Understanding the Holy Spirit.
40 years ago today at
5 PM on Saturday, 26 May 1973, I stood in a church at Port Kembla on the New
South Wales south coast. On that occasion I made a commitment to a relationship
that has stood the test of time.
I have to admit that I
was quite naive in my understanding of what was to be expected of me as a
partner in this new relationship. All I knew then was that I had fallen in love
and wished to spend the rest of my life in a relationship with the person to
whom I made that commitment.
Over the last 40 years
that relationship has seen highs and lows, yet despite all odds it has lasted
and indeed has blossomed into something that without which I would truly be a
lesser man. In that relationship I have made some good decisions and some bad
decisions, some of which I am not necessarily proud of.
Yet at the age of 19,
who can be truly prepared for all of the intricacies and nuances that one finds
within human relationships, especially marriage. Of course I am talking about
my marriage to my wife Alison and our 40 years together.
In 1988 I made another
commitment to a relationship, one which also has stood the test of time,
despite illness and suffering. That commitment, unlike the first was not made
to another human being but to a relationship with God and my lord Jesus Christ.
Just as I was
unprepared for that first relationship and all of its intricacies, I was
likewise unprepared for the second relationship, and what would be the apparent
cost that came with it. I have often sat back and reflected on the night on which
I was healed so many years ago, a night when the Lord intervened directly into
my life and change my outlook forever.
I have told the story
before of the night when God supernaturally intervened into my life and healed me
of a debilitating golden staph infection. However, for those who may not
remember and for those who were not present when I told that story, I will
recount it once again.
I had been working for
many years as a truck mechanic and in 1984 I moved my family to Tamworth to take up a position with a local livestock transport company. Sometime during
the first eight months of that employment I contracted a golden staph
infection, which resulted in boils breaking out all over my body.
I was to struggle with
this complaint for a number of years and was told by the doctor’s at the time
that it was basically incurable, and that I would just have to learn to live
with it. It was not uncommon for me to have as many as 12 boils at once, some
place on my body. Many times I had to attend the doctors to have them lanced.
I must say, at that
time I could not have been further away from God if I tried. God and Jesus did
not really come into my thinking nor did they hold any relevance for me. I
worked amongst men who were often quite crude with their language and outlook.
I also had to deal with truck drivers who came home after a long week away on
the road, many of whom were doped up on various sorts of medications to keep
Many of these men were
very difficult to deal with especially when they were tired and looking towards
a break. I must say that they were a handful to deal with at times. The way
that I dealt with this issue was that I became just as difficult and hard to
get along with as they could be.
The end result of
working up to 120 hours a week and living those boils and with a poor diet of
cigarettes and Coca-Cola was that my health deteriorated to the point where I
was forced to re-examine my priorities in life.
As I’ve mentioned
before I was encouraged to go along to a healing service held in the uniting
Church in East Tamworth. This became a turning point in my life as on this
particular night I can remember how the Holy Spirit took control of me and
basically physically move me to go forward towards the end of the service and
ask for healing. At this point, I basically had no relationship with either God
or Jesus Christ.
I also mentioned, that
when it came my time to announce what I was asking healing for, I responded
with, “I want to heal my relationship with God”. At that moment, I felt
what I can only now say was the Holy Spirit come upon me and a washing
sensation began working its way from head to toe and all throughout my body.
I was so taken by this
experience that I found it difficult if not impossible to talk about it for
such a long time. It has been without a doubt the most powerful experience that
I had ever had. I knew when I walked away from that service that I had been
healed spiritually and during the following days I realised that I had also
been healed physically.
So what had happened?
Well I will come to
that, but today is Trinity Sunday and I want to take a look at the role of the
Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. In this passage from John chapter 16 we
have the disciples along with Jesus gathered together in a room on the night
before he was betrayed. Jesus realised what was he was about to face, and he
also realised that his disciples were unprepared for what was about to happen.
From about chapter 14
on in John’s Gospel, Jesus starts to teach his disciples about the work of the
Holy Spirit and the role that he will play after he has gone to be with his
father (the resurrection and ascension).
Jesus also realised
that his disciples needed to be encouraged and that after he was gone they
would need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit, so as to enable them to carry out
the tasks that he had laid before them.
At this point I want
to make it clear that my world view is rather different from some Christians in
that I see that the kingdom of God has both a here and not yet quality.
I believe that with
the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the kingdom of God was inaugurated
in part into the reality of this world.
Unfortunately, today many
Christians believe that the great commission is only to convert souls and as
such their main focus in Ministry is preaching the gospel so others may
I hold a slightly
different understanding of the great commission and I believe that we are not
only responsible for preaching the gospel so that others may believe but also
we are responsible for building people into the family of God.
