Who Is the Holy Spirit?

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

Last edited on 4/Feb/2021

The Bible’s Answer

Introduction

Asking the question “Who is the Holy Spirit?” (also known as the Holy Ghost) is one of the most important questions one could ask. After all, if he really is who the Bible says he is, then rejecting him and his true identity is enough to cost anyone their salvation. Not only is the worst sin in the Bible associated with blaspheming the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit also plays an essential role in our salvation and sanctification. In spite of this, the Holy Spirit seems to be downplayed at large in this world today, and many false ideas about him are rampant not only amongst non-Christian cults and world religions, but even amongst some so-called Christians in orthodox Christian churches. So, who is the Holy Spirit according to the Bible?

Eternal Creator

Although the Holy Spirit is mostly mentioned in the New Testament, he is actually mentioned at various instances all throughout the Old Testament, too, going right back to the very beginning, before anything had yet been created. In Genesis, we are told that the Holy Spirit (in this context, the Spirit of God) was involved in the creation of all things, alongside the Father and the Son, as he hovered over the chaotic waters of the earth:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)

In the book of Job, Elihu said: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life,” (Job 33:4). Along with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the supreme Creator of all things. He never came into being, because he has always existed. The author of Hebrews made this remarkable confession, calling him the “eternal Spirit”, through whom Jesus offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to the Father (Hebrews 9:14).

God the Spirit

Although the Holy Spirit is often given less attention than the Father and Jesus Christ, he is by no means insignificant. In fact, the Bible proclaims that the Holy Spirit is God, and therefore the third Person of the Trinity. This amazing statement of faith can be found in Acts 5:3-5, in which Peter tells Ananias that by lying to the Holy Spirit, he had lied to God:

“But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.” (Acts 5:3-5)

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Corinthians 3:17). In this simple, brief passage, Paul attributes God’s divine title Kyrios/Adonai, which is translated as “Lord”, to the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Bible even calls the Holy Spirit by God’s personal name, YHWH, commonly pronounced as “Yahweh”. In Hebrews 10:15-17, it is written:

“And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “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”, 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Hebrews 10:15-17)

The Scriptures that were quoted were actually spoken by Yahweh (Jeremiah 31:33-34), therefore, the Bible clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is Yahweh. Furthermore, the Bible attributes all of the divine attributes to the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is all-powerful by calling him “the power of the Most High” (Luke 1:35), that he is all-knowing, by declaring that he searches everything, and “comprehends the thoughts of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), and that he is all-present, in accordance with what king David wrote in Psalm 139:

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7-8)

As for the Spirit being a distinct Person from the Father and the Son, this is made evident in Jesus’ baptism, when the Father spoke to the Son from heaven, and “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove” (Luke 3:21-22). Incidentally, this is why the Holy Spirit is usually depicted as a white dove in church artwork.

The Empowering Spirit

Throughout both the Old and the New Testament, whenever the Holy Spirit enters someone, he always empowers them to do the will of God. For example, in the book of Exodus, God filled Bezalel with the Holy Spirit so that he could work on building the Tabernacle:

“The LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” (Exodus 31:1-5)

Joshua, Moses’ successor, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, was filled with the Holy Spirit (Numbers 27:15-18). We are told that the judges whom God appointed to rescue Israel from its enemies, such as Othniel the son of Kenaz, were filled with the Spirit of the Lord (Judges 3:9-11). In Peter’s second letter, he wrote that the prophets of the Old Testament prophesied “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Peter 1:21). The gift of prophecy in the Old Testament came entirely from the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. In the book of Acts, which especially focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit, we are told that when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance,” that is to say, other real languages (Acts 2:4). The book of Acts also tells us how the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to preach the word of God with boldness:

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote of how he knew that God had chosen them, “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction,” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). The Holy Spirit was the one who empowered the Gospel message which Paul and his associates were proclaiming. When foretelling the persecution of Christians, Jesus taught us not to worry about what to say when this happens, but to simply say whatever is given to us in that hour, “for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:9-11). Anyone who has the Holy Spirit within them will be a transformed person. When we have the Holy Spirit, he strengthens us so that we not only have the passion to follow God’s will, but the ability to carry it out as well. The Bible says:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Our transformation happens gradually in life, and will finally be complete when we die and go to heaven. What does such a transformed life look like? The Bible gives us a picture of this by telling us about the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control,” (Galatians 5:22). When we believe in Christ, and have a strong desire to live out these virtues out of love for God, this is because the Holy Spirit is in us, encouraging us to live this way. Furthermore, Paul wrote that each Christian is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Some examples include distinguishing between spirits, the utterance of knowledge and wisdom, and the working of miracles (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). As we can see, the Holy Spirit works within Christians, granting us various gifts and skills, to build up and edify Christ’s church.

