Section 5: The Holy Spirit
Week 1: The Holy Spirit’s Nature
Day 1: The Holy Spirit Is Mysterious
This month we’re going to be taking a closer look at the Holy Spirit. Why? Well, for one, he’s next on the list of topics. But, more importantly, we need it. The Holy Spirit plays a vital role in our lives as believers, yet very few of us really know much about him. At best, we have a vague picture of who he is and what he does. There are a couple of reasons for that.
The Bible Doesn’t Give Us a Concrete Picture of Him or His Work
When we’re trying to learn something, visuals are often a big help. If you want to learn how to replace the brakes on your car, for example, a book might help. A book with pictures and diagrams would be even better. Actually watching someone replace a set of brakes would probably be best. That’s what makes YouTube such a helpful tool. Just type in “brake replacement” and a bunch of videos pop up that allow you to watch a brake replacement first hand. You get to see what the parts look like, where they’re located, the tools you’ll need to take everything apart, and, most importantly, how to put it all back together.
When it comes to the Holy Spirit though, we don’t get the same kind of visuals. We don’t really get to see him in action. We know he is at work because we can see the effects of that work. But we don’t get to see exactly how he does it. That’s why Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to the wind (John 3:8).
Think about your spiritual growth. You can probably point to various ways you’ve grown over the years, and you know the Spirit was involved. But how did he bring that growth about? It’s hard to say exactly. If you’re a Marvel comics fan, you know Bruce Banner became the Hulk as the result of exposure to gamma rays. But spiritual growth doesn’t happen like that. The Holy Spirit doesn’t zap us with gamma rays (or anything else) to instantly transform us. We know the Spirit is working – we can see the effects – we just don’t know exactly how he does it. As a result, there’s a certain mystery to the Spirit and his ministry.
The Controversy over Miraculous Gifts Muddies the Water
When the Holy Spirit comes up, much of the time it’s in the context of a discussion of spiritual gifts, especially the miraculous gifts: Does the Holy Spirit continue to enable believers to speak in tongues, prophesy, and heal the sick the way he did in the New Testament? Pentecostal and charismatic churches argue that the Holy Spirit continues to give all the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament, including the more miraculous ones. Many other churches, however, take the position that the Holy Spirit no longer gives those particular gifts to believers. We’ll talk about it more in the Digging Deeper section, but suffice it say, the issue of whether the miraculous gifts continue today is a controversial one and the debate is often, sadly, contentious.
The problem with heated debates is that they typically don’t shed much light on the issue. Take any political debate you’ve watched. Do you come away understanding the issues better? Probably not. Everyone is so interested in tearing down the other side, they never actually get around to talking about what matters most. The same thing can happen in the debate over the miraculous gifts because it shifts the focus off the Spirit himself and on to the gifts he gives. If we genuinely want to understand the Holy Spirit, we need to talk about more than spiritual gifts, miraculous or otherwise.
So what are we supposed to do in the face of these challenges?
We Need to Put in Some Extra Effort
The Holy Spirit can be difficult to understand. But difficult to understand doesn’t mean impossible to understand. Take men and women for example. It may be cliché, but it’s also true: men have a hard time understanding women. Many a husband has gotten into trouble because he didn’t understand that when a woman says, “Fine” it doesn’t always mean fine. And “Go ahead, do what you want” sometimes means, “Don’t you dare!”
All joking aside, husbands do have difficulty understanding their wives. And wives have difficulty understanding their husbands. Does that mean we just give up? No. It means we put in a little work and pay closer attention. As we do, we find we start to understand one another better, and the payoff is we enjoy a closer relationship. The same is true with the Holy Spirit.
We Need to Accept a Bit of Mystery
However, no matter how hard we work, the Holy Spirit will always remain a bit of a mystery. I will never be able to understand my wife fully, so why would I expect to be able to understand the Holy Spirit completely? As God, he is ultimately beyond my ability to fully comprehend. As a result, there will be things about him and his work that necessarily avoid my grasp. And that’s a good thing. We want a God who is bigger than our comprehension. After all, a God who can fit within the limits of our finite minds is pretty small.
How well do you think you understand the Holy Spirit and his role in your life? Have you ever done a study on the Holy Spirit beyond the spiritual gifts? Do you still have questions about him and his work?
Make a list of the questions you have about the Holy Spirit and the impact you think the answers will have on your relationship with God.