Of the three persons in the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit seems to be least known and understood today. Yet He is most vitally and intimately involved in our initial conversion and birth into the family of God, as well as in the ongoing development of our Christian lives. Knowledge of and intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit bring us power, joy, and hope. When we neglect Him, through ignorance or indifference, we insure spiritual poverty.
It is of great importance that we be clear in our minds that God the Holy Spirit is as much a person as God the Father and God the Son. Many Christians are inclined to speak of Him as an impersonal “it.” They give the impression that the Holy Spirit is no more than an influence. Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that we use the term “spirit,” in casual conversation, in this sense. We speak of the “spirit” of the times or say that “a spirit of expectancy swept the crowd as they awaited the arrival of the President.”
Misunderstanding may partially stem also from the fact that the work of the Holy Spirit is not as visibly prominent as that of the Father and of the Son. His work is never to call attention to Himself. Jesus, in speaking of the gift of the Spirit, said, “He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak. And He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13, 14).
Some of the names and symbols by which the Holy Spirit is called may seem to suggest that He is not a personal being. Both the Hebrew and Greek words translated “spirit” mean, basically, “breath” or “wind.” The Greek word is in the neuter gender, which is why the King James version – adding to the confusion – translates “the Spirit itself” (Rom. 8:16, 26). Later versions read “Himself.”
Then, too, the symbols used in Scripture to describe the influence of the Spirit include oil, fire, and water – all of which are impersonal. To a superficial student, these symbols could imply that the Spirit is merely an influence. Yet the Father and the Son are described in similar figurative ways – as light, bread of life, living water, etc.
When we speak of the personality of the Holy Spirit, however, we must remind ourselves of the significance of this term as applied to God. As we have observed, God was not made in the image of man, but man in the image of God. “Personality” is not a perfect term for use with God, but it is descriptive of the Spirit’s nature. It is comforting to know that the Holy Spirit has a mind, feelings, and a will, as God the Father does. He is a person in this sense.
It is impossible to explain many biblical references to the Holy Spirit apart from the fact that He is equal, in His personal nature, to the Father and the Son.
Jesus gave some of the clearest scriptural teaching about the Holy Spirit. He called the Spirit the Comforter, or Counselor, “whom the Father will send in My name; He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). These titles clearly imply personality. The terms “Comforter,” or “Counselor,” convey the idea of a person, such as a lawyer, on whom one calls for help. Obviously, counseling and comforting would not be possible if the Spirit were merely an impersonal influence.
In John 16:7, as in the previous reference, the emphasis is on Christ’s going away and the Holy Spirit’s being sent by the Father to replace our Lord Himself. This change, Jesus said, would be beneficial for His disciples. An impersonal force could hardly improve on the personal presence of Jesus Christ.
Repeatedly (John 16:7-15), Jesus used the masculine personal pronoun “He” when referring to the Spirit. As we have pointed out, the Greek word translated “spirit” is the same as that for “breath,” and is neuter in gender. Jesus used the masculine pronoun deliberately, intending it to indicate personality and intimacy.
Though the Holy Spirit is not mentioned with the Father and the Son in New Testament greetings and salutations (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3, etc.), He is mentioned in the baptismal formula. The Lord told the disciples, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). The Spirit is also included in the Pauline benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). Association of the Holy Spirit with the other two Persons of the Trinity also appears in 1 Peter 1:1, 2 and in Jude 20, 21.
We can treat the Spirit as a person. Ananias was struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). The Spirit may be grieved (Eph. 4:30) and sinned against by unforgivable blasphemy (Mark 3:29). None of these things would be true of an impersonal force.
The Holy Spirit does things which only a person could do. He speaks: “The Spirit said unto Philip, ‘Go near”‘ (Acts 8:29). He strives: “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever” (Gen. 6:3). “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity…[and] maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:26). He reveals, searches, and knows: “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things…the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:10, 11). He distributes spiritual gifts “to every man severally as He will” (Cor. 12:11). None of these verbs could rightly be used of a mere influence.
