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When Soviet-era cosmonauts first went into space, they allegedly looked for God. Not having found him, they announced that God just wasn’t there.
Of course, their theology was showing, and their theology was wrong, but these cosmonauts are not alone in misinterpreting Scripture. If you grew up in a Christian home, you, too, at some point, envisioned heaven as just a little higher than the clouds, somewhere above the altitude where modern jets fly so that the heavenly worship wouldn’t be disturbed. You pictured God, along with deceased relatives, leaning over the clouds and taking a peek at the commotion below.
To this Jesus said, “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), which is a succinct way of saying that the triune God has the qualities that are especially attributed to the Holy Spirit. This summarizes a range of divine attributes, but two in particular: God is powerful and not of this world. Instead, He is more excellent than anything in the created world.
“Spirit” is a translation of Hebrew and Greek words that also can refer to the wind. Since the Spirit is identified with the power of God, these words communicate well. The problem, however, is that since the wind is an impersonal force, it can be easy to think of spirit as impersonal. Therefore, to counteract our national Star Wars theology, think of spirit as personal. After all, God the Holy Spirit gives gifts (1 Cor. 12:7), intercedes (Rom. 8:26), is grieved (Eph. 4:30), comforts (John 14:16), reminds (Rom. 8:16), and teaches (1 John 2:27).
The personal, spiritual God is all-powerful. When the Spirit is in view, watch closely, because you are going to see the power of God. An angel prophesied that John the Baptist would go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Likewise, when Jesus came out of the desert, He returned to Galilee to minister “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14), and He was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18). God the Holy Spirit bestows spiritual power on His people.
The fact that God is spirit also means that He is not of this world. Our common perception is that spirit is otherworldly. For example, what comes to mind when you think of spirit? What do you imagine? Try as you might, you are not going to arouse a vivid mental image. Spiritual existence cannot be pictured by way of the material world. Yes, we can call to mind the wind as an apt metaphor, but that, too, is almost impossible to visualize. This might be disappointing to some saints because God’s people long for the day when faith will be sight and we will see God face to face. We want arms, hands, and eyes. We want to see the smile of the Father. But the revelation that God is spirit is fundamental to Christian theology, and it is exceedingly good news.
The fact that we can’t visualize God by way of objects in creation is exactly the point. Moses said, “You saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire” (Deut. 4:15). For this reason, God commands His people never to represent Him by way of an idol. There is nothing in creation that can faithfully represent the spirit-God. Only Jesus Christ, who came from above, is the true and faithful representation of the Father.
“Spirit” implies “not of this world,” and, indeed, God transcends this world. He is more excellent than this world. He is spirit. This, in part, means that He does not have a physical body. If He did, He would be limited to a particular time and place, but as a spirit, He is limited neither to Jerusalem nor Samaria. The idols that can be found today are objects that have a few extra arms or a third eye. This is how God is represented when He is not known as spirit: He becomes a modified version of objects in creation—just a little stronger, a little smarter. But the spirit-God is fully present, with all His holy attributes, at all places and at all times.
Will we see God? Without any doubt. Though we will never see Him in His infinity, we will see Him as He is.
God’s superior mode of existence could easily lead us to think of His spirituality as one of His incommunicable attributes. We are, after all, part of creation and come from the dust of the ground. Amazingly, however, we, too, are spirit. We belong to the earth, but it was God’s plan that we also belong to and interact with the spiritual realm.
This means that we are personal. We have been created to engage in relationships with one another, but, more important, we are created to engage in a dynamic, reciprocal, give-and-take relationship with the Creator God. Every Christian knows this, but it never ceases to astound. Instead of barking orders from the throne, God enables us to hear Him, meditate on His words, respond, and even respectfully appeal. He even calls us friends who have access to His plans and motives.
Not only do we relate to God through Jesus Christ, God also empowers us. Spirit beings are not intended to be weak and powerless. Being spiritual is about power. If, through faith, we have received a new heart and new spirit (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26), then we are gifted to live like heavenly people rather than earthly ones.
Do His laws feel like a burden? You have been given a spirit that can delight in God’s law. Do you feel rejected? You are able, through the Spirit, to be more concerned about loving than being loved. Do you have the least bit of division in your relationship with another person in the church? If you have been sinned against, you are able, through the Spirit, to forgive. If you have sinned, the Spirit empowers you to ask forgiveness and pursue peace.
This gift of spirituality—being able to relate to the living God and being empowered by Him—reminds us that we were intended for more than an earth-bound life. We were created, and re-created in Christ, to look upward and be imitators of His character. We were created to worship. Our spirits respond to His Spirit.
Although the apostle Paul does not use a word for “spirit” in Colossians 3, the passage captures the communicable nature of spirituality: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1–4).