In all my life, I've never heard a single sermon on the Holy Spirit." Ruth wept as she told me, but they were tears of joy. She'd just been introduced to the third person of the Trinity and she exclaimed, "Why, it's just like being born again all over." It was the Spirit who had given her "new birth" in the first place, of course, but for years He was to her the Great Unknown.
It's possible to recite the Apostles' Creed every Sunday morning, "I believe in the Holy Ghost," and give no more thought to Him than to the air we breathe. Yet Scripture tells us the Spirit holds the keys to all the doors of God's vast treasures. The tragedy is that many church members don't know the Key-holder and thus are locked out of God's promised blessings. They live impoverished lives of defeat before temptation, and the only joy or peace they know can be explained by their circumstances. Their growth toward likeness to Jesus is so stunted, those around them seldom think, "Why, he reminds me of Jesus!" But God never intended life to be that way.
If we allow Him, the Holy Spirit will open doors of understanding for us to enter and discover treasures we never knew existed. And He will do even more. He will enable us to actually experience true freedom and fulfillment—in fact, to be filled to "all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). He wants us to experience His presence and power every day. All day. What could be more exciting than life in the Spirit? Yet...
"The Holy Spirit—what's that?" I'd just been introduced to a church leader as author of Life in the Spirit. He wanted to drive home the point that in his church God's Spirit was mostly a stranger. Why is that? I asked that question to a group of pastors and lay leaders. The answers popped:
Later I thought of a couple of other possibilities:
So we lock Him away safely in our theological closets—and suffer the consequences. He's the energizer, the third person of the triune God who's the one responsible to carry out the purposes of the Godhead. When we ignore Him or neglect Him, we risk cutting ourselves off from the source of divine power and having to sputter along as best we can, relying on our own resources.
Of course, we can go to the other extreme. Some people are so intoxicated with the glorious biblical truths about the Spirit they go beyond Scripture, building doctrine on subjective impressions or neglecting the Father and the Son. We don't want to ignore the Spirit or fear Him, but neither do we want to misunderstand Him. Yet we want more than merely to understand what Scripture teaches about Him—we want to experience Him. More than that, we want to companion intimately with the Holy Spirit of God each day of our lives; we want to love Him as He loves us.
If we're serious in this quest we must make sure not to be ignorant, indifferent, or detached.
We don't need to be ignorant because the Spirit of God is named almost three hundred times in Scripture, and many times, as in John 14-16 and Romans 8, His activity is described in great detail. When we study this great body of truth about the Spirit, there are certain errors we'll find corrected:
One of the great frustrations of the electronic age is the automated telephone response. After about the third "press two" we want to scream, "Give me a person!" We want someone who will listen and talk. The Holy Spirit listens and talks; a force doesn't do that, only persons do.
Best of all, we like to talk and listen to someone who understands us, who feels just the way we do, who has more than a plastic smile and a courteous, fits-all-in-this-category response. The Spirit not only talks to us (Acts 13:2; 16:6-7; Rev. 2:7); He listens when we cry out. He understands us better than we understand ourselves, actually. He hurts with us, weeps with us, joins in our joys (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit can be hurt. He grieves when we won't listen to Him or follow His directions (Eph. 4:30; Heb. 10:29). The Holy Spirit is a person who has emotions, who communicates, not a cosmic force or a synonym for the mind of God.
His name is used interchangeably with God (Acts 5:3-4; Luke 1:35). He does things only God can do, like create (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30), know everything (1 Cor. 2:10-11), be everywhere (Ps. 139:7-10). His name is linked with the Father and Son—Jesus commanded us to baptize in the "name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). The apostle Paul prayed, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14, NKJV). He's not a high angel, not even the highest, nor some mysterious emanation from God. The Spirit is a divine person, one member of the Godhead.
The Holy Spirit is not an alternate name for God. He talks to the Father (Rom. 8:26), He is sent from the Father and Son (John 14:16, 26; 16:7), He came upon the Son (Matt. 3:16), He is listed as a third member of the triune God, not an alter ego of Father or Son. He has a mind of His own (1 Cor. 12:11; Rom. 8:27; 1 Cor. 2:10-11). He is distinguished from the Father and the Son: "Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 1:4, NLT).
Among the three persons of the Trinity, this glorious person has a distinct function. Theologians sometimes summarize it this way: "All things from God the Father, all things through God the Son, all things by God the Spirit." They speak of the Spirit as the administrator, the executive of the Trinity. He is the one charged with carrying out the will of God, as we shall see throughout this book.
It's quite possible to know all the facts of Scripture about the Holy Spirit and not be excited about Him, not appreciate Him, not see the connection between His life and mine. It is sort of like a scholar's analysis of some great historic personage—accurate, complete, something to write a book about or discuss over afternoon tea. But in preparing this study I've discovered something very exciting about this grand Person. I've discovered that every major activity of the Spirit from Creation to the marriage banquet at the end of time is directly related to me. Yes, me, insignificant though I am, and late in time, 2,000 years after the Spirit revealed Himself in Scripture, in fact. But every one of those activities was designed by the Spirit to impact my life today. And in a very personal way. He didn't send His gracious gifts to me UPS, keeping His distance in outer space, nor record them in some dusty archive for me to dig out on my own. He intends personally to hand-deliver every one of those blessings. It's hard to remain indifferent to such a Person and His many gifts.
