This week, I want to talk with you about the lesser-known member of the Godhead: the Holy Spirit. Right there in the midst of this Trinity is this person of God that Jesus promised to us and God delivered, but what, exactly, is the Holy Spirit and what does that mean for us?
One of the more unfortunate misunderstandings of the Holy Spirit is that He is somehow a Spirit in the same sense that we think the Devil or Satan is a spirit. We relegate the Holy Spirit to the angelic realm, as if He is some completely different entity than what we know of God and Jesus, both of whom we have seen in the flesh (God in the Garden and perhaps beyond; Jesus, of course, in Galilee and the surrounding areas). It's almost as though we believe that God and Jesus are holding their hands out to introduce us to their invisible cousin, whom no one can see except for them. Invisible cousin or, perhaps, imaginary friend.
And that's sort of the impression that we get when someone talks about the Holy Spirit. If you're not a member of a charismatic church, it's easy to get uncomfortable. If you're outside the church altogether, it's easy to think this so-called Spirit of God is just an imaginary friend that Christians have that justifies what they want to say/do/believe so that they don't have to take responsibility for it. And that just muddies it even more.
If we cannot identify or explain the Holy Spirit, especially in His personhood, then that's what it sounds like - like this is just some idea we have so that we don't have to be responsible for our ideas. "The Spirit" made us do it. And, of course, some Christians have used Him just this way.
On the other hand, we have Christians who believe that the Spirit is a special gift to them, that His presence in their life is something special that God has done just for them. To these Christians, the Spirit is a unique gifting, not a universal one - I have the Spirit, but you don't. They take this as a sign of God's special favor upon them. God loves them, specifically, so much that He gave them the Spirit, which is not for everyone.
This kind of understanding comes likely out of Paul's listing of spiritual gifts, which seems to establish certain sets of gifting and it's not too difficult, if you want to do such a thing, to read the Spirit into that listing as one of the gifts. But it ignores, of course, the entirety of the New Testament witness, which was that the Holy Spirit came upon all believers at the time of their belief and therefore, it is a gift for all of us. We all have access to the person of the Holy Spirit (who is, in case we haven't mentioned it yet, a person and not some kind of phantom).
But then, you get Christians who 'live in the Spirit' and believe everyone should be 'living in the Spirit' and believe that there's all this supernatural phenomena associated with being a 'Spirit-filled believer' and just can't give the Holy Spirit enough credit...or chastise you enough for not having more of Him in your life. Oh, ye, of little faith.
It's complicated. Are you getting that yet? The Holy Spirit is one of those things that we just don't seem to understand well, which is perhaps because we don't see Him in the Scriptures as readily or as often as we see the persons of God and Jesus, but He's there. And that's why I want to talk about Him this week.
(Also, okay, I am reading this book, and it's not a bad book, but it's become a touchpoint for some of the things that I want to say this week because, like anything else, the theology that we adopt about the Holy Spirit can be sound or unsound, and it can lead us to clearer or more distorted understandings of God.)