The Holy Spirit, Part 2: a Person who helps and not just an influence
The Meaning of ‘Person’
In our day and age, the word ‘person’ is used to speak of the physical, mental and spiritual presence of someone. So how can the Holy Spirit be a person when we cannot see Him as a physical being?
The answer to our question comes from understanding that the original meaning of the word ‘person’ did not contain the physical element. As a means of illustrating this, think of answering a phone and listening to someone speak. Despite the fact that the individual on the phone is not physically present, you are able to know their personality through talking to them – a physical body is not necessary.
Everyone would agree that the mental abilities within us are vast and wonderful. Each of us have millions of thoughts, stories and experiences and can think about and imagine just about anything. This then explains why the term ‘person’ came to speak of the place where one resides, the place where one is contained – mind, will and emotions. Where one resides there is self-consciousness, with the capacity for free thought and action, with this being spoken of as full personality and helps us understand how it is that the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a person.
Scripture clearly informs us that the Holy Spirit is a Person (John 14:26, 1 Cor 12:11) who has a mission (John 15:26) and has coordinated power and rank with the Father and the Son (Matthew 12:19; 2 Cor 13:14). In light of this, let’s not make the mistake of ignoring Him or assuming that the Holy Spirit is some sort of power like electricity that we can drum up in our lives. Nothing is further from the truth.
Help in Times of Difficulty
“The Holy Spirit works gently, respecting human personality and freedom. He works through the human spirit, not against it or apart from it. It is better to say that the Holy Spirit interpenetrates the human spirit…”
Prof Boyd Hunt in, Redeemed! Eschatological Redemption and the Kingdom of God, page 59.
In Romans 8:27, Paul tells us that God knows the mind of the Spirit, this clearly indicating that the Spirit is not, as already said, an influence or a power like electricity. An influence does not possess feelings or emotions, nor can it pray, yet the Holy Spirit ‘intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,” (more about that later!) In all of this, we can gain great hope. The Holy Spirit is here to help us in our difficulties as we move in accordance with the scriptures as part of a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9).
A friend of mine told me about a group of Christians she knew who had an indoor tent at a Mind, Body and Spirit exhibition. This group were praying with people and were able to speak into many lives as they were led and guided by the Holy Spirit. Whilst they were at this event, during the latter part of the morning a professing white witch poked her head through the curtains and asked them to stop what they were doing because it was affecting what she was trying to do. The Christians spent some time talking to her and she made a profession of faith in Christ and immediately shut up shop and went home. How did this happen? Not through some sort of abstract power or light sabre that Christians can wield as they choose, but through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who encouraged them to help people in particular ways.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
In speaking of the Holy Spirit as ‘another Counsellor,’ Jesus is comparing the Holy Spirit to Himself and His ministry, which was personal. The Greek word used for ‘another’ means, ‘one that is exactly the same in every way’ and the word ‘Counsellor’ speaks of a person who comes to assist another - one who speaks and acts for and with another. This quality can never belong to an influence or force. Jesus speaks of ‘another counsellor’ so that when we read about the Holy Spirit, we are reading of the one who is as loving, generous and compassionate as Jesus.
Help in Times of Difficulty
As a disciple, Peter was a man who had seen amazing miracles, signs and wonders. He had also heard the teaching of Jesus and then, after walking with Jesus for just over three years, succumbed to extreme pressure and denied knowing Him at all. Most of the other disciples had deserted Jesus, yet he was the only one who had denied knowing him. I wonder how he must have felt…
After Jesus had risen from the dead, an angel told the women at the tomb to go and ‘tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus has risen’ (Mark 16:7). Perhaps the angel had been instructed to speak in this way because God knew that the other disciples and some of the women would have felt that Peter had really blown it, and perhaps felt that he was not a disciple anymore. After all, whilst most of them had left Jesus at His point of need, they had not denied Him like Peter! Thankfully, God does not think as we do.
Peter was probably seriously affected by what he’d done and may have felt as if he were on the outside looking in, with no possible way back. Although Scripture does not actually say this, ask yourself the question: Why else would Jesus meet with the disciples and talk to Peter in the way that he does in John chapter twenty-one if everything was ok in Peter’s mind and heart?
