In this article we consider a number of difficult verses dealing with the word “spirit” and show how the influence of the Spirit Word is critical in our development of a spiritual mind. Renewal and transformation is by the power of the Word of God cleansing the mind. May this consideration encourage us to appreciate the power of the indwelling Word so that we can be sanctified and cleansed through the Truth as it is in Jesus.

A Holy Spirit

It should be noted that the av has a number of deficiencies in relation to the translation of the words “the Holy Spirit”. Firstly there are no capital letters in the Greek and secondly, in a large number of cases the definite article is not present.

These two simple facts carry enormous significance in the way we view the phrase. The Holy Spirit in some cases is simply “a holy spirit”. Being “in the Spirit” can mean just being “in spirit”.

On page 125 of the book, God’s Spirit in Work and Word, Brother Fred Pearce lists 94 significant passages where the Greek text omits the definite article (“the”) before “Holy Spirit”, “holy spirit” or “spirit.” It is well worth noting these passages down.

Hence Romans 15:13—“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit”—should read “in power of [a] holy spirit”. Hope abounds when the spiritual mind (a holy spirit or a spirit of holiness) of a disciple is full of vitality and energy.

When we appreciate that many quotes which contain the phrase “by the Holy Spirit” should in fact read “in holy spirit”, we can remove many interpretative difficulties. A spirit or mind of holiness is entirely different to the Holy Spirit as a physical power. Here are a few examples of the correct use of this phrase:

2 Corinthians 6:4–7 “… in longsuffering, in kindness, in holy spirit, in love unfeigned …”

Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in [a] holy spirit.”

1 Corinthians 6:19–20 What? know ye not that your body is a temple of [a] holy spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? …. therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Romans 8 Quotations

The context of the expressions in Romans 8 has its origin in the previous chapter. Paul describes two opposing forces in his life. The first is described in chapter 7:21—“I find then a law [ie a ruling principle], that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” This ruling principle was the stirring of unlawful desires which ended in transgression and ultimately death. The second is described in chapter 7:22—his inner delight in the law of God.

As a consequence he always felt a struggle between the two. In the language of metaphor he describes the stirrings of lust as a force “in his members” and the delight in God’s ways as a force in his mind, in “the inward man” (7:23). In reality the battle occurred in his mind (Col 3:2).

In Romans chapter 8 Paul expanded this concept. You will notice that he uses the words “for” or “because” many times. This is indicative of an ever-expanding theme. It is closely connected with the use of parallelism in the Hebrew Scriptures, where one thought or theme is repeated in subsequent verses using slightly different expressions.

So here is a list of Paul’s parallel expressions about sin and death:

  • Paul sinned and deserved death (7:9–13)

  • He did things that he hated (7:15)

  • The cause of all this was “sin” (metonymy for the lusts that lead to sin) (7:20)

  • It was so strong it had become a law, or ruling principle in his makeup (7:21)

  • He called it “the law of sin of death”, because it was an inevitable life-cycle of transgression leading to death (7:25; 8:2)

  • He then described a life dominated by sin as “walking in the flesh” and pointed out that had its origins in thinking fleshly thoughts—“the carnal mind” (8:4–8).

In contrast to that is another series of parallel expressions about godliness and life.

  • Paul had a will to do good but he couldn’t consistently do the right thing (7:18)

  • He delighted in God’s law (7:22)

  • He tried to serve God by adhering to His will (7:25)

  • In contrast to the law of sin and death, he called this desire to obey God’s will “the law of the spirit of life” in chapter 8:2, because it can lead to eternal life.

  • He then described a life dominated by God’s will as “walking after the spirit”, and pointed out that it had its origins in thinking spiritual thoughts—“the spiritual mind” (8:4–8).

This sets the essential context for understanding the verses that come later in Romans 8. Flesh and spirit are two spheres of influence to which people belong. The first comes naturally, the second comes from delighting in God’s law. Without the Word of God there can be no spiritual thinking and no walking in the spirit. This is the thrust of Paul’s argument.

These concepts are further developed in verses 9–10. Living in the spirit occurs when “the Spirit of God” dwells in us, when “the Spirit of Christ” dwells in us, when “Christ” dwells in us. These are all parallel expressions, but the last phrase is the key. Paul is talking about characteristics of God and Christ. The spirit of God is the way God thinks and acts. The spirit of Christ is the essence of Christ himself shown in his thoughts and words. How does Christ dwell in us? By his words abiding in us (John 15:7) through faith (Eph 3:16–17, Col 3:16).

