Here are the some of the questions people commonly ask about the Holy Spirit and what it means to live naturally supernatural lives.
Is the Holy Spirit a person or a force?
It’s not unusual for people to refer to the Spirit as an ‘it’ but he’s not an impersonal force, he is a person. This might not seem like an important distinction but it is absolutely crucial if we are to grasp the role of the Spirit in our lives. This is about a relationship. We cannot have an intimate relationship with a force, it’s like thinking we can have a deep conversation with gravity. If we talk to gravity, it won’t talk back. If we engage with the Spirit, he will respond.
Some of the symbols of the Spirit in the Bible don’t lend themselves to our thinking of him a person, for example, fire, water, wind and a dove. However, there are a huge number of places where we see the Spirit is doing things only a person can do. He searches all things and knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). Can we imagine gravity conducting a search or knowing something? He teaches us and dwells within us (1 Corinthians 2:13; 3:16; Romans 8:11). He leads us towards God and bears witness with our own spirits (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:16). He also strengthens believers, is grieved by our sinfulness and prays on our behalf (Ephesians 3:16; 4:30; Romans 8:26-27). Gravity, or any force for that matter, cannot be grieved, cannot bear witness, cannot teach. The Spirit is a person – he prays, he knows, he acts, he reveals and he wants an intimate relationship with us.
Where in the Bible does it say the Holy Spirit is God?
Christians believe that God is Trinity. A technical way of defining this is to say that God is one divine nature subsisting wholly and completely in three distinct persons. Another way of putting it is that we believe there is one God and he exists as three persons (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) and that each person is fully God.
The teaching of the Trinity can be a mind-bender but if God is God we should expect there be things about him that are outside our realm of understanding. It’s been said that trying to get an understanding of everything about God into our minds is like trying to get all the water in the world, all the rivers, lakes and oceans, into a Coke can. However, through the Bible God makes clear what he wants to reveal about himself.
We see from the statements of Jesus that the Spirit is co-equal with the Father and Son. This is why he tells us to baptise people in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The three go together! There are other places where the word ‘Spirit’ and ‘God’ are used interchangeably. One would be when Peter is rebuking Ananias. Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…? You have not lied just to human beings but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Peter here explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit as God. Paul also writes to the Corinthians telling them that if they have the Spirit inside of them they have become God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The Spirit is as much God as the Father and the Son – he is no lesser or different – isn’t it amazing to think he is living inside of us?
What’s the difference between the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament?
The Spirit of God is the same Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. There is a difference, however: the way the Spirit is given to people. In the Old Testament God gives his Spirit only to select individuals, specifically prophets, priests and kings. However, the Old Testament prophets also spoke of a day when God would pour out his Spirit in a new way. In Ezekiel 36:26-27 the Lord promises to Israel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you… I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees.” Through the prophet Joel, God spoke of a coming time when “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Joel 2:28 emphasis added).
Jesus came to fulfil all the promises of the Old Testament. He promised the Spirit in a new way to his followers, “he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension made a way for the Spirit of the Holy God to live inside of us. The primary dwelling place for God’s presence in the Old Testament was the Temple, but under the New Testament we are the Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Spirit is not given to just a few people, rather all who follow Jesus are promised the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Why doesn’t the Bible talk more about spiritual gifts?
The language of ‘spiritual gifts’ may not always be explicitly used, but the manifestations of the Spirit are referred to or actively practiced all over the Bible. This is true from the many healings, miracles and prophecies of Israel’s leaders in the Old Testament, to the Spirit-empowered ministry of Jesus and the stories of the early church.
Spiritual gifts were a common part of the worship in the early churches. Gordon Fee, a highly-respected Biblical scholar, notes of the spiritual gifts, “The very fact that Paul can list all these items in such a matter-of-fact way , especially in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, indicates that the worship of the early church was far more “charismatic” than has been true for most of its subsequent history.” Here and in other places we are given the strong impression that supernatural manifestations of the Spirit were commonplace (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14). Were the New Testament to talk about ‘spiritual gifts’ even once we would want to pay attention. As it happens, though it might not always use the phrase ‘spiritual gifts’ it describes a Spirit-filled church on almost every page. The everyday supernatural is meant to be part of the normal Christian life.
Why aren’t people always healed?
It can be very hard to understand why some people are not healed. We have already shared some of our experiences of losing people whom we love and who we have persistently prayed for. If you are asking this question because you have similarly lost someone then we cannot answer it – certainly not in a way that you will find satisfying. Sometimes the most helpful thing to do is to grieve, cry out in distress and ask our questions of God. The Bible is full of people calling out to him, the books of Job and Lamentations as well many of the psalms are examples of this. Such raw interaction with God is, paradoxically, a sign of a healthy relationship with him – we trust him enough to be real, even in our agony.
There are deep resources in the Bible for helping us wrestle through questions like this. Here are a number of things from which we have been able to draw a tremendous amount of comfort:
- The cross shows us that God enters into our suffering. He didn’t need to, he chose to. This means that God understands pain, suffering and loss personally – no other religion can come close to making this claim; it is unique to Christianity. In Jesus God became fully human and knows despair, loneliness and bereavement first-hand. God knows how we feel.
- The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us. He cares enough to die for us. As Tim Keller points out, whilst this doesn’t tell us what the answer is as to why our friend may have suffered, it tells us what the answer isn’t. It isn’t that God doesn’t love them, or us. There is no clearer way he can demonstrate his love than giving us his only Son Jesus.
- We have a concrete hope for the future. Jesus was resurrected and this is what we look forward to. We are promised a future where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). For us, death is not the end, it is the end of the beginning. As Christians we journey not towards a sunset but a sunrise.
- We live in the tension of the kingdom ‘now and not-yet’. With the arrival of Jesus, the kingdom of God has broken into this world, but it has not yet arrived in all of its fullness. This won’t happen until Jesus returns. Whilst we see many amazing healings, we also still lose people that we love. The challenge for us is to remind ourselves of God’s character and to trust his heart even if we can’t see his hand. It is also to recognise that if something isn’t good enough for the future kingdom we, as Jesus’ people, shouldn’t settle for it now. So if we see tears, we wipe them away, where we find mourning we bring comfort, and if we meet sickness (regardless of past experiences) we set ourselves to pray with authority for healing.