In John chapter twenty-one we find Peter and some of the disciples going out to fish, pointing out that they were going back to a life of fishing almost as if everything were now going back to the way it was before they met Jesus. The disciples had seen so much and must have had such great plans, yet still needed to earn a living. However, going back to fishing was not going to be the end of their story as they were part of a much bigger story, as are you and I - God’s story.
In reaching out to Peter and the disciples, Jesus takes the initiative in arriving at the shore of Galilee whilst they are fishing and continues to take the initiative as He instigates conversation with them. Jesus tells the experienced fishermen where to fish because up until then, they had caught nothing. The disciples become aware of who it is that is speaking to them and came to the shore to find that Jesus had already cooked fish (John 21:9). Jesus invited them to bring some of their fish and eat with Him – a clear sign of acceptance and friendship – before then entering into conversation with Peter and asking him whether he loves Him.
The word Jesus uses for love (agape) speaks of a self-sacrificial love, yet when Peter replied, he declared that he loves Jesus with a brotherly-love (phileo). Perhaps he’s thinking to himself, “How can I say I love Jesus sacrificially when I’m the one who denied even knowing him?” Jesus again asks if Peter loves him with a self-sacrificing love and Peter again speaks of his brotherly love for Jesus. Jesus then asks Peter (for the third time) if he loves Him with a brotherly love and in doing so comes to where Peter is at that moment in time. In response Peter can now wholeheartedly say, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17).
In His interaction with a struggling self-defeated man, we see Jesus’ love, compassion and ability to reach out to others in a way through which they can find hope and freedom. No wonder Peter could write at a later stage in his life…
“…His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
2 Peter 1:3
In all that Jesus did, we see the love and compassion of the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In understanding this, we need to realise that the One who stood in such grace and mercy at the shores of Galilee is the same in nature and character as the One who is with us right now - the Holy Spirit. We may feel vulnerable and inadequate and be all too aware that we have failed at times, yet this should not be allowed to dominate our thinking. We need to recognise, as did Peter, that despite our failings, God will always reach out to us because of His love for us. Sometimes life can be difficult and at such times we need to call out and say, “Draw me close to you Lord in and by the presence of your Spirit so that I can continue to be uplifted and engage in your incredible plan of blessing that has been in place for me since the world began.”
God is not looking for our intellectual abilities or skills first and foremost, He is looking for our obedience and availability. This can only truly come about as we see Him as He is and place our trust in Him. We cannot be available if we are not willing to serve and we cannot be available if we are always caught up fighting our battles in nothing more than our own strength, because in doing so we quench our ability to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The response that we are able to make when we realise we are His workmanship (Eph 2:10) and are led by His Spirit will be very different from our trying to do things in our own strength, as can be seen throughout Scripture. Take for example, the Israelites, who upon hearing about who was in the Promised Land, wanted to make plans to go back to Egypt (Num 14:4). Now compare this attitude (can’t cope – need to retreat) with Joshua and Caleb who were subject to the same limitations and the same circumstances and temptations as those around them, yet said, “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them." (Numbers 14:8-9).
The Holy Spirit helps us look to God and all that He says and does and not just focus on the problems at hand. If we focus on our problems and nothing else, then we are in danger of quenching the Holy Spirit 1 Thes 5:19 and can drift into seeing Him as no more than a power at our disposal instead of the One who leads us and empowers us in the ways of the Lord.
Scripture clearly reveals that the Holy Spirit is a person who is a teacher, guide, comforter, and advocate. He is the helper and intercessor, the enlightener and the sanctifier (the one who helps us experience the ways of God as those who are set apart as special). He is the sanctifier of the church - the body of Christ - as well as individual believers. Now meditate on the following verses and apply the truth within them to anything you may find yourself going through.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say." Luke 12:11-12
“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
“For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.”
“Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” 1 Cor 3:16-17
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
The Influence of the Holy Spirit
As a young teenager, I grew up in a village on the south coast. In the middle of the village there was an old church and graveyard that had a path through the centre of it. You needed to walk along this path in order to get to the other side of the village safely since there were no pavements. People used to say that the graveyard was haunted and invariably, on a late winter’s night, I‘d find myself speeding up as I walked through it. The real shock came one night when I had just missed bumping into someone coming towards me and travelling at roughly the same speed - the local youth leader. We were both, at that time, influenced by our imagination and the local ghost story.
