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Who is the Holy Spirit in the Bible? 10 Roles in a Christian's Life

Who is the Holy Spirit in the Bible? 10 Roles in a Christian's Life
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In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is considered the third person of the Holy Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ). The Holy Trinity is the Christian understanding of the nature of God as three distinct persons in one divine essence.

"But 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)

"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)

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, believers are saved, filled, sealed, and sanctified. The Holy Spirit reveals God’s thoughts, teaches, and guides believers into all truth, including knowledge of what is to come. The Holy Spirit also helps Christians in their weakness and intercedes for them.

What is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is God, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, who eternally "proceeds" from the Father (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Father and the Son. The word "Spirit" commonly translates the Greek New Testament word pneuma.

Holy Spirit vs. Holy Ghost

The terms "Holy Spirit" and "Holy Ghost" are often used interchangeably to refer to the third person of the Holy Trinity in Christian theology. In general, they are understood to represent the divine and spiritual presence of God in the world. However, there are historical and linguistic nuances to consider.

"Holy Spirit" is a more modern and commonly used term, while "Holy Ghost" is an older and somewhat archaic expression. Both terms refer to the same concept in Christian theology—the aspect of God that is active in the world, guiding believers and working in their lives.

The use of "Holy Ghost" in older English translations of the Bible, such as the King James Version, has contributed to its continued use in some traditional contexts. Over time, many modern translations of the Bible have opted for "Holy Spirit" to reflect contemporary language usage.

In essence, there is no substantial difference in meaning between "Holy Spirit" and "Holy Ghost"; they both represent the same divine entity in Christian theology. The choice of terminology often depends on personal preference, denominational tradition, or the particular version of the Bible being used. Many contemporary Christian communities and translations tend to favor "Holy Spirit" as a more accessible and widely understood term in modern English.

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

The Spirit dwells inside every true Christian. The body of faithful Christians becomes His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). He is described as a 'Counsellor' or 'Helper' (paraclete in Greek, guiding them in the way of the truth.) The 'Fruit of the Spirit' (the result of His work) is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit is also believed to give gifts (natural and supernatural) to Christians as is found in the life of Christ and His disciples healing the sick, raising the dead, and more.

The Holy Spirit is often described as the active presence of God in the world and in the lives of believers. In the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit is associated with various roles and functions, including:

Comforter/Advocate/Helper: The Holy Spirit is seen as a source of comfort and assistance to believers. In times of trouble or need, the Holy Spirit is believed to come alongside believers to provide guidance, strength, and support.

Teacher/Guide: The Holy Spirit is believed to teach and guide believers in understanding and living out the teachings of Jesus Christ. This includes helping believers interpret and apply the Scriptures to their lives.

Conviction of Sin: The Holy Spirit is often seen as convicting individuals of their sinfulness, leading them to repentance and a turning towards God.

Empowerer: The Holy Spirit is considered to empower believers for Christian living, equipping them with spiritual gifts for service and enabling them to live according to God's will.

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament

Christians believe that it was the Holy Spirit whom Jesus mentioned as the promised "Comforter" in John 14:26

After His resurrection, Christ told his disciples that they would be "baptized with the Holy Ghost," and would receive power or endowment (Acts 1:4-8). This promise was fulfilled in the events recounted in Acts 2

On the first Pentecost, Jesus' disciples were gathered in Jerusalem when a mighty wind was heard, and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. A multilingual crowd heard the disciples speaking, and each heard them speaking in their native language.

The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ

In Christian theology, the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is a central aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the understanding that God exists as three distinct persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit—yet these three persons are one God. The Bible is the primary source for understanding this relationship, and while the term "Trinity" is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, the concept is derived from various passages.

Jesus and the Holy Spirit at Jesus' Baptism:

One significant event highlighting the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the baptism of Jesus. All three persons of the Trinity are present at this event.

Matthew 3:16-17: "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.'"

The Promise of the Holy Spirit:

Before His crucifixion, Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples.

John 14:16-17: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth."

The Work of the Holy Spirit:

Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit would come to guide and empower believers after his departure.

John 16:7: "But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."

The Great Commission:

In the Great Commission, Jesus instructs His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, emphasizing the unity of the three persons.

Matthew 28:19: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Pentecost:

The Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in a powerful way on the day of Pentecost, fulfilling Jesus' promise.

Acts 2:1-4: "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."

