What is the Holy Spirit?
As a spirit, you cannot see the Spirit. The Spirit is invisible. But the Spirit is God, God’s true spiritual being. The Spirit is equal to God in every way.
In Scripture we see various descriptions of the Spirit. The Spirit came like a dove alighting on Jesus during his baptism. That doesn’t mean the Spirit has the actual physical form of a dove. The Gospel writers were simply trying to put into human words and ideas a concept that was ultimately beyond complete understanding.
In Acts 2, we read that the Spirit arrived, just as Jesus promised. I encourage you to open a Bible and read Acts 2:1-4. It’s wild.
Did you read the two ideas used to describe the coming of the Spirit? Wind and fire. In both cases, just like the dove at Jesus’ baptism, the writer does not say that the Spirit is wind or the Spirit is fire, but that the Spirit is like those things. You can see the writer grasping for words to describe something that was not fully possible to describe. A “sound like the blowing of a violent wind.” And then “what seemed to be tongues of fire.” I love reading this account, but what I really wish is that I could have been there to experience it! The writer is doing his best to help us have a semblance of an idea of what must have been mind-blowing. It reminds me of a few years ago when there was an earthquake. We were living in the city of Lancaster at the time, and I remember the sound and shaking. We lived only a block from the hospital, and I thought an emergency helicopter which would normally land on the hospital roof, must be landing on our roof. In those times when something new and unexpected is happening, we do our best to describe it, but we can’t quite fully understand it or articulate. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, therefore, we have a dove, we have wind, we have fire.
One other element to add to this is that in both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for “spirit” is the same word that is used for wind or breath. The movement of air.
What all these images and words tell us is that the Spirit, though a spirit, though invisible, is quite real and powerful. In the busyness of our lives, we can forget that. As we studied in Part 1, Jesus said that it was good that he left so the Spirit would come. That means we have can have access to the very real, very powerful God the Spirit. But how do we have that access?
How and when does the Spirit come upon the life of the believer?
The simplest answer is that we receive the Spirit when we accept Christ as our Savior. But you might think, “Yeah, but I never had a moment where there was a sound like a rushing wind, or a tongues of fire, or a dove…none of that…do I have the Holy Spirit? Am I truly a Christian? Am I saved?”
The Bible teaches something called the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament the Spirit only came on people for special purposes. It was not the norm. We heard about this when we studied Samson a few months ago in the Characters series. The Spirit came on him, empowering him to fight in battle, but it didn’t last.
In the New Testament, Jesus promised that his Spirit would come on his disciples in a much more complete way. For example, in John 14:16 he says that if the disciples obey what he commands, he will give us the Spirit to be with us forever. This is the indwelling of the Spirit. Indwelling means that the Spirit comes and lives with us.
Here are some other passages that talk about this:
1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Ephesians 1:13 “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
This is why Paul could say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
So how will we know if the Spirit is in our life? Will we feel something? Or is it just something that we must believe, even if we have no evidence of it happening?
Paul went on to answer that. Romans 8:15-16 “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
There is no doubt that what Paul says here is mysterious and requires faith and trust, but what Paul indicates is that the Holy Spirit communicates a confirmation to us that he has indwelt us, and thus we can embrace our identity as children of God. I wish I could scientifically describe the indwelling of the Spirit for you, so that it was obvious and unmistakable, but God prefers us to place our faith in him rather than in undeniable evidence. But there is more we can point to.
You can also know that the Spirit is with you because you will see the fruit of the Spirit coming out of your lives. Turn to and read Galatians 5:16-26, which is where Paul teaches about the fruit of the Spirit.
One person from Faith Church told the story about how she rededicated her life to Jesus, and as a result she saw things differently, and she thought differently. Things she never thought about as sinful she now thought of as sinful. She had repented, and she was changed. She saw the evidence of the Holy Spirit flowing from her. For the rest of us, the same is true. We’ll know we have the Spirit in our lives when we start thinking differently.
She said, “Everything was a different color, everything was brighter.” I love that!
So when we place our faith in Jesus, and give our lives to follow him, he promises that God’s Spirit indwells us, seeking to transform us.
Because God lives in us, Paul says we are temples of the God’s Spirit. Temples? More on that in our next post.