May the Force (and More) Be With You
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May the Force (and More) Be With You
My apologies to Star Wars fans: What follows is not an analysis of the spiritual significance of a major element of the film series. The reference in this case comes from a Christianity Today article that plays off the films with the subheading “The Holy Spirit: May the Force Be with You?” This article expressed concern at increasing numbers of people who view the Holy Spirit as a force and not a person (Kevin Emmert, “New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies,” Oct. 28, 2014).
The article quoted a study by LifeWay Research that asked evangelical Christians whether they agreed or disagreed with, or didn’t know concerning, the statement, “The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.” Then 51 percent agreed. When the poll was updated in September 2016, 56 percent agreed that the Holy Spirit was a force rather than a person (Caleb Lindgren, “Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies Revisited by Researchers,” Christianity Today, Sept. 28, 2016).
This is surprising, given that evangelicals generally identify with denominations that consider God to be three coequal persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—a litmus test for orthodoxy.
Is the Holy Spirit a person or personal being? The answer, as revealed in the Bible, is no. God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are personal beings. But the Holy Spirit is not. (Our free study guide Is God a Trinity? discusses the origin and fallacy of the Trinity doctrine.)
So is the Holy Spirit a force? Yes, but there’s more to it than that. Restricting the Holy Spirit to “the force” that may be “with us” significantly limits the Spirit’s scope and work.
The essence of God is Spirit
The Holy Spirit is much more than merely a force. The Holy Spirit is the very essence of God. It speaks to God’s power to act throughout the universe and in the affairs of men. It expresses His immeasurable love for mankind and the immutable nature of the truth He set in motion to govern the universe and human relations.
“God is Spirit,” Jesus declares, “and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, emphasis added throughout). So Spirit is what God is or consists of—His essence. As man consists of flesh, so in a similar manner God consists of Spirit. Spirit and flesh are two very different substances constituting the essential nature of two very different life forms—eternal God and mortal man (compare John 3:6).
When we understand that God the Father is Spirit and that God the Son is Spirit, when we comprehend that Spirit is what God the Father and Jesus Christ consist of, the picture becomes clearer: There are two, not three, who are “God.” From the eternal past there was always God and the Word who was also God; and these two became the Father and the Son when the Word came in the flesh as Jesus Christ (John 1:1-5; (John 1:14). “I and My Father are one,” Jesus declares (John 10:30)—not literally one divine Being, but two Beings completely unified as one in thought and purpose (compare John 17:11; John 17:21-23).
And yes, the Holy Spirit is God’s power, but it is also the very essence and presence of God—of both the Father and Christ. In that sense the Spirit is personal—not a person itself but the means by which God lives among and within us, giving us unity with God.
On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for this unity to grow and expand: “Holy Father, keep through your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are . . . I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:11; John 17:20-21). Did you grasp what He asked here? Jesus requests of the Father to share with us the Spirit that They Themselves are so that we may become as They are!
Thus, both popular concepts of the Holy Spirit, whether a person of the Trinity or a mystical force, have been upstaged by God. He is and has so much more to offer!
Use it or lose its effectiveness
The Holy Spirit is the gift of God’s divine nature—His “spiritual DNA,” you might say—given to empower us and connect us to Him. But we have to use it or lose its effectiveness. We see this poignantly expressed in what the apostle Paul wrote to the evangelist Timothy.
Paul calls to remembrance the genuine faith that dwelt first in Timothy’s grandmother. And Paul remains persuaded that this faith still dwelt in Timothy (2 Timothy 1:4-5). What encouragement or exhortation can he give to Timothy? Paul gets right to the point: Use the gift! Stir it up! “Therefore, I remind you to stir up the gift of God,” Paul implores Timothy, “which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).
Then Paul contrasts fundamental human nature with the nature of the gift of God: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Fear vs. power. Fear vs. love. Fear vs. sound-mindedness. The gift of God’s Spirit has unhealthy fear outnumbered three to one. But fear is a cruel master that holds millions captive and prevents them from reaching their God-given potential.
Fear fools us. God’s Spirit provides us soundness of mind, because it is of the truth. Fear handcuffs us. God’s Spirit liberates us, because it is of the love of God. Fear paralyzes us. God’s Spirit empowers us, because it is of the supreme Power of the universe. Paul extolls the greatness of the divine gift. It has fear outflanked and outranked on every level.
The essence of God is Spirit, which Paul describes to Timothy in terms synonymous with force, godly character and right thinking—power, love and soundness of mind.
While these attributes of God are not all-encompassing, they were, in Paul’s inspired opinion, what was necessary to stoke the fires of faith in his friend and fellow minister.
We should expect no less today.
God’s Spirit of power—force
God’s Spirit of power is described in the Bible as an energy that flows—compared with wind, water, oil and fire. The Spirit of power is a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps nowhere in the Bible is this more evident than its display of wind and fire on the day of Pentecost.
Luke recounts the story: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind . . . Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:2-3).
What a dramatic display of supernatural pyrotechnics! What a powerful show! But God is not a showman; He is in the growth and people-changing business—and changed people help instill growth and transformation in the lives of others.
Let’s notice what happened next: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).
The outcome of the Spirit’s power was immediate and tangible. The multitude was first confused and then amazed. Through the power of the Spirit, Galilean fishermen became linguists speaking the languages of those who traveled to Jerusalem from as far away as Asia, Rome and Libya.
“Look,” the pilgrims from afar exclaimed, “are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our language in which we were born?” (Acts 2:7-8).
But the miracle had its detractors. “They are full of new wine,” some mocked. The claim was as fake as those who reported it. New wine on Pentecost in late spring? Around 9 a.m.? Not probable.
