What is a Spirit?

God is spirit.

John 4:24

The word used for spirit in the New Testament is pneuma, in the Old it is ruach. Both mean wind, breath, spirit.

The Definition

But in their meaning of spirit, they have several distinct connotations:

  1. As in the English phrase in the spirit of, it can mean following the strain of thought or the believes of somebody or something.
  2. Human spirit of life, that is the part of man that can live independently after one’s death.
  3. Human ratio, the mind. Scripture introduces a difference between the two immortal parts of man, soul and spirit. Spirit is man’s immaterial nature which enables him to communicate with God, who is, as our verse tells us, spirit too. The soul does not receive from God (1Co 2:14), but makes us aware of the natural environment.
  4. A spirit, a simple, incorporeal immaterial being. Especially God himself and the Holy Spirit.

These are the traditional meanings of the word pneuma following Strong’s loosely. This article is to give a more profound view of what a spirit is. But first some basics.

The creative Power

Everything is created by spirit. We see that in the creation story, where the Spirit hovered over the chaos and the water, waiting for the word to be spoken to create.

Well, actually, everything is created by spirit and by thought expressed by words.

One could say that spirit is a thought that is established over time and imprints the thinking of one or even the thinking of many.

Think of it as a mindset. A mindset of a people group, a geographical area, a philosophical theory, a family, a tribe, a church, a generation, an individual, you name it.

The spirit of post-modernism, the spirit of humanism, the spirit of Nietzsche, the spirit of millennials.

A spirit therefore is not a material nor strictly speaking a spiritual being in the traditional sense, speak a demon or angel, but still has taken on some life of its own. Such a spirit or mindset has enormous power over people that believe it.

If this seems hard to believe, just think about yourself: you are a thought of God materialised.

It is very hard to change a persons mindset, for the person themselves as well as for the people around them. Imagine converting some post-modern person from the belief that truth is relative. Or a traditionalist from the fact (as he sees it) that there is absolute truth only, and everything else is a lie.

What then is God?

I know that God is always more than we can express, but one way to think of God in this concept would be: He is pure thought. He is truth.

God therefore would be a collective mindset, a common consciousness, as well as an eternal being on its own. To submit to God would be to believe the truth and only be imprinted by it.

To change my thinking would be to let go of the influence of all those other mindsets.

Some of those mindset have been imprinted into us for a long time, and are hard to even recognise as they have become part of us.

We call those mindsets our false self. Our true self is what God has made us to be, while our ego or false self is what we have become in our daily struggle in this world and life, subjected to all those mindsets around us.

What is Religion?

Religion is such a mindset. It has been given to us for two reasons:

First, we are to awaken. Awaken to the truth of the existence of God and our value in his plan.

Second, we are to grow. Grow out of the false self into our true essence.

Religion has become a mindset, a spirit on its own, and often a limiting one.

Christianity has, at its core, the awakening part, which for a long time has not been lived out. The early church was awakened to the fact that they cannot do anything outside Christ. But awakened people cannot be controlled, and thus, the state church of Rome has stopped teaching this part, or better, defined the body of Christ to be the church. Thus, to be in Christ was equivalent with to go to or belong to church.

God is at work to bring back and restore the true meaning of “in Christ”.

Christianity has, deep within, the notion of growth. The problem is: this concept of growth could not compute in the minds of the people at the time when the bible was penned.

The traditional, mythical age of order, rules, and hierarchy has no concept of growth but what we call spiritual growth today. Spiritual growth means to conform more and more with the moral understanding and institutional interpretation of the bible, the set of rules of the (particular) church, the mindset of Christianity. We call this “becoming like Jesus”.

People like Jesus and Paul had a deeper understanding of growth. Growth was to become more and more free of our limited understanding and thoughts about the bible and become Christ – he the head and we the body. Become God, as we have been made lower than God for a little while, which means that we will become like God. We will join the trinity, which will become a multitude but one. No more duality. (And frankly, this is so since the beginning, all we need to do is realize it.)

To believe in the Christ means to reevaluate one’s understanding constantly to prevent being under the influence of a spirit other than God. To no longer be under the influence of another mindset than God’s.

That certainly includes the mindset of our church, which will be both helpful and limiting on the way to God. But it also means our own mindset, which is a spirit as well.

How then do we do this?

For sure, we cannot do this alone. We cannot think our way out of our own mindset without outside triggers and information. How many times have you been stuck, and a friend or coworker just had the solution because he had learned something differently, had a different imprint, had a different mindset?

We can learn new thought patterns reading the bible. But we always have to keep in mind that the bible has been written using a certain mindset, a mixture of culture, history, epistemological horizon, and personality, and this per writer. Just take into account the languages used, which have a totally different mindset than English or my language, Swiss German. And we know how language imprints and influences our thinking.

Paul tells us that we have the mind of Christ. The mind, noús, is the organ our spirit uses to express itself. It stands for the heart, the mind, the understanding and intellect.

This mind of Christ will long for and understand and already has access to the Holy Spirit, the mindset of God, the Truth.

Early stages of consciousness have, in their own genius, seen those spirits as demons and angels. God has allowed for this, knowing where we are at and that such visualisations help us grasp a concept. Thus, sometimes, something visual or audible leaves the body when somebody is delivered of a spirit.

The modern age has de-materialised and dis-embodied those demons and angels and sees them rather as concepts and theories, mindsets and worldviews – or inexistent.

The post-modern age is more open again to see the spiritual impact and even existence of those mindsets as great powers, but reacts with relativistic tolerance.

Both the modern and post-modern thinking lack a deep meaning, which only religion can supply. Science only asks about the how, and post-modernity ends in nihilism because it does not allow for absolute truth. Religion provides for the why and the absolute truth that is undergirding everything. Not a traditional moral interpretation and a set of rules. But the mind of Christ.

The why represents the motivation, the absolute truth represents the goal of our strive for growth and our desire to awaken.

It is the mindset of God, the spirit, the Holy Spirit, the mind of Christ that is both: meaning and destiny.