Whilst seeing the Holy Spirit as a Person, it is also important to understand that Scripture sometimes speaks of His influence. For example, whilst the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a person in John 14:15-16, it is His influence that is spoken of in John 20, where in speaking to the disciples, Jesus says, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." John 20:21-23.
God is the life-breather and in looking back in Scripture to Genesis 2:7, we find God breathing life into Adam. Now, in John 20 we find the One who gives life (through His sacrificial death and resurrection) equipping the disciples for the task at hand with a clear indication of His deity – He breathes on them and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.”
The influence of the Spirit was coming upon the disciples, as had been the case with the prophets, priest and kings of old. Later, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would come and make His home with them and with all who turned to the Father through the work of Christ. Incidentally, the ‘forgiving of sins’ by the disciples refers to them being able to declare who was and who was not forgiven according to people’s response to the gospel message. I remember a young woman asking Jesus into her life and yet over the following three weeks there was no change in her life whatsoever. I asked her why she had asked Jesus into her heart and she said that it was because she needed power. I was then able to tell her that she was not forgiven because Christ is not a commodity to prop up our lives. In understanding the gospel she then asked God to forgive her sins and come into her life. The change that started occurring was almost immediate. In coming to Christ in repentance and faith, there then needs to be the desire to seek God through His word and the leading of the Holy Spirit on a day-by-day basis.
When the influence of the Spirit is being referred to in Scripture, there is often the absence of the article - the word ‘the’ - before ‘Spirit.’ Therefore, passages that refer to the baptism, outpouring and the in-filling of the Spirit are referring to His influence. In view of this, when we look at verses like Ephesians 5:18, we should read ‘be filled with Spiri,’ and not ‘be filled with the Spirit’ because it is not as though we were a car that the Holy Spirit needed to be squeezed into every time we run out of power. What Paul is talking about is submitting our lives to God and being drawn into the presence of the Holy Spirit: coming under His authority and care.
Asking God to draw us more deeply into His plan and purpose as we go about our daily life is the heart of what Paul is saying when He writes, “Be filled with Spirit.” Sometimes we find it so hard to get motivated or move from a difficult position, yet at these times we can still pray, “Pour out your Spirit Lord – give me the power and authority as you draw me deeper into you where I am encouraged and influenced by all that you are and not the things that trouble me.”
At the risk of sounding repetitive, imagine a small child running home as fast as they could in order to avoid possible contact with bullies that live in the area. Now think of the child walking the same route home with their Father beside them. There is no longer any need to be scared, no need to rush and no fear of confrontation with bullies because someone much bigger and stronger is present. The influence of the Father’s presence fills and frees the thoughts, and therefore also the feelings and actions of the small child.
Whatever takes possession of our mind is said to fill it. Therefore, when we read Acts 6:5 where Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit, we are hearing that the power and authority of the Holy Spirit was thoroughly permeating and uplifting Stephen. Even though Stephen was stoned to death, he was still in control of his mind, will and emotions because he was permeated with the influence and presence of the Holy Spirit. From this we see that the fullness of the Holy Spirit speaks of His incredible grace, mercy and power working with, yet not overruling our mind, will and emotions.
Keep in Step with the Spirit
At times, believers may be called upon by God to heal the sick, raise the dead, move mountains and see people delivered from oppression and possession. Yet the central emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit is seen as helping us develop our personal relationship with God as we become more Christ-like.
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
When I was about seven-years-old, I had my very first piano lesson. At first the lessons seemed rather boring as I learnt both musical scales and how to play basic tunes with one hand. Due to the perseverance and the instruction and influence of my piano teacher over many years, I now have the freedom to play and enjoy most music (give or take a few pieces!). Similarly, the Holy Spirit teaches and trains us to live in the freedom that Christ has purchased for us; the freedom of One of whom it is said, “All the promises are ‘yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor 1:20).
The Holy Spirit helps us to discipline our minds so that we can experience the freedom of mind and heart that God desires us to have. He then helps us to develop new thought patterns and harness the emotions that often seek to pull us down. God does not want you or I to be chained to wrong-thinking; he does not want us chained to the hurts inflicted upon our lives by situations that may have been outside of our control, or to formulas that we have grown used to employing.
