In this final part of this brief look at what spirit actually is, I want to draw together some of the issues we have discussed and put an everyday context to it all.
But, before we do that I want to take a look at some examples from the Bible in which we can see some of the different aspects of spirit. The first example I want to look at can be found in the prophecies of Haggai. Haggai was one of two prophets whom God sent to the Hebrews in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. He and Zechariah were charged by God to get the work on the second temple restarted after the Hebrews had lost interest in the work following a series of setbacks and opposition. It is worth reading the whole book of Haggai. Don’t worry, when I say whole book, it is only two chapters. We’ll pick up the text near the end of the first chapter.
“So Yehovah stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of Yehovah of hosts, their God.” [Haggai 1:14]
Here we have a good example of God wishing to influence a large group of people, just as we saw in the example of the spirit influencing the 400 prophets of Ashtoreth in Part Two. With the previous example we are able to see into the spiritual realm and view what happened to bring about the events upon earth. We don’t have that privilege on this occasion, but I imagine that the ‘stirring’ up of the spirits of the people happened in a similar fashion – a spirit was sent to send God’s influence upon the people. It is worth noting that the Hebrew word from which we get stirred is ur, which literally means to wake up.
The reason why I have shown this particular example is that it shows how a group of people can be influenced by what I am presuming to be a single spirit, based upon what we have already been shown from the example with Ahab. The point I want to draw your attention to is that if God is able to influence groups of people in such a way, you had better believe that He has given to same authority to Satan. In fact, it is likely that any authority of this kind which Satan has when it comes to influencing people’s thoughts and behaviour, was given to him long ago, probably when he convinced Adam and Eve to eat from the tree. Look at what Satan says to Yeshua when he was trying to influence Him during the temptation in the wilderness:
“Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.” [Luke 4:5-6 NKJV]
So, if Satan has the authority to attempt to influence even the Son of God, you can be sure that he also has the authority to influence us, even if we are true believers. But, here’s the great thing – just as we don’t have to accept God’s influence upon our lives, nor do we have to accept the influence of Satan. We have free will.
That was an example of how groups of people can be influenced. They still have the free will to choose what to do. What I would like to get across to people is that whoever is influencing you, it is always very subtle. The 400 prophets of Ashtoreth would have genuinely believed that their god was inspiring their words, but it was actually a spirit sent by Yehovah. And the Hebrews in Jerusalem whom had stopped work on the second temple wouldn’t have had a ‘burning bush’ moment – God simply woke their spirits up so that they could see that they should be doing what they had been called to do. It would have been very subtle. An idea that just appeared in their minds that made sense. They still had to choose to act upon that idea. I believe that both God and Satan work in the same way. Satan always tries to counterfeit that which God does. If the influence is of Satan, it may even seem like it is God’s will.
Another example I want to take a quick look at is David, king of Judah. This time I want to look not at the influence an external spirit has upon us but about the nature of our own spirit. After David had fallen for and taken Bathsheba and then had her husband killed in order to hide his adultery, Nathan the prophet confronted him and spoke God’s words to him. The result was a repentant David who, when confronted with his own sin, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy. Psalm 51 provides a narrative to the aftermath of these events for it shows the way in which David sought out God in order to return to the narrow path. There is much to be gained from reading the entire psalm, however, I am going to pick out one relevant section in order to save internet paper space.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take You Holy Spirit from me.” [Psalm 51:10-11]
Firstly, note that David is aware that his own spirit is within him and that it needs renewing to become steadfast once again. The word used for steadfast can mean many things, Often translators render it as right. In its truest sense of the word, it means to be firm or established. David was praying to God to make him as he once was. This is repentance – to return to how things should be; to be right before God.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, is that David begged God not to take His Holy Spirit away from him. This implies that alongside our own spirit, the Holy Spirit can be with us (or in us, or on us) to steer us in the right direction. But, I want you to realise that if God’s Holy Spirit can be with our own spirits in this way, then so too can spirits who allegiance isn’t to God.
The real question is, how does this would in practice – in everyday life? How do we, like David, go from having a firm personal spirit devoted to the purposes of God; walking the narrow path with His Holy Spirit alongside us, to having a spirit prepared to be influenced by other spirits, who are not of God? Because it is clear that David strayed from the path before he got to the place he was when he wrote that psalm. How do we as believers prevent that from happening? How do we identify the influence of God and embrace it, whilst also recognising the influence of Satan and rejecting it?
