The apostle Paul exhorted us with these words; “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom 8:9).  These are sobering words indeed, but what do they mean? How does the Spirit of God dwell in us? In  fact these questions prompt us to go further and ask a series of questions about the working of the spirit  amongst believers in the past and today. What is God’s Spirit? How does it work? Is it present at work  in these last days? Because there are so many aspects associated with this subject, it was felt appropriate  to answer a number of the key questions that people ask in relation to the working of God’s Spirit in  the lives of the saints. The article is in the format of questions and answers and will be serialised across  several issues of the magazine. May it assist us to understand this important subject more completely.

What is a succinct definition of the  word spirit?

According to Strong’s Concordance the Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruach and means “wind”. It comes from a root word meaning “to blow or breathe”. Similarly the Greek word for “spirit” is pneuma which means a “current of air, that is, breath (blast) or a breeze”.

The Hebrew and Greek words are used of:

  • the power of God—Micah 3:8; Zech 4:6; Luke 1:35; Acts 8:19; Rom 15:13, 19
  • a cool breeze, wind—Gen 3:8; 8:1
  • mind, attitude—Gen 26:35; 2 Tim 1:7
  • spirit being—Psa 104:4; Heb 1:14
  • breath—Gen 7:22; Matt 27:5
  • mental diseases—Matt 8:16; 10:1
  • word, doctrine, teachings, teachers—Psalm 33:6; John 6:63; 1 John 4:1–3.

In ancient times the effects of the spirit could  be seen in people who were filled with wisdom,  understanding, knowledge and extraordinary  strength (Ex 31:3; Deut 34:9; Judges 14:6,19;  15:14). In Isaiah 44:3 63:14 we also find that God’s  spirit is associated with blessing and providential  care as well.

When you breathe in, you take into your being  the means to keep you alive. You may also breathe in any scents that surround you and because breath and life are clearly associated ideas, ruach conveys  both concepts. When you breathe out or speak, you expel air and so there is a close association between  speaking and breathing. By a further extension, when you speak you express the force of your ideas and hence ruach was also used in the Scriptures to  represent the mind and will of an individual.

A more detailed definition can be seen in these words from Brother LG Sargent’s article in The Christadelphian, 1964 (vol 101, page 293):

“In the Old Testament ruach is used in many senses, and in the Authorised Version it has many renderings. They may be classed under the following heads:

1 Physical—air, blast, tempest, wind, windy, Whirlwind

2 Vital—breath, spirit (whether of God or men)

3 Psychological—anger, courage, mind

4 Metaphorical—vain, windy

5 Geographical—side, quarters (taken from  the directions of the winds).

And we may add a sixth, though this is not  always to be clearly distinguished from some of the others:

6 Supernatural—spirit as the power of God.

Looking at this classification, compiled from the  ‘Index-Lexicon’ in Young’s Analytical Concordance,  and examining passages in which the words occur, we can arrive at some definitions.

Applied to man (a) spirit is life; its presence  is shown by the fact that man is a living, breathing frame, endowed with consciousness  and activity. But (b) by an extension of meaning,  it is applied to that which belongs to the living  being, the activity of the mind and personality, which is therefore called his ‘spirit’.

With God ‘spirit’ is this and more. It is:  (a) The ‘outbreathing’ of God by which the one God is universally present and aware of all things  (b) It is His mind and disposition as made known to men

(c) As such it is the expression of His will

(d)Since for God to will a thing is to accomplish it, the ‘spirit’ is synonymous with  the power to fulfil the will

(e) And therefore the will may be focused,  as it were, on a particular object. (The language  is necessarily metaphorical for what cannot be  expressed in human terms.)

How closely ‘will’ and ‘spirit’ are connected  is shown by the parallelism between ‘word’  (dabar, word, matter or thing) and breath  (ruach) in Psalm 33:6, where the ‘word’ is  clearly an expression of the will:

‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.’…

Can we now summarize by saying that so far as man is concerned ‘spirit’ is in Old Testament doctrine:

1 The power which animates him

2 The life which fills him as a result

3 The consciousness, the mind, will and disposition, in which that life is manifested.

As applied to God, spirit is:

1 Power—whether directed to the creation of heavens and earth or the new creation in man.

2 Mind and will, irresistible in expression and execution

3 The mind and will of God as specially directed to the redemption of men.

As one writer on the Old Testament doctrine  has said: ‘… The spirit of God is power; power  with a moral emphasis; that is to say, it is the  personal activity of God’s will, achieving a  moral and religious object.’

Understanding of the Old Testament doctrine  is the basis for understanding of the New, for its  elements are carried over.”

