21st Century Discipleship Resources

Teaching Extra 06 - Third person


Introducing the Holy Spirit

An opening reading: John 14:15-18

A. Who the Holy Spirit is

1. The Holy Spirit is God's invisible presence in the world. We can think of God as remote and majestic, as being so great that he is far removed from the world and high above it (see for instance Isaiah 40:21-26). It is not wrong to think like this, but it is not the whole truth. God is also within the world and very close to us (Psalm 139:7-10). Through the Spirit, God is everywhere.

2. Jesus caught this idea by comparing the Spirit to the wind in John 3:5-8. Wind is invisible and yet real. It can blow very gently or very powerfully. It cannot be seen but its effects are quickly noticed - the swaying of trees, rustling of leaves, the movement of clouds and the whipping-up of waves, etc.

3. The Spirit is God at his closest to us. In fact, the Greek and Hebrew words for 'spirit' are also the words for 'wind' and 'breath'. The Spirit of God can be as close to us as our own breath.

4. In one respect, however, it would be wrong to think of God's Spirit as an impersonal power like the wind. God's Spirit is God's personal presence in the world. Notice how in John 14:17 the Spirit is described as 'him' rather than 'it'. The Spirit is someone not something.

5. To sum up, the Spirit is God's presence with us and the Spirit is personal. He is to be honoured in both respects.

B. What the Spirit does

If we think of the Holy Spirit as God coming into our lives to make a difference to who and what we are, the following aspects of the Spirit's work should be noted:

1. Through the Spirit we are 'born again'

The Spirit brings about that inner change that makes us spiritually alive. Jesus called this being 'born from above' or 'born again'. The key passage here is found in John 3:3-6 where Jesus says to a religious teacher called Nicodemus, 'I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again'. When questioned as to what this means, Jesus replies, 'Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit'.

Just as we were born physically ('flesh gives birth to flesh'), so we must be born again or from above spiritually ('the Spirit gives birth to spirit'). This happens when, after we have repented of sin and placed our faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, the Spirit of God makes us inwardly and spiritually alive. This is the real beginning of the Christian life.

2. The Spirit enlightens our minds

The Spirit of God is a teacher who opens our minds to understand the ways and purposes of God. Jesus told his disciples that 'the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you' (John 14:26). In a similar way, the apostle Paul says, 'We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us' (1 Corinthians 2:12).

3. The Spirit empowers us to serve God

Jesus said to his first disciples, 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8). This was fulfilled when the Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and it marked the beginning of the Christian church. In the same way, the Spirit gives us the power (and courage!) to speak and live in ways which point other people to God.

4. The Spirit enables us to be spiritually fruitful

When we are born again, the Spirit of God sets about changing us inwardly. We talk about this as 'bearing fruit'. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control' (Galatians 6:22). These are the qualities which we develop when the Spirit is in control of our attitudes. The important thing to note is that these are not so much things that we accomplish in our own strength as products of the Holy Spirit working within us.

Becoming a Christian involves handing our lives over to God. It is as if each of our lives is a house and we cease to be the owners; instead, we hand the house over to God, with ourselves as the tenants. As God now owns the house, he has the right to take possession of every part of it. The fully committed Christian is someone who has willingly yielded every part of his or her life to the Holy Spirit. Because of this, the Spirit can do God's work in and through our lives. If the fruit of the Spirit includes the qualities of love, joy and peace, then Spirit-filled living will enhance not only our own lives but those of people around us.