The Person of the Holy Spirit
Wind and Fire – Part 1
Several years ago, when our kids were still teenagers living at home, a big storm came through Sioux Falls, where we were living at the time, and knocked out the electricity in our house. In fact, the power was out in a large part of the city and the surrounding area. And it came at a bad time. Now, there’s never a good time to lose power, but there was just a lot going on in our home at the time. As I recall, we had dinner that was half cooked, we had laundry that was half washed and in the process of getting dried; and one of our kids was trying to use the computer and printer for a big school assignment that needed to be turned in. And suddenly the power was gone, and all these things we had been doing we could no longer do. The power was off, it was gone, and everyone noticed; everyone was affected. And it wasn’t off for just a few minutes or even an hour; we were without power for two days. And before that second day came to an end, we were beginning to turn on each other. It was starting to get ugly. We all had these things that needed to be done, but we just couldn’t do it. And it was frustrating.
Then, sometime late in the evening of the second day, the power finally came back on. And when it did there was just this celebration in our home. I mean, we turned on all the lights in the house. We got crazy, playing music, using a microwave with no food in it, ironing clothes that weren’t even wrinkled just because we could. The power was back!
And the point I would make is that when we lost it, everybody knew it. Everybody was affected. We couldn’t just keep doing what we had done.
Now with that in mind, and as we begin this series on the Holy Spirit, there’s a question I would like you to think through. If for some reason the power of the Holy Spirit was turned off in your life, would you notice? Would anybody notice? If for some reason the power of the Holy Spirit was no longer available in your church, would anybody notice, or would it just be business as usual?
The late A.W. Tozer expressed his concern this way. He said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
Everybody would know the difference. And so as you read through the New Testament…the Early Church…what you see is that they were utterly dependent upon the power and presence of the Holy Spirit—to be who God had called them to be, to fulfill the mission that God had called them to fulfill. They understood that there is no Church without the Holy Spirit. There are no followers of Jesus without the Holy Spirit.
And so this is the question that I’m asking you to wrestle with for the next four weeks, both individually and for us to confront as a church corporately. Here’s the question: If the Holy Spirit were to leave, would you even notice? Would anybody even notice?
And so the next four weeks we’re going to be studying the Holy Spirit. Although it is my prayer that we would not just study, but that we would encounter and that we would experience. Because while there is a lot to learn, if all we do is learn about the Holy Spirit without encountering Him personally then we’ve missed the point of the Holy Spirit.
And the name of this series is “Wind and Fire.” These are two of the images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit. We’ll talk more about fire in a couple of weeks. This week let’s talk about wind.
In the Old Testament the word for spirit is ruach. That’s the Hebrew word for spirit—ruach. In the New Testament the word for spirit is pneuma. So ruach in the Old Testament and pneuma in the New Testament… Both of these words for spirit have at their root the word wind—or breath of air or gale of wind. It’s the image that’s used to help us understand the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus, in John chapter 3, is trying to explain to a religious leader how the Holy Spirit works, it’s the image that Jesus goes with. Here’s what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going….”
In Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Early Church—we’ll study this passage next week—it speaks of a mighty rush of wind that filled the space.
Now why wind? Well, if you think about it, wind is one of the only things—at least that I could think of—that is both non-physical but also tangible, right? Like, there’s not a lot that falls under the category of “non-physical but tangible,” meaning that you can’t see it or grab a hold of it, but you can feel it and you can see its effect. And so the Holy Spirit is this way. He’s non-physical but He’s tangible. You can’t see Him or grab a hold of Him. But you can feel Him, and you can experience Him, and you can see the difference that He’s made.
And so this image also makes people a little bit uncomfortable, because what is it about wind? You know, wind can’t be contained. We like to contain things…including God. Wind can’t be controlled, and we, oftentimes, have control issues. Wind cannot be caught and boxed up. Wind will blow wherever it pleases. And for some of us, that’s uncomfortable.
