1 - Why Study the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit
by Joel Portman

CHAPTER 1

WHY STUDY ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT?

This booklet is intended to present only a brief study of truths regarding the Holy Spirit. We hope that through this consideration of the subject, all of us might have a deeper appreciation for the importance of this subject and a greater ability to understand our relationship to the Holy Spirit of God. We believe it is vital to our spiritual progress today.

There are many subjects that you could study from the Word of God that would be profitable to you. Every subject of Divine Scripture is very important. Likely none is more important than others. This subject is as important to your spiritual welfare as any other could be, and an understanding of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit will benefit your life as a Christian.

If you are like some to whom the Holy Spirit is a distant, unseen and unrealized theoretical doctrine about which you may have read in the Bible, this subject may hold little interest. I don’t think this could be true of any genuine Christian!  We are sure that every true child of God has an inborn interest in Divine things and long to know more of the truths of God. However, it may be that you have never considered the importance of the Holy Spirit in the realm of the purposes and work of God toward man today as in the past. To try to think about the Holy Spirit in terms of what the Bible says about Him may be strange to you. I hope not, though I am sure it is possible. It does seem that it is difficult to the human mind to comprehend truths concerning things that are not seen or grasped physically.

 

THEOLOGY: THE STUDY OF GOD

 

No subject of study could be of higher value or greater importance than the study of God. The human soul and spirit of a believer in Christ have received life through the work of Christ, Who has brought us to enjoy infinite spiritual blessings. As a result, that awakened spirit rises with deepest appreciation and longing for God, desiring a fuller, deeper knowledge of Him (Ps.42:1-2, Phil.3:8-10). One mark of spiritual life is an ability, as well as a desire, to know God and to enjoy fellowship with Him. This is only reasonable, since it will be our constant occupation along with every true believer in heaven. As a result, this should be our earnest desire while here on earth. God is indeed preparing His people right now for their purposed place and for what we will enjoy in His own presence eternally. Part (and possibly most) of that preparation is an increasing knowledge of Himself as He reveals precious truths  about Himself to each believer (Luke 24:27, Ephesians 1:17-19).

 

The Lord Jesus, in His High Priestly prayer of John 17, gives the essence of life eternal in verse three. To know the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is the characteristic of that life. That work and purpose begins upon conversion and goes on into eternity where the saints will continually be learning of God. True spiritual life longs to know its Giver and responds positively to all truth about God (I Peter 2:1-3,7). God brought Abraham, that great prototype of believers, out of spiritual darkness to know His God and to enjoy fellowship with Him (Acts 7:1-3). Spiritual development and maturity are marked by a knowledge of God that is more than intellectual, for it is of the spirit.

 

Since this is true and since the Holy Spirit is God, then we can see that any increase in our knowledge of God must include an understanding and deeper appreciation of the Holy Spirit of God. It is our desire that this brief consideration will serve that end in some small way. A study as briefly composed as this one can hardly be comprehensive. However, perhaps it will result in some readers being stirred to a greater appreciation of its truth and will stimulate deeper study of it.

 

Zophar expresses our limitation in these things in a passage in Job 11:7: “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” However, Prov. 9:10 balances that question “. . .the knowledge of the Holy is understanding.”  Our limitation is that God cannot be known by man in a perfect way or degree. How can those who are finite come to a full understanding of the infinite?  How can one with natural intelligence grasp that which is spiritual and eternal? How are we to know God? It is only as He has revealed Himself through His Word, and that knowledge itself is only comprehended by the work of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:10-11). He is the One Who reveals God to the inquiring, spiritual mind (John 16:14-15). In our consideration of God and desire to know Him, we must depend on the truth that the Holy Spirit has given us along with His enlightening, teaching ministry to bring that truth to our hearts. Even with such resources at our disposal, we acknowledge that our understanding of God is very limited. We would only desire that we knew Him better. Yet God’s desire for His own is that they might know Him and be able to enjoy intelligent communion with Himself. That fellowship between God and man was marred when man sinned in the garden. It has been restored spiritually for all who are partakers of the Divine nature (II Peter 1:4). Thus the believer can experience the joy and privilege that Enoch had (Gen.5:24) as he seeks to walk with God.

 

PRACTICAL RESULTS

 

Is this study practical? The question itself seems to reveal a very feeble understanding of truth about God, as if to indicate that it does not have the most practical and profound results on our lives. No study will more completely alter lives, affect purpose, direct service or motivate Christian living than a study of the Holy Spirit. To comprehend who He is, what is His purpose, and what work He is doing today will bring us more into line with God’s will and desire for His people. God’s work toward men, and in particular, toward developing spiritual life in the believer, is being done through the Holy Spirit of God. The expression of Christ that He desires to see in every one of us is the result of the Spirit’s unhindered work. To understand this, along with what the Bible teaches about His manner and purpose of working, is invaluable to developing our lives for the honor of Christ.

