The Holy Spirit, Revisited (Chapter 3): Who / What is the Holy Spirit?

Many people misunderstand what the Holy Spirit does and who the Holy Spirit is. We’ve considered what Jesus says John’s Gospel. Looking to Jesus we asked and answered the question, ‘What does Jesus say about The Holy Spirit?’ Now we look to The Holy Spirit to reveal more about Himself to us through key passages in Acts. We can learn a great deal about the people we meet by what they say, explicitly and implicitly, about themselves. But some will say, ‘Luke wrote Acts. How can you make such a statement?’ Some might reply to such a response, ‘Is that your final answer?’ We must remember that men wrote what they wrote in the Bible because they were carried along (inspired) by the Holy Spirit. They didn’t make up their own personal interpretations (2 Peter 1:20-21). All Scripture is inspired and useful to teach us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, we will seek to understand what The Holy Spirit has to say about Himself. As always, our goal is to avoid extremes, error, and confusion by learning balance from the Word of God, given to us through The Holy Spirit.  

 Consider the cultists and the spirit of error. If you’ve ever encountered a cultist you know the cultists tamper with the nature of God (Trinity), the Deity of Christ, and the personality (and deity) of The Holy Spirit. Members of the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society (the Jehovah’s Witnesses) believe that there is no Trinity (as do “Oneness Pentecostals” like T.D. Jakes). Jehovah Witnesses believe the Holy Spirit is a force, like the wind. They think the Holy Spirit is something like radiation. They see the Holy Spirit as a ‘thing’ or an ‘it.’ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) sees the Holy Spirit as one of three key earth gods who started out as a man and evolved through stages to godhood, before becoming an ‘exalted man.’ One television preacher stated God the Father is a person that has His own Trinity, God the Son is a person that has his own Trinity and God the Son is a person that has His own Trinity. He went onto say that there are nine members of the Trinity because even the Holy Spirit has His own Trinity.  He called this new revelation. Let’s stick to the Scriptures, the completed Bible, we have in our hands today. Does the Bible anywhere suggest, indicate, or imply God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit each have their own trinity? Nothing could be further from the truth. Does the Bible teach that the Holy Spirit is one of three key “earth gods?” Does the Bible say that the Holy Spirit is an “it” or a “force?” Where? There is nothing in the Bible supporting such notions. Let’s be wise, let’s be safe, by sticking with the Bible. Let’s stick with the revelation made more sure.

 Our aim is clarity. Our aim is to be clear on who the Holy Spirit is and understand with clarity how (and what) the Holy Spirit is.  Does the Bible say the Holy Spirit is God? Is the Holy Spirit a ‘thing,’ a force, an ‘it,’ or just what? The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it.’ We see this clearly and unmistakably in Acts 13:1-4.

1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Act 13:1-4)

What do we learn from this passage? The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it,’ like a rock or a force. He expresses Himself through intelligible speech: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said... (Acts 13:2)” Rocks do not speak. Radiation does not speak. Individuals and intelligent beings speak, making their desires and preferences understood and understandably known.  In our passage, The Holy Spirit clearly expresses His will, commands, and desires: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them (Acts 13:2)." Not to remind us of the painful years of grammar we studied in school or college, but the Holy Spirit is using personal pronouns like ‘me;’ ‘my;’ and ‘I.’ In so doing He shows us that  an intelligent being, He is self-aware, “set apart for Me.”

 Things, ‘it’s,’ and rocks do not express desire or exercise will. The Holy Spirit also expresses a desire or will: “Separate for Me...” Rocks, trees, and wind have neither a will nor a means to articulate a will, or desire, or course of action. These are aspects of personality. In Acts 13:4, The Holy Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul (later called Paul) on a mission He had for them:        “ 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus (Act 13:4).” What do we see here? The Holy Spirit exercises will and authority. He gives commands. He has a will. He’s not an “it” because He expresses traits of personality, like the faculty of will. Do rocks have a will? Trees? Radiation?

 Like a person rather than a place or thing, The Holy Spirit has emotions. A thoughtful reading of the Bible indicates that the Holy Spirit has emotions: “ 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).” Think about it. Can we make a rock, or the wind, feel sad—angry? Can you cause radiation to grieve? Do things have emotions? Remember that we are created in the image and likeness of God, we are like Him, possessing intelligence, will, and emotions. God created us in His image:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. (Genesis 5:1-2)

God has emotions. Human beings have emotions. The Holy Spirit has emotions. Jesus wept. God feels anger. You and I experience grief, as does the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). This may seem simple to you, but this is lost on the cultists. Still, many Christians often engage in the regrettable practice of calling Him “it.” The Holy Spirit is a personal being, an Individual. How can we say this?

