Least understood member of the Trinity: The Holy Spirit
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.” – from the Nicene Creed, Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 359.
These words from the Nicene creed may be all that some Christians have ever heard about the Holy Spirit. Even if you’ve had more teaching than this, when compared to the Father and the Son, our knowledge of the Holy Spirit is lacking. Francis Chan goes so far to call Him “Forgotten God” in his book by the same name.
This is not the way it was in the early church. The Spirit and His power were well known, in fact, the early church would never have survived without Him. Yet today the Spirit seems to be all but forgotten, whether you worship in a liturgical church or in a non-denominational one. I’ve done both. I love liturgy, and I love dynamic worship, but there are times I can get so caught up in either that I forget all about the Holy Spirit. There have been times that I’ve wondered if the Holy Spirit were removed from those services if I’d even notice. Maybe you’ve felt the same way.
So let’s take a quick look at the nature of the Holy Spirit, His work, and how His dwelling in us as Jesus promised makes all the difference in the world.
It is with some trepidation and a sense of inadequacy that I write this article. It is certainly in no way a theological treatise. Rather, it’s just my writing about my own experiences which by their very nature give a limited view of the Holy Spirit. But the Lord has led me to write, and write I shall!
WHO THE HOLY SPIRIT IS
We can gain some insight into the Spirit by carefully considering the words of the Nicene creed at the beginning of the article.
The Lord. That’s easy to say but difficult to implement, because making Him Lord means that we must give up the idea that we are! It requires a submission and surrender to Him.
The giver of life. Not our physical lives per se, for we are already physically alive prior to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit makes us “fully alive” and enables us to live into the people God has created us to be. That “aliveness” is manifested in our greater responsiveness to God, as opposed to “deadness” when we are lacking in response. (Like “dead in your sins” – Eph. 2:1).
Proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Father and the Son, the third member of the Trinity and therefore has all the attributes of the Father and the Son. Some of those attributes are seen more clearly through the Holy Spirit as will be described below.
To be worshiped like Father and Son. When we go to God in worship, we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but do we ever focus on the Holy Spirit as part of that? Think about all the worship songs you know. What percentage directly speak of the Holy Spirit?
To be glorified like Father and Son. It was Irenaeus (AD 130-202) who wrote that the glory of God is the human person “fully alive,” and as we saw above, it is the Holy Spirit who enables that aliveness. We glorify Him as we fully live into this aliveness.
Speaks through the prophets. The Holy Spirit is capable of communicating, though that’s not with audible words. He has spoken through the prophets of old and continues to do so today.
Of course, we can add many things to that list, such as
The Holy Spirit assures our hearts that we are His children (Gal. 4:6-7, Rom. 8:15-17).
He is all-powerful (Zech. 4:6), present everywhere (Ps. 139:7-8), all-knowing (1 Cor. 2:10b).
He dwells within us as within a temple (1 Cor. 6:19).
He is our counselor and advocate (John 14:26, 1 John 2:1).
WHAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT
The Holy Spirit is a gift to be received (Acts 2:38), not a power for us to wield or used to build ourselves up. That was the error of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25), who desired the power of the Spirit for his own gain and was willing to pay the disciples to obtain it.
The Spirit is not our servant, rather, we are His. I cannot emphasis that too much. “If we are continually telling the Holy Spirit where we want to go, we neutralize our capacity to hear where He wants to take us.” (from “In Christ’s Image Training).
WHAT IS THE HOLY SPIRIT FOR?
For years I had a mentor who taught me to add the word “for” to the end of some of my questions, and that’s what I’m doing here. Rather than asking, “What is the Holy Spirit?” I’m asking “What is the Holy Spirit for?” We learn that from reading what scripture teaches us.
As I wrote above, the Holy Spirit is the “giver of life,” that is, a life of another kind. What this life looks like is beautifully illustrated in a passage of scripture that we label “fruit of the Spirit.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23).
What a list! It is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we are being made into the new creation spoken of in 1 Cor. 5:17, and this new creation is more important than anything we could possibly do on our own (Gal. 6:15). Contrast that to the types of things that humans can produce when left to their own devices: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Gal. 5:19-21). The passage also warns that those who practice these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
As wonderful as this is, there’s more! Listen to the words of Jesus as He tells the disciples what the Holy Spirit is for.
“…for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:12)
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26).
The Apostle Paul adds some more thoughts:
“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5).
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Rom. 8:26).
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)
That’s quite a list, but I need to add a bit more to my “for” question. Let me ask, “What is the Holy Spirit for… for you? When was the last time you undeniably saw the Holy Spirit at work in or around you?” Those of you reading this who have a deep and long standing relationship with the Spirit could make quite a list, and I’d love to read every one of them. But today I’m primarily writing for those who may have difficulty answering that question and may have more questions of their own, like, “How does the Holy Spirit do all these things in my life?” or
“How do I know if it’s actually the Holy Spirit at work?” or “What do I need to do to activate this power in my life?”
So let me give you three simple, straightforward examples from my own life so that I can begin to answer your questions by describing what happened to me.
LETTING THE SPIRIT SPEAK
I will never forget the first time I was called on to share my faith with others in public. What makes it so memorable is that it was nearly a total disaster.
