Many Christians say things like, “I know about God the Father, and I know about Jesus, but the Holy Spirit is a mystery to me.” The Holy Spirit (“Ghost”) scares many Christians. We understand the concept of God the Creator, and we certainly know about Jesus who walked among us 2000 years ago. But the Holy Spirit is another matter. Where does he fit in?
There are over 100 names of the Holy Spirit. I am amazed and overwhelmed by how many times he appears in the pages of the Bible. I realise that God wants us to know a lot about the Spirit because he tells us about him in so many different places.
One of the oldest prayers of the church - only 3 words: “Come, Holy Spirit.” Here is the ultimate irony of this message. Because the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see spiritual truth, we need the Holy Spirit to understand the Holy Spirit! So we pray “Come, Holy Spirit, and help us to know you better. Amen." The Bible gives us many images, pictures and symbols of his work. In order to help us, I’ve chosen 4 of the best-known pictures of the Spirit. Each one reveals a different aspect of his ministry in our lives.
“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7: 38).
Jesus spoke to a vast crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles. As the assembled multitudes strained to hear His words-some curious, others sceptical, still others moved by a deep inner need-Jesus offered them something that only God could provide-"streams of living water” that would flow from within them out to the world around them. Lest anyone misunderstand His words, John tells us in v. 39 that “He meant the Spirit.” In short, Jesus was offering something brand new in the history of the world, a complete inner transformation by means of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ words must have shocked His hearers with their stunning simplicity: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (v. 37). That short statement contains the essence of the Gospel message. It is centred in a person-Jesus Christ. It is offered to all without restriction-If anyone. It is based upon human need-If anyone is thirsty. It demands a personal response-Let Him come to me. It invites personal participation-and drink.
What a wonderful picture of how the Spirit works in the human heart. Those who come to Christ find “living water” that satisfies the deep thirst within. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, that “living water” produces a new life that eventually bubbles to the surface and becomes evident to others. Living water won’t become stagnant. It always produces a dynamic, abundant, exciting new life.
Those who respond to the call receive the Holy Spirit as a permanent, indwelling, life‑changing presence. To speak of “streams of living water” highlights 4 facts about the Spirit’s ministry in the believer:
*He takes up residence within the “inner being.”
*He “flows” with an inexhaustible supply.
*He brings the life of God to the soul.
*He satisfies the deep thirst inside every heart.
This word picture implies a “flowing out” from inside the believer to the lives of those around him or her. As the “living water” flows from within, other thirsty people will wonder, “He (or she) used to be thirsty just like me. Where did all that water come from?"
Jesus promises a never ending flow of clear, cool, clean living water. Streams without pollution. Rivers that will never run dry. That’s what the Holy Spirit provides for us. He will fill our lives with living water. If we are thirsty, we are invited to take a drink and see for ourselves.
Have you ever felt spiritually dry? Have you ever felt “thirsty” for more of the Lord? Have you ever felt empty and needing to be filled? The Holy Spirit is God’s answer for our deep inner thirst. When He comes into our lives, He comes like a river rushing over dry ground. He pours out His blessings and our lives begin to blossom again.
No one need stay “dry” or “empty” or “thirsty” forever. We weren’t made to live in a desert. God’s river called the Holy Spirit can flow through our lives, slaking our thirst, filling our emptiness, covering the arid ground with the water of life.
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18)
Wine is one of the most unusual symbols relating to the Holy Spirit. In 2 crucial passages in the New Testament, a comparison is drawn between the effects of wine and the effects of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came in great force on the assembly of believers. Certain supernatural signs accompanied the descent of the Spirit-a sound like a rushing wind, the appearance of tongues of fire, and the miraculous ability to speak in other tongues. People were stunned to hear relatively uneducated men from Galilee speak fluently in foreign languages they had never known before. No one could deny that something unusual had happened.
When unbelievers encounter the work of God, they try to explain it in purely natural terms. They thought the disciples had been drinking too much and were simply babbling under the influence of alcohol. The first words of Peter’s sermon: “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” He went on to say that what had happened was a fulfilment of Joel 2, which predicted an outpouring of God’s Spirit in the “last days."
So unbelievers confused the coming of the Spirit with the power of wine. A similar comparison occurs in Ephesians 5: 18. What precisely is the point of comparison between wine and the Holy Spirit? The issue is influence or control. A person under the influence of wine experiences altered behaviour - say or do things they would not ordinarily do. Emotions may be heightened briefly, causing the person to experience anger followed by elation followed by depression. If the person drinks enough wine, his or her mental processes will be affected and decision‑making ability radically altered-almost always with a negative result.
The filling of the Holy Spirit produces a change in behaviour. In the Book of Acts, once-timid disciples became flaming evangelists for Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul mentions 3 practical results of the filling of the Spirit: Singing, a thankful heart, and an attitude of mutual submission. True submission always involves giving up your right to be in control. When we submit from the heart, we are saying, “I don’t have to have my way all the time.” Only a heart touched by the Holy Spirit can maintain such an attitude in every relationship of life.
