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What is the Holy Spirit?

What is the Holy Spirit?

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

What is the Holy Spirit? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church today? --Osten

Dear Osten,

The work of the Holy Spirit in the church today is to indwell Christ followers so they might look like Christ and to empower them to continue the ministry that Jesus had when He was here on earth (Acts 2:1-4).

You have asked a critical question. To many of us, the Holy Spirit is the forgotten member of the Godhead. We focus so much energy on God the Father and on Jesus the Son of God that we tend to ignore the Holy Spirit. This attitude needs careful examination because in one sense, the Holy Spirit does more  today than both God our Father and Jesus combined. The Holy Spirit is really busy making us look like Jesus.

Of course, the Holy Spirit has no intention of working to make our outside appearances more like Jesus; He is working to produce within us the character and inner life of Christ for all to see.

But just for fun, let’s consider what Jesus might have looked like when He was on earth in His earthly body. Early in the third century A.D. “The Letter of Lentulus” gave a physical description of Jesus. Holman Hunt used this description for his famous painting of Jesus folding His hands calmly in prayer:

There has appeared here in our time and still lives here, a man of great power named Jesus Christ. The people call him a prophet of truth, and his disciples, the Son of God. He has a venerable face, of a sort to arouse both fear and love in those who see him. His hair is the color of ripe chestnuts, smooth almost to the ears, but above them waving and curling, with a slight bluish radiance, and it flows over his shoulders. It is parted in the middle on the top of his head, after the fashion of the people of Nazareth. His brow is smooth and very calm, with a face without wrinkle or blemish, lightly tinged with red. His nose and mouth are faultless. His beard is luxuriant and unclipped, of the came color as his hair, not long but parted at the chin. His eyes are expressive and brilliant. His face is terrible in reproof, sweet and gentle in admonition, cheerful without ceasing to be grave. He has never been seen to laugh, but often to weep. His figure is slender and erect; his hands and arms are beautiful to see. His conversation is serious, sparing and modest. He is the fairest of the children of men.21

Some believe this portrayal is nothing less than the police description of Jesus at the time of His arrest. Most think otherwise. “The Letter of Lentulus” is obviously a forgery—although it’s not impossible that it embodies a genuine tradition. Surely, a physical description of Christ was passed down in the immediate years after His resurrection. But, it stretches the mind to think that an accurate description would survive over 200 years without massive corruption. It may be that we have to say of the appearance of Jesus, with Augustine, “We are utterly ignorant.”

OK, Osten, let's get down to business.

Adam was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Unfortunately, Adam’s and Eve’s sin detonated an emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual bomb. Adam and Eve were now in Satan’s image (Genesis 3:1-6).

Several years later, Adam and Eve conceived a son named Seth who was born in "man’s image"—not God's (Genesis 5:3). One of the consequences of sin was that for at least the next 4000 years the image of God was no longer visible on earth (Genesis 5:1-3).

However, when Jesus put on a body and became a man, the image of God was again on display! (Hebrews 1:1-3)! If anyone wondered, "What is God like," all they had to do was to take a look at Jesus.

When the crucified Christ was buried, the image of God disappeared, hidden inside a tomb.

At the resurrection, the image was once again on display. During the next forty days, Jesus appeared to over five hundred different individuals. However, as He ascended into the heavens, the image of God disappeared from view.

On Pentecost, ten days after the ascension, the Holy Spirit, Who is revealed in Scripture as the Spirit of Christ, descended as living tongues of fire and settled on, and then indwelt, one hundred and twenty Believers (Acts 2:1-4). Once again, the image of God was back on earth—multiplied—in the lives of 120 new Christians.

In the upper room discourse (John 13-17), Jesus had told His disciples that it was good for Him to go away! After all, when He was stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee, He could not be in Jerusalem telling Nicodemus how he could be born again.

Today, the person of Jesus is visible, not just in one locale, but in hundreds and thousands of places throughout the world where Christ Followers are living out the life of Jesus.

Paul emphasized this in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

[By the way, technically we often say that Jesus lives in our hearts. The truth is that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. The Holy Spirit is He who indwells us (Acts 7:54-56)].

Now, Osten, I'll summarize what the Holy Spirit is and the the work Holy Spirit today.

