Listening 2 God (Image © Mal Austin - www.givenworks.com. Used with permission.)

Header image © Mal Austin - www.givenworks.com. Used with permission.

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Lesson 3 - The Power and Anointing of the Holy Spirit - Part 1:

It is normal in a course like this to go over the basics of who the Holy Spirit is, what Spirit baptism is and how it happens, and the use of spiritual gifts. We will do some of this, to establish a common ground, since each person comes from a different background and understanding. However, I will assume that you have some knowledge about these things; and the resource sheets will also be helpful. I am much more interested in helping you reach a deeper level of understanding about the relationship between yourself and the Holy Spirit.

Paul speaks of the essential role of the Holy Spirit in our knowing the things of God.

We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" - but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 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. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:7-16)

Without his enabling we cannot hear from God and effective prayer or ministry is impossible. In particular having this relationship is essential if you are going to help wounded and troubled people overcome the barriers that keep them from coming closer to the Lord. It is your relationship with Father God, and your ability to work fully with the Holy Spirit that will convince them that they just might be able to receive from God too. In this, we are his witnesses. Holy Spirit alone is able to reveal the hidden things that hinder them from being able to receive good news. For example, healing through prayer is not a spiritual version of doctoring or counselling - it is evangelising the broken heart.




Who is the Holy Spirit?

First a disclaimer: when I speak of the Holy Spirit I will often use the personal pronoun 'he'. This is not because I believe the Holy Spirit is male - in fact 'she' might be more appropriate. I am not being sexist. I use it because my mind is used to this, and it is least clumsy. 'It' is inappropriate because the Holy Spirit is a person.

The Bible speaks of God in many ways, some by name - various names, but more often as a description. One of God's names is 'Yahweh' (sometimes erroneously written 'Jehovah'). This is literally 'I am' or 'I am that I am', so even this is a description of God's nature - the only self-existent One. Old Testament names are very often like this - a description of what the person is, should be, or will be like. For example, Jacob - the 'twister', and Joshua, Joseph or Jesus - 'deliverer'. God is often referred to as 'the Holy One'. This speaks of God's supremacy in purity and perfection, and of his absolute uniqueness - there is only One who is God.

While speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus refers to God as 'Spirit' (John 4:24). Notice that here he is talking about Father God being Spirit, and he is saying that because God's nature is spirit he can only be worshipped in spirit - not by means of special rituals or in particular holy places. Spirit can not be confined or restricted to such things.

It would be interesting to follow the witness to the Holy Spirit in the Bible, from his appearance in Genesis 1 as the agent of creation; through his anointing of the words and actions of the judges, kings and prophets of Israel; through the gospels as the cause of the birth of Jesus, the receiver of his spirit at death, and the revitaliser of his body in the resurrection; through the Book of Acts where he empowers the church in its work on earth; right through to Revelation where the Spirit speaks into the destiny of the church and where John gives him the last word in calling on the glorified Jesus to return for his bride. We won't do this now, but that quick survey serves to show that the Holy Spirit is not some mysterious 'force' invented by charismatic or Pentecostal Christians to explain their sometimes unusual behaviour. Nor is the Holy Spirit just the somewhat anonymous part of God responsible for performing miracles. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the very presence of God on earth - very real, very powerful, very holy, and very personal.

What did Jesus mean when he said, "Whoever believes in me ... streams of living water will flow from within him"? (John 7:38)

It is risky, and very inadequate, to try to explain the Holy Spirit in terms of our own experiences of him, because clearly the Scriptures show that there is much more to him and his activities than could ever be defined. The biblical writers are really groping when they use images like fire, water and wind for his activity. The Bible says numerous times that the Spirit's work is not to disclose himself, but to reveal Jesus and to make the work of God more complete in our lives. (John 16:13-14)

So, when we speak of such things as 'baptism of the Holy Spirit', 'filling with the Spirit', and 'release of spiritual gifts', it is not sufficient to think in terms of being immersed in water, or of being filled with a substance, somewhat like drinking a very large glass of water. What is really happening is that the Spirit of God is transforming us and releasing us ever more fully into the wholeness God created us to have.

Discovering more of God in this way is an exciting and refreshing experience. Some people don't experience the 'scintillating vibrancy of the Spirit's presence', as Bob Gordon puts it in Explaining the Holy Spirit (The Explaining Series), until they have been Christians for many years. I was one of those, because I came with the many misunderstandings about God that a fundamentalist church tradition can often load one with. Others have such an experience from the time of their first commitment.

It may help us in this study if we have some idea of how the Spirit relates to the other persons of the Godhead.

God is a community of love

We have seen in John 4:24 that God is Spirit. 1 John 4:8,16 tell us that God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in him. This word love is 'agape', and is the giving of oneself for the sake of another. Theologian Stanley Grenz, in Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living (p47), says that "active, self-giving love builds unity within the one God. The unity of God is nothing less than each of the trinitarian persons giving himself to the others... This love is the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of the relationship of the Father and the Son." This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is merely the relationship of love between Father and Son. He is still also a person. This is where our simple human analogies break down. We simply do not understand things at the deep level which is normal for God. The true nature of 'spirit' is still outside the frame of reference most of us are used to. But we need to be willing to let God change our thinking about these things, because these apparent mysteries are just as applicable to our own human spirit, and to other spiritual entities that exist in creation. When we start to glimpse just a little bit of what is really true, then a whole new world begins to open up before us. We begin to see as God sees. This is a key to the knowledge and discernment gifts that God has for us.

All of this means something glorious for those who come into relationship with God. When we believe then the Spirit comes to live in our spirit. But, being himself the relationship of love between Father and Son, the Spirit draws us into that relationship. We share the love the Son enjoys with the Father. So, Paul can exclaim, "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father'" (Gal 4:6).

This is what Jesus is speaking about when he says that on the day the Spirit comes we will realise that "I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" (John 14:20).

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