My concern is that the Church can be like…if I could use this metaphor…like a beautiful sailboat. And lots of time and money and resources have been spent in building a beautiful sailboat, and there are many people, like myself, who work on the sailboat and who have read the manual on the sailboat. And they know this sailboat in and out, and they go to conferences on sailing, and they’ve read books about famous sailors. And they’ve charted a course for the sailboat, and they’ve mapped it out. And they’ve got a five-year plan, and they know the safest route. And they’ve modeled the sailboat after other sailboats that have been successful and look beautiful. And it’s all fine and good, but there’s only one thing that really matters when you go sailing—and that’s the wind…the wind. You can spend a lot of time and energy on the sailboat, but the question really is a question of the wind. And the wind blows wherever it wants to blow. You might want to tell that to your five-year plan. Wind doesn’t care. You might want to tell that to your carefully charted course. You might want to tell that to your plan for the future. That the wind blows where it wants to blow. The job of the sail is to catch the wind. It’s to receive the wind, to know where the wind is blowing and to ride it.
And so one of the prayers that I like to pray, as one of the leaders of this church, is, “Lord, let me help lead the church the way a sail leads the wind.” And of course, a sail doesn’t lead the wind at all. A sail’s job is to catch the wind, to receive it.
And so the Holy Spirit is described, then, as this wind that blows. You can’t grab it, but you can feel it. You can’t see this wind, but you can see its effects. And we want that to be true for us, both individually as followers of Christ and as a church. That the world may not understand the Holy Spirit, but they can see that He has made a difference in our marriages, in our relationships, in our personalities, in our temperaments, in the way we live our lives on mission and with purpose. They can see the effect of the wind.
The question is: If the Holy Spirit were to leave, would you even notice? Would anybody even notice?
I know that subjects like the Holy Spirit…there’s a lot of controversy and confusion around Him, which is interesting because, in part, one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to bring unity to the Body of Christ, to brothers and sisters. And yet there’s been a lot of division. We’ll look at a little bit of that in weeks to come. For now I just want to acknowledge it and just say that for many of you this whole conversation is a little bit uncomfortable because you grew up in a church tradition where the Holy Spirit was not even mentioned. Like, “He’s God. He’s God.” But He was not brought up in the church you went to. And He was treated a little bit like the relative that you hope doesn’t show up, and when he does you just are…can’t wait for him to leave.
Some of you grew up where the Holy Spirit was kind of the star of the show. Even though the Holy Spirit’s role significantly is to just point people to Jesus, He was the star. And maybe you grew up in a church where it felt a little bit like a circus, and He was the ringmaster. And as a result, you’re uncomfortable with some of these discussions.
Some of you don’t really know much about the Holy Spirit. Like, all you know is that people who believe in the Holy Spirit…it seems like they’re in one of two camps. There are those who wear tons of makeup and those who don’t wear any makeup. It’s like the Holy Spirit just said, “You’ve got to choose. So either you’re going to wear a ton of it and cake it on there or none.” And that’s all you know about the Holy Spirit.
And so I want us to understand the Holy Spirit as a person. I think for many of us this is where it begins. And if we don’t understand the Holy Spirit as a person—meaning if we just think of Him as a force, an energy, an essence—then the rest of our discussion in these next three weeks isn’t going to pick up much traction. That the person of the Holy Spirit is essential for us to understand because it’s necessary for us to have the relationship with the Holy Spirit that Scripture has called us to have.
So we’re going to let Jesus introduce us to the Holy Spirit. If you have your Bibles, you can turn to John 14. The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a person who has feelings and emotions, a person who has will and desires, a person who has intellect and thoughts. So Jesus, in John 14, 15, 16—this is the end of His life on Earth. And He’s gathered together with some of His closest followers, and He knows this is going to be really hard for them. He knows that they’re going to face some difficult challenges in the days ahead, and so He wants to reassure them that He’s not going to leave them alone. That He has to leave, but even though He’s leaving they won’t be left. And so this is where He promises the Holy Spirit.
In John 14, starting in 16, Jesus says, “[I’m going to be leaving.] But I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it isn’t looking for Him and doesn’t recognize Him. But you know Him…” (You know Him. He’s here now.) “…because he lives with you now and later will be in you” (vv. 16-17, NLT).
Jesus says, “…I will ask the Father, and the Father will give you another…” (v. 16, NLT).
I want us to kind of circle this word another because it’s significant in understanding the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “The Father will give you another”—a reference to the Holy Spirit. And this word another…there are two words that could be translated another that Jesus could’ve used. One word is heteros, which just is “another of a similar kind.” That Jesus is saying, “Look, God is going to send to you another who’s kind of like me. He’s similar to me.” The other word is allos, which means “another of exactly the same kind.” It’s even stronger than this idea of identical, right? And this is what Jesus is saying. That God will send another of exactly the same kind—“exactly like Me,” or through the lens of the Trinity, “Me in spirit form.”