Identified with Believers
The Holy Spirit is identified with the thinking of believers. At the Council of Jerusalem the disciples declared, “It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 15:28).
The Holy Spirit is not on IX a person – He is Deity. He is specifically called “God” in the Ananias incident (Acts 5:4). Paul says, “For the Lord is that Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17; cf. v. 18), and again, “Ye are the temple of God…the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (1 Cor. 3:16).
Our Lord says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is worse than blasphemy against the Son of Man. This can only mean that blasphemy against the Spirit maligns and discredits God.
The Holy Spirit possesses attributes which belong only to Deity. He is eternal: “Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself” (Heb. 9:14). He is omnipresent: “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?” (Ps. 139:7-10). He is the “Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2) and the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13).
The Spirit does God’s work. He was involved in creation: “the Spirit of God moved upon the…waters” (Gen. 1:2). He is involved in regeneration, the new birth: “So is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Jesus cast out demons by the Spirit: “I cast out [demons] by the Spirit of God” (Matt. 12:28). The Holy Spirit participates in resurrection: “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He…shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11).
The New Testament quotes many Old Testament passages in which the speaker is Jehovah, the Lord. In the New Testament, such messages are often attributed to the Holy Spirit. For instance, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Hear ye indeed but understand not” (Isa. 6:8, 9). But Paul said, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, saying…’Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand’ ” (Acts 28:25-26).
Just as the truth of the Trinity is hinted at in the Old Testament but awaits its fullest expression in the New, so with truth about the Holy Spirit. His personality and deity are evident in the Old Testament, but the full expression of His activity is given only in the New Testament. There is no conflict here with the Old Testament, but the New Testament picture is much more complete.
Old Testament teaching
Five differing aspects of the work of the Spirit are discernible in the Old Testament:35
1. The work of the Spirit in the creation of the universe (Gen. 1:2) and of man: “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4).
2. The work of the Spirit in equipping for service. He conferred power on judges and warriors. For instance, “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon [Samson]” (Jud. 14:6). The Israelites cried out to God and He gave them Othniel, “and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel and went out to war” (Jud. 3:10). When the Spirit came upon people for a particular purpose in this manner, He did not necessarily transform their moral character.
Wisdom and skill for particular jobs, including those of a nonspiritual nature, were imparted to various individuals by the Spirit. Bezaleel was filled with the Spirit to work in gold, silver, and brass for the Tabernacle (Ex. 31:3-5).
3. The work of the Spirit in inspiring the prophets. Usually they began their message with, “Thus saith the Lord.” At times, however, they also attributed their message to the Holy Spirit: “And the Spirit entered into me when He spake unto me, and set me upon my feet” (Ezek. 2:2). And Moses exclaimed, “Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29)
4. The work of the Holy Spirit in producing moral living. David, in agony of repentance for his dual sin of adultery and murder, pleaded for God to create a clean heart in him, and begged, “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). The Spirit, David knew, is good, and He leads men to do God’s will (Ps. 143:10). Because of the presence of God’s Spirit, which David sensed is inescapable, he pleaded for a searching of his heart and for clear leading in the eternal way (Ps. 139:7, 23, 24).
5. The work of the Spirit in foretelling the coming of the Messiah. The references which anticipate Christ are of two kinds. First are those which prophesy a direct indwelling of the Spirit in one messianic figure: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings” (Isa. 61:1). Jesus read this passage in the synagogue at Nazareth and uttered the electrifying words, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21; cf. Luke 4;18; Isa. 9:2-9; 42:1-4).
The second way the Holy Spirit anticipated Christ was in the more general way of speaking about the new covenant people of God. ” A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you” (Ezek. 36:26; cf. v. 27). Both this prophecy and the comprehensive promise to Joel speak of the Spirit being given to all classes: “And…I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28; cf. v. 29).
