“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
Ephesians 3:14-19 NLT
The New Testament in general, and Paul in particular, have a lot to say about the Holy Spirit. Each of the epistle authors talks about the Holy Spirit’s role in the Christian Church and the life of the believer. Jesus Himself promised the Holy Spirit’s arrival would take place when He left to return to Heaven. His arrival was foretold by the Old Testament prophets and was documented by Luke in the book of Acts. But who is the Holy Spirit and just how does He work in the church? How is He recognized and does He interact with believers in a tangible way? Fortunately, we don’t have to look any further than our fingertips for the answers to these and other questions about the person referred to in old England as “The Holy Ghost”.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
Quite simply, the Holy Spirit is God. More precisely, He is the third person in the triune God head. God is God the Father, Jesus Christ is God the Son, and the Holy Spirit is God the Spirit. All three are unique individuals who are at the same time God. All three are equal in their abilities and character and yet each serves a different function, as it were, in the plan of God. God the Father (God) serves as the implementer and maintainer of the plan of God. Nothing escapes Him and He oversees the universe and all that is in it, working all things for the good of those who love Him and obey Him (Romans 8). God the Son (Jesus Christ) serves as our Savior. He came to pay for the sins of all and waits for those who accept the work He has done in their place(Acts 2). While He waits, He intercedes with the Father on behalf of those who live in Him (Hebrews 4). And God the Spirit (The Holy Spirit) serves as our guide and comforter. He lives in those who have accepted Christ and brings to mind God’s scriptures when they are needed (John 14), directs us in the right path to choose (John 16), and works through us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to others (John 15).
Does the Holy Spirit live in everyone?
The Holy Spirit only resides in the lives of those who believe in, and have accepted, Jesus Christ and the saving work He did at the cross. In the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus told the disciples, “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” The world cannot recognize Him because they are not looking for Him. But those who have accepted Christ are looking for the Holy Spirit in their lives and will recognize that He has taken up residence. That doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit does not “work” in the lives of non-believers. He is always at work, convicting non-believers of the sin in their lives, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the coming judgement of God (John 16). Non-believers may not see the work of the Holy Spirit for what it is, believing it to be their own conscience instead. But that does not mean that He is not working to prepare them for the gospel message. But He does not reside in those who refuse Jesus and what He has done for them.
Why do we need the Holy Spirit?
Before the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Israelites had the Law of Moses to guide them while they walked the earth. But the Law was a written document that over the years had been translated, amended, and interpreted by men. It was hard to read, hard to remember, and even harder to follow. And that was the point of the Law. It wasn’t only hard to follow, it was impossible to follow. God wanted us to understand that, on our own, we would never be able to follow the Law perfectly. And perfection is the only thing that can exist adjacent to God. Corruption cannot exist with incorruption and those who are not perfect cannot exist in the presence of a perfect God. But God had a better plan than the Law. He told the prophet Jeremiah that,
“The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
That day arrived when Christ sacrificed Himself for our sins, and God writes His law on the hearts of men by residing their hearts in the form of the Holy Spirit. Who knows the law better than God Himself? Who can teach us about God like God Himself can? We can follow the spirit of the Law of God if we follow the Spirit of God. If we allow Him, the Holy Spirit will tell us the difference between right and wrong in our lives.
What else does the Holy Spirit do?
In addition to living in us and teaching us about Himself, the Holy Spirit also bestows gifts on us for the purpose of spreading the gospel to others. Those gifts may be permanent (Acts 9) or temporary (Acts 2). Each gift we receive is tailor made for the person God has designed us to be so that we may be used to reach other individuals with the message of Christ. Our gifts may be received instantly or learned as we progress through trials in our own lives. In each instance, the Holy Spirit blesses us with these gifts in the perfect way to make them, and us, useful in the kingdom. The Holy Spirit also steers us away from things in this world that would shipwreck our faith. Only God knows what our faith is strong enough to stand up to so why would we allow anyone else to tell us what we are capable of, where we should or shouldn’t go, or what is right for us verses what is wrong?
How do I communicate with the Holy Spirit?
We communicate with the Holy Spirit in our daily lives by prayer and study. In prayer, we spend time in personal communion with the Holy Spirit through honest communication about our thankfulness, our desires, our fears, our triumphs, and our failures. We listen in the quiet for His still small voice as we spend time seeking Him in the Scriptures and waiting for His words in our life. As we recognize Him speaking to us, we can strengthen our ability to hear Him by responding in obedience, even when we may not want to. To do the opposite, to ignore Him, only makes it more difficult to hear Him when we need Him later.
The Holy Spirit, God in Spirit, makes Himself available to all. In the person of Jesus Christ He said, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20). God as friend, God as counselor, God as guide, God as Spirit waits to enter our hearts. The only thing preventing Him from coming in and changing our lives is our willingness to open the door. My prayer is that we turn the knob, and turn it soon.