And so I don’t know if you’ve known…but you probably know some identical twins. I have a friend who has an identical twin, and we went to college together. His twin went to college out of state. And I’d met his twin a few times, and it was just remarkable, right? Like, when they were with each other it messed with your mind. I mean, they just looked so exactly alike you couldn’t tell the difference. And they decided while they were in college, even though they were in different states, different colleges, that they were going to switch places and not tell anybody for a week, just to see if anyone would ever figure it out. So they were going to pull a Parent Trap. And so they switch places, and they go to each other’s classes, and they work at each other’s jobs. Professors don’t catch on. The employers don’t catch on. For the most part they pull it off—except for some of us who were good friends, right? Like…so I’m in class and my friend…I think he’s my friend…comes and sits down next to me. And I’m asking him…I don’t remember what it was about…but the way he talked…it was…something seemed off, but I didn’t know what it was. I ’m like, “Hey, man, you…? You okay? You don’t seem like yourself. You doing okay this morning?” And his twin laughed when I said that, and when he laughed, I knew it. When he laughed, I realized what had happened, right? Because they’re a lot alike if you just look at them, but if you get to know them not so much. They have different personalities, different desires, different interests, different passions, different laughs.
Well the Holy Spirit… Jesus doesn’t say, “The Holy Spirit is my identical twin. He’s coming.” It’s stronger than that. Jesus says, “He is exactly like Me.” So that we understand the personhood of the Holy Spirit by understanding the person of Jesus Christ. That Jesus teaches us what the Holy Spirit is like. And it’s easier to identify Jesus as a person because He put on skin and He walked among us and He… We know what He did and what He said. And so His life teaches us about the Holy Spirit. And when we understand the Holy Spirit as a person, we can begin to have the relationship that God has designed us to have with Him.
But here’s the problem as I see it, if we could put it this way: Our tendency is to think of the Holy Spirit as a what rather than a who. We speak of the Holy Spirit as an it rather than He. And we relate to the Holy Spirit as a force rather than a friend.
This is the problem. This is the issue. And so unless this gets cleared up, unless we can understand this dynamic, it’s going to be difficult for us to ever have the right understanding of the role the Holy Spirit wants to play in our lives.
Now one of the reasons I think we tend to think this way is just because of the name, “the Holy Spirit.” It’s just…doesn’t seem very personal, right? If you put the in front of somebody’s name…like, if that’s what we called you…the and whatever office you hold or position you’re in…it just doesn’t feel very personal. I think that’s part of the challenge. I think spirit doesn’t naturally connect to the word person for a lot of us. Like, just think of it grammatically for a second. So spirit…if that’s the noun, the pronoun for spirit is it. I mean, that’s grammatically correct, right? Like, even in the Greek spirit is neuter. It’s a word that’s neither masculine nor feminine. So in order to match your pronoun with your noun, the pronoun should be a neuter pronoun. It should be it. But when Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit in John 14, He says the Holy Spirit and spirit is neuter. But then Jesus speaks more of the Holy Spirit, and He doesn’t use neuter pronouns. He says He and Him. He uses masculine pronouns. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is a person. But we hear spirit and we naturally or intuitively think in terms of it.
I’ll probably even do this in this series…I may have already done it already. Like, our muscle memory just immediately wants to make pronouns grammatically agree with nouns. And so we say spirit and then we connect it to it. But Holy Spirit is not an it; Holy Spirit is He.
And I think…I mean, I know…this would be awkward to change the Holy Spirit’s name at this point. And it’s not really up to me—as it turns out. But I was thinking that what might help us identify more relationally with the Holy Spirit is if we named Him…I don’t know…like Steve. Let’s say Steve. So that it was like Jesus, God and Steve. And if Jesus would’ve said to the disciples, “Hey, I’m going to have to leave, but it’s okay because Steve is coming. And when He comes it’s going to be okay.” And they’re like, “Oh… So just look for Steve?” “Yeah, just look for Steve.” If we baptized people in the name of the Father, the Son and Steve… I think it might help us relate more personally. I don’t know. It may…now that I’m saying it out loud maybe it’s a bad idea. But you see what I’m saying? That our instinct…our natural inclination is to relate to the Holy Spirit as this force, as this impersonal being, when nothing could be further from the truth.
So to help us with this, as we finish up, I want to give just a few ways that we relate to the Holy Spirit.
