Sometimes I feel a bit nervous when people talk about the Holy Spirit.
I can understand God even without having seen a picture of Him because, even though the Bible says that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), it also describes Him in quite human terms. Daniel pictured Him with clothing as white as snow and hair that’s white like wool (Daniel 7:9). Ezekiel said that God has the appearance of a man (Ezekiel 1:26). And other biblical writers speak of “the eyes of the lord,” “the hand of the . . . LORD,” and “the mouth of the LORD” (Psalm 34:15; Ezekiel 8:1; Jeremiah 9:12, NKJV).
Jesus is even easier to understand. While I don’t have a photograph of Him either, He was a member of our human species, and I know what we look like. Jesus is real to my imagination in the same way that Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan are real to me.
The Holy Spirit is, well, spirit, but what does that look like? And while the Bible describes the Spirit as a Counselor and an Intercessor and says that He dwells in us (John 14:16, 17), these are all abstractions. None of them puts a nail in the wall that I can hang a picture on. I suppose that’s why it’s harder for me to think of the Holy Spirit as real than it is to think of either God the Father or God the Son as real.
However, the Bible does describe the Holy Spirit in very specific terms. Jesus, for example, spoke of the Spirit as a Person distinct from both Himself and God the Father. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16, 17). It’s quite apparent that Jesus thought of the Spirit as an intelligent Being who was distinct from both Himself and the Father.
But what does the Holy Spirit do for us? Why is He important to us?
The Spirit dwells in our hearts
Shortly before Jesus left this earth, He broke the news of His coming departure to His disciples. Naturally, they were quite distressed and asked whether they could go with Him. He said no, but then He made the promise we saw a moment ago: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” Jesus went on to say that the Spirit “lives with you and will be in you” (verse17; emphasis added).
Whenever the Bible speaks of either the Father or the Son dwelling in us, it’s through the Spirit that this happens. This is apparent from Jesus’ own words. Immediately after telling His disciples that the Spirit “lives with you and will be in you,” He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (verse 18). Jesus meant that He would “come to” His disciples—and to you and me—through the Holy Spirit. And Paul wrote often about us being “in Christ” and Him being “in us” (Romans 8:1, 8). Again, it’s through the Spirit that this happens.
The Spirit changes our thoughts and feelings
What does it mean for the Spirit to “dwell” in our bodies and in our minds and hearts? The Spirit is the member of the Godhead who actually touches your life and mine physically, personally. I propose that if we allow Him to, He actually changes our brain chemistry.
This is especially evident from what Paul said in Galatians about “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit.” The “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19, KJV) that Paul mentioned include “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, [and] factions” (verse 20). Notice that these are mostly emotions and desires—ways we think and feel. The “fruit of the Spirit,” on the other hand, is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (verses 22, 23). These are divine character traits that the Spirit places in us when He dwells in our minds and hearts.
In other words, when God’s Spirit dwells in people, He actually changes the way they think and feel!
Jesus spoke of this change as being “born again” (John 3:3), and a moment later He said it meant being “born of the Spirit” (verse 8). Paul said that the Spirit of God helps us to understand spiritual concepts that seem foolish to those who have not been born again (1 Corinthians 2:12–14).
In his book When All Alone I Stand, Jan Doward explained how the Holy Spirit changed his thinking. It happened while he was a sailor in the United States Navy: “Physically nothing apparently had changed, but inwardly I was a new person. . . . The notion of trying to impress anyone with being tough permanently vanished. . . . I suddenly lost all desire for anything in the entertainment world.”
As time went on, Jan said that his friends began whispering among themselves, “What happened to Jan?” The change in him seemed strange to them. That’s a perfect example of what Paul meant when he said that what makes sense to the born-again Christian seems foolish to those who have not had that experience.
The Spirit helps us understand ourselves
We humans seem singularly incapable of admitting our faults. It began with Adam, who blamed his wife when God asked him why he’d eaten the fruit from the forbidden tree.
There are two reasons for this denial. First, we enjoy our sins, and we don’t want God telling us we can’t have them. And, second, we’re ashamed of our sins and would rather no one found out about them. The odd thing is that these sins—we often call them addictions these days—may be destroying our homes, our professions, and even our very lives, yet we keep on doing them!
That’s why we need God’s Spirit. Jesus said that the Spirit would convict us of sin and guide us into all truth (John 16:8, 13). And I propose that the truth the Spirit is especially anxious to show us is the truth about those character defects that are destroying us. He’s able to help us actually want that truth and enjoy hearing it.
Would you like to have this kind of change in your life? It’s really quite easy to get. Just say this simple prayer: “God, please place Your Spirit in my mind and change the way I think and feel.” Like Jan Doward, some people report that the change happens immediately, while for others, it takes time. I can assure you, though, that if you persist in saying this prayer, the change will happen.