Unpacking the basics: Who exactly is the Holy Spirit?
Alpha // May 25, 2019, 1:34 am
Referred to as the “Holy Ghost” by some, the Holy Spirit has been misunderstood as something scary. He has also been resisted, as some people are a bit nervous of Him.
For a long time in the Church, the Holy Spirit has been ignored. There’s been a much greater concentration on God the Father, God the Son – Jesus – but not so much on God the Holy Spirit.
But if we look through the entire Bible, from Genesis right through to Revelation, we’ll see that the Holy Spirit was always there and we can discover who He is.
1. The Holy Spirit was involved in creation
The Holy Spirit was there at the creation of the world!
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
He was waiting to do something new: To bring out of the chaos, the cosmos; out of disorder, order; out of confusion, harmony; out of deformity, beauty; out of oldness, newness.
The Holy Spirit always brings new things to our lives: New attitudes, new desires, new ways of worship, new songs.
2. He gives us ability
The Old Testament records that the Holy Spirit came on particular people at particular times for particular tasks that He was calling them to do.
For example, he came upon Bezalel in Exodus 31:1-5. “I have filled him with the Spirit of God… to make artistic designs.” You can be a talented musician without the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit of God brings a new dimension to everything that we do.
It’s not just in the past: Today, God is filling people with the Holy Spirit for various abilities.
The Holy Spirit fills us for whatever we’re involved in. It could be music or art, but it could be your workplace, whatever you do in your workplace. The Spirit of God wants to fill you with skill and ability and creativity for what you do.
The Holy Spirit came upon Gideon for leadership in Judges 6:14–15 and Isaiah for prophecy in Isaiah 61:1. Then Samson for strength and power in Judges 15:14.
Often, what happened in the Old Testament in a physical way happens in the New Testament in a spiritual way. Just as God’s Spirit gave Samson physical strength to break free from his bindings, so the Holy Spirit gives us freedom to break the habits, the addictions, the stuff that keeps us spiritually bound.
3. The Holy Spirit was promised by Father God
As we continue to read the Old Testament, there’s a rising sense of anticipation that something new is going to happen. This new thing is called “the promise” of the Father.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
It’s not going to be just for particular people at particular times for particular tasks; it’s going to be for everyone!
In Acts 1:4-5, while Jesus was eating with the disciples after He had risen from the dead, He gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you’ve heard me speak about. For John baptised with water; in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”’
And in Acts 1:8, He is recorded saying: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When the Holy Spirit does fill them on the Day of Pentecost, days after Jesus has ascended to Heaven, a violent wind fills the whole house they have gathered in, tongues of fire appear and come to rest on them, and they all start to speak in other tongues.
As the people witnessing got amazed and perplexed, Peter got up and said: Let me explain to you what’s happening – This is the Holy Spirit. This was prophesied.
4. Everyone can have the Holy Spirit
He quotes from the prophet Joel, who speaks of the Holy Spirit who will poured on the children of God, regardless of gender, age, rank, race and background.
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-32)
This is the amazing thing: The Holy Spirit is given to everyone who believes in Jesus!
5. He is a person
Some people think the Holy Spirit is an “it’” or a force. No, the Holy Spirit is a person. Sometimes, He’s referred to as “the Spirit of Jesus”. He’s the way in which Jesus is present within you.
For example, Jesus says in Revelation 3:20: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” If you pray and ask Jesus to come into your heart, the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus – comes to live within you.
Like any person, the Holy Spirit thinks, acts, loves. He’s the most wonderful person in the world who has come to live within you the moment you say: “Jesus, come into my life.”
You will never be alone.
6. The Holy Spirit is our counsellor
What is the Holy Spirit like? Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is “the Counsellor”.
“When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me,” says John 15:26.
The literal Greek word for “counsellor” is Paráklētos, which can be broken down this way: para is “alongside” and kletos is “called”. So it really means the “one who’s called alongside”.
Sometimes this word for the Holy Spirit is translated to be “the Comforter”. He’s the encourager and the advocate, like a lawyer in court who’s on your side.
