The Holy Spirit: Much More Than Just a Friendly Ghost
Bruce Bickle and Stan Jantz

B. Childress
Jun 24 2011

The Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as the Holy Ghost, is the least understood - and maybe the most controversial -
member of the Trinity.

But who's surprised?  After all, a spirit or a ghost isn't easy to pin down and put under a microscope.  The best the
Greeks could do was to use the word
pneuma, meaning "breath" or "wind," for spirit.  (We get some of our English
words about air from this Greek word, such as pneumatic or pneumonia.)

You've heard the refrain, "Blowin' in the wind..."  When Jesus was talking to the seeker Nicodemus, that's exactly the
word-picture he used to describe the work of the Spirit:

    Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit...The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its
    sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John

Whole church movements have been started by Christians who believed that God's amazing Holy Spirit was being
ignored.  And Christians disagree more about the Holy Spirit (for example, what He can do for and through believers)
than about either God the Father or God the Son.

Our approach here is to try to give you the core biblical teachings about the Holy Spirit, recognizing that well-intentioned
Bible teachers put the emphasis on many different areas of the Spirit's work on earth.

While all of these areas are significant, we hope that you will come away with the most important truth: The Holy Spirit's
promise and purpose for Christians goes beyond gifts and powers.  The Holy Spirit is really about closeness with God.  
It is God trying to get next to us - make that
within us - and stay there.

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is not just an abstract concept. He is not a vapor, an essence, or a force.  The Holy Spirit has existed for
eternity with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.  Like the other members of the Trinity, He is a person.  He has a

God's Spirit in Person

Being a "person" doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit has a body.  Rather, He has those characteristics which define a

He has intelligence:

  •   He knows the things of God (I Corinthians 2:10-11).

  •   He has a mind (Romans 8:27).

  •   He teaches people (I Corinthians 2:13).

He has emotions:

  •   He can be offended (Ephesians 4:30).

  •   He loves (Romans 15:30).

He has an independent will:

  •   He chooses the distribution of "spiritual gifts" (I Corinthians 12:11).

God's Presence Among Us

In the Old Testament, God was present only with particular people and in particular places.  In the Gospels, God was
present in bodily form in Jesus.  Today, God is present in a third, most amazing way.  Through the Holy Spirit, He lives
inside all who believe.  Now He is Immanuel ("God with us") always!

This third way brings God as close as possible to us while we are still living here on earth.  He didn't want just to be near
us.  He wanted to be inside us, with us always.  Jesus said:

    I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-

The Holy Spirit's Story - Creation to Christ

As you would expect of God, His Spirit has been around since the beginning.  And He has been participating in the
events affecting mankind.  His presence and activity are revealed in the events recorded in the Old Testament.

1.  In the darkness, God's Spirit brooded...and created a world.  According to Genesis 1:2, "Darkness was over the
surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."  The Holy Spirit played an active role in the
creation of the universe, the world, and man (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 104:30; Job 33:4).

2.  He changed history through chosen people.  The Holy Spirit was not present in the life of every person who
believed in God during Old Testament times.  Scholars talk about the "selective indwelling" of the Holy  Spirit in the Old

Certain people were empowered by the Spirit with wisdom and power.  Joseph (Genesis 41:38), Joshua (Numbers 27:
18), and Daniel (Daniel 5:11) are described as leading lives filled with the Spirit.

Yet the Spirit left Samson (Judges 13-16) and Saul (I Samuel 10-16) when they continually disobeyed God or misused
His power.

3.  He spoke eternal truth through writers and prophets.  The Holy Spirit brought God's message to the men who
spoke for God (prophets), and those who wrote the text of the Bible.

  •   Old Testament writers and prophets themselves attribute their words to the Holy Spirit (II Samuel 23:2).

  •   Jesus said that King David (who wrote many of the Psalms) was given his words by the Holy Spirit (Matthews 22:

  •   Paul and the writer of Hebrews said that the Old Testament prophets and writers received their message from
    the Holy Spirit  (Acts 28:25; Hebrews 3:7; 10:15-16).

