Nov 29 - The Holy Spirit Of God - Part 1

The Holy Spirit Of God

November 29,2015



November 29th, 2015


By the time the third and fourth centuries rolled around, Christianity was anything but united in its views on the identity of the H.S. – or on the identity of Jesus, for that matter.    


The Gnostic Christians taught that HS was the female aspect of the aeon of which Jesus was the male aspect.  They called the HS the mother of Jesus as well as the bride of Jesus.  If you think that the Gnostic Christians had some things in common with the New Age movement, you would be right.


Sabellius (flourished c .215), taught that God manifests himself in three ways: as the Father, as Jesus the Son, and as the HS, but that these three are one and the same.  In other words, he did not believe that Jesus or the Holy Spirit were in any way different entities or persons from God the Father.


Arius (c. AD 250-336), a priest in a church in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that the HS was a high-ranking angel created by Jesus.     


In the East, Paul of Samosata (AD 200-275; Bishop of Antioch 260-268) the Bishop of Antioch, and in the West, Theodotus of Byzantium (flourished in the late 2nd century; in Rome c. AD 190) taught that the HS is the impersonal manifestation of God’s power.


Others, like Athanasius of Alexandria, who endured three exiles totaling 16 years under the Arian emperors Constantine and Constantinus, championed the view that the HS was a person within the triune Godhead … in essence the doctrine of the Trinity as we know it.


To deal with the controversies that surrounded the interrelationship between Jesus and God the Father, a church council was held in Nicaea in AD 325 (today Iznik in Turkey).  Under discussion was the view of Arius, who thought that Jesus was created by God at the beginning of time and could only be worshiped as divine based on his perfection and preeminence in creation. 


While a consensus was reached, nothing was discussed regarding the nature of the HS.  So a second council was called in Constantinople 56 years later in AD 381 (today Istanbul in Turkey).


This council affirmed that the Holy Spirit, like Jesus and God the Father, is somehow a separate person within the triune Godhead. 


Even thought that position held sway at the time and over the next 1,500 years, founders of some cults, particularly in the US, started to challenge the long-accepted views. 


For example, Charles Taze Russell (1852-1016), the found of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not only revived Arius’ view that Jesus was a created being, in Russell’s view, the Archangel Michael, but he also taught that the Spirit is simply a name given to the manifestation of God’s power in someone’s life.[1]


Similarly, the late Herbert W. Armstrong (1892 – 1986), the founder of the World Wide Church of God, considered the HS to be an impersonal force rather than a personal being. 


Why did the council come up with its definition of the person of the HS?  It did so, because the biblical evidence, particularly the NT, points in this direction.  I want to give you but a very small sample why the Spirit was considered a person in the triune Godhead. 


The Holy Spirit as a Person


1. The Spirit Is Referred to with Personal Pronouns


There are numerous passages that use masculine personal pronouns when referring to the Spirit, rather than the neuter pronoun “it,” which you would expect if the Holy Spirit was an impersonal force from God.  Here are just a few from John 16:


But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. … But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.                                       John 16:7,8,13,14[2]


Just as a complete aside, as these verses also point out, the HS convicts the world of guilt with regard to sin.  The Spirit may act upon the conscience and make people realize that they’re poor actions are against God’s will.


However, we should be aware that our conscience is not an infallible guide to determine right and wrong.  Most often, if we feel bad about doing something, chances are that we are doing something wrong.  But even then, some of us feel guilty about things that are not wrong in God’s eyes – and we need to stop beating ourselves up about it.


However, it is also possible that we could be doing something completely wrong in God’s eyes and feel no pangs of conscience for the simple fact that it is seared.  It is seared by continually going against it, or because we have bought into the ethical mores of Hollywood, or the values of the society we may be living in. 


That is why we have to realize that only a conscience that is sensitive to the leading of the HS can accurately reflect God’s true will – which at times may be unexpected or surprising. 


Maybe think of it in these terms.  Our conscience is like a clock.  But it will only show the correct time if it has previously been set correctly.  The question then is … what has set our conscience?  It can only be reliable if has been submitted to the rule and guidance of the Holy Spirit. 


2. The Spirit Is A Person Who Can Be Lied to, Resisted, Grieved …


The Holy Spirit can be lied to


This was the case with Ananias and Sapphira when they lied about the amount they received from the sale of their property.


Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit.”

                                                                                    Acts 5:3


The Holy Spirit can be resisted


Stephan pointed out was true of the Israelites when they do not listen to God’s message:


You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!                                                                      Acts 7:51


The Holy Spirit can be grieved


And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30


The context of the passage that speaks of this points out that grieving the HS is doing or saying things that are morally wrong or otherwise outside of God’s will (see Eph 4:17-31; 5:3-5,18).  Grief speaks of emotion and only actual beings can have emotions.


