Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Holy Spirit Is Not an ‘It’ by Lee Grady

We charismatics celebrate the Holy Spirit, yet our theology of the Spirit is often off balance.
Two popular charismatic speakers stood on a stage two years ago and decided they should demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. One guy pretended to throw an imaginary "fireball" at his friend, who promptly fell over as if he had been zapped by the divine power. Then, feeling equally playful, the guy on the floor stood to his feet and threw the "fireball" back at his friend—who fell after the "blob" of God hit him.

Everybody laughed and had a hilarious time at this outrageous party. There was just one problem. The Holy Spirit is not a blob, a fireball or any other form of divine energy that can be thrown, manipulated, maneuvered or controlled.
"It's incredibly sad that many of us who wear the charismatic label have forgotten what the Scriptures teach about the third person of the Trinity.

This scenario happened in a charismatic church—a place where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is presumably honored and understood. It's incredibly sad that many of us who wear the charismatic label have forgotten what the Scriptures teach about the third person of the Trinity. At the risk of sounding way too elementary, I'd like to offer this basic layman's guide to pneumatology—the study of the Holy Spirit and how He works: 

1. He is the Spirit of the Lord. He is not a force (as in Star Wars), a magical power or an "it." The Holy Spirit is God, and we should revere Him as God. The concept of the Trinity doesn't make sense to the human mind. Yet Scripture reveals God as a triune being. As theologian Norman Geisler writes: "God is one what (nature) with three whos (persons). This is a mystery but not a contradiction."

2. He is our Regenerator. Jesus told Nicodemus that we are born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). True conversion is the most supernatural thing we will ever experience! When a person puts his faith in Christ for salvation, it is the Spirit who opens the heart and quickens divine life. He then indwells us. While this is an invisible process, it is no less miraculous. When we are converted our hearts cry out, "Abba! Father" because the Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15); He gives us confidence that we are now children of God.

3. He is our Empowerer. When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit we are "clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49, NASB). The Spirit who already indwells us fills us to the point of overflowing. Jesus said the Holy Spirit's power would flow out of us like "rivers of living water" from our innermost being (John 7:38). This overflow releases supernatural boldness (Acts 4:31) as well as the anointing for various gifts of the Spirit including prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing.

4. He is the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit has access to all the wisdom and knowledge of God. When we abide in Him, He leads us continually into truth—causing us to grow and mature spiritually. He wants to fill us with the treasures of heavenly revelation. We can fully trust Him because He never does anything to violate the Word of God. As our teacher (1 John 2:27), He knows the difference between truth and error, and those who depend on Him will walk in discernment and avoid deception, pride and carnality.

5. He is our Counselor. This word is also translated "Advocate," "Comforter" or "Helper." The Greek word, parakletos, means "one called alongside to help." It implies that the Spirit comes to our legal defense when we are accused or troubled; it also means He is a close friend who offers encouragement, consolation and direction when we face any difficulty. He is truly a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).

6. He is our Intercessor. This is probably one of the greatest miracles of grace. The Spirit who lives inside of us "intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). Even when we don't know how to pray, the Spirit prays the perfect will of God. No matter what kind of dark difficulty we face, the Spirit travails for us until we emerge on the other side.

7. He is our Unifier. Like the master conductor of an orchestra, the Holy Spirit pulls together each individual Christian—with all of our diverse gifts—and causes us to flow in synchronization as one body. The Spirit distributes His gifts to individuals (1 Cor. 12:11) and He brings about the "fellowship of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 13:14)—a supernatural, loving harmony among believers that overcomes jealousy, envy, strife and bitterness.

8. He is our Refiner. The Spirit took the form of a dove at Christ's baptism, but He is often portrayed in Scripture as a fire. He is the "refiner's fire" (Mal. 3:2-3) who purifies us of selfishness, pride and wrong motives. The Holy Spirit is indeed the fire of blazing holiness, and He can be both grieved (Eph. 4:30) and quenched (1 Thess. 5:19) when we disobey His promptings.
As we prepare to celebrate the day of Pentecost in less than a month (it's on May 23), let's meditate on all aspects of the Spirit's work in our lives—and invite Him to fill us in a fresh way.

J. Lee Grady served as editor of Charisma for 11 years and is now contributing editor. You can find him on Twitter at leegrady. His newest book is The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale.