Perhaps the apostle Peter best summed it up:

    For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the
    Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:21).

The Holy Spirit's Story - the Life of Christ

1.  When the Messiah was to be born, the Spirit conceived a miracle.  We can't explain how Jesus was
conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, but we know that it was brought about by the Holy Spirit.  Can you imagine
Mary's thoughts when she heard the Holy Spirit's plan for her!

    The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  
    So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

2.  The Holy Spirit gave Jesus special power to begin His public ministry.  When Jesus was about 30 years old,
He was baptized and received the Holy Spirit:

    And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove
    (Luke 3:21-22).

From that moment on, Jesus showed that He had superhuman powers (Acts 10:38).  The Bible describes Jesus Christ
as being "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1) and "anointed" by the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:27).

Jesus clearly recognized His special powers when He quoted verses from Isaiah and applied them to Himself:

    The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me
    to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim
    the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19).

3.  Before Jesus returned to heaven, He promised that "the Spirit of truth" would come.  The disciples spent
an intensive three-year training program with Jesus.  Imagine how abandoned they felt when He told them He was
leaving.  But Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to fill their lives in a new way:

    And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth (John

    But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind
    you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

The Holy Spirit's Story - Christ to the Early Church

1.  The Holy Spirit filled the disciples on the Day of Pentecost.  After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the
disciples were waiting in Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed:

    Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were
    sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of
    them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:2-4).

This event is called the "Day of Pentecost."  It marks the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  The report of the event in Acts 2 says
that the disciples immediately began to preach about Jesus Christ in languages they didn't even know.  Foreigners
visiting Jerusalem recognized what was being said in their own native language.

Peter explained to the amazed crowd that this miraculous event was part of the proof that Jesus Christ was  the
Messiah.  He told them to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.  About 3000 people became
Christians that afternoon.

Speaking of the Spirit

You may see references to the Holy Spirit more often than you realize.  Churches that emphasize the ministry of the
Holy Spirit tend to use names like:

  •   "Pentecostal" - refers to the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

  •   "Charismatic" - from the Greek word charisma, which means "anointing," as in the Holy Spirit anoints the
    believer with His presence and power.

  •   "Spirit-filled" - refers to the unhindered presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life.

2.  He gave Christians power to spread the message of Christ around the world.  As the Gospels (Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John) tell the story of Jesus' arrival in our world, so the book of Acts tells the story of the arrival and
deeds of the Holy Spirit.  When He arrived, the Holy Spirit changed the disciples' lives immediately and dramatically:

  •    Power.  The disciples performed miracles - healing, casting out demons, knowing secret thoughts and deeds,
    speaking in other languages - by the Holy Spirit (Acts 5).

  •    Understanding.  The Holy Spirit helped the disciples to understand Jesus' teachings.

As Christ had told them:  
    But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind
    you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

  •    Comfort.  The Holy Spirit (also known as "the Comforter") brought divine encouragement to first-century
    Christians being persecuted by both Jewish and Roman authorities.  Through the Spirit's power, they endured,
    and their love for each other flourished.

  •    Guidance.  The Holy Spirit directed Christians in making difficult decisions and in understanding the importance
    of certain events (Acts 8:29; 13:2,4).

  •    Inspiration.  The Holy Spirit guided several disciples to write books of the New Testament.

At His ascension, Jesus told His disciples:

    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 (Matthew 28:19).

The Holy Spirit Today

The good news is that the Holy Spirit isn't just history - part of an exciting early church, but put away in God's closet
since then.  The Holy Spirit is active everywhere in our world, drawing unbelievers to God and living in Christians with
life-changing power.

1.  He's the Big Initiator.  The Holy Spirit brings people to the point of decision about their need for salvation and
God.  This influence, called "conviction," goes beyond an intellectual or emotional power.  It is God's Spirit working in
the human spirit to lovingly draw us toward God's best for our lives.  Jesus said:

    When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).

