Most people don't understand the working of the Holy Spirit. As a result, they don't recognize its power to transform our lives.
At this time of year almost 2,000 years ago, a miraculous, momentous event occurred—the New Testament Church was founded on the Feast of Pentecost. What made this occurrence so astounding—and Acts 2 records that the circumstances of that day were truly dramatic—was the giving of God's Spirit to the followers of Jesus Christ as He had promised (John:14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-14; Acts:1:4-5, 8).
What is this Holy Spirit that came on Christ's followers that day? Why did these things happen? What should we learn from those strange occurrences?
To understand the events, we must first understand what the Holy Spirit is and what it is not. To grasp that, we must understand what the Holy Spirit does.
What, then, does the Bible teach about the Holy Spirit?
Concepts of 'spirit'
We must first consider the word spirit as it is used in the Bible. Just what is spirit, and what does that word mean?
Four words—two Hebrew and two Greek—are translated "spirit" in the Bible. Of these four, two are used only twice: the Hebrew word neshamah, which means "breath," and the Greek word phantasma, which means "phantom" or "apparition." The other two words are the Hebrew ruach and the Greek pneuma, each used several hundred times . Understanding these words is crucial to understanding the Holy Spirit.
Ruach means "breath, air; strength; wind; breeze; spirit; courage; temper; Spirit" ( Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1985, p. 240). Of the 378 times it is used in the King James Version, it is translated "Spirit" or "spirit" 272 times, "wind" 92 times, "breath" 27 times and in other ways 27 times. Ruach is used similarly in most other Bible versions.
The concepts of "wind," "breath" and "spirit" were all related in biblical thought and language. We see these intertwined in the use of ruach in Ezekiel 37, which describes a great multitude of people being resurrected and restored to physical life to understand God's truth. In this fascinating account, what is even more extraordinary is the way ruach expresses the connection of these ideas. To illustrate, ruach is inserted wherever it appears in this passage.
"The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit [ ruach ] of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones . . . He said to me, 'Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath [ ruach ] to enter into you, and you shall live' . . .
"So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath [ ruach ] in them. Also He said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath [ ruach ], prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath [ ruach ], "Thus says the Lord God: 'Come from the four winds [ ruach ], O breath [ ruach ], and breathe on these slain, that they may live.' " So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath [ ruach ] came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
"Then He said to me, . . . "Prophesy and say to them, . . . 'I will put My Spirit [ ruach ] in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,' says the Lord" (Ezekiel:37:1, 4-5, 7-11, 14).
Here we see ruach translated three ways in one chapter: Spirit (referring to God's Spirit), breath and wind.
'Spirit' in Greek
What is the meaning of pneuma? This word "primarily denotes 'the wind' (akin to pneo, 'to breathe, blow'); also 'breath'; then, especially 'the spirit,' which, like the wind, is invisible, immaterial and powerful" (ibid., p. 593). It is used 385 times in the King James Version and is usually translated "Spirit" or "spirit."
Look at pneuma. We can see that Greek root in several modern English words such as pneumonia, which is an acute infection of the human respiratory system; pneumatic, referring to something powered by air pressure; and the science of pneumatics, which studies the properties of air and other gases. All of these have to do with air, breathing, wind or being powered by air. When you breathe, what is your body doing? It is creating wind going into and out of the body; breathing is simply creating wind on a small scale.
Pneuma is the equivalent of the Hebrew ruach. In Luke:4:18, where Christ read from Isaiah:61:1, the account substitutes pneuma for the Hebrew ruach in referring to "the Spirit [ ruach/pneuma ] of the Lord." The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (known commonly as the Old Testament) prepared in the third and second century B.C. and used in the time of the early Church, translated ruach as pneuma (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, 1992, p. 1185).
We see the same connection between spirit, breath and wind continued in the New Testament. Although the Greek (unlike the Hebrew) has a different word for wind ( anemos ), pneuma and its related verb pneo are translated "breath" (2 Thessalonians:2:8; Revelation:11:11), "wind" (John:3:8; Acts:27:40) and "blow" (Luke:12:55).
Jesus Christ made this connection Himself. Without the understanding of this background, details of the incident in which Jesus appeared to His followers after His resurrection are puzzling. After Jesus showed them the wounds in His hands and side, verifying that He had indeed been raised from the dead, John records that Jesus said: " 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit [ pneuma ] ' " (John:20:21-22).
