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Who is the Holy Spirit?


According to the "2020 State of Theology Survey" by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research, 32% of evangelicals strongly agree that the Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being. I respectfully disagree!

During a sermon titled "Misconceptions of the Holy Spirit" (January 25, 2017), Dr. John MacArthur said the following:

"There is no more maligned, no more misunderstood, no more misrepresented, no more insulted, no more dishonored, and no more blasphemed member of the Trinity in our contemporary church culture than the Holy Spirit, and we sort of give a free pass to people. But we need to rethink that, because the Holy Spirit is God."

The Holy Spirit is God. He is the third person of the triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He co-exists throughout all eternity with the Father and the Son.

Action and Reaction

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." While some churches emphasize manifestations of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and miraculous healings, other churches have veered away from teaching about the Holy Spirit for fear of sounding charismatic. These churches acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune God and plays a role in salvation but would rarely go beyond this. In order to not even discuss the Holy Spirit, they would refer to Jesus in the sense that He is the Spirit. Many people who grew up in these churches know about the Father and the Son but have little to no idea who the Holy Spirit is!

Speaking in tongues and miraculous healings performed by the apostles were limited to the apostolic age - the first century church. "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (2nd Corinthians 12:12). There are no true apostles today but there are many false apostles. "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2nd Corinthians 11:13-14). Since there are no true apostles today, there is no need to authenticate who they are and the gospel that they preached by signs, wonders, and miracles. We have the completed, written word of God in numerous languages and available in different formats. Peter, who had something to boast about (2nd Peter 1:16-18) wrote "So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2nd Peter 1:19-21).

The Holy Spirit is a Real Person

The first Star Wars movie released in 1977 introduced the world to the phrase "May the Force be with you." This force was some sort of metaphysical power capable of being wielded for good or evil. Unfortunately, over a third of evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, power, or some form of abstract energy. The Lord proclaimed to the prophet Zechariah, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). There is a clear contrast in this verse between the person of the Holy Spirit and some abstract, impersonal power. Jesus commissioned His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). There is one God, one name, three persons – Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament the word "spirit" in Hebrew is rûaḥ and in the New Testament its Greek counterpart is pneuma. The basic meaning of this word is "the expulsion of wind of breath, the idea of air in motion, the presence of energy and activity." Job 1:19 speaks of "a great wind (rûaḥ)" that "came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house." Jesus said in John 3:8 "The wind (pneuma) blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going."

"The Spirit of God is more than energy or even simply divine energy in activity but God extending Himself in active engagement within his creation in a personal way.” - Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: The Doctrines of Man, Sin, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, vol. 2 (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 245.

We see a great example of God's engagement with His creation in Genesis 1:1-2 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters."

The Holy Spirit Possesses Self-Existent Life

In John 7:38-39 Jesus spoke of the Spirit in terms of an inexhaustible supply of "living water" that flows from the believer - “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

In Romans 8:1-13 Paul spoke of two human states: saved (those who are in the Spirit) and unsaved (those who are in the flesh). The flesh is equated with death and the Spirit with life. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:1-2).

The Holy Spirit Possesses Intelligence

Human intelligence is comprised of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

The Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God - "For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God" (1st Corinthians 2:11).

The Holy Spirit distributes the gift of wisdom and the word of knowledge individually, as He wills, to members of the body of Christ - "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit." (1st Corinthians 12:7-8).

The Holy Spirit intercedes for believers because He knows the will of God and God knows the mind of the Spirit - "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27).

The theocratic anointing of the future righteous branch, the shoot of Jesse, the Messiah, underscores the Spirit’s capacity of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

"Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,

And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,

The spirit of wisdom and understanding,

The spirit of counsel and strength,

The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD"

(Isaiah 11:1-2).

Personal Emotions of the Holy Spirit and Actions toward Him as a Person

"Only personal beings can react to other people and situations in ways that are not mechanical or behavioristic. As well, only personalities can be treated in ways that inflict emotional and/or rational pain and other implications." - Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: The Doctrines of Man, Sin, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, vol. 2 (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 251.

The Holy Spirit is capable of love. Paul urged the Roman believers "by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Romans 15:30).

The Holy Spirit can be

  • Blasphemed - "And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him" (Luke 12:10).

  • Grieved - "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30).

  • Insulted - "How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29).

  • Lied to - "But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?" (Acts 5:3)

  • Obeyed - "While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. “But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” (Acts 10:19-21).

  • Quenched - "Do not quench the Spirit" (1st Thessalonians 5:19).

  • Resisted - "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did" (Acts 7:51).

  • Tested - "Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well" (Acts 5:9).

Actions of the Holy Spirit

The list of the ways the Holy Spirit acts is endless. Here are few examples of how the Spirit acts.

  • He baptizes - "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1st Corinthians 12:13).

  • He comforts -"So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase" (Acts 9:31).

  • He commands - "While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2).

  • He convicts - "And He (the Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8).

  • He gifts believers - "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1st Corinthians 12:4-7).

  • He gives life - "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8:11).

  • He guides - "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14).

  • He intercedes - "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).

  • He sanctifies - "to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16).

  • He searches - "For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God" (1st Corinthians 2:10).

  • He teaches - "which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (1st Corinthians 2:13).

  • He testifies - "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16).

Personal Pronouns

Besides being called the Holy Spirit, indicating His holy character, there are other pronouns used throughout the scriptures that define who the Spirit is.

  • Advocate/Comforter/Helper - “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever" (John 14:16).

  • Spirit of Christ - "seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow" (1st Peter 1:11).

  • Spirit of God - “And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship" (Exodus 35:31).

  • Spirit of Grace - “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn" (Zechariah 12:10).

  • Spirit of Jesus - "They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them" (Acts 16:6-7).

  • Spirit of the living God - "being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2nd Corinthians 3:3)

  • Spirit of the Lord - "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18).

  • Spirit of Truth - “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come" (John 16:13).

The Holy Spirit is Associated with the Father and the Son

In Genesis chapter 1 we learn:

  • "God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

  • "The Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water" (Genesis 1:2).

  • "God said, let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26).

Although we don't explicitly see any mention of the Father and the Son in these passages, it is clear that God consists of a plurality of persons as indicated by the words "Us" and "Our". One of those persons is "The Spirit of God."

The Holy Spirit is present with the Father and the Son during the baptism of Jesus - "Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased" (Luke 3:21-22).

Baptism of believers is performed "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). "The word "name" is something inseparable from the person to whom it belongs, something of his essence, and therefore in the case of God, especially sacred." - Alexander Souter, A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1917), 176.

The apostle Paul connects the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son in the following passage - "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (2nd Corinthians 1:21-22). He also connects the triunity of God to our adoption as sons - "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6). At the close of his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul gives this benediction - "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2nd Corinthians 13:14).

The apostle Peter wrote to the scattered believers "who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure" (1st Peter 1:1-2).

Jude writes this in his closing exhortation - "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life" (Jude 20-21).


The Bible is very clear in teaching that the Holy Spirit is a person, not some impersonal force, power, or some kind of abstract energy. Those that make such claims are either untaught in the scriptures, spiritually blind, or heretics. Churches that shy away from teaching about the Holy Spirit for fear of sounding charismatic are robbing their congregations of knowing who He is, His deity, His work and presence throughout the Old and New Testaments, His relationship with believers, and His role and work in the church.

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth"

2nd Timothy 2:15

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.

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