  1. I agree, the Holy Spirit is not an “it”, but a Person; however, your illustration, and that of "throwing fireballs" seems to ignore other words associated with the Holy Spirit like Dunamis power, and Shekinah Glory. The Holy Spirit is Person, but who could argue that "power" is not an "it"? I've heard this argument before and used against Charismatics by those who try to tightly define the Holy Spirit as a person in order to restrict behavior as non-biblical. "Fire" is an it, not a person. The Holy Spirit Person is something different from, and often experienced differently, then the "power" or "fire" or "river" or "bubbling springs" or "oil" or "heat" or "electricity" or "peace" or "wind", all rightfully thought of as "its". I understand the need to try to placate the non-Charismatic (and often apologetic aka "heresy hunters" ministries) but you shouldn't be so quick to acquiesce to their incomplete biblical arguments, which leave out any idea of something from God for His children which is distinctive from His Person that can be called an "it". God has made water, and rivers, and springs, and we are comfortable of these being "things" which exist in the natural realm. Why then should we be repelled at the existence of such "things" in a supernatural realm? Why read into the text that says we'll be baptized in the Holy Spirit AND POWER or elsewhere AND FIRE, and assume that it's either a metaphor or not an "it" or thing? Doesn't Paul saying he will impart something spiritual to those he visits indicate more than preaching a spiritual message, but rather a conveyance of something more beyond the Holy Spirit (person) which presumably they have already received? If they have received already the Person of the Spirit, what then is Paul going to impart to them? I argue that "power" or "glory" or "fire" are something beyond the Person of the Holy Spirit, and I believe the Scriptures themselves teach this. It is the leaven of certain teachers (usually non-Pentecostal), and the embarrassment of certain antics done in the name of Christ, which persuade some to depart from the whole counsel of scripture. We mustn't let the heresy hunters or fleshly or demonic displays dissuade us from the plain teachings of the scriptures. To ignore the scriptures is to do precisely what Jesus said the Sadducees did, e.g., they "err not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God," and it is their leaven and that of the Pharisees (those kind of teachers) which must be identified and resisted as ungodly. Correct the church in fleshly or demonic displays purporting to be the Holy Spirit. "Let the prophets speak and the others judge," therefore, if something is wrong in the body, rebuke the body, but don't compromise on what the bible says and say there are no "its" or "things", just the Person. God gives good things both physical and spiritual to His children. Even Healing is called the "children's bread". Eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood are done using physical elements which are nonetheless Spiritual. Are the revealed Spiritual heavenly elements like "the leaves of the trees for healing" (Revelation) supposed to not really exist, except in metaphor, even in heaven? I.e., do those that persuade you also discount the heavenly things as unneeded and unnecessary as well? Even Jesus used mud to cure blind eyes. And yet, we know virtue left His body to heal the sick. He was still Jesus, still the Anointed One, but virtue left his body to heal. Jesus didn't leave his own body, nor did the person of the Holy Spirit leave Jesus' body to heal the people. Power or virtue left his body and healed them. Power is an it.
    Ronald Jones

  2. I always go back to one source whenever there is any doubt about a practice. Does anyone really see Jesus throwing fireballs around like this. I don't limit what God can or might do but I feel safe when anything I see lines up with the personality and character of Jesus.

  3. Right on, Lee!
    I have noted weak Trinitarian theology as you describe it among Pentecostals and Charismatics and also among those in other camps.
    In a sermon I heard a Lutheran pastor say, “as far as I am concerned, the Holy Spirit is the love of God”. I wondered how a seminary-trained pastor did not recognize the Holy Spirit as God Himself when Lutheran theology is solidly “God in Three Persons". Even if Lutherans tend to shy away from the Pentecostal/Charismatic emphasis on the Holy Spirit, your point #2 on regeneration has always been taught as a work of the Holy Spirit:
    “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true”. (Luther’s Small Catechism)
    While Lutherans tend to shy away from talking about the manifestations of the Spirit, in my experience some Pentecostals and Charismatics claim Spirit–manifestations that don’t look much like the Holy Spirit. I appreciate your continuing efforts to call people to look at their claims of manifestations of the Spirit in the light of Scripture. We would all be well-advised to remember, for example:
    “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard”. Mark 13:22-23a
    "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” Matthew 7:21-23


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