In Acts 2, we read of the Holy Spirit coming down upon the apostles and over one hundred other people, who were from various parts of the world and who were waiting. In a powerful moment, they were all speaking other languages and hearing their own.
It was startling and bewildering to those on the day of Pentecost. It’s the same all these centuries later. I don’t envy the apostles and the early Church for having to learn about and understand the Holy Spirit for their own sakes and in order to teach others about it. Even now we struggle to understand and make sense of the Holy Spirit because there are so many schools of thought and interpretations on it. And not understanding makes us uncomfortable, and discomfort creates avoidance almost to the point of taboo.
What does the Holy Spirit do? How does what happened on Pentecost affect us today?
The Holy Spirit is one third of the Godhead, and it is our connection to God. Jesus is the one who tore the veil so that we could commune with God, and the Holy Spirit is the way by which we commune with God. It convicts us, guides us, and teaches us.
The Holy Spirit empowers us. It takes us from where we are to where we are supposed to be. It makes us stronger in who we are, specifically who we are in Christ. It’s like it takes a big, bold marker and emphasizes our lines, colors, and shades. It changes the parts of us that need to change and enhances the parts that are good and vital to who we are and how we can impact the world for the kingdom of God.
Paul said that he was all things to all people so that he could win some to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Odd as it seems, this isn’t a result of Paul’s personality being watered down or changing so much as him using his position. Paul had a unique situation. He was Roman and Jewish, meaning he could reach both the oppressors and the oppressed. It also meant he could preach to Jews or gentiles. Paul was educated, a reformed Pharisee, but he had a certain charm that appealed to the common person. He had a bad past, but he was doing so much for God. There wasn’t someone Paul couldn’t reach because of who he was.
This can be confusing when we’re told, “More of God, less of us.” John 3:30 (NRSV) reads, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This makes sense in general. If God is love, goodness, hope, joy, there should be more of that. But how can we be empowered only to decrease?
When John the Baptist says this, he’s addressing a crowd, saying he isn’t the Messiah, but he’s the one who was sent ahead of Him. This statement is in reference to the significance of John and his humility. He’s saying he’s not nearly as important as the one who is coming after him. It has nothing to do with diminishing what makes John who he is. It serves to elevate Jesus.
This verse and concept do not reference who we are. It doesn’t mean that who we are is awful and must not be shown. It’s about allowing God to shine, to be the focal point of our lives and the filter through which we interact with the world. We can do that while still keeping the qualities that compose us.
The Holy Spirit may have stunned or confused those gathered on Pentecost, but it also ultimately liberated them. They now had a constant connection with God and a means to connect with other people spiritually. They became themselves, only starker. Their identities and roles in the kingdom were being made clearer while God was at the center.
It works the same in our lives. It’s not that we suddenly have all the answers and confidence, but we can navigate scriptures and the world in a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit to reach those answers and that confidence. It’s a freedom to both know and to discover, to be steadfast and to reinvent, to empower and to decrease.
By Carrie Prevette