Well, that takes practice. We shall come onto some practical advice for such matters shortly. Before that I want to dive into the New Testament to take a look at the advice of the apostle Paul when a fledgling church under his guidance was struggling to identify just who was influencing them.
I have written before on this particular subject, which Paul tackles in his letter to the churches of Galatia. You can find the article here entitled A Different Spirit. I recommend that you take your time to read it. We have a tendency to shy away from discussing such matters and, therefore, have a limited understanding of them. However, if you take your time to read the letter to the Galatians, Paul is very clear about the influence which other spirits, not sent by God, can easily have upon mature believers.
I’m not going to quote from the letter itself here, but I do want to point out its sentiment. Paul had preached the message of God’s kingdom to the people of Galatia and they had responded to the gospel. Various churches had been established across the region but in Paul’s absence other influences had been allowed to get in amongst the believers. This was very common in the early church. Satan used people under his influence to masquerade as genuine believers in order to infiltrate and dismantle the work of the Holy Spirit in these young churches. I am quite sure those whom Satan influenced genuinely believed what they were preaching as being of God Himself. And their message must have been convincing enough to sound as if it were from God Himself.
The Galatians were fooled because they allowed another spirit; a different spirit, to become the main influence, instead of God’s Holy Spirit. My guess is that if it was happened a great deal back then (take a look at five of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation – they too all fell under the influence of counterfeit gospels), then it is even more widespread now.
Take a look at the entire letter Paul wrote. It was one of his earliest letters, which tells us that the influence of Satan was already widespread in around AD 50, just twenty years after the death and resurrection of Yeshua. As time has passed, Satan’s influence has only increased throughout all sections of the established church. Paul’s advice, however, is just as relevant today as it was back then. Perhaps even more so.
And the trouble we have today within the church is that much of what is being taught is clearly not of God. It’s not that the pastors and preachers who teach wrong doctrine are deliberately doing it to deceive people – I firmly believe that they believe that they are preaching God’s word. I firmly believe that they all love Yeshua and that they believe that that they are full of God’s Holy Spirit. However, something is wrong somewhere.
Remember that David pleaded with God for Him not to take away the Holy Spirit from Him. This implies that He can and that He does take away the Holy Spirit from those who fail to be obedient.
James, the brother of Yeshua, says in his letter that if we resist the devil, he will flee. This is evidenced in the temptation of Yeshua. He resisted and Satan fled. But, I am inclined to believe that from what Scripture and the writings of the New Testament tell us, that if we resist the Holy Spirit, then He too will flee from us.
And when I say resist, I mean that the Holy Spirit will attempt to influence us in a certain way. If we choose to reject that subtle influence, whatever it might be, that is resistance. If we continue down such a path, He will leave us (and only true repentance will restore Him to us). Then we are exposed to the influence of other spirits. Their subtle promptings may seem like God’s will, but everyone one of them is designed to steer you from God’s path. And remember, as I tried to explain in Part One, the influence might not come from within you as you might expect. Satan will use someone who is already under his influence to undermine your position on the narrow path.
The apostle John encourages us to test all spirits. By this he means for us to weigh up every influence that comes upon us. We are not to assume that every thought that enters our head is from God. Instead we are to test them to make sure. We are not to assume that just because we are filled with the Holy Spirit that we are immune to spiritual influence from the other camp. It is clear from the pages of the New Testament that true spirit-filled believers are equally as likely to come under such influences. In fact, you could argue that God allows such situations in order for us to learn just how to discern the difference between His influence; His voice, and the voice of influence from Satan’s camp. Sometimes, it may be that what you perceive to be of God even comes with Scripture. Just remember that even Satan quoted Scripture to Yeshua in the wilderness. Yeshua knew that Scripture cannot be twisted to suit a situation and corrected what Satan had said.
In summary, according to what the Bible teaches us, the nature of spirit has many facets. We have looked briefly at some of these aspects. The idea of these posts is to be a starting point for you to seek God’s Holy Spirit to teach you how to discern between the right and wrong influence. John’s first letter is a good place to start, as is the letter to the Galatians. Learn to tell the difference between what God is saying to you and what the enemy is saying. Sometimes both influences will appear to inside of us. At other times, both good and bad influences will come through other people.
We have our own spirits. If you are unsure, be like David and ask God to restore your spirit as He intended it should be – firm and purposed to do God’s will. There are other spirits, not seemingly attached to any individual body of flesh, who are able to influence us for both good or bad purposes. These spirits are able to influence individuals and whole groups of people simultaneously. Be on your guard.