Holy Spirit Intro – part 1September 12, 2017
(Ruach HaKodesh, Session 1a)
This is the start of an in-depth series on Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. In this session we will try to answer why this is an important topic, and look at some of the limitations in studying the Holy Spirit. We will also identify some vital background information and useful tools to help us understand this topic.
The following is a condensed version of the audio teaching. You can also subscribe to this podcast here.
The Bible starts out with these verses:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)
Right from the beginning we see God’s Spirit, God’s presence, involved in the created world and participating in the creation of that world. It is that same presence that, through Messiah, gives us life and makes us into “new creations”.
Anchor Bible Dictionary defines the Holy Spirit as “the manifestation of divine presence and power.”F. N. Horn, “Holy Spirit” in Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3:260. The Holy Spirit is more than just God’s presence; it is God’s presence in us.
Why This Is an Important Topic
I believe there are two reasons why we need to study this topic:
- It is an important topic
- It is a misunderstood topic
I believe this is a very important topic. It is central to our faith. Paul says,
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16)
“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Rom 8:8-9)
We need the Holy Spirit. We need God’s presence in our lives. We need His presence in our communities.
Yet it is also a very misunderstood topic, and sadly there is a lot of confusion out there. The Holy Spirit ought to be one of the greatest sources of unity amongst believers. Paul says, “Endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” After all, “there is one body and one Spirit…” (Eph 4:3-4). But instead, the Spirit has become a huge source of disunity amongst believers. There is something grossly wrong with that.
In 1949, A W Tozer wrote: “Right now we are in an age of religious complexity.”A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications), p. 17. I think that is even more true today. Believers argue over the person of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, how the Spirit is manifested, how to be filled with the Spirit, and what it looks like to live a Spirit-filled life. In fact, there are many conceptions of the Holy Spirit and what it means to be spiritual that are unbiblical. There are many counterfeits out there.
We need God’s Spirit. Most believers would be able to agree with that statement. But it begs another question: What does that look like? That’s where the agreement breaks down. It is tragic to see how that which was meant to be a powerful source of unity for us has become, in many cases, a source of disunity. But I believe the Bible does contain answers for us, and it is our prerogative to dig into topics like this.
The Limitations of Studying the Holy Spirit
How can you study God? We cannot put Him in a test tube and analyze His attributes and qualities, and how He reacts with various substances. God is so much bigger than us. We could spend a lifetime learning about Him and still only scratch the surface. We will never know God fully. However, we must keep in mind that you do not have to know God fully in order to know Him truthfully. We may not be able to put Him in a test tube, but we can trust that what the Scriptures say about Him is true.
Some might argue that the Holy Spirit is not something you can or should study, but rather He is something you should experience. While it is true that our faith in God needs to be practical and not just theoretical, we are also called to be diligent students of the Word. As Paul exhorts Timothy, “Present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15)
Another limitation for studying the Holy Spirit is that we are all affected by our various backgrounds and influences. None of us approach this topic from a purely unbiased, objective standpoint. We all have stakes in this topic, and for some of us those stakes are dear to heart. We all have different filters through which we view the world, and through which we understand God, our faith, and the Scriptures.
An example of different backgrounds and influences is the disagreement between “Charismatic” and “non-Charismatic” believers. There has been, at times, bitter animosity between these two camps. Some of this animosity can be seen in the John MacArthur book, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship.Nelson Books, 2013. MacArthur writes from an “anti-Charismatic” standpoint. In response, Dr. Michael Brown wrote Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire,Creation House, 2015. which offers a defense of the Charismatic spectrum.
My point in this series is to try to avoid these politics. In my opinion, both sides have something to offer, as well as things to avoid. This is not to belittle the issues that exist, but I think that focusing on dividing lines is ultimately an unhelpful way to approach this topic. I hope to keep our focus on the truth, rather than on falsehood. I don’t want us to get too distracted by labels and allegiances.
The problem is that so often we develop a stance that is largely reactionary. When other people start pushing in a direction that we believe is imbalanced, we tend to react by pushing in the opposite direction. In trying to bring balance we become imbalanced ourselves. There is a danger in always defining yourself in opposition to that which you perceive to be false. We must avoid that sort of polarization.
Tools for Approaching This Topic
We all have theological presuppositions. In some circles, “theology” is considered almost a bad word. But the fact is that each of us has theology, whether we realize it or not. And our theology affects the way we think of God, the Bible, and our faith. It affects the way we pray, the way we interpret Scripture, and the way we view the Holy Spirit. There are theological undercurrents that may be subconsciously affecting us without us even realizing it.
At the same time, we each have different personalities that affect the way we experience God and the world. Some of us are more thinking-oriented, and some more feeling-oriented. There is nothing wrong with either; we need both kinds of people in the world. But those differences can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and disagreements.
I have designed two charts that attempt to illustrate how our theology and personal orientation affect us. They affect the way we understand our faith in general, but also the topic of the Holy Spirit in particular. The far left and far right columns represent extreme positions. Most of us would fall somewhere along the two middle columns.
The point of these charts is not to say that one side is right and the other side is wrong. Rather, the point is that either side can lead to extremes that are unhealthy. Emphasizing God’s prerogative at the expense of man’s responsibility is unhealthy, and vice versa. Similarly, emphasizing either feelings or rational logic too much can be a problem.
Realizing where we fit on these charts may help us understand some of the ways we as believers differ from one another. This can help us understand why there are such strong differences of opinion and practice regarding the Holy Spirit. Each of us approaches the Bible with certain lenses and filters in place, and it is helpful for us to identify them.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||F. N. Horn, “Holy Spirit” in Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3:260.|
|2.||↑||A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications), p. 17.|
|3.||↑||Nelson Books, 2013.|
|4.||↑||Creation House, 2015.|