Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

Is it a supernatural power?

Is it a force, something like spiritual electricity?

Is it a divine emanation?

Or is He God?

Answering this question of the nature of the Holy Spirit correctly is extremely important.  

Read more from this online adaption from Dunamis Project 1:  Gateways to Empowered Ministry, Chapter 3: The Trinity and the Holy Spirit

Answering this question is important to ministry.

For our answer will determine our attitude toward, and experience of, the Holy Spirit.

We can certainly say that God the Father and God the Son are divine persons with will and intentions that know and love us.

We have clear images of Jesus embracing the little children, or of God the Father speaking face to face to Moses.

But the Holy Spirit often seems vague, and is described or experienced in equally vague terms like fire, wind, and water, all of which have no specific form and are impersonal.

The tendency then is to think of the Spirit as an inanimate being–a form of spiritual power that emanates from God, as heat and light emanate from the sun.

Recognizing the Ambiguity of the Holy Spirit’s Nature

But this question of the nature of the Holy Spirit is not easy to answer.

For in scripture and in our experience there is a great deal of ambiguity about the Spirit’s nature.

The Spirit is described as water that will bring forth life in the wilderness, or that will flow out from us in rivers of living water. (Isaiah 44:3-4, John 7:38)

He comes upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22).

When He fell upon the first disciples He came as fire, and as a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:1-4).

In our own experience He is felt sometimes as electricity that charges through our bodies, making us tingle all over.

He comes upon us sometime as a rush of warm love that knocks us off our feet and lays us out on the floor.

He lifts us up in praise, and sets our feet to dancing. Sometimes He comes as heat that brings healing, or a strange power that makes our hands shake, or releases our tongues to speaking unknown languages.

Sometimes He comes as a silence, a deep palatable silence that brings us to our knees in awe before the unfathomable mystery.

A personal encounter with the ambiguous nature of the Holy Spirit.

It was the last night of the retreat and people were coming forward for prayer.

Suddenly the Holy Spirit tremendously fell upon a young pastor, overcoming him with bubbling heavenly joy. He fell to the ground, in fits of drunken laughter. I had seen this phenomena before, but here it seemed out of place.

Knowing that there were a number of stiff Presbyterian types at this meeting, I was concerned that this may not be “decent and in order” and someone may get offended. I went over to calm down the laughter.

But as I drew close to him, it was as if I had stepped into a river of swirling, sparkling, living water. I was also picked up and there erupted from within the depths of my soul joy so exuberant that it broke forth in laughter. I simply could not stand up, but as if carried by a tide more powerful then my strength to resist, I joined the pastor on the floor in hilarious laughter.

The best I can describe it is that Jesus was there and in His presence there is overflowing joy.

What was this power that had gripped me? I knew that this was related to the Holy Spirit.

But what is the nature of the Holy Spirit?

Is it a power or a person or both?

In this series of posts, we will unpack some basic biblical teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit to help us understand who is the Holy Spirit.

In Scripture the Holy Spirit Has Attributes of a Divine “Person”

While granting this ambiguity of the nature of our experience of the Holy Spirit, we must push on to the essence of the Holy Spirit.

We find that though the Holy Spirit does manifest His presence in ways that seem impersonal, He nonetheless is a “person”.

For He is the third person of the Trinity and is of the same nature and essence as Jesus Christ and God the Father, all of whom are divine persons.

We find evidence of the Personhood of the Holy Spirit in Scripture where time and time again there is attributed to Him those characteristics that can only be attributed to beings with personhood, whether human or divine.

  • Love: “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (Rom. 15:30) –
  • Discernment, reason: “…and by the love of the Spirit,” (1 Cor. 2:10)
  • Understanding: “So no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 2:11)
  • Will, can make decisions: “All of these are inspired by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Cor. 12:11)
  • May have Grief: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God in whom you were sealed…” (Eph. 4:30)

The Holy Spirit has a Position That May Only Be Filled by a Divine “Person”

Further in Scripture there is ascribed to the Holy Spirit “offices” or “positions” that can only be filled by a person.

For instance, he serves as our intercessor and as our teacher.

And most wonderful of all, he has come to fill the office that Jesus filled while on earth.  He is our counselor and friend.

Only another divine person could take the place of Jesus.

  • Counselor: “…He will give you another Counselor even the Spirit of truth…” (John 14:16-17)
  • Teacher who knows all that Jesus has said: “…the Counselor, Holy Spirit…he will teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
  • Witness to Jesus: “But when the Counselor comes…he will bear witness to me.” (John 15:26)
  • Judge: “…He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and Judgment.” (John 16:8)
  • Leader: “For all who are lead by the Spirit are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14)
  • Intercessor: “…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:27)
Who is the Holy Spirit? Take the Gateways Video Course.

The Equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son

Let it be established, then, that even though we may experience the Holy Spirit as a force or power, He is none-the-less a divine person.

Further we must affirm that He is a divine person of equal status and nature as God the Father and God the Son.

Other evidence of the personhood and equality of the Spirit with the other persons of the Trinity:

  • We baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  (Matthew 28:19)
  • We give “blessings” or benedictions in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.(I Corinthians 13:14)
  • The interchangeability of terms the Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, and Christ. (Romans 8:9-11)
  • The Nicene Creed affirms that the Holy Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified and is worthy like them of our love and full obedience.

From Scripture we have affirmed that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, the third person of the Trinity.  But what is His unique place in that Trinity?  In future articles, we will look into this.

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Adapted from Dunamis Project 1:  Gateways to Empowered Ministry, Chapter 3: The Trinity and the Holy Spirit

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