The Holy Spirit

Rev. Martha Myre, PhD

Article IV (Articles of Religion) — Of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

Article III (Confession of Faith)  — The Holy Spirit

We believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from and is one in being with the Father and the Son. He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. He leads men through faithful response to the gospel into the fellowship of the Church. He comforts, sustains and empowers the faithful and guides them into all truth.

holy_spirit_fire_by_jpsmsu40_zps1b176718

Ghost? Spirit? Confused.

When I was a little girl in church, I enjoyed singing along with the congregation something called the Gloria Patri, which I thought was pretty, if a bit odd. The last line goes like this: “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Now, unfortunately, the only other ghost with which I was familiar was Casper the friendly ghost (a popular cartoon at the time). So I had this vague mental image of the Trinity as: God, the Jesus that I had seen in pictures, and Caspar with a halo. (My apologies if you can’t get that mental image out of your brain for a while!) My point here is that while I had a notion of God the Father and God the Son – i.e. Jesus – I didn’t really have any notion of what was meant by “the Holy Spirit.” I had an essentially binitarian faith, instead of a trinitarian faith. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I didn’t really learn much about the Holy Spirit until I was a young adult in Disciple Bible Study. I also began to read some of John Wesley’s sermons, which I found helpful.

What the Church Says

The Articles of Religion of The United Methodist Church don’t actually say a lot about the Holy Spirit. Article IV—Of the Holy Ghost says only this: The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory.

The Confession of Faith gives us a bit more in Article III—The Holy Spirit:

We believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from and is one in being with the Father and the Son. He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. He leads men through faithful response to the gospel into the fellowship of the Church. He comforts, sustains and empowers the faithful and guides them into all truth.

The Confession of Faith also mentions the Holy Spirit as the one from whom we receive the Scriptures and under whose discipline the Church exists.

What the Old Testament Says

Looking to the Bible for help on the Holy Spirit, I found much to enlighten me. The Spirit of God hovers over the face of the deep in Genesis 1, but I think a more significant reference to the Spirit comes in Genesis 2:7 where God breathes into the nostrils of the little earth person that God has made from the clay and that person becomes a living, breathing (or, you might say “spirit-filled”) being. The breath of God – the Spirit of God – gives life in the beginning, just as the breath of Jesus – the Spirit of Jesus – gives new life to his disciples in John 20:22.

Most often in the Old Testament, the function of the Spirit is to enable a person to prophesy and speak the word of God. See for instance Numbers 11:24-25 where the Spirit allowed the elders to prophesy. However, since the Spirit came and went, the ability to prophesy did as well. That is most commonly how the Spirit functions in the Old Testament – the Spirit comes upon a person for a time in order for that person to fulfill a job or a calling that God has for them to do. The tasks range from leading the people in battle (see for example Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6) to speaking before a crowd of people and telling them what they do not want to hear. (See, for instance, Ezekiel 2:2, 3:24, and 11:24)

And, of course, the Spirit of God will fall upon the Messiah:

Isaiah 11:2:

The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,

the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of counsel and might,

the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Isaiah Bible

Notice that when we line up the phrases of the verse in this way, we can see that the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the LORD are elaborations on the “spirit of the LORD.” These tell us what the spirit of the LORD is like. (See also Isaiah 42:1.)

However, the Spirit of God is not only a promise for the Messiah, but for the people of God as well. In fact the giving of the Spirit, promised in Joel 2:28-29, is the sign that God will be with the people in a new way after the resurrection of Jesus.

What the New Testament Says

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit shows up at critical times in Jesus’ life and ministry. Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descends like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit drives or leads (depending on whether you read Mark or Matthew) Jesus into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:19-20) he reads a passage from Isaiah that indicates Jesus is working in tandem with the spirit of the Lord God:

Isaiah 61:1-2:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.

And, of course, when Jesus appears to his disciples post-resurrection he gives the command: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat 28:19 CEB).

Baptism of Christ by Davezelenka, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

Person, not “It”

Maybe the most important thing I have learned over the years is that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity. Why does it matter that the Holy Spirit is a person? Because the Holy Spirit is our intimate connection to God, both communally and individually. The promise given in Joel and renewed by Jesus in John 14 is fulfilled in Acts when the Holy Spirit descends upon the gathered crowd and draws them together into the gathered church – the Spirit creates the people of God, connecting us with one another and with God. We say that the scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is also the one who gives us the ability to understand the Word of God as found in the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is Comforter, but also the refining fire who convicts us of our sin and enables us to respond to grace. Paul tells us that when we don’t even know how and what to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with us and for us. These are all the actions of a person who loves us, not an impersonal “Force” a la Star Wars.

This post is getting long, but I want to make one more point about the Holy Spirit. There have been a number of heresies associated with the Holy Spirit and I think we find ourselves sliding towards some of those now. In essence we sometimes remove the Holy Spirit from the Trinity, either intentionally or unintentionally, and wind up attributing all sorts of behavior to the “prompting of the Spirit.” However, if we think we are being inspired by the Holy Spirit or told something “new” we have to remember that the Spirit will not contradict what we know of God through Christ and in the Scriptures.

A Personal Note

Finally, on a very personal level, I have to admit that while I try not to use pronouns when speaking to others of the persons of the Trinity, in my own mind, I use the pronoun “he” for God the Father and Jesus the Son. However, I think of the Holy Spirit as “she.” This is not because I think gender has a lot to do with the persons of the Trinity, but because I am a “she” and the Holy Spirit is my intimate friend. I experience the Holy Spirit as one who causes me a great deal of discomfort when I am straying from the will of God. But I also experience the Holy Spirit as the one who cries my tears and then dries my tears when I have no one else and nowhere else to turn.

2 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit

  1. I am a UM Elder “retired” on disability. I don’t know what stage I am on or inI believe that God, the Triune God, led me to led me to your site! May the same LORD God bless and prosper your efforts and grant us another Pentecost!

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