Equips for a Task
The Old Testament’s earlier teaching on the Holy Spirit emphasized the coming of the Spirit to equip a person to perform a certain task. The Scripture suggests that out of this bestowal of the Spirit, men grew more conscious of their inner need for God’s help if they were to be morally pure enough to serve the Lord. Later in the Old Testament period, some scholars detect an awareness, on the part of believers, that the human government of Israel would never succeed in achieving the purposes of Jehovah, and a growing realization that, in time, the Spirit would be given to all God’s people.36
Glimpses of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament are numerous and clear. However, the Old Testament period could not be called “the age of the Spirit” as our age, since the coming of the Holy Spirit in fullness on the Day of Pentecost, is called. Before Pentecost the Spirit came on particular people for particular tasks. While men could have an intimate relationship with Him, as shown by David’s experience, the fellowship was not as personal or as permanent as is possible since Pentecost. The Spirit came upon individuals temporarily and then, when the occasion for His coming was over, withdrew. Samson’s tragic downfall resulted from the Spirit’s withdrawal. Samson had become so insensitive that he was not even aware that the Spirit had left him (Jud. 16:20). Nor was the experience of the Spirit in that era as widespread or universal as it is now, when He indwells everyone who is in the Church of Jesus Christ by the new birth. It is emphatically true that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9).
Our Lord’s words to the disciples in this connection are instructive: “[The Spirit] dwelleth with you and shall be in you” (John 14:17). Just as there was a dispute in the Church, during the Arian controversy, over the Trinity and whether. or not the Son of God had existed eternally or was the first of God’s creatures, so there was also conflict concerning the Holy Spirit. In the Nicene Creed He is called, “The Lord, the Life-Giver, that proceeds from the Father, that with the Father and Son is together worshipped and together glorified.” This formula was finally adopted by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
“Procession” and “Generation”
The phrase “proceeds from the Father” is taken from the Gospel of John: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me” (15:26). This and other statements (e.g., John 16: 7; 14:16; 20:22; etc.) imply a type of subordination of the Spirit to the Father and Son. This is only a subordination of relationship, not of Deity.
Neither “generation” nor “procession” indicate a lack of equality within the Godhead, nor do they imply a creation or beginning of existence. Rather, they imply an eternal relation to the Father. They are “not a relation in any way analogous to physical derivation, but a life-movement of the divine nature, in virtue of which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while equal in essence and dignity, stand to each other in order of personality , office, and operation, and in virtue of which the Father works through the Son, and the Father and Son through The Spirit.”37
In the year A.D. 589 the words, “and from the Son” were added to the Nicene Creed. This addition created tremendous controversy. The Western Church insisted on the addition to insure the preservation of the scriptural teaching that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ as well as of the Father. The Eastern Church refuses this insertion, feeling that it weakens the doctrine of subordination and makes our Lord a separate source of Deity. But “the union of the Father and the Son in ‘sending’ the Spirit really works against any idea of differentiation which would mar the inner harmony of the divine Triad….Scripture seems clearly to state that while the Spirit proceeds from the Father, He was also ‘given’ by the Son to His Church, and that He is as much the Spirit of Christ as the Spirit of God.”38 Some of the references that clarify and reinforce the concepts of the Spirit’s Deity and personality are: “The Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (1 Cor. 3:16); “the Spirit of Christ” (Roll. 8:9); and “God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts” (Gal. 4:6).
His Other Titles
Other descriptive titles of the Holy Spirit include the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29); “the Spirit of Truth” (cf. 1 John 5:6); “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2). He is the “Spirit of promise, – that is, the One who came in fulfillment of Christ’s promise (Eph. 1:13). He is also “the Spirit of glory” (1 Peter 4:14).
The Holy Spirit, then, is completely personal and completely God. He is coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Son.
