The Holy Spirit is such a wonderful, unique Being that it is difficult for mere mortals to understand either His nature or His activities. He is a real person who loves and can be grieved. There is no other being like him for He is God. Peter said to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…?… You have not lied to men but to God.”
There are other spirits. Angels are spirits (Heb. 1:7) but they are created beings. Demons are spirits, but they are evil. These other spirits are finite; the Holy Spirit is eternal (Heb. 9:14) and Holy. He is the third Person of the Holy Trinity as expressed both in the baptismal formula (Matt. 28:19) and the Benediction (II Cor. 13:14).
Because the Holy Spirit is so wholly other than anyone or anything we know on earth, God condescends to use pictures and metaphors to help us to grasp something of His person and works.
The Holy Spirit is likened to refreshing water. Through Isaiah the Lord proclaimed, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.” (Isa. 44:3). The Lord Jesus also used this analogy.
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39. NKJV).
He is mentioned as anointing people, which presents Him as being like oil (I John 2:20, 27), equipping people for service and setting them apart.
When John the Baptist spoke of Christ, he said that the coming One would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This speaks of his purging and purifying work.
The most frequently used analogy, however, is that of wind or breath. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes. You hear the sound of it but cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes to. So is everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word ruach means breath, wind or spirit according to context. Usually the context makes clear which meaning is intended, though sometimes this is not always apparent. In Ezekiel 37 the prophet is commanded to prophesy to the breath, or is it the wind? Actually it seems to be the Holy Spirit.
Now it will help us to understand something of the Holy Spirit’s activities if we consider what the wind is and how it operates. What is wind? It is air in motion. We are surrounded by air; in fact our lives depend on it. But we cannot see it nor can we feel it – unless it moves. When it moves, either as a draught from an open window, a gentle breeze, a strong wind, gale or hurricane, then we feel it. There is no inherent difference between, say, a breeze and a gale. The different is in the force or velocity of the air that is moving. When air moves we can feel it and observe its effects upon grass, trees or loose items such as leaves. But when it is still, we neither feel it nor see its effects. But we still depend upon it for life.
Just as the air is all around us, so the Holy Spirit is omnipresent. The Psalmist wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). He is everywhere. This suggests that the different actions or effects referred to in Scripture are actually instances of the Holy Spirit moving in different ways or with various strengths.
Moving air can produce many effects. For centuries men have harnessed the wind to sail boats and grind corn, and in recent decades to generate electricity.
Moving air can produce beautiful music when it is used to play a wind instrument by a skilled musician. Although the sound of a piccolo is very different from that of a bassoon they both depend upon moving air. The difference in sound between all wind instruments is caused by the different construction of the instruments and the way they are blown. But they all depend on moving air. Even the mighty pipe organ depends on moving air, though no human being has enough ‘puff’ to work it; hence the use of bellows and electric blowers.
In Genesis 2:7 we read that “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
In Ezekiel 37:9 the breath, wind or Spirit breathed into the reconstituted corpses and they became a living army.
In John 20:22 Jesus breathed into the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The word ‘receive’ is an aorist imperative which does not have a future meaning. It meant, “Receive now.”
Up until that time they had merely a head-knowledge of the truth. They believed Jesus was the expected Jewish Messiah, but resisted the idea that He should be crucified (Matt. 16:16, 21-23). Confession is not enough; there must be faith that He has risen from the dead (Rom. 10:9). When He was arrested they forsook Him and fled. When the women reported that He had risen from the dead they did not believe it (Mark 16:9-12; Luke 24:10, 11). The fact that they had gone out at the command of Jesus, announced the Kingdom of God and performed miracles does not mean that they were born again because Judas did all that and no one had any idea that he was any different. In any case, Jesus pointed out that doing miracles was no proof of knowing Christ as Saviour and Lord (Matthew 7:21-23). When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the disciples, He said, “He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Up until the time Jesus appeared to them, showed them His hands and side, and breathed into them His Holy Spirit, they were not only unbelieving but also were fearful, meeting behind locked doors. But once He had breathed into them they understood and believed. Perhaps that is why Peter wrote that God “has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). So after His resurrection He opened their understanding that they might apprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). From then on they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52, 53). And they continued in prayer and supplication, as instructed by Jesus, waiting for the further “blowing of the Spirit” that Jesus had promised (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 5, 8, 14). Jesus had told them to wait for this fresh “blowing” of the Holy Spirit. God has His own timetable. It was in the fullness of time that Jesus came into the world (Gal. 4:4). It was to be on the Feast of Pentecost, celebrating the giving of the law, that the Spirit was to blow again. So punctually, according to God’s timetable, the Spirit blew upon them, and there was heard a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind (Acts 2:1, 2).
