H for Holy Spirit


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The A- Z of the Christian Faith

H for Holy Spirit.

For much of the history of the Church the Holy Spirit has been somewhat overlooked. While he has never been entirely forgotten, the church’s liturgy and theology tend to focus on the Father and the Son. But the Holy Spirit is third person of the Trinity, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Son. The Spirit is also that part of God given to dwell within us and draw us closer to God. To neglect the Spirit is therefore to have an incomplete under-standing of God and his work in the world.

It is only in the last few decades, with the emergence of Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches, that the Spirit’s role has gained some more prominence. But if we look through the Bible, we see that the Spirit plays an important role in God’s mission to the world.

Old Testament


The book of Genesis states that the Holy Spirit was at work in creation. The Spirit of God  “hovered over the surface of the waters”. One word used for Spirit in the Old Testament was ruath which means breath or wind. So we can picture the Holy Spirit as the breath of God. Not only was the Spirit operating in the creation of the world but also in the creation of people. It is only when the breath of God enters the creature made from the dust that a human being is made.


The Holy Spirit was at work in the prophets of the Old Testament. It is one of the few things which the Nicene Creed informs us about the Spirit: “who has spoken through the prophets”. There came to be an expectation that the Spirit’s work and power would increase in the future, at that time when the Hebrew’s hopes would be fulfilled. For example, the famous prophecy of Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new Spirit I will put within you;”  [Ezek 36:26]

New Testament


In Luke’s gospel we read that it was the Holy Spirit which came upon Mary so that Jesus could be born. Some people see parallels between the Spirit “hovering over the face of the waters” in creation and the Spirit and power of God “overshadowing” Mary in order for her to conceive.

Jesus’ life and ministry

Perhaps surprisingly Jesus mentions that Spirit very little. He promises that he will send the Spirit and that the Spirit will help those Christian who face persecutions and trials. Never the less the Spirit was very much at work in his life and ministry. Jesus is empowered by the Spirit at his baptism and it is this which allows him to start his active ministry. In part, he claims to be the long-expected Messiah because of his anointing by the Spirit. It is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies such as the one I quoted earlier from Ezekiel. And so he reads aloud in the synagogue another prophecy, this time from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” [Luke 4:18]

Conversion and baptism

After the day of Pentecost, when the apostles went about proclaiming the gospel, they expected those who chose to following Christ to receive the Holy Spirit. The precise order of conversion, water baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit seem to vary but all three elements are clearly of equal importance.

So what does the gift of the Holy Spirit do?


First, it is the Spirit that equips Christians with all they need for their mission and ministry. As the early Christian’s experience of the Spirit was so dynamic and powerful, some Churches came to believe that the more dramatic and ecstatic gifts were more important that others. Saint Paul makes it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians that all gifts are of equal worth: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”[1 Corinthian 12: 4-5; 7]. The measure of a gift is how much it builds up the body of Christ, the Church. 


Second, the Holy Spirit dwelling  within us allows us to pray and, if we work with it, can transform us and make us more holy. This process is what theologians call sanctification. A life of prayer and service, lived under the guidance of the Spirit will produce results which can be seen. Like a good tree, the Spirit will produce good fruit in the lives of Christians:  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” [Gal 5: 22-23]


Third, the Holy Spirit unites all Christians with God and each other: For you did not receive a spirit of slavery… but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” [Romans 8:15-17]

Through the gift gift of the Holy Spirit we are adopted into the family of our heavenly Father, the body of Christ, the Church.

An A - Z of the Christian Faith