The Holy Spirit also persuades us of God's holiness, opening our spiritual eyes to see the truth about Christ's life and
death.  Finally, the Spirit shows us our need to choose to receive Christ's gift of salvation if we want forgiveness and
eternal life.

2.  He's the Change Maker.  When we respond to the Spirit's invitation, the truly miraculous transforming power of the
Holy Spirit is let loose in our lives.  We are changed - immediately and eternally.

This miracle of starting over is called "regeneration" or being "born again."  We are rescued from our evil nature and
restored to fellowship with our Creator.  Paul uses words like washing and renewal to teach young believers about

    At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We
    lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior
    appeared, he saved us...through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us
    generously through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:3-6).

Regeneration is accomplished instantly by the Spirit.  It creates a new God-sensitive, God-empowered nature in the

    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (II Corinthians 5:17).

Regeneration doesn't make us perfect.  We are still stuck in our human bodies with many of our old weaknesses.  Yet
we are spiritually empowered to win over the old nature as we choose to follow Christ's pattern for living.

3.  He's the Inside Source.  The Holy Spirit comes to live inside us.  His presence is very real, whether as a "still, small
voice" nudging us in God's direction, or as a life-long power to change us to be like Jesus.

In Old Testament times, God's presence was sometimes described as a powerful, shining light in the temple.  After the
coming of the Holy Spirit, God's place of residence changed.  Here's Paul's amazing statement to new believers:

    Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?  (I Corinthians 3:16).

This is the "indwelling" of the Holy Spirit.  It applies to every believer (Romans 8:9).

4.  He's the Family Name.   The Holy Spirit "baptizes" all believers into the family of God.  "Baptism" means we've been
publicly inducted, completely taken into a new identity, but used in this context, baptism doesn't have anything to do with
getting wet.

God's family of believers is often referred to as "the body of Christ."  So when we accept  Christ as Savior, we are
"baptized into the body of Christ" regardless of race, education, or social position.

    For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free (I Corinthians 12:13).

5.  He's the Eternal Guarantee.  Every believer is made a permanent member of God's family by the Holy Spirit.  We
get our membership papers, so to speak, and the documents are forever sealed.  Theologians call it "sealing."  You can
think of it as the Super Glue of your salvation.

Christ has "set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come"
(II Corinthians 1:21-22).

Sealing last until "the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30).  Once we are saved, we stay saved until Christ's return -
even if we stray from our commitments to Him.  The Holy Spirit in our lives is the "deposit" or "guarantee" that Christ
owns us and will return for us.

The Holy Spirit - Key to Your New Life

Beyond the Spirit's power to save us is His power for our everyday lives.  The apostle Paul knew that the secret to living
the way Jesus intends is to allow the Holy Spirit to control our choices and desires.  Paul called this surrendering to the
Holy Spirit "being filled."  Listen to Paul's encouragement to the Christians at Rome:

    Once the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives within you he will, that same Spirit, bring to
    your whole being new strength and vitality (Romans 8:11, Phillips version).

While the indwelling of the Holy Spirit happens all at once, and once and for all at the moment of salvation, the filling of
the Holy Spirit is a continual, and hopefully progressive, process.

It's all a matter of who is in control, Paul argued.  He used the example of wine: When you are filled with wine, you
become drunk - the wine is in control.  Paul said, "I have a better idea that works on the same principle":

    Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

The Spiritual Teacher

Did you ever wonder how the apostle Paul got so smart about the things of God without having gone to seminary?  The
answer is the Holy Spirit, who gives each Christian the ability to understand Bible truths.

    The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God...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 (I Corinthians 2:10-13).

Paul doesn't mean any Christian can write a book of the Bible.  When we understand the spiritual truths of Scripture, the
Holy Spirit is giving us the gift of illumination (as in "shining a light on a subject").  Don't confuse this with the gift of
inspiration which the Holy Spirit bestowed on the writers of the New Testament.

