Who is the Holy Spirit?

holy spirit

Isn’t it amazing to try to contemplate who God is and how He oversees His creation?

 When I was a child, I tried to wrap my mind around who I thought God was and what I thought He was like.  Growing up in a church-going context, I pictured God as an old man in a white robe with a long, white beard.  I also believed that He had a son named Jesus, but my understanding of God’s nature was incomplete and immature.

 God does not show signs of aging like human beings do.  He lives outside of time and isn’t affected by the loss of pigment in His hair, bone deterioration, or joints that crack and pop when He moves.

 Jesus, the Son of God (or God the Son) has eternally existed in perfect union with God the Father for all eternity.  He didn’t come into existence on a particular day because He has always existed.  God the Father is God.  God the Son is God.

 But if you asked me who the Holy Spirit was, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer of any intelligence whatsoever.  I had no idea who He was.  Sadly, I suspect that there are many professing Christians who have no working knowledge of who the Spirit is, and since they don’t know who He is, they most likely don’t understand what He’s doing in our lives or in this world.

 Just as the Father and the Son are God, so too is the Holy Spirit.  He is often referred to as “the third person of the Trinity.”  The Bible reveals the existence of the Trinity, and I believe what the Bible says, but I can’t profess to you that I fully understand the Trinity.  My belief in the Trinity is an act of faith because there is nothing else in all creation that is exactly like the Trinity. 

 God is unique.  We have one God who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Spirit is God.  They exist in perfect union, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.

 One of the most common doctrinal errors I hear in the church is the mistake people often make by referring to the Holy Spirit by the wrong pronoun.  Many people mistakenly refer to Him as “it.”  If you call the Holy Spirit “it”, you’re demonstrating that you may not understand who He is.  The Holy Spirit is God, not just the power of God or the wisdom of God.  He is a person, not a thing.  Calling Him an “it” makes as much sense as calling your spouse, children, or best friend an “it.”  I highly doubt there’s anyone in your life who would appreciate that incorrect designation.

 When the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit, we’re told that He teaches, counsels, guides, directs, comforts, and intercedes in prayer for believers.  As a divine person, He possesses a personality.  He has an intellect.  He has emotions.  He has a will.

 The earthly ministry of Jesus was carried out in perfect union with the will of God the Father and the empowerment of God the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus approached the end of His earthly ministry, He made a point to tell His disciples that it was to their benefit that He was about to leave because when He left, God the Father would send the Holy Spirit to dwell with and inside all who trust in Jesus.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”  (John 14:15-17)

I love the ways Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit in this passage.  First of all, He refers to Him as a Helper.  Why did Jesus call the Spirit a Helper?  Jesus was telling us that the Spirit of God was going to actively help us live out the Christian life in the midst of this dark world.  The Holy Spirit helps us by comforting, counseling, and strengthening us.  In fact, He does even more than that, and as we continue digging deeper into what we read in Scripture, we’ll learn additional details of His ministry.

 But in practical terms, aren’t you grateful to know that you haven’t been left here on this planet without help?  If you’ve lived for any amount of time in this world, you’ve learned that there are various trials that will come your way or will affect the lives of those you love during different seasons of life.  In the past few days, I have learned of the death of a friend’s sibling, the unexpected passing of a child at another friend’s church, a family member who just lost his job, and people that we are very close to who are experiencing severe challenges in their marriage.

 In my own life, I’m experiencing a variety of challenges as well.  Some I consider minor, and others I consider major.  These challenges will come and go, and when they go, they will likely be replaced with new ones in an ongoing cycle until the day when I’m in the presence of Jesus.  But here’s what I know.  I don’t have to endure any of the challenges of life alone because the Holy Spirit lives within me.  He comforts me when I’m feeling beat up and discouraged.  He counsels me when I don’t know what to do.  He strengthens me so I can make it to the end of each day and then wake up to do battle yet again.

 If you know Jesus by faith, the Holy Spirit will do the same for you.  As Jesus said, the Spirit will be with you forever.

 Jesus also referred to the Holy Spirit as the, “Spirit of truth.”  I’m so grateful that the Holy Spirit helps us in this way.  In John 16:13, Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”  This world is filled with lies and deception, but the Holy Spirit helps us see through the lies.  He reveals truth to our hearts.

