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Comprehending the Holy Spirit

Updated on January 8, 2013

Understanding the Holy Spirit

Man, in his limited wisdom, has had difficulty understanding the Trinity doctrine since his beginning. Most mainstream denominations refer to the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. Of the three, the Holy Spirit has perhaps been the least written about and most misunderstood.

While the general concept of a “Spirit” permeating the cosmos is a general feature of many religions, (e.g. Brahmanin Hinduism,Taoism), and the Great Spirit to many Native American Indians, the term Holy Spirit specifically refers to beliefs held in the Abrahamic religions. To the latter, it refers to the Third Person of the Trinity and is only mentioned three times in the Hebrew bible. It’s found once in Psalm 51:11 and twice in Isaiah 63:10, 11. Although, the term "Spirit" in the Hebrew Scriptures, in reference to "God's spirit", occurs quite frequently.

The confusion causing a lack of clarity on the subject can be traced back to Old Testament renderings of the term “Spirit.” In modern English translations of the Bible, it’s only the King James Version that uses the term “Holy Ghost.” It occurs 90 times in the KJV, whereas the term “Holy Spirit” occurs 7 times. There is much debate as to why the KJV translators used “Ghost” in most places and “Spirit” in others. By using the term "ghost," the KJV translators didn’t intend to imply "the spirit of a deceased person." In 1611, when the KJV was originally translated, "ghost" primarily meant "an immaterial being."

So, maybe the question we should be asking is, not “What is the Holy Spirit?” But “Who is the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the Spirit was often misunderstood as being the life force or energy of God rather than a person. A Psalmist speaks of God’s “Spirit” acting in a personal way (Psalms 143:10), but the use there is frequently thought of as a way of saying “God.” Isaiah and Ezekiel also imply the Spirit is a person, but it’s not until Jesus comes on the scene does the Spirit take on a fuller dimension.

The Holy Spirit is difficult to explain, because it defies normal human logical definition. But if you think about it, without the Spirit, the Bible would be a closed book to us. The sacraments would be mere ritual. There would no inspiration to change our sinful lives and become Christians. Churches would fail because there would be little fellowshipping to knit them together as a body. Even so, we still talk around the Spirit rather than on the Spirit, describing its effects but not its nature. In effect, the result is not being able to comprehend God's work on earth because, without the Holy Spirit we simply can’t engage in any meaningful theological discussions about it.

If we want to understand the Holy Spirit better, the bible advises us to look at the example of Jesus Christ. They, after all, are one and the same. “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 16).

However, in most recent translations the word "Spirit," has replaced "Ghost." That’s because words sometimes change over time, along with their meanings. In Shakespeare’s era, “ghost” meant the living essence of a deceased person. Many of his works show "breath" or "soul,” was frequently used as synonyms for "ghost." It’s easy to see how during those days with spirit normally meaning the essence of a departed person, demonic entity or paranormal specter, the word could eventually evolve. People began saying "ghost" when speaking of an apparition while "spirit" became the standard term for life or a living essence. This would also explain how "soul," with a few exceptions, became "ghost" and "spirit."

So What Is the Holy Spirit?

Regardless of what one calls it, the important thing is to know what principles regarding the Holy Spirit one should follow to live a Christian life. Suppose a group of average church members were asked what those principles were?

How many different answers would there be? Some might emphasize Bible reading and prayer while others would say faithful church attendance was the most important way to walk in the way of the Holy Spirit. Yet others might argue living by the Golden Rule, serving others or imitating Christ. These might be the usual responses, but that still leaves the question of what the Holy Spirit is, basically a little fuzzy.

Most theologians explain the Holy Spirit as being part of the Holy Trinity with the Father and Son. The Old Testament Hebrew word (ruwach, pronounced roo'-akh) was used when talking about the Spirit. Translated the word means “wind.”The New Testament uses the Greek word “pneuma,” pronounced noo-mah, meaning breath, wind, or breeze. So, one might literally understand the Holy Spirit to be “the breath of God.”