The Worship Leader

It makes sense that the Holy Spirit, being God Himself, can enable us to worship God (Philippians 3:3).  Praise and
worship of God often don't come naturally to self-centered humans.  But the Spirit makes worship and prayer a natural
outward expression of God's new life in us (Jude 20).

The Spirit is our ever-present, ever-awake prayer partner (He never needs coffee!), the One who nudges our spirit
awake to talk to God.  And when we don't know what to think or pray, the Spirit helps out:

    We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot
    express (Romans 8:26).

The Nature of Christ

As the Holy Spirit's power fills us, we become more like Christ in our values and character.  These traits are referred to
as the "fruit of the Spirit."  Paul described these spiritual remodeling signs in Galatians 5:22-23:

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-

The Wisdom of God

Another part of the Holy Spirit's work is to guide believers.  "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of
God,"  Paul said (Romans 8:14).  Right decisions are determined by right thinking, and the Holy Spirit can be a
Christian's personal guide to the truth:

    The Spirit of truth...will guide you into all truth (John 16:13).

The Comfort of Heaven

Another wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit is comfort.  Sometimes the New Testament refers to the Holy Spirit by the Greek
Paraclete.  A paraclete is a comforter, an encourager, one who comes alongside.  The Spirit is God's way of
always being present with the Christian.

The Bible does not promise us that the Christian's life will be free of difficulties, but it does promise that the Holy Spirit
will be "the Comforter" through those difficulties.  God's Spirit reminds us of His power, love, and sovereign control.  One
important reassurance in hard times is that we are part of God's family and have a wonderful future:

    The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs -
    heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16).

The Holy Spirit - Key to New Life for Others Through You

Changing and benefiting you is only half of God's plan for His Spirit in your life.  The other half is changing and
benefiting the rest of the world
through you.  A "spiritual gift" is an ability given by the Holy Spirit to a Christian to help
and bless others in the family of God.

Check Your Body Language

Paul used a great word-picture to explain how each Christian is important for the well-being of other Christians.  In I
Corinthians 12, he compared the believers in a church to parts of a human body.

Just as the body has many different parts, each with a special function, the church has many different members, each
with his or her own special gift and role.  Everyone is important; no one is dispensable.  All are necessary to a healthy
body (church).

    The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts...So it is with Christ...If the foot should say, "Because I am
    not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body...If the whole
    body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every
    one of them, just as he wanted them to be...Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (I
    Corinthians 12:12-27).

We are each individually designed and gifted.  And we work best as the body of Christ if we know what we're specially
able to do.

Discover Your Spiritual Gift

The Bible describes more than 15 different types of spiritual gifts.  Every believer has at least one.  We're not all
geniuses.  We're not even all very smart.  But every Christian is a TAG person - "Talented and Gifted" - by the power of
the Holy Spirit to help others.

Can you find yourself in the following list of spiritual gifts?

  •   Serving.  You are particularly able to identify and willing to meet the physical needs of others.

  •   Evangelism.  You have a special interest and ability in telling other people about your faith and in leading them
    toward God.

  •   Teaching.  You are able to explain the facts and principles of the Bible in ways that people understand and

  •   Administration.  You're a gifted organizer.  You know how to get things going and keep things going for others.

  •   Wisdom.  People come to you for advice and insight about life choices.

  •   Mercy.  You care especially about those in need.  Whether they're likeable or reputable doesn't matter much to
    you.  Your spiritual gift to them is  compassion and understanding.

  •   Exhortation.  You're a motivator.  You love to challenge, encourage, persuade, applaud, nudge, drag -
    whatever it takes to keep other people moving toward the goal.

Spiritual gifts are not positions or job descriptions.  For example, all Christians can serve, show mercy, and tell other
people about Jesus.  But a spiritual gift equips you in a particular way to share God's love with others.


GUIDE TO GOD, by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, Copyright 1997, HARVEST HOUSE PUBLISHERS.