 The Spirit reveals to us in the book of Acts that He senses and feels satisfaction. Does the wind do this? Does a rock do this? Does an ‘it’ do this? The Spirit reveals through the pen of Luke, in the book of Acts, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: (Act 15:28)” What’s going on here? Like us, created in His image and likeness, The Holy Spirit experiences satisfaction, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...”  The Holy Spirit has emotions, sensibilities, preferences, and intellect. We say He is like us. The reality is we are like Him since as human beings we were created in the image and likeness of God. Consequently, we are like Him in that we bear His image and likeness. We have traits of personality just as He does. He’s not an “it” and neither are we. We are individual beings with thoughts, wills, emotions, and desires: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements… (Act 15:28)”  

 The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ but a He. We have made it clear that the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ or a ‘thing.’ In fact, we have referred, several times now, to the Holy Spirit as ‘He.’ Can we truly say that the Holy Spirit is a He? Not to get too technical but the original Greek language in which the New Testament has three gender descriptions: feminine, masculine, and neuter. Biblical Greek is a language of precision. The gender utilized for the Holy Spirit is masculine. But you don’t have to be a Greek scholar (or a Greek amateur) to see this clearly in your English language Bible or even a Spanish language Bible. Returning to our previous discussion  of the Holy Spirit’s mission based out of John 14 and John 16, we read this: “ 26 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).”  The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and God the Son, calls the Holy Spirit a “He.”

 Count the ‘He’s,’ the ‘His’s,’ and the ‘Him’s’ in the following passage. What do they indicate?

7 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. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-14)

 The Holy Spirit is a He, not an ‘it---or even a ‘her.’ Rocks don’t have genders. Wind doesn’t have a gender and forces don’t have genders. However, individual beings do have genders. The Holy Spirit (like God the Father and God the Son) is a ‘He.’ This is how He describes Himself, in John 16:7-14, as He writes through the pen of the Apostle John (and is described by Jesus Christ).

 Along these lines, have you ever tried to insult a thing, a rock, the wind, or a force? You can’t. An ‘it’ can’t be offended because they are neither conscious nor self-aware. An ‘it’ can’t be insulted because an ‘it’ lacks personality. An ‘it’ like a stone or radiation is unthinking. Persons on the other hand (beings with identity, sensitivity, and understanding) can be insulted. This is another reason why the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it.’ Jesus tells us as much in this famous and famously frightening passage.

28 "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"-- 30 for they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit (Mark 3:28-30).”

Among other things, ‘blaspheme’ (the act of blasphemy) speaks to slandering, insulting, or offending.  Can you or I insult a rock? Can we offend the wind? Can we speak against a force as if it were an individual with an individual will? 

 The Holy Spirit has thoughts, will, expresses Himself, and gives commands. The Holy Spirit has desires and preferences. This is what we have seen so far. The Holy Spirit expresses Himself intelligently. He refers to Himself (Me, My, etc.). For lack of a better term, He has feelings (He can be grieved by what we do). He also has a gender. No one, using the Bible, can produce a shred of evidence that the Holy Spirit is an ‘it’ or a ‘thing.’

 The Holy Spirit isn’t just a being: He’s God. Earlier we alluded to and discussed the Holy Spirit being of the same nature and essence as Jesus and God the Father. Jesus promised not to leave His followers as orphans but to send another helper of the same kind (John 14:28). Jesus promised to send another helper, like Him, to replace Him because Jesus was going to the Father. “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17).” Does this imply Deity or Godhood? Can we really say that the Holy Spirit is God, regardless of what the Jehovah Witnesses say? Does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit being God? Where does the Bible say the Holy Spirit is God? Perhaps the simplest and most straightforward place is in Acts 5:1-5:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  (Acts 5:1-5)

Here the Apostle Peter refers to the Holy Spirit as God by telling Ananias that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God.  The deity of the Holy Spirit, the God-ness of the Holy Spirit, goes hand in hand with our earlier discussion of Acts 13: 1-4:

1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4)

How does this come close to implying or affirming the deity of the Holy Spirit? As they were fasting and praying, during a time of worship, God the Holy Spirit spoke to them about sending Barnabas and Saul (later Paul) out as missionaries. They were addressing God and God the Holy Spirit addressed them. Things like rocks or ‘its’ do not respond to us in God’s place.

 Moreover, Jesus Christ gave the Holy Spirit equal prominence with the Father and Himself. Jesus is God the Son. Jesus gave instructions for baptism in Matthew 28:19. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19).” Notice a couple of things: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share equality and, apparently, a common ‘name’ or character. Jesus did not say, “God and baptize in the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Here Jesus gives the Holy Spirit (and Himself) equal billing with God the Father.  