We have already seen glimpses of the Spirit’s work. We shall now look at it more closely. Though the Holy Spirit is self-effacing, His is the direct work of God and vitally affects each of us as individuals. He is active at various levels. In general, the Holy Spirit functions as the Executor of the purposes and plans of the Godhead. He is the One who carries out God’s purposes – creation, conviction, regeneration, enlightenment, sanctification, and glorification.
In relationship to the world, the Spirit took part in the creation of the universe, as already mentioned in our review of His Old Testament activities. He is also referred to as the Preserver of nature: “Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, [the fish] are created: and Thou renewest the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:29, 30; cf. Isa. 40:7).
Jesus outlined the work of the Spirit so far as humanity as a whole is concerned. He convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8-11). As we saw in Chapter 1, the Holy Spirit is the Author of the Scriptures, the One who inspired them (2 Peter 1: 20, 21). He is also the One who interprets them and applies them to our hearts at a particular time. He is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (Eph. 1:17) , and He interprets the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:9-14). It has been rightly observed that this “illuminating” work of the Holy Spirit never becomes so mystical and subjective that grammatical and historical consistency are abandoned. By misunderstanding the role of the Holy Spirit in interpreting the Word, some have made the Bible almost a magical book, equating their subjective feelings with the authority of the Spirit.
The Spirit and Christ
The Holy Spirit had a particularly intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, who in His humanity was completely dependent on the Spirit. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Him (Luke 1:35). Jesus was led by the Spirit (Matt. 4:1). He was anointed for His ministry by the Spirit in a special way at His baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). He offered Himself as a sacrifice through the Spirit (Heb. 9:14), and He was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 1:4). He gave commandments to the apostles, and through them to the Church, by the Spirit ( Acts 1:2).
In the Church, the Holy Spirit administers spiritual gifts for the good of the whole body: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Cor. 12:7; cf. entire chapter). He is the dynamic power which was promised the Church before Pentecost: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). Because of the phenomenal exploits of the Early Church, which turned the Roman world upside down, The Acts has been called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
Through the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual Christian, a believer comes into the most intimate personal contact with God.
The Holy Spirit is the One who brings conviction of sin to an individual (John 16:8). Whenever a person comes to a sense of his own sinfulness, whether by the preached, written, or personally spoken word, the Spirit of God has been at work.
The Spirit’s Sealing
As soon as a person puts his trust in Christ He is “sealed” by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). A seal is a symbol of a finished transaction, of ownership, and of security. Because we are sealed by the Spirit, we can have certainty and assurance of salvation. “The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (cf. Rom. 8:16).
The Spirit indwells each individual Christian, whose body is the Spirit’s temple. Along with the Incarnation and Resurrection, here is another indication from Scripture that the human body is not inherently evil or sinful. It also reminds us that we are to take our bodies seriously. They are never to be in any way mutilated, abused, or neglected. There is no place in the Scripture for the kind of asceticism which punishes the body in the interests of “spirituality.” Extreme forms of such self-affliction occurred at different periods of Church History, particularly in medieval times, and more sophisticated forms are with us even today.
We are sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the time we are baptized by the Spirit, “for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). This baptism, with its attendant sealing and indwelling by the Spirit, takes place at the time of conversion. This participation in the Spirit is shared by all believers, despite their varying degrees of maturity, strength, and devotion.
Some Christians, however, apply the term “baptism” to one’s first experience of being filled with the Spirit, which experience is part of God’s purpose for us (Eph. 5:18).
No one is a Christian who does not have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:7), for He indwells and seals every believer. Unfortunately, however, many Christians never know the joy and power of the Holy Spirit’s fullness.
Filled with the Spirit
This being filled with the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience, but one that may be repeated. On the Day of Pentecost the disciples were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4). A few days later, in a dramatic prayer meeting, they had such an experience again (4:31).
The filling of the Spirit implies being given power and boldness for God’s service, and strength to meet particular crises. It is possible, and it sometimes happens, that the baptism of the Spirit and the infilling of the Spirit take place at the same time. They need not be separated in experience. But the filling of the Spirit is an experience to be repeated as necessary in the life of each believer. We are, literally, to “keep on being filled” (cf. Eph. 5:8, lit.).
