The word “spirit” doesn’t mean much to us now. I watched a Japanese anime last night… and the word spirit must have been used at least 50 times to indicate a minor “power” that either a good person or an evil person could utilize for a fight. I also watched a YTV show this week that was looking for “spirits” in a “haunted” house. In high school, at times, I had team spirit. At other times, I needed my “spirit” lifted.
For a long time in English, God’s Spirit was called the “Holy Ghost”. I suppose “ghost” is another way to refer to “spirit”, but the word just seems silly to me. Is God’s Spirit the vapor-apparition of a dead person who hovers around in an old dilapidated house on Elm Street?
In the Old Testament, God’s “Spirit” is named by the Hebrew word ruach. In the New Testament, God’s Spirit is named by the Greek word pneuma. They both indicate that we cannot see where God’s Spirit is coming or going, but we can see the effects of the Spirit. They are colorful words. JI Packer says ruach and pneuma are picture-words with a “vivid, precise, and colorful meaning.”(1) Ruach and pneuma picture breath breathed. They picture breathe, or wind- energy loosed on the world… energy that can not be tamed or controlled by humans… energy that can be gentle or violent… creative or destructive… energy that can choose how it moves and where… energy that changes individuals, environments, cultures and worlds.
So the Holy Ruach or Holy Pneuma in the Bible means so much more than just a hovering ghost. “Power in action is in fact the basic biblical thought whenever God’s Spirit is mentioned,” says Packer. (2) The Holy Spirit, then, is God acting and moving and changing people and events in this world. The Holy Spirit is God breathing on, in and through us… on, in and through this world…
But more than a mere “energy” or force of action the Spirit of God displays a being-ness. The Holy Spirit is more than just God’s activity or movement… the Holy Spirit is more than just the manifestation of God’s love. The Holy Spirit, for lack of better descriptive words, is a distinct “person” or “divine being.” The Bible describes the Holy Spirit in terms of personhood language, distinct from God the Father in the same way that Jesus (God the Son) is distinct- and yet also uniquely God along with the Father and Son. 2Corinthians 13:14 says, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Ephesians 2:18 says, “Now all of us may come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.” Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “We are all one body, we have the same Spirit… There is only one Lord… and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.” 1Peter 1:2 says, “God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood.”
So much more than an angel or a ghost or a breeze, the Spirit is God as much as the God the Father or God the Son. In John 14, Jesus talks about the Spirit as if the Spirit were his closest, most trusted confidant in life. Jesus says he is going to send the Spirit who will move and act and breathe in his name as a Counselor (or Comforter, Advocate, or Ally). Jesus describes himself in these terms, and then says he will send “another” who will continue to act as he has. John, the Gospel writer, uses a masculine pronoun every time he refers to the Spirit- when normally in Greek the pronoun would have been neuter. To refer to the Holy Spirit as “it” is to fail to recognize his unique personhood. (3)
Why do I dwell on the Spirit today? Because the Spirit longs to dwell in each of us. Packer reminds us that “the essence of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, at this or any time in the Christian era, is to mediate the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In and through the Spirit we come to know and come to be changed by the reality that Jesus is here, he is active, and he is glorious.(4) Any attempt on our part to understand God more or to help ourselves or others to experience God more will be a vain struggle without the breathing/moving/powerful-action of the Spirit. If we truly desire transformation, the Spirit is the agent of that change.
(1)Packer, JI. Keep in Step With the Spirit. Revell, 1984, p.36-37.
(2)ibid. p. 37.
(3) again, Packer’s book, Keep in Step with the Spirit, is very helpful here.
(4) ibid., p.55