Can you imagine trying to describe your neighbor to someone if you had never seen your neighbor before? Not only that you pretty much figured that while they lived there you never would actually see them in the flesh. What is more you had never actually had a conversation with them either. You know they work about a dozen full time jobs and you aren’t sure if they are a man or a woman or neither…gets pretty confusing.
How do you describe the Holy Spirit? It gets kind of tricky because you have to start piecing together a whole bunch of pieces from thousands of years worth of biblical history starting with the second verse of the Bible and going all the way the fifth to the last verse. There is no book of the Bible dedicated to the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t speak directly to anyone in an audible way. There really aren’t any large summaries of the Spirit’s work either. Like the Father the Spirit is invisible but unlike the Father the Spirit doesn’t speak to us in an intelligible way as we find in scripture (unless I am missing something there…).
We can get to know the Holy Spirit in two ways. The first is through scripture. Although the Holy Spirit doesn’t get his own book of the Bible there is enough in there to give us a clue as to who the Spirit is and what the Spirit is doing. The second is a lot more difficult but nevertheless true. Because the Spirit works in our lives today we trust that we are more in tune with the Spirit than our sensory abilities and mental capacities allow us to experience and understand. One example of the Spirit’s work in our lives today is what Paul mentioned in Romans 8:26-27 when we don’t know what to say the Spirit is able to intercede on our behalf in accordance with God’s will.
Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
So what does Scripture tell us about God’s Spirit? First it was present from the very beginning (Gen 1:2). David writes that there is no where he can go where God’s Spirit cannot find him (Psalm 139:7). While the term “Holy Spirit” in only used three times in the Old Testament, God’s Spirit is mentioned 389 times. Coincidentally the Holy Spirit is mentioned 379 times in the New Testament. In the Old Testament God’s Spirit goes out and empowers people to do might deeds for God and His people. Over and over you read, “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon so and so and they went out and did such a such.” (Judges 11:29, 1 Sam 11:6 & Num 11:16-17). God’s Spirit inspired prophesy (1 Sam 19:23, Neh 9:30, Isa 61:1-2, etc). But what is most important God’s Spirit was pointing toward the messiah and the church (Isa 11:1-6 & Joel 2:28-32).
Holy Spirit in the New Testament
We see the Spirit full changing roles over time as God’s plan unfolds. As was just mentioned the Spirit pointed toward Jesus Christ. So what did the Spirit do once Jesus came in the flesh? The Spirit empowered Jesus ministry in a similar way to how it empowered men of the past but now in new and more powerful ways (Isa 61:1-2—–Luke 4:18-19). It showed Jesus was anointed and accepted by God (Mark 1:9-10 where you have all three parts of the Godhead “on the stage” at the same time”). What is more Jesus recognized the Spirit’s role in continuing his work when he departed (John 16:7) as a counselor for his followers (John 14:26) who would testify alongside them (15:26-27).
Once Jesus ascended to heaven the role of the Spirit changed from empowering Jesus’ ministry to build faith in people to empowering the disciple’s ministry (Acts 2:1-4) at Pentecost. From there the Spirit became a part of the life of the baptized faithful (Acts 2:38) and worked in their lives to produce fruit (Gal 5:22-23). The Spirit also acts a a seal or guarantee of what is to come showing that we belong to God (Eph 1:13-14). Paul has much to say about the Holy Spirit. I can’t get into all of it here but for Paul it seems the Holy Spirit was a unifying element among the Jews and Gentiles because although they were different races God had given both the same Spirit so they were to be united. That broke down many ethnic, racial and religious boundary lines that had been in place for millenia. The Spirit also was evidence that their message was from God. That is what Spiritual gifts or gifts from the Spirit were all about. These gifts had the power of the Holy Spirit to enable people to do things they would not normally be able to do (like was mentioned in the Old Testament) but now they were prophesying and speaking in tongues or healing people. It was all to show that these people were not crazy and that God was living and acting in the world through them so that people would listen and put their faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, the Spirit fulfilled what Jesus said it would do by helping the early Christian testify about who Jesus is.
Obviously huge volumes have been written about the Holy Spirit. But one last thing I will point out. It seems to me that there is a ton of continuity between the Spirit’s work in both Testaments (in spite of the differences mentioned above). But one of the biggest differences was the in the Old Testament God empowered people with His Spirit very selectively. In the New Testament we find out we are all priests (1 Peter 2:10) and we all have God’s Spirit within us (Acts 2:38). God has done more for us than we could ever begin to understand.
What have you learned about the Holy Spirit that has been helpful to your faith?