This is my last post on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. It’s part of a series on the Spirit through the whole Bible that you can check out here.
Let’s delve into some of the mysteries of the Spirit.
The Spirit and Water
As in the Hebrew Bible, Christian scripture associates the Spirit with water (see here for more on this subject).
You might, for example, consider John 3:5. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” There two streams of thought here. One teaches that water-&-spirit was is single birth–it occurrs at your baptism. Review my prior posts in this series, and I think you’ll see this is a credible interpretation. Some passages in Acts suggest that the indwelling Spirit is given at baptism (see also my video on baptism). And the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism, which began his miraculous ministry.
I think a better exegesis though is that Jesus in John 3 speaks of one’s physical birth (water) and spiritual birth (Spirit). Either way, Jesus urges rebirth and it is common in Christian writings for the Spirit and water to be conceptually linked.
Here’s a great example. In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaims:
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. (John 7:37-39).
This puzzling passage from First John also fits this category: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and three are in agreement.” (1 John 5:6-7).
The Spirit, conceptualized as a liquid, is also something you can drink: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13). And back to washing, pouring, and rebirth, Paul reminds Titus that God “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ.” (Titus 3:5-6).
“In the Spirit”
Believers, as depicted in the New Testament, sometimes have experiences “in the Spirit.” Scripture does not explain exactly what this means. But I think anybody who’s had mystical experiences or who has prophesied or spoken in tongues has a sense of what this feels like. It’s a sense of being taken over by God. Of becoming a tool or vessel, of relinquishing control.
Jude in his letter warns about people he calls “scoffers,” ones who divide God’s people. They “follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 1:19-20).
Paul encourages people to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18). Thus Paul and Jude agree that Christians should pray in the Spirit, and do so often. Do you pray in the Spirit?
Well, guess what. You can also love in the Spirit. Paul says that his friend Epaphras told him about the Colossian Christians’ “love in the Spirit.” (Colossians 1:8).
The visionary who wrote Revelation had his experiences while “in the Spirit:” “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice. . . ” (Revelation 1:10). He also says, “At once I was in the Spirit, and there was before me a throne in heaven. . .” (Revelation 4:2). Continuing with his visions, the revelator says, “Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. . .” (Revelation 17:3). Finally, “he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (21:10).
Disrespecting the Spirit
Scripture warns us, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Further, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” (Ephesians 4:30). The Bible says the “Spirit of grace” can be insulted. (Hebrews 10:29). Think about how perhaps you might do these things. And how can they be avoided?
Summary: The Gift and Gifts of the Spirit
I’ll attempt now to briefly tie this study together. What does the New Testament teach about the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit itself is a gift which indwells all believers. In fulfillment of prophecy, the Spirit has now been poured out on all flesh.
The Spirit also gives gifts, just as it did in the Old Testament. These gifts have included prophecy (speaking an inspired message from God), tongues, healing, exorcism, psychological empowerment, and the ability to grow toward more perfect obedience to God’s laws.
The indwelling Spirit is also a seal of ownership and a down-payment on future blessings. The indwelling yet omnipresent Spirit also serves as a mediator between our own psyches and the mind of God. And the Spirit helps us pray.
Although every Christian is a temple of the Spirit, not all Christians had gifts such as prophecy and tongues (1 Cor. 12:27-31). Those who do walk “in the Spirit” should remember that the important thing isn’t whether you can work miracles, but whether you can love as God loves. As Paul reminds the Spirit-filled church at Corinth:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection (or maturity or completion or the End) comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me (1 Corinthians 13:8-11).
What is not childish is to love. And the good news is that the Spirit enables us to love better, and the Spirit in our hearts is the conduit through which God’s endless love flows into the world.
Even outside the realm of the gifts, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has immediate practical implications. It is the mystical basis for the unity of the universal body of Christ (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1). The Spirit’s universal presence within believers is a great social equalizer (1 Corinthians 12:13; cf. Galatians 3:26-29). The Spirit’s presence makes your body a holy temple which must be kept morally pure (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The church is also the Spirit’s temple, and must be protected and respected (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
Like this post? Share it! And read about what God’s indwelling Spirit does for you in my book, Heaven’s Muscle.
Bren Hughes (M.A., M.Div., J.D.) is a lawyer and former minister who lives in the hills of Kentucky.