The Person of the Holy Spirit
In this article, we'll look at the person of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity (consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). As with the other persons of the Godhead (the Trinity), it's impossible to separate the Person from His works, however, we'll primarily mention the works of the Spirit as they pertain to the Person, leaving a more detailed treatment of His works for another article.
Since it's very difficult to understand the Holy Spirit without some basic knowledge of the Trinity, we highly recommend reading Introduction to the Trinity prior to this article. Written Sept 2007.
Table of Contents
- Why Study the Holy Spirit
- Challenges in Understanding the Holy Spirit
- The Person of the Holy Spirit
- Deity of the Holy Spirit
- Personality of the Holy Spirit
- Summary and Conclusions
Why Study the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is seen today, from our point of view, as the most prominent of the three persons of the Trinity, sometimes thought of as our "point of contact" with the Godhead. The Father's work was most noticeable during the OT period, and the Son's during His time on earth. The Holy Spirit has been the most conspicuous from the time of Pentecost, and in an experiential sense, the Person through which we experience God today.
Challenges in Studying the Holy Spirit
For most modern Christians, visualizing the Holy Spirit is much tougher than with the other two persons of the Trinity. Even though the Father and Son are also spirits, we can picture God as a father figure, and Jesus manifested Himself as a human being. It also doesn't help that older Bible versions such as the KJV referred to the third person of the Trinity as the Holy Ghost, which may conjure up visions of white sheets or of Casper, the cartoon ghost.
In comparison to the other members of the Godhead, the Scriptures provide less explicit revelation about the Spirit, the only extended treatment being Jesus' teachings in John 14-16. This is probably due to the Spirit being voluntarily subordinate (in function, not in essence) to the Father and the Son. The Spirit's main ministry is revealing and glorifying the Father and Son, therefore, I believe that when we are most yielded to the control of the Spirit, we are actually least aware of His presence, and more aware of the presence of the Father and the Son.
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Person of the Holy Spirit
Before we get to a discussion of some of the attributes of the Holy Spirit, I think we can draw some mental pictures by looking at the Hebrew word ruach (Greek pneuma) whose full meaning is almost impossible to reproduce in English. It is traditionally translated "Spirit", but also can be translated "wind" or "breath". We want to be careful not to identify God the Holy Spirit as a force of nature, but we can draw some parallels.
The Hebrews would associate the "Spirit" of God with His power and redemptive purpose, most prominently displayed in the exodus from Egypt (including the powerful wind which divided the Red Sea in Exodus 14). The Hebrews also pictured God as a judge, with His "wind" as a means of blessings and curses. The east wind brought a mist of fine sand which scorched vegetation and the land (Is 40:17) and destroyed human pride. The west wind brought the cool air and moisture from the Mediterranean, providing refreshment to the land and the human spirit (Hos 6:3)
The idea of the Spirit as "breath" was associated with life, such as God breathing the breath of life into Adam (Gen 2), and the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37.
The Spirit is also associated with the term "charism", which refers the "filling of a person with the Spirit of God", enabling the person to perform task which otherwise would be impossible. These are commonly referred to as "spiritual gifts", which we'll discuss in the article on the "Works of the Spirit".
Deity of the Holy Spirit
We begin by establishing the deity of Jesus. When I say "establish the deity of Jesus", I don't mean to imply that the He is dependant on our reasoning or belief for His deity. His deity is self authenticating and independent of whether or not we believe and accept it. Studying the evidence however, helps increase our confidence and faith. Regarding this evidence, we have His own testimony with the many "I am" statements in the Gospel of John, in addition to those claims by the other authors of Scripture. Most prominent are Paul’s Christological statements in Colossians 1:13-20, Titus 2:13, and in Chapter 2 of Philippians, where he writes "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped" (v6, NASB). There are two Greek words used for "form" in the NT. The first is "schema", which gives us the sense of shape or superficial appearance rather than substance. The word used in this passage, however, is "morphe", which means "the set of characteristics which constitutes a thing as it truly is". Therefore, Paul is asserting the deity of Christ in the strongest of terms.
The reason we began with the deity of Jesus is that, the strongest evidence for the deity of the Holy Spirit comes from a comparison He made between Himself and the Spirit. In his final teachings to His disciples, Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit as another Advocate (John 14:16). In the NT, the most common Greek word for “another” is hetero, which expresses a qualitative difference and denotes "another of a different sort." Jesus in his promise however, chooses the word allos, which denotes “another of the same sort”, thus Jesus, as our first Advocate (1Jn 2:1), was promising another (allos) Advocate just like Himself to continue His work in our lives. Therefore, since the deity of Jesus is well established, we can also proclaim the deity of the Holy Spirit.
In addition to Jesus' declaration, the Scriptures strongly imply the deity of the Holy Spirit in several other ways. First there are many passages where references to the Spirit and to God are used interchangeably. One of the most distinguished is in Acts 5, where Ananias and Sapphira held back proceeds from the sale of their property, and misrepresented the amount they gave to the Apostles. Peter equates lying to the Spirit with lying to God. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-20, Paul uses God and the Spirit interchangeably with regard to statements about our bodies being a temple.
A second means by which the Scriptures verify the deity of the Holy Spirit is by ascribing to Him the attributes of God. The Spirit possesses Omnipotence (Gen 1:2, Lk 1:35), Omnipresence (Ps 139:7-10), Omniscience (1Cor 2:10-11), Eternality (Heb 9:14) and Truth (1Jn 5:6).
The scriptures also ascribes works to the Holy Spirit that can only be performed by God. We'll discuss these further in our "Works of the Holy Spirit" article, but some of these are Creating, Inspiring, Convicting, Regenerating, Comforting, Interceding, Sanctifying, and Begetting and Resurrecting Jesus from the dead.
Finally we see the Trinitarian statements in scripture, the best-known being the baptismal formula (aka the Great Commission) of Matthew 28:19. Another example is Paul’s benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Finally, Peter writes of the respective roles of the G0dhead in salvation in the salutation from his first epistle, "To God's elect... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood..." (1Pe 1:1-2).
Personality of the Holy Spirit
It is also important that we note the personality of the Holy Spirit. He is not an impersonal force, but possesses characteristics such as intelligence (1Cor 2:10-11), will (1Cor 12:11, Acts 13:2) and feelings (Eph 4:30). One of Scripture's most evidential statements comes from Jesus Himself, when in His description of the Spirit's ministry in John 16:13-14, He uses a masculine pronoun instead of a neuter pronoun. The Greek word for spirit (pneuma) is neuter, so we would expect the pronoun to agree with its antecedent in person, number and gender; however, Jesus overrides the proper use of the Greek language in order to assert the personification of the Spirit.
We also see the Spirit performing works normally reserved for a person, such as teaching (Jn 14:26), contending and restraining (Gen 6:3), commanding (Acts 8:29), leading and guiding (Acts 8:14), and speaking (Jn 15:26).
[TOC] [Top of Page]
Summary and Conclusions
In summary, we thus conclude the following:
The Holy Spirit is fully divine, and deserving of the same honor and respect accorded to the Father and the Son. The Spirit should not be thought of as being inferior in nature, even though His role may be in subordination to the other members of the Godhead.
The Holy Spirit is a person, not a vague or impersonal force. We can pray to and have a personal relationship with Him, just as with the Father and the Son.
We can't perfectly understand the exact relationship within the Trinity, but the Spirit is one with the Father and Son. His will is in perfect harmony with that of the Father and Son, and there is no tension among their works or persons.
The triune God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, now resides in us. Through the person and works of the Holy Spirit, He has truly become Immanuel, "God with us".
[TOC] [Top of Page]