Who is the Holy Spirit?
Dr. Jim Denison
The Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood member of the Trinity. Who is he? What does he do? Why does he matter so much in our lives today?
I spent years in Baptist churches with no real introduction to the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon on the subject. We knew to trust in Jesus and worship his Father, but I had no idea how to relate to the Spirit. Or even if I should. I suspect that many of us have a similar story.
We’ll begin with some introductions. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal neuter, an “it.” He is more than a “presence.” He is not a “ghost,” holy or otherwise (the King James Version notwithstanding).
Rather, the Spirit is a Person who works personally. He possesses the three distinctive characteristics of personality: knowledge (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), will (1 Corinthians 12:11), and feeling or emotion (Romans 15:30). He performs acts which only a person can perform: he searches (1 Corinthians 2:10), speaks (Revelation 2:7), cries (Galatians 4:6), prays (Romans 8:26), testifies (John 15:26), teaches (John 14:26), leads Christians (Romans 8:24), and commands people (Acts 16:6,7).
He is treated in Scripture as only a person can be treated: he is grieved and rebelled against (Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30); insulted (Hebrews 10:29); and blasphemed (Matthew 12:31, 32). But is he God?
Why is the Spirit “Holy”?
Why do we believe the Spirit to be God? For five reasons. First, he possesses the four distinctly divine attributes: eternity (Hebrews 9:14), omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-10), omniscience (1 Corinthians 2:10, 11), and omnipotence (Luke 1:35). Second, he performs each of the three distinctively divine works: creation (Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30; Genesis 1:1-3), impartation of life (John 6:63; Genesis 2:7), and authorship of prophecy (2 Peter 1:21).
Third, Old Testament statements about God are applied to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament (see Exodus 16:7 and Hebrews 3:7-9). Fourth, the name of the Holy Spirit is often coupled with that of God (1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Corinthians 13:14). And last, the Holy Spirit is called God. Peter asked Ananias, “how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). Then the apostle warns, “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 5).
While the Spirit is God, he is also distinct from the Father and the Son. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended while the Father spoke (Luke 3:21, 22). We are to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The Son promised that the Spirit would come when the Son left earth for heaven (John 16:7).
When we survey the names given to the Spirit by Scripture, we get a better sense of his divinity and significance. He is the Spirit (Psalm 104:30); the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 3:16); the Spirit of Jehovah (Isaiah 11:2); the Spirit of the Lord Jehovah (Isaiah 61:1-3), and the Spirit of the living God (2 Corinthians 3:6). He is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19), the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:6, 7), and the Spirit of his Son (Galatians 4:6).
He is the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13, RSV), of holiness (Romans 1:4), judgment (Isaiah 4:4), and burning (Isaiah 4:4). He is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17), of wisdom and understanding (Isaiah 11:2), of counsel and might (Isaiah 11:2), and the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). He is the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2), the oil of gladness (Hebrews 1:9), the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29), of grace and supplication (Zechariah 12:18, RSV), of glory (1 Peter 4:14), the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), the Comforter (John 14:26), and God in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
How can we know him better?
What does the Spirit do?
We’ve learned that the Spirit is a Person and that he is Holy. What does this holy Person do? The Bible likens him to fire (Isaiah 4:4), wind (John 3), water (John 7:37-39), a dove (Genesis 1:2; Luke 3:22), a “seal for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30; 2 Timothy 2:19), an “earnest” or down-payment on the future (Ephesians 1:13, 14), and anointing oil (2 Corinthians 1:21).
The Spirit was extremely active in the Old Testament. He created the material universe and humanity (Psalm 33:6; Job 33:4). He empowered individuals for specific tasks (Judges 14:6,19; 15:14; 1 Samuel 10:6,10; 2 Chronicles 15:1-2; Zechariah 4:6). He maintains living creatures (Psalm 104:29, 30), and sides with the helpless, poor, wretched and oppressed (Psalm 103:6).
He anticipated the Anointed One, the Messiah (Isaiah 42:2), and would one day be poured out on the house of Israel (Ezekiel 39:29). He would be experienced universally (Joel 2:28-29), and would write God’s laws on the hearts of all (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The Spirit was active in the life and earthly ministry of Jesus. Our Savior was born of the Spirit (Luke 1:35), and lived a sinless life in the power of the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). He was anointed and fitted for service by the Spirit (Acts 10:38; Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:14,18,19; 3:22). The Spirit led Jesus in his earthly movements (Luke 4:1). He taught Jesus, and was his source of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2, 3; 42:1, fulfilled in Matthew 12:17,18).
Jesus worked his miracles through the Spirit (Matthew 12:28). By the power of the Spirit, Jesus was raised from the dead (Romans 8:11). After his resurrection, Christ gave commandments to his apostles through the Spirit (Acts 1:2). Now the Spirit bears witness to Jesus (John 15:26, 27).
The Spirit then worked in the apostles and prophets, giving them special gifts for specific purposes (1 Corinthians 12:4, 8-11, 28, 29). Truth was hidden before the Spirit revealed it (Ephesians 3:3-5). The apostles and prophets spoke not in their wisdom but the Spirit’s (1 Peter 1:10, 12), as they were carried along by him (2 Peter 1:21). The Spirit spoke prophetic utterances (Hebrews 3:7; 10:15,16; Acts 28:25; 2 Samuel 13:2), so that when we read their words we find not the speech of men but of God (Mark 7:13; 2 Samuel 23:2). In a very real sense, every time we open the pages of Scripture, we hear the voice of the Spirit as he speaks to us today.