The Holy Spirit: God's Power at Work

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The Holy Spirit

God's Power at Work

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MP3 Audio (23.34 MB)


The Holy Spirit: God's Power at Work

MP3 Audio (23.34 MB)

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; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-14; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 1:8).

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.

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, 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.

What is the meaning of the Greek word 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.”

We can see the Greek root of this word in 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, Luke substitutes pneuma for the Hebrew ruach in referring to “the Spirit [ruach/pneuma] of the Lord.” The Septuagint, a Greek translation of 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, 1992, p. 1185).

Connected concepts

We see the same connection between spirit, breath and wind continued in the New Testament. Although the Greek language (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. After Jesus showed His disciples the wounds in His hands and side, verifying that He had indeed been raised from the dead, “He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit [pneuma]’” (John 20:21-22, emphasis added throughout).

Earlier He had told them He would send them another “Helper” or “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 Jesus’ followers: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . .” (Acts 2:1-4).

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?” (Acts 2:6).

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” (Acts 2:7-8).

Jesus 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.

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, dynamo  and dynamite. These all refer to power, just as the root term.

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 terror 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 Jesus’ followers to be like Him, to have the same power available to us that Jesus 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 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 effectively 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 and 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 went 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” (Romans 15:14).

Paul said that this same power enabled him to preach the gospel. And he further wrote 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” (Romans 15:19).

Other verses, such as Luke 1:17; Luke 1:35, Romans 1:4, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 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 [by] 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 human beings can understand and grasp spiritual concepts and principles mentioned in God’s Word.

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 understand things they had never grasped 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. 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’s evident from the Gospel accounts that the disciples lacked spiritual understanding while these events were taking place. 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.

“Bring to remembrance” also has to do with the work of God’s Spirit in our lives today. We still need 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 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. They learned as they went, gradually coming to see and understand things they had never seen before.

God’s Spirit 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” (Hebrews 5:12-14, King James Version), 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 crucial 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” (Galatians 5:22-23).

God’s Spirit indeed 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 [that is, corrupted human nature] 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 [or fleshly] 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” (Romans 8:5-6; Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11).

God’s Spirit enables the ultimate change to take place—for carnal, selfish human beings to become transformed in their minds and thinking in this life into God’s very children, then to ultimately be transformed into immortal glory in His family at Jesus Christ’s return!

(This article first appeared in the May/June 1997 issue of The Good News magazine.)