given on Sunday, July 8, 2012
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make noise? This is just one of those questions people ask in fun; but also this is a question to ponder and to argue with deep-seeded thinkers. Questions like this are used in schools to develop higher order thinking skills, to create inquisitive minds, or to stimulate a conversation. The same type of questions creates long, evenings of debate at social gatherings.
Abstract ideas easily frustrate a person who lives in a concrete world and struggles to understand non-materialistic concepts. Is it any wonder when someone mentions the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit that debates spring up around it, too? Even the name creates confusion—Holy Ghost to some while others comfortably use Holy Spirit. How does one explain this third element of the triune?
The answers to these questions are particularly difficult in a society that is more materialistic, more secular, and more skeptical than it was 100, 200, or even 400 years ago. Americans celebrated another 4th of July this week, but the society we live in today is vastly different than in 1776.
As Christians, we need to be able to put into words exactly what Christianity is, what the triune God is, and what the Holy Spirit/Ghost is. Skeptics demand physical proof as clear evidence of Christianity, yet faith is an abstract concept itself. The evidence is in the outcomes of living a Christian life. The evidence is in the relationships of Christians to their family, their friends, their co-workers, and their enemies. The evidence is an intangible quality that draws others to them.
The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, synonyms or interchangeable names, is visible in the relationships as well as in the actions of Christians. The Holy Ghost is God’s presence within us; it is the tool that we use to act. Holy Ghost is a tangible being that is proven over and over by the acts of Christians everywhere.
Evidence: the outpouring of people racing to Joplin, the firefighters working around the clock right now trying to control forest fires, the neighbors pouring out to locate missing children, neighbors, aging seniors or complete strangers, the first responders to accidents, the sole individual who hears the cry of a lost child in a store. The list of Christians who respond is evidence of the Holy Ghost in action. It is the tool that we use to do the seemingly impossible as well as the simplest action of a hug.
Remember that looking at the world through God’s eyes allows us to apply that simple law of loving one another whether we know someone personally or whether someone is a complete stranger. The Holy Spirit exists to provide us the ability, the resources, and the action to serve. God’s dream of a world of humans who live harmoniously in his garden is our dream, too.
Back to the questions, though: What is the Holy Ghost? Who is the Holy Spirit? Why do we need the Holy Ghost? As Christians, we know that with the Holy Spirit, we can continue to demonstrate God’s love. We can do whatever we can for all those we can in as many ways as we can—if we allow the Holy Ghost to work through us.
The Apostles and the earliest disciples had a man, Jesus Christ, to teach them how to live out the New Covenant. God provided a concrete means of teaching the earliest believers how to live under the New Covenant, under one simple law rather than the volumes of law the Israelites created. When the society surrounding the first converts felt challenged, the physical being of God was destroyed—Jesus was crucified.
At Pentecost, which was a traditional harvest celebration in the Jewish culture, the Holy Spirit baptized the Apostles and early disciples so that they were equipped to continue Jesus’ work. The Holy Spirit replaces the second element of God, the human being Jesus Christ. This third being may not be tangible, but is evidenced by the work of Christians then and now.
According to the Apologetics Study Bible article, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by Dave Sterrett, there are five answers to that question:
- the Holy Spirit is fully God,
- the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force,
- the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Son and the Father
- the Holy Spirit indwells Christians; and
- we learn that God gives the Holy Spirit to anyone who believes in Jesus.
Wow! Not just one answer, but five answers to the question of “Who is the Holy Spirit?” Sterrett also references Bible verses from both the Old and the New Testaments to demonstrate that the Holy Ghost has and continues to be part of the triune God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is just as mysterious and complex as God because they are one in the same.
Beginning with just the second verse in Genesis, Sterrett points out the Holy Spirit was included:
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. (the NIV)
He continues with references from Job and Psalms. Even a review a concordance shows even more references to the Spirit. Of course, one can expand the research by looking for additional terms: Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Counselor, Friend, Tongues of Fire, Breath, Wind, and so on.
Looking at the references in John:14-16, I found the arguments for the Holy Spirit parallels those in Luke’s writings:
John 14:14-18: 15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
John 14:25-26: 25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 15:26-27: 26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
John 16:5-15: 5 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt[g] in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
The arguments are all there, in the Bible, so why the questions: Who is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Ghost mean? How do we know there is a Holy Spirit? What evidence is there that the Holy Ghost is a presence among us even today?
We may live in the 21st century, in a society filled with skeptics and non-believers, but the evidence exists all around us. The Holy Spirit is present. Take courage in this understanding and step out knowing you are equipped to do God’s work.
In Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix: Solo—an uncommon devotional, on day 246 he refers to Acts 4:24-31.
This excerpt primarily is a prayer that we can still use today. In verse 23 he begins with the connection to the Old Testament, “By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David . . .” Then at the end of the prayer in verse 31, Luke describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit and how it equipped the Apostles and earliest disciples:
While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Words with fearless confidence.
Today we may not feel the church tremble and shake, but I know the Holy Spirit is present and working through us. I know what fearless confidence is.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We know you have commissioned us
to continue making disciples of Christ,
to transform this world through the New Covenant.
We hesitate all too often thinking we cannot do it.
We fear that we do not have what it takes to do the work.
Thank you, too, for the gift of the Bible.
With these tools and prayer, we know that we can
Fulfill our callings with fearless confidence. –Amen