The Holy Spirit and the Great Commission


The great commission is stated for us in 5 places in the New Testament: Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, John 20:19-23, and Acts 1:4–8. We are all mostly familiar with the Matthew passage. Countless sermons have been preached on it. I myself have preached a sermon on it (A Missionary God, A Missionary People).


The passages in Luke, John, and Acts, are unique in that they show the connection between Pentecost and the giving of the great commission.

Luke 24:46-49, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you . . .”

John 20:21-22, So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:8, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

What took place at Pentecost, that is the giving of the Holy Spirit, was necessary for the disciples to be successful in carrying out the great commission spoken of in the above passages. In fact we see the Holy Spirit working immediately within a local body of believers to this end.

Acts 13:1-4: Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

Not only were Barnabas and Saul sent by the Holy Spirit, but they themselves were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Individual

The Autonomy of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit permanently and immediately upon justification indwells those who have professed faith in Jesus as their Savior. All believers have the Holy Spirit living and working in them to sanctify them and help them fight sin (John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13, and 2 Corinthians 1:22).

The Believers’ Responsibility

However, we are still told to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We see Paul tell this to the Christians in Ephesus in Ephesians 5:18. As well, believers can grieve and quench the Holy Spirit who indwells them as we see in Ephesians 4:30 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19. This occurs when we fail to fight sin and fail to grow in holiness, and this will impact our ability to live for Christ and be obedient to His commands. It will impact our ability to be open and obedient to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives.

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Church

In addition to individually grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit, on a corporate level we can suppress the work of the Holy Spirit. This will directly impact our ability as a local church to be obedient the great commission.

So then how do we as a local church not quench or grieve the Holy Spirit? How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can be as effective as possible at carrying out the great commission? What do we do to prepare ourselves to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit within our church?

First, we must be a local church that is a shining light of the gospel that can be seen by the unbelieving world (Philippians 2:12-18). When the world look at us they should recognize there is something different and better about the way we live life together. As part of this, we must constantly forsake the ways of the world (without forsaking the world) and live for Christ (1 John 2:15-17).

Second, we must be a local church whose members are in regular, intimate, disciple making fellowship with one another. This means, with few exceptions, being part of Sunday worship service every week. It means showing up at the beginning of the worship service and staying after to fellowship. This also means being part of a community group because it is within these smaller gathered groups where we can most effectively love and sacrifice for one another as John commands his readers to do in 1 John 3:16-19. Without regularly gathering together we will fail to grow corporately in holiness both inwardly and outwardly (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Third, we must be a church that has faith in the current and eschatological promises of Christ. He has promised to be with us until the ends of the age as we obey His commission (Matthew 28:20). He has promised to be our sympathetic high priest as we live in a sinful world and sinful bodies (Hebrews 4:14-16). He has promised to return and make all things new and free us from the pain and suffering of this world so that we can live with Him forever in unending and unimaginable joy (Revelation 21:1-7). These promises should motivate us to good works and give us strength to endure for His glory (Romans 8: 18-25, 2 Timothy 2:10-13 and Titus 1:1-3, Hebrews 12:1-2).

Fourth, we must be a church that is faithful in prayer. Click on this link to read more about Prayer and the Great Commission.

If we are to be a local church that is obediently carrying out the great commission through the power of the Holy Spirit whom we are relying on for our success, then we, as a congregation, must be marked by these characteristics so that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and be open to what He will call us to do.