Many people are very confused about the Holy Spirit. They not only do not understand what it is; they have no idea what it is supposed to do in their lives or why they need it. What about you? Do you really understand the answer to these questions?
We live in a world of fear and anxiety. Man is increasingly being forced to come to grips with the limits of his technology. All of our vaunted advances in education and the dissemination of information have not made this world a safer place. What is a person to do in a hostile, crazy world?
What changes can the Holy Spirit make in your thoughts and actions? Is there something that you must do for these changes to take place, or does the Spirit just sort of “take over” a Christian’s life? Look carefully at the role the Holy Spirit should be playing in our lives and at the changes that should be taking place.
Stir Up God’s Gift
In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is presented to us as a gift from God. Yet, it is clearly a gift that has strings attached to it. The Apostle Peter in his Pentecost sermon said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Two things are clear in Peter’s statement. First, the Holy Spirit is a gift from God. You cannot earn it. Second, in order to receive the gift, we must repent of sin. Real repentance involves a change of direction in our lives. It means far more than simple remorse or regret for the past. Rather, the very word itself implies a turning away from the past, a changing of the mind.
There are various comparisons drawn to the Holy Spirit in the Bible to help us understand it more clearly. Primarily, the Spirit is compared to wind. After all, the Greek word for spirit, pneuma, means wind or breath. Another common analogy is flowing water (cf. John 7:38-39). Just as air and water are necessary life-giving forces, so the Holy Spirit is the source of eternal life for Christians (Romans 8:11). Also, just as air and water both flow and have power to affect and change that which they act on, so also does the Holy Spirit. There are, however, additional analogies that the Scriptures use. One of these analogies is that of fire.
Most of us have had some experience with a wood fire, whether with a fireplace in our home, a campfire, or perhaps memories of the old wood heaters of our childhood. The Apostle Paul drew on the common knowledge of people in his day about wood fires when he explained to Timothy: “Stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).
One important characteristic of a wood fire is that it must be stirred from time to time. Otherwise an ash layer forms, the flame dies down and the heat given off diminishes. A fire that was burning well at bedtime often appears to be completely out the next morning, having suffered from hours of neglect. However, by stirring the coals until the ash layer is knocked off and oxygen can reach those last sparks in the coals, it is often possible to re-ignite a blazing fire. Paul was reminding Timothy that God’s Holy Spirit is not a gift to be neglected or ignored. It must be stirred up regularly if it is to function as it ought. If it is neglected long enough, it is even possible to eventually lose that precious gift (Psalm 51:11).
The Holy Spirit, which we receive through the laying on of hands following baptism (Acts 8:17), is intended to change our lives. The Spirit is the means by which God accomplishes His Work in us, as well as through us: “And indeed, it is God Himself who is at work within you, as regards both will and deed, in pursuit of His gracious design” (Philippians 2:13 Cassirer Translation).
Not the Spirit of Fearfulness
“And indeed, the spirit which God has bestowed upon us is not one that makes us shrink back in fear,” Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7 Cassirer). Fears and anxieties control the lives of many people. Face it, the world in which we live can be a pretty frightening place. Sometimes people become immobilized by their fears. They are so fearful of doing the wrong thing that they are unable to come to a conclusion, and often wind up doing nothing. Of course, that in itself is generally the wrong thing. Other times, however, people become panicked by their fears and make irrational decisions. Such unbalanced decisions can have far-reaching, devastating consequences.
When the Bible speaks of having the fear of God, it is talking about an entirely different kind of “fear.” This “fear” refers to the awe and reverence we are to have for the Great Creator and His power. The Greek word translated “fear” in 2 Timothy 1:7, deilias, is never used to refer to the fear of God. It is only used to refer to the kind of fear, which results from a lack of faith. It is the term used when the Bible talks about the fearfulness of the disciples during the storm when Christ came walking on the water. It is also used when reference is made to the panic-stricken reaction of the disciples at the time of Christ’s arrest.
This cowardice and timidity, that either panics or paralyzes a person, is the opposite of faith. Paul reminded Timothy that this sort of fear is not the result of God’s Spirit. Moses through faith “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king...” (Hebrews 11:27). He had the kind of confidence in God and His promises that enabled him to withstand every attempt to intimidate or dissuade him from the proper course of action. The Holy Spirit of God transforms fearful human beings into men and women of faith and courage.
Look at what happened to Peter. On the evening of the Passover he was so overwhelmed by fear that he cursed and swore and denied that he even knew Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 26:73–74). Just over seven weeks later he stood in the temple and boldly proclaimed the Gospel. And in Acts 4 we read of the absolute confidence with which Peter faced the Jewish religious establishment’s threats and intimidation after he and the others “spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). While human courage has its limits, the boldness that results from God’s Spirit has no bounds!
The Spirit of Power
Paul wrote Timothy that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Power. The Greek word for power is dynameos, the root from which we derive our English words dynamic, dynamo, and even dynamite. It means dynamic power and ability, and is often used to refer to miracles.
The Holy Spirit is God’s out-flowing power (Luke 1:35). It is the means by which He created and brought into existence the very universe (Psalm 104:30). It is the power by which He works in the minds of human beings made in His image (Genesis 6:3). It is the power by which the lame miraculously walked, the blind saw, the deaf heard, and the dead were raised during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 5:15–17).
This same power is available to you and me! Christ told the disciples “However, power shall be yours at the time when the Holy Spirit will descend upon you...” (Acts 1:8 Cassirer). Having that power, nevertheless, does not mean that we are immune to human fears and discouragements. Paul explained, “Such a treasure [the Holy Spirit] is indeed ours, but it is carried by us in what are but vessels of clay to show that the power exceeding all else is God’s and does not belong to ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 Cassirer). The Apostle goes on to explain, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet [we are] not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair” (v. 8). Humanly we are still ourselves, with our weaknesses and fears, but we are now “plugged in” to the power source of the universe.