1 Corinthians 2 Quotations

In 1 Corinthians 2 Paul contrasts the wisdom and power of man with the wisdom and power of God (v4–5). In verses 9–13 we have a series of verses all using the term “spirit”:

1 Corinthians 2:9–11: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for [this word explains the subject in more detail] the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For [this word again explains the subject in more detail] what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

The context is not so much the miraculous power of God’s spirit but that which is in contrast with the “spirit of man”. There are two minds and two wills. God has revealed His purpose “by [dia—through] his Spirit”—ie through the unveiling of His mind and will.

There is a spirit that searches the deep things of God. This is man’s spirit or mind, that seeks to understand the purpose of God. Furthermore a man knows what is in his own mind (this is the spirit of man) and similarly God alone knows what is in His mind (this is the spirit of God).

This will and mind have been communicated to us as verse 12 states: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

Having received we preach, says Paul, “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the spirit teacheth” (v13). It is important to know that the av has “the holy spirit” but the rv and others omit the word “holy”. The Greek is literally “in that which is taught of the spirit.” This spirit is the same as that of the previous verses—the mind of God. God’s mind or spirit has been communicated through His Word and this is the means by which teaching is imparted.

It enables “a comparing spiritual things with spiritual”, or as the rv margin has “interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men.” This agrees with the following verses which describe the inability of natural men to perceive the mind of God.

Ephesians Quotations

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains many references to the working of the spirit and it is important that we understand the significance of these references.

He writes in Ephesians 1:13: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.”

The “holy spirit of promise” is a reference to the promise that Jesus made to the disciples in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4–5, namely the promise of the Holy Spirit gifts. The first century believers received this, as the next verse tells us, as an earnest or deposit of future glory. Vessels once had their master’s seal stamped on the side as an indication of ownership. The granting of God’s power to the believers at Ephesus was evidence that God owned them. There is no indication from Paul’s words that the same sealing occurs for believers outside the first century.

Note also that the Holy Spirit was only given after they had heard and believed the gospel. There is no doctrine here of the Holy Spirit being required to make a person believe. Hearing and believing came before the bestowal of the spirit.

A more difficult quote in relation to this sealing and deposit is found in 2 Corinthians 1:22: “Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”

Here it is important to note the context. Paul has been speaking about the certainty of the promises of God through his preaching (v18–20). These promises have established the Corinthians and anointed them and sealed them. Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit power. He is speaking about the word of God. This understanding of the spirit word (the spirit in their hearts) is like a deposit, says Paul; that is, it is a foretaste or pledge that one day God will give them a full participation in wisdom and power. Understanding the spirit Word now is a down-payment on fuller enlightenment in immortality.

Paul prayed for the Ephesians in Ephesians 1:17: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

This “spirit of wisdom” here is equivalent to a mind of wisdom. God gives wisdom to those who ask for it in faith (Jas 1:5), but we are not told how He does this. We are just asked to believe that He can do this and does do it.

In Ephesians 2:18 Paul speaks about unity between believers—“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” The Greek is more particularly “in one spirit”, that is, with a united mind, the mind of Christ.

A similar thought occurs in Ephesians 2:22 where Paul writes: “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Once again the av is misleading, suggesting that the Holy Spirit literally lives in people. The Greek for “through the Spirit” is “in spirit”. The apostle is using the metaphor of a building and inhabitant. The building has many components but shares a common occupant—God in spirit, that is, God in their hearts and minds through the power of His Word and will. God dwells in people through the word abiding in them (John 15:7).

In Ephesians 3:16–20 we read another of Paul’s prayers: “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love … that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us…”

This passage raises the question of how God strengthens and fills people and how He dwells in people. Is it speaking literally about God’s Holy Spirit descending upon people’s minds and influencing them? Or is Paul using metaphors instead?

Notice first that in these verse Paul is asking God to grant this favour “according to the riches of His glory”. Hence this gift is designed to make the believers develop the moral excellence of His glorious character. Secondly, the strengthening takes place in the inner man—a phrase that is defined in Romans 7:21 as the mind that delights in the law of God.

So how is the inner man strengthened by God’s spirit? Is it through the Holy Spirit acting directly upon the heart or is it by the power of the spirit word?

We have seen before that the Holy Spirit did not confer any moral power upon those who received it. It may strengthen the outer man, as in the case of Samson, but it is incapable of affecting the inner man.

The Word if God is the sole agency that can work, quicken, increase, edify and build (Rom 1:16, John 6:63, Heb 4:12–14, Col 1:10, Act 20:32, 1 Thess 2:13). The strengthening “by his spirit” that Paul is talking about is the influence of God’s Word upon the mind. But Paul extends this thought further when he adds, that Christ needs to dwell in our minds, not literally, but by faith. Our vibrant belief of his existence and the power of his ways and words needs to become reflected in our lives. It can only come from reading and hearing the Word of God and then obeying it.