Now typically when the Holy Spirit is preached on the focus is on what He does for us—what He does through us, what He does in us. And we’ll talk about that. Next week we’re going to talk about how we receive the Holy Spirit and what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. But I want us to spend just a few minutes talking about how we relate to Him, because I think it helps us embrace Him as a person and then allows us to have the kind of relationship that God would want.
So I’ll give you a few examples. There are plenty of them. Here are a few examples of how we relate to the Holy Spirit that help us to understand Him to be a person.
One is, the Holy Spirit can be lied to.
And when I think of lying to someone, I think of a person. That’s how we relate to Him. He can be lied to and He can be offended by those lies.
So in Acts chapter 5 we read bout Ananias and Sapphira. This is the beginning of the church. If you know their story, it’s a husband and wife, and they said they sold this property and that they were giving all the money to the church. But that wasn’t true. They were keeping a significant amount for themselves.
I don’t know if you learned this story in children’s church growing up. I did. We had a song about it, and it goes like this: “Ananias and Sapphira got together to conspire a plot to cheat the church and get ahead. They knew God’s power but didn’t fear it, tried to cheat the Holy Spirit. Peter prophesied…” This is my favorite part. “…and they both dropped dead. Uh!” And then the song goes… ‘God loves a cheerful giver. Give Him all you’ve got….”
That’s the song. That’s how I learned that story. So Ananias and Sapphira…they say they sold this property and they’re giving all the money. They’re not. The problem wasn’t that they weren’t giving all the money. The problem is that they were lying about it. That was the issue.
So in Acts 5:3 Peter confronts them and he says, “…You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.” Peter goes onto say, “Look, the issue isn’t that you didn’t give the money. It was your field. It was your money. The issue is that you lied.” And he says in verse 4, “…How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us, but you were lying to God” (NLT).
Now here’s what he does. In just this very short narrative, he uses Holy Spirit and God interchangeably (verses 3 and 4)—just revealing the divine nature of the Holy Spirit. But he also reveals the personhood of the Holy Spirit. That you’re not thinking of it this way, Ananias and Sapphira, but you are lying to the Holy Spirit. Do you hear the relationship language in that—the relationship implications? If you asked Ananias and Sapphira, “Why did you lie to the Holy Spirit?” I think they would say, “We didn’t mean to do that. We just… I mean, we just wanted people to be impressed with us and think that we were more generous than we really were. That’s all we wanted—just to appear to be a little more spiritual than maybe we really were. We didn’t mean to lie to the Holy Spirit.” Yeah, but you did.
The way maybe we could put this…one of the ways we lie to the Holy Spirit is by pretending to be more spiritual than we are.
And that gets my attention. That my hypocrisy and my pretending in an effort to impress you and make you think I’ve got things together…it’s not so innocent. It turns out it’s deeply offensive to my dear friend, Holy Spirit.
And so you attend church and you sing worship songs, and you yell and you curse in anger at home. You’re lying to the Holy Spirit. You’re not just offending…sinning against a person in your household; you’re sinning against the person in you. We take communion and we celebrate God’s grace through Jesus while we hang onto our bitterness and refuse to give grace to someone in our lives who hurt us. We say we’re going to pray for someone, but we have no intention of doing so. We act like we’re generous and sacrificial, but we’re not really sacrificing much. You tell a brother in Christ that there’s no struggle, that you’re walking in purity, and then you go home and you watch porn. You act like you’re a loving and thoughtful husband, and then you treat your wife with indifference at home. You go to a Women’s Bible Study and you talk to the ladies about your awesome marriage, and then you go home and you berate your husband. These are all ways that we pretend to be more spiritual than we really are.
Jim Elliott, the late missionary…famous missionary…points out that the accusation that Peter makes against Ananias and Sapphira is that they said they were surrendering. They said, “I surrender all,” but they didn’t. They weren’t even trying. And at that time when Jim Elliott wrote that he made the application that in churches all over the country there are people who sing the hymn, ‘I Surrender All.’” “All to Jesus I surrender. All to Him I freely give.” But they’re lying because there are these areas of their lives that they haven’t even tried to surrender: relationships, entertainment choices, financial decisions. They’re not trying to surrender. And the way he puts it… This is kind of strong, but I’m not saying it. I’ll let Jim Elliott say it. He says, “Christians don’t tell lies. They sing them.” Okay.
