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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRITIN 12 LESSONS
By MAX ANDERS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1995 Max Anders
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWho Is the Holy Spirit?
If you're like me, you might need a little "brushing up" on your knowledge of our solar system. There are nine planets that orbit our sun. Starting with the planet closest to the sun and moving away, we have Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
In one of my other books, I used one variation of an illustration to convey the enormous size of our solar system (30 Days to Understanding the Bible 13–14). I first heard this illustration from Chuck Swindoll years ago.
Imagine you are in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, with nothing but tabletop flat ground around you for miles. There you put down a beach ball two feet in diameter, which will represent the sun. To get a feel for the immensity of the solar system, walk about a city block and put down an ordinary BB for the first planet, Mercury.
Go another block and, for Venus, put down a small pea. Step off yet another block and put down a regular green pea, for Earth. Go a final city block from there and, for Mars, put down another, small pea. Then sprinkle some grass seed around for an asteroid belt.
We have now walked about four blocks, and we have a beach ball (sun), BB (Mercury), small pea (Venus), a regular pea (Earth), another small pea (Mars), and grass seed (asteroid belt). Now things really begin to stretch out.
Continue for another quarter of a mile. Place an orange on the ground for Jupiter. Walk another third of a mile and put down a golf ball for Saturn. Now lace up your tennis shoes and check their tread. Then step off another mile and, for Uranus, drop a marble. Go another mile and place a cherry there for Neptune. Finally, walk for another two miles and put down another BB for Pluto. Pluto is way, way out there!
Now go up in an airplane and look down. On a smooth surface almost ten miles in diameter, we have a beach ball, a BB, a small pea, a regular pea, another small pea, some grass seed, an orange, a golf ball, a marble, a cherry, and another BB. A lot of space, and only a few tiny objects!
I have learned something unusual about Pluto, our most distant planet. At the time it was discovered, no telescope was powerful enough to see it. Astronomer Percival Lowell began searching from his private observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, for an unknown planet at the far edge of our solar system. He had noticed that something unseen seemed to be influencing Uranus, the most distant planet known to us at that time. He concluded that the only thing that could be making Uranus act in such a way was if another heavenly body were exercising gravitational pull on it. He concluded that there must be another planet out there, so far away that it was as yet unseen. Some time later, his computations and deductions were vindicated when the planet was finally seen by Clyde W. Tombaugh on February 18, 1930, verifying what Lowell had suspected.
In this chapter we learn that ...
1. The Scriptures reveal the Holy Spirit to be a person, with all the characteristics of a living, personal being.
2. The Scriptures reveal the Holy Spirit to be God, with all the defining characteristics of a divine being.
3. The Scriptures reveal the Holy Spirit to be on an equal level with the Father and the Son, though distinct from them in role.
Discovering Pluto is a bit like learning about the Holy Spirit. We cannot see Him, but we know of His presence because of the undeniable influence He exerts. He didn't walk the earth, as Jesus of Nazareth did. He is not the main focus of people of all faiths who believe in God. Indeed, many who believe in God do not believe in the Holy Spirit. The only way we conclude that a Holy Spirit exists is through the teachings of Scripture and experience.
Who is the Holy Spirit? To some, He is not a person, but an impersonal force, like school spirit—religious enthusiasm, if you will. To others, He is a mystery, someone or something unknown, and, perhaps, someone or something to fear.
I remember very well the evening of September 1, 1966. It was very late, and I was sitting at the kitchen table with Jake Berger, who was telling me about Jesus and encouraging me to invite Him into my life. My greatest concern was trying to become a Christian and then not being able to pull it off. I said, "Jake, I've turned over new leaves before, and they never stayed turned over."
Jake replied, "Becoming a Christian isn't like turning over a new leaf. When you invite Christ into your life, you are born again. The Holy Spirit comes into your life and will help you live the new life Christ calls you to."
