There is a basic misunderstanding among many Christians concerning the person, power and activities of the Holy Spirit. This situation is more worrisome as many people now claim exclusive ownership of the Holy Spirit Some people tend to use the name of the Holy Spirit as a form of magic wand. Still others adopt the Holy Spirit as a double-barrelled firearm that could be released to anyone at any time at the least provocation.
Most people today command the Holy Spirit to act instead of pleading and praying to Him as God. Still others claim to receive messages from the Holy Spirit and force others to accept those claims without asking questions. Like a young lady insisting that the Holy Spirit had revealed to her that a young handsome man who visited their Church on invitation would marry her but it was discovered that the man was married. How do one know when the Holy Spirit is speaking and leading or when another spirit is at work?
There is indeed no day that the talk about the Holy Spirit would be as sublime as today. It is thus important for us to undertake a deep-seated study and understanding of whom the Holy Spirit is and how He functions in our lives. Better knowledge will lead us to more wholesome appreciation and celebration today.
One of the most unfortunate misrepresentations about the Holy Spirit could be found among many Christians who confuse the personality of the Holy Spirit to the extent that some would refer to Him as a THING. In English grammar, some words are known as interrogative pronouns and they are used to ascertain about persons or things. For the sake of our reflection here, we shall be looking at two of them namely: “who” and “what”. “Who?” is used when someone wants to ascertain about a person, while “What” is used when the question is about a thing! This can be seen also in some local languages like in Igbo of southeast Nigeria where “onye” refers to a person while “ihe” refers to a thing.
This clarification is necessary as we are today attempting to understand the Holy Spirit not as a thing but as a person. I have observed some people who in some prayer sessions refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”. For instance some would say: “receive it”, “I have received it” or “it is coming!.” The Holy Spirit is not “ihe” (thing) rather “onye” (person). Quoting one of the preparatory promises of our Lord Jesus Christ before the coming of the Holy Spirit he says: “When He, the Spirit of truth comes He will teach you everything” (John 16:13).
Perhaps it will be more rewarding here for us to establish first whom the Holy Spirit is not.
- The Holy Spirit is not a bird (dove) but could manifest in that form. During the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ we are told that the Holy Spirit descended IN FORM of a dove (Matt.3:16; see John 1:32).
- The Holy Spirt is neither wind nor fire; He is actually more than these. However He could manifest in form of wind and fire like on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3).
- The Holy Spirit in not an angel flying with wings. Angels are lower than the Holy Spirit.
Above all these, the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God; in union with the Father and the Son. He shares equality with the Father and the Son in the same Godhead. This is actually where the mystery of the Holy Trinity comes in.
The Holy Spirit has been in existence in the same way as God the Father and God the Son. In the book of Genesis (1:2) we are told that at the first moment of creation “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”. This by implication was the first Pentecost which we can actually call “Cosmic Pentecost”. To describe it further, it means that at the inception of creation the life-giving Spirit filled the universe bringing about order and the unfolding of God’s design. That is why we normally would recall Psalm 104:30 in our prayers when we say: “Send forth your Spirit and they are created and you renew the face of the earth”. Furthermore in Genesis (2:7) we see another Pentecost this time what we call “Anthropological Pentecost” when God breathed on the man he had fashioned from the ground and he became a living being. That breath was actually a communication of God’s Spirit into the being He created in His own image and likeness. Note that among the other creatures it was only the man that God breathed upon. That breath was not just the normal breathing process we share with animals; it is God’s Spirit. The word of God said that when God breathed the man became a living being. Hence that breath brings forth life and that is what the Spirit does.
From many sources in the Old Testament we discover the power and activity of God’s Spirit. For instance God allowed His Spirit to rest on the seventy elders who were appointed to assist Moses (Number 11:16-17; 25). After his anointing as King, Saul received the Spirit of God and prophesied (1 Sam. 10:10); and when he lost his connection with God, the Spirit of God left him (1 Sam. 16:14). David was a man filled with God’s Spirit and when he sinned he begged God not to take the Holy Spirit away from him (Psalm 51:11). Ezekiel could recount how the Spirit of God took hold of him and brought him to a valley of bones (Ezk.37:1-2).
At the very beginning of the New Testament we are presented with the activity of the Holy Spirit during the visit of angel Gabriel to Mary the mother of Jesus Christ. The angel said to her in Luke (1:35) “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. Prefiguring the event of today in the gospel of Matthew (3:11), John the Baptist did say that Jesus Christ would baptize with the “Holy Spirit and with fire”. This was confirmed by our Lord himself with the promise of the Holy Spirit when in John (14:26) he told the apostles that the Holy Spirit whom the father will send will teach them everything. Finally in Acts (1:3-8) Jesus Christ enjoined the apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which will make them witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and in the whole world.
The Holy Spirit whom Jesus Christ promised the apostles came down on them on the day of Pentecost. Ordinarily among the Jew at the time, the feast of Pentecost was an annual festival that was celebrated fifty days after the Passover. It was a religious holiday that celebrated the Feast of Weeks (Deut.16:9-10) as well as the reception of the Decalogue by Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Generally, the feast of Pentecost was significant as it was used as an avenue to thank God for his providence. In the apostolic understanding, it refers to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the others who were present at the Upper Room on that very day the Holy Spirit was came down as a fulfilment of the promise of Jesus Christ. (Acts 1:8).
One question that remains important is why God decided to send forth the Holy Spirit on the Apostles on that day of Pentecost. We shall attempt to answer this question after describing what actually happened on the day of Pentecost. The account of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles (Acts 2:1) made us to understand that the Apostles were gathered together at the Upper Room PRAYING (not playing). As they prayed there came what sounded like a mighty wind from heaven that filled the house. Suddenly tongues of fire rested on each of them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages as they Spirit gave them ability.
The Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost because the feast was a religious holiday that brought many people together. God wanted the Good News to be witnessed by all nations as the Apostles spoke all the languages of all the people that gathered in Jerusalem. One of the basic role of the Holy Spirit is that of witnessing (John 16:26; Rom. 8:16) and it was just proper for Him to come down on the day when it was proper for the Good News to be received by people from all nations. We can attest to this by the number of people that were converted and were baptized after Peter’s speech on that very day (Acts 2:41).
The Pentecost experience has not ended. By Pentecost we mean the ever recurrent renewal we need in our lives. By Pentecost we mean that inner transformation and change that will enable us become what God wants us to be. By Pentecost we mean active spiritual encounter that unites us in one accord like those who gathered at the Upper room. By Pentecost we understand the outpouring of the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and piety, fear of God (not of man), fortitude and counsel. He breeds and brings peace, love, joy, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness and patience. We actually need Pentecost in every aspect of our lives. We need Pentecost in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in the world as a whole. We need to climb up to the Upper room of our hearts from there get connected to the wave length of God’s Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the propeller of our Christian life and without Him we cannot give God true and right worship (John 4:24). Furthermore, He helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). With the Holy Spirit we are free from senseless fear of anything at all. We notice the difference between the Apostles who were afraid of the Jews and the Apostles of whom the Jews were afraid of as they went fearless to preach in the open places after receiving the Holy Spirit in full and confirmed manifestation. It was through the powerful touch of the Holy Spirit that Peter could heal a cripple, through the influence of the Holy Spirit Paul could undertake long and dangerous journeys without any flicker of fear. On this St. Paul would say in Romans (8:15): “you did not receive the Spirit of slaves to make you fear but the Spirit of sonship”. Hence through the Holy Spirit you are sanctified and confirmed.
May the Holy Spirit of God continue to bless and increase us with His effervescent presence as we celebrate the feast of Pentecost.