The Holy Spirit is Like…: Three Images of the Holy Spirit in Scripture

In Scripture there are three basic descriptions of the Holy Spirit. These symbols of the Holy Spirit’s presence help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.

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The Holy Spirit is Like Wind
The first of these images or symbols is wind. We read about this on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)

When the believers are gathered together in obedience to Jesus’ command to wait for the Spirit to come, they first of all encounter the wind or breath of God. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word that ruach is translated as breath, wind, or spirit. It is this word used in Genesis 1:2, where we read of God’s creative work in creation: “and the Spirit [ruach] of God was hovering over the waters.” This is the word used in Genesis 2:7 where we read: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ruach] of life and the man became a living being.” The Holy Spirit is the basic breath of life – the spirit – that animates all creation and human beings.

Beyond bringing natural life, the Holy Spirit also brings spiritual life in the midst of humanity’s spiritual death through sin and ruptured relationship with God. In Ezekiel 376, when the prophet preaches to the valley of dry bones, they represent the spiritually dead people of God spiritually dead. It is the breath and wind that blows this mass of death into a living army of God. This is likely the idea behind Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. 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). The Holy Spirit is like wind that breathes life into us, spiritually restoring us with God through Christ.  So, when the violent wind rushes into the house where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2 we see that the Holy Spirit is coming in fulfillment of prophesy to breathe God’s divine life back into humanity.

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The Holy Spirit is Like Fire
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is described as fire. Here are the next two verses in Acts 2:

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4)

Throughout Scripture, fire is a symbol of the presence of God. When Moses knelt at the burning bush (Exodus 3) or Elijah battled the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), fire symbolized the presence of God in holiness and power. Fire is a symbol of God’s leading presence, such as when God led His people out from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Fire also conveys God’s purifying presence, as when Isaiah had a vision of God and a coal was taken from the heavenly altar of God to purify Isaiah’s lips (Isaiah 6).  Lastly, fire is a symbol of God’s passionate presence, seeking after people. When he received a message from God, the prophet Jeremiah heard these words, “I will make my words in your mouth a fire” (Jeremiah 5:14). Later on, Jeremiah exclaimed, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (20:9)

And so, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the early disciples of Jesus in Acts 2 in the form of tongues of fire, He is kindling His presence within His people. That presence is for guidance, holiness, and passion for people into the early disciples.

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The Holy Spirit is Like Water
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is described as wind. Earlier in the book of Acts, just before His ascension, Jesus says to His disciples:

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:5)

βαπτίζω (baptizo) means literally to immerse, and so Jesus is telling His followers that they will be washed or submerged in the Holy Spirit as we with water.  The Apostle Peter echoes this later, after the Pentecost arrival of the Holy Spirit, when preaches with  reference to the words of the prophet Joel, saying, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17).

The Holy Spirit is like water poured into our lives from God. This reminds us of the Genesis account of Creation where the Spirit of God was hovering over the primordial waters of the cosmos that was still formless and void. The primordial deep was met with God’s Spirit to bring life.

It also calls to mind two episodes from Jesus’ life and ministry. The first is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman by the well in John 4. Moving from the earthly waters of Jacob’s well, Jesus says:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14)

The second episode occurs when Jesus is at a great Jewish festival, the feast of tabernacles, in John 7. Speaking in the midst of a great crowd, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John offers this explanatory statement immediately following: “By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believe in him were later to receive” (John 7:37b-39). The Holy Spirit is a gift like water that brings life to our souls and cleanses our dry and thirsty world.

These three images – wind, fire, water – help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. If the church wants to live and thrive, we must seek to live by the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into us, who sets us ablaze with God’s power, and revives us with waters of life.

[This is an excerpt from my message, “Activated by the Holy Spirit,” preached at Eastbrook Church on September 6/7.]

Activated by the Holy Spirit

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we begin a new five-week series called “Roots.” This series is an opportunity for us at Eastbrook as we celebrate 40 years as a church to look back at what have been the roots of our church. It also offers us the chance to look forward to how we can continue living from these roots as we move forward for years to come.

This weekend we looked at how the Holy Spirit activates the church. Since our inception, we have said that we wanted to be a church that could only be explained by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is really supposed to be true of any local church, and was definitely true of the early church in Jerusalem.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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A. W. Tozer on Our Neglect of the Holy Spirit

A W Tozer

A. W. Tozer‘s book, Knowledge of the Holy, is a favorite of mine. One of my college roommates was highly influenced by another of his books, The Pursuit of God. The rest of Tozer’s work is, in my opinion, a bit hit and miss, but I came across this treasure from him on the neglect of the Holy Spirit. While the words were written more than 50 years ago, I think they are just as relevant today.

A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives. By this test the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all. In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the Doxology and the Benediction. Further than that He might well as not exist. So completely do we ignore Him that it is only by courtesy that we can be called Trinitarian….

…The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life and light and love. In His uncreated nature He is a boundless sea of fire, flowing, moving ever, performing as He moves the eternal purposes of God. Toward nature He performs one sort of work, toward the world another and toward the Church still another. And every act of His accords with the will of the Triune God. Never does He act on impulse nor move after a quick or arbitrary decision. Since He is the Spirit of the Father He feels toward His people exactly as the Father feels, so there need be on our part no sense of strangeness in His presence. He will always act like Jesus, toward sinners in compassion, toward saints in warm affection, toward human suffering in tenderest pity and love.

