By John A. Huffman Jr.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
A few days ago, a friend of mine, with some degree of tentativity and embarrassment, brought up the topic of the Holy Spirit. She said, "I need your help. I don't know where I've been all my life. I've been a follower of Jesus Christ. But only now, in my covenant group as we have been studying Know What You Believe by Paul Little, have I become aware of the importance of the Holy Spirit. I must admit that this has been the missing piece in my understanding of the Christian faith. In fact, the very phrase 'Holy Ghost' always sort of spooked me out. I can't wait until you address it in the series on The Apostles' Creed."
Perhaps her experience is yours.
It has been said, "The Holy Spirit is the shy member of the Trinity."
Granted, there are Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal groups that make the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit their primary emphasis. But that is not intended to be the error of those of us in the Presbyterian tradition. If anything, we have nodded our heads in intellectual assent at the statement, "I believe in the Holy Ghost," without giving too much time to either doctrinal reflection on or intentional experience with this third member of the Trinity.
All week I have been struggling with how to approach this topic. At one point, I had a six-page, detailed outline that would have dazzled and confused you as a sermon. It could have been the outline for a multi-week series, or even a book with a dozen or so chapters. Then I did another outline, which was so simple because it was a story, the story of Lonnie, a troubled woman who was transformed by the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This story could be titled "The Stripper Who Became a Saint."
What I'm going to do this morning is hit some of the major themes of the massive outline, and then end up with this story that may be even more helpful to you than the intellectual, doctrinal approach. Though let me warn you, stories themselves, without the foundation of biblical, doctrinal truth, can come up with a strange mixture of truth and heresy, and an inadvertent crazy mixture of both. There is the necessity of some systematic doctrinal understanding of the faith.
A brief word about why for the rest of this message I will refer to the Holy Spirit instead of the Holy Ghost. The word "ghost" is an old way of referring to a spirit who has personality and existence independent from a physical body. That's not our popular notion of ghost today. A ghost is a weird, nebulous, floating, vaporous presence, manipulated by Hollywood producers and practitioners of the occult in a way that distorts the biblical understanding. I would be happy if we would change the wording of The Apostles' Creed to what it really meant when the word "ghost" was used in the English translation of it. It was talking about a spirit who does have personality and existence independent from a physical body.