Who Is the Holy Spirit?
When it comes to building a strong foundation in our spiritual lives, there is no better place to start than with God Himself. According to Scripture, there is a single God who manifests Himself in three distinct persons. The most mysterious and most frequently misunderstood person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit.Back to Top
The Importance of Following God's Code
In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, a reporter discovered one house standing firm on its foundation amid the devastation and debris. "Sir," the reporter asked the owner, "why is your house the only one still standing?"
"Well sir," the man replied, "I built this house by myself. I built it according to the Florida State building code. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane, so I did, and it did! I suppose no one else around here followed the code."
Tragically, many people today are not following the code as laid out in God's Word, the Bible. Yes, we may be braced for the more obvious sins of life. Yet we may be completely oblivious to the more subtle sins of deception and false teaching that are so prevalent in the so-called new spirituality today—and even in many of our churches.
This is why it is important to know the foundations of our Christian faith. We are, for all practical purposes, studying theology! The Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, gave this warning, years ago: "If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones."
The apostle Paul reminded young Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:16).
When Jesus walked on the earth, He guided and taught His disciples. They could talk and listen to Him, gaze upon Him, and even reach out and touch Him. But on the day Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples that He would lead and guide them in an entirely new way—through the Holy Spirit (John 16: 7–15).Back to Top
The Person and Nature of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete in the original Greek, which literally means "one called alongside to help." He is here for you—and He wants to do a wonderful work in your life (see John 14:16–18). He wants to seal, guide, empower, and fill you, time and time again. Yet, there is a great deal of misunderstanding concerning His role and working in the lives of both believers and nonbelievers.
Some have wrongly assumed that the Spirit is more of a spirit than a person. That is probably due in part to descriptions of Him in Scripture as being like the wind or a fire, or as coming on Jesus in the form of a dove. Yet, this must be balanced with the rest of Scripture.
In the New Testament, Jesus referred to Himself as "the Bread of Life" and "the Door." The Bible also refers to God as "a Refuge" and "a Consuming Fire," as well as one who will protect us "under His wings." Does that mean that Jesus is a loaf of bread or a door? Does that imply that God the Father is a pile of rocks, a blast furnace, or a giant bird in heaven? Of course not! In the same way, those descriptions of the Holy Spirit do not mean that He is simply some sort of force or power. In order to be considered a person, a being must possess three characteristics: intelligence, will, and emotion. The Holy Spirit displays all three.
The Holy Spirit has intelligence.
"But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10–11).
Paul tells us that the Spirit "knows the things of God." Only a person with intelligence can actually know things. A fire does not know things, nor does a plant or a tree. But the Holy Spirit does.
The Holy Spirit has a will.
"But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing [gifts] to each one individually as He wills" (1 Corinthians 12:11). It is the Holy Spirit who decides what kind of spiritual gifts each believer should receive.
Other Scriptural evidences of the Holy Spirit's will include Acts 15:28, when the apostles prefaced their judgment on a question of church doctrine by saying, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit." In addition, the Holy Spirit has shown His will in setting apart people for the Lord's service (Acts 13:2). Only persons with a will are able to communicate this way.
The Holy Spirit has emotion.
"But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? … You have not lied to men but to God'" (Acts 5:3–4).
Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit can be grieved, quenched, resisted, blasphemed, and—as this passage attests—even lied to. This passage, found in the account of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5:1–11, also clearly states that the Holy Spirit is God.
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Sins against the Holy Spirit
The Bible warns of six sins one can commit against the Holy Spirit. Some of them can only be committed by nonbelievers, while others could be committed by believers.
A believer can lie to the Holy Spirit.
Lying to the Holy Spirit means to pretend to be something you are not—to go through the motions of living the Christian life without really meaning it in your heart of hearts. "These people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me" (Isaiah 29:13).
A believer can grieve the Holy Spirit.
Grieving the Holy Spirit means to make sad or sorrowful. When we allow bitterness to poison our lives or we slander others, we are grieving the Holy Spirit. "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice" (Ephesians 4:30–31).
A believer can quench the Holy Spirit.
Quenching suggests extinguishing a fire. Unbelief can certainly hinder the working and moving of God's Holy Spirit (see Mark 6:4–5). This sin is also committed when the Holy Spirit leads you to do a certain thing (share your faith, pray more, take a step of faith) and you flatly refuse. "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
A nonbeliever can resist the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit seeks to speak to the heart of the unbeliever and lead him to God. There are those who are convinced of the truth of the gospel, yet who refuse to yield their hearts to God. "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51). These words were spoken by the early Christian martyr Stephen to the unbelieving Sanhedrin shortly before his death.
A nonbeliever can insult the Holy Spirit.
It is the office of the Holy Spirit to present the saving work of Jesus Christ to the unsaved. A person insults the love of God by saying that he does not really need God's gift of salvation, or by insisting that Christ's death on the cross was unnecessary or unable to save him. To resist the Spirit's appeal is to insult God and to cut off all hope of salvation. "Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29).
A nonbeliever can blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
"Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:31–32).
This is the most serious offense against the Holy Spirit, for there is no forgiveness for the person who commits it. The work of the Spirit is to convict us of sin and bring us to Jesus Christ. To blaspheme Him is similar to insulting, in that we resist His work altogether. This should not be the concern of any Christian, for this is not a sin he can or will commit.
The Holy Spirit's Plan (Purpose) for Your Life
"Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:5–6).
