“I believe in the Holy Spirit”
Read: John 16:5-16
Let’s begin this weeks study with a simple and clear statement. The Holy Spirit is God. In the same way that the Son is God. In the same way that the Father is God.
There is no sense in which the Spirit is a ‘lesser god’ or simply a third party that allows God to draw near to mankind and mankind to enter the presence of God. The ecumenical theologian Hans Kung says that the Spirit “…means the personal nearness of God to human beings, as little to be separated from God as the suns rays are to be separated from the sun itself.” He is quite right.
There is sometimes a tendency to see the Spirit as the lesser of the three persons of the Trinity, the one who makes it possible for us to know God, a messenger of the divine presence, but not the divine presence itself. But as we’ve already asserted the Spirit possess the full divinity of the Godhead and so is worshipped and glorified with both the Father and the Son.
The Nicene Creed spells this out more fully than the Apostle’s Creed, saying:
And I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Lord and giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together
Is worshipped and glorified
Who spoke by the prophets.
Reflect and discuss: How do you understand or view the Holy Spirit? Do you see the Holy Spirit as being God, or do you tend to think of him as being something more like a messenger, or communicator of God, and possessing less than the divinity of the Father and Son?
Meditation: The Holy Spirit is called Ruach (f) in the Old Testament and Pneuma (m) in the New Testament – breath, spirit. Tangible yet intangible. Invisible yet powerful. As important to life as the air that we breathe. The living power and force which comes from God, to create and to destroy, bringing life or judgment.
Spend some time meditating on some of the sentences above.
The Holy Spirit is active
Throughout the history of creation the Holy Spirit of God has been an active agent in the created order. In the (non-literal) creation story in Genesis we read of the Spirit at work. In Moses and the early leaders of Israel we see the Spirit at work. In the warriors, singers, Kings, Judges, and prophets of the Old Testament we see the activity of the Spirit. In the Gospels we see in the person and ministry of Christ the Spirit is active. In the Apostles and the life of the early church we see the Spirit at work.
Reflect and give thanks: In what ways are you conscious of the activity of the Holy Spirit in your life or around you? Spend some time sharing the activity of the Spirit of which you’re aware and then together give thanks for it.
Just as the Spirit has always been active, so too the Spirit is active today. This much is hopefully evident from the previous conversation.
The Spirit of Christ
Prior to the incarnation the Spirit of God was known and experienced as a somewhat naked power. As the bearer of the Holy Spirit and the one in whom the Spirit was most fully at work, Christ changes this somewhat. No longer is the Holy Spirit known only as a ‘power’ – he is clothed with the personality and character of Christ. To quote Rev Canon Dr Michael Green:
“Jesus is the funnel through whom the Spirit becomes available to people. Jesus transposes the Spirit into a fully personal key. Jesus is the prism through whom the diffused a fitful light of the Spirit is concentrated…the Spirit is forever marked with the character of Jesus. Indeed he can be called the ‘Spirit of Jesus’ (Acts16:7)”
As the ‘Spirit of Jesus’ the task of the Holy Spirit is to universalize the presence of Christ. In the days of his flesh Jesus was limited by space and time. But with the ascension of Christ and the coming of the Spirit no barriers of space and time exist to prevent Christ’s followers being in intimate contact with him. In John 14:15-17 we learn that the presence of Christ mediated by the Spirit will be a closer communion than what the disciples experienced when they were living alongside Jesus. Before his ascension Jesus was certainly ‘with’ his followers, but with the coming of the Spirit Jesus is ‘within’ his followers.
Reflect and discuss: Do you sometimes find yourself wishing that you lived as a contemporary of Jesus? Able to see him, walk with him, talk with him? It’s tempting to think that our experience of Christ would be greater if only this were so…but Christ seems to suggest otherwise.
How do you respond to the idea that our communion with Christ through the Spirit living within us is greater and more intimate than the communion with Christ that the early disciples experienced?
Is this a new idea to you? If so how does it alter your life of faith?
The Spirit of fellowship and the Spirit of Truth
One of the particular roles of the Holy Spirit is making real and tangible the communion or fellowship of Christ body. The Church. You and I.
Rowan Williams directs our attention to the well known prayer that we call The Grace:
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all forever more
The word for fellowship (which can also be translated ‘communion’) is koinonia in Greek. A word that means ‘sharing’, “not simply in the sense of one sharing something with another by giving something, but more profoundly, sharing in the sense of having something in common…sharing a family resemblance.”
And so those in whom the Spirit of God dwells have something in common, we are held together as the body of Christ by this thing that we share and have in common – the Holy Spirit. The fellowship of the Spirit is not just that those who are Christ’s are merely introduced to each other and expected to live alongside each other – it’s far more profound than that – it’s that those who are Christ’s, and who are indwelt by the Spirit share a renewed nature and a new pattern of life.