The Holy Spirit is not a substance, but a Person. The fullness of the Spirit is not a matter of our receiving more of Him. Rather, it is a matter of relationship. To be filled with the Spirit means we allow Him to occupy, guide, and control every area of our lives. His power can then work through us, making us effectively fruitful for God and flooding our hearts with His joy. This filling applies not only to our outward acts but to our inner thoughts and motives. When we are filled with the Spirit, all we are and have is subject to His control.
The test as to whether or not you are filled with the Spirit is not, “Have you received an external sign or been given a particular gift of the Spirit?” Rather, Have you given yourself wholly and without reservation to God? (Rom. 12:1) Are you genuinely willing that He should control, absolutely and entirely, your life? Many believers come to a point of utter frustration in their service for the Lord simply because they fail to realize the need to be filled with the Spirit if they are to act in God’s power. Just as we cannot save ourselves apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, neither can we live the life of victory or serve the Lord effectively without the Spirit. When we learn to trust Him fully, allowing Him to work through us, we are freed from the frustration of trying to accomplish spiritual and eternal results solely through our human ability – or, more properly, inability.
It is the Holy Spirit who delivers us from the power of sin. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). The Holy Spirit changes the pattern of our life so that we can overcome sin. He does not make us sinless (1 John 1:8), but in Him we are able to start fulfilling the Righteousness of the Law (Rom. 8:4). Such holy living is a work of the Spirit and a result of salvation; it is not in any way the basis for our being saved.
The Spirit’s Fruit
When the Holy Spirit produces His fruit in us, we find that “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control” (cf. Gal. 5:22, 23) come naturally to us instead of our having to labor strenuously to cultivate these traits.
The Holy Spirit is also a guide to the individual Christian. We are instructed to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). His leadership is one of the signs that an individual is really a child of God: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). The Holy Spirit clearly led and guided the early Christians, as we read in The Acts, and He does the same today if a Christian is open and sensitive to His control.
The Holy Spirit prays for us (Rom. 8:26). What a wonderful thing to realize, especially when we don’t know how to pray, that the Spirit of God makes intercession for us!
The opposite of this intimate, loving, dynamic relationship with the Holy Spirit is experienced when we offend Him. We are not to “grieve” the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). To grieve is to make sad. In the verses immediately following this command, some of the things that grieve the Spirit are enumerated. They have to do with attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions. Other things also grieve God’s Spirit – idolatry, hatred, strife, heresy, envy, etc. (Gal. 5:18-21). To withhold anything from Him is to grieve Him. It is a solemn thing to realize that even as we can be grieved, we can also, in a much more profound way, grieve God’s Holy Spirit.
We are commanded, “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thes. 5:19). Because the figure of quenching suggests the idea of fire, some believe that this sin is more related to outward service than to motives and attitudes. In the scriptural context it suggests both. The verse follows a call to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. It precedes a warning not to despise whatever claims to be of God, but to test it. We may not only quench the Spirit in ourselves, but, by sinful living, confused beliefs, and unconcern may quench His work in and for others as well. On the other hand, the Spirit may well use others to correct, enlighten, and encourage us. To fail to receive God’s Word through another person simply because he, like us, is imperfect, is to quench God’s own Holy Spirit.
Through the Holy Spirit we come to know Christ, and by the Holy Spirit’s power we live and grow in Christ, in the service of the King and in the fellowship of His Church.
For Further Reading
Morgan, G. Campbell. The Spirit of God. London: H. E. Walter, 1953.
Morris, Leon. Spirit of the Living God. Chicago: Inter- Varsity Press, 1960.
Ryle, J. C. Holiness. Edinburgh: James Clarke, 1952. Thomas, W. H. Griffith. The Holy Spirit of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955.