What is the Holy Spirit? (part 2)

· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 7 min.

God is all-powerful, but we should exercise caution in the demands we make of Him. Every Christian has different gifts and tasks. God still “speaks” today, but we must not confuse that with our own desires. The mind plays a role in faith as well.

In the first part of this series of articles, I explained some basics about the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you start with the first part. There are some very different ideas about the Holy Spirit. In this second article, I would like to go into a few aspects that are controversial. For this it is helpful to be familiar with the basics.


As we have seen in the first part, the Holy Spirit gives special abilities, the so-called spiritual gifts, to people who believe in Jesus. These include, for example, talents in the social area, which may not seem so spectacular at first glance. But in the enumerations of Apostle Paul, the ability to perform miracles is mentioned as well.

In addition to my professional training, I had helped in a Christian university group to organize the weekly church services. In one semester, one of the students from our group (in Germany) went to the U.S. – in a well-known “megachurch” he wanted to learn systematically how to heal other people through miracles as a follower of Jesus even today.

In order to understand this better, I read some books by authors from the same environment and quickly it became clear that all of them assumed this: If the disciples experienced miracles happening at the time Jesus was here on Earth, then the same must be true for His followers today. This message came packaged as an encouragement to think bigger and expect more.

However, the more I looked into it, the more I personally got the feeling that something was wrong with my faith. As we have already seen in the first part, the Holy Spirit is a person of God with a will of His own. He is not an anonymous magic power that we can activate at our will. So I was not a super-Christian either, through whom special healings would have happened. I was increasingly plagued by doubt: Was I then a “real” Christian at all?

Paul already asked the (rhetorical) question in his first letter to the Christian community in Corinth:

Are all apostles? All prophets? All teachers? Do they all have miraculous powers? Do they all have the gift of healing? Do they all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

(1 Corinthians 12:29-30)

Another theory is that nowadays there are simply no real miracles worked by God. God had intended miracles only for a very specific time: By the miracles of Jesus and His disciples, mankind should only be able to recognize that Jesus is really God’s Son, but they are not a permanent institution.

This theory has the merit that it explains the “problem” of miracle healings quite simply. However, I understand it more like circumstantial evidence. Paul does explicitly write in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 that miracles will cease, and we also see that they decrease during course of the New Testament, but Paul does not name a clear point in time from which no more miracles will happen at all.

God is all-powerful – that’s why I believe that God can heal people even today. We should not curtail God’s omnipotence, but we should be careful about the expectations we have of ourselves and other Christians. Paul uses the wonderful image of the human body for this: the body has different organs like eyes or arms. All organs have different functions.

In the same way, all Christians have been given different gifts and tasks by the Holy Spirit. All organs are important – without them the body would not function properly. In the same way, the Christian community needs every Christian. Even those whose talent may seem quite ordinary. The greatest gift we have through faith in Jesus is the assurance of going to heaven. This is true for all Christians - regardless of individual gifts.

(Further reading: John 20:24-29; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; 1 Corinthians 13)


Another spiritual gift that Paul mentions is prophecy. This refers to the ability to pass on messages from God directly to other people. As we have seen in the first part, the prophets at the time of the Old Testament already had this gift. Even in the first decades after Jesus returned to heaven, it was certainly necessary for individual Christians to speak directly on behalf of God.

At that time, the Bible was not yet complete – the New Testament was just being written down. Therefore, most Christians did not yet have access to all the information they needed for their daily life with God. This gap was filled by the prophecy of that time. Today, however, through the complete Bible, we have all the knowledge we need to find God and to live with Him.

Therefore, the question arises whether prophecy still plays a role today. I believe in principle that God still “speaks” to us personally today (more on this in the article “How can I experience God?”). Many years ago I once participated in a so-called “treasure hunt”. In this, we asked the Holy Spirit to show us people to approach on the street, to tell them that God is looking for them, and to pray for them if they wanted.

However, I have since become more cautious in this regard: I think we need to be careful what we say to others directly on behalf of God. There is no clear boundary, but in the worst case it can lead us to try to legitimize our own desires by claiming that God has spoken to us, and thereby manipulate other people as well. Therefore, in order not to deceive ourselves, we should at least always check whether our ideas are in accordance with the message of the Bible.

(Further reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 1 John 2:24-25; Revelation 22:18-19)

Speaking in tongues

As a third and last point, I would like to take up speaking in tongues, which Paul also lists as a spiritual gift. “Speaking in tongues” can also be translated simply as “speaking in languages”, because “speech” and “tongue” are always referred to by the same word (glossa) in the original Greek text. (A phenomenon that also occurs in other languages to this day).

As a concrete example of speaking in tongues, we find in the Bible the miracle of Pentecost, which we have also already seen in the first part. When the first Christians begin to speak in foreign languages after the resurrection of Jesus, it becomes clear in a very special way that God is opening a new chapter in human history:

In the Old Testament, God brought the many languages into the world in the first place at the Tower of Babel to curb human arrogance. At Pentecost, God personally contributes to overcoming the language barriers again. By doing so, God shows once again that the message of Jesus is not only for His chosen people Israel, but for the whole world.

As we have seen in the previous section, prophecy could be a help for the first Christians who did not yet have a complete Bible at their disposal. In the same way, we can assume that speaking in foreign languages was still important in the post-Pentecost period to legitimize God’s message to the first Christians when they came from different cultures.

With the advent of the written Bible, speaking in foreign languages through the Holy Spirit no longer seems to have its original relevance, since the written Bible can be translated more easily into different languages. To date, the Bible has been translated completely into hundreds of languages; partially into many more. Nevertheless, some Christians today still practice what they call speaking or praying in tongues.

As far as I know from hearsay and recordings, these are not real foreign languages, as was the case at the time after Pentecost, but syllables whose meaning the speaker himself does not know. I don’t know whether these sounds come from the Holy Spirit or not – but I find this statement by Paul in Corinthians memorable:

But in the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in [another] language.

(1 Corinthians 14:19)

That’s why it seems important to me to keep the mind involved as well when it comes to faith. So I speak and pray in a language that I myself also understand. That understanding is also part of faith as a whole is shown as well by the famous quotation from the conversation Jesus had with a lawyer before telling the parable of the Good Samaritan:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

(Further reading: Genesis 11:1-9; Luke 10:25-28; Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 14)