In the ancient world, if a little ship was in trouble, a big ship would be sent out to draw alongside the small ship and lead it into the safety of the harbour. The big ship was called a “paráklētos”. And Jesus says the Holy Spirit is like that.
All of us face difficulties of one sort or another: Troubles, anxieties, fears, disappointments, discouragements. Whatever it is that you are facing, you don’t have to face those things alone. The Holy Spirit can come alongside to be your comforter, your encourager, your friend.
7. He testifies about Jesus
The Holy Spirit doesn’t point to Himself. His role is to testify about Jesus, to point you to Jesus, to explain Jesus to you so that you understand about Jesus.
In order to do that, the Spirit opens our eyes to understand the Word of God, the Bible. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14).
The Spirit of God gives us understanding of this Word, to help us to develop this relationship with Jesus, so that we can become more like Him. We are transformed into the likeness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
8. The Holy Spirit changes our lives from the inside
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit. You shouldn’t be surprised by my saying, “You must be born again”. The wind blows wherever it pleases.’” (John 3:5-8)
The Holy Spirit is likened to the wind: You can’t actually see the wind, but you can see the effect of the wind. Maybe you’ve seen His impact on someone else, or on your own life, when you can see something changing.
As when a man and woman physically unite in an act of love and there is a physical birth, when the Spirit of God and the spirit of Man come together in an act of love, there is a new spiritual birth. You are born again.
So when the Spirit of God comes to live in you, that’s the beginning. It’s the beginning of a new life.
9. We become sons and daughters
That’s what the Holy Spirit does: He changes us. Every single one of us becomes a son or a daughter of the King, a prince or a princess.
It’s the highest status: To be a son or a daughter of God. It’s also the closest intimacy.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’“ (Romans 8:14-15)
“Abba” is an Aramaic word. It’s untranslatable, that’s why it’s left in the Aramaic.
It’s also a word that’s never used in the Old Testament of our relationship with God, but Jesus used it of his relationship with God.
He called God “Abba”. And then we are told that we too can call God “Abba”. This word, which is kind of like “Dad” or “Daddy”, it’s very intimate – not childish – but just really close, intimate relationship.
So many people think of him as this angry Judge who’s cross with us all the time. But He’s a loving Heavenly Father, and you can approach him as “Abba”.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just bring us into the relationship of being a son or a daughter of God – He helps us to develop it, grow in it and grow closer to our Father in Heaven.
10. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray
The Holy Spirit also gives us access to the Father. “Access” is an amazing word. This means you can talk to Him.
And in Romans 8:26-27, we learn that He also prays for us, even when we do not know what to pray for or cannot find the words to express our deepest concerns and desires.
“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. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
11. He unites the body of Christ
The Holy Spirit brings unity and closeness in relationships, marriages, families, friendships and small groups.
The Apostle Paul says “make every effort to maintain the unity” (Ephesians 4:3). Although not easy to achieve, unity in a church is so important.
12. The Holy Spirit gives everyone spiritual gifts
Every single one of us has been given gifts by the Holy Spirit – not just one but many.
“To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
The idea of a community is that we’re meant to use our gifts. That means church leaders shouldn’t be the only ones doing things while everybody watches. We are the Church, we each have gifts – so all of us must use them.
13. He empowers us to share the gospel
God’s family is a growing family. This is how the Church grows: The Spirit of God gives us His power, and we are his witnesses.
We tell other people about what happened. They see in us the difference the Holy Spirit has made and they’re drawn unto Him.
At the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22:17, it says: “The Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, “Come!” Let those who hear say, “Come!” Let those who are thirsty come; let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life.’”
The invitation is to everyone. It’s to you.
Anybody who comes, you will receive the free gift of the water of life, that you may never thirst again (John 4:14). That is the promise for you.
This article was adapted from the Alpha Transcripts and has been republished with permission. If you have more questions and would like to further explore the basics of the Christian faith, find out more about Alpha or use the map below to connect with an Alpha group near you.
THINK + TALK
- Who is the Holy Spirit to you?
- What is your own encounter of Him?
- How have you seen Him move in your life or the lives of those around you?
- How can you rely more on Him in your journey of faith?