Considering my casual name-dropping of “The Holy Spirit” yesterday, I should make myself a little more clear. Christians of recent times haven’t made it clear about the Holy Spirit; they consider it a source of power, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s the most oft-questioned and least understood part of the Christian faith, and for good reason! Popular culture has given us a variety of ways to see the Holy Spirit as a phenomenon, a Force, or something akin to magic. We’ve got faith healers, we’ve got people summoning spirits, people being filled with THE SPIRIT, and a variety of different interpretations of what the Spirit is. Even Charles Stanley hears people say they got a “double unction” of the Spirit, whatever that means. Find that in the Bible, and I’ll mail you a cookie.
That’s because, in a surprise to all, most talk of the Holy Spirit doesn’t follow Scripture’s lead at all. Rather, you have a particular feeling, this feeling feels special, and this is somehow the Holy Spirit. However, like the famous Boston song, it’s more than a feeling; the Holy Spirit is a unique person in and of Himself (note the gendered language), a part of the Trinity. To treat Him as less of a person and more of a magical force you can call upon or feel goes directly against Scripture. If you don’t understand the Trinity as three persons, how can you understand the Holy Spirit as a person in relationship to both the other members of the Trinity and to the Christian?
However, most people haven’t even gotten that far. Rather, the big question is: what is the Holy Spirit? It’s mentioned throughout the Bible, but here’s a few:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - Matthew 28
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. - 2 Corinthians
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one - Deuteronomy 6
If we were to take these statements at face value, it would appear that there’s an obvious contradiction here. The Trinity, as such, is a Christian “mystery” – literally, a belief which we understand and accept, yet cannot comprehend. We see plenty of places where the Bible says that both God is a single God – aka, monotheism – yet he is also three different things – namely, three gods. Patrick Gann talked about this in his previous article , so I’ll skimp a bit here, but it’s true that Christians do not believe in three gods. This was an issue for the early church because they saw that these three terms were used interchangeably in inspired Scripture. Even the Old Testament sees God described as a plurality, not just one:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” - Genesis 1
When, in Genesis, the spirit of God moves over the waters, that’s the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word ruah, in this case, means “spirit”, or something more akin to “the breath of God.”
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
The Triune God manifests as three Persons (Greek: hypostases) in One Divine Being (Greek: Ousia),called the Godhead (from Old English: Godhood), the Divine Essence of God. So far, we have had two persons, so to speak, who are anthropomorphized – that is, a Father and a Son. Everyone can understand these concepts fairly easily, if presented to a normal person. God the Father is the creator of all things, the “ruler of the household,” though only metaphorically so, whereas Jesus is God and Man together, not separated or diluted in any fashion. In one case He is Lord, and the other case He is friend.
Things go downhill quick, though, when we talk about the Holy Spirit. It’s not a straightforward metaphor, nor is there anything else in our common experience that is akin to “spirit”. What is this thing? What’s a spirit? Jesus promises to send it, and it is found throughout the Bible, yet somehow clarity on the issues hasn’t been found. Pentecost is a prominent feast in the calendar of Ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai, and also later in the Christian liturgical year commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ after the Resurrection of Jesus. This event, apparently, is the only remnant of which we have – this characterization is ENTIRELY false. See Jesus talking about Him:
16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. 23 Jesus answered and said to him, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Fathers who sent Me. 25 These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. 28 You heard that I said to you, I go away, and I will come to you. If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. - John 14:16, 23-29
The list goes on: John 16:7 and 13, Luke 24:48-49, Acts 1:1-8, Acts 2:38-39, Acts 16:7, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 John 2:27, 2 Timothy 2:2, etc.
It’s pretty clear what it says: just read these verses, and you’ll have a good idea of what the Holy Spirit does. Unlike the fabricated narrative we have had today, it is so clear it hurts. Yet people remain willfully ignorant. They want the result but not the relationship. They want the feelings, but not the truth. That’s a shame, considering the Holy Spirt IS the Spirit of truth. He gives perfect, truthful information – not some random feelings that can change one moment, a fleeting ecstasy that does little for you in the long term. Rather, treat the Holy Spirit as the person He is – not something to control, but something to submit. God owns you, not the other way around. You were bought with a price; own up to your end of the “bargain” so to speak.
Theology is important, QED.