The Spirit Who Is Not a Ghost

I did an “unearthly” thing last week. In fact, I did it twice.

Thinking back over my lifetime, I have done many adventurous things. I’ve even done a few crazy things; some I think would qualify as mischievous, risky, and on a few occasions, dangerous. To retain the little bit of respect I have built with my readers over the years, I am not going to reveal all of those things that I have done. But I have to tell you about this unearthly thing I did twice last week.

I defied gravity.

Now I have to confess I didn’t do it on my own—earthlings can’t do that, you see. I needed help from a power outside myself, and that posed a bit of a problem because that power happens to be invisible. And that’s where things got a little “eerie.” How did I know it was invisible? I looked. As a matter of fact, I stared. I leaned over the fella sitting next to the window, and I watched the wings as we roared down the runway with the jets full throttle. I kept looking to see if I could see the power that would make my unearthly experience happen.

Finally, the guy sitting next to the window asked me, “Are you all right?”

”Yes,” I said, as I kept staring at the wing. “I’m just checking.” (I like saying things like that when you’re taking off in airplanes.) And before long he was looking back and checking with me!

“What are we checking for?” he asked, as he strained his neck.

“Well,” I replied, “we’re looking for the stuff that holds us up.” That led into a very interesting conversation, I might add.

You say, “Aw, Chuck, gimme a break. Here I was thinking you did something spooky, like really weird, but you just flew.” You’re right, that’s exactly what I did. But you have to admit, even though it’s now a common thing, it is still amazing. That invisible force held our plane 30,000 feet above sea level for well over two hours both going and coming. And not one of us inside the plane ever saw what did it.

Air is a force with incredible strength. You can’t see it or smell it (unless you live around Los Angeles!). You can’t, except in most technical ways, measure it or weigh it. But it keeps you alive every minute. We cannot live without it. Yet when we fly we think nothing of it. Amazing stuff, air.

Never think that because something is invisible it is therefore unimportant or weak. You may be surprised to know that the Bible talks a lot about air. The Old Testament calls it Ruach. The New Testament calls it Pneuma. The English Bible, however, doesn’t translate either one as air. Usually, it’s breath. “God breathed into man the breath of life.” Or it’s called wind. “Like a mighty wind.” Or it is translated spirit—as in the “spirit of man” or “the Holy Spirit.”

A number of synonyms are used for Spirit—words like helper, advocate, comforter, convicter, restrainer, exhorter, and reprover. He is portrayed by symbols, too, such as a dove, fire, wind, even water.

There are some things the Spirit of God is not. Let me point out three or four erroneous ideas that many people have about the Holy Spirit. In fact, when people return to their roots and attempt to explain their beliefs, they are often most confused about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I have often heard Him called an “it” . . . so let’s start there.

The Spirit Is Not an “It,” but a Distinct Personality

The Holy Spirit is a distinct person. He is a “Him,” a “He.” Jesus once said:

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17, emphasis added)

What a helpful revelation! When Jesus left the earth and sent another Helper (“another of the same kind,” interestingly), like Himself, the Helper came and became a part of their lives deep within. No longer near them, but in them. That’s a mind-staggering truth.

The Spirit Is Not Passive, but Active and Involved

Read very carefully what Jesus taught:

“He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. . . . When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:8, 13-14)

Never doubt that the Spirit of God is incessantly on the move. As with air, we cannot see Him; nevertheless, He is hard at work convicting, guiding, instructing, disclosing, and glorifying. Just a few of His activities!

The Holy Spirit Is Not Imaginary, but Real and Relevant

Just before Jesus’s ascension back into heaven, He met with a group of His followers. They had questions. He had answers. He also had some crucial news regarding the Spirit who would soon come to take His place.

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

The Spirit is no imaginary, vague hope; that is a promise from our Savior.

The Holy Spirit Is Not a Substitute for God, but He Is Deity

This will heighten your respect for the Holy Spirit’s work, if nothing else will. Tucked away in the book of Acts is a seldom-mentioned story about a couple who paid the ultimate price for their hypocrisy. Woven into their brief biography is a statement of the Spirit’s deity.

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:1-4, emphasis added)

When they lied “to the Holy Spirit” (5:3), they “lied . . . to God” (5:4).

Imagine what it means to have the presence of the living God within you. Pause and ponder this, my Christian friend: the third member of the Godhead, the invisible, yet all-powerful representation of deity, is actually living inside your being. His limitless capabilities are resident within you, since He indwells you.

You think you can’t handle what life throws at you? You think you can’t stand firm or, when necessary, stand alone in your life?

You think you can’t handle the lure of life’s temptations? Well, you certainly could not if you were all alone. You—alone—can’t do that anymore than I can fly alone. But with the right kind of power put into operation, the very power and presence of God, you can handle it. You can do it. As a matter of fact, all the pressure will be shifted and the weight transferred from you to Him. It’s a radically different way to live. And because He is God He can handle it.

Adapted from Growing Deep in the Christian Life: Returning to Our Roots (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1986), 175-80. Copyright © 1986 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

About the author


Pastor Chuck Swindoll

Pastor Chuck Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs around the world. Chuck’s leadership as president and now chancellor emeritus of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry.

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