That means, reaching
out to the poor, the underprivileged, the displaced, the widows, and orphans as
well as, yes the unbelievers (this includes atheists, Islamists, Buddhists,
Hindus and even pagans). If we forget this side of the great commission we are
not being faithful to Jesus call in our lives and we are denying those in need
of the opportunity of not only salvation in the future but also of salvation in
This is pretty
confronting and challenging work and many who dedicate their lives to this
cause have suffered greatly because of it. Why then do people continue to reach
out to the world when it costs them so dearly, emotionally as well as financially?
On that night Jesus
told his disciples that when he was gone the Holy Spirit would come and that
the Holy Spirit would empower them to carry out the work for the kingdom of God.
So who is the Holy
I have a shortlist of
four items here that outline the character and nature of the Holy Spirit;
1. The Holy Spirit is
a person and not some vague force or unknowable entity. Therefore, it is
possible to have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. It is also
relevant that we should pray to the Holy Spirit.
2. The Holy Spirit is
fully divine and should be accorded the same respect as the father and the son.
Therefore, we should worship the Holy Spirit just as we worship the father and
the son. Even though the Holy Spirit’s role may seem subordinate to that of the
father he has the same essence as the father.
3. The Holy Spirit is
one with the father and the son and his work is the expression of the will of
the father and son. There lies no tension between the three persons of the
Trinity with regards to their identity and activity.
4. God is not far off
when the Holy Spirit is present. The Holy Spirit is present when God becomes
intimate with us.
As I mentioned earlier
the kingdom of God has both a here and not yet quality to it. There is from my
prospective a thin veil between heaven and earth and this is where the Holy
Spirit carries out his work.
Because, the Holy
Spirit engages in teaching, regenerating, speaking, interceding, commanding,
testifying, guiding, illuminating and revealing God’s will to the believer.
Let me unpack this a
bit more, so that we can have a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role
in the world today. We read in the Gospels that it was the Holy Spirit who
moved over Jesus’ mother Mary and caused her to become pregnant.
The apostle Paul
writes "likewise the spirit helps us in our weaknesses; for we do not
know how to pray as we ought, but the spirit intercedes for us with sighs too
deep for words" Romans 8:26.
It is interesting that
the Greek word for spirit is “pneuma” (this where we get the word pneumatic
from, e.g.; pneumatic tyres on our cars) and that it is a neuter, singular
personal pronoun. If you remember back to your school days, pronouns are
supposed to agree with their antecedents in person, number, and gender, hence one
would expect the neuter pronoun to be used to represent the Holy Spirit.
However, in this
passage John 16:13 – 14 and throughout the Gospels, Jesus describes the Holy
Spirit’s Ministry using the masculine pronoun where we would expect to find a
I know this is all a
bit technical, but it does highlight that even in the minds of the writer of
John’s Gospel that Jesus was saying that the Holy Spirit was a personality, and
not some mysterious ether real force.
With regards to his personality
we read in the book of Acts (5:3 – 4), the account of Ananias and Sapphira, who
having sold their property kept some money for themselves, while publicly
disclosing that they were handing it all over for the Ministry of God(they
consequently perished). We are taught here that it is possible to lie to the Holy
Likewise, we read in
Mark’s gospel that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit and of course we know
that the unforgivable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:9).
If we were to take a
biopic (snap shot) on the history of the Holy Spirit we would see that his coming
was foretold in passages such as in the book of Joel (Joel 2:8) where Joel
writes of God telling him, "I will pour out my spirit on all flesh".
It was at Pentecost of
course that the disciple’s realised Jesus promise that, "you shall
receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you," was indeed true
Throughout the Bible we
read that the Holy Spirit or God’s Spirit is active in the giving of prophecy
and Scripture. All of the Old Testament prophets testified that their speaking
and writing was result of the Holy Spirit or God’s Spirit coming upon them.
Ezekiel offers us a
clear example when he writes “Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to
me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me. And He said to me:
"Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have
transgressed against Me to this very day.” (Ezekiel 2:2-3.)
Even as far back as Exodus
(31:3 – 5), we read that God through the Holy Spirit imparted the necessary
skills to Bezalel so that he could carry out the various tasks when building the
tabernacle. Here is a quote, God said, "I have filled him with the
spirit of God with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all
craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work with gold, silver, and
bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every
Likewise, the skills of
administration are also seen as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Pharaoh for instance
recognised the Spirit's presence in Joseph; "and Pharaoh said to his
servants, 'can we find such a man as this, in whom is the spirit of God?'"
