Understanding the Holy Spirit.

John 16:11-15

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 them awake.

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 believe.

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 the present.

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 Spirit?

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 neuter pronoun.


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 Spirit.

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 (Acts 1:8). 

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 craft."

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?'" (Genesis 41:38).

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.

Firstly, the 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 experience.

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. (Romans 5:1-5)

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.

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