A Bible study from Faithbuilders
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THOSE WHO consider this question must bear in mind that the Bible sets truth forward in a positive way; that is, it does not examine alternatives suggested by philosophers in order to arrive at truth. This is true in the instance of this present topic. Scripture does not state in a concise expression that the holy spirit is not a person co- equal with God. Instead, a great number of positive statements concerning the spirit's functions and qualities are placed before us. By considering such statements, we shall arrive at an understanding of what the spirit is, because one scripture complements another; there are no contradictions. What the holy spirit is not becomes quite apparent when a thorough consideration is pursued.
In the Old Testament the phrase 'holy spirit' is used only three times in the King James Version--Psa. 51:11 and Isa. 63:10,11. Most references to it are in the phrases 'spirit of God' or 'spirit of the LORD.' There is, however, no special distinction to be understood among them; the three terms may be regarded as synonymous. In the Old Testament, 'spirit' is almost always from the Hebrew ruwach, #7307, which means "wind, by resemblance breath, i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation...by resemblance spirit"-- Strong. Its New Testament equivalent is the Greek pneuma.
The word 'spirit' as it appears in the Bible is used in two broad senses. First, and most often, spirit denotes a quality, attitude or disposition usually possessed by individuals, occasionally by a group of people collectively (2 Chron. 21:16), of a nation (Isa. 19:3), even of the world (1 Cor. 2:12). The second use of 'spirit' denotes a spirit being such as God (John 4:24) or angels (Heb. 1:14), or denotes a demonic (Mark 3:11). Identification as to which group the holy spirit belongs will greatly assist to an understanding of what the 'spirit' is.
The holy spirit anointed our Lord Jesus at His baptism, and many miraculous works were performed thereby at His command in the years following. During those years Jesus conferred the miracle-working power of the holy spirit upon the apostles; and later appointed seventy disciples who also received miraculous gifts (Matt. 3:13-17, John 1:29-34, Matt. 10:1-20, Luke 10:1-16). On the day of Pentecost, in fulfillment of Jesus' promise (John 16:7), holy spirit was poured out from heaven upon the apostles and other believers gathered in one place (Acts 2). From that day and on, during the time of the apostles, those who believed on Jesus Christ received various manifestations of holy spirit bestowed in special abilities to carry forward the early ministry.
These things were indeed examples of how God exerted a powerful effect upon men, but to say that holy spirit is purely the power of God is not in itself an adequate description of that spirit. Before the flood, in a time when intense evil prevailed on the earth, God said, "My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he is also flesh; yet shall his days be an hundred and twenty years" (Gen. 6:3). This statement does not suggest that God's power was insufficient to deal with man. Rather, God set a time limit upon His efforts to persuade "the world that then was" (2 Pet. 3:6) to turn from its wicked course. In this statement, God's spirit was His influence.
Though man is a created being, Eccl. 8:8 ascribes to him a spirit. In that text the word 'breath' for the Hebrew ruwach would better suit the context. "There is no man that hath power over the spirit, to retain the spirit; neither hath he power over the day of death." 'Spirit' here indicates a man's power to live, his 'breath.'
'Spirit' is used in the description of the response of the Israelites to the request of Moses for materials with which to construct the tabernacle. "And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whose spirit made him willing" (Exod. 35:21). This, then, is another instance where 'mind' is the meaning of ruwach. And the KJV translators used that word six times to represent ruwach. In other places, the spirit of individuals is described as 'jealous' (Num. 5:14), 'hard' (Deut. 2:30), 'sad' (1 Kings 21:5), 'anguished' (Job 7:11), 'contrite' (Psa. 34:18), 'broken' (Psa. 51:17), 'faithful,' 'hasty,' 'haughty,' and 'humble' (Prov. 11:13, 14:29, 16:18,19), 'patient' and 'proud' (Eccl. 7:8), 'perverse,' 'erring,' and 'grieved' (Isa. 19:14, 29:24, 54:6), 'ready' (Mark 14:38), 'meek' and 'quiet' (1 Pet. 3:4). In all these instances, the context shows that the 'spirit' has to do with the inward man; the word 'spirit' has been used to indicate the state or quality of mind of the person described.
In instances where a particular moral condition exists in common, the word 'spirit' describes the quality of a group of people. Israel's idolatry is described in that manner in Hosea 4:12. "The spirit of whoredom hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God." The 'spirit of whoredom' was the disposition to be unfaithful, spiritually promiscuous, so to speak, as displayed by those who turned from the one true god to serve false ones. Their outward acts of idolatry demonstrated their inner 'spirit,' or mental attitude. And we find that, in almost every case, the 'spirit' of a man is a function of his mind.