The Holy Spirit can be quenched


The HS can be quenched, as the apostle Paul indicates.


Do not quench the Spirit.            1 Thessalonians 5:19


The context points out that one quenches the Holy Spirit because of prayerlessness or lack of thankfulness, lack of listening to God’s word, either when spoken or read.


The Holy Spirit can also be blasphemed


Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven but is guilty of an eternal sin.    Mark 3:29


In this case, the blasphemy against the HS is explained as rejecting Jesus, saying that he was performing his exorcisms because he himself was possessed by Satan.  In other words, they were attributing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to Satan.  Perhaps today we can think of the unpardonable sin as rejecting God’s truth as satanic.


3. The Spirit Speaks and Gives Direction


At times, the Spirit speaks through people as he tells them what to say. 


Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.                                                 Mark 13:11


Then Peter, (being) filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them …                                                               Acts 4:8


His delivery was impacted by the filling he had received for just this occasion.  The result was that he spoke eloquently, astonishing the members of the court who knew that Peter was an uneducated fishermen (Acts 4:13).


At other times, the Spirit speaks directly to people or groups of individuals.[3]


The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”                                                                    Acts 8:29


While Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.  Get up and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”                                               Acts 10:19-20


While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Acts 13:2


We are not told how the Spirit spoke and directed in these ways.  My guess is that someone got the distinct impression that this is something that God wanted or didn’t want, and when voiced, that was confirmed by others.   


4. The Spirit Makes Decisions


There are various spiritual gifts but only one Spirit [who distributes them]. … To each one he gives as he determines.                                       1 Corinthians 12:4,11


In other passages in the NT we see the HS teaching, giving direction, guiding, leading, freeing, calling, cleansing, strenthening and doing a host of other things that all indicate that he is more than an impersonal force. 


He is also referred to in ways that separate him from Jesus or God the Father, for example in the baptismal formula that is recorded in Matt 28 – Jesus’ followers are to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).


So how did the HS function before Pentecost, before he fell on Jesus’ followers?


The Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant

(the Old Testament Era)


The Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit, has always been present – we hear of him at the creation of the universe. 


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was chaotic and darkness covered the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.  And God said …              Genesis 1:1-2


While the Spirit of God and God are one, in the creation account they are mentioned as separate entities, at least to some degree.  Notice that it is the Spirit of God who is actually within time and space, present in some way in creation itself, whereas God could be understood to stand outside of time and space as he creates it.  This presence of God’s Spirit in creation is also echoed by the Psalmist. 


Where could I escape your Spirit?  Or, where could I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to the skies [or: the heavens], you are there.  If I make my bed in Sheol [or: the underground regions], you are present.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the farthest parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand will hold me.                 Psalm 139:7-10


Not only is the Spirit present in creation, in time and space, he is present everywhere in creation, including the skies above and Sheol below, referring to the regions underground. 


With regard to when he actually comes upon individual people, two factors stand out.  First, the Spirit is very selective when it comes to who he indwells.


1. The Spirit Was Given Selectively


We hear that the Spirit of God indwells certain people or “filled” them or “came upon” certain individuals, often leaders (some of the judges), kings and prophets.  The result of this indwelling gave people special abilities:


Joseph and Daniel were given special ability to interpret dreams and give advice


Then Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone like this man [Joseph], one in whom is the Spirit of God?”                           Genesis 41:38 (see also Daniel 4:8; 5:11-14; 6:3)


Bezalel was given special ability to build the tabernacle and the arc of the covenant


Then YHWH said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts, to design plans … to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.”                                                                                                                               Exodus 31:1-5


Bezalel was also given the job of furnishing the clothing for the priests and all of the implements and altars necessary for the sacrificial system. 


Joshua was give the special authority to lead Israel


YHWH said to Moses, “Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit [or: spirit], and lay your hand on him. … Give him some of your authority so that the whole Israelite community will obey him.” … Now Joshua, son of Nun, was filled with the Spirit [or: spirit] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.  So the Israelites listened to Joshua ….            