Earlier He had told them He would send them a "helper" and a "comforter," the Holy Spirit. Here He repeats that promise. He also demonstrates the nature of the Spirit that He would send: It would be like a breath, like a wind, something they couldn't see, but they would be influenced by its power.
And this is indeed what happened.
Dramatic evidence of God's Spirit
In Acts 2 we read of the fulfillment of the promise that the Holy Spirit would come to them. "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts:2:1-4).
The sound that accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit was that of a rushing, mighty wind —not the sound of a trumpet or a shout, sounds used elsewhere in the Bible in describing miraculous events (1 Corinthians:15:52; 1 Thessalonians:4:16). The sound was of wind, again demonstrating the connection between wind and spirit.
Why does this account describe the sound of wind, but not the wind itself? Apparently they heard a powerful sound akin to a tornado, typhoon or hurricane but didn't experience the force of the wind; there was no debris flying through the air, no roofs being blown off. Why wasn't there an actual wind? Because the wind needed to make that sound would have been incredibly destructive, demolishing buildings and injuring people. God's Spirit isn't destructive. That would have distracted from or overshadowed the positive miracles that took place there that day. Thus there was sound loud enough to be heard throughout Jerusalem (verses 5-6), but not a wind of corresponding force in the house in which they had gathered.
These are some of the concepts involved in the words translated "spirit" in the Bible. They do revolve around wind, breath and spirit, but not around the Holy Spirit as a specific person. This becomes more clear as we examine what this Spirit would do in the lives of those who received it.
What did Jesus Christ say about this Spirit? What would it do or give to those who received it?
In Acts 1 we read of another of Christ's appearances to His followers after His resurrection. A vital question burned in their minds: "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (verse 6). Jesus then refocused their thinking from when He would return to the mission He had in store for them: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (verses 7-8).
Jesus Christ said His followers would "receive power" when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and directly connected with that power would be their work of being witnesses of Him, starting in Jerusalem, then spreading throughout Judea and Samaria and ultimately to the end of the earth. The book of Acts records the beginning of that mighty work with Christ's followers receiving the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. Then, empowered by that Spirit, they went out proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom.
Christ made it clear that the Holy Spirit is connected with power. The Greek word translated "power" is dunamis. It is translated "power," "mighty work," "strength," "miracle," "might," "virtue" and "mighty." It is the same Greek root from which we get modern English words like dynamic, which means active, forceful and energetic; dynamo, which is a device for generating electric power; and dynamite, which is an explosive of great power, energy and force. These give us a sense of the power that would result from the Holy Spirit being given to the early Church.
Writing to his fellow minister Timothy, Paul describes the Spirit given to the Church: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God [His Spirit] which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power [ dunamis ] and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy:1:6-7).
God's Spirit is not a spirit of fear or wanting to hide, to pull back, to cower in fear and shame. It is the opposite: a spirit of power —of activity, energy, dynamism—and a spirit of deep, godly love and a sound, rational, self-controlled mind.
The Spirit of power at work
That Spirit enables us to be like Jesus Christ, to have the same power available to us that Jesus Christ had in Him. Luke:4:14-15 describes that power at work in His ministry: "Then Jesus returned in the power [ dunamis ] of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all."
In Acts:10:38 Peter sums up Jesus Christ's ministry, showing that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."
We see here that the Holy Spirit and power are synonymous. That holy power enabled Christ to perform His mighty miracles of doing good and healing during His earthly, physical ministry. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God's power actively working in His servants.
The power of the Spirit wasn't exclusive to Jesus Christ or the apostles. This power was available to all members of the Church, and they were to use it. Paul wrote to the church in Rome: "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans:15:13). He goes on to describe what this power of the Holy Spirit would enable them to do and become: "Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another" (verse 14).
Paul said that this same power enabled him to preach the gospel. In verse 19 he writes of the things Christ had accomplished in him "in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ."
In 1 Corinthians:2:4-5 Paul writes that his "speech and . . . preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [ dunamis ], that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power [ dunamis ] of God." Other verses, such as Luke:1:17, 35, Romans:1:4 and 1 Thessalonians:1:5. discuss the connection between the spirit and power.
The Spirit of revelation
God's Spirit provides another kind of power as well. "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.' But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit . . . No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit [which] is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (1 Corinthians:2:9-12).
Paul tells us here that God's Spirit is the source of divine revelation, the power by which humans can understand and grasp spiritual concepts and principles mentioned in God's Word.
