By Victor Knowles
Noted author and speaker W. Carl Ketcherside recalled talking far into the night with a professor of philosophy in a state university. The learned man had been raised by Christian parents, but his academic career had eroded his faith. Ketcherside observed, “This left deep furrows in his intellectual life where the rich topsoil of belief had been washed away by the constant rain of skepticism.”
Ketcherside asked the professor, “What do you think about the Holy Spirit?” The man thought for a moment and then answered, “I believe in a holy spirit, I suppose, but I do not believe in anything called ‘the Holy Spirit.’” He finally explained that he thought the Holy Spirit was merely one’s own spirit, his inner self, committed to unselfishly sharing with others. Pinned down, he confessed that he was a humanist, and the expression “Holy Spirit” was merely a catchword, a handle with which to turn off religious discussion. Ketcherside said, “The Holy Spirit no longer had any real relevance for him.”
How much relevance does the Holy Spirit have in the life of the average Christian? An April 2009 Barna Group survey found that the majority of American Christians do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living entity. Fifty-eight percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” Surely the Holy Spirit, who can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), must be grievously offended that the majority of professed Christians do not believe that he is real.
The Personality of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit, first mentioned in Genesis 1:2, is not an “impersonal force” or merely a “symbol” of God. He is an elite member of the Godhead, sometimes called the Trinity (Genesis 1:26; Isaiah 48:16; Matthew 3:16, 17; 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Thirteen times in John 16 the Holy Spirit is referred to as “he,” “him,” or “himself”—but never as a glorified “it” or a mere “influence.”
Charles Spurgeon said, “Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind or chariots without steeds. Like branches without sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless. As an offering without the sacrificial flame, we are unaccepted.” Our indwelling guest has a mind (Romans 8:27) and a will (1 Corinthians 12:11). He does things that we can do, only far better; things like thinking, teaching, speaking, guiding, and praying. He is life (John 3:5, 6), he is understanding (1 Corinthians 2:9-12), he is love (Romans 15:30). He has different names ascribed to him in Scripture: Holy Spirit, Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of truth, Spirit of Christ, My Spirit, Comforter, and Helper.
Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). Bruce Ware notes, “Though the Holy Spirit is God, equal in essence to the Father and the Son, yet his role is consistently to defer honor, to seek to bring about the glory of another.” Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14).
The Power of the Holy Spirit
The founder of College Press Publishing Company, Don DeWelt, wrote not one but four volumes on The Power of the Holy Spirit. He wrote, “When the Holy Spirit took up residence within us, He did so with the thought of developing holy character in us.” My professor in Bible College, Donald G. Hunt, put it this way: “The Holy Spirit helps us to become holy and to be more spiritual.”
The tremendous power of the Holy Spirit is seen in his role in creation (Genesis 1:1, 2), in the birth (Luke 1:35) and baptism (Matthew 3:16) of Jesus, the miracles of Christ (Matthew 12:28), the atoning work of Christ (Hebrews 9:14), and raising Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). Jesus instructed the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:4, 8). That promised power came on the Day of Pentecost when Peter stood up with the Eleven and proclaimed the saving power of the gospel of Christ, resulting in three thousand people accepting the message and being baptized (Acts 2:14-41). Dwight L. Moody testified, “There is not a better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit.”
Especially do we see, feel, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit in his wonderful work in the lives of believers. He plays a vital role in our conversion (John 16:8), indwells us after baptism (Acts 2:38), and is the true “Transformer,” changing us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Oswald Chambers believed that the Holy Spirit does not obliterate our personality; he lifts it to its highest level.
The Holy Spirit strengthens our inner life (Ephesians 3:16). Corrie ten Boom said, “Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.” The Holy Spirit is the cosmic conduit who carries the love of God from Heaven into our hearts (Romans 5:5). He is the supplier of the marvelous nine-fold cluster of that fabulous “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23). D. A. Carson said, “As Christians grow in holy living, they sense their own inherent moral weakness and rejoice that whatever virtue they possess flourishes as the fruit of the Spirit.”
The Program of the Holy Spirit
Someone has suggested that The Acts of the Apostles should really be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.” Missionary C. T. Studd pined, “How little chance the Holy Spirit has nowadays. The churches and missionary societies have so bound Him in red tape that they practically ask Him to sit in a corner while they do the work themselves.”
A.W. Tozer was even more direct. He declared, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would have stopped, and everybody would have known the difference.” Truly, how we need the Holy Spirit directing the affairs of the church today! Missionary Hudson Taylor said, “We give too much attention to method and machinery and resources, and too little to the source of power.”
The Holy Spirit integrates newly baptized members into the one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). He beautifully unifies the one body of Christ (Ephesians 4:3, 4), carefully fashioning them into his temple (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20), graciously gifting each member (1 Corinthians 12:11), and is the Chief Administrator of the affairs of the church (Acts 13:2, 3). Francis Chan writes, “The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes purely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.”
Two of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit today are his assistance in helping us understand Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:10-14) and his loving intercession for us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). Since Bible study and personal prayer are so important in the life of the believer, we dare not attempt these on our own. Also, the Holy Spirit assures us of the divine presence of Christ in our lives (1 John 4:13).
“Men ought to seek with their whole hearts to be filled with the Spirit of God,” said Andrew Murray. “Without being filled with the Spirit, it is utterly impossible that an individual Christian or a church can ever live or work as God desires.” That is our challenge today—to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) so that we can be everything that God intends us to be. God commands us to be filled with the Spirit, and if we are not filled, said Dwight L. Moody, “it is because we are living beneath our privileges.”
Don’t live “beneath your privileges.” Allow the Holy Spirit full and free reign in your life. “His power can make you what you ought to be!”
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, Missouri.