For some reason, I assumed that I ought to feel this happen. I imagined in my mind a Max-shaped Spirit sitting beside me, and as I prayed for Christ to save me and for the Holy Spirit to come into my life to help me become the person He wanted me to be and who I wanted to be, I actually felt something. What it was, I don't know, but it was extremely disconcerting. It seemed that I could feel this Max-shaped Spirit gradually slipping into me so that His outline began nearly to merge with mine, sort of like when you are focusing a camera, trying to get two identical images to merge into one. However, just as I was about to get Him completely into me, I would lose the feeling. Then I would pray louder, longer, and more intensely to try to "will" the Holy Spirit to merge with me; but He kept slipping away. I remember saying, "I've almost got Him, I've almost got Him. Oh, no, He's slipping away!" Jake tried to convince me that I might not feel anything, but I left that night feeling frustrated and not sure I was a Christian.
Why I need to know who the Holy Spirit is: 1. In order to be true to the teachings of Scripture, I need to understand who the Holy Spirit is.
2. Since He is God, I need to give Him the recognition, worship, and praise that God deserves.
3. If I do not know who the Holy Spirit is, I will not enjoy a proper relationship with Him or have His full ministry in my life.
Now, after nearly thirty years of being a Christian, I realize my concept of the Holy Spirit and His role in my salvation was based on some faulty assumptions. In spite of it all, Jesus saved me that night; the Holy Spirit came into my life that night and took pity on me, straightening out my major misconceptions over the next several years. Only heaven will get us completely straightened out. My own experience, plus twenty years in the ministry, has convinced me, however, that many of us need a few things tied down when it comes to our understanding of the Holy Spirit.
In this book, we are going to try to tie down the major loose ends of our understanding about the Holy Spirit. In doing so, we are going to try to say all the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, but we are going to try equally hard not to say more than the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. I don't have enough confidence in my own ability to produce "ideas" about the Holy Spirit. I'm going to stick with the Bible. In this chapter, we want to begin with the basics, answering three questions.
Why Believe the Holy Spirit Is a Person?
The Scriptures reveal the Holy Spirit to be a person, with all the characteristics of a living, personal being.
My brother and his wife had two children early in their marriage—a boy and a girl. On the birth of his third child, my brother quipped, "Well, I always said I wanted three children—one of each: a he, a she, and an it." His tongue was firmly in his cheek. We all got a good laugh out of it, though a couple of grandmothers didn't see the humor in it. However, thirteen years later, somewhere around his fortieth birthday, he became the father of a fourth child, so his whole "plan" collapsed.
(The "it," by the way, went on to be an outstanding athlete, musician, and scholar, graduating from a prestigious college magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. In that sense, he did get an "it." No one else in our family, male or female, has come close to that kind of academic achievement. We were all very proud of her! An uncle's pride [and family harmony] requires me to mention that the other three children are outstanding, too! I just wanted you to know that the "it" turned out just fine.)
Much as my brother wanted "a he, a she, and an it," many people see God, in the Trinity, as a He, a He, and an It. I suspect the problem goes back to the King James translation of the Bible. God is a masculine word in the original language of the Bible, Jesus is a masculine word, but Spirit is a neuter word, a concept rather foreign to English. The word is literally "breath" or "wind," though it was also translated "spirit" or "ghost" in A.D. 1611 when the King James Bible was translated. As a result, the King James Version refers to the Holy Spirit as "it." This, plus general theological uncertainty about the Holy Spirit, has caused some to be confused as to whether He is a real person. He is, of course, and many of the more recent translations of the Bible refer to Him as "He" rather than "It," helping to dispel the impression created by the King James Version.
One key reason why we believe in the "personality" of the Holy Spirit is that He has the characteristics of a person. He has intellect, emotion, and will. An example of His "intellect" is found in 1 Corinthians 2:10–11, where the Spirit is said to "know the things of God." As hard as the brightest among us struggle to know the things of God, we would have to admit that if the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God (the Father), He must have intellect. An example of His "emotions" is found in Ephesians 4:30, where we read that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit. You cannot grieve an impersonal force. Finally, an example of His "will" is found in 1 Corinthians 12:11, where we read that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts "as He wills."