Paul specially qualifies in two ways his statement here concerning man. Firstly, he says, "who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man..." Each of us may know why we do the things we do, and we may judge ourselves based upon principles developed by, and in our mind. But in the case of another we can only detect their mind by what they show us, through what they do or say. On the other hand, God is able to perceive the features of a man's spirit even before that spirit becomes manifest in words or deeds. But we lack His ability because man's spirit is limited. Furthermore, we perceive the things of God only as He is pleased to reveal them. Those with whom He is pleased are privileged to see "the things of the spirit of God."--1 Cor. 2:14
Secondly, Paul speaks of "the spirit of the man, which is in him," but does not restrict God's spirit with the same wording. God's spirit is not confined to a particular location, but proceeds from Him for the accomplishment of His purposes (John 15:26). And that is the Apostle's theme in Corinthians. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God...God hath revealed them unto us by His spirit: for the spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."--1 Cor. 2:12,10, Rom. 8:14-16
In view of the foregoing, a tentative answer can now be framed to the question, What is the holy spirit? Generally speaking, it may be said that the holy spirit is a function or activity always identified with the mind of God. Where the spirit proceeds from God, and exerts an effect upon man, it is His power, or influence. It remains to be seen if there is any mention in Scripture of holy spirit which cannot be accommodated in these terms.
The examination of the spirit of man now is carried a little further. It is obvious that man's spirit has often been opposed to God, and censured by the prophets, but at other times approved by God, making that man eligible for His blessings (Isa. 57:12-21, Num. 14:24, Psa. 34:18). But a man has control over his own spirit; he is not a helpless victim of it. This is as Paul taught, that a man's spirit "knoweth the things of a man"; therefore the spirit has to do with the conscious mind. God's counsel goes forth on the principle that the spirit of man is under the control of man's will. It is in harmony with this that the prophet Malachi rebuked Israel, saying, "...take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously" (Mal. 2:16). Those words imply the reality that a man may undergo a change in spirit if he wills to. Were it not possible, there would have been no point in the admonition. Gods desire in speaking thus through Malachi was that those to whom the prophet wrote might heed the word of God, and change their minds.
Their wills were involved in this course of events in two ways. Firstly, they had the choice to receive Stephen's testimony or to close their minds to it. They chose the latter. "Uncircumcized in heart and ears" described their state of mind in terms they would well understand. Circumcision was a sign in the flesh of Israel's consecration, their dedication to God. "Uncircumcized in ears"-- unwilling to commit their hearing to, or heed, God's Word; "uncircumcized in heart"--unwilling to commit themselves to God in faith and trust. Secondly, though they refused to hear God's Word, they still had a choice regarding their actions toward Stephen. They were not compelled to kill him; they chose to do it, even though they made a pretense of obeying the Law.
It is seen that a man's will stands guard, not only on the way into the mind, but also on the way out. If a man is guided by his spirit, then his state of mind is revealed in his speech and actions. We call this the character of that man. Likewise, the things which God has said and done and caused to be recorded reveal to us His divine character.
The spirit which God would put in His people would not be 'new' in the sense of an innovation. Rather, it would be His spirit, an holy spirit. "I, the LORD, change not" (Mal. 3:6). But in man it would indeed be new, entirely different from the 'spirit' of the natural fleshly man (1 Cor. 2:14). A new heart and a new spirit would amount to nothing less than a radical change in the inward man, with a corresponding change in character. And because the new spirit would be an holy spirit, the resulting new character would necessarily be like God's. They would walk in His statutes and keep His judgments not from any external constraint, but from the heart, because they and God would be of like mind. And His standards would be reflected in all their thinking.
A fundamental principle of God's dealings with the human family is that He will not override the will of man in order to make unfaithful men faithful. The choice has always belonged to man to respond to God or to turn away from Him. It was true of Adam (Gen. 2:17, 3:3,6), of Abraham (Gen. 22:2,12,18), of Moses (Heb. 11:25-27), of the nation of Israel (Exod. 19:5, Deut. 30:19), of Christ (Matt. 26:39, Heb. 5:7,8); it is so now (Heb. 4:7,11, 10:26,38, 12:25), and it will be so in the Earthly Kingdom Age, as expressed in Rev. 22:17 RSV: "..e that will, let him take the water of life freely."
Ezekiel prophesied that the promised change would follow a cleansing process: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you." Peter had a moral cleansing in mind when, on the day of Pentecost, he urged the men of Israel, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the holy spirit" (Acts 2:38 RSV). In this one sentence the vital steps toward a change in spirit are set forward. The first step: "Repent ye!" The Greek word metanoeo, #3340, means "to 'think differently' or to 'think afterwards,' i.e. 'reconsider' (mor. 'feel compunction)'"--Strong. Repentance is proof that the way to the mind is not closed.
