Unction of the Holy Spirit in the Bible: Definition & Meaning


Lord’s Library contributor Jared Helms writes on unction of the Holy Spirit in the Bible by offering a detailed definition and meaning. Check out Jared’s YouTube channel and two blogs: A Light in the Darkness and Blind Faith Examples. Lord’s Library’s Ministry Leaders Series is a collection of contributed articles written by ministry leaders on key Christian topics.

Ministry Leaders Series BadgeWherever the Bible is open and its words are faithfully proclaimed, the Spirit of Truth is at work. A part of this work pertains to the empowering of the preacher himself, and this we call unction. Martyn Lloyd Jones (the author of Spiritual Depression and Preaching and Preachers) famously described preaching as, “logic on fire.” The fire is unction. Unction is a special sort of anointing of the Holy Spirit on a sermon, and it is essential to effective preaching. Unction adds something of divine power to a message. It is a difficult thing to describe in practical terms, yet one is sure to notice it.

Unction elevates preaching, adding to the fruits of careful study, and rhetorical skill something beyond human ability. It is not an excuse for poor preparation; indeed, it is an added incentive to diligence in preparing to preach and a major consideration in that preparation. Every preacher ought to seek unction every time they are to take the pulpit. To neglect unction is the same as relying on one’s own power, and this is contrary to Scripture’s instruction.

The Gospel

Unction of the Holy Spirit Definition and Meaning

Consider Acts 1:8, when the Bible says: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Christ commands His apostles to wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit before they commence their ministry of preaching.

In 1 Corinthians 2:1-8, the Bible says: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Paul also makes the work of the Holy Spirit essential to effective preaching.

Again, in Colossians 1:28 the Bible says: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:”

We are told that the Holy Spirit gives the energy to preach. We could go on to cite many examples from the Spirit-empowered preaching of the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament apostles, and from preachers throughout church history illustrating the great effect unction has on the ministry of proclamation.

So, how does a preacher get unction in his message? There is no sure way to have unction; because the Holy Spirit is not ours to command. The best a preacher can do is to keep away from sin in his life and to pray fervently for his sermon. The preacher as we have said is reliant upon the work of the Holy Spirit, and he needs to fully appreciate this reliance in his ministry.

Unction is granted according to God’s design. There are times when it is expected but does not arrive as we hope; and other times when we are completely surprised by its outpouring. At all times preachers must trust that God will be with them in their work to accomplish His good and perfect will. The command is to be ready to preach in-season and out; when we feel good about it and when we do not; when are well prepared, and when we must go without preparation. We take the pulpit at the appointed time even if we feel sure we will not have unction.

As we go each Sunday to hear sound Biblical exposition, we should pray that our preacher would have unction, and we should anticipate that he will as God promises that his word will not return to Him void as the Bible says in Isaiah 55:11: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

The reality of unction adds to the reality of preaching to require our preparation to hear God’s word to us each week.

We might wonder what it feels like to be anointed in the act of preaching. Various preachers have described the experience differently; with descriptions ranging from a sense of being lifted upwards, to entering a flow-state, to a simple sense that one is not alone in the pulpit. Perhaps the most common experience reported is a feeling of exhaustion at the completion of the work as if the power had been disconnected. Observers in the pews have also given varying descriptions. In all of it, there is a sense of the presence of God.

Unction is all of God, and so it always accomplishes the effect God desires. It is something the world cannot replicate. It is best known through experience. Still, we pray this description will be helpful to preachers and to hearers. We pray this anointing of the Holy Spirit will be sought, and that it will be found to the glory of God. Amen.

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Jared Helms
Jared Helms

Jared Helms

Jared received his Bachelor of Arts from Bryan College in 2012, and his Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Tennessee. Most importantly, Jared has walked with Christ most of his life. His interests extend from theology to church history, but he is particularly passionate about ecclesiology and homiletics.

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