Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
May 27 2013

Many Christians have only a vague notion of who the Holy Spirit is.  They may have heard of him, but they struggle to
understand his role.  And some Bible translations haven’t helped.  The Holy Spirit isn’t a “holy ghost” in the Halloween
sense of a ghost.  Neither is he a gas that fills up people, an ethereal presence, or a force like the one found in

The Holy Spirit is a real person – the third and coequal member of the Trinity.  Though he is often overlooked or
perhaps even neglected by many twenty-first-century believers, he is just as divine as the Father and the Son (Acts 5:3-
4).  Consider these facts:

  • He possesses a divine personality and personally chooses people or ministry assignments (Acts 13:2).
  • He communicates with us (Revelation 2:7) and searches out the deep things of God to make them known to
    believers (I Corinthians 2:9-12).
  • He is the one who makes Christ a living reality to the believer (Ephesians 3:16-17) and in fact is called the Spirit of
    Christ (Romans 8:9).
  • He is coequal with both the Father and Son as part of the mystery of the triune God.

Understanding these biblical facts about the Holy Spirit within the larger biblical story of who God is – Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit – and how he relates to his people is important.

A Triune God

The triune God is a mystery that can’t full be explained.  The Bible reveals God as a single God, one entity, who
mysteriously exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Examining each of these three persons to more fully
understand the Holy Spirit, the person who is the focus of this book, is worth a moment of our time.


From reading our Bibles, we know that the Father, Creator God, is featured in the Old Testament.  He is shown as the
sovereign ruler of the universe.  He is God the provider who faithfully answers prayer.  He is also the Holy One of Israel
who gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and to Israel – his chosen people.  He knew the law would be a safeguard
for them and bring blessings when obeyed.  When Moses came down from the mountain and read the Ten
Commandments, the people responded, “Everything God says to do, we will do.”  But unfortunately, they promptly
started breaking every commandment they promised to keep.

Knowing the sinful tendencies of his people, God provided a sacrificial system for Israel as part of their worship.  They
offered sacrifices every morning and evening, including individual sacrifices, and most importantly, blood sacrifices.  God
had declared that without the shedding of blood there was no remission, or putting away of, sin.  The only trouble with
that sacrificial system was that their ongoing sinful tendencies resulted in endless sacrifices.  Wherever the tabernacle
was, and later in the temple itself, animals were brought in and slaughtered as a kind of temporary covering for their
sins.  But the blood of those animals could never cleanse their consciences, so the people were always living under a
cloud of guilt and condemnation.

God however, had always planned an ultimate solution to the human sin problem.  He promised that he would send the
ultimate sacrifice one day, and this sacrifice would be in the Messiah.  He would deliver the people of Israel from their
sins, as well as anyone else who trusted in him.  And God would send the Messiah at exactly the right time – on God’s
clock, not ours.


The Son of God came to earth as a baby born to a virgin and was named Jesus.  The New Testament records the
wonderful story of his life, teachings, and miracles – works of power that demonstrated he was divine, the Son of God.

When Jesus came to earth, he didn’t come just to teach and preach, or even to do miracles.  He came primarily to
For those Israelites and anyone else who violated God’s laws (and that includes you and me), this was God’s plan to
rescue them from judgment.  In Christian teaching, we often refer to this as “being saved from our sins,” or

Salvation called for the Son to take on the guilt and suffer the punishment for our sins, past and present, so we would be
freed from the condemnation of the law.  Instead, Jesus would pay our sin-debt.  That’s why John the Baptist called
Jesus the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  A holy God can’t punish twice for the
same sin, so if Jesus Christ paid the price for our wanderings, law violations, and rebellion, we would never have to pay
the price.  Through the shedding of Christ’s blood, God could forgive and forget our sins, and we would come into right
standing with him.  We would be “justified” – just as if we had never sinned.

It was a radical offer from God, and when Christ spoke of it, few people understood his meaning.  Even the disciples,
who had been with Jesus for years, couldn’t comprehend God’s plan of salvation.  It wasn’t until he appeared to them as
the risen Savior that they began to understand what transpired when Jesus died on the cross.

One problem

But still a problem remained.  Even if Jesus washed my past from God’s memory, even if everything I had ever done
wrong was forgiven, what about today?  What about tomorrow?  What about when I am tempted to once again dishonor
God and grieve Jesus who saved me from the consequences I deserved?  In other words, where is the power to help me
live differently than I did before?  If I am going to be a new creation, then how?  As grateful as I am to Jesus for washing
my past clean, and as much as I desire to become like Christ in the future, I can tell you there is nothing that resembles
Jesus Christ in Jim Cymbala.  There is just no way I can be like him.  A leopard can’t change his spots.  How could I ever
change into a godly person and obey God’s commands by my own self-effort?

But Jesus’ death on the cross, as wonderful as that was, wasn’t the end of God’s plan.  Before he died, Jesus told his
followers about who else would be coming.

Jesus Promises to Send a Helper

During the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples – the students who had learned from him and been friends with him for
three years – that he was going away.  Imagine how upset the disciples must have been to hear such a thing!  He was
their leader.  He was a miracle worker.  He was the one with the perfectly wise response when the Pharisees verbally
cornered them.  When he spoke, he spoke with an authority unlike any other teacher they had ever heard.  No one had
ever done that before.

How could he leave them?  How could he leave them now, when they needed him most?  And more confusing, he said
that his leaving would benefit them.  “But very truly I tell you, it is
for your good that I am going away” (John 16:7,
emphasis added).