The Instructing Spirit

In the Old and New Testament, we also see that the Holy Spirit serves as an instructor and teacher. Isaiah had a lot to say about the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding people, when he taught that he would rest upon the Messiah (Jesus), saying:

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

When the Israelites were travelling through the wilderness, God sent his Holy Spirit to instruct them in his teachings. Nehemiah 9:20 says: “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst,” (Nehemiah 9:20). In the New Testament, Jesus said that when he sends the Holy Spirit into the world, “he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you,” (John 14:26). Jesus also said “he will bear witness about me,” (John 15:26). Therefore, in a Christian’s life, one of the main roles of the Holy Spirit is to teach us the truth concerning Jesus. In fact, the only way we can know the truth is if the Holy Spirit enters us and teaches us that truth:

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

The Holy Spirit not only works in the hearts of Christians, but also in the world, too. He works to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8-11), showing non-believers the sinners they really are, the righteousness that they need from Jesus, and the final judgement that is to come if they don’t repent.

The Indwelling Spirit

The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells within every Christian. In the book of Acts it is written:

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit is our “Advocate” or “Helper”, who, in Jesus’ words, will be with us “forever” (John 14:16-17). The Bible likens us to holy, precious temples that house the Holy Spirit, because he dwells within us:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

This gives all believers assurance. We know that God abides in us by his Spirit whom he has given us (1 John 3:24).

The Saving Spirit

One of the most important things that the Holy Spirit does for us is that he saves us from our sins. While the Father sent the Son and the Spirit and draws us to himself, and the Son paid the penalty for our sins as our substitute on the cross, the Holy Spirit regenerates us, renewing our hearts and minds, enabling us to receive the benefits of Christ. The Bible says:

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:4-5)

The Holy Spirit graciously entered into us, even when we didn’t deserve it, and washed us clean from all our sins in the preaching of the Gospel, as well as in the waters of baptism. The Bible says that although we were sinners who merited nothing but hell, we were washed, sanctified, and justified in Jesus’ name, and by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote:

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

The Holy Spirit raises us from physical and spiritual death to everlasting life. In addition to giving us life, the Holy Spirit also adopts us into God’s family so that we can be heirs with Christ in paradise (Romans 8:14-17). In the Spirit, no longer do we fear God as a far-off judge, but we love him as our heavenly Father. Saving faith in Christ itself is actually a work of the Holy Spirit, and not a result of our decision. Paul again writes:

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

The Bible also assures us that when we first believed we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, who guarantees our inheritance of eternal life until we acquire possession of it (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Personal Being

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a personal being; he is not an impersonal force or power. Jesus himself proves that the Holy Spirit is a personal being when he said:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever, 17 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 14:16-17)

“Helper”, in this context, can also be translated as “advocate”. This title refers to someone who pleads another’s cause in court before a judge. In the same way that Jesus is the intercessor (or advocate) between us and God the Father, the Holy Spirit is “another” intercessor between us and the Father. He is, therefore, a personal being. Furthermore, the Bible gives many other personal qualities to the Holy Spirit, too. Scripture says that the Spirit has a mind (Romans 8:27) and volition (1 Corinthians 12:11), and that he can love (Romans 15:30), and have fellowship with us (2 Corinthians 13:14). The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit can talk, grieve, and understand:

“And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” (Acts 8:29

“But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:10)

“For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11)

It’s also worth mentioning that the worst sin anyone can ever commit is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29) (which is, essentially, rejecting Jesus till you die). This indicates two important facts: 1. Because the severity of a sin depends on whom the sin is against, and because cursing the Holy Spirit is the worst of all, he is therefore the highest being in existence (God). 2. Cursing inanimate objects is not as bad as cursing living beings, and because cursing the Holy Spirit is the worst sin of all, he is therefore a living, personal being.

Conclusion

To sum it up, the Holy Spirit is God Almighty, the third Person of the Trinity, and the eternal Creator of all things, along with the Father and the Son. He empowers the people he enters to love and follow the will of God, grants them skills and gifts for building up the church, and instructs Christians concerning the truth, pointing everyone to Jesus as Lord. The Holy Spirit makes Christians his temples, and lives within us as our Helper or Advocate, the one who intercedes for us in our relationship with God and who transforms our lives to closer resemble Christ’s. He gives us faith in Christ as our Saviour, grants us new life, adopts us into God’s family, and seals our inheritance of eternal life.

The Holy Spirit loves you and wants to have personal fellowship with you. When we acknowledge him as the personal and almighty being that he really is, then we can truly have fellowship with him, and experience the salvation and joy that only he can give. As the Bible says, God’s rule in our lives consists of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Let’s give thanks to the Holy Spirit for making Jesus known in the world, for giving life to our bodies that were once dead in sin, and for endowing the church with his gracious gifts.

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