Living the Christian life without the Holy Spirit is like having the wind knocked out of you: painful and scary. Our spiritual life and health are entirely dependent on a constant, unwavering dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, like breath, is life-giving. The Holy Spirit fuels us, strengthens us, and invigorates us. The Holy Spirit is the life-breath of every Christian. Like breath, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains life. 

The Holy Spirit isn’t only like breath, but also like wind. In fact, the biblical words for “spirit” are the same words for “wind” and “breath.”[1] This isn’t unlike in English when we talk about getting the “wind knocked out of you.” What we’re saying is that we cannot breathe. Like wind, the Holy Spirit is invisible, unpredictable, cleansing, and life-giving. The core idea behind the biblical words for “spirit,” “wind,” and “breath” is an invisible, life-giving force. 

(New) Creation

The first time the Holy Spirit shows up in the Bible is as wind. Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Gen. 1:2; italics added). The phrase “Spirit of God” is the same as the “wind of God.” From this first occurrence on through the rest of the Bible, the Holy Spirit is frequently associated with God’s creating activity. When God creates, the Holy Spirit is always present. There’s a reason for this. God creates by speaking things into being. And, in order to speak, breath is needed. Breath is what carries words forth into time and space. It is the “wind from God’s lungs” that manifests the creative word of God. This is what Job has in mind when he says,

By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent. And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power? (Job. 23:12–14)

Likewise, Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”[2]

But how does this concept link up to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the Church that testifies to the fact that Christ—not sin and death—reigns? Paul says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). This means that the Holy Spirit doesn’t simply create out of nothing, but the Holy Spirit also re-creates. All people are dead to sin. Adam’s nature in every person is fatal. Sin is a terminal disease. There is no rescue from sin, only resurrection. This is the dramatic image the Scriptures give us for salvation. 

Resurrection Life

Jesus didn’t come simply to improve life. Jesus came to put to death the power of sin. He didn’t come so that we could share our life with him, He came so that he could share his life with us. He came to bring entirely new life. The Holy Spirit is the one who applies this work. In doing so, the Holy Spirit—as the creative Breath of God—recreates people’s hearts (John 6:63; Ps. 51:10). All people, being born with the Adamic nature, have chaos, darkness, and death reigning over their lives like an evil, despot landlord. The Scriptures say that in the beginning the Holy Spirit hovered over the darkness and chaos only to then bring light and life into the world. This same Holy Spirit hovers over the areas of darkness in the lives of people in order bring light and life. 

In Psalm 51:10, David says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new, and right spirit within me.” The Hebrew verb here that means “create” is a divine verb,[3] meaning that God is only ever the subject of the verb. It is also the same verb used in Genesis 1:1 when it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the heart.” This means that David is asking God to do that which only God can do, and that is to recreate his heart. David is saying to God, “It’s not my actions that are the problem, its my very nature! Change my nature!” God created humanity once. He can certainly do it again.

R.C. Sproul writes, “The same Spirit who brought life out of the abyss and who brought Lazarus back from the grave raises us from spiritual death by causing us to be born a second time” (Sproul, 2012, p. 26). There’s no better vision of this than Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. Ezekiel 37:1–7 says,

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley;1 it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause kbreath2 to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling,3 and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

In this vision God has the power to recreate a community, and the means by which he does that is by the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus’s resurrection is the best example of the Holy Spirit bringing life from death (Rom. 1:4 and 8:11). Many people make the mistake of thinking that because Jesus is the Son of God that he must have had the power to raise himself. The Bible makes clear that this isn’t the case, and that it is the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit that lives in Christians today—that raised Jesus from the dead. Paul says, “because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence” (2 Cor. 4:14–15).

Interestingly, soon after his resurrection, Jesus breathed on his disciples. The text says, “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). What’s happening here? Jesus is reenacting what happened back in Genesis 2 when God took Adam and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:2). This time, however, things are different. The first time God breathed on humanity things ran amuck because of sin. Adam and Eve rebelled and opened the door for sin, death, destruction, and corruption, to take over the creation. This time, Jesus has put an end to the reign of death. This is a new era. This is new resurrection life that Jesus breaths on his disciples. As Beale says,

Just as God’s breathing into Adam made him part of the first creation and resulted in his being placed into the garden-temple, so Jesus’ breathing into the disciples might well be considered to incorporate them into the new creation and temple. They are part of the temple, and they announce the life-giving forgiveness that can come only from Christ, the centre and foundation of the temple and, hence, also of the new creation of which the old temples were emblematic (Beale G. K., 2004, p. 199).[4]

The new creation and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. This is what Paul is talking about when he says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone and the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul is saying that now that sin has been dealt with through Jesus’s death, our old sinful selves have died, and the new person has come to life. How does this happen? The same way that Jesus’s came back to life—by the power of the Holy Spirit

In John 3 Jesus first tells Nicodemus that no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again. Jesus then clarifies things for Nicodemus by saying, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:3). Here, Jesus makes the direct link between the Holy Spirit and new creation. 

