I’m going to be spending the next few months delving into the data available concerning the Holy Spirit in hopes of gaining a better understanding of what “it” is. Having said that, though, I’ll admit there’s a very strong possibility that when I’m done I’ll be just as clueless as I am today. Of course, that never stopped me from swimming in the deep end before so why should this be any different? My desire is that I and my readers will gain at least a modicum of knowledge (predominantly gleaned from the Bible) about the Holy Spirit along the way and that the journey will be enjoyable, worthwhile and thought-provoking.
I can’t help but notice preachers of all doctrines and denominations avoid orating about the Holy Spirit for the same reason they steer clear of the topic of angels. The average church-goer of today regards anything they can’t see, hear, touch or smell as being of questionable merit in their brand of Christianity and, therefore, better left to scholars. Jesus they don’t have as much of a problem with because He walked, talked, ate, drank and put on His sandals one at a time the same as the rest of us. They know without a doubt had they lived in Israel 2,000 years ago they could’ve tracked Him down and asked Him for an autograph and a selfie. But invisible entities? Fuggitaboudit. They don’t have time for such immaterial things and, besides, they have enough stacked on their shoulders without contemplating beings and things they can’t detect. “I believe in Jesus and that’s enough for me. You gotta beef wi’ dat?” Actually, no, I don’t. The Bible informs me a spoonful of faith’s enough to keep all of us out of hell and I’m not here to judge those content to sit in the cheap seats. But me? I want to know all I can about the God who loves me despite my many character defects and, since the Father and His Son have sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of me, I feel I owe it to my Creator to stretch my tiny brain to its limit in an honest effort to comprehend all of Him I can.
We who read the Word have been made aware that the God we worship and do our darndest to obey is three-in-one. That’s why it’s called The Trinity. The indivisible triad idea is hard to grasp and even harder to explain to a fourth-grader. May as well try to describe electricity or gravity. Despite all the collective knowhow amassed by mankind since Eden, we’re still in the dark about the true nature of many things we take for granted. We kinda accept the fact that the Holy Spirit is as much God as the Father and the Son are, but trying to wrap our heads around the entire concept is beyond our ability. When my grandson asked me how God can be three separate yet unified personalities I told him to draw a triangle on a piece of paper. “God is one thing with three sides,” I said. He furrowed his brow at me but I could only shrug and say, “That’s all I got, kid.” He hasn’t brought it up since.
About forty years ago there was a surge of interest in discovering more about the Holy Spirit due to the dramatic rise of the charismatic movement. It became a popular alternative to Catholicism and Protestantism and some called it Christendom’s “third force.” More sermons were preached and more books were published concerning the Holy Spirit in that era than in any other before or since. Over time the movement ebbed and it’s fair to say it’s fallen out of favor but it did succeed in bringing the third person of the Trinity onto the front pages. Pentecostalism’s a tricky area because there’s divine power involved and the potential for folks to go overboard after being influenced by the Spirit is always there. But if we seek to learn more about the Holy Ghost by consulting the Bible we’ll acquire all we need to know this side of heaven’s portal. There’s no doubt that in our exploration many questions that’ve puzzled not only Christians but unbelievers for eons will present themselves. We won’t find all the answers. Trust me on that. Here’s a sample of queries: What’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit? When does it take place? Is speaking in tongues for real? Is it necessary? Is there such a thing as a “second blessing”? Alas, I’m getting ahead of myself so let’s start with the basics. Who or what is the Holy Spirit?
Let’s get something straight from the get go. The Holy Spirit ain’t no it. The Bible teaches the Holy Spirit is a person. Jesus never referred to “it” when He discussed the Holy Spirit so neither should we. He always used “He” so that issue is settled. We’re informed the Holy Spirit has an intellect, emotions and will so there’s no reason to consider Him a “force” rather than a real person owning a unique personality and certain undeniable characteristics. He has the ability to speak. Revelations 2:7 says, “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God” and Acts 13:2 reads, “While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” He assists us. Romans 8:26 states, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.” He confirms Christ’s divinity. In John 15:26 Jesus says, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” He can dispense orders. Acts 8:29 reads, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot’” and Romans 8:14 states, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” He intervenes. Acts 16:6-7 says, “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia. When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this.” He instructs. Christ said in John 16:13; “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.” He delegates authority. Acts 20:28 reads, “Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.”
Conversely, as we all know, being a person has a negative side to it. The Holy Spirit can be lied to. Acts 5:3-4 says, “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!” He can be vilified. Hebrews 10:29 states, “”How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace?” He can be slandered. Jesus declared in Matthew 12:31-32, “For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” And, evidently, humans have the ability to give Him an ulcer. Ephesians 4:30 reads, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” What these Scriptures verify for us is that the Holy Spirit isn’t some sort of invisible, incomprehensible or undefinable thing on the order of magnetism. He’s a person. Yet not just some ordinary Joe. He is God.