It is time for us to repent, for our transgressions against the blessed Third Person have been many and much aggravated. We have bitterly mistreated Him in the house of His friends. We have crucified Him in His own temple as they crucified the Eternal Son on the hill above Jerusalem. And the nails we used were not of iron, but of the finer and more precious stuff of which human life is made. Out of our hearts we took the refined metals of will and feeling and thought, and from them we fashioned the nails of suspicion and rebellion and neglect. By unworthy thoughts about Him and unfriendly attitudes toward Him days without end.

Excerpted from “The Forgotten One,” from God’s Pursuit of Man.

The Weekend Wanderer: 7 September 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

_108617739_chito_alamy976“The priest who survived the siege of Marawi” – This from the BBC in the Philippines: “For five months in 2017, Islamist militants took over the city of Marawi in the south of the Philippines. One of their prisoners was a Catholic priest, Father Chito, who was forced to make bombs under threat of torture. The experience shook him deeply, but he continues to hope Christians and Muslims will be able to live in peace.”

 

tom oden

“Paleo-Orthodoxy” – Shortly after college, but before attending seminary, I was encouraged to read Thomas Oden’s three-volume systematic theology (now condensed into a one-volume edition entitled Classical Christianity). When I did eventually read it, I found Oden’s approach toward outlining the ecumenical consensus around core Christian orthodoxy was probably as helpful as the content of the books. He sometimes referred to his efforts as “paleo-orthodoxy,” an attempt to retrieve the church fathers and mothers, as well as historic Christian statements of belief, for our present moment. Oden did not come to this place simplistically, but only after having meandered his way through the most liberal currents of modern and post-modern Christianity as a professor of theology at Drew University. I was discussing all of this with a friend this past week, and then came across this 2015 review of Oden’s memoir, A Change of Heart. Tom Oden passed away in 2016, but his framework for thinking about Christian theology continues to shape my own thinking, and for that I am very thankful.

 

Edgardo Bartolome“After Decades-Long Immigration Fight, A Chicago-Area Family Says Goodbye To Its Matriarch” – From WBEZ in Chicago: “Julie, 66, and Edgardo, 64, were — as Aaron describes them — ‘a unit.’ They were always together. She would garden while Edgardo mowed the lawn. They’d pray together in the living room, sometimes for hours. They’d watch YouTube clips of Filipino music shows together. They’d minister to the sick and dying at Filipino Immanuel Baptist Church on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where Edgardo is a part-time pastor.”

 

Philip Jenkins“Shifting Images of Terror: The Road from Arlington Road” – Here is Professor Philip Jenkins trying to help us recover historical memory in relation to how we think about acts of terror. Partly aimed at giving us context for our current troubles, Jenkins also helps us realize that the story we tell about our troubles shifts over time in ways that may be surprising and troubling.

 

aerial view of boat“Paul Says to ‘Be Filled with the Spirit.’ How Do We Obey a Passive Verb?” – This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church, I am preaching on what it means that the church is activated by the Holy Spirit. While not directly referencing this article by Andrew Wilson, I appreciated reading it in preparation for my message, particularly the analogy he utilizes in this article on being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is something I tried to address in a message this summer from the same passage in Ephesians, “A Crash Course in Christlike Living.”

 

Miles David deep blue trumpet“Jazz Legend Miles Davis’ Trumpet Hits Auction at Christie’s” – I grew up playing piano and trumpet. When I was in high school, I learned to play jazz on both instruments. I learned to love listening to some of the greats, even trying to learn from them how to play well. One of those great was Miles Davis, whose body of work holds such a breadth of musical stylings that it is difficult to become bored listening to his work. Davis musical style was nearly as matched by his aesthetic style, which included the design of his trumpets. Apparently, it’s not too late to own a piece of his legacy.

Music: Thelonious Monk, “‘Round Midnight,” performed by Miles Davis Quintet from ‘Round About Midnight.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward

 

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new preaching series entitled “Roots: Looking Back and Reaching Forward.” This series is the second of a three-part series related to our 40th anniversary as a church, following on our series, “Power in Prayer.” This is a series celebrating our legacy as a church, and also recalibrating as we head into the future together. We will look back at what God has done in our midst at Eastbrook, while also looking forward to what God is calling us into as a church.

September 7/8 – “Activated by the Holy Spirit”

September 14/15 – “Truly Community”

September 21/22 – “Growing Disciples”

September 28/29 – “Sacrificial Generosity”

October 4/5 – “Worship in the Beauty of Holiness”

A Prayer of Bonaventure

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Lord Jesus, as God’s Spirit came down and rested upon you,
May the same Spirit rest on us,
Bestowing his sevenfold gifts.
First, grant us the gift of understanding,
By which your precepts may enlighten our minds.
Second, grant us counsel, by which we may follow
in your footsteps on the path of righteousness.
Third, grant us courage,
by which we may ward off the enemy’s attacks.
Fourth, grant us knowledge,
by which we can distinguish good from evil.
Fifth, grant us piety,
by which we may acquire compassionate hearts.
Sixth, grant us fear,
by which we may draw back from evil
and submit to what is good.
Seventh, grant us wisdom,
that we may taste fully the life-giving sweetness of your love.

By St. Bonaventure, 13th century theologian and doctor of the church.