What Christians Need to Know about the Holy Spirit as a Person
- Jessica Udall Contributing Writer
- 2021 18 Jan
“May the force be with you.” The idea found in this common quote from the Star Wars movies is sometimes unintentionally picked up by Christians when they think about the Holy Spirit.
What comes to mind when you think about the Holy Spirit? Power? Strength? Enlightenment? The Holy Spirit surely is these things, but His nature is beyond these things. He is more than an impersonal force like gravity or just an abstract source of strength. Rather, He is a person. In other words, rather than saying that the Holy Spirit is a power, we can say that He has power. He does powerful things in a personal way.
The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is sometimes overlooked by those who focus solely on God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ. But the historic Christian faith is not bi-nitarian (a made-up word to describe one God in two persons) but trinitarian (believing in one God in three persons). Though the Holy Spirit’s role is to magnify Jesus (John 15:26), He is a person in his own right and is worth getting to know in an ever-deeper way.
How Do We Know the Holy Spirit Is a Person?
The Bible is clear about the personal nature of the Holy Spirit. We see the Spirit displaying the characteristic marks of personhood—intellect, emotion, and will—throughout Scripture. The Holy Spirit is a deep-thinking being: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says: “It is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”
The Holy Spirit also feels deeply. When people “deliberately keep on sinning” (Hebrews 10:26) after they have understood the gospel, they are said to have “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). We are told that the Holy Spirit is affected by humans, as evidenced by the warning for believers not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). It is clear that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal law of nature or force like gravity which remains impervious to our choices and actions--rather, the relational nature of the Holy Spirit’s being and work are striking.
The Holy Spirit also chooses the gifts which believers receive. We are told that: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them” (1 Corinthians 12:4). He is responsible for “distributing [a variety of gifts] to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). This choosing activity indicates to us that the Holy Spirit has a will, yet another essential component of personhood.
What Does the Bible Tell Us about the Work of the Holy Spirit?
1. The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts.
As mentioned above, as believers we are the benefactors of the wonderful fact that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). There is a beautifully paradoxical individuality and universality in the Spirit’s interaction with believers: “There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:6). The way the Holy Spirit gifts one believer is different than the way He gifts another believer, so their experience of His power will necessarily be different; nevertheless, it is the same powerful Spirit at work in each of them. It is important to note that to fully get to know the Holy Spirit and his manifestations in the world, we must be in community with others in whom He is working as well (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
2. The Holy Spirit helps us.
As believers, we are not left alone in this world. When Jesus began discussing the fact that He would leave the disciples and ascend to heaven, He assured them that—as strange as it sounded—it was actually better for them if He went away because He would then ask the Father to send them “the helper” (John 16:7) who would be with them forever and who is identified as “the Spirit of truth...who dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Though Jesus had taught His disciples many things, the Holy Spirit would help them understand more and more as time went on: “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
The ways the Holy Spirit helps us go beyond teaching us and extend to advocating and interceding for us in heaven. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Romans 8 tells us. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
3. The Spirit gives us new life.
Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit means that believers operate in a different realm: “not in the realm of the flesh” but “in the realm of the Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Paul encourages Christians that “even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10). Indeed, the very “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” and “he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).
4. The Holy Spirit assures us.
Paul continues to encourage believers that “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). When we doubt our status as children of God, we are encouraged: “by this we know that [God] abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24). When we lose hope that God’s promises to us will come to pass, we are assured that we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
5. The Holy Spirit leads us.
How do we know how to live as Christians? We must simply “walk by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25). Since the flesh and the Spirit are mutually exclusive, to the extent that we are walking with the Holy Spirit, we will therefore not “gratify the desire of the flesh” (5:16). Paul elaborates that “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). And as we “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) he will bear fruit in our lives, namely “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness” and “self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
3 Things Christians Need to Know about the Holy Spirit
1. The Holy Spirit was present even before creation.
Though the Holy Spirit is more consistently mentioned in the New Testament, He was present even before creation as well. Genesis 1:2 tells us that when “the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep,” even then “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”
2. The Holy Spirit made the writing of the Bible possible.
The Bible could not have been written without the direct involvement of the Holy Spirit. Peter says that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
3. The Holy Spirit was personally active in the Old Testament but began to indwell believers after Pentecost.
We see many mentions of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament (for example, Genesis 1:2, Psalm 51:11, Isaiah 59:21), but in the ministry of Jesus, we see building anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit to “be with you forever” (John 14:16). He told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem after His ascension, saying: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This promise was fulfilled in Acts 2, when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). After this, Paul asks believers: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This indicates that all believers are now indwelt with the Holy Spirit, “strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16) and able to “abound in hope” through Him (Romans 15:13).
When believers think of the Holy Spirit merely as a source of power like an electrical outlet, they are not inherently wrong (He is indeed a source of power), but they are missing the fullness of who He is and the richness of what their relationship with Him could be. He is a personal, loving presence who is always powerfully helping, leading, guiding, articulating our deepest longings in prayer, assuring us of our present and future salvation, and causing spiritual fruit to grow in our lives. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/momnoi
Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.