Last summer, our family and friends went to France. On one of our days out we visited Claude Monet’s gardens and saw the bridge across his Lily-pond, made famous through one of his paintings. Imagine looking at the scene and then getting a print of the famous painting and trying to copy it. Now imagine how different it would be if Monet appeared beside you, helping you mix colours and then gently guiding your hand as you painted the picture. God is with us by His Spirit, yet so many seek to paint alone. The Holy Spirit is a thinking, active person. He is not an abstract power, such as electricity, but a giver of self as He points to the work of the Son and the love of the Father. Let us seek to be engaged with Him in all ways.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:17-18
We were not created to live on our own, and if we continue to think that we don’t need help, we are going to end up neglecting the very person who has come to help us - the Holy Spirit.
“Christianity is the reality of communion with God in the present life; it is the understanding that there is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; it is the understanding that there is the moment-by-moment empowering of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is the understanding that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” It is the understanding that the fruit of the Spirit is meant to mean something real to all Christians. It is the understanding that prayer is real and not just a devotional exercise.”
Dr F. Shaeffer in, The New Spirituality, p400
More than Intellect
In order to have a living faith we need more than our intellect and a desire to serve; we need the help of the Holy Spirit because Scripture is about a relationship with a Person and before doing anything else, we need to be spending time with Him. God is not a miser, an absentee Landlord or teacher who expects us to get ten-out-of-ten before He really notices us. God is an abundant giver – a generous giver, and something of this abundance is captured in a word that Paul uses when writing to the Galatians:
“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
The word ‘give’ that Paul uses here is a translation of the Greek word ‘epichoregein’ and is where our English word ‘epic’ comes from. For example, many people regard all the recent Star War films as ‘epics.’
The second part of the word ‘epichoregein’ is from the word ‘choregeia’ and in Paul’s day this word spoke of over-flowing grace and blessing. For example, it was the word used to speak of a practice in Athens, a city that often put on plays and shows. The term ‘choregein’ spoke of the action of a wealthy businessperson who would provide finance for the choir, purchasing housing, clothing and food - an abundant blessing. In the English language we speak of a choreographer as one who enables an actor or dancer to express him or herself in the best way possible. Finally, we can note that in Paul’s day the word ‘choregeia’ was also used to speak of a husband or wife who gives all that he or she has to a loved one. From all of this, we see that the word ‘give’ (epichoregein) speaks of a giving that is beyond the ordinary; it is giving that overflows and a giving of the very best that one has. God gives Himself and we are called to do no less in return, this being the true way of love. Think about it!
Faith is God – Enabled
In Hebrews 11 we read of ordinary people who did extraordinary things – all out of proportion to their own power and ability. I’m sure that, at times, this must have been a surprise to them as well as to others, yet it was because of the Holy Spirit that they were able to do these things.
The Bible is full of great men and women of faith, yet we must not make the mistake of assuming that our lives are small and insignificant in comparison. God does not tell us about these individuals so that we feel small, and nowhere in Scripture are we ever encouraged to compare ourselves with others. We are told these stories in order that we may see His work of redemption in and through the lives of ordinary people. He wants us to be encouraged to follow the leading of the Spirit in all things.
The Bible is not so much about great men and women but about the One whose very presence enables those who are open to His leading by faith. God shows us what He is like so that we can root ourselves in Him, feed on all He says and does, and walk in the power of His Spirit, just as others have done before us. It does not matter whether this exercise of faith manifests itself in giving a glass of water in His name or running an evangelistic mission. The important point to remember is that God does not trivialise anything in our lives; He wants us to live in accordance with the leading and power of the Holy Spirit within us.
“When you notice Michelangelo’s painting of God reaching out to Adam, you see how outstretched God’s arm is. Every muscle on His face is contorted, and the hand is reaching as far as possible to make contact. By contrast. Adam lackadaisically lets a limpish hand dangle with apathy in an attitude that seems to say, “If it meets it meets.” That reflects the contrasting inclinations of the heart very well."
Ravi Zacharias in, Shattered Image, p182.
Helen Keller was born blind and deaf yet became a prolific writer. On one occasion, her writing revealed the extent to which she relied upon the power of God’s Spirit in all things. She said, “It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel towards our distant goal.”
Because of the presence of the One Keller trusted in, she became known not for her blindness, but as a Christian woman who lived in freedom despite her many disabilities. Let us be encouraged to slow down and acknowledge our need of His presence because we were made to know His touch on our lives in all ways and experience freedom in Him.
END OF PART TWO.