That statement must have flabbergasted the disciples.  How could it be
good that Jesus went away?  This was the
teacher they had eaten with, walked with, traveled with, watched, and learned from.  Any benefit from his leaving had to
be impossible for them to understand.

Fortunately, Jesus explained the reason why.  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you
and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  
But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).  Then again he said, “But very truly I tell you,
it is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to
you” (16:7).

Now the whole picture began to unfold.  The Father sent the Son to accomplish a specific work, to attest to God’s love.  
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have
eternal life” (John 3:16).  God would show that love by sacrificing his Son on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  
And after the Son accomplished his work on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, the Son would
send the Spirit.

Although the disciples couldn’t comprehend it at the time, it was better for them to have the invisible Holy Spirit
in them
than it was to have the physical Jesus
with them.  The divine person who was coming would help them understand
everything he had said.  But they would have to wait until Jesus returned to heaven before the Spirit would come.


Acts 1 tells us that after Jesus rose from the dead, he spent forty days making appearances among the apostles and
talking about the kingdom of God.  Jesus also told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father
promised, which you have heard me speak about…[And] you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and
you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’” (vv. 4, 8).

They did as they were told, gathering in a house in Jerusalem to pray and worship God while they waited for the promise
God made.  “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  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 2:1-4).

Suddenly they received something from heaven, something that was far beyond their intelligence, talents, and training –
the coming of the Holy Spirit in power.  For the first time, they understood why it was good that Jesus went away.  The
Helper had come, and although Jesus was gone, the invisible Spirit had now taken residence in them and granted them

Perhaps the best way to understand what Jesus meant by saying it would be better for the disciples
after he left is to
look at the life of Peter.  In the Gospels, Peter often spoke at the wrong time, misunderstood the meaning of Jesus’
teachings, and tended toward boasting of his superiority over the other disciples.  But when Jesus was arrested, Peter
not only fled, but he also cursed and denied even knowing Jesus!

Why was Peter so weak and mistake prone?

How could Peter deny the Messiah who had selected him as part of his inner circle and worked countless miracles right
before his eyes?

Didn’t Peter have a gifted teacher?  Yes, it was Jesus himself.

Did Peter lack a great role model and example to follow?  No, he had the perfect role model in Jesus Christ in the flesh.

So then, what did all of those educational and inspirational resources do for Peter?

Not enough.

On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, Peter fled like everyone else.

With three and a half years of excellent discipleship under his belt, Peter learned the harsh truth we all have    
confronted – it’s one thing to know the Word, but it’s quite another to obey it.  Even the best discipleship training and
spiritual accountability proved insufficient for Peter, because no outward teaching can compare to the
inward power of
the Holy Spirit
.  If you need proof, look at Peter on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out.  Though the
political climate hadn’t changed from the time Jesus was arrested and crucified, Peter now preached boldly about the
name of Jesus to massive crowds.  This was a new Peter!  He was filled with the Spirit.  Jesus’ promise about the Holy
Spirit’s power was right there to see in Peter’s life.  Suddenly that failed disciple was preaching with such amazing
effectiveness that thousands converted to Christ.  Jesus had been
with Peter, but now the Spirit was in him.

If we follow Peter’s story through the book of Acts, we see him continuing to act with wisdom and courage.  He was a
different man.  Jesus’ words had come to fulfillment: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away”
(John 16:7).  Through his physical body, Jesus could be a mentor, teacher, preacher, and friend to the disciples, but he
couldn’t produce change from the inside out.  This would be for the Spirit to accomplish just as God had planned from all

The Birth of the Church

The Christian church was born through the power of the Spirit.  As we read through the rest of the book of Acts and the
epistles of the New Testament, we see a picture of the early church the way God intended it to be.  “They devoted
themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (2:42).  Here was a
community of believers who freely loved the Word of God and were devoted to the apostles’ teaching.  No one needed
to badger or coerce them to love the Word.  Instead, the Spirit within them inspired it.  The same Spirit who wrote the
Bible created an appetite inside of them for what it said.  They shared with one another the deep love the Spirit had put
in their hearts.  They also became bold witnesses for Christ, filled with wisdom beyond their training.  Their hearts were
full of the Holy Spirit, and they experienced surprises as God did things that no one could anticipate.

Not only had the Holy Spirit been sent to earth, but he was also
moving.  He acted in and through his people – he
demonstrated his power to glorify Christ.  The early church experienced him moving in their hearts and in their lives.  
Because of the hostile environment around them, they were repeatedly driven back to God for a fresh supply of the Holy
Spirit, and they were wise enough to yield to his direction.  Is the Holy Spirit moving like that in our lives?  And in our

Many people find it easy to relate to God the Father and Jesus the Son, but when it comes to the role of the Spirit in
their lives, they don’t have a clear picture of who he is or what he does.  Do you ever feel that way?  What about your life
and your church?  When you read about the power of the Holy  Spirit in the life of Peter and in the early church, did it
remind you of your own experience of the Holy Spirit?  Or did you find yourself long for something more?

I sometimes wonder, if the early Christians were around today, would they even recognize what we call Christianity?  Our
version is blander, almost totally intellectual in nature, and devoid of the Holy Spirit power the early church regularly
experienced.  How much loss do we suffer because we don’t expect the Spirit to show up as promised?  Everything we
read about the church in the New Testament centered on the power of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of Christian
believers.  Sadly, for many of us, this has not been our experience.

I believe it’s time to return to the kind of faith we see in the New Testament church.  They believed in Christ’s word, they
expected the Spirit to do great things, and he came through as promised.

He will do the same for us today.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.