Even during the time
of the Judges, a time when national leadership was lacking, the Judges (for
example Samson), were led by the spirit in very charismatic ways. We have the description
of the call of Gideon which reads, "the spirit of the Lord took
possession of Gideon; then he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were
called out to follow him." (Judges 6:34.)
In the book of 1
Samuel we read even David’s anointing was accompanied by the coming of the
spirit of God (1 Samuel 16:13). David prays in Psalm 51(51:11), "take
not thy holy spirit from me". The presence of the Holy Spirit is seen
a vital for David to carry out his life’s work.
Throughout the Old
Testament the Holy Spirit or God’s Spirit is seen as producing Holiness and
goodness in the person upon whom or in whom he dwells. There is within the Old
Testament witness to the Holy Spirit, an anticipation of a coming time when the
Ministry of the Spirit is to be more complete. Of course this is seen as
relating to the coming Messiah, upon whom the spirit is to rest in an unusual
degree and fashion.
Jesus quotes Isaiah 61,
"the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to
preach good news to the poor…" and he indicates that this prophecy is
being fulfilled in him (Luke 4:18 – 21.)
At Pentecost Peter
quotes the prophecy from Joel 2:28 – 29, "and it shall come to pass
afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters
shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see
visions. Even upon the men servants and maid servants in those days, I will
pour out my spirit"
John the Baptist
highlights the place of the holy spirit in that he baptises with water but
Jesus would baptise with the holy spirit (Mark 1:8).
If the work of the
Holy Spirit was so vital to God’s purposes in the Old Testament times why
should his work be any less vital today?
In light of what I
have just talked about I want to return to the question that I posed earlier
and that is what happened on that night that I was healed.
experiences that I had was not unlike the experiences of the early prophets and
yes even the experience of Jesus at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descended
upon him. I physically felt his presence within me.
Secondly, like the
early prophets I was so overcome by the Holy Spirit and a sense of call was placed
on my life and since then I have been unable to be content doing anything else
except the Lord’s work. Just like the prophet Jeremiah, God’s words seem to
burn within my bones.
To use a term that can
be both confronting and illuminating I was baptised in the Holy Spirit at the
moment when I asked for me relationship with God to be healed. I was justified/sanctified
before God (put right). In many ways I believe the Holy Spirit has been given,
in many churches a subordinate or backseat role when it comes to the Christian
Often, out of fear of
what I would call the hyper Pentecostal movement we have denied both the role
and importance of the Holy Spirit within our lives and our churches. Instead of
embracing the reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence within our lives we have
shunned him, and as a result of our Christian experiences are poorer for it.
Just as when I made a
commitment 40 years ago to Alison “to have and to hold from this day
forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in
health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part”, I was ignorant of
all the things that were to be expected of me as not only a husband but a
father as well. I was also ignorant on the night and the days following my
healing (conversion) of what would be expected of me in my new relationship
with God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thankfully, I have had
two companions throughout my life’s journey, one who is my wife, companion and
mother to my children; the other who is my comforter and spiritual guide, who
continually guides and upbraids me so that I continue to grow as a Christian.
God did not expect me to understand fully on the night that I was healed, about
what was to be expected of me, but he did provide the indwelling of the Holy
Spirit so that his purposes for my life would be gradually revealed.
As we turn back to
this passage (John 16:11 – 15), we read that Jesus is telling his disciples, “I
still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear to hear them now”,
so to it is with each of us, we must wait on the Holy Spirit to reveal to us
those things of which we do not yet understand. This requires patience and perseverance.
I think if this
highlights anything about the Christian journey, it is, just that, a journey
and that through the Holy Spirit, God will gradually reveal to us truths of
which we are presently ignorant. Much like when riding in a motor car or on a
train we only see the scenery just in front of us and are ignorant of what is
to come, well so to it is with our Christian journey. We need to be prepared to
continually learn new truths and not remain stuck in the present.
So what do I hope that
we can take away with us, from this?
I suppose my hope is
that your might be encouraged to invite the holy spirit to work within your
life and to give him the full honour of exposing all of your life to his will.
Also that, any fear that we might hold towards experiencing the work of the
Holy Spirit, especially as a result of some of the excesses that we read about,
ones that I would call, “extreme Pentecostalism”, might be dispelled.
Just knowing that the
work the Holy Spirit is, as I have outlined, is a normal part of any Christian
journey, should empower us to embrace wholeheartedly his work and his continual
revelation of God’s will within our lives.
© Trevor Forrester BMin AdvDipTh Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.