The word of God is recognized as truth (John 17:17), and its preaching leads to one's acknowledgment of former disobedience and the humble request for God's forgiveness. This act of contrition is a sign that the mind has opened to the influence of God and that one is willing to act in accordance with the knowledge received. The next step is one of obedience: "...be baptized...in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins..."
However, let us not think that the statement in Ezekiel, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you," refers to the literal water involved in the act of outward baptism. Rather, it refers to the cleansing by remission of sins through repentance and faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice. It is of this that 1 John 1:7,9 RSV promises: "...the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin...If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The 'filthiness' of Israel of which Ezekiel wrote was their unrighteousness.
God's blessings are not forced upon any, but are received voluntarily through the meeting of conditions set down by God. And note the assurance that God's spirit is intended for us: "...and ye shall receive the gift of the holy spirit" (Acts 2:38 RSV). Its implanting in the believer depends upon his willingness to receive it. Quite understandably, God's cleansing of the believer from unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus Christ could not take place before Christ's blood was shed. Also dependent upon that was the giving of the holy spirit, which was shed forth by our resurrected Savior who had faithfully offered the propitiatory sacrifice.
Grace is the favor of God toward believers, and a principal manifestation of that grace is justification by faith. One receives justification when his "faith is counted for righteousness." "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD will not impute sin" (Rom. 4:5,7,8). Justification is God's free gift.--Rom. 5:15-18
Truth is that revelation of knowledge given to us by God. It comprises the whole body of Scripture, to which the New Testament is the key. Repentance denotes a mind opened to the influence of God transmitted through an understanding of that knowledge. Our new-found understanding of God's grace manifests itself in the cleansing of our conscience (Heb. 10:22), and that forms the basis of our spiritual change by removing the impediment of guilt and self-reproach. There was no provision in the Law to accomplish this inner cleaning.
Conscience is not instinct or emotion, nor is it something we are born with. By definition it has to do with knowledge and understanding. It is formed from what we have learned and believe to be correct, and is our standard of morality, justice, and truth. It is the "inner judge" by which we can assess our own thoughts and conduct. The Jew in the Law Covenant would not have felt guilt had he not known that the Law condemned him for his smallest infringement of it (James 2:10). The Law was in his conscience, sitting in judgment upon him and pronouncing him guilty, without reprieve (Zech. 9:11). His 'spirit' or state of mind was one of bondage, bound for life to the service of the Law. Due to the weakness of the flesh, even one who would strive to be righteous always fell short of the Law's perfect standard of righteousness.
Faith in Christ is the sure foundation from which to approach God and develop a conscience restructured by His word. The glorious gospel of God contained in the New Testament enables us to realize that the whole Bible reveals His mind and character. We have especially the perfect example of our Lord Jesus. The conscience built according to the standards of truth and righteousness serves as a reliable guide in every judgment we are called upon to make. Such restructuring is only through watchful, prayerful and patient attention to Scripture and to our own self.
Truth is the mainspring of a pure conscience. Jesus expressed important sentiments in this regard in His prayer on our behalf. "Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17 ASR). The Greek verb hagiazo, #47, translated 'sanctify,' means 'to make holy.' Believers are made holy by the influence of God's word. With a pure conscience directed by a mind appreciating truth, the influence of God is no longer solely on the outside; it also exists within.
The fact that miraculous abilities were given by God to believers at and following Pentecost should not distract us from the principles involved. Those special gifts were essentially no different from the manifestations of the holy spirit recorded in the Old Testament, and had no direct effect upon the character of those through whom they functioned. The miraculous gifts existed for a particular purpose in the early church, and when that purpose was served, they ceased. They were a means to God's end, and not an end in themselves. Their function was to establish the church; firstly, by demonstrating that the preaching was God-ordained, and, secondly, to provide the substance of the message preached in the absence of the New Testament. Once the New Testament had been delivered to the church, there was no further need for inspired human witnesses, and the miracles ceased.
It does not fit into the present phase of God's plan for God's earthly servants to work miracles; nor would it suit His purpose, with regard to our mental processes, to perform miracles on us. What God desires in us is the development of the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is Himself in the image of the Father (Rom. 8:29, Gal. 4:19, 2 Cor. 4:4). The outward likeness in character can be produced only as our minds are formed in the image of His mind. For that reason the apostle exhorts, "Let this mind be in you, which is also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5), and encourages, "...we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). Of course our knowledge is not to be compared with His, for completeness, nor is our faith and self-control to be compared with His, for strength; but the principle is the same. As displayed in the man Christ Jesus, character is a product of a consecrated will guided by the knowledge of God.
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