Numbers 27:18,20; Deuteronomy 34:9


Othniel was given the special ability to be a judge and lead in battle


The Israelites were subject [to the kingdom of Syria] for eight years.  When the Israelites cried out to YHWH, He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel, … who saved them.  The Spirit of YHWH came upon him, so that he became judge over Israel.  He then went to war … and YHWH gave … the king of Syria into the hands of Othniel, who defeated him.                                             Judges 3:8-10


The result was that for 40 years, until the death of Othniel, Israel had peace.[4] 


Samson received super-human strength


(When attacked by a lion), the Spirit of YHWH came upon Samson in power, so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands ….                                Judges 14:6


David received special ability to lead as king


Samuel took the horn filled with oil and anointed David in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of YHWH came upon David in power.  

1 Samuel 16:13


Many were given special prophetic ability to convey a message from God or speak of future events


The Spirit of God came upon Saul in power, and he prophesied along with the prophets….    1 Samuel 10:10


And John’s father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied …                                                          Luke 1:67


Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. … and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.                                    Luke 2:26


The NT has a lot to say about the fact that the Spirit guided those who wrote the OT Scriptures.[5]


Not only did the Spirit of God fall on a limited number of people, there was no guarantee that he would remain on them. 


2. The Spirit was Given Temporarily


The Spirit could also be taken from individuals, such was the case with Samson (cf. Judges 16:20) and Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 16:14 – see also David’s prayer in Psalm 51:11). 

In some cases, it seems as if God’s Spirit enabled someone only for one particular task.


The Hope in the Era of the Old Covenant of a New Era


While the HS was indeed active in certain people during the OT times, the greatest frustration under the Old Covenant was the constant apostasy of Israel, God’s people as a whole … that is, their ongoing tendency to worship the idols of the nations surrounding them, and their ongoing failure to treat others with justice and kindness and respect, in other words, their constant failure to do even the most central components of God’s will. 


As warned throughout the OT, in Deuteronomy, the history of the judges and kings, and by the prophets, the result of this failure was one of two things – called the “curse of the law.”  Either, Israel would be oppressed in their own land by foreign powers.  There would be an occupation either by the Philistines, or later by the Syrians (Aram), or later yet by the Greeks who had conquered the land under Alexander the Great, or, later again, under the Romans since Pompey the Great sacked Jerusalem in 63 BC. 


The second fate would be much worse – that of being driven from the land – also known as exile.  This came about twice in the time of the OT:


1. The loss of the northern ten tribes after the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians (722 BC).

2. The exile of the majority of the people after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (586 BC).  


As a result, there is this promise found in the OT, that God would do something new, something extra-ordinary, that would bring about the permanent restoration of Israel.  God would make a new covenant with his people and things would be different. 


We find this promise as early as Deuteronomy where a reformation of the hearts of the Israelites and their offspring would lead to ongoing and lasting obedience to God’s will.


YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love YWHW your God with all your heart, and with all your souls, that you may live.  … And you will again obey the voice of YHWH …

                                                            Deuteronomy 30:6,8


This same hope in a new obedience is then found in the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.   


Ezekiel mirrors Deuteronomy as it speaks of God’s Spirit being placed within God’s people, leading to a reform of the heart so that the people will continue to obey God’s will:


And I [God] will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them.  And I will take the heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them.                                          Ezekiel 11:19-20


I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statues and carefully observe my ordinances.          Ezekiel 36:26-27


A heart of stone is one that is hardened toward God and others.  A heart of flesh is alive to God and concerned for others.  God’s Spirit will bring this about, resulting in ongoing obedience to God’s will.


Speaking of the new situation when God sends a redeemer, Isaiah first references God’s covenant, presumably a new covenant, and notes that under this new covenant the HS will no longer depart from his people.  The result is that they and their descendants would always speak God’s words, that is, i.e., they will always do God’s will.


YHWH says, “As for me, this is my covenant that I will make with them: My Spirit who is upon you will not leave you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children or your children’s descendants, from this time forth and forevermore.”                    Isaiah 59:21


The reason why there will be new obedience is because the Spirit remains in God’s people.


And lastly, there is Jeremiah, who spells out the new covenant under which the hearts will be reformed in order to bring about lasting obedience to God’s will, without the need to constantly call individuals back to God.  He too speaks of a reformation of the heart as God will place knowledge of his will and the desire to obey it within his people.


YHWH declares, “Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt, because they broke my covenant even thought I was like a husband to them.  This will be the covenant that I will make … after those days.  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. … And no longer will one have to teach his neighbour or brother, admonishing them, ‘Know YWHW,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer remember their sin.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34


Speaking of the time of the restoration of Israel, the prophet Joel speaks of God pouring out his Spirit.


It will come to pass after [the restoration] that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.  Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions.  Even on the male and female slaves will I pour out my Spirit in those days.

