ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
THE HOLY SPIRIT
- The World of the Spirit
At one point on his travels, Paul arrived at Ephesus and met some followers of Jesus. However, when he asked them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” they replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:1,2). So Paul talked with them, deepened their knowledge and soon they were very conscious of the Holy Spirit’s presence with them (Acts 19:6).
Likewise many today, even if they have actually heard of the Holy Spirit, may not know Him. The technological advances of the modern era help to emphasise the material, making many think that human beings can do, or soon will be able to do, anything and everything and so they have little room for spiritual matters. Yet there is a spiritual realm, a realm where God is, for as Jesus explained to the woman by the well at Sychar, “God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Yet despite the fact that God inhabits this spiritual realm, He is intimately concerned with everything that is happening “down here.” So concerned that in the person of Jesus, He dwelt on this earth for some thirty years, and so concerned that in the person of His Holy Spirit, He is active in the world today.
The Holy Spirit is God at work.
- The eternal Spirit
Although the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit has been active in the world from its very beginning (Gen 1:2) or before! The Spirit too played His part during Old Testament times (Judges 6:34, 1 Sam 10:10 etc.) but there was then, of course, no clear idea of an individual person as part of the Trinity, rather the Holy Spirit might well have been described as the power of God.
However Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as a specific person (e.g. John 16:13,14) and Paul, writing to the Ephesians, tells them not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 4:30). Now you cannot grieve a power, you can only bring grief to a person.
The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, has always been at work in the world and still is.
- The Holy Spirit brings people to God
Jesus spent a lot of time during His ministry teaching his disciples. Yet they struggled to take in all that He said to them (John 16:12). Even amid the joy of the resurrection they were not always clear as to what was going on and even went back, temporarily, to fishing (John 21:3). At the Ascension Jesus spoke to them of “the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4), and He explained that this was indeed the Holy Spirit. Earlier He had called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13) because it was the Holy Spirit who would make the truths of the gospel clear to the disciples and so confirm their Christian calling.
In the same way the Holy Spirit is at work in the world today, making the same truths of the gospel clear to men, women and children, so that they may understand all that Jesus has done for them and turn to Him.
The Holy Spirit is always seeking to bring folk to faith in Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit as Paraclete
When John speaks about the Holy Spirit, he sometimes uses a Greek word which is so difficult to translate accurately into English that some translators have just used the Greek word in English letters! The older translation for this word “Paraclete” was “Comforter” which was all right in the original meaning, i.e. “strengthener” but not in the modern sense of making things easy. Modern choices are “helper” or “advocate,” but the NIV prefers “Counsellor” which includes both the legal sense of a defence lawyer (1 John 2:1) and the idea of the Holy Spirit aiding Christians in need.
However we should note that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “another Counsellor” (John 14:16). Jesus Himself is the original “helper” but now that He has returned to heaven (and intercedes for us there (Rom 8:34)), the Holy Spirit takes on that role to help those who still live on earth.
The Holy Spirit is the Counsellor who is always ready to help us.
- The Holy Spirit as “fruit-bringer”
Paul, writing to the Galatians (5:22,23) tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” and contrasts these virtues with the vices of the pagan world (5:19-21). So the Holy Spirit strives to develop these virtues in the life of every Christian.
We may find it difficult to bring a particular fruit to maturity, different people will struggle with different ones, but the challenge – and the on-going work of the Holy Spirit – is to develop each and every fruit in each and every Christian to full ripeness.
The Holy Spirit helps us to live fruitful lives.
- The Holy Spirit as “gift-giver”
While all the “fruits” of the Spirit should be developed in each and every Christian, God, through the Holy Spirit gives individual gifts to individual people so that they may serve in different ways (1 Cor 12:4). In 1 Cor 12:8-10,28 and Eph 4:11 Paul lists a variety of gifts that can be given to Christians. These include preaching, teaching, speaking in tongues, the ability to administrate and helping others. Each is as important as the other and the Church cannot function without different people working at different tasks
The Holy Spirit has a gift and a role for each one of us.
- The Holy Spirit as inspirer
Another great gift of the Holy Spirit to humankind is the Bible. Peter says that “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21 – prophecy here refers to God’s teaching rather than to foretelling the future). Paul tells Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). [We will pursue this idea, D.V., in the next paper in this series.]
So the Holy Spirit has inspired folk down the ages both to record the words and teaching of God (Scripture) and human comments upon it in a multitude of books and sermons, all with one aim – that men, women and children may come to know God better and better.
The Holy Spirit guarantees the truth of the Bible record.
- The Holy Spirit and the unforgivable sin
Jesus said that “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:32). This saying has troubled many folk who wonder if they have committed this unforgivable sin without meaning to. Obviously it must be a very serious offence and I believe that the only unforgivable sin is to deliberately and permanently refuse to believe in Jesus and all that He has done for us, so rejecting the message of the Holy Spirit. If one refuses that which is freely offered, there is no alternative and sin remains and becomes a barrier between the person and God. So the writer to the Hebrews challenges us to “see to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks” (Heb 12:25). No one who believes in Jesus as his or her Saviour can commit this unforgivable sin.
The Holy Spirit and His message will never be spurned by those who accept the love and forgiveness of God.
- The threefold blessing
; style=”text-align: justify;”> Jesus, just before His Ascension, told His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19) and this is, of course, still happening today. But we should note that Jesus Himself joins together the three persons of the Trinity.
Likewise Paul, at the very end of his second letter to the church at Corinth uses the words “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14). These words are still in frequent use today at the close of many a service of worship.
The Holy Spirit is just as much God as is the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.