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Christianity 101

The Nature and Work of Holy Spirit

If you’ve been paying close attention to the first three lessons, you will note that we seem to have more than one person who is God. That’s not a misprint. The Bible clearly reveals three persons in one Godhead:

·         God the Father—unseen, a spirit, eternal.

·         God the Son—visible in a human body—but also, somehow, eternal.

·         The Holy Spirit—unseen and (so far) very mysterious.

The Bible also tells us that God is one. Jesus tells us that he and the Father are one; if you’ve seen him, you’ve seen the Father. How can God who is one be three?

The question has not escaped the notice of the best minds of Christendom. Indeed, for at least 1500 years the Trinity has been a subject of lively debate. The concept is made all the worse by the fact that God is so far beyond human comprehension (remember who made the universe?) that we can only draw word pictures to illustrate a solution. So, remembering that great minds before us had a lot of trouble with this too, we’ll see if we can make this clear. But if this illustration doesn’t work for you, try finding others that do. There are many out there to be found.

The Novel

A story is told about the night on which Harriet Beecher Stowe met Abraham Lincoln. It was a formal reception. As her name was called out, Lincoln said, “Oho—so you’re the little lady who caused all this fuss.” He was referring, of course, to her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It had a tremendous impact on the common people of her time, inflaming a great hatred of slavery. In a sense one could say, “The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin started the Civil War.”

Let’s take that a step further: what do we mean when we say, “The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin…”?

·         We could (possibly) mean the idea for the novel in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s head. Writers will tell you that they often have a detailed conception of the work before putting the first mark on paper. We’d use that meaning if we said, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin preoccupied Harriet Beecher Stowe’s mind for years before she wrote it.”

·         We could also mean the physical copy of that book. We might use that as, “I have a signed, first edition copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

·         Or we could use it in the sense Lincoln meant it. Not the idea, nor the physical book, but the effect it had on Americans.

We can take this trio of meanings—which should be familiar enough—and describe something in parallel as God.

·         There is God the Father. No one has seen him at any time; He is spirit. That’s like our novel in the mind—you can never see inside the mind.

·         There is Jesus, God the Son. His coming in the flesh is said to be his “Incarnation.” That means being made in the flesh. We can see, feel and touch him (or at least, the people back then could.)

·         There is the Holy Spirit—who is the Spirit of God living in us.

If we as mortals can understand something as commonplace as a novel to be “three, yet one” then we can surely accept that as fact concerning God.

Role of the Holy Spirit

As in our book example, the Holy Spirit is God living in me. Indeed, we are told that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, the Bible also tells us that Christ lives in us. You can see from that how difficult it is to pry the oneness of God apart. We’ll learn more about this in a later lesson when we discuss the church. But there are some things that we should know about the Holy Spirit:

·         He is our counselor—the one who brings God’s wisdom to us.

·         He is the one who guides the church into all truth. (For example, he is said to have inspired the writers of the Bible).

·         He is also the one who convicts the world of sin and judgment.

The role of the Holy Spirit seems (from the Old Testament) to be rather mysterious—usually involving creativity. For example, certain Old Testament artisans were said to have been given the Holy Spirit for the purpose of creating the original Tabernacle. But what does that mean to us today?

Most Christians, when you ask them what the Holy Spirit does, will reply with one word: “Comforter.” The troubles of life happen to us all. All of us will die (unless our Lord returns first), and those left behind will be asking the same questions and feeling the same feelings that human beings have had for thousands of years. The Spirit is our comforter.

The Spirit is also our interpreter—to God. Have you ever had that feeling that you knew what to say but not how to say it? When speaking to God, you have a powerful interpreter working with you.

How close is our relationship? The Bible teaches us that Christ lives in us—in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is the reason that Christians are forbidden to abuse their bodies: your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Comfort alone, however, is not the reason for the Holy Spirit living in us. You have already encountered one of the teachings which the world finds so incredible: the resurrection of the dead. How do you know that there is going to be such a resurrection? The one man who has done it tells you so.

But how do I know it applies to me? God says that the Holy Spirit is a “deposit” on this. It has the same meaning in spiritual terms as in human terms. If you plan to buy a house, you might be required to put down a deposit. This is money you would lose if you backed out of the deal. That’s us; we seek assurance in every transaction we think important. What could be more important than salvation? God, understanding our needs, has provided the Holy Spirit as just such a deposit.

The Unforgivable Sin

Once in a while you will hear about the “unforgivable sin.” It sometimes seems to Christians that such a thing could not happen—after all, God is love and should always be willing to forgive, right? We can see why some things would be unforgivable to us; we’re just sinful human beings, after all.

Where did this “unforgivable sin” come from? Right from the mouth of our Lord Jesus:

The Holy Bible, New International Version

31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:31-32

 

Now we know that there is such a thing, how can we avoid it? One quick answer is this: if you think you’ve committed the unforgivable sin, you haven’t. Why?

Let’s take three aspects of the Holy Spirit, and see what might be the opposite that would seem so sinful:

·         The Holy Spirit is our counselor. If we refuse to listen to him, can you not see that you are ignoring God?

·         In the form of the Spirit, Christ lives in me. If I reject the Holy Spirit, then I am rejecting Christ—after I have taken him as savior.

·         Finally, the function of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin and judgment. If you refuse to be so convicted, why would you ever repent? If you refuse to repent, why would God forgive?

So you can see that this sin is fatal because it rejects the counsel, comfort and conviction of the Spirit—who is God living in you.

Cheer up, then. The forgiving God is still there. Most of us will see the Spirit as Comforter, because all of us need comfort now and then. Even Jesus himself needed comfort and strength in the Garden of Gethsemane. God knows what you need—and has provided. But as the Spirit indwells the church, we should expect our visible comfort in time of distress to come from the church. Therefore we, the church, need to care for one another, as Christ cares for us.

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