Not everyone can understand these things. There must be a calling involved (John:6:44; 1 Thessalonians:2:12). God must call us and reveal them to us through the Holy Spirit working within our minds to help us understand.
Not only does God's Spirit help us to understand His Word, but it inspired the original writers of the Bible. Referring to the many prophecies recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, the apostle Peter wrote that "prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter:1:21) .
Continued understanding through the Spirit
Before His death Jesus told His disciples that this process would continue, that God's Spirit would help them see and understand things they had never seen or understood before. He told them that He would leave, "but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, [which] the Father will send in My name, [it] will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John:14:26).
God's Spirit did exactly what Christ said it would. The disciples grew in spiritual understanding, and with that understanding the four Gospels were written. The disciples did not take copious notes as they followed Jesus, writing down everything He said. Nor did they begin writing immediately; apparently the four Gospels were written during a span from about 20 to 60 years after Christ's death.
Two of the Gospel writers, Mark and Luke, weren't even among the original 12 disciples chosen by Christ. They apparently wrote their accounts based on the eyewitness testimony of the disciples and others who saw the events recorded in the Gospels occur. God's Spirit "brought to remembrance" the things Jesus Christ had said and done, guiding the disciples to later understand their significance and record these things for us.
It is evident to the reader of those accounts that the disciples lacked spiritual understanding while these events were taking place. It wouldn't have done them any good to write the Gospels then. It wasn't until many years later, after they had received God's Spirit and been converted, that they came to understand the significance of Christ's teachings and wrote down that understanding. Just as God inspired the writers of the "Holy Scriptures" (2 Timothy:3:15-17), so He inspired the apostles, through His Spirit, in their writings.
The example of Peter's powerful sermon in Acts 2 compared with his earlier denial of Christ shows how effectively the Holy Spirit worked in the life of this apostle—not to mention the other disciples who equally lacked conviction and understanding before the coming of God's Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
"Bring to remembrance" also has to do with the work of God's Spirit in the individual; there is still need for its work in our minds. We are exhorted to read and study the Scriptures for knowledge of God's truths and way of life. Then, as we go about our lives, God's Spirit dwelling in us leads and guides us, bringing to remembrance the principles and laws from God's Word we need so we can make right choices.
Growth in understanding over time
Jesus Christ said that the Holy Spirit would "teach [His disciples] all things." That process wasn't instantaneous; it took place over years. Just as we do, they learned as they went, gradually beginning to see and understand things they had never seen before.
But it took time. It was years before they realized that gentiles, too, could be saved and take part in God's Kingdom. Then it took several more years before they understood that gentiles didn't have to be circumcised to be saved. More years passed before they realized that Jesus Christ wasn't going to return in their lifetimes. They never did understand when Christ would return—just that He would come back, and that they needed to be spiritually ready.
God's Spirit taught them all things. It gave them understanding that they had never had—understanding that would be revealed to them supernaturally from God through the power of the Spirit.
That process continues with us. At conversion, when we receive the Holy Spirit, God doesn't teach us everything at once. We start out on the milk of the word. When we can handle that, we move on to stronger and stronger meat, with progressively more understanding possible through God's Spirit.
God's Spirit leads to change
God's Spirit leads to transformation. Added spiritual understanding, revelation and power lead to something else in the lives of those given God's Spirit: change.
Paul graphically describes the lives of those who live apart from God's Spirit: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians:5:19-21, New International Version).
Then Paul contrasts this with another way of life:"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (verses 22-23).
What do these words mean? Love is concern for the well-being of others. Joy is "a feeling or state of great delight or happiness, as caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying . . ." Peace is a condition of harmony and tranquillity with others, free from anxiety. Long-suffering is patience, which means bearing provocation, pain or annoyance without complaint. Kindness is showing considerate, benevolent or compassionate behavior toward others. Goodness is exhibiting generosity, moral excellence and virtue. Faithfulness is to be reliable, loyal, trusted and believed. Gentleness is to be kind, polite and courteous. Self-control is to stay in charge of one's own thoughts, own actions and feelings.
God's Spirit plays a vital role in our lives. It dwells within Christians, allowing a miraculous transformation to take place.
A great transformation
Paul talks about this transformation in Romans 8, again emphasizing the two ways to live: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, [set their minds on] the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace . . . But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His . . . But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [which] dwells in you" (verses 5-6, 9, 11).
God's Spirit enables the ultimate change to take place: for carnal, selfish humans to become converted in this life and ultimately be transformed into God's very children, changed into immortal, glorified sons of God! GN