But what I want to drive home is this understanding that we are lying to someone. It’s not just “we’re sinning against”; we’re lying to someone—the person of the Holy Spirit.
So the Bible also teaches that the Holy Spirit can be grieved.
Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The New Living Translation says, “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live….”
Now we’ll talk more in week four about how we grieve the Holy Spirit. But I don’t know, does this resonate with you? Like, when I read that, when I understand that the way I live can bring sadness and grief to the Holy Spirit, it helps me understand Him more personally and understand the relationship dynamic that maybe I overlook. You can’t offend someone who is not a person. Like, I tried that this week. I talked to Siri. I got on my phone. I pulled it out and I said some… I ’m not going to lie… I said some pretty harsh things to her. To be honest, I felt bad, which was even weirder. But I was pretty…I was pretty hard on her, called her some names. And I told Siri…I mean, I just said, “Siri, I wish you were more like Alexa.” And I tried to really go low, but she just never seemed to care. Like, it just didn’t upset her. She just kept responding. If I had some random trivia questions in between my harsh words she answered those. She’s not a person, right? But Holy Spirit is spoken of here as someone who has feelings and emotions.
And some of you understand this. The more you know and love someone, the more power they have to hurt you and the more vulnerable you are. The more you know them, the more you love them, the more you care about them. And some of you understand this because the people you know, love and care about the most have also hurt you the most and caused you the most grief and caused you the most sadness. If you don’t know them, if you don’t care about them, if you don’t love them—then they can say what they want to say. And it might be annoying, but it doesn’t…it doesn’t cause you to grieve. So when we read here that the Holy Spirit is grieved and saddened it speaks to how much He knows you and how much He loves you and how much He cares about you. It speaks to the relationship.
Maybe you recognize this kind of idea from when you were a teenager. When I was seventeen, I was coming home late one night. So I broke curfew by a couple hours. It was like 2:00 a.m. It wasn’t the first time. And I’m walking into the door, and my dad… I kind of squeezed it open slowly. The lights were all out. I thought they were in bed. I opened up the door, and I stepped in and my dad’s just…he was just standing there waiting. I don’t know how long he had been standing there. This is before the days of cell phones. They didn’t know where I’d been, and so I walked in. He’s just standing there, and it’s kind of this very tense moment where I, you know, caught my breath. And I looked up at him, and he’s not furious. He’s not angry. It’s worse. He’s disappointed. And we stand there for a few minutes, and he says, “I’m glad you got home safe.” He turns around and walks back to bed. I don’t remember missing curfew after that. And here’s why. Before that I didn’t mind breaking a few rules. I didn’t… I thought they were silly rules anyway. They seemed unnecessary to me, so I broke some rules. It’s one thing to break some rules; it’s another thing to break a heart, right?
And so this is the difference for a lot of us when we understand religion versus the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Religion is over here saying, “Here are the rules.” And we might try to keep in line, but we don’t mind breaking a few rules. Because some of them don’t make a lot of sense to us anyway, and nobody else seems to be following the rules. But once you understand the personal nature of the Holy Spirit, you understand there’s a difference between breaking a rule and breaking a heart. It changes things when we see Him as a person.
The last thing that I would say here, as we finish up, is the Holy Spirit can be your friend.
And we’ll unpack this more in some upcoming weeks, but when Jesus is introducing the Holy Spirit to His disciples, He says, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT).
And this word Advocate…it’s capitalized. This is an identifier. You can think of this as a name for… If you don’t like Steve, Advocate works. You can think of this as a name of the Holy Spirit. He is Advocate. Now that word can be translated as Comforter, as Counselor, as Helper, and as Friend. And Jesus says, “The Father will send you another. He will send you a Friend that will be with you always.” You can know the Holy Spirit as Friend. Not as Force, not as just this essence, but as Friend.
And so, this week I want to ask you every day to just pray a simple prayer. And here’s the prayer I’d like to ask you to pray: “Holy Spirit, I want to know you personally. I want to know you better. I welcome you into my life and I want you to be my closest friend.”
Now you may have been friends with the Holy Spirit since even before I was born, or you may not even be a Christian. But can we just all agree that this week we’re going to pray this prayer that expresses a desire to know and be known by God the Holy Spirit? “Holy Spirit, I want to know you personally. I welcome you into my life and I want you to be my closest friend.” Let’s start there.
Pastor David Hall
First Church of Christ
May 24, 2020