Have you ever wondered about the Holy Spirit? Have you ever had questions about it? Personally, I find it easier to think about Jesus and God than I do the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit- a confusing topic! And it’s confusing for most people, so if you find the Holy Spirit confusing or mysterious, you’re in good company. I remember a number of years ago a friend of mine and I were talking. She had grown up in a Christian home and regularly went to church. She began talking about her “holy spirit.” The first time she said it I let it go, thinking she had just misspoke. But she kept repeating, “my holy spirit.” I asked her about what she meant and she said, “We all have a holy spirit in us, don’t we?”
Well, no. We don’t! We all have a spirit, but it is not a “holy spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the unique third person of the Trinity! She had confused having a spirit and perhaps even having the Holy Spirit living and working inside us with each person having a holy spirit. But the Holy Spirit is unique. There is only one. The Holy Spirit is God. We are not.
So the Holy Spirit can be a confusing concept. It is not easy to understand the nature of God. The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not easy to grasp! In fact, Muslims often accuse Christians of believing in 3 gods, not one. Muslims believe that the Trinity, though, is not Father, Son and Spirit but God, the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus. So they get it completely wrong, not even mentioning the Holy Spirit.
We are going to begin to chip away at the mystery of the Holy Spirit today. We are going to spend the next couple weeks looking specifically at the Holy Spirit, beginning with the Spirit in the Old Testament. Many of us only think of the Spirit in terms of the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit descended on the disciples as tongues of flame over their heads and they began speaking in multiple languages. But the Spirit was present long before Acts! The Spirit has been part of God for all of eternity and, as we will see, the Spirit has had an active role in the world since creation. The nature and degree of the Spirit’s activity in the world changed dramatically on the Day of Pentecost, but it did not begin on that day!
“When God designed the great and glorious work of recovering fallen man… he appointed… two great means” or components to accomplish that goal: the giving of his Son for humanity and the giving of his Spirit to humanity. [John Owen, The Holy Spirit, p. 21] The Son gave his life as a ransom for many. The Spirit is given to God’s people to build up the church, to purify his people, bringing new life to them and renewing them to reflect God’s nature to the world.
Because of the importance of the role of the Spirit in the world and in the church, not to mention the Christian life, we would be wise to study the Spirit, to learn about the Spirit so as to better learn from the Spirit. But beyond that, we also need to learn about the Spirit so as to recognize the Spirit and not to be lead astray. John tells us to test the spirits, plural. Why? Because there are many false prophets out there seeking to lead us astray. He says in 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
The work of the Holy Spirit is wonderful and spectacular. Because of that, there are those who would seek to counterfeit the Spirit for their own gains. These include both people and Satan. So John warns us not to believe everything or everyone who claims to be of the Spirit. Instead, we are to test them to ensure that they are truly the Holy Spirit from God. How are we to recognize the Holy Spirit, though, if we know nothing about him? [pic] When bank tellers are taught how to spot counterfeit money, it is by teaching them to know authentic money really, really well. Sure, they may be taught to look for some particular characteristics of specific counterfeit bills, but in general their ability to spot false bills is by knowing true bills really well. In the same way, if we are to recognize counterfeit spirits, we need to get to know the true Spirit really, really well. The best place to begin that work is (drumroll please) the Bible! That may sound like an obvious answer, but it’s surprisingly uncommon. Too often we are given evidence in the form of supposed miracles, or what feels good, or what we think would be in keeping with God’s character, but not often are we shown how the work of various spirits conforms to scripture.
So with that in mind, let’s begin at the beginning- Genesis 1. In fact, Genesis 1:2, the very second verse of the entire Bible! Who knew that the Spirit showed up so soon?
We are all familiar with the first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But how familiar are we with the next verse? “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”Right from the beginning, we see the Spirit at work in creation!
Before we go any further, though, a word about the word spirit. Today, we struggle to define the soul or spirit. We live in an age dominated by science which deals explicitly with the physical. This means we do not have many tools to discuss the spiritual. So we struggle to define “spirit.” In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for spirit is the word for “wind” or “breath.” The idea is air in motion or “that which moves but is not seen.” [Owen, p. 33] This means that translators are faced with a dilemma. When they come across a phrase like “the breath of God” do they translate it “breath of God” or “Spirit of God”? Usually it is the context which determines how they translate it to English, but what it means for us is that there are times we need to be aware that the idea of the breath of God may actually be a reference to the Holy Spirit! We are going to see that in our texts today. Furthermore, we need to be alert for references to wind being used in a spiritual context because that, also, can be a reference to the Holy Spirit. (Think again of Acts 2- the tongues of flame were preceded by a great wind!)