Some people know the facts about the Spirit and are really excited about connecting with His activity, but it's sort of impersonal. That's sad. Here He is, wooing us into an intimate love relationship, and we treat Him more like a distant relative. He's our constant companion, our inside companion in fact, but we don't even talk with Him. Some people are startled to think of talking to the Spirit. In fact, one lady wrote an irate letter to the publisher, accusing me of heresy by even suggesting the possibility of talking to the Spirit. Since she raises an issue central to the theme of this book, let me share some of my response to her:
Question: Is it biblical to pray to the Holy Spirit?
Answer: It depends. What do we mean by "biblical"? If we mean, "Does the Bible command us to pray to the Spirit?" the answer is, "No, there is no such command." The question is an important first question, and for some it settles the matter. But it shouldn't. If that were the only question to ask—does the Bible directly teach it?—we would not build church buildings or have choirs, we wouldn't oppose abortion or pornography. And we wouldn't pray to Jesus, either, since we are nowhere instructed to. So the second question is, "How do we best apply Bible teaching and biblical principles to be obedient to God's will?"
If a person means then by that question, "Is prayer to the Holy Spirit compatible with Bible teaching? Does what the Bible teaches about the Spirit mean we should talk to Him?" the answer of the church through the ages has been a resounding, "Yes!" For example, in The Baptist Hymnal (Broadman Press, 1975), twelve full hymns are addressed to the Spirit and an additional thirteen hymns have one verse addressed to Him, such as in the well-loved hymn, "Come Thou, Almighty King," where, in verse three we pray, "Come Holy Comforter..." A total of twenty-five prayers to the Spirit! Why have Christians of all traditions always sung hymns to the Spirit? What is the biblical evidence?
Let us admit, from the start, that there are no examples of prayers to the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts, reporting the activities of the apostles who had been with Jesus, gives no such example. Of course, none of the thirteen prayers recorded in Acts address the Father, either, in spite of the fact that Jesus said, "When you pray, say, 'Our Father, who art in heaven...'" In fact, twelve of the thirteen prayers are addressed to "the Lord," the example many of us follow ordinarily in prayer. The context of some of those shows that Jesus was the one addressed, though He is addressed by name in prayer only once. Following the apostolic example, we ordinarily address God, the triune. But notice that when we pray to the "Lord," we include the Spirit, whether consciously or not, for Paul says specifically, "the Lord is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17).
To God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Holy Spirit
This seems to be a legitimate theological formulation of the official role of each member of the Trinity when it comes to prayer, but nowhere is this formula either taught or used in Scripture. To impose this as a rigid formula for prayer is certainly not biblical, for both the New Testament and our hymn books contain many prayers to Jesus, not just to the Father; and requests are made in the name of ("through") "the Father, Son, and Spirit," not just through the Son.
The Bible never uses the term Trinity, of course, nor explains the idea. But the overwhelming evidence of Scripture points to the deity and independent personhood of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Yet it presents to us only one God. So the church has wrestled with this evidence and has come up with the theological formulation, "the Trinity." In the same way, we try to do justice to all the activities of each member of the Trinity in line with clear biblical teaching and that's why we address the question of the appropriate ways to pray.
Suppose you were going on a long journey with three dear friends. Though you were constantly with all three, you spoke to only two of them, in spite of the fact that the third friend was the very one who did most of the talking to you. In fact, he came along as the one designated to be your intimate companion, your encourager. Such a one-way communication, while carrying on constant, animated conversation with the other two friends would be more than strange and rude. It would make your friend sad, grieve him. So with the Spirit who is named "comforter," "encourager," and to whose fellowship we have been committed (2 Cor. 13:14). "Communion" or "fellowship" without two-way communication?
On the other hand, the Holy Spirit never was intended to draw attention to Himself but ever to spotlight Jesus (John 15:26). Don't push that too far, however. Some have misunderstood the teaching, "he shall not speak of himself" (John 16:13, KJV) to mean he is to stay hidden. The English word "of," like the Greek original, could have one of two meanings: (1) "about" or (2) "from," that is, "on the authority of." Newer translations make clear what Jesus meant, that the Spirit would not speak independently, on His own authority alone. His words bear the authority of the triune God. Certainly he speaks about himself, for the Book He inspired is full of teaching about the Spirit.
My response to the person who raised the question of whether it is appropriate to speak with the Holy Spirit is a rather technical analysis of the question because it is important of itself. But it's also of critical importance to the central thesis of this book—that there is a wonderful Person who wants to be our encourager, our instructor, our companion. He wants to fellowship with us and share a love relationship. I hope the explanation is of some assistance to any who have never experienced conscious fellowship with the Spirit and who may be afraid of the idea. With all the explanations, though, a mystery remains...
Our youngest, Kent, puzzled over these questions when he was three years old. "Is Jesus God?" he asked.
"What about the Holy Spirit?"
"Yes, he's God too."
"I don't get it. There's s'posed to be one God, but you just said Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God too."
I don't get it, either. In fact, the mystery of our triune God goes beyond all our competence to understand, let alone explain. What kind of God would we have if we could figure Him out completely? Either He would be finite like us or we would have to be gods ourselves to understand the mystery! But even if we can't understand everything, the Bible is clear about this: the Holy Spirit is true God, partaking of all God's infinities, and He is a person distinct from the Father and Son yet one with them. The beauty of it is that you and I can know Him personally, love Him, and be loved. We can talk to Him and listen to Him, we can have His infinite life-force flow through us, even if we can't figure out how it all fits together. Something like electricity. We may not understand how the electric energy flows, but we can live our lives by its power.
And now for those ten glorious activities of the Spirit that are designed to transform my life. "The Holy Spirit and I"—that's what it's all about!