How the Holy Spirit is Misunderstood
Today the third person of the Trinity is underappreciated by those who misunderstand Him and misrepresented by those overzealous for His manifestations. Somewhere between those extremes we must realize our desperate need for a genuine move of the Holy Spirit.
The world is full of books about God the Father who created the universe, and more books are written about Jesus the Son of God than anyone who ever walked on this planet. But isn’t it interesting that far fewer books have been written about God the Holy Spirit?
When teaching on prayer, Jesus declared, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13, emphasis added). You’d think that promise would create a huge desire to know more about this promised Helper—?who He is and what He does. And it would be even better if we were to experience Him as a living reality the way the early believers did.
We know that Jesus the Son is seated at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1). So that means the Holy Spirit is God’s only agent on Earth. He is the only experience we can have of God Almighty, the only way we can have the work of Jesus Christ applied to our lives and the only way we can understand God’s Word. Without the Holy Spirit, we are like the disciples before Pentecost—?sincere but struggling with confusion and defeat.
More than 100 years ago, Samuel Chadwick, a great Methodist preacher and leader in England, summed it up concisely: “The Christian religion is hopeless without the Holy Ghost.”
The early church provides the perfect illustration of that hopelessness. It was made up of simple men and women. The leaders were former fishermen and tax collectors who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and needed them most. They weren’t courageous and faithful. In fact, they lacked faith and courage. They were the least likely to be put in charge of any Christian enterprise.
Yet after the events in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, those same nobodies were suddenly transformed. With courage and faith, they turned their community, and eventually the world, upside down.
It wasn’t a result of their seminary training; they didn’t have any. They couldn’t hand out copies of the New Testament; it hadn’t been written yet. It wasn’t because they were wealthy and had the greatest sound system and light show at their church; they were poor people without a church building.
To the existing Jewish religious establishment, those early Christians were mocked as unlearned and ignorant people with few resources. To the Roman Empire they seemed fanatical and strange.
But one thing they did possess was the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them to rely on the Spirit for everything. The early believers knew well that Christianity was hopeless without the Holy Spirit.
Giving the Spirit His Due
The Holy Spirit is underappreciated and underpreached by the 21st century church. There is a prejudice of sorts against the Holy Spirit that impedes many from learning more about Him.
The body of Christ is often divided into two sides. One side stresses the Word of God, separating itself from what it views as the emotional fanaticism often linked to those emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit. The other side is sometimes known for drifting into unbiblical manifestations and unorthodox teaching while attributing it all to the Spirit of God.
Seeing the abuse and bad teaching, many on the first side will say: “I’m not interested in experiences and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I just want to study the Word.”
But it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible, and there are lots of promises concerning His person and work. How can anyone treasure God’s Word without giving the Holy Spirit His rightful place?
To those who move in circles strongly emphasizing the Holy Spirit, they must be reminded that everything must be tested by Scripture. The Spirit never contradicts the Word He gave us. He also never puts the focus on the preacher, because the Holy Spirit was sent to glorify Christ alone (John 16:14).
Somewhere in the middle is the kind of Christianity we see in Scripture, where the Word of God is honored along with a childlike dependence and openness to the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can make the things of Christ real and alive to people.
Christianity does not stop at the cross where Jesus died and paid the price for our sins. After Good Friday was Resurrection Sunday, when the Spirit raised Christ.
Yet so many of us live with faint trickles and shallow pools of the Spirit, rather than the promised rivers of living water. “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38, emphasis added).
By this He meant the Spirit. Everything about the Spirit speaks of powerful currents of life that refresh us and flow out to bless others.
Let’s remember how any person becomes a Christian: Before a person can feel the need for Jesus Christ as Savior, he or she must first be convicted of sin. “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. That is what every believer experiences in conversion to Christ.