When I was younger it was taught and assumed that one ought to speak in tongues to have the Holy Spirit. I often wondered about Billy Graham. How could it be that such a person, who dedicated his whole life to spreading the Gospel, could not have the Holy Spirit. And I, a ten year old kid, who couldn’t keep his hands off his Nintendo did. It made no sense at all. Why did I have “it” only to live such a useless and sinful life, while Graham did not have “it” but could go around the world preaching to millions? There are many such misconceptions about the Holy Spirit exist, not only in my own history, but in the history of Christianity as a whole.
1. He is an impersonal force
The Holy Spirit is not a mysterious and powerful force, He is a Person of the Trinity, as much Person and as much God as Jesus. I remember many occasions of sitting with a group of young people and talking in hushed tones about things we could not really understand. We would always speak about the Holy Spirit as an “it” not a “He.” It’s easy to close your eyes and imagine Jesus as a Person, after all He had two arms, two legs, two eyes, and a beard. We can relate to Christ’s Person-hood because He was like us, but the Person-hood of a Spirit eludes us for He is nothing like us. Yet Jesus always refers to Him, as a Person, using the pronoun “He”, and we ought to as well (John 14:16–17, 25–26; 15:26–27; 16:7–15).
2. He is the act of speaking in tongues
As teenagers we would often ask each other “Do you have the Holy Spirit?” And the response would be directly correlated with the act of speaking in tongues. While the official Pentecostal doctrine never taught this, many of us wrongly assumed that “the Holy Spirit” was really “the act of speaking in tongues.” We believed this so strongly that a friend who thought he couldn’t speak tongues for a while was convinced he “lost the Holy Spirit.” When he tried again, and was able to speak tongues, he instantly said “Oh, I do have the Holy Spirit.” While there can be robust debate as to what tongues are, how they are gifted and used, there can be no debate on the identity of the Spirit. He is not simply the act of speaking in tongues, saying that is a heresy which reduces the third member of the Trinity into a human action. We would never equate Jesus with a human action or emotion, would we? So let’s Honor the Spirit in the same way.
3. He is only active at special places
Often we would pray a special prayer, to invoke God’s presence, and more specifically, the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Now, to be very accurate the Bible shows two things: first that God is always and everywhere present, and second, a few instances where people do ask for His presence. It has always been understood that while God is present everywhere, He can also be in a place with the “special presence to bless.” This second type of presence is the type that people pray for. It’s good to pray for God’s presence to bless, it’s bad to limit God by our language. We would often go to a conference that was focused on the experiential and say the Holy Spirit was active there. And then we would act as if He is not active elsewhere. So we would wait until the next conference or prayer to “see Him working.” The reality is, that He is working in our lives, even when we don’t notice it, and not only through conferences and meetings. The Holy Spirit is causing our continual sanctification, not only brief emotional spurts of activity. He is sanctifying us every day, not once a year at a “special anointed” conference (2 Thess 2:13).
4. He does only the spectacular
Because the Holy Spirit has often produced miracles, some have created an image of a deity that only does supernatural manifestations. Therefore, many of us assume that if something miraculous (by our definition) is not happening, the Holy Spirit is not involved or around. Instead He lives in you (1 Cor 6:19) and He leads you if you are a child of God (Romans 8:14). He also wrote the Bible (2 Peter 1:20-21) and helps you believe and understand it’s words (John 14:26). And even more important and often forgotten, is the fact that He works on our hearts to produce fruit (Gal 5:22-25). It is only because of His work in us that we are able to fulfill our life mission and become fruitful. It isn’t as fancy as some mega-revivalists advertise, but it is the work that does God’s will in you and through you.
5. He is received like an object
This often originates because of a question asked in the Scriptures: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). People assume that the word receive relates to an object, not a guest. It is wrong to think we can receive Him as a “object to possess” rather than to a “Guest to host.” Scripture says ‘He lives in us,’ not ‘is our possession’ (1 Cor 6:19). I was not excluded from this way of thinking. I remember driving home from a conference where I first spoke in tongues. As I sat at the back of the van, I cupped my hands over my mouth and ear, and quietly prayed in tongues to check if still possessed the “Holy Spirit.” I thought that if I was unholy, I would have this object taken away from me, and could not get “it” again. I viewed my measly actions as those that controlled the Spirit, not realizing that it was the Spirit who shaped my life and actions by His divine power.
6. He is accepted only by “more spiritual” Christians
This brings me back to the opening paragraph. Does Billy Graham have the Holy Spirit? Why not? It takes the Holy Spirit to believe in Jesus, for “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Also it is quite evident that there are only two options, either “the Spirit of God dwells in you” or else “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom 8:9). In fact salvation is accomplished in part (regeneration and sanctification) by the Holy Spirit, so to say that some Christians have rejected Him, is nonsensical and illogical. How could someone reject the Holy Spirit and be born again by Him? (John 3:5). To fix this contradiction, some groups have invented language that speaks of two separate relationships with the Holy Spirit, the first that all Christians experience and the “second blessing” called Spirit baptism or indwelling of the Spirit. Scripture doesn’t make such a distinction and repeatedly states that “the Spirit of God dwells in [all Christian’s]” not only the higher class “Spirit-filled Christians.”