In addition to this we can note these thoughts  from Brother Thomas in The Spirit of God  and the Baptism Thereof (reproduced in The  Christadelphian, 1875, page 487)

“The idea and thoughts of the Deity are as much  Spirit as His physical power. His thoughts are  moral power breathed forth in His words, and  that is Spirit … His thoughts breathed forth,  or revealed in any way He may determine,  constitute ‘the truth’, and therefore the Truth is  Spirit. Hence the Lord Jesus said, ‘My words  are Spirit’; and the apostle John says ‘The Spirit  is the Truth’. To produce physical results, such  as raising the dead, curing the sick, speaking  with tongues, speaking by inspiration, material  power or spirit is required; but when purely  moral results are the things desired, the truth is  the Spirit that operates on the heart.”

2 What does the BASF state about the working of the Holy Spirit?

The foundation clause states:

“That the book currently known as the Bible,  consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the  prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of  knowledge concerning God and His purposes  at present extant or available in the earth, and  that the same were wholly given by inspiration  of God in the writers, and are consequently  without error in all parts of them, except such  as may be due to errors of transcription or  translation—2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians  2:13; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians  14:37; Nehemiah 9:30; John 10:35.”

The Scriptures are given by inspiration of God and can make a person wise unto salvation  (2 Tim 3:16). But if spirit illumination is essential  to understanding God’s words then the Bible  alone cannot make a person wise unto salvation.  To admit to the direct influence of the Holy Spirit  power upon the heart to enlighten an individual is  to introduce another source of revelation other than the Scriptures.

Brother Carter presents an interesting argument in relation to this in The Christadelphian (vol 92,  1955, p172):

“The inspired author would need an inspired reader to complete the revelation. If the first carries infallibility, we would expect the second, since it is only a completion of a necessary process, likewise to produce an infallible understanding. And as a corollary of that we might also expect an absolute  uniformity of interpretation. The claimants to illumination are legion: Roman Catholics, the Reformed Church (as in the Westminster  Catechism), Nonconformity (as shown in Dale’s  statement)—each division makes its own claim and contests the assertion made by the others to have spirit-guidance.”

In addition to the foundation clause, Statement 25 of Doctrines to be Rejected, says this:  “That a man cannot believe without possessing the Spirit of God.”

The reason for this statement is due to the erroneous doctrine known as “prevenient grace”. This is an orthodox doctrine that teaches that a person is unable to be changed or sanctified unless God’s spirit works on his mind and produces faith. In contrast to this, Paul wrote that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17). Statement 25 is designed to counter the Calvinistic teaching on calling and election which states that God’s Spirit power works directly in men and women by working faith in them, convincing them of their sin and misery, enlightening them, renewing their will and persuading them to embrace the gospel. It is a false teaching which overemphasises the divine will and action and disregards the freedom of response that man must exercise.

3 What happened when prophets spoke by the  Holy Spirit?

2 Peter 1:20–21 informs us that the prophetic word was not based on any private origination. Instead, it was uttered by holy men who were “moved” or “borne along” by God’s power. The Greek word is used of a storm driving a vessel through the waters in Acts 27:15 and this, in turn, suggests that the servants of God were impelled by a force that irresistibly propelled their thoughts in uttering forth the will of God.

Jesus promised a Comforter or Advocate to the apostles. This was the Spirit of Truth which was designed to channel the minds of the apostles, so that they could remember all things that Jesus said and present convincing arguments in defence of the Truth (John 16:13; Luke 12:11–12).

Men like Jeremiah felt themselves unable to hold back from speaking the revealed word and it felt like a fire burning within them, so that they were unable to forebear (Jer 20:9). And yet in the first century ecclesia “the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32), which suggests that they could control their inclination to speak.

Even though prophetic utterance expressed the mind of God, it would appear that the spirit used the individual characteristics and style of a Paul or a James and then channelled them into a divine framework. Hence the New Testament epistles contain the will of God in a variety of different styles. So whilst the words were ultimately God’s, they were also framed in human language that reflected the individuality of the personality through whom God worked.

4 Can the Holy Spirit change a person’s character?

Did possession of the spirit confer any moral advantage? Did it help in the formation of a character that pleases God? The evidence of the Word is clear—the moral life of those through whom the Spirit operated was not affected. We have examples of spirit-filled people like Moses (who sinned after being provoked), Balaam (who argued with God after receiving a number of visions), Solomon (whose heart went after foreign women), Peter (who was persuaded by Judaisers not to eat with Gentiles) and of the first century ecclesias (which later descended into apostasy)—all failing in different ways.

