Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God the Holy Spirit and our Christian experience.
What word, beginning with the letter ‘P’, do you know which would describe the Holy Spirit? I expect you think of ‘power’. You may also think of ‘purity’, because He is definitely called ‘holy’. And, in my opinion most important of all, you will have remembered that the Holy Spirit is a ‘Person’. (If you are theologically trained, you may have been very clever and come up with the word, ‘pneumatology’, that branch of theology which studies the Holy Spirit and other spiritual beings. The silent ’p’ is not pronounced when saying this word). Wind and breath are used as illustrations of the Spirit (John 3:8; John 20:21-22). The Bible word groups (Hebrew – ruach, and Greek – pneu) both have the idea of ‘the movement of air’. Wind turbines capture this movement in order to generate electric power. You may have seen their steel towers by factories and homes which are not connected to the national electricity grid. The wind itself cannot be seen, but its presence is known by what it does. The Holy Spirit can likewise powerfully influence the soul of a person for God, without necessarily drawing attention to Himself. Apart from Psalm 51:11 and Isaiah 63:10-11 the term ‘Holy Spirit’ is not used in the Old Testament. On both of those occasions, the context is emphasising that sin in people stops the Holy Spirit from working in and through them as He wants to. There are many references in the Old Testament to ‘Spirit’ or ‘Spirit of God’. It is very important that we realise the Holy Spirit is not simply a power we try to connect up to in our weakness. He is a person Who wants to relate to us, becoming Himself our connection to God. The Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 3:3). He helps us think the thoughts of God the Father and the thoughts of God the Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2:11-12; John 16:13-14). Our experience of God will always reflect our daily relationship with God the Holy Spirit. In a way we do not fully understand, the Holy Spirit is not part of God, but He is the whole of the divine essence, as are the Father and the Son. This is part of the mysterious ‘otherness’ of God.
Jesus used personal pronouns when speaking of the Holy Spirit. He did not say to His disciples, ‘I will send it to you’. He did say, ‘I will send Him to you’ (John 16:7). For a study exercise, you could read through John chapters 14-17 and see how many times Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘He’, ‘Him’, or ‘His’. It may vary a little from one translation to another, but there should be around sixteen. The Holy Spirit knows all about God the Son and His teachings (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit has His own mind (Romans 8:27). He looks for things and knows things
(1 Corinthians 2:10,11). The Holy Spirit gives gifts to people as He chooses (1 Corinthians 12:11). The Holy Spirit enjoys the Fatherhood of God (Galatians 4:6). The Holy Spirit can be hurt and He can be insulted (Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 10:29). The Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3). He also guided the missionary journeys of Paul, and appointed people as leaders of a congregation (Acts 16:6,7; Acts 20:28). All of these characteristics are those of a Person, not just a power. At various conferences I was invited to teach around Khartoum, I often heard the rhythmic chorus sung: ‘Power, power, super, super power’. It is a good song, so long as we remember all the time that the Holy Spirit is a Person Who is powerful, and not just a power to be used. The Holy Spirit came to be to us all that Jesus was to His disciples during His earthly life. “He is ‘the Paraclete’: Comforter (in the sense of Strengthener), Counsellor, Helper, Supporter, Advisor, Advocate, Ally, Senior Friend – and only a Person could fulfil such roles”. The word ‘Paraclete’ is the Greek word for the Holy Spirit in John 14:16; 14:25; 15:26 and 16:7. There is no single English word that translates its meaning.
At the end of many church services, either the minister says the ‘benediction’ prayer, or the congregation together repeat it to one another. This comes from
2 Corinthians 13:14: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit bemwith all of you”. ‘Fellowship’ means the sharing of mutual activities and experiences together. It involves a
friendly relationship of two-way trust around common interests.
We may often hear or say those words, but what do we really understand by ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’? He wants to be the personal, pure and powerful presence of Jesus in our everyday lives. Who gives the Holy Spirit to Christians? In A.D. 1084, almost a thousand years ago, the Christian Church split into two over the answer to this question. The Orthodox Churches, those in communion with the Greek patriarch of Constantinople, disagreed with a change put into the Nicene Creed of A.D. 325 and 381 two hundred years later on. The Catholic (meaning ‘universal’) Church, those in communion with the patriarch in Rome, adopted the following additional phrase: “I believe … in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified ..” (Toledo, A.D. 589, reaffirmed A.D. 1017). The OrthodoxChurch is sometimes called the ByzantineChurch, or the Eastern Orthodox. In Khartoum it is represented by the Coptic Church of ancient Egypt. The Orthodox Church disagreed with this addition. Did the Holy Spirit proceed from just the Father, or from the Father and the Son? The issue includes apparently different understandings of the eternal relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, within the Holy Trinity. How can one ‘give’ and not the other, when both are ‘one’ anyway? Scriptures to compare include John 15:26; John 16:7; Acts 2:4; Acts 2: 16-17; Romans 8:9; and Galatians 4:6. It seems that there were other issues involved which hijacked the debate in the church. One was a struggle about authority in the universal church. Should Rome be able to dictate to Constantinople? Could Constantinople go its own way regardless of Rome? The sad result has been a split lasting almost a millennium. God the Holy Spirit emerges from the Trinity, without being in any way less than fully God. He does not leave anything of God behind when He comes! This again, is the mysterious ‘otherness’ of God. Just as the coming of Jesus, the God-Man, advanced God’s plan of salvation, so God the Holy Spirit has had a key role to play especially since Jesus ascended back into heaven.
I believe we should all think about and seek after the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He convicts us of our sin and makes us more like Jesus (John 16:8;
Galatians 5: 22-25).
Thinking it through.
(a). What difference does it make in the way we speak of, and relate to, the Holy Spirit,
when we remember He is a Person and not just a power?
(b). How many references in John chapters 14-17 can you find where Jesus refers to the
Holy Spirit as a Person?
(c). What does “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” mean? (2 Corinthians 13:14).
(d). Which attributes of God help you to appreciate the Holy Spirit as ‘all of God’ and not
just a ‘part of God’?