While that last statement might seem unnatural to us because we’re used to thinking of the great I AM as either the Father or the Son, the Bible makes it clear the Holy Spirit is God Himself. His attributes are divine. Once again I’ll rely on Scripture to back me up. There was no moment when He didn’t exist. He’s outside of time. Hebrews 9:14 says, “…How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” He’s omnipotent. Luke 1:35 states, “The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’” He’s omnipresent. Psalm 139:7 reads, “Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence?” He’s omniscient. 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 says, “God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” He’s specifically referred to as God. In Acts 5 when Peter was admonishing Ananias for prevaricating to the Holy Spirit he said, “You have not lied to people, but to God!” and 2 Corinthians 3:18 teaches, “And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” He’s the Creator. Genesis 1:1 unequivocally avows that God created heaven and earth. Colossians 1:16 plainly states that “…In Him [Christ] all things were created.” In Genesis 1:2 we’re told “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.” Thus the conclusion we must draw is that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were working in perfect harmony to create the world. There’s no set order of importance or superiority among the three but they do have different functions, it would seem. Yet they’re still to be considered one God. So united are they in their attitudes, desires and motivations that, to mortal human beings, they’re indistinguishable from each other. To say there’s nothing else like their relationship in the universe is a gross understatement.
If the Trinity is something you just can’t fathom don’t sweat it. Nobody else in history has, either. It’s definitely a mystery to me but I accept it without hesitation because it’s a revelation of God. What I do know about the Holy Spirit is this: He’s a living being and He’s one of the trio of persons that make up the Holy Trinity. Case closed. My understanding or lack of it has no bearing on His or the Trinity’s existence whatsoever. And don’t let anyone tell you the Trinity is something some wise guy made up. The Bible teaches in both the Old and New Testaments that it’s a reality and that’s sufficient for me. God reveals Himself progressively in His Word but He indicates right off the bat in Genesis that He consists of three persons and together they constitute the singular God. Christianity is Trinitarian, not Unitarian. We concur there’s but one God so Christians can never be accused of being polytheistic. In the Hebrew language there are three significant numbers to take note of: Singular = one; dual = two; plural = more than two. The word translated as “God” (Elohim) in the first verse of Genesis is plural. So from the very start God lets us know the Trinity is what we’re to acknowledge as the absolute Godhead. You can’t miss it. Check out the Old Testament first. Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” Later, in Genesis 3:22, He said, “…Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” In chapter 11, in reference to the pretentious tower of Babel, the Lord uttered, “Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” And notice when Isaiah heard the voice of God he heard Him ask, “Whom will I send? Who will go on our behalf?”
The New Testament is even more specific, mainly due to one of the members of the ultimate power trio being with us on terra firma in the flesh. In the final passage of Matthew Jesus says to His followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Since Christ associates the Holy Spirit with God the Father and God the Son on an equal basis we must accept that He is, in every sense of the word, God. So much so Jesus could truthfully avow He’d “never leave us nor forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5) because He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to dwell in and among us. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:13, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” His benediction indicates the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son in the Godhead. The math works. Billy Graham wrote, “It is not one plus one plus one equals three. It is one times one times one equals one.” Yes, God is one. Yet that oneness is far from a child’s simple crayon drawing on paper – it’s highly complex.
Other than how my awful sins can be erased through the sacrifice offered by my Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, there may be no other subject as difficult to grasp as the Trinity concept. The Bible states it as fact but doesn’t try to explain it. Perhaps it’d be like trying to teach a garden slug how to recite Shakespeare. But that hasn’t prevented some from claiming to have unlocked the mystery. One heresy in the early church arose in the form of “modalism” wherein it was explained God appeared at different times in three different modes. Those who held this view believed it preserved the unity of monotheism. The side effect, however, was it intimated when Jesus prayed He was talking to Himself. Plus, when it says in Acts 2 that the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit, it would be an illogical statement, not to mention it would negate Christ’s Great Commission instructing us to baptize in the name of “The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Thus modalism died a relatively quick death. The heart of the matter is that, strenuous to savvy or not, the Trinity is a solid, foundational truth to be accepted on faith. The Father is the source of all blessing. The Son is the conduit of all blessing. But it’s because of the Holy Spirit working in us that all truth becomes living and proactive in our lives. And that’s the greatest blessing.
It comes down to this: There’s nothing God is that the Holy Spirit isn’t. What Christians say about Jesus applies equally to the Father and the Spirit. So the answer to the first half of the question I posed at the top of this essay is this: The Holy Spirit is God! More to come.