2 other passages also shed light on this symbol. When Jesus warned against putting new wine in old wineskins (Matthew 9:16, 17), He was teaching us that the new Gospel of grace could never be contained within the old forms of the law. In John 2, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. This miracle not only demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature, it also confirmed the joy that Jesus brings to human life through the transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit.
So there is both a positive and negative meaning to wine as it relates to the Holy Spirit. Negatively, wine may control the human mind and body, leading to drunkenness and debauchery. Positively, it pictures the joy that Jesus Christ brings when His salvation comes to the human heart. It also points to the change that is possible when the Holy Spirit fills us.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8) Wind is a particularly good symbol of the Holy Spirit. Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus - wind by its nature is invisible and unpredictable. The wind that blows today from the north may blow from the south tomorrow or from the east or west or not at all. We feel its effect and hear it, but the wind itself is totally free from man’s control. Wind exists everywhere on the earth, is continually in motion, and may be experienced in varying degrees-from a slight breeze to a mighty rushing wind to the destructive force of a tornado.
In John 20:22, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:2, the Holy Spirit came with the sound like “the blowing of a violent wind.” Just as the wind filled the whole house where they were sitting, the disciples themselves were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit leaves no footprints." Just as the wind is everywhere in the world, even so the Holy Spirit’s work is universal, not limited to one country, region, or race of humanity. Similar to the unpredictability of the wind, no one can say for certain where the Spirit will blow in great power today or tomorrow. As the wind is beyond man’s control, in the same way no one can control the work of the Spirit. As the wind blows from the heavens, so the Holy Spirit is sent from heaven.
This symbol of the Holy Spirit as God’s wind ought to greatly encourage us. How we need the fresh wind of the Spirit today! He alone can wake us out of our spiritual lethargy. He alone can dispel the toxic fumes of unbelief and carnality. He alone can bring the sweet aroma of heaven back into our lives.
“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3) Fire is one of the most frequent images for God’s presence with His people. The connection is made in such passages as Exodus 3:1‑5 (Moses and the burning bush); Exodus 13:21 (the pillar of fire); 1 Kings 18:24(“The god who answers by fire-He is God.”); Matthew 3:11 (“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”); Acts 2:3 (“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire.”); 1 Thessalonians 5:19 (“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”)
God sent the “tongues of fire” on the day of Pentecost as a sign that He was pouring out the Holy Spirit in a new and powerful way. Just as the fiery pillar represented God’s personal presence with His people, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in all believers. But now God’s presence will be personal and individual-thus the “tongues of fire” rested on each person individually. Whereas God’s presence came to the nation as a whole in the OT, today each believer has the great privilege of having the personal presence of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Just as the fiery pillar gave clear direction outwardly, even so the Holy Spirit gives each believer inward direction. This represents a tremendous advance in God’s program for His people. Where once He worked primarily in and through a nation, now He works in and through individuals.
In reference to the Holy Spirit, fire represents:
* God’s presence with His people.
* God’s protection of His people.
* God’s cleansing of His people.
* God’s judgment of His people.
* God’s enablement of His people.
* God’s activity among His people.
The Holy Spirit is God’s divine cleansing agent, burning away the dross of sin and purifying us for service. When we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, He fills us with the fire of God’s presence. During times of revival, the Holy Spirit spreads like a flame, igniting families, churches, communities, and entire nations. The Holy Spirit is the “fire” we need to let our light shine brightly for Jesus Christ.
If you stand back and look at these 4 pictures of the Holy Spirit, they all lead in the same direction.
As water, the Holy Spirit becomes a stream within us, overflowing to the people around us. As wind, the Holy Spirit blows across the land, awakening people to God in every nation. As wine, the Holy Spirit fills us with new power. As fire, the Holy Spirit burns away worldliness and fills us with a holy enthusiasm to let our light shine for Christ.
How simple it is, and yet how profound. So we pray to know the Holy Spirit more deeply for he is . . . Living Water, New Wine, Refreshing Wind, Blazing Fire from Heaven. He brings Christ to us and gives us all that we need. Have you ever thanked God for the gift of the Spirit? Why not do it right now?
Gracious Father, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May streams of living water flow through us so that others may be thirsty to know you. Grant that the new wine of the Spirit would empower us today. May the wind of God blow through our church. Set us on fire, Lord, with holy passion for you.
Lord Jesus, fill us more and more with the Holy Spirit so that we can make your name famous throughout the earth. Amen.
Questions to Consider
1. Why don’t we know more about the Holy Spirit? What happens to a church when the Holy Spirit is ignored?
2. What role does the Holy Spirit play in evangelism? How should his work affect the way we share Christ with others?
3. Of the 4 word pictures in this sermon, which one speaks most to your own personal need?
4. What is the connection between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Holy Spirit?
5. What would happen if the Wind of God came blowing through your life this week?
6. Read Ephesians 4:29-32. What sins grieve the Holy Spirit?
Scriptures to Ponder