God’s power is still available to work miracles, just as it was over 1,900 years ago. As a minister of a dynamic, living God, I have literally seen miracles take place under my hands numerous times. I have gone to the home of distraught parents in the middle of the night to anoint and pray for a weakened, fever-racked child. I have seen that little child sit up at the conclusion of the prayer, totally devoid of fever, reach over and begin playing with toys as if nothing had ever been wrong. I have seen the red line of blood poisoning, already extended above the elbow, simply diminish and disappear within minutes after the prayer of faith had been prayed. Those, and thousands of other similar incidents experienced by many of God’s people down through time, are evidence of the dynamic, miracle-working power that is the Holy Spirit.
The power of God through the Holy Spirit not only works miracles of healing, but it is the power that enables us to overcome our human nature and become like God. However, this miracle requires our active participation—our willing cooperation with God. Notice how Paul explained it in Colossians 1:27–29.
In verse 27 he explains that having Jesus Christ living His life in us is our hope of glory. In verse 28 he expresses his desire to present those he was ministering to as “perfect,” or brought to spiritual completion, in Christ. How is this done? In verse 29 Paul writes, “It is with this end in view that I toil and struggle, in reliance on the very energy of Christ which is powerfully at work within me” (Cassirer). We must strive in accordance with what God is doing in us through His power.
The Spirit of Love
The fundamental characteristic of God is love (1 John 4:8). The Holy Spirit is the means by which we actually begin to partake of God’s very nature (2 Peter 1:4). Paul explained in Romans 5:5 that God’s love enters into our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the means by which our “normal” nature and attitude undergoes a transformation. It tunes us into God’s “wavelength” and we become receptive to Him. When we “tune in” God, we are enabled to begin “tuning out” Satan, who is described as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).
The love that flows out from God, in and through us, is not simply an emotion or a good feeling! The Apostle John explained how God’s love would manifest itself in the lives of true Christians. “But whoever keeps His Word, truly the love of God is perfected [brought to completion] in him” (1 John 2:5). God’s Word tells us how to show real love, both to God and to our neighbor. If we carefully follow God’s Word in its full intent, then genuine godly love will manifest itself in our actions and attitudes.
Most professing Christians think that love and law are opposites. They could not be more wrong. Rather, Paul said, “The purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart...” (1 Timothy 1:5). The law defines sin (1 John 3:4) and therefore provides guidelines to teach us how to show love. God’s law is the channel through which His Spirit flows.
The Spirit of Sound-mindedness
“You can go crazy reading the Bible!” some have been told. The common idea in the world is that a little religion is fine, but those who seek to live their lives by every word of God are a little bit odd, or maybe even “kooky” What about it? Is God’s Spirit going to manifest itself in the emotional excesses of the “holy laugh” currently being evidenced in some Protestant circles? Will it result in people becoming mind-numbed “zombies” as evidenced in the criticism directed against various cults? Paul explained to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7 that the Holy Spirit is a source of sound-mindedness. What exactly is sound-mindedness? The meaning of the original Greek word that Paul used, sophronismou, is “to be wise and sensible.” It is rendered into English by such terms as “sober,” “self-controlled” and “discreet.” It is the term that Luke uses in Luke 8:35 when he describes a formerly possessed man sitting clothed and in his “right mind” after Christ had cast the demons out.
God’s Spirit never leads a person to be out of control: “God is the author of peace, not of disorder. All the assemblies of those consecrated to God give proof of it” (1 Corinthians 14:33 Cassirer). One in whom the Holy Spirit is manifested will become more balanced and sound in his thinking. God reveals principles of conduct throughout the Bible, dealing with everything from family relations to business and financial management. One who is seeking to live by every word of God will, through effort and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, become increasingly able to apply these principles of sound judgment.
The bitterness and envy that dominate the minds of many people in today’s world lead away from sound-mindedness. They are totally contrary to godly wisdom (cf. James 3:14–15). An honest and forgiving heart is the kind of place where God’s Spirit thrives. That is the kind of sound-minded approach to life that leads to real peace.
Today’s world is crazy-making. Violence and lust permeate much of what passes for entertainment, whether in music or at the movies. What we feed our minds is extremely important! People who would never dream of willfully ingesting unclean meat into their stomachs sometimes fill their minds with spiritual uncleanness by the hour. That does not promote sound, balanced, wholesome thinking. The Apostle Paul stresses in Philippians 4:8 that we should fill our minds with what is true, lovely, pure and honorable. These things bring out the best in us. Whether it is in music, literature, painting, sculpture or drama, the arts have a profound effect on our emotions, moods and thoughts that we should never underestimate.
As our minds are directed to thinking about the meaning of the Day of Pentecost, we usually think about the Holy Spirit, which was first poured out on Pentecost, 31ad. God offers us His Spirit for a purpose. It is the means by which we come to share in God’s power, His attitude and His thinking. However, we must be ever mindful to “stir up” that gift which is in us through the laying on of hands. That stirring is accomplished through regularly studying and meditating on God’s Word and through prayer. It is aided by our fasting and going to God humbled and deeply aware of our utter lack of self-sufficiency. It is furthered as we seek to put God’s Word into our lives by taking it seriously and trying to make changes in all areas of our lives—big and small.
The Greek word for zeal in the New Testament comes from the verb zeo, which literally means, “to boil.” To lack zeal means that the fire is going out. It is to be, at best, lukewarm. Our society is geared to promoting lukewarmness, the overriding characteristic of the last stage of the Church of God. As we come ever closer to the climax at the close of this age, we must be deeply mindful of the need that all of us have to continually “stir up the gift of God which is in you...” (2 Timothy 1:6).