I was one of 40 people in a touring music ministry group giving concerts across the United States, and near the end of each concert, two or three people were called on to share their faith. Most of the others grew up in churches where the giving of testimonies was commonplace. My church rarely did this, so when I was told that tonight was the night I’d be called on, I didn’t have a lot to go on.
I was naturally a bit on edge, but I knew what I wanted to say. I had received Christ into my life years before and knew my eternity was secure. I knew how He had changed my life, and I could easily describe my walk with Him. So I put it all on paper, made some modifications, memorized it, and thought I was set.
The concert was nearly over, and we began singing the invitation song. I was motioned to the microphone, took a deep breath, and started to speak when the spotlights hit me head on in the face. I was stunned, blinded. I’m sure I had that “deer in the headlights” looked. I couldn’t remember a single word I had so carefully planned to say. Two other singers put their hands on my back and I’m sure said a quick prayer. I prayed, too, probably the shortest prayer I had ever prayed: “Help!!”
And the Holy Spirit came through. I have no independent memory of what I said that night, only that several people came up to me afterward to thank me for what I had said. One of the other singers told me later that it was one of the warmest, most genuine testimonies he had ever heard. Makes me wish I had heard it, too!
I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit came to my rescue. God had plans for that night, and whatever the Spirit caused me to say needed to be said. And if I can venture a guess as to why the Holy Spirit showed up, it was because I had surrendered the moment to Him. I can’t say I had much of a choice though. Perhaps God also had something He was teaching me.
LETTING THE SPIRIT LEAD
Sometimes the Spirit acts in ways that are not as dramatic as the previous story. A few years ago I was asked to evaluate a church having spiritual, relational, and financial difficulties. My way of doing that was to worship and fellowship with them for the summer.
One day while heading to lunch from work, I had a strong sense of needing to drive by that church. It was on my way, but I couldn’t figure out why I should go there. After all, it was lunch time mid-week, and no one would be there.
I tried to dismiss the feeling, but it kept coming back, and then as I approached the turnoff for the road leading to the church, the light turned red. So, I pulled over into the right hand turn lane, waited for the signal to change, and drove to the church.
Just like I thought, no one was there, and I was still mystified as to where that need to drive to the church was coming from. I pulled into the parking lot under a shade tree, rolled my window down, and turned off the engine. For a while, I just sat there, but then I started to pray. For the church. For individual members I knew. For the whole situation. I probably prayed for a good 30-40 minutes before starting the car and heading out to a late lunch.
Did the Holy Spirit lead me to drive to the church that day? Who really knows for sure? Frequently we don’t know, though as our relationship with Him develops, I think we sense His activity a little more clearly. In this case, I realized I had been so involved in my evaluation activities that I had neglected my prayer activities on behalf of the church and its congregation. Maybe that’s what the Spirit wanted me to learn that day and why He led me first to the church grounds and then to pray.
LETTING THE SPIRIT TEACH
As a former college professor and frequent guest lecturer and short course presenter, I know a lot about teaching. At the same time, it is sometimes hard for me to hear the teachings of others. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard, or maybe it’s just me.
I had been in a church situation for a couple of years that I knew was going against Biblical teaching. I think the Holy Spirit had been nudging me to leave there for some time, but I kept pushing those nudges into the background until one day the situation came to a head, and my next step was clear: I needed to leave.
Looking back on the situation a year later, it is clear that the Holy Spirit had been trying to teach me and trying to lead me along a different path, but I wasn’t listening. Even when I finally got the message through my thick head and could clearly see my next step, it was still difficult to take it. Once I took it, however, I knew it was the right step because of the tremendous, overflowing joy I felt going forward.
I tell this story to let you know that the Holy Spirit continues to lead, guide, and teach even when we are not ready to hear what He is saying. He does not give up on us but will patiently wait until we are ready to listen. In my case events came to a head suddenly, and I heard His soft promptings loud and clear. Perhaps He knew I was ready.
THE BOTTOM LINE
When the Holy Spirit first fell on the church ten days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Apostle Peter preached a sermon that the Spirit let everyone hear in their own language. You can read it for yourselves in Acts 2:14-36. It was a powerful message, and when Peter had finished the people were “cut to the heart” and asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter answered them by saying “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (v. 38).
Repent. Be baptized. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Where are you in that progression? Is it clear to you that you are supposed to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit? If not, what keeps you from doing it? There is nothing more important. Nothing.
MISSION AND MINISTRY
The greatest mission of Salt Radio Ministries is to share God’s word with the world, offer encouragement, news, revelation, prayer, strength and hope to everyone who visits the web site. We hope that our mission is helpful to you, and we pray every day that it be so.
But Salt Radio Ministries is also a ministry. We are here to serve and minister to those who request it. Perhaps you’re ready for your next step. It could be baptism, or it could be something else. Perhaps you need to find a church so that you can continue your walk with Christ with others. Perhaps the Spirit is nudging you to action, just as He nudged me last year.
Please know that if we can be of prayerful service, we are glad to do so. Just drop us an email at SaltRadioMinistries@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.