Is the Holy Spirit a Person or Force?

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Image by Gerd Altmann. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

Introduction

The Bible’s answer to this question is that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, the Third Member of the Holy Trinity, not a force. Some religious people claim that the Holy Spirit is only God’s active force or power—a mere non-living instrument that accomplishes God’s purposes, comparable to forces like water, wind, or electricity. Why is such a position not one we should take?

The Holy Spirit Is Our Helper

In chapter 14 of John, when Jesus Christ was giving his final speech to his disciples, he said to them:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (John 14:15–17, ESVUK).

Here, we see that the Holy Spirit is the personal Helper of Christians, also translated as Advocate or Counsellor. Commenting on the word “Helper,” the New Bible Commentary says that “[t]he word in the Greek is paraklete which literally means one called alongside to help, and was used of a legal advocate. The title contains the idea of strong encouragement.” 1 A mere force could not be the spiritual legal advocate for Christians, who aids them in times of trouble or encourages Christians—only a living being could do this.

Notice, also, that Jesus called the Holy Spirit another Helper. Just as Jesus acted as the disciples’ paraklete or Helper, so too does the Holy Spirit act as our Helper today. As our Helper, the Holy Spirit teaches us all things and brings to our remembrance all that Jesus taught (John 14:26). He also bears witness about Jesus (John 15:26–27). How could another Helper like Jesus be an inanimate object? Furthermore, how could an inanimate object teach or bear witness? Notice how Jesus also explicitly called the Holy Spirit a “he,” rather than an “it.”

The Holy Spirit Is Our Intercessor

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, just after talking about the Christian hope of eternal life, he spoke of the Holy Spirit as our intercessor:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26–27).

In accordance with the Holy Spirit being our Counsellor, he helps us whenever we struggle in prayer. We do not always know what to pray for, but the Holy Spirit does, and when we pray by his power, he brings our true needs before God the Father, in line with his will. No intercessor could be a mere inanimate object. The Holy Spirit must be omniscient (that is, all-knowing) in order to hear every Christian’s prayer and aid them as they pray. Furthermore, Paul mentioned “the mind of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, therefore, can think, unlike forces such as wind or electricity.

The Holy Spirit Has Personal Qualities

Repeatedly throughout the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is given personal qualities that only living beings could have. For example, the Holy Spirit can speak (Acts 8:29; Revelation 14:13), grieve (Ephesians 4:30), comprehend things (1 Corinthians 2:11), and has desires (Galatians 5:17–18). Compare the following passages:

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9).

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14).

In the same way that Christians have the privilege of having fellowship with Jesus Christ, they also have fellowship with the Holy Spirit himself, who lives within Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). The fact that Christians have a relationship with the Holy Spirit proves he is not merely a force; he is a living being.

The Holy Spirit Is God

Finally, the Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is not just a person; he is a divine person, even God himself. Multiple Bible passages attest to this fact. For example, Luke equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God (Acts 5:3–4). Paul equates God’s temple with the Holy Spirit’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19–20). The author of Hebrews calls the Holy Spirit YHWH (Yahweh), God’s personal name, by applying an Old Testament passage to him:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds”, then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more (Hebrews 10:15–17).

The author here quotes Jeremiah 31:33–34. According to the Bible, therefore, the Holy Spirit is Yahweh, who spoke the words of that passage. He is the Third Person of the Godhead (Matthew 28:19). Keep in mind, also, that the Holy Spirit was involved with creating all things (Job 33:4), along with the Father and the Son (Genesis 1:1–2; John 1:1–3). Since the Holy Spirit is God, it is blasphemous to call him a force.

Conclusion

The Bible clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is a divine person and not merely a force or power. The Holy Spirit is the Helper, Advocate, and Counsellor of Christians, who lives within them, teaches them, and intercedes for them. He can talk, has a will, and has fellowship with Christians. Finally, he is God Almighty, the Third Person of the Trinity. Paul warned there would be people who accept a different spirit than the Holy Spirit of the Bible (2 Corinthians 11:3–4). It is necessary for us to believe that the Holy Spirit is a divine person to have eternal life. After all, only the true Holy Spirit of the Bible can give us life (Romans 8:11; Ephesians 2:22).

Notes

1. Gordon J. Wenham et al., eds., New Bible Commentary (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 1055.

Bibliography

Wenham, Gordon J., J. Alec Motyer, D. A. Carson, and R. T. France, eds. New Bible Commentary. Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

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