Updated: Aug 29, 2020
We named our dog Raymond for a few reasons. One, it's the name of a favorite character in a show we like. Second, he was a large, scary beast, so Raymond just sounds funny. Otherwise, his name had little to do with his destiny or personality. This wasn't always the case, though.
A name in the ancient world was more than an arbitrary sound that you called a person by. They featured the person’s primary function. Jesus means “Yahweh saves” because Jesus is Yahweh and his primary role is to rescue. Peter means “rock” because his primary operation was to be an apostle: part of the foundation of the church. Noah means “rest” because his main purpose was to bring rest to his generation. Names indicated function.
So when Adam named the animals, it wasn’t that he went around saying, “Okay, you’re a kangaroo. You’re a rat. You’re a bat. And you’re a cat.” No, he assigned the function they would serve, so more like, “Oxen, you’ll be used to pull carts. Camels, you’ll be used for riding on. Sheep, we’ll make clothes from you. Goats, we’ll drink your milk. And cats, you’re worthless so we don’t need you.” Just kidding, I love cats.
If names were the headline of a person’s function, then what is the function of someone called “Holy Spirit”?
Imagine telling a person in the 1700s how to make a computer run faster. You might say, “Delete useless programs, clean up your hard drive, turn off visual effects, restart regularly, and if that doesn’t work try the performance troubleshooter.” They don’t have categories for these things, let alone for a digital network, so they’d be fairly befuddled. That’s how foreign the meanings of holiness and spirit are to 21st-century readers.
Many today talk about holiness as being morality: not drinking, smoking, gambling, or cussing; reading the Bible, praying, and fasting. Some equate it with love or justice, but this isn’t accurate. Holiness wasn’t a behavioral term! In fact, it even referred to temple prostitutes (see the Hebrew of Gen. 38:21). A holy prostitute was a thing. Like a computer program to the American setters, this is alien to us.
The category of holiness wasn’t exclusively used by the Israelites either. Many of the pagans had an identical understanding. For them, holiness was about objects and persons related to the divine realm, which is why temple prostitutes would be called “holy ones” (a literal translation), and why places, clothes, or oil could be holy (Ex. 3:5, 28:2, 30:25). Anything interacting with the divine realm was holy. Holiness is much more than morality.
Learning about how this works is somewhat like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.
The Creation of Unholiness
Before someone could approach God’s presence (at the temple), they had to be made holy. This isn’t how it should be, nor was it always the case. Originally, God’s realm (called the heavens) was united with our realm (called the earth). Because heaven and the world were the same space, God’s presence comfortably lived among humans, so they even “heard the sound of Yahweh-God walking in the garden” (Gen. 3:8). They lived in the presence of divinity.
It wasn’t until they rebelled against God that there was a problem. They created a new category when they sinned. They created unholiness, and God can’t dwell with it – rather, unholy people can’t live in God’s presence without being incinerated. Out of mercy, God took his presence, along with the “heaven” dimension it resides in, to retreat out of human reach (Gen. 3:24). But God loves us, and we need Him, so He did something about it.
He raised up Israel and told them how to prepare sacred space, called a temple, so He could meet them there. That’s why the Tabernacle was called “the Tent of Meeting” (Exod. 27:21). He wants to cohabitate with us, which happens through a temple: “Yahweh is in His holy temple” (Ps. 5:7).
The temple was converted to sacred space by God’s instructions so that God’s presence could dwell there. Anything that came in proximity to the sacred site had to be sanctified too. This is the entire point of Leviticus, the sacrifices, the priestly instructions, and the temple procedures. It was all about preserving sacred space so God’s presence could dwell among them. This is how they were to be empowered to be a light to the nations (Deut. 4:6). Holy space served as a conduit to God’s presence. Do you see what this has to do with the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit of God is holy because he is sacredness personified. He is more than a conduit to God’s presence – he is God’s presence. As such, he defines sacredness. That's why he lives in the holiest place in the temple. And where does he live now?
Can We Touch Ghosts?
If you were harassed by a ghost in a ’90s movie, who would you call? The Ghostbusters! When they showed up, they would corner the ghost with particle accelerators, then vacuum it up in a trap to be kept in a storage facility. Ghosts were somehow physical. This isn't how spirits work in the Bible.
Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound” (Jn. 3:8). This is appropriate since spirit can mean wind or breath in ancient languages – but they aren’t thinking of wind or breath itself. It’s the effect they have in mind, as Jesus himself went on to say, "you hear the noise of the wind but you don't see where it's coming from." Let me explain.
For them, the wind was a force that blows stuff around, even as a spirit was seen as the force of life. Life was the effect of the spirit within. Just like a fire is the power that makes heat, so the power of life is what they called spirit. So, the Holy Spirit wasn't seen as material that could be vacuumed up, nor was the indwelling of the Spirit seen as a ghost who lives in our chest.
We know it's windy when leaves dance around in the air. We know microwaved heat is bouncing through our popcorn when we hear pop, pop, pop. But how do we know what the Spirit within is like?
We exhibit the traits of whatever spirit is affecting us, so when it's an evil spirit the effect is destruction. But when someone is possessed by the Holy Spirit their perspectives, desires, and their very lives and those around them are endowed with God's presence.
This is what it means that he's called "the Holy Spirit", and this is what is meant by the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
How to Be Interdimensional
Having the Holy Spirit means we live in God’s very presence. But we and everything around us is contrary to God’s presence. We’re unholy. So how do we get the Holy Spirit?
The temple sacrifices used animal deaths to make unholy space sacred, but Jesus’ death makes us sacred space, turning us into the temple, making us the gateway between God’s dimension and ours.
Similarly, when Moses finished the temple the glory cloud of God’s presence filled it, so when we’re cleansed by Jesus’ death we’re filled with God’s presence (his Spirit). And just as the presence of God brought blessings to Israel, so his presence brings us “fullness of joy…pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).
And just as Israel was blessed for the purpose of blessing the nations (Gen. 12:1), so we are blessed to bring about the kingdom of light to those in darkness. Did you get that?
We become the portal between our space and God’s. We become the stairway to heaven (Jn. 1:51), delivering God’s blessings to the nations. We bring the very presence of Jesus into the darkest corners, undoing the split between heaven and earth. And the offer to participate in this interdimensional stitching is open to all! What do we do?
Swear allegiance to Christ and become sacred space. House the presence of God in our lives. Then join others to partner with God’s presence and bring life to the dead.
Be the temple of God.