The Holy Spirit was present at creation before any living being was created. Being coeternal, He was with God the Father and God the Son at creation.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:1-4)

Where is Jesus Christ in the creation accounts? Colossians 1: 15-16 tell us that Christ is the Creator:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:15-16).

 John 1:3 tells also reminds us that there is nothing made that Jesus didn’t make.  So, we know that Christ the Creator participated in the creation and the Spirit of God was there with Him, like Jesus was “with” (alongside) the Father in John 1:1 and is and was God.

The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ but a ‘He.’ He’s not a thing but a Person. The Holy Spirit expresses opinion, desires, feelings, and gives commands. He refers to Himself (‘I’). He can be grieved and insulted (blasphemed). The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it.’ The Holy Spirit is God. Can this be so? Are we overreaching?

As we noted in Acts 5:1-4, lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. Elsewhere, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as another helper like Jesus, having the same divine nature, essence, and Godhood. Jesus ranks the Holy Spirit alongside Himself and God the Father in the baptism command. The Holy Spirit is equally God with the Father and Jesus. We see the Holy Spirit present alongside Jesus in Creation, where the Spirit is hovering over the face of the waters.  We see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit present at Jesus’ baptism descending like a dove in what some refer to as Jesus’ “theocratic anointing” as Messiah. There is no way anyone can say that the Holy Spirit is an ‘it,’ a ‘force,’ or something or someone other than God. Because the Holy Spirit is God, how then shall we live in response to this truth?

 What do we do with all this truth, teaching, and information? How do we respond? If it just resides in our heads it becomes little more than head knowledge and a little knowledge puffs up and not much more. However, if it travels to our heart and takes root, then this information should both encourage us and move us to action, transforming the way we think and live. How?

Ideas for Application

Let’s determine to make some significant adjustments to our behavior. Remember when we discussed praying for the Holy Spirit’s illumination to understand and apply this Word, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalms 119:18).” Open your eyes and your mind to what you’ve read and learned. Let it sink in.

 Let’s be careful how we refer to Him, not it. As you have studied His Word, remember that you have learned that the Holy Spirit is God, not an ‘it.’ Therefore, adjust your language in recognition that it is not appropriate to refer to Him as an ‘it.’ Often this is hard because we tend to refer to people by familiar names: Jim, Raul, Margarita; etc. Men, would you refer to your wife as an 'it?' Ladies, would you refer to your husband as an 'it '(avoid the temptation of humor here)? Your children and your parents? Of course not. Would you refer to Jesus as ‘it?’ Would you refer to God the Father is ‘it?’ Don’t refer to the Holy Spirit as ‘it.’ Change your speech. This may seem small but try referring to your spouse as 'it.' You’ll quickly be encouraged to change your language. Should we do less for God?

Carefully consider your own habits and practices.  What do we mean by this? Later we will study and learn about what it means to be Temples of the Holy Spirit. We’ve already learned that Jesus promised (and this has come to pass) that the Holy Spirit will both be with us and in us forever. Realize, therefore, that the Holy Spirit sees what you see, He hears what you hear, understands what you are thinking, and goes where you go. So, what?  Consider “The Grandma Test:” “Would I subject my Grandma to this?” Would I subject my Grandma to this kind of language? Would I want my Grandma to see this kind of film with me, or see me there? Would I want my Grandma to know the sort of thoughts I am thinking? What about God the Holy Spirit who is with you and in you forever? Think of the things you see, feel, say, and do. Think of the places, music, and sights you see. If you would be ashamed, uneasy, or uncomfortable taking your grandmother there---why subject God the Holy Spirit (whose Temple you are) to these same things? Have you ever thought about this? Maybe it’s time to stop desecrating His temple. If you wouldn’t take Grandma to these places, don’t subject the Holy Spirit of God to them.

As you seek to embrace changes, ask God the Holy Spirit for help. Change can be difficult. Ask Him to tell you what needs to change in your thoughts and to convict your mind and heart of these things as you read His Word and before you do them (again). Ask Him to convict you concerning sin and righteousness. Ask God the Holy Spirit to help you internalize and apply what you’ve read and understood so that you can pass it all on to others.

Take time to read, pray and ask for the Spirit’s help as you pursue growth. Remember that you have a Helper who will never leave you. Jesus has not left you and me as orphans but has seen to it that the Father has sent us Another Helper, like Him, in His name to guide us into all truth as we face the trials, difficulties, slings, and arrows of this life. You are not alone!

Keith Crosby