 One example of this that I think is particularly relevant during this era of history is how the Holy Spirit enables Christians to discern truth from error when it comes to some of the debates that ravage our culture.  It’s pretty obvious that there are various influences that are attempting to take our society in a satanic direction.  The biblical model for marriage, gender, and sexual behavior is under severe attack.  Social media apps and the entertainment culture are attempting to brainwash our children and desensitize them to become comfortable with immorality.  Corporations, media outlets, and governmental leaders have jumped on board as well.

 But what does the Spirit of truth do for us in dark moments like these?  He helps us to see through the lies.  I recently saw a post where a man expressed bewilderment online.  He wanted to know why Christians were the first people to be able to discern that something specific wasn’t true long before the truth came out publicly and long before the culture at large understood it.  The answer to his question is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God points our hearts toward the truth, and as Jesus said, the world “neither sees him nor knows him.”  We know Him.  He lives with us, and He helps us see what our natural eyes could never understand on their own.

 The Holy Spirit also helps us understand what we’re reading in God’s Word.  He inspired the Bible to be written and guided the pens of the human writers to write exactly what He wanted them to communicate.  And as we read God’s Word, He shows us things that can only be spiritually perceived.

 And if you want to know something rather curious that I have seen Him do, let me tell you what He often does when I’m preaching the Scriptures.  Many, many times throughout the course of my ministry of teaching and preaching God’s Word, people have approached me afterward, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately to express their thankfulness for something I said that they found very helpful.  When they tell me what it is, I often find myself scratching my head because I know what I said, but their hearts heard something else, or something in addition to the specific things I mentioned.  I believe many of those instances have been examples of the Holy Spirit pointing believers toward specific applications of the Scripture that will help them in their unique circumstances.

 If you’re ever in the position of preaching or teaching the Scriptures, whether from a pulpit, in a classroom, or in your own home, you may at times feel discouraged with how you feel it went.  You might feel like you could have said certain things more clearly or improved your presentation style in some other way.  Amazingly, the Holy Spirit has the habit of making great use out of some of our teaching moments that may have seemed useless to us.

 I will never forget a preaching experience I had toward the end of my college years.  At that season of life, I used to volunteer to speak whenever and wherever I found an open door because I felt called to do so, and I knew I needed practice before I entered full-time pastoral ministry.

 I had been invited to speak at a particular church, and I was warned ahead of time that they liked to end their services on time so people could leave the building precisely at noon.  As I started speaking, I noticed that most of the church looked very somber and serious.  They didn’t laugh at my jokes and didn’t give any other response during the service other than what seemed to me to be one big, collective, blank stare.  I was so discouraged as I spoke that I must have rushed through what I prepared to share that morning, and as I looked at the clock, I noticed that there was a lot of time left before noon.  There was no chance I was going to keep anyone late.

 I did the best I could to fill some of the remaining time with a personal testimony, then I ended the service feeling embarrassed and greatly discouraged.  When I got to the car, I said to my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time), “There’s no need to give me feedback on today’s message.  I already know it stunk and you don’t have to pretend it was good.”  She replied, “I honestly thought it was good, but I won’t say anything if you’d rather I not.”

 I kid you not, I heard about that specific message for the next year of my life.  I thought it was terrible, and from the human standpoint, it most likely was.  But the Holy Spirit made great use of the proclamation of God’s Word anyway.  Months later, I walked into a Christian bookstore and the cashier said, “I heard about the message you preached last August at the Franklin Street Church.  I wish I could have been there to hear it myself.”  A full year after that, an older pastor asked if he could ride with me to a conference.  He was coming from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania and asked if he could join me for the last leg of the trip to the conference in Maryland.  On the drive there he said, “I heard you preached a great message last year at the Franklin Street Church.”  I was shocked, but also comforted to get that feedback.  I’m certain I didn’t do a great job, but the Holy Spirit didn’t waste the proclamation of God’s Word.  He used it to speak to His people.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 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 14:25-26)

Jesus made it clear that the Holy Spirit would teach us the truth and would help us remember everything Jesus taught during His earthly ministry.  That’s just one of the things He does for us, but it’s so helpful to recognize that as a foundational truth of His ministry as we prepare to understand more about who He is and what He does.  He will help us understand the truth of who He is as we examine God’s Word together.

If you feel like your personal knowledge of who the Holy Spirit is and what He does for believers in Jesus Christ needs to be built up, you’re in for a treat.  In the coming weeks, we’re going to examine many things in Scripture that help us understand more about His nature, His ministry, and the mission He’s carrying out in our lives.

©  John Stange, 2023


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