The Holy Spirit
One of the most popular questions of our generation could be phrased something like this: Is it possible not just to know about spiritual things, but to have a spiritual experience? Many in our culture would answer, “Sure. Just look inside yourself.
Get in touch with your higher power. Right?” But a better question may be, is it possible, not just to have a spiritual experience, but to experience the one true God?
The answer to this question by many and certainly Christians would be a resounding “Yes”. It all goes back to Jesus’ first reassurance to His disciples when He told them He was returning to heaven: “I will never leave you. I will send you My Spirit of truth” John 16:5-16.
The Holy Spirit is God, alive within us!
Of the three persons in the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—sometimes referred to as the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit is doubtless the least known and understood–and maybe the most controversial member of the Trinity.
The best the Greeks could do was to use the word pneuma, meaning “breath” or “wind”, for spirit. (We get some of our English words about air from this Greek word, such as pneumatic or pneumonia. Remember the old folk song, “Blowin’ in the Wind”? When Jesus was talking to the seeker Nicodemus, that’s exactly the word picture He used to describe the work of the Spirit:
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit…The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:6-8.
Christians who believed that God’s amazing Holy Spirit was being ignored have started whole church movements. John Wesley, who became known as the father of Methodism, believed this and said the church needed a “revival”.
Christians disagree more about the Holy Spirit, for example, what He can do for and through believers, than about either God the Father or God the Son.
One of the most important truths about the Holy Spirit’s promise and purpose for Christians goes beyond gifts and powers. The Holy Spirit is really about closeness with God. He is how God gets within us and stays there.
He is most vitally and intimately involved in our initial conversion and birth into the family of God and in our ongoing development as Christians.
Let us focus on two aspects of the Holy Spirit:
- Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is not just an abstract concept. He is not a vapor, an essence or a force. The Holy Spirit has existed for eternity with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. And, like the other members of the Trinity, He is a person. He has a personality.
God’s Spirit in Person
Being a person doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit has a body. Rather, He has those characteristic which define a person:
He has intelligence:
- He knows the things of God – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
- He has a mind – And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit interceded for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:27
- He teaches people – This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 1Corinthinans 2:13
He has emotions:
- He can be offended – And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
- He loves – I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Romans 15:30.
He has an independent will:
- He chooses the distribution of “spiritual gifts” – All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 1 Corinthians 12:11
Under the Greek rules of grammar, the word for “spirit” is a neutral-gender word. Strictly speaking, a spirit would be referred to as “it”. But notice how Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit: “But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:13. God’s Holy Spirit is neither male nor female. Yet when the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit with the personal pronoun he instead of it, we’re reminded that the Holy Spirit is a real person.
- The Holy Spirit Today
The good news is that the Holy Spirit isn’t just history. The Holy Spirit is active everywhere in our world, drawing unbelievers to God and living in Christians with life-changing power.
- He’s the Big Initiator. The Holy Spirit brings people to the point of decision about their need for salvation and God. This influence, called “conviction”, goes beyond an intellectual or emotional power. It is God’s Spirit working in the human spirit to lovingly draw us toward God’s best for our lives. Jesus said:
When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. John 16:8
The Holy Spirit also persuades us of God’s holiness, opening our spiritual eyes to see the truth about Christ’s life and death. Finally, the Spirit shows us our need to choose to receive Christ’s gift of salvation if we want forgiveness and eternal life.
- He’s the Change Maker. When we respond to the Spirit’s invitation, the truly miraculous transforming power of the Holy Spirit is let loose in our lives. We are changed—immediately and eternally.
This miracle of starting over is called regeneration or being born again. We are rescued from our evil nature and restored to fellowship with our Creator. Paul uses words like washing and renewal to teach young believers about regeneration:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:3-6
The Spirit accomplishes regeneration instantly. It creates a new God-sensitive, God-empowered nature in the individual.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
Regeneration doesn’t make us perfect. We are still stuck in our human bodies with many of our old weaknesses. However, we are spiritually empowered to win over the old nature as we choose to follow Christ’s pattern for living.
- He’s the Inside Source. The Holy Spirit comes to live inside us. His presence is very real, whether as a “still, small voice” nudging us in God’s direction or as a lifelong power to change us to be like Jesus.
In Old Testament times, God’s presence was sometimes described as a powerful, shinning light in the temple. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s place of residence changed. Here’s Paul’s amazing statement to new believers:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16.
This is the “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit. It applies to every believer. Romans 8:9.
The Holy Spirit never departs from a Christian, even if the Christian engages in sin. John 14:16 – And I ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. The Holy Spirit makes every believer a permanent member of God’s family. We get our membership papers, so to speak, and the documents are forever sealed. Sealing lasts until “:the day of redemption” Ephesians 4:30. Once we are saved, we stay saved until Christ’s return – even if we stray from our commitments to Him. The Holy Spirit in our lives is the deposit or guarantee that Christ owns us and will return for us.