 

Our desire to know truth about the Holy Spirit also comes from realizing that this is a period of God’s purposes in which the Holy Spirit is doing a special work.  This work can be illustrated by the assignment given to Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24, who pictures the Holy Spirit. He is taking out of the nations a Bride, the Church. Now He is bringing her through this wilderness scene unto that time when she will be united with her heavenly Bridegroom. Along the way, He is opening to her understanding an appreciation of the riches of the One Whom she will soon meet. How our hearts thrill, as hers did in that day, to have our Guide unfold to us the wonders and glories of our matchless Lord Whom we will soon be brought to be with and to enjoy eternally!

 

Consider the book of Acts. We see that it is not the record of the acts of the apostles as it is titled. Rather, it records the Acts of the Holy Spirit through these men. God’s marvelous working to bring into reality every aspect of God’s purposes through Christ is evident; repeatedly we are faced with the Holy Spirit’s work. For us looking back from our perspective, it seems that Acts is an unfinished book  and that the working of  the Holy Spirit goes on; that  work  must and will continue until God’s purposes for the church are finished. This particular manner of God’s working might properly be called the Dispensation of the Holy Spirit, for it is unique over the course of man’s history.

 

We also need to study and comprehend teaching concerning the Holy Spirit because of erroneous teaching of our day. It would seem that a lack of proper understanding of the Holy Spirit is partially responsible for the confusion and wrong teaching that  prevails concerning Him in this day. A clear appreciation of WHO HE IS and WHAT HE IS DOING at any particular time would help preserve us. We can be led astray by wrong doctrine and practices propagated by those who do not appreciate different ways God works throughout the Word of God. Specifically, many are taken in by those called “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals.”  Their teaching that the conditions marking the early days of Church testimony were intended to continue in our day has led some in a wrong direction regarding the Holy Spirit. Because of this view, they still emphasize speaking in tongues, special healings of the body and other particular sign gifts.

These dear people are not able to discern the misuse of terms and improper assumptions involved in this view. They have not been clearly taught why these gifts were given and what they accomplished. This is not to say that the Spirit of God is not sovereign, nor would we dictate what God will do or how God will work in any time. Rather, we must discern and properly understand the revealed truth of God having to do with these distinctions. Handling the Word of God correctly must be our aim and exercise before God (I Tim.3:15).

 

On the other extreme, there are those who do not appreciate the Holy Spirit’s importance in every area of a believer’s life and testimony  for God. They do not appear to realize that  spiritual  life and  spiritual work demand  spiritual  power (Acts 1:8). That power only comes from the Spirit of God, and it is only realized by those who maintain conditions under which the Holy Spirit works. It almost seems that some Christians blithely move through their lives without any consciousness of this need or of this Person. They seem to be insensitive to His purposes or promptings; they don’t realize that God intends that they are to be controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. To ignore our complete dependence on the Spirit for every resource and ability needed for spiritual activity results in self-sufficiency with resultant failure. We must cultivate a responsive condition and attitude toward His presence and work in our lives if we expect to express any spiritual development or fruit for God. If we were only more conscious of His gentle prompting, His powerful working and our constant need for His entire work in our lives, we would be more useful and effective in the things of God.

 

It is said that in Scotland, in the early days of Duncan Matheson, a minister was questioning a woman who was noted for her qualities of earnestness and zeal. She was asked, “How many persons are there in the Godhead?” They were astonished with her answer, “There are two persons in the Godhead, the Father and the Son.” She was asked the question again, and again she gave the same answer. The preacher criticized her for her gross ignorance of spiritual matters and accused her of hypocritical pretense in that she didn’t know the fundamental truths of the faith. He said, “Don’t you know that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost?” “Sir,” replied the woman, “I ken verra weel that the catechism says sae. But whether am I to believe, the catechism or yersel’? We hear you name the Father, an’ sometimes, but nae aften ye mak mention o’ the Son; but wha ever heerd you speak aboot the Holy Ghost? ‘Deed, sir, ye never sae muckle as tauld us whether there be ony Holy Ghost, lat ne oor need o’ his grace.” We would trust that there are none reading this study  who would  have views such  as  that  expressed  by  this preacher in that day! We need, and must have, those who are exercised about this truth.

 

Thus, with these few words to encourage us in this direction, I hope every reader will carefully examine the truths so feebly expressed, comparing all that is written with the Divine Standard, the Word of God.

 

“O may Thy Spirit fill our souls,

And mould them to Thy will,

That our weak hearts no more may stray,

But keep Thy precepts still.”

 

                                    Philip Doddridge  (BHB #380)