As well as being the Spirit of fellowship the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of truth.
Read John 16:12-15
Here Jesus tells his followers that the Spirit will lead them into all the truth. This function of the Spirit is so vital that the Spirit is called ‘The Spirit of Truth’. But what does this mean?
In the simplest sense it means that the Spirit of God directs the body of Christ towards what is true. Jesus Christ said that he is “The way, the truth, and the life” and so we can say that in directing the Church towards the truth the Spirit directs the Church towards Christ. This is important as often within the Church ‘the truth’ is seen as a statement or description – but this is not the case. Jesus Christ is ‘the truth’, making truth a person not a concept or statement about a reality that exists beyond itself.
But there is more to be said about this. Sometimes ‘he will guide you into all the truth’ is taken as a description of the working of the Holy Spirit primarily in the mind of individual believers. How often have we said, or heard others saying, ‘The Spirit has revealed the truth to me’. The Spirit of Truth is often wheeled out to justify or back up a pronouncement or judgment or doctrinal assertion. But this slightly misses the point.
It misses the point in so far as the Spirit’s role in guiding into truth is a role which functions within the church corporate not just the individual. I.e the Spirit working through the body of Christ, the Church, leads the Church together into all truth because our life is corporate and not merely individual. This is why when questions of doctrine or practice or ethics surface within the church, conversations and disagreements must be voiced with humility and love, as in and through these processes the Spirit is at work guiding Gods people into ‘all truth’. It is also important to remember that no one tradition within the church can categorically lay claim to possessing ‘all truth’ and why prayerfully and humbly listening to other Christians is so important.
Reflect and discuss: Do you find it easy to prayerfully listen to other Christians who think differently to you? Or are you more concerned with making your own point of view heard? Could it be that the Holy Spirit is trying to speak to you through another member of the Church and guide you further into truth? If so, how?
Are you conscious of playing a part in the discerning of truth through the work of the Spirit within the Church? If so how? If not how might you become more involved in this important daily task?
The fruits of the Spirit
Read Galatians 5:22-25
The work of the Spirit within us has a visible outcome. Paul, talking to the church in Galatia says that the signs of the Spirit of God at work in believers are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These fruits are for all believers, not just for the few!
Reflect and pray: Are there obvious signs of the Spirit at work in your life? Are you displaying the fruits of the Spirit? If so, thank God for the work he is doing in you. If not , ask God that he may soften your heart and continue to work in you. If there are any fruits of the Spirit which you feel you lack or desire to grow in, ask the Holy Spirit to bring these to bear.
The gifts of the Spirit
Read 1Corinthians 12:1-11
There is a lot of mis-understanding surrounding the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it may be suggested that if a believer is not visibly practicing gifts of the Spirit, speaking in tongues or the like, they are in some way deficient in faith or a second class Christian. I’ve even heard it suggested in some places that if one cannot speak in tongues one isn’t a Christian! This is absolutely untrue and un-scriptural. Practicing a visible gift of the Spirit does not make one a ‘first class’ Christian or mean that in someway God has favoured that person or given them special treatment.
Likewise the opposite idea that the gifts of the Spirit died out with the Apostles also seems to lack a strong case. There is no biblical evidence to suggest that this is the case as the New Testament frequently talks about the exercise of the gifts as an ongoing part of the life of the Church.
There are a number of things regarding the gifts of the Spirit that are important to remember:
1 – The gifts of the Spirit are just that; gifts. They are not rewards. In 1Cor4:7 Paul asks “What do you have that you did not receive” (as a gift).
2 – The gifts of the Spirit are there to be used. The gifts of the Spirit are not …some kind of ornament, there to decorate you and make you a more interesting person” They are given to be used in the building up of Gods Church and the furthering of his Kingdom.
3 – Gifts of the Spirit increase with use. The parable of the talents makes this point abundantly clear. When the talents are used, they grow. If we have gifts of the Spirit, they will grow as they are used.
Reflect and discuss: Reading through the gifts of the Spirit in 1Cor12 (which is not meant to be an exhaustive list) are you aware of having one or more of these gifts from God? If so, how often and for what purpose do you use it? Could you use this gift more frequently to build up the church and bring the kingdom to bear?
If you are not aware of having any of the gifts of the Spirit from this list, are there other ways in which God has gifted you to build up his church and proclaim his kingdom? If so what are those ways and do you employ them towards this end?
Are there any of these gifts that you would like to ask God for? If so, do so now.
Further Reading: I believe in the Holy Spirit. Revd Canon Dr Michael Green.