Is it just me, or is there a certain elusiveness to that third member of the Trinity? You know the one. Father, Son and… who? Ah, yes. Holy Spirit. While I can perceive (faintly, dimly) of the awesomeness of God the Father through the majestic revelation of Jesus the Son, I often feel like I draw a mental blank in relating to the Spirit. My brain knows the theology of this third co-equal, co-eternal Person, but do I really know? You know?
About six years ago, I was handed the keys to our Young Adults ministry here at RBC. As a young, nervous wannabe pastor, I thought an appropriate first teaching series would be a boot-camp style basics of Christianity. The week before Halloween it just so happened that the topic was the Holy Spirit, and I cleverly titled my message “Ghost Story” – which turned out to be a rather embarrassing foreshadowing of my own shallow grasp of the Holy Spirit. About halfway through my message, I noticed that I kept referring to the Holy Spirit as “it” rather than “He.” Convicting? Believe it. After publicly repenting several times in the middle of my sermon, it’s not a mistake I’ve (knowingly) made since – but it did reveal something that has stuck with me: The Holy Spirit makes me nervous. I might go as far to say that I’m a even a little afraid of Him.
I grew up in rural Kentucky and some of my early church experiences included a few well-intentioned but uninformed pastors (bless their hearts) shouting about “Holy Ghost powah” while folks jumped up and down the church aisle, fainted, wailed, flailed, danced and pontificated gibberish – all at the same time. Even as a babe in Christ, I could not justify what was presented in those encounters as the normative work of the Holy Spirit with what I read in my Bible. And while I’m certainly not knocking any genuine work and power of the Holy Spirit, those few early experiences – can I be honest here? – weirded me out significantly. There’s no question that they colored the way I viewed Him later.
As I reflected on that after my “Ghost Story” experience, I came to the conclusion that I like the Holy Spirit better as an “it” than a “He” because an “it” is manageable. “It”s don’t make me nervous – “He”s do. The thought of a mysterious cloud of power that roams around and zaps people to make them do weird things, while profoundly odd (and a little scary), was preferable to the alternative. The imaginary ghosts we tell about in stories could never be as scary as the real thing. Likewise, impersonal “it”s are far more manageable than real, actual people.
Far from impersonal, however, Scripture presents the Holy Spirit as a Person, one that is intimately involved in the lives of believers. He is a Person who speaks to us (Heb. 3:7), speaks through us (Matt. 10:20), speaks for us (Rom. 8:26), calls us (Rev. 22:17), equips us (1 Cor. 10:11) empowers us (Acts 1:8) …et cetera. Yet, for much of my Christian walk, I have been content to put the Holy Spirit on my theological backburner. While some are wont to elevate the Him above His co-equality with Father and Son, many of us are also content to reduce Him to a second-class member of the Godhead.
Theologian J.I. Packer puts it well: “The practical importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it requires us to pay equal attention, and give equal honor, to all three persons in the unity of their gracious ministry to us.” The doctrine of the Trinity is, in general, mystifying and complex – and I tend to err on the side of treating the Holy Spirit as somehow less than God Himself. I find that to the extent I can de-personify Him, I can hold Him at a manageable distance and (at least in my own mind) choose the extent of my interaction with it… er, Him. But – if I really believe what Scripture actually presents about Him – the Holy Spirit is not an optional addendum to my Christian journey. Rather, my identity as a person is tied directly to the Spirit and His work in my life.
This weekend, Pastor Mike is planning to start a teaching series on the Holy Spirit called People of the Spirit. I’m looking forward to it because I know this is an area that I need and desire relational growth with my God. May God be gracious to us as we seek to know HIm as He is – for all that He is – not simply as we want Him to be. My spirit is willing to learn. I know His is graciously willing to teach.