Early Church could have fathomed what the Holy Spirit would do in the future. It’s been nothing short of miraculous. In fact, the relatively young Pentecostal/charismatic movement now accounts for one in four Christians around the globe — an estimated 669 million people.

The U.S. Assemblies of God continues to grow along with the Pentecostal movement. Between 2001 and 2016, the number of young adults (ages 18 to 34) within the Fellowship increased more than 18 percent.

But apart from the numbers, who are we as Pentecostals?

Another way to frame our identity as Pentecostals is to see what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of individuals. It’s never sufficient simply to describe the Holy Spirit; we must personally experience the life change He brings. We can read about the Spirit, have discussions about the Spirit, or ponder the Spirit, but until we encounter Him ourselves, we will never understand how His power and presence change everything.

Jesus promised that the Spirit would be an Advocate who helps us, instructs us, reminds us of God’s Word, testifies of Jesus, guides us into all truth, glorifies Christ, and empowers us to spread the gospel (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:13,14; Acts 1:8).

When Jesus told His disciples, us included, that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20), it’s understood that this takes place through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Three words best express this relationship with the Spirit: in, with, and through. As we encounter the Spirit in these ways, God transforms us into people of the Spirit.

The Spirit lives in us. When we become followers of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit resides in us (Romans 8:9). The moment you received Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit took up residence in your heart. Your body became the temple of the Holy Spirit. God infused your life with His presence.

The Holy Spirit residing in us makes communion with Jesus possible. As Spirit people, we are actually Jesus people. We do not follow one at the expense of the other. The power to follow Jesus and grow in relationship with Him comes directly from the Holy Spirit. In fact, the same power that drew you to Christ lives in you to help you overcome whatever threatens to steal your freedom.

The Holy Spirit inhabits our lives in a powerful way. The moment you experienced the baptism in the Spirit, you willingly yielded yourself to the Spirit’s control. That is something Scripture encourages us to do regularly (Ephesians 5:18).

The Spirit walks with us. The word that John uses to describe the Holy Spirit is parakletos or “paraclete.” It means advocate, helper, intercessor, counselor — or one who comes alongside. I don’t think it’s a stretch to describe the Holy Spirit as a personal coach. He moves with us to direct our lives, bringing us closer to Jesus and making us more like Him.

One place that happens is in our time in Scripture. Without the Holy Spirit driving us to God’s Word and opening our eyes to its meaning, the Bible can seem like just another book. A mark of Spirit baptism should be a hunger to read and know God’s Word.

Pentecostals don’t desire experience for experience’s sake. It is a hallmark of our expression that we rely upon the Spirit in our heart, but this never happens at the expense of God’s Word as revealed in Scripture. He is “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Much like the Risen Christ did on the way to Emmaus, the Spirit stirs our hearts and illuminates the Scriptures (Luke 24:32).

The Holy Spirit’s voice will always agree with Scripture. We must reject any inner impression that conflicts with the Bible. Our own desires can mislead us, but God’s desires never will. The Spirit’s guidance will become clear only when we surrender our will to God’s will.

A Spirit-led church will focus on the Word of God transforming minds and permeating lives, by changing the way people think and live. That means we rely on the Spirit living with us and walking with us — not only to help us live holy lives but also to share Christ with a lost and dying world.

The Spirit acts through us. People of the Spirit are people on mission. Since the first chapter of Acts, that mission has been front and center: to tell the world about Jesus, as the Spirit empowers. Our Lord promised, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Everywhere the people of the Spirit go, they live in such a way that the power of Christ is visible. Missional living is about being witnesses to the gospel. Being people of the Spirit is of little value if all we do is speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 13:1,2). The Holy Spirit in us unites us to Christ. The Holy Spirit with us is making us more like Jesus. And the Holy Spirit through us means we live lives on mission, full of love and courage.

When we love like Jesus, we express that outwardly. Much is made of the expressive way Pentecostals worship. But are we loving with the same passion? Jesus ministered with compassion (Matthew 9:36), extended mercy (Mark 5:19), and always spoke truth (John 8:32,40). People of the Spirit do the same through love.

The Holy Spirit gives us courage beyond our human nature. Look no further than the example of the apostle Peter to see how this plays out. Before Pentecost, Peter’s human nature was to get even, get mad, or run and hide — all of which happened just hours before our Lord’s crucifixion. But the Holy Spirit’s empowerment gave Peter courage to proclaim the truth of Jesus. He faced down prison and certain death time and again. Becoming a person of the Spirit made the difference.

The message of Christ delivered by people full of Spirit-empowered courage is what will change hearts — not the strength of our convictions or the volume of our protests. Is it possible that we have redefined the Pentecostal experience into a worship style instead of a lifestyle of mission? If so, we’ve lost our foundation. The Holy Spirit intentionally dwells within us to empower us missionally so that people can know Christ!


I love the diverse expression of worship within our Fellowship. As I look at Assemblies of God churches, I know there is a desire for more of the Spirit. But I fear we may be coming up short.

Growing up, I spent regular times at our church’s altar seeking the Holy Spirit. Mentors gathered around younger believers in times of prayer, lingering until we found a breakthrough. Today, however, it seems those times are lost to a busy church schedule or relegated to a weekend retreat or summer camp.

My heart’s desire is to see the many baby boomers who have experienced their Pentecost to share that experience with succeeding generations. Millennials and Generation Z need to have their Pentecost. Each subsequent generation must seek the Holy Spirit in fresh ways. My concern is that a lack of Pentecostal experience will have an impact on our Pentecostal effectiveness and outcome. We must find and create space for Pentecostal experiences to happen!

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the magazine Pentecostals.

Doug Clay

General Superintendent

The General Council of the Assemblies of God

See full bio.