The first century gifts were an assurance that God had called a person and that He was actively working in their life, but it could not give that person any moral qualities and characteristics which they never possessed. This was why Paul had to teach the Corinthians that the “better way” was love. This was the quality that spirit gifts could not develop.

Change of character is always attributed to the moral and intellectual force of the Word of God written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Psalm 119:9; John 15:3).

5 Can the Holy Spirit guide or influence a person’s thoughts and speech?

The evidence of the Scriptures indicates that God, through His Spirit, has and can guide a person’s thoughts, speech and actions. When the spirit overtook Saul he became “another man” (1 Sam 10:6). It gave him an insight into God’s world, as it were, and took control of his language and perceptions.

Another example is in Genesis 24 when Eliezer sought a wife for Isaac. On this occasion he asked God for a specific sign. He sought to hear Isaac’s prospective wife say a specific form of words (v14) and no sooner had the prayer finished, than Rebekah arrived and said those very words (v18–19). To Rebekah they were words that would have seemed natural to her. She was not conscious of any influence directing her to express these thoughts, because they were consistent with the kind of caring woman she was.

Brother Roberts writes this on page 22–23 of  The Ways of Providence:

“There was no need to open the eyes of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant; the case did not call for it.  But if his eyes had been opened, he would have seen that an angelic guide was directing his way, invisibly operating upon him and causing him to conceive impulses and think thoughts which to his consciousness were all his own.

The teaching of the case is plain. ‘The angel  of the Lord encampeth round about those that  fear Him’, and directs their ways without any open or apparent interference with the natural order of things. What is due to a man’s own  thoughts and what to angelic supervision, a man cannot by his own reasoning discriminate. He need not attempt it. His part is simply to fear  God, do His commandments, commit his way to Him, in the full and cheerful confidence that  ‘all things work together for good to them that  love God, and who are the called according to his purpose.’”

Another example of the spirit directing the thoughts of men can be found in the words of the Master to his disciples in Mark 13:11: “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

The spirit would guide their thoughts and channel their arguments so that they could prevail against the arguments and sophistry of man.

In 1 Samuel 10:9 we read that “God gave Saul another heart.” Does this mean that God can give a person a new personality through His Spirit?

The verse in question cannot mean that God worked directly on Saul’s mind and gave him moral qualities that he did not possess, because the context of the chapter mitigates against this suggestion. The new heart Saul gained was a different perception of his position as king.

God promised to envelop Saul with His power and enable him to utter prophecies he had never experienced before. It would make him another man (v6); a new man in fact. His thoughts would be exalted in spiritual visions and he would experience revelations and prophecies that he had never thought possible. This prophetic insight was the last of three deliberate signs that God was offering to him through Samuel in an attempt to encourage him in his new capacity as king. And it worked. Saul took to heart the reassurance of God’s presence with him and this kindled a new desire within him. He saw life differently. He was no longer a husbandman; he was now to be a king; and God was prepared to go with him! The effects of this power upon him developed another heart; a different way of perceiving himself in the purpose of God. Sadly, this new resolve soon dissipated and this new heart was replaced by an altogether different spirit a number of years later.

6 Does the Holy Spirit interfere with man’s free will?

By free will we mean the freedom to choose one’s own destiny.

The operation of the Spirit upon the affairs of mankind does not interfere or impede freedom of choice in relation to eternal matters. On the contrary we frequently read of God offering people a choice between life and death:

Deuteronomy 30:19 “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”

Joshua 24:15 “And if it seem evil unto you to serve Yahweh, choose you this day whom ye will serve.”

When God influenced a person’s thoughts  or speech it was not detrimental to the person’s  individual salvation. They were always masters of  their own destiny. In the case of those who resisted  His will (like Pharaoh or Balaam), God went out of  His way, as it were, to ensure that ample opportunity was offered to them so that they could change  from their evil ways. In the end these men fitted  themselves for destruction (cp Rom 9:22–23).

Commenting on free-will, Brother Roberts  writes this on page 48 of The Ways of Providence.

“God has conferred upon man the god-like gift of  independent volition, alias free will, within the  boundary imposed by surrounding conditions. This limited independence of will is the basis  of all God’s dealings with man. Consequently  ‘providence’ is a complex and interesting  operation which manipulates circumstances, and so acts through, without setting aside, the natural action of the unconstrained human  will.”

The “boundary imposed by surrounding  conditions” may consist of personal character  traits, external pressures, economic realities, social  conditioning, self-preservation and the like; all of  which determine a person’s reaction to various  events. We may all feel that we have absolute  freedom to choose, but in reality we are subject to  many internal and external pressures which all have  a bearing on the choices we make.

God’s working amongst mankind does not set  aside the capacity of men and women to choose  between life and death.