Of the three Persons — Father, Son, and Spirit — who are all the same one God, the Spirit is the most difficult for me to comprehend. “Father” is easy; Jesus as the human face of “Son” is very relatable; but “Spirit” is often as mysterious as the wind (John 3:8). Even more mysterious is the Bible’s clear teaching that the Spirit somehow “dwells in” each Christian, permanently entwined with their own human spirit. What is meant by that, and what is the evidence for it?
As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, His disciples were probably terrified. Tension had been building with those who hated Him, and now He was telling them that He would be going away for good. But He promised that He was not leaving them alone. Despite being physically out of reach, He would really still be available to them. How?
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.John 14:16-17, See also John 14:26 and John 16:7-8
The cross was not Jesus going away “for good”, though. He rose from the grave, and continued to meet with them and teach them for over a month afterward. Then He gave them final instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit arrived (Acts 1:4-5). When that happened, He told them that:
…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.Acts 1:8
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.Acts 2:1-4
How’s that for making an entrance? !!!
The book of Acts is a history of the beginning of the church, starting with the Spirit’s arrival that day on Pentecost 2. The book abounds with references to the presence and work of the Spirit. My concordance lists 66 uses of the word within those 28 chapters. They include:
- A promise of the Spirit to all who believe (2:38)
- Testifying to the authenticity of believers (8:14-17, 9:1-19, 10:44-48, 11:15-18)
- Powerful speeches by men not trained in public speaking (4:8, 4:29-31, 6:10)
- Giving travel directions (8:29, 10:19-20, 11:12, 13:4, 16:6-11, 19:21, 20:22-23)
- Powering miraculous healings and other supernatural events (3:1-10, 4:29-31, 5:12-15, 8:39, 16:25-30)
Living with the Spirit
The rest of the New Testament consists of letters written by Paul and the other Apostles to the Christians in various churches throughout the Roman Empire. Among the teachings in those letters are more details on how an individual experiences the Spirit in their own life. After all, this was a brand-new concept. It had been foretold in the Old Testament (Joel 2:28-29) but this “indwelling” of the Spirit had not been experienced before Pentecost. These thousands of new Christians, some from Jewish heritage but many from pagan backgrounds, had to learn what it means to walk with God in their everyday lives.
Here are some of the lessons to be learned:
The Spirit is responsible for new life in relationship with God.
First, the Spirit is acting at the moment a person accepts Jesus. All three Persons are: The Son’s sacrifice makes it possible; the Father accepts that sacrifice and considers it to be sufficient; and the Spirit breathes the new life into me. Even the word used for Spirit, “pneuma“, is the Greek for “breath”, the same root used in “pneumonia” or “pneumatic”.
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:5-7
Then when I say something like “Be patient, God is not finished with me yet”, I mean that God is working to make me more like Jesus, more the person He created me to be. Of the three Persons, it would be more accurate to say that the Spirit — rather than the Father or the Son — is the One causing that transformation.
But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.2 Corinthians 3:15-18, See also Galatians 3:2-3
The Spirit has been given as an intimate companion.
When I say “I could feel God’s presence with me”, that is the Spirit I am recognizing. While it is true for everyone that God sees and knows everything about them, for Christians the connection is deeper and more internal. He is literally a part of me, going where I go…so I need to be thoughtful about where I take Him!
…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.1 Corinthians 6:19-20, See also 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
The Spirit is a seal on those who belong to God.
The Spirit’s presence is a guarantee in two ways. He stamps me as “This one belongs to God”. In addition, He is God’s down payment or warranty that He will continue to fulfill all His promises to me as His child.
Note: I’ve done a few articles lately 3 exploring the warnings in Hebrews and other Scriptures about “falling away” from faith. A major take-away from that research is that this seal of the Spirit in irrevocable. I may not follow the Spirit properly; I may wander far away; I may completely screw up. But God’s hold on me won’t let go.
Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.2 Corinthians 1:21-22, See also 2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:14-17, Galatians 4:6
The Spirit gives the resources to accomplish God’s work.
It is awe-inspiring to realize that the same Spirit who empowered Jesus and His apostles is also available to me. It is very easy to think that what God is asking is too difficult for me to do. But, like the loaves and fish that Jesus used to feed 5000 people (Mark 6:33-44), the Spirit will multiply my efforts to make them be sufficient for His task. If I am obeying His will, there is nothing that I can’t do — more accurately, nothing that He can’t do through me! 🙂
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.Philippians 4:13, See also Romans 8:9-11 and Romans 15:13
The Spirit teaches the things of God
When I think of all there is to know about God — all of the information in the Bible, all of the vastness of His ways — I know that I can’t just study hard enough to learn it all. It is reassuring to know that the Spirit will teach me. When I have an “Aha” moment where some Bible passage suddenly gets through to me, that is the Spirit’s work.
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.1 Corinthians 2:10-13
The Spirit is to be heeded.
Since I’ve been given so magnificent a gift, it would be foolish of me to ignore it. Only good can come from listening to the Spirit’s guidance, and following His directions.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.Galatians 6:7-9, See also Ephesians 4:30
How a Spirit-led Life Will Look
It’s clear that there are plenty of non-Christians who live good, moral lives. There are also plenty of Christians (as in all of us) who aren’t perfect. But, in general, a Christian who is following the lead of the Spirit within them will show it in the way they live. They will have a graceful way of reacting to the world that seems unnatural. That’s because it is. It is a supernatural gift, God’s nature showing itself through them. What a priceless gift it is!
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.Galatians 5:16-18,22-25, See also all of Romans 8, then also 1 John 3:23-24, 1 John 4:1-4, 1 John 4:11-14, and 1 Corinthians 12:3
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
It’s a Journey
I wish that I could honestly say I’ve arrived, that I am consciously aware of the Spirit’s presence and am acting according to His directions at all times. But that would be a lie.
Instead, I am often foolish, lazy, selfish and sinful. I ignore the Spirit, or get so distracted by everyday “stuff” that I don’t even realize He’s speaking. He is frustratingly subtle. He whispers and nudges, giving me room to make my own choices. It would be easier if He would shout and shove. 😁 But that would override my free will, so He doesn’t do that.
Nevertheless, I know that He is always with me. On the occasions that I do pay attention and follow His leading, good things happen. I pray that He will nudge me harder and more often, and that eventually I will have good fruit to show for it. 🙏
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Even that wasn’t really “for good”. Angels told the disciples that He would return in the same manner.
- This was a major Jewish annual occasion begun over 1000 years earlier in Leviticus 23:15-22. There it was called the Festival of Weeks, or Feast of Harvest. It was held at the end of the harvest, seven weeks after the Festival of Firstfruits, which was at the beginning of harvest (Leviticus 23:9-14)
- Entering God’s Rest, Falling Away, A Terrifying God, Keep the Faith