If we are going to be the children of God,” A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) insightfully commented over fifty years ago, “we must have the Spirit of the Father to breathe into our hearts and breathe through us. That is why we must have the Spirit of God. That is why the Church must have the Spirit of Christ.”1
What breath is to our body, the Holy Spirit is to the believer and Christ’s Church. In the Hebrew language, in which the Old Testament was originally written, the word for breath, breathe, wind, and spirit are all from the same root word—ruakh.
In the Genesis creation account, man did not become a living being until he experienced the inbreathed breath of God: “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7).2
When God called the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy to the valley of dry bones (a symbol of God’s lifeless people), these hardened structures were only restored to life the moment the breath of God entered them: “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (Ezek. 37:5). What was once a hopeless graveyard became a mighty army energized by the Spirit of God . . . as soon as the breath of God entered lifeless bones: “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” (Ezek. 37:10). So that they and we would not miss the message of this vivid illustration, God said to the people through the prophet: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezek. 37:14).
Now let’s turn to the New Testament. It was Sunday evening following Christ’s resurrection that very morning. Because of fear of what the authorities might do to them, all the apostles, except Thomas who was absent, were meeting behind locked doors. Jesus suddenly entered the room. Following his pronouncement of peace, Jesus did an amazing thing. He “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John. 20:22), thus speaking and acting in anticipation of the coming Pentecost event, which would occur a few weeks later.
Furthermore, on the day of the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the “breath” language continues: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind [breath], and it filled the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). The Greek word rendered “wind” in most versions, could just as accurately be translated “breath” (the word is translated “breath” in Acts 17:25).3
Christians and churches are in great need of experiencing the manifest presence and power of God. And the Church can only experience God’s presence and power if individual believers are living in a dynamic, intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, made possible by the inbreathed Spirit.
All true believers are indwelt by the Spirit of God; but not all believers are fully surrendered to Christ and walking in the fullness of the Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit—the forgotten member of the Triune God! We need the Breath of fresh air!
Writing over a century ago, while serving as a Baptist pastor in the city of Boston, Dr. A. J. Gordon (1836-1895), noted: “The Spirit is the breath of God in the body of his church. While that divine body survives and must, multitudes of churches have so shut out the Spirit from rule and authority and supremacy in the midst of them that the ascended Lord can only say to them: ‘Thou hast a name to live and art dead’ (Rev. 3:1). In a word, so vital and indispensable is the ministry of the Spirit, that without it nothing else will avail. . . . The body may be as to its organs perfect and entire, lacking nothing; but simply because the Spirit has been withdrawn from it, it has passed from a church into a corpse.”4
Less than fifty years after Gordon, the Methodist president of Cliff College, England, Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932), wrote: “The church that is man-managed instead of God-governed is doomed to failure. A ministry that is college-trained but not Spirit-filled works no miracles. The church that multiplies committees and neglects prayer may be fussy, noisy, enterprising, but it labours in vain and spends its strength for nought. It is possible to excel in mechanics and fail in dynamic. There is a superabundance of machinery; what is lacking is power. To run an organization needs no God. Man can supply the energy, enterprise, and enthusiasm for things human. The real work of a church depends upon the power of the Spirit.”5
Lamenting the desperate lack of the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst, while unwittingly depending on human resources, present day minister and writer Frances Chan observes: “The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes a purely human creation. We are not all we were meant to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.”6
Yes, we need the Breath of God!
Full-of-the-Spirit Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), was mightily used of God as he witnessed thousands of conversions under his ministry, as well as seeing multitudes of his parishioners mature in Christ (this is not to suggest that all Spirit-filled people will witness great, observable success). Spurgeon lived and ministered in the power of the Spirit, because he believed the Spirit to be more than dry ink on a creedal statement of faith.
There were fifteen steps up and into the pulpit (one literally walked into those old pulpits) of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle, steps which Spurgeon climbed twice each Lord’s Day. At each step, the great Evangelical preacher would quietly affirm with great conviction, “I believe in the Holy Ghost!” Fifteen times! “I believe in the Holy Ghost!”
Church leader, do you really believe in the Holy Spirit as Christ’s gift to you? Is he a living reality in your heart and life?
There is no “magic formula” or “three easy steps” in living a successful Christian life. With the Spirit’s help, what I hope will occur more and more in God’s people is a renewed hunger for reality—a real Christian life. Too many Christians are living defeated lives; they have settled down to live in Romans 7 without going on to Romans 8. If that is the case with you, I pray you will meet God in a deepening, fresh inbreathing encounter.
Would you pray with me this prayer written by the English Anglican minister, professor, and hymn writer Edwin Hatch (1835-1889)?
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love,
And do what thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly thine,
Till all this earthly part of me
Glows with thy fire divine.7
- A. W. Tozer, The Counselor, Gerald B. Smith, ed. (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 63.
- Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- George R. Berry, The Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n. d.), 313.
- A. J. Gordon, The Ministry of the Spirit (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1896), 141-142.
- Samuel Chadwick, The Way to Pentecost (Berne, IN: Light and Hope Publications, 1937), 12.
- Francis Chan, (2009) The Forgotten God [Kindle]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com.
- Edwin Hatch, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.”
Adapted from . . .
Breath of God: Experiencing Life in the Spirit
Copyright © 2013
Ralph I. Tilley