  • Our first encounter with the Holy Spirit is when He convicts us of our sin, shows us that none of us can live up to the righteousness of Jesus, and reveals to us the judgment that is coming to those who die without a Savior (John 16:8-11).
  • As we repent, confess our sins and receive the gift of Salvation the Holy Spirit regenerates our dead inner human spirit which now becomes sensitive to the spiritual things of God John 3:1-16; and Acts 2:38). This is referred to in the Bible as the New Birth.
  • At the same moment the Holy Spirit baptizes or immerses us into the family of God--the world-wide followers of Christ past, present, and future. This is known as the "baptism of the Holy Spirit. It occurs once and for all at our conversion and is not repeated. When we received the Holy Spirit we received all the Holy Spirit we will ever receive. He does not come in pieces and parts. He is either in us or not (Acts 1:4-5; and 1 Corinthians 12:13).
  • He is our encourager and comforter when we are hurting and discouraged. My daughter died, I am outside leaning against the wall of my house--weeping. My dogs came to me. "You have no idea what I am going through, do you?" I asked them. Sometimes, when no one else is around, the only place we can go is to the Spirit of Jesus--the Holy Spirit who give us peace and comfort in those moments (John 14:16-17; and 16:7).
  • We partner with Him in maintaining unity among Christ followers (Acts 2:42-47; and Ephesians 4:3). I stopped a church business meeting when the women began arguing about whether it was best to have wooden or steel cribs in the nursery. I sent everyone home for acting like spiritual babies (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
  • He brings peace in the midst of storms. For example, Julie discovers that she has cancer. Trauma and fear overwhelm. From deep within the Holy Spirit speaks, " Quiet down. All is well." We settle down with assurance (Ephesians 2:14; and Philippians 4:7).
  • He pours in the power for victorious living. I'm in the hospital, awaiting major surgery in the morning. Instead of fear and fretting, I find peace and contentment through the Holy Spirit Who pours in the grace and power that I need (Romans 8:26; and Philippians 4:10-13).
  • He teams with us in studying and in understanding the truths of the Bible. After all, who better to teach and interpret the Bible for us than the one who wrote the Book (John 14:25; and 16:12-15)? Every passage in Scripture has only one, true interpretation. The Holy Spirit guides us to figure out what the Bible writer had in mind when he wrote what he wrote.
  • Not only does the Holy Spirit guide our prayers, He steps in to intercede for us when we can't put our feelings into words (Romans 8:26).Sometimes the pain is so deep that we can only groan. He turns our groans into prayers.
  • He empowers and inspires us for evangelism. I am waiting at gate for my flight to be called. Sitting nearby is perhaps the most beautiful woman that I've ever seen. She is crying. Beautiful women intimidate me. They scare me. But, before I realize it, I am sitting beside her. She is a Las Vegas show girl on the way to the cruise ship job she's longed for. She missed her plane. Hope dangles and departs. She is out of work. She now has no job. She has nowhere to turn. She needs an eternal friend. I led her to receive Christ. She traded tears for hope.
  • The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts as He deems best throughout the Body of Christ. Taken together, the gifts present a picture of Christ for the world to see. Every Christian receives a gift at the moment of salvation. As we master that gift the Spirit is trusts us with others as needed. My gift is teaching. Over time I feel like the Holy Spirit added gifs of leadership and encouragement (1 Corinthians 12-14).
  • The "Filling of the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18) is a function of our surrender to the Spirit's guidance by doing what He says and the degree to which we clean up our lives and stop sinning. We choose life in the Spirit instead of self life. "Quench not the Spirit Who is in you" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We choose not to sin. "Grieve not the Holy Spirit Who is in you" (Ephesians 4:30).

While none of us can demand or make God pour out the Spirit-filled life upon us, the Bible gives insights to the things that foster the filling of the Spirit. Let me mention a few: 

  • Stop sinning. However, when we do sin, we confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9). We must be empty of self and clean and pure in order to be filled.
  • Seek to live every moment in the Kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 5:6 and 6:33). A.W. Tozer said, “Every man is just as spiritual as he wants to be.”
  • Walk in the Spirit by making every effort to respond positively to the Spirit's promptings and leadings. Listen and when He speaks, do what He says (Galatians 5:16).
  • Pray to become a spiritual man or woman at any price (1 John 2:12-14).
  • Leave the results to Him and experience and enjoy walking hand in hand with Jesus (John 10:10; and 1 John 1:7).

As you can see, Osten, the Holy Spirit is busy. He has a lot to do in fulfilling His role in the church today.

Now imagine that you have an empty glove. It's floppy and flimsy. Put a hand in and immediately the glove takes on life. I put on the glove and begin playing the piano and what happens? Chaos! I don't know how to play the piano. But, let my wife put on the glove and play the piano. Sweet music ensues. Julie knows how to play the piano.

Of course, we are the empty glove. When empty, our lives are flimsy and floppy. but when the Holy Spirit slides into the glove, the beautiful life begins.

Well, Osten, I hope this helps to answer your question. May you experience the filling of the Spirit more than you ever imagined possible.

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Publication date: June 28, 2012