How would you finish this sentence?
You may have thought about a word, a sentence, or a paragraph, or even struggled to complete the sentence at all. Admittedly it’s not as easy as we might think. In fact, depending on where you are in scripture, you might answer this question in different ways. In our short time together as you read this article, I’d like to give you two ways of thinking about the Holy Spirit as we answer the question: What is the Spirit’s role in the world?
Note: “Spirit,” “Holy Spirit,” “God’s Spirit,” “Spirit of God,” “Advocate,” Helper,” and other terms are all used in scripture to mean and describe the same person. In this article, I’ll be using some of these terms at different times, but they mean the same thing!
Below are some ideas taken from a book I wrote on the Holy Spirit called “Wind & Fire: How God shows He is for the world, by continuing His work in the world.
The Spirit of God in Ancient Times.
It may be surprising to think about, but you have an incredible advantage over the heroes and pivotal figures in the Old Testament.
In ancient times, God’s Spirit had the same mission as He does today — to draw people to God, to help them live holy, righteous lives, and to convict them of sin, among other things. But the method in which the Spirit accomplished these things was different compared to now.
In the Old Testament, he empowered heroes like Moses, Samson, Gideon, Joshua, Saul, and Micah to prophesy, judge, lead, rule over, and perform acts of justice on God’s behalf. The Spirit of God enabled God’s communication by verbal and written means through Moses, David, Ezekiel, and other Old Testament authors so people could know who God is, how to follow Him, and how to orient their lives based on His commands.
Lastly, God’s Spirit prepared Israel and the rest of the world to anticipate and receive the Messiah by prophetically announcing His arrival, what He would look like, what line of family He came from, and His unique connection with God. Old Testament authors who were carried along by the Spirit looked forward to the time of Christ that you and I look back on.
So what did God do through the people mentioned above that differs from how He interacts with the world today? The major difference between then and now is that the Spirit filled people in the Old Testament, but did not indwell in people like He does in the New Testament and today. Let’s take a quick look at these two different ways the Spirit fills us:
2 Ways the Spirit Fills Us.
1. Filling of God’s Spirit.
In the Old Testament, God’s Spirit rested on prophets, heroes, chosen workers, judges, and kings to be led by God. But God’s Spirit also could leave people in the Old Testament, as He did with King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23) and which King David was afraid of (Psalm 51:10-11). The filling of the Spirit was not permanent.
2. Indwelling of God’s Spirit
In the New Testament, though, the promise of Jesus (John 14:6), and the Apostle Paul’s insistence that every believer has the Spirit (Romans 8:9), was permanent. The Holy Spirit was a guarantee of people’s inheritance in Heaven (Ephesians 1:14) and a seal of people’s salvation (Ephesians 1:13).
The Spirit of God in You.
The advantage Christ-followers have because of God’s presence within them can’t be overstated. God’s Spirit in your flesh is the most powerful force in the world. The person of the Holy Spirit, residing in you as a person is the greatest way the world experiences God and gives Him glory.
The writer of Jude put it well when they showed the impact of having God’s spirit vs. everyone else who doesn’t:
Dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. Jude 1:17-19
Without God’s Spirit, the world follows its own rules, comes up with its own values, and determines what is good and what is not. This is often described in scripture as “life in the flesh.”
Natural desires ask this question: what’s good for me? What do I want? What do I think is important? What do I want my life to be about? Another way to think about it according to Jude is: A life in the flesh is characterized by ungodly, sinful desires that we can’t say no to on our own.
This is where the Spirit comes in. Because of His help, insistence on being holy, and constantly pointing us back to Christ, we don’t think about natural desires or what’s good for us. We have supernatural desires. Instead, we ask this question: What glorifies God?
We could say it this way according to Jude: Life in the Spirit means that there are Godly desires which we can’t say yes to on our own. We need the Spirit to cultivate a heart in us to honor God in everything that we do, and to supersede and put in place of our natural desires of what we think is good for us, supernatural desires to glorify God.
The Spirit of God through You.
The Spirit of God is doing a great work in you if you’re a Christian. He is moving you away from natural desires and towards supernatural ones. He’s helping you become the new creation that God intended you to be in Christ. He convicts you of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11) based on God’s standards and leads us into Godly sorrow so we can reorient our lives around Him. He empowers you with spiritual gifts to edify and contribute to His Church.
In a way, we are partnering with the Spirit as He moves in us and through us to glorify Himself in the world. Think about it this way: You can’t grow on your own, and God won’t grow you on His own.
It truly is a partnership. You have a part, and God has a part. And as we do our parts together, God works in us and through us to impact not just us but the world.
Sometimes we forget that quite possibly the greatest witness we can give to others of our faith, is the transformation that happens in us because of the work of Christ, through the power of the Spirit, to the glory of the Father. God could have chosen any way to work in the world, and He chose to show Himself through the people who are made in His image. This means people will see God in you before anywhere else. And when they do, hopefully, they will ask, “What made you change?” If or when that happens, you’ll get to share the gospel with them, opening up the possibility that God can work in and through them as well.
So, What Is the Spirit’s Role in the World?
The Spirit’s role is to grow you, to glorify God, and to go throughout the world, drawing people to Christ.
To make this practical, here are some ways you can live this out, by partnering with God as He grows you and you glorify Him:
1. Ask God to help you to stop some habits, sins, or just bad choices you keep repeating. Sometimes the best thing God does in us, is to remove something from us. Ask Him to supernaturally do that. He may, He may not, be we have not if we ask not. Your part is to seek Him and ask Him; His part is to answer in the way that He decides. Your second part is to respond in gratitude — whether He answers in the affirmative, or not. He deserves praise either way.
2. Ask God to start something new in you that would positively impact others. This should be for the benefit of others, not yourself! Ask Him to help you start to be kinder towards your spouse, your kids, or your friends. Ask Him to start bringing to your mind the names of people you should pray for. Ask Him to start you on a new path to honoring Him in your life. Your part in this is to be open to hearing Him, to be open to change, and to read scripture in order to be open to how God would start these things in you.
3. Take some practical next steps at your church. Oftentimes, we know what we need to do to grow; we just haven’t said yes yet. We know we need to be in a small group, to give our time and finances back to Him, pray for others, volunteer at our Church, or just show up regularly. The body of believers known as “the Church” is a great way to visually see God’s Spirit in action in the world. A collective of different people with the same Spirit looking to honor God in the world is powerful! And if you’re not a part of the church, that’s your next step.