You’ve got to remember that the people early in Bible history knew very little about God’s personality. Abraham, for example, was born into a pagan family who “worshiped other gods” (Joshua 24:2), but God selected him as the father of that special family through whom God would restore the human race. God was careful to explain that these other “gods” weren’t genuine. “There is only one God,” He said (see Deuteronomy 6:4). Skip forward to the time of the New Testament, and you can understand why many of Abraham’s Jewish descendants struggled with Jesus’ claim to be God and to have a “Father in heaven.” “That isn’t possible,” they said. “There’s only one God.”
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Proving His identity through signs and miracles and, ultimately, His own resurrection, Jesus also talked of a Holy Spirit as a Third Person who is also God and who is also “one” with Him and His Father. One or Three? This puzzle is what led Christian author Tertullian in the third century to invent a new word, trinity, in an attempt to come to grips with how God described Himself as “Three” and “One” at the same time.
The Holy Spirit, the third “Person” of what Christians call the “Godhead,” is more complicated to explain. Whereas Jesus, who is God, has a human body with human DNA and is limited to being in one place at one time, His Spirit is “omnipresent”—at all locations at once. And that’s just the start. This article describes in broad brushstrokes what the Bible teaches about the nature and activities of the Holy Spirit.
God’s power—the Holy Spirit
Jesus had the power to perform miracles: He made sick people well, raised the dead, controlled storms, and turned water into wine. In the closing hours of His time on the earth, He promised this same power to His followers: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8).
And a page later in the Bible, we see how He kept this promise. The Holy Spirit arrived in spectacular fashion, with an earthquake and the sound of wind, and at the same time, “tongues of fire” landed on the believers’ heads (Acts 2). Filled with this power, the ragtag band of Christ followers spoke in other languages, healed the sick, raised the dead, and began to take the message of Jesus to the world.
Not only that, this early community of Spirit-led people shared their possessions and had “everything in common” (Acts 2:44). They had “deacons” and “elders,” but their community was very different from the “organized religion” we see in today’s world. They were driven to love one another from the heart; they knew the secret of how to be “content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).
A final generation
While genuine followers of Jesus have been empowered by the Holy Spirit ever since that time, the Bible teaches specifically that in the last few weeks and month of this era of human history, there will be a group of people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit in the same way as Jesus’ followers were: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Acts 2:17, 18).
The Bible’s book of Revelation describes these people in two ways: first, they have a personal experience with Jesus, and second, they have the Holy Spirit (Revelation 19:10). Revelation predicts that these people will move out of corrupt organized religion—“Come out of her, my people” (Revelation 18:4)—and will live out a life of radical, day-to-day faith in Jesus—“They follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4).
Dwelling inside you
The Bible teaches that while the Holy Spirit is present everywhere and at all times, His preferred place to dwell is inside people. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” asked the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19). Thus, through the Holy Spirit, there is a direct connection between your mind and God’s mind, and the Holy Spirit can directly communicate with you by way of this connection. People who resonate with God in this way are described as having the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) or as being “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14).
If the Holy Spirit is living inside of you and connecting directly with your thoughts and emotions, shouldn’t you be able to feel His presence? Many people who invite God’s Spirit into their minds report a deep sense of peace and rest. This is in line with biblical teaching. Jesus promised as much: “Peace be with you!” He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21, 22).
The Holy Spirit in my life
I have personally experienced episodes of what I can only describe as the Holy Spirit brooding over me. Just a few months ago I was driving alone and praying my way through a particularly difficult ordeal when I gradually became conscious of a heaviness above me. I felt pins and needles over my head and shoulders, and I had a strange, pleasant sensation of inhaling.
This experience was so strong that I thought it best to pull over to the side of the road. After a minute or two, the sensations faded, and I was left with a sense of comfort that I was not alone in the personal battle I was fighting. God was with me! I guess it felt like a hug, and I now understand that Jesus had a good reason for describing the Holy Spirit as a “Comforter” (John 15:26, KJV).
The Holy Spirit is not just a Comforter, however. Jesus also said that He is a Teacher who communicates ideas. Jesus promised His followers that “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” (John 16:13).
It’s worth remembering that, just as the best teachers don’t talk all the time, there are times when the Holy Spirit, while present, also falls silent. However, it’s quite possible to learn to pick out God’s tone of voice in your mind in the same way that you can recognize friends and family simply from their tone of voice over the phone. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26, 27).
There’ve been times when the Holy Spirit has communicated specific information to me very clearly. I recall that I was praying about the dismal state of my marriage during our first year when I felt something like a curtain open in my head, and a stream of very clear, cogent thoughts ran through my mind: Let me introduce you to your sparring partner. She’s coming at you with a stick. The stick is a lie she’s been led to believe about her lack of value as a person. You have a sword. Your job is to hit the stick out of her hand without hitting her—to choose the right words to cut her free instead of cutting her down.
There have been other times when the Holy Spirit has impressed on my mind that I should go to a certain location at a certain time, and I have found myself in a serendipitous meeting, being able to offer help or comfort to a person who needed it. At other times the Holy Spirit has brought snippets of the Bible to my mind or has directed me to open a Bible and look up a certain verse for guidance to help me deal with a specific situation.
It’s no wonder that Jesus described people led by the Spirit as people who move like the wind. “The wind blows wherever it pleases,” Jesus said. “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
So how is it possible that these unfettered, Spirit-led individuals who move like the wind can actually live in any kind of harmony with one another? Surely, that would be like herding cats! The key point here is that Spirit-filled people are all moving in cooperation with the same Spirit, like blades of grass rippling with the wind—not in lockstep unison, but in harmony.
Furthermore, the Bible describes a community of people who use their power to serve one another and build others up, not to lord it over one another. In fact, the Bible details a list of “gifts,” or abilities, that were specifically given by the Holy Spirit to help build up the community. Some, for example, were given wisdom; others, the ability to heal; others, to prophesy; others, to speak in foreign languages (1 Corinthians 12:7–12). These gifts still function today, and they aren’t restricted to people who’ve been followers of Jesus for a long time. Every person who follows Jesus has been given a spiritual gift. To identify yours, find a community of believers and notice how you build others up.
“But I’m isolated”
Many people are drawn to follow Jesus yet find themselves unattached to a community of Spirit-led people and don’t know where to start. If this is where you find yourself, then I leave you two bits of good news in parting. First, a community doesn’t have to be a large gathering. Jesus said, “Where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).
And, second, the Bible teaches that if you have the Holy Spirit, “you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27). This doesn’t mean that you should neglect the opportunity to learn from others, especially those who have given careful study to the Word of God. But if you don’t have the opportunity to learn from such people, you can still open your Bible and read its lessons for yourself.
And reading the Bible is one of the best ways to bring the Holy Spirit into your life. It gives Him the opportunity to impress God’s truth on your mind in ways that nothing else can.
I encourage you to seek the help, peace, and comfort that the Holy Spirit is anxious to give you!
Jotham Kingston is a high-school teacher who lives with his family near Kempsey, on Australia’s east coast.