10 Roles of the Holy Spirit in Our Lives

The following are ten ways the Holy Spirit continues to work in the lives of believers:

1. The Holy Spirit is a Helper Who Teaches and Reminds

In John 14:26, Jesus told his disciples, “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, ESV).

The Greek word “Parakletos” in this passage is translated as “Helper” in the ESV, “Advocate” in the NIV, and “Counselor” in the KJV. The meaning of this word relates to “legal counsel.”

The Holy Spirit provides wise counsel to Christ’s followers. Jesus knew he would be going away and that his followers would need the Holy Spirit as a helper and an advocate to remind them of his teachings.

2. He Convicts the World of Sin

In addition to providing wise counsel, attorneys also provide evidence used to convict criminals. In a similar fashion, the Holy Spirit will prove the sin, righteousness, and judgment of the world.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-8, ESV).

3. The Holy Spirit Dwells in Believers and Fills Us

The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in the lives of believers.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV)

4. He is a Source of Revelation, Wisdom, and Power

“These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except for their own spirit within them? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

God gives His followers the Holy Spirit, so we may know Him better. Since the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit, it knows the thoughts of God and reveals those thoughts to believers. The Holy Spirit opens believers’ eyes to the hope of salvation and their inheritance in Christ.

Jesus knew that his disciples would need the power to carry out their mission to be witnesses to the entire world.

Jesus told his disciples, “But 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)

Christians have access to power, revelation, and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, just as the Apostle Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus,

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:17-20).

5. He Guides to All Truth and Knowledge of What Is to Come

The Holy Spirit tells what is yet to come. The Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth” in John 16:13 because he guides believers into all truth. Jesus told his disciples the Holy Spirit would make known what he hears and would only speak what the Father speaks.

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:13-15).

6. The Holy Spirit Gives Spiritual Gifts to Believers

Attributes of the Holy Spirit, such as wisdom, knowledge, and power, are manifested in the lives of believers for the good of others. More gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.   

7. He is a Seal in the Lives of Believers

In ancient times, a seal was a “legal signature” attesting ownership and validating what was sealed.

The Holy Spirit is our mark of adoption as God’s children. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his followers so that they could be confident in their salvation.

Just as you might make a deposit or a down payment on a new car to make sure the salesperson doesn’t sell it to anyone else, the Holy Spirit is a deposit in our lives confirming the validity of Christ’s message and that we belong to Christ.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13).

8. He Helps in Our Weakness and Intercedes for Us

We all have times when we feel weak and don’t know what to do. The Holy Spirit helps us align with God’s will by interceding for us during those times.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. 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).

9. He Makes Believers New and Grants Us Eternal Life

The Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers to renew, sanctify, and make us holy. Just as the Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead, the Holy Spirit will give eternal life to believers in Christ.

“But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:10-11).

10. The Holy Spirit Sanctifies and Enables Good Fruit in Our Lives

The work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is an ongoing process of becoming holy through sanctification. Through the conviction and power of the Holy Spirit, believers will not indulge the sinful acts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-21) but will bear the good fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).

Download this free PDF, Living By the Holy Spirit Power - A Prayer and Scripture Guide

Bible Definition of the Holy Spirit

Some have argued that Old Testament believers were saved and sanctified by the Spirit just as New Testament believers. But such teaching appears nowhere in the Old Testament. However, people were made right with God. The focus of the Old Testament roles of the Spirit lies elsewhere.

In the earliest Scriptures, the Spirit does not clearly emerge as a distinct personality. The Hebrew word for "spirit" (ruah) can also mean wind, breath, or life force. Most commonly designated as "of God" or "of the Lord, " the Spirit appears as God's agent of creation (Gen 1:2; Job 33:4; 34:14-15), a mode of his interacting with humans ( Gen 6:3 ), his agent of revelation (Gen 41:38; Num 24:2), and a mode of empowering select leaders of God's people (Moses and the Seventy — Num 11:17-29; possibly Joshua Num 27:18; Deut 34:9). All of these uses recur throughout the Old Testament, but one other remains unique to these earliest days equipping Bezalel and Oholiab with the skills of craftsmanship for constructing the tabernacle (Exod 31:3; 35:31), although the provision of gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament will become a close analog.