                                                                                    Joel 2:28-29


Unlike the Old Covenant, when the Spirit was only given to certain people at certain times, this time, he would be given to all flesh, that is all of God’s people, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity – and the Spirit would be given permanently. 


One thing to notice in all those verses is that the person who is acting is God himself. 

He would inaugurate the new covenant;

He would circumcise the hearts of his people; 

He would turn their heart of stone into a heart of flesh;

He would put a new spirit, His Spirit, within his people; He would write his will upon their heart.


And the ultimate result is that the people would enter a new era of knowing and following God’s will, ultimately resulting in God forgiving their sins – saving them from their sins, and blessing them with peace and prosperity.


So Israel is once again experiencing what its people consider the curse of the Law … which promises either oppression in the land or exile outside of the land. 


It is into a setting where the curse of the Law rests heavily on the shoulders of the Israelites as they face a cruel and violent occupation and are forced to pay heavy taxes to their corrupt leaders and to the government in Rome.


The people of Israel are yearning for the time of God’s intervention and many think that it is near.  Into that time the shepherds outside Bethlehem receive a message from an angel of the Lord (Luke 2:9):


I bring you good news of great joy that is for all people.  This day, in the city of David, a Saviour, the Lord Messiah, is born to you.                                         Luke 2:11


And the angels with him burst for in song, praising God and announcing peace on earth among those with whom God is well pleased (Lk 2:14). 


But perhaps we should also look at the other announcement of Jesus birth to Joseph – maybe by that very same angel of the Lord (Matt 1:20)


You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.                                                Matthew 1:21


In light of the Old Covenant hope, you could even translate this verse:  For he will save his people from their sinfulness.


Jesus is the Greek version of Yoshua, which means as much as YWHW saves, or YWHW salvation.  Jesus saves not only by paying the penalty of all that people do and say that is anathema to God.  He also saves by sending the HS, who is to indwell and reform the heart.


You see, Jesus’ birth did not bring about the restoration of the nation of Israel.  Quite the opposite was true. 


About 74 years after the proclamation of the angel of the Lord that a Saviour was born (AD 70), the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and many Jews killed. 


About 140 years after the announcement of the birth of a Saviour (AD 136), the majority of Jews in Israel were killed or forced to flee the land after the ill-fated Bar-Kochba revolt against Rome.  The nation entered another exile from the land, but this time one that lasted over 1,900 years.


As Jesus proclaimed to the high priest, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).


The question then is … how is this work of the Spirit, this reformation of the heart, this innate knowledge of God’s will … how is this present in my life … and in yours?




How are we different from the Israelites of old who constantly were drawn away from loving God with their whole heart, instead worshipping and sacrificing their children to the pagan deities for greater prosperity? 


How are we different from these Israelites of old, who were too calloused and greedy and selfish to look out for the vulnerable, preferring to take advantage and oppress where they could? 


How has our heart of stone been turned into a heart of flesh?


How do we know that God’s Spirit is indwelling us?


How are we aware of God’s will without even someone having to point out to us what is in the Bible?


How are we different?


Are we quenching the work of the HS in our lives by not allowing his work in us to find its expression in ministry? 


Are we grieving the HS, as we stubbornly insist in doing the very things he is convicting us not to do?


Do we even know how to listen to and be sensitive to his voice or have the our cultural morality or the morality of Hollywood so impaired our conscience that we can’t even recognize his words to us?


You see, the greatest miracle of Christmas is not the thwarting of a terrorist plot, or the healing of someone terminally ill, or the reversal of global warming, … as amazing as these would be. 


The greatest miracle of Christmas is how the coming of Jesus 2,000 years ago, actually affects me, you, now, in the here and now.  In November 2015 and December, and in 2016 … as long as we live?


Next week I’ll be exploring how the gift of the Spirit was received and what it actually accomplished in the lives of the early Christians – and what that means for us today.


[1] Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, pp. 406-407.

[2] See also John 14:26; 15:26; Eph 1:13-14

[3] And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in [the Roman province of] Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go.                                 Acts 16:6-7


[4] For Gideon, see Judges 6:34.

[5] Probably referring back to the messianic predictions in some of the prophetic books in the OT, in particular Isaiah (53), the author of 1 Peter wrote:

(The OT prophets) tried to find out the time and circumstances the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing to when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.                                  1 Peter 1:11

Peter speaking to 120 believers, and citing passages from the Psalms, said:

Brothers, the Scriptures had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas [Iscariot].                               Acts 1:16

One of the best known verses that speaks of the attitude of NT writers toward the OT prophets is found in 2 Peter.

No prophecy was every produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.                       2 Peter 1:21