So, what does this mean for us? Once again, this means that God creates us entirely anew by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, God can do what He did in Genesis 1 inside of people’s lives. This is what David asked for in Psalm 51:10 when he says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” He can take that which is dead and done and bring it back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

The Christian life, life in Jesus, is about much more than forgiveness. It’s about more than a change of status. It’s not only about what God does for us in the cross, but also about what God does in us and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Everyone is dead in sin; locked in-step with sinful thoughts, habits, attitudes and motivations. Jesus put this power to death. By the Holy Spirit, believers are offered the gift of resurrection life and power. Paul says this comprehensively in Romans 6. It reads: 

For if we have been united with him [Jesus] in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. 

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.[5]

Sustaining Power

We have to keep breathing. Life in Jesus is more than just one deep breath of forgiveness. It’s an ongoing, regular breathing that sustains the life of Christ in believers. Christians do not have to rely on their own strength, discipline, and will power in order to keep the resurrection life of Jesus alive. The Holy Spirit does that for the believer. The believer’s responsibility is simply to cooperate with him by faith. The Holy Spirit is faithful to keep the life of Jesus strong in each one. He renews each one day by day in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life that Christians draw on each day in order for the righteousness of Jesus’s own life to be sustained in the body of Christ; in you, and in me. As Paul says, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Power for Service

The Holy Spirit as wind doesn’t only create new life, he also gives power for service. We see this clearly in both the Old and New Testaments. The first instance of the Holy Spirit filling a person with the power for services is in Exodus 31. In this story we read about a man named Bezalel, whom the Holy Spirit empowered to build the tabernacle. The text says, “I have filled him [Bezalel] with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft” (Ex. 31:3–5). Here, Bezalel is empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill a specific service.

In the Old Testament, we likewise read about the Holy Spirit empowering the judges as military heroes commissioned to deliver Israel from their slavery to foreign nations. We also see Saul and David empowered to fulfill their roles as kings. First Samuel 16:13 says, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

Once again, we see this same dynamic at work at Pentecost. Once the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples, Peter is empowered to preach.

Jesus is the greatest example of Spirit-filled service. There’s an incredible story of when Jesus stood up in the synagogue to read from the Isaiah scroll. The text says, 

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:18–21).

One of the marks of the Messiah according to the Old Testament is that he is filled with the Holy Spirit to carry-out his God-given mission. Isaiah 11:2–3 says, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”[6]

Richard E. Averbeck says this about the Holy Spirit’s empowerment for service:

We might use the analogy of a sailboat. Wind is what drives it along, as long as the sails are up. Yes, we can put up the sails, but only God can make the wind blow. That is, we are dependent on the Spirit of God to empower and guide us on the path that he has called us to walk. In fact, we could take this analogy further. God has long revealed much to this people about what it means to ‘put up the sails’ in their lives. The Scriptures, for example, have instructed his people to meditate on the law of the lord day and night (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2), to pray and worship (see the Psalms overall), and so on. We could even talk about these practices as the way the human spirit ‘breaths’ in the and out (inhaling and exhaling) the ‘breath’ of the Spirit of God (Averbeck, 2011, p. 37)

In every instance that a person is empowered by the Holy Spirit for service, it’s for the sake of testimony—a witness to the real power of God in the world. 

Cleansing Wind

Isaiah 64:6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”[7] Wind blows away the debris of sin. Like wind blowing through a tree, it takes away all the dead leaves and branches of our lives. The wind in our life works to make sure it is only that which is pure, healthy, and strong in Jesus that remains.

Conclusion

Wind is the first symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. The word for “wind” in the Old and New Testaments is closely associated with “breath,” which is a source of life. The primary points of comparison between the Holy Spirit and wind, then, are: (1) the Holy Spirit creates and sustains life, (2) empowers for service, (3) brings the Word to life, and (4) cleanses. 


[1] The Old Testament Hebrew word for “spirit,” “wind,” and “breath” is ruakh. The New Testament Greek equivalent is pneuma. 

[2] Also see Psalm 104:30.

[3] The verb is bara’. 

[4] Beale, 2004, 199.

[5] Cf. Romans 8:5–11 and Ephesians 2:1–10.

[6] Also see Isaiah 42:1 and 61:1.

[7] Italics added. Cf. Job 15:30; 21:18; Ps. 1:4; Is. 41:16; Jer. 13:24


Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary

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