Most Christians today understand Jesus the Son and God the Father are two distinct Persons within the Godhead. In any case, throughout the ages the Holy Spirit has been thought of as more of a thing than a person. But, that’s simply not true. In fact, the more one learns about the Holy Spirit it becomes more and more clear the Holy Spirit has personal attributes. As that becomes more apparent we develop a desire to have a closer relationship with Him just as we do with the Father and Son.

Many still might argue the word Trinity is not found in the Bible.Even so, the concept is well-established. Let’s examine what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Some accuse the Holy Spirit as being nothing more than a mere symbol. True, He symbolizes many things, but no mere symbol is able to:

· Communicate: Acts 13:2

· Intercede: Romans 8:26

· Testify: John 15:26

· Guide: John 16:13

· Command: Acts 16:6, 7

· Appoint: Acts20:28

· Lead: Romans 8:14

· Reveal: John 16:8

· Seal: Ephesians 1:13-14

· Live within a Christian: I Corinthians 6:19

· Shape the Life of a Person: Romans 8:1-17!

More Proof

*The Holy Spirit Is Omnipotent.That means all powerful. In Luke 1:35 it says “And the angel answered and said unto her (Mary), the Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.”

*The Holy Spirit Is Omnipresent.This means the Holy Spirit can be in many places at once (Psalms 139:7). “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?”

*The Holy Spirit Is Omniscient. Omniscient refers to knowing all things. According to 1 Corinthians 2:10 “God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

*The Holy Spirit Is Eternal.“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).

*The Holy Spirit is Equal. “But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own power? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:3-4).

From these verses it becomes clear the Holy Spirit was part of all things from the very beginning of Scripture. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In actuality, God is referred to in the plural by the use of His name Elohim, or Elohiym. Therefore, as man began to write the Word, it became evident to the inspired writers, God was more than one Person, and a part of a Triune Godhead.

This can be seen in Luke 3:22 where the Holy Ghost descended like a dove upon Jesus, “and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” Are not all three persons of the Trinity mentioned in this one verse? There are also other references in the Gospels:

· “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

· In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4 says “Hear, O Israel the Lord our God is one Lord.”

Why is this important? Because if we are “born again” He lives in us. This is proven in 1 Corinthians 6:19 where it says “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” Now we see the Holy Spirit is a person coequal with the other two persons of the Godhead there are four important principles we should remember:

1. The Holy Spirit is God, but also a Person, not a force. 1 Corinthians 2:11 tells us the Holy Spirit has intellect and knowledge. “Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

2. The Holy Spirit’s mission is to reveal Jesus. Jesus’ mission is to reveal the Father and the Father sends Jesus and the Holy Spirit to us. All three work in perfect harmony with each other.

3. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to empower effective ministry.

4. The Holy Spirit has emotions, his own will and able to make decisions (Acts 16:6).“Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.” “And for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for Me” (Romans 15:30).

An important thing to note here is the Holy Spirit was around long before the day of Pentecost.The book of Genesis describes the Holy Spirit as moving upon the face of the waters. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

Now that we have an idea who the Holy Spirit is, what does he do? Being a spiritual entity, obviously we can’t see him with our physical eyes. His task on earth is apparently to initiate and complete the building of the body of Christ. He is also the agent that convicts the world of their sin.

You may still be wondering how the Holy Spirit can be part of a triune…a person who is coequal with two others…and all being one. It’s not an easy concept for earthly beings to comprehend. But the Bible tells us He is. Although the actual word “Trinity” appears nowhere in the scriptures, nonetheless the concept is, and His attributes attest to that fact. The following scriptures describe the Holy Spirit as:

· Being eternal, having neither, beginning or end. Hebrews 9:14

· Omnipotent, having all power. Luke 1:35

· Omnipresent, being everywhere at the same time. Psalm 139:7

· Omniscient, understanding all matters. I Corinthians 2:10, 11

From this we see the Holy Spirit isn’t only God, He’s a full person of the Trinity


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