Peter transformed by this new power
This brought Peter to his feet: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day [about 9 a.m.]” (Acts 2:14-15).
Then he proceeded to connect the effect with the cause, quoting a prophecy of the book of Joel about the end time that had some degree of initial fulfillment when Peter spoke, God having said: “I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
With cause connected to effect and with Spirit-imbued courage, he unapologetically engaged the fascinated crowd: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him . . . you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:22-23).
Where was Peter’s spirit of fear that had caused him to deny his Lord on the eve of the crucifixion? How could he now publicly defend Him and courageously tell the people their sin?
What had changed? Peter's fear had been displaced by the power of the Spirit. “This Jesus,” Peter continued, “God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).
The resurrected Jesus had returned to the Father in His glorified state. God the Father and Jesus the Son were now pouring out the essence of Their being on people in this dramatic display of power, which produced outcomes that could be seen and heard.
Then Peter spoke to the heart of the matter: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
His courage created conviction that cut to the hearts of his hearers: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” they asked.
The spirit of power spreads
Peter knew the answer because he himself had just experienced it: “Repent [change], and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
About 3,000 people who heard repented and were baptized (Acts 2:41).
The day began with about 120 disciples receiving the Spirit, and now about 3,000 more became partakers of divine nature. These 3,000 were connected to the oneness of the Father and Son, answering Jesus’ prayer: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:20-21).
Peter was doing with the power of the Spirit what Timothy was not doing to the degree he needed to. Peter was using it effectively. He leveraged its power, which imbued him with the courage to act, and his action produced outcomes on Pentecost that forever changed people and the world.
The power of the Spirit is limitless. It overshadowed and impregnated the young virgin Mary so she could give birth to the Son of God. You can read the story in Luke 1. Five of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom in one of Jesus’ parables in Matthew 25 failed to have with them the oil representing the Spirit and were locked out of the wedding feast.
Jesus describes the power of the Spirit as waters flowing from the believer’s heart: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). So empowering is the authentic belief in Christ that “rivers of living water” will flow from the believer’s heart. It enables empowered believers to grow, produce and give beyond their physical capability.
Is the Holy Spirit the power of God? The story of Pentecost, the virgins’ oil to power the lamps, and the promise of living waters flowing from believer’s heart deliver a resounding “Yes!”
But the Holy Spirit is not just God’s power. Again, there is more.
God’s spirit of love—His character
It is a mistake to think that the Holy Spirit begins and ends as God’s power. It limits the work of that Spirit in our lives to bring us to our destiny, just like the Trinitarian dogma of a closed system containing three persons in one being excludes us from our destiny.
God’s Spirit is also a spirit of love. The Bible even says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16). This defining characteristic of God casts out fear and produces fruit.
Stated another way, power is not the only thing God poured out on the day of Pentecost. Paul explains in his letter to the congregation in Rome: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5, New Revised Standard Version).
Hope that “does not disappoint us” is an undeniable antidote for fear and despondency. But the aged apostle John provides an even more direct connection in this regard: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
The Spirit of love poured out into the believer’s heart produces a hopeful and fearless believer who courageously acts consistently with God’s character—love. This is not a theoretical theological construct. It is the practical reality of a Spirit-filled life that produces outcomes the Bible calls “fruit.”
“Love suffers long,” Paul writes to the church congregation in Corinth, “and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
Imagine being able to both give and receive these outcomes! You can because that is the Spirit’s promise, but there is more.
Love “does not rejoice in iniquity [or sin], but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:6-8).
The Spirit of love never fails to cast out fear. The Spirit of love never fails to produce outcomes beneficial to a neighbor who is shown love and to the one who shows love to him.
We must understand that the Holy Spirit is not just a force that empowers us to act. Rather it fills us with the love of God, His very nature and character. The Spirit of love is indispensable for a fearless relationship with God and man and the basis for a growth-oriented, productive life.
But Paul says there is more.
God’s Spirit of sound-mindedness—truth
The Spirit of sound-mindedness is also described in the Bible as the Spirit of truth.
Truth is the basis for sound-mindedness because the cause of a debased mind is the suppression or rejection of truth. Paul tells us the Romans “suppress[ed] the truth in unrighteousness” even though “God [had] shown it to them” (Romans 1:18-19).
Their suppression of truth had consequences: “God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28).
Truth by definition is immutable and cannot change. Truth is sound. Thinking grounded in truth produces a sound mind, but there is more—the Spirit of truth (bringing sound-mindedness) is gifted to us by God.
Listen to what Jesus promised about the Spirit of truth on the night before He died:
“I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper . . . the Spirit of truth, [which] the world cannot receive” (John 14:15-17).
“But when the Helper comes, [which] I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth . . .” (John 15:26).
“The Spirit of truth . . . will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Jesus promised the Spirit of truth to guide the minds of His followers into the soundness of “all truth.” He delivered that gift on Pentecost, and the promise extends “to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
Much more could be said about the Spirit of truth, but we come back to the questions we addressed in the beginning:
Is the Holy Spirit a person or personal being? No.
Is the Holy Spirit a force or power? Yes, but there is more to it—much more.
By giving us the Holy Spirit, God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are giving the essence of Themselves to us so that we may partake in the divine nature, fulfilling Their desire that we may all be one in Them, as the Father is in Christ and Christ is in the Father (2 Peter 1:4; John 17:21).
If you are already a recipient of this divine gift, then heed the admonition of Paul to Timothy and stir it up. If you want to know how to do that, read Paul’s instructions to Timothy in the letter.
If you have not yet received the Holy Spirit, then respond to the message of Peter: “Repent [change your thinking and stop disobeying God], and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Whatever the case, it is your responsibility to act. May the force (and more) be with you!