“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
The Holy Who? If we are honest with ourselves, this is the way many of us, even Christians, feel when the subject of the Holy Spirit comes up in a conversation, a sermon, or—yes—an article like this one. We are familiar with “our Father, which art in heaven” and we all know that Jesus is the One that died for us on the cross… but the Holy Spirit, rather than being a person or even a concept to us, is more like a “ghost” (isn’t He even called that sometimes?) in our minds, than He is God.
We see the importance and power of God the Father because His Majesty is splashed all over the Old Testament. We appreciate the role of God the Son because the entire New Testament is relentlessly devoted to the subject of His person and work. But the Holy Spirit? Who is He exactly? How are we to understand Him? What does He mean to us?
Would it surprise you to know that as a Christian, whether you realize it or not, you are actually most familiar with the Holy Spirit? That He is the one person of the Godhead with Whom you are most experienced? Almost like a baby in the womb that has been in constant contact and communion with the emotions, health, and experiences of his mother—to the point that he is never really outside, untouched, or uninfluenced by her—we are, from the moment we are given spiritual life, in communion with the Holy Spirit of God. But, like that baby, we do not always have a fully developed concept of the One to whom we are so vitally connected.
Our joyful task, then, is perhaps not so much to grow in our knowledge of the Holy Spirit—we know Him intimately already (John 14:17)—as it is to grow in our experience with the Holy Spirit and our appreciation for His sustaining, closer-than-we-can-imagine presence. We want to grow in our recognition of this Person who gives us life, sustains our life and affects our life on a daily basis.
He Is God
Although many of us have only a vague outline of the Holy Spirit in our minds, it is not because He is absent, or even infrequently mentioned, in the Bible. He enters the scene in Genesis 1:2, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” and is prevalent throughout the Bible, even into the last chapter of Revelation: the Spirit and the bride say, “Come” (22:17).
The Old Testament saints recognized the Spirit’s vital role in their lives. David credits the Spirit with creation: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:26) and recognized the Spirit’s omnipresence: “Where shall I go from your Spirit?” (Psalm 139:7). Moses was commanded by God to anoint Joshua as a leader of Israel because Joshua was “a man in whom is the Spirit” (Numbers 27:18). It was “the Spirit of the Lord” who gave extraordinary strength to Samson, to Jephthah, and to Othniel in the book of Judges. In Nehemiah 9, Ezra thanks God for all His blessings toward Israel and says in verse 20, “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.”
Through Haggai the prophet, God spoke comfort to His people: “My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not” (2:5), and Isaiah prophesies of the coming Messiah that “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (11:2).
In the New Testament, such almighty actions are ascribed to the Holy Spirit that we can only say it would be blasphemy to attribute them to anyone but God. It was because of the Holy Spirit, “the power of the Most High,” came upon Mary that the baby who was born of her was called “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). It was “through the eternal Spirit” that Christ offered himself to God for our sins (Hebrews 9:14). After His crucifixion and death, Jesus Christ was resurrected by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18). Holy men of God were infallibly inspired to write the Scriptures “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). It was the Spirit who led Philip to the Eunuch, and Peter to Cornelius (Acts 8:29; 11:12).
But even considering all of these marvels of the Holy Spirit, it is perhaps still difficult for us to feel the same affection for the Holy Spirit that we do for the other persons of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit always comes last in the list and always seems to have the least said about Him. It is relatively easy for us to relate to God as our Father, or to picture Jesus being scourged and crucified for our sins but what part does the Spirit play in our salvation?
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit’s role in our salvation is just as important, just as vital as the work of either of the other persons of the Trinity. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
We are not putting it too strongly when we say that, if it were not for the work of the Holy Spirit, we would not be saved; in fact, until the Spirit comes into in our hearts, we are not saved. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Perhaps you, like Nicodemus, wonder how this birth takes place? Everyone that is given spiritual life is born by the Spirit, as He moves according to His own timing and purpose (John 3:8). Not only that, after we trust in Christ and believe the gospel of our salvation, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). We are also taught that it is the Spirit of God whom we can thank for our hope of being resurrected from the dead one day because Romans 8:11 declares that our bodies will be resurrected by the Spirit.
He Is a Person
You can see, then, that the Holy Spirit is a precious part of the Trinity. But we cannot even stop there: we must come to see and love Him as the third person of the Trinity. He is not just some impersonal “force” that is working on us, nor is He simply an attribute of God — He is God!
Remember when you first felt that thrill of realization that the Bible was true and that He was for you? That was the Holy Spirit speaking to you. Have you ever been in need of strength in the midst of a great trial, and suddenly felt your soul flooded with peace that surpassed your ability to understand? That was the Spirit filling you. Have you ever talked with God? That was the Spirit communing with you. Have you ever not even known what to say to God? You just wept or groaned or whimpered in His presence? That was the Spirit, making intercession for you.
Did you know that the Bible ascribes some of our most precious spiritual realities to the Holy Spirit? Your direction and leadership from God is the work of the Spirit: “those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14). Your assurance of salvation comes from the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). Your prayers to God are in the Spirit: “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). Even your love for the Father is due to the working of the Spirit: “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him, we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
He Is In You
The analogy with which we began—of a baby in its mother’s womb—is not inaccurate in its implications: in the New Testament, we are actually said to be “in the Spirit” or to act “by the Spirit” at least as often as we are reminded that the Spirit is “in us.” Galatians 5:25 states that we live by the Spirit. As a result, we are encouraged to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), love in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8), make plans in the Spirit (Acts 19:21), and worship God in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3).
It is also true that the Spirit of God is in us; in fact, He lives there only if we are His children! Romans 8:9 expresses this simultaneous “enveloping” by the Spirit: “You are … in the Spirit if in fact, the Spirit of God dwells in you”. Similarly, 1 John 4:13 tells us that “we abide in him and he in us.”
The composite picture, then, is one of being completely engulfed, permeated, and indwelt by the Spirit of God. The inevitable conviction of this reality should cause us to desire not to grieve the Spirit of God, that holy Person that is in us (and we in Him). As Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Apparently, Paul could think of no greater motivation to holiness than the Holy Spirit’s personal, intimate, powerful presence with us.
God became one of us in the person of Jesus, who is Immanuel. And God continues with us, as Jesus himself reminds us, through the ongoing ministry of the Spirit in our lives, now and forever: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Spirit of God is the eternal answer, from the Father to Jesus’ prayers for you.