Here something needs to be stressed. Every true believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him or her. The Apostle Paul made it absolutely clear that every true believer has the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-11). To the Corinthians he wrote: “do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you…?” (I Cor 6:19). On the Day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter preached to the convicted Jews and proselytes who already believed the Scriptures, “Repent 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). Faith is implied for they had believed his message and received his word (Acts 2:41). These are the only conditions for receiving the Holy Spirit as declared by the Apostle Peter and recorded in the inspired, infallible Word. So every true believer has the Holy Spirit indwelling him or her. All subsequent experiences of the Holy Spirit are simply movements of the Spirit, like moving air, whether gentle or strong.
In Acts chapter ten we read that Peter went, rather reluctantly, to preach to Cornelius and his household. Cornelius was a devout God-fearer. As Peter preached the Holy Spirit sovereignly “fell” upon the gathered listeners (v. 44). The next verse says that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.” Peter exclaimed that “they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (v. 47).
Notice the variety of terms used to describe similar experiences. In Luke 24 Jesus referred to “the promise of the Father,” and said that the disciples were to be “endued with power from on high” (v. 49). In Acts 1:4 He again refers to the “promise of the Father” and in verse five repeats His promise that they would be “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” In verse eight He promised “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” In Acts 2 verse 4 we read they were all “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and in verse 33 Peter said that Jesus had “poured out this.”
When Peter reported to the apostles and brethren in Acts 11 he again used a variety of terms to describe the same event. He said that “the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning” (v. 15) and he recalled the words of Jesus saying, “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (v. 16), and in the next verse refers to it as “the same gift as He gave us.”
These incidents and others like them should help us to understand that the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer, operates or moves upon God’s children in various ways, sometimes as a gentle breeze, sometimes as a strong wind. But it is the same Holy Spirit who is “blowing.”
So we see that it is almost certainly a mistake to assume that these various terms necessarily refer to quite different, discrete experiences. The different terms are attempts to explain the inexplicable, but they all refer to some movement of the Holy Spirit upon or in a person or persons. It is also a mistake to make a reported experience the norm for all others. In these things we must remain true to the Scripture not any person’s experience. The Spirit moves in various ways upon God’s people.
Now the question arises, can we influence or bring about an experience of the Holy Spirit? After all, we are commanded to “Go on being filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18, so we must have some responsibility. There are several ways we can approach this, under four headings.
- Sovereignty. We must begin here. The Holy Spirit is God. He is sovereign. We cannot, and must never attempt to coerce Him. This is declared in the verse with which we began this study. “The wind blows where it wishes…so is every one who is born of the Spirit.” In Judges 13:25 we read that “the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon” Samson. This was a sovereign act. Many of the experiences and blessings that people report are simply God moving in a sovereign way upon people. This is the primary fact about experiences of the Spirit, God’s sovereignty.
- Surrender. God uses those who are surrendered to Him. The Apostle Paul writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1, 2). Please note, that this is not a means of forcing God’s hand. This is simply being in the right attitude and position to be blessed by the Holy Spirit if He sovereignly chooses to bless. If people get this false idea that God is like a slot machine, and that if you do this He will do that, then they not only try to produce effects but also will falsely claim to have certain blessings.
- Scripture. Colossians 3:16 is widely regarded as a parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18. We are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us and we are to engage in spiritual and scriptural worship. We are only as spiritual as we are scriptural. Scripture is inspired by God. It is God speaking to us, and it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. We cannot expect His blessing if we ignore what He says.
- Seeking or supplication. In Acts 1:14 the disciples were continuing in prayer and supplication as they waited for the promised ‘blowing” of the Holy Spirit. That we can pray for the Spirit to come upon us, or to “blow” upon us is perfectly Scriptural. In Luke 11:13 Jesus promised, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The mention of the Father indicates that this is addressed to believers. But as every believer has the Holy Spirit indwelling, then to ask for the Holy Spirit must be understood in terms of increased influence, power, or “blowing.”
Various hymn writers have used this idea of prayer for the Holy Spirit to come upon us. For example: “Breathe on me, Breath of God” by Edwin Hatch, or “O Breath of God, breathe on us now, and move within us while we pray,” by Alfred Henry Vine. Another great example on this theme is: Elizabeth Ann Head’s hymn, “O Breath of life, come sweeping through us, revive your church with life and power, O Breath of life, come, cleanse, renew us, and fit your church to meet this hour.”
“O wind of God, come, bend us, break us, till humbly we confess our need; then in your tenderness remake us, revive, restore, for this we plead.”
I close with a quotation from a highly regarded book on the Holy Spirit.
“And no more mischievous and misleading theory could be propounded, nor any one more dishonouring to the Holy Spirit, than the principle that because the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the Church has no need, and no warrant, to pray any more for the effusion of the Spirit of God. On the contrary, the more the Church asks [for] the Spirit and waits for His communications, the more she receives.” (George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, London, The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1958). This does not excuse the errors, extreme behaviour, false doctrines and weird experiences, health and wealth prosperity teaching, and so forth, that are claimed to be brought about by the Spirit. All He does will be decently and in order, will produce holiness, and will be according to Scripture. The devil will always seek to produce the false fire of counterfeits that are dishonouring to God. But we do need the Holy Spirit to ‘blow’ upon us today.