Instead of lying to, grieving, quenching, or insulting and resisting the Holy Spirit, we should allow Him to freely work in our lives.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin.
The Holy Spirit convicts, or convinces, the world of sin by producing in people a sense of guilt and wrongdoing. He uses this conviction to cause nonbelievers to see their need for Jesus Christ. Some well-meaning but misguided believers turn to—pressure tactics—to lead someone to the Lord. Yet, we can actually hinder the process of conversion when we interfere with the Holy Spirit's work in this way. Only the Holy Spirit can prepare a person's heart for conversion.
What happens to those who resist the Holy Spirit's conviction? We often hear that good people go to heaven, while bad people go to hell. Yet John 16:8–9 clearly shows that goodness or badness is not the determining factor. A person's eternal destiny is not so much a sin question as it is the Son question.
The worst possible sin is to ignore the Holy Spirit's conviction and to refuse to believe in Jesus. Once we have heard the gospel, knowledge brings responsibility. Jesus said, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:22).
The Holy Spirit will convict a person for only so long. When a person no longer feels any guilt or remorse for his or her sin, it is an indication that this person is no longer under the Spirit's conviction. By refusing to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, this individual is calling the Holy Spirit a liar, and he stands condemned (John 3:36; 1 John 5:10).
The Holy Spirit convinces the world of righteousness.
Before a person can totally appreciate the incredible love of God, he must first see his own utter depravity and desperate need for a righteous Savior. To the proud, self-confident person who thinks that he does not need Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes with His convicting, convincing power and sets him straight (John 16:10). Our own righteousness will never meet God's requirements (Matthew 5:20). Without Christ, the Holy Spirit shows us that we are unrighteous and therefore unable to "inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9).
The Holy Spirit convinces the world of judgment.
Jesus is not speaking of some future judgment, but of a judgment that has already taken place. The prince of this world (Satan) was judged when Jesus went to the cross of Calvary and died in our place. Satan essentially lost the power he had over us to tempt us to do what was against God. The Holy Spirit wants us to be aware of this great truth (John 16:11).
The Holy Spirit stops the wholesale spread of evil.
The Holy Spirit's work through the church is a restraining force in the world today. While we see an escalation in wanton, senseless violence and an increasing disregard for human life in our culture today, it is nothing compared to what the world will see in the last days when Jesus takes His church out of this world.
"For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way" (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Once the Holy Spirit's unique work through the church ceases (He will still work but not quite in the way we see it now), and no longer restrains evil, the powers of darkness will take over.
The Holy Spirit uses believers to restrain evil.
Believers act as salt. Salt was a preservative in ancient times. To be salt means to stand up for what is right and true and to stop the rampant spread of evil in our culture. Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men" (Matthew 5:13).
Believers act as light. To be light means to be a witness to others through the good works that we do, to glorify God. It is also to let others know of our faith in Jesus Christ. The proclamation of the gospel is the most effective defensive and offensive weapon in our spiritual arsenal. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
The Holy Spirit brings about the work of conversion.
As part of the wonderful process of conversion, the Holy Spirit personally gives us the assurance that Jesus Christ has come into our lives (Romans 8:16), and He indwells us, taking up residence in our hearts (1 Corinthians 3:16). It is the work of the Holy Spirit that gives us eternal life in the kingdom of God (John 3:5; 6:63).
The Holy Spirit seals us.
Scripture tells us that once we believed in Christ, we "were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13). This description alludes to the royal seal of a king, used in ancient times. Anything stamped with the king's seal signified a unique mark of ownership. In the same way, God has put His royal seal upon us: the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. When the devil comes to make havoc of our lives, he is stopped cold by that seal of ownership.
The Holy Spirit is also called the "guarantee of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:14). Much like putting money down to hold a piece of merchandise until you can make full payment, God gives us the deposit—or down payment—of the Holy Spirit to show that He means business! He guarantees our future inheritance: eternal life in heaven with Him.
The Holy Spirit teaches us.
As we read and study Scripture, the Holy Spirit can give us incredible insights into what God's Word says and means to us today (John 14:26). While some passages can be difficult to grasp, the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scripture can illuminate its words for our benefit (1 Corinthians 2:13). He may also bring verses to mind when you are ministering to a fellow believer, giving that person a greater understanding of the Bible.
The Holy Spirit helps us to pray.
Many times we are disappointed when God does not answer our prayers the way that we want. Some will even abandon their relationship with Him and give up altogether. Perhaps we do not understand the true objective of prayer: Prayer is not a means by which you change the mind or will of God—it is a means by which God changes you!
True prayer moves in a cycle: It begins in the heart of God, with His purposes and desires. God then places those desires in your heart. Then you express those desires back to God in prayer.
As God's Word says, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Your prayer life will become more in tune with God's will as you abide more in Him and allow His Holy Spirit to be at home in your heart (John 15:7). And for those times when you don't know how to pray—when all you can do is utter a simple groan—the Holy Spirit will intercede on your behalf (Romans 8:26–27).
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The Holy Spirit's Plan Brings You Closer to God
Just think, the Holy Spirit has converted, assured, and sealed you, all the while continuing to teach you and help you in your prayers. The Holy Spirit is your Helper, Teacher, and Comforter. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22–23). So rejoice! There is more in your spiritual checking account than you may have thought.Back to Top
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version™. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ™. NIV ™. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by biblical, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.