Not Just for Pentecost: the Holy Spirit and Us (Part 1)
Dr. R.B. McFee
In the book Knowing the Living God by Roger Hazelton, the author raises an important question about us, and our relationship with God; simply put ….do we have a first or second hand knowledge of God? The significance of this distinction reveals how our journey in faith is going, or where it can lead us.
Consider most of the world has heard about God; it would be pretty hard to have escaped learning something about Him, or at least a passing reference to the Almighty. There are numerous people who attend church, mass, or synagogue, read Scripture, or attended some form of Sabbath service, even funeral, baptism, bar/bat mitzvahs, or weddings have heard about God, even if they may not believe in Him. These people know about God, and would be classified as having 2nd hand knowledge of God.
Then there are those who have a personal relationship with God, and have experienced God. These people know God, and would be noted as having 1st hand knowledge of Him.
If you are like me, you can still remember the exact place and moment when God found you, and your relationship began.
And for many Christians, we can humbly, gratefully say the same about Jesus.
But what about the Holy Spirit?
For some believers, the Holy Spirit remains a subject for Pentecost, a “p.s.” or altogether a mystery. If that is the case, can it be said we are only 2/3 empowered, or not tapping into the fullness, the richness of the Trinity for our faith journey? Or is it a case of not missing what you don’t know? And why is the Holy Spirit so important if we already believe in God and Jesus? Aren’t they all one in the same, interchangeable?
"5 but now I am going to Him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Comforter) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”
John 16: 5 – 15 NIV
When you read the Gospel of John, it becomes very clear Jesus paved the way with His blood for our relationship with God, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover Jesus underscores how essential it is to have the Holy Spirit be part of us.
Consider the importance of the Holy Spirit well before the New Testament.
Going back a very long time before Jesus, David recognized the importance of the Holy Spirit. Recall he as a boy felled the giant Goliath, and who would ultimately became a king of Israel, as well primary author of Psalms. It was even said of David that he was a man after God’s heart, and because of that was anointed by the prophet Samuel. Unfortunately David sent a man, a friend no less (Uriah) to his death in order to steal his wife (Bathsheba); well that was a whole bunch of sinning and commandment breaking. To say God was disappointed was an understatement of Heavenly proportions. David could feel the growing absence of God in his life. So in Psalm 51 he approaches the Almighty with this plea….
“11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”
Psalm 51: 11 ESV
In Hebrew David would have said take not your “Ruach Ha Kodesh” – Wind, Breath, Spirit of God. David could have prayed for an army along with forgiveness, and a lot of other things. But he recognized the importance of having a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Do we have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit? Does that happen automatically at our Baptism? Or part of our birthright? Or is the Presence of the Holy Spirit – Ruach Eloim, Ruach Ha Kodesh – something we have to work on, focus on, or dedicate ourselves to? And if so, have you spent much of your Christian journey seeking relationship with the Holy Spirit?
Having grown up in an ecumenical family I’ve recited various Creeds, all of which name God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. But if your prior church experiences are like mine, for the majority of the year the liturgical focus mostly centered on God, and Jesus. Then sometime around Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gets dusted off, and scriptural passages from John or Acts are incorporated into sermons. And when the Holy Spirit is discussed, often the emphasis is on Pentecost as the birthday of the Christian church, the Great Wind – the Spirit descending upon them, and the Disciples speaking in tongues.
To be sure, CCUMC has focused more on the Holy Spirit, certainly beyond merely naming or invoking Ruach Eloim, than most of my prior church experiences, with few exceptions. Nevertheless, where does the Holy Spirit fit into our faith journey?
Put differently, just who is the Holy Spirit, and how do we know whether or not we are in relationship with Ruach Eloim?
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (Comforter) to help you and be with you forever— 17 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. 18
John 14:15 – 18 NIV
According to the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, Jesus told the Disciples that the Spirit of Truth (Ruach ha Emet) lives with ‘you.’ Does that just mean the Disciples? Also, if the Holy Spirit was already with them, then why did Jesus breathe the Holy Spirit onto His Disciples after the Resurrection in John, Chapter 20?
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
John 20: 21 – 22 (ESV)
In Part 2, we’ll share some ideas about why Jesus breathed Ruach on the Disciples even though He promised to send them the Holy Spirit after He ascended to the Father.
Spoiler alert – if you have experienced the Holy Spirit first-hand, you already know the answer!
If not, stay tuned for Part 2!
We’ll also explore in greater depth what the Holy Spirit does, what a great Gift we have been given, the Power and blessings we can tap into from Ruach Eloim, and how we can have a closer relationship with the Holy Spirit.
As a starter….
1. What are your thoughts about the Holy Spirit?
2. Have you taken the opportunity to explore Scripture about the Holy Spirit?
3. Have you experienced the Holy Spirit? And if “yes,” what did you feel?
Although the emphasis seems to be on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, Ruach Eloim is Present in the Old Testament, starting with the book of Job, likely the oldest book of the Bible. As Job was enduring trials, and trying to stay in faith, a young man – Elihu - offers this insight …
“But there is a spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.”
Until we have our next discussion, consider how often the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Let it suffice that the Holy Spirit is not just for Pentecost. Ruach Eloim that Jesus bequeathed to us is alive within, and remains our Advocate, Guide, Comforter, and so much more…..