In addition to His possessing the characteristics of personhood—intellect, emotion, and will—the Holy Spirit does things that only a person would do. The Holy Spirit teaches us, He prays for us, He performs miracles, He comforts us and guides us. These are things a person, not an impersonal force, would do. And though the word spirit is neuter in the original language of the Bible, sometimes when a pronoun is used to refer to the Holy Spirit, the pronoun He is used (John 16:13–14) instead of the expected It. This was no mistake on the part of the writers of the Bible. It was a deliberate reference to the Holy Spirit as a person.
Today, those who do not believe the Holy Spirit is a person usually believe that He is merely a force emanating from God the Father. This position can be held only by mentally ripping some verses out of your Bible, pretending they aren't there. A high view of all of Scripture will lead a person unfailingly to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a person.
Why Believe the Holy Spirit Is God?
The Scriptures reveal the Holy Spirit to be God, with all the defining characteristics of a divine being.
Saying that the Holy Spirit is a person does not say that He is God. Yet, there is ample additional evidence in Scripture to verify that He is divine. The most direct is found in Acts 5:3–4. Two converted Jews, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold a piece of land they owned and brought the proceeds of the sale to give to the fledgling church in Jerusalem. They kept some of the money for themselves and gave the rest to the apostle Peter. However, they apparently lied to Peter, telling him that they were giving all the proceeds of the sale of the land to the church. Perhaps they wanted to make themselves look more spiritual. Peter learned of their deception and said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Peter declares that to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God.
In addition, the Holy Spirit has three defining characteristics of God: He is all-knowing (omniscient), all-powerful (omnipotent), and everywhere simultaneously (omnipresent). We see His omniscience in 1 Corinthians 2:10–11, "God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God."
We read in the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis that the Spirit participated with God in the creation of the world, implying His omnipotence.
Finally, concerning the omnipresence of the Spirit, the writer of many of the psalms, King David, wrote, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell [Sheol, the netherworld], behold, You are there" (Psalm 139:7–8).
The Holy Spirit was responsible for the miraculous conception of Jesus, restrains sin in the world, and gives spiritual gifts to Christians. The complete evidence from Scripture leaves little doubt that the Holy Spirit is a divine person.
Why Believe the Holy Spirit Is a Member of the Trinity?
The Scriptures reveal the Holy Spirit to be on an equal level with the Father and the Son, though distinct from them in role.
When I was growing up, I had two brothers, one two years older than I and one four years older. They were always bigger than I was and knew more than I did, so I concluded that I was short and stupid. I was neither, but no one told me that. We lived in a very small town, and one day when I was about six years old and my brothers were eight and ten, the new grocery store owner asked me my name.
"Just call me Shorty," I said in dead earnestness.
As it turned out, all three of us are now either a little over or a little under six feet tall, and each of us possesses advanced knowledge in a specialized area. It was such a revelation to me when I finally realized I was not short or stupid. There is much more equality among us now that we have grown up.
A similar point is true with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. An immature understanding of them might conclude that God the Father is the biggest and best, Jesus is second, and the Holy Spirit brings up the rear. A more mature understanding, however, leads us to a different conclusion. Any appearance of inequality among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit results from differences in their roles that make one more prominent than another. The differences in role, however, do not mean inequality in personhood. A husband and a wife have different roles, but before God they are equal.
As God, the Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity. We deal more fully with the Trinity in the first volume in this series, on the subject of "God." In historical Christian teaching, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one God, existing in three persons. Though the terminology gets tricky to understand, theologians and Bible teachers say God was "one God in substance but three in subsistence." Our finite minds, corrupted by the ravages of sin, cannot fully comprehend this, even though the Bible teaches it. God is three persons and yet one God. It is an "antinomy," which means, "two apparently mutually exclusive truths that must be embraced simultaneously." The truths are not really mutually exclusive, or else God would be the author of nonsense, which He isn't. But with our limited information and intellectual capacity, they appear mutually exclusive. With that understanding, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are the three members of the Trinity.
Excerpted from WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT by MAX ANDERS Copyright © 1995 by Max Anders. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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