Many Christians have the incorrect (dare I use the H word?) idea that the Holy Spirit only works in Christians.
Even worse, some Pentecostals would say you don’t “have the Spirit” unless you have spoken in tongues. (On their better days, Pentecostals will affirm that all believers have the Spirit dwelling in them [Romans 8:9] and that all believers can be baptized in the Spirit.)
The fact of the matter is, though, the Spirit is even in non-Christians.
1. The Spirit Gives Life
Obviously, since the Spirit is divine, the Spirit is omnipresent. As the apostle Paul wrote, God is “over all, and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6), and God “fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23).
The Spirit is present throughout all of creation giving life and breath to every human being. The Bible says that “every creature … has the breath/ruach/Spirit of life in it” (Genesis 6:17) and that God “gives breath/ruach/Spirit…and life” to all people (Isaiah 42:5).
On account of this, if God “withdrew his ruach/Spirit and breath, all people would perish together and would return to the dust” (Job 34:14-15; also Psalm 104:29-30).
As Wilf Hildebrandt observes (another Pentecostal Prof), the Bible presents “the Spirit of God as the animating principle of life …When the Spirit is removed from a human being the body returns to its lifeless, inanimate state.”
2. The Spirit Leads and Guides All People
Of course, the Spirit draws unbelievers to Christ, but the Spirit does much more than this.
This thought might make you feel uncomfortable, but the Church has always had a doctrine of common grace, which affirms just this. The problem (for some) is that when we move from a generic term like “grace” and put the name “Holy Spirit” on it, it becomes more real.
How do we know where and how the Spirit is at work among non-Christians? The difficulty of answering this question might seem to suggest that the Spirit isn’t at work in unbelievers.
But the question would be just as difficult to answer if we were talking about Christians.
Wherever the character of Christ is present, there the Spirit is at work. Even more broadly, wherever we see actions that are consistent with the ways that the Spirit works throughout the Scripture, there the Spirit is at work.
So, if my non-Christian neighbor brings me a casserole when my dog dies (I don’t have a dog 🙂 ), I would thank God for working by the Spirit through my neighbor. I also see the Spirit at work inspiring great creativity in works of art and music.
3. The Holy Spirit Reconciles People
I also appreciate the guidance of the Latino theologian José Comblin: “The signs of the action of the Spirit in the world are clear: the Spirit is present wherever the poor are awakening to action, to freedom, to speaking out, to community, to life.”
This makes me think that as messy as the whole process is, the Spirit is at work in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation movement (concerning the relationships of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians), similar to how the Spirit was uniting black and white Christians at the Azusa Street Revival (1906) and the “Memphis Miracle” (1994).
Some people may want to limit the Spirit to the Church, but I prefer what Jesus had to say: “The pneuma/Spirit/wind blows wherever it pleases” (John 3.8). As a result, I affirm that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).
“The Spirit’s work may indeed be ambiguous in the world, not often being recognized by those in whom or around whom he works, but his work is also ambiguous in the Church” (Hendrikus Berkhof).
Question: What are some ways that you see the Spirit at work among non-Christians?
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 An Old Testament Theology of the Spirit of God, p. 196.
 The Holy Spirit and Liberation, p. 185.
 The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p. 104.