(Excerpt from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary)

Names of the Holy Spirit

Old Testament (Hebrew)

  • וְר֣וּחַ קָדְשׁ֑וֹ (rûaḥ qādəšô) – His Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10)
  • וְר֣וּחַ קָ֝דְשְׁךָ֗ (rûaḥ qādəšəkā) – Your Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:11)
  • וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים (rûaḥ ĕlōhîm) – Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2)
  • נִשְׁמַת־ר֨וּחַ חַיִּ֜ים (nišəmat-rûaḥ ḥayîm) – The Breath of the Spirit of Life (Genesis 7:22)
  • ר֣וּחַ יְהוָ֑ה (rûaḥ YHWH) – Spirit of YHWH (Isaiah 11:2)
  • ר֧וּחַ חָכְמָ֣ה וּבִינָ֗ה (rûaḥ ḥākəmâ ûbînâ) – Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding (Isaiah 11:2)
  • ר֤וּחַ עֵצָה֙ וּגְבוּרָ֔ה (rûaḥ ʿēṣâ ûgəbûra) – Spirit of Counsel and Might (Isaiah 11:2)
  • ר֥וּחַ דַּ֖עַת וְיִרְאַ֥ת יְהוָֽה (rûaḥ daʿat wəyīrəʾat YHWH) – Spirit of Knowledge[28] and Fear of YHWH (Isaiah 11:2)

New Testament (Greek)

  • πνεύματος ἁγίου (Pneumatos Hagiou) – Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18)
  • πνεύματι θεοῦ (Pneumati Theou) – Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28)
  • ὁ παράκλητος (Ho Paraclētos) – The Comforter, cf. Paraclete John 14:26 (John 16:7)
  • πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας (Pneuma tēs Alētheias) – Spirit of Truth (John 16:13)
  • Πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ (Pneuma Christou) – Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11)

Depending on context:

πνεῦμα (Pneuma) – Spirit (John 3:8)

Πνεύματος (Pneumatos) – Spirit (John 3:8)

Greek Meaning of "Pneuma" (Spirit)

According to the Greek Lexicon, the original Greek word for "Spirit," as used for Holy Spirit, is pneuma. This word is used 385 times in the King James translation and often refers to the Holy Spirit, but also in other contexts. Here are the definitions of this Greek word as found in the lexicon:

  1. The Third Person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit, coequal, coeternal with the Father and the Son
    1. sometimes referred to in a way that emphasizes His personality and character (the Holy Spirit)
    2. sometimes referred to in a way that emphasizes His work and power (the Spirit of Truth)
    3. never referred to as a depersonalized force
  2. The spirit, i.e., the vital principal by which the body is animated
    1. the rational spirit, the power by which the human being feels, thinks, decides
    2. the soul
  3. A spirit, i.e., a simple essence, devoid of all or at least all grosser matter and possessed of the power of knowing, desiring, deciding, and acting
    1. a life-giving spirit
    2. a human soul that has left the body
    3. a spirit higher than man but lower than God, i.e., an angel
      1. used of demons, or evil spirits, who were conceived as inhabiting the bodies of men
      2. the spiritual nature of Christ, higher than the highest angels and equal to God, the divine nature of Christ
  4. The disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of anyone
    1. the efficient source of any power, affection, emotion, desire, etc.
  5. A movement of air (a gentle blast)
    1. of the wind, hence the wind itself
    2. breath of nostrils or mouth

Learn more about the original meaning of pneuma and additional biblical terms in Greek and Hebrew in the Bible Lexicons.

Bible Verses about the Holy Spirit

Acts 4:31: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

Romans 8:14-16: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father…’”

2 Thessalonians 2:13: “…God chose you as first fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Titus 3:4-6: “…He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Sources

BibleStudyTools.com, Baker’s Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Holy Spirit. BibleStudyTools.com, Baker’s Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Seal. BibleStudyTools.com, Easton’s Bible Dictionary: Holy Ghost. BibleStudyTools.com, New Testament Greek Lexicon: Parakletos. BibleStudyTools.com, Torrey’s Topical Textbook: The Power of the Holy Spirit. CharismaMag.com, “33 Things the Holy Spirit Does.” Marcus Yoars, 2013. OrthodoxWiki, "Holy Spirit". Wikipedia.com "Holy Spirit in Christianity"

Acknowledgments

This article was inspired by author and speaker Michelle Hoverson.


Penny Noyes, M.Ed., is the author of Embracing Change - Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible and two books about Hezekiah. You can follow Penny on her blog and on Instagram @pennynoyes.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Joshua Sortino

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