The Dovelike Holy Spirit

The dovelike Holy Spirit

id you know the dove is mentioned about 50 times in the Bible? The Scriptures speak of its loving nature, beautiful plumage, swiftness in flight, and other characteristics. A review of these traits shows it to be a fitting symbol of the Holy Spirit. The dovelike traits found in the Spirit include peace, gentleness, grace, and beauty. These same qualities should also be found in Christians.

Under the symbolism of a dove, the third person of the Godhead manifested Himself to John the Baptist. When Jesus “came up” from the waters of the Jordan River, having been baptized by John, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit “came down” from above. The Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove, descended as a dove might descend, and lighted on Jesus. All four Gospels describe this event. Interestingly, this representation of the Spirit as a dove is indicated only in this episode in the life of Christ.

As we consider some of the dovelike characteristics seen in the character of the Holy Spirit, bear in mind these same qualities should be found in us as Christ’s followers.


Jesus admonished His disciples to be “harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Harmless communicates gentleness, innocence, and purity. The dove is peaceful; among the birds of the air, none is gentler than the dove.

The dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called the Comforter. Of Him, the Lord said: “When the Comforter is come . . . he shall testify of me” (John 15:26); “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (16:13). Jesus pictures the Holy Spirit com- ing along beside us, taking us by the hand, and gently guiding us along the path of life.

Gentleness is one of the traits of the fruit of the Spirit and should therefore be evident in the life of every believer. Though it may manifest itself in a variety of ways, its source is the same.

As Francis Xavier was preaching in one of the cities of Japan, a man came up to him, pretending he had something to say to him in private. Xavier leaned his head forward to hear what he had to say. The scorner then spit in the face of this devoted missionary, hoping to insult him publicly.

Without speaking a word or showing any sign of annoyance, Xavier took out his handkerchief, wiped his face, and went on with his sermon as if nothing had happened.

By such a heroic control of his passions, the missionary gained the admiration of the audience. The most learned doctor of the city was present that night. He said to himself that a message which taught men such virtue, inspired them with such courage, and gave them such complete mastery over themselves, had to be from God. He surrendered his life to Christ and asked to be baptized, and many others followed his example. The gentleness of Francis Xavier was a major factor in the success of his ministry that night.

The swiftness of the dove symbolizes the suddenness with which the Holy Spirit often works.

Swift in Flight

Faced with immediate peril at the hands of Absalom’s followers, and contemplating his need to escape, King David said, “I wish I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and settle in a safe place!” (Ps. 55:6 NET).

The dove is remarkable for the swiftness of its flight. Seeing he was in extreme danger, the psalmist wished for the swift wings of a dove to escape.

The swiftness of the dove symbolizes the suddenness with which the Holy Spirit often works. There is no better example than His manifestation on the Day of Pentecost, when 120 believers united in prayer awaiting the Spirit’s coming.

The Day of Pentecost having fully come and the hearts of the people being fully prepared, the Spirit came . . . not gradually, not over a period of days, but suddenly. Suddenly, the believers heard the sound “as of a rushing mighty wind.” Suddenly, “there appeared . . . cloven tongues like as of fire.” Suddenly, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke “with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them the utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

That same day Peter and the other disciples proclaimed the message of Jesus, who had been resurrected. As a result, 3,000 souls left the kingdom of darkness and entered the kingdom of light—and it happened instantaneously. Though they were saved immediately, their conversion was just as real as if it had taken 10 years for the transformation to take place. The Holy Spirit often works suddenly.

When I was 12 years old, we were in a revival in my home church, the West Point, Mississippi, Church of God, with an evangelist from Tennessee named Brother Chambers. I was not saved at the time, and for some reason, I did not want to go to church that night. My stepmom put her arms around me and encouraged me to go, saying, “Son, you’re old enough to be thinking about your soul.”

The Holy Spirit used those words to bring conviction to my heart—that’s all I could think about the rest of the day. As we drove to church that night, I was thinking, Son, you are old enough to be thinking about your soul. As the choir sang and the preacher preached, that was on my mind.

When the altar invitation was given, I was the first one to go forward. I asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins, and invited Him into my heart. I knelt in that altar with the stain of sin upon my soul; I arose washed in the blood of the Lamb. Once I put my faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit accomplished my conversion suddenly. And I dare say this is the testimony of every believer reading this. The place and the circumstances may have been different, but the results were the same.

Fruit of the Spirit

Many of the traits of the fruit of the Spirit are found in the characteristics of the dove. Paul wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Can you think of a better life than one in which each of these traits is lived out on a daily basis? We show the Spirit’s indwelling presence by the manifestation of His fruit in our life. Through the Spirit, these virtues can be fully formed in us.

There is a legend of a great teacher who had a strange experience while walk- ing through an orchard on a windy day. Coming to a fence which divided the grove from an adjoining forest, he imagined hearing the different types of trees talking to each other.

Boastfully, a maple tree said to a near- by fruit tree, “Why don’t your leaves rustle in the breeze like ours so that you can be heard from a distance?”

The fruit tree replied, “We don’t need such useless fluttering to draw attention to our presence; our fruit speaks for us.”

What does the fruit you are bearing say to others?

The dovelike qualities of the Holy Spirit testify that He is living in us. They are essential if we are going to please God in this world.

Homer G. Rhea formerly served as editor in chief of Church of God Publications. He presently heads HGR Editorial Services, which helps individuals get their books published. [email protected]