This knowledge and example of Christ’s life has to fill us completely (Rom 15:14, Col 1:19). The object is for Christ to be formed in us (Gal 4:19, 2:20). To learn of Christ is to reflect the moral excellence of his life (Eph 4:22–24). This is the power that works in us that Paul was referring to (1 Cor 1:18, 2 Cor 6:7, Phil 3:10, 2 Tim 1:7).

God Abiding in Us

How does God dwell in people? Is it through His physical power dwelling directly in our minds?

The language cannot be literally interpreted for the following reasons:

1) John 6:56—“He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” We do not literally consume the Lord’s flesh and blood and hence the corresponding dwelling cannot be literal either.

2) John 15:4—“Abide in me and I in you.” If Christ dwells in us in some personal way then how do we dwell in Christ? Is this also in the same personal and physical way? It cannot possibly be so.

The abiding occurs when we receive the word of Christ (John 15:7). This allows us to abide in God’s love (1 John 4:16). Abiding is a metaphor which describes a unity borne of fellowship, obedience and love.

The Calling of God

How does God call men and women to the Truth? The answer is revealed in Acts 15:14: “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.” But there cannot be a taking out without the Word being preached, heard and assimilated first (Rom 10:14–17).

Brother John Carter wrote this in volume 92 of The Christadelphian (1955, pages 170–171)

“The divine work throughout the present age is summed up in the words of James and Peter: ‘God did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name.’ The word ‘visit’ of itself indicates divine activity and its use in Luke’s first book helps us to see the particular aim. When Luke records that ‘the dayspring on high hath visited us’ he is referring to the divine begettal of the Son of God. The word in Acts refers to the re-creative activity of God in begetting men and women by the word of truth to be His sons and daughters by adoption in Christ Jesus. The agency in the first was the spirit of God, the power of the Highest; in the second it was the word of truth, a word which originated in spirit guidance, a word so instinct with power that it is called both ‘a living and powerful word’ and also ‘an incorruptible seed’. But besides this word the divine activity was present in other ways not known except by results, in the lives of men and women. When men come into relationship with God there is a twofold-ness of action, which can be recognised as a fact when explanation eludes us. This twofold-ness is seen in Joel’s exposition of God’s work in Christ at Pentecost and which is cited effectively by Paul in Romans 10: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord” describes man’s side: while the divine side is expressed in the words “the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, 39). With emphasis on “whosoever” Paul shows that man’s call is not restricted to the Jews, for “the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Rom 10:11–12). But Paul tells us how that divine call comes: it is embodied in the preacher’s message—how shall they hear without a preacher? The faith that makes men pleasing to God comes by hearing the word of God; by it they respond to God’s call and they for their part call on God.”

What about the work of God in calling Lydia to the Truth and opening her heart?

The record says this: “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14).

Young’s Literal Translation (ylt) gives us the sense of the Greek—“and a certain woman, by name Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, worshipping God, was hearing, whose heart the Lord did open to attend to the things spoken by Paul.”

The word “attend” in the AV is prosecho, which means to turn the mind to, to be attentive. She was more than a casual worshipper of God. ylt suggests (and the Diaglott supports this translation) she was not just a “worshipper of God” as indicated by the av but she was engaged in worshipping, that is, she was in the process of worshipping God when Paul arrived, which meant that her mind was already dwelling on the Scriptures and her heart was already engaged in prayer (Acts 16:13). She therefore knew the Scriptures and more importantly was seeking God through praise and petition. In many cases a knowledge of the law closed the hearts of her contemporaries, but with her it was different. Her normal manner of worshipping God was interrupted by Paul and she was listening carefully (the imperfect tense “was hearing” is used). It wasn’t just a casual listening.

Notice that Luke records that God opened her heart for the purpose of attending to Paul’s teaching. He did not say that God directly operated on her mind to give her faith, as evangelical churches teach. He did not say that God enlightened her by directly affecting her mind with a whole new set of beliefs. Instead he recorded that God opened her heart to carefully listen to the Truth. Enlightenment comes from listening to the force and power of the Truth (Psa 119:130).

So how then did God open her mind to make her receptive to Paul’s teaching? We don’t know exactly. She may have been praying for enlightenment and Paul’s discourse was the answer to that prayer. She may have heard of Paul’s arrival and her interest was awakened by the arrival from someone from Judea. God may have arranged circumstances to make her especially alert that day. We don’t have enough Scriptural information to give a definitive answer. All we know is that God was behind the circumstances of that day. A similar passage in Luke 24:44–46 tells us that the ultimate opening of people’s minds occurs when they understand the exposition and meaning of the Scriptures.

Putting all these thoughts together, it is most likely that God prepared the circumstances of the day for Lydia to be receptive to the Word and when she heard it expounded in its simplicity, this was enough to complete the work that God’s providence had commenced.