The Person of the Holy Spirit

THEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS. Besides the “charismatic” issues regarding the work of the Spirit, the more pertinent theological issues relative to the Holy Spirit are the doctrine of the Trinity, whether the Scriptures present the Spirit as a person and distinct from the Father and the Son. The deity and distinction of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity will be covered under the section Names, Titles and Types of the Spirit.

Man, created in the image and likeness of God, is both material and immaterial. Christ distinguished between the body and the soul of man (Matthew 10:28) and Paul spoke of man consisting of spirit, soul and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). In this life, the immaterial self is inseparably related to the material body; what affects one affects the other. At death, the immaterial (spirit and soul) separates from the body and returns to the Creator to either enter Heaven or Hades; the body returns to the dust. The Holy Spirit, however, is the immaterial Person of the Godhead, who indwells believers in this present age.

In early church history, Arius denied the Person of the Holy Spirit, claiming the spirit was only an influence emanating from the Father. The Council of Nicea, A.D. 325, condemned Arius, whose teaching continues in Unitarianism and the cults, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381) added to the Nicene Creed a statement on the Holy Spirit, saying, “The Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father, who, with the Father and Son together, is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.” This doctrine is called filoque, which means “and Son.” This statement immediately antagonized the Eastern Church, which thought the Western Church tampered with the Nicene Creed without consulting the whole church. This change of doctrine was one of the major causes for the division of East and West in 1054. The Greek Church has continued to this day its stand declaring the Western doctrine a heresy.

The Reformation brought about an emphasis on the doctrine of illumination—the Holy Spirit revealing the teaching of the Word of God. But the work of the Holy Spirit was not a key doctrine of the Reformation. The Westminster Confession affirmed the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, as do other confessions. However, the Westminster Confession (1646) removed the process of salvation and sanctification from any part of man’s doing, making it entirely the work of the Spirit as to persuading and enabling faith, as well as persuading and enabling obedience—a basic tenet of Reformed Theology. This confession was a response to the Arminian doctrine regarding man having a free will to respond positively or negatively to the Spirit’s ministry. Reformed and Arminian theologies hold that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Godhead.

Rationalism for the most part nullified any progress in the study of the Holy Spirit. The influence of Scheiermacher (1768-1834), who denied the personality of the Holy Spirit, did much to undermine any sound theology that remained. The deists of the eighteenth century had explained the relation of a good God to an evil world by the postulate that God was transcendent, that the world set in motion by God was not under His direct control. Liberalism led to a denial of the supernatural and supernatural revelation was reduced to human discovery.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the impact of D. L. Moody’s ministry revived the church’s attention to the power of the Holy Spirit. However, the arrival of the twentieth century witnessed another decline in attention to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In the second half of the century, Pentecostal and Charismatic movements breathed some new life into the study of the Holy Spirit.

Many cannot conceive of a person (a spirit being) existing in human beings. Consequently, the Holy Spirit is viewed by some as an abstract influence or power, much like electricity from a storage battery, instead of being a person of the Godhead. This idea primarily arises from one of Jesus’ promises of the Spirit.

And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49 KJV).

Instead of viewing “power from on high” as a work of the Spirit, some understand this phrase as a description of the Spirit. However, when Jesus promised His sending of the Spirit, He used personal, masculine pronouns for the Spirit.

When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father—He will testify about Me (John 15:26).

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come (John 16:13).

He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you (John 16:14-15).

In the preceding verses, “Spirit” (neuma pneuma) is a nominative singular neuter noun, yet John (Christ) employed as its antecedent the demonstrative nominative masculine singular pronoun “He” (ekeinov ekeinos). John does not make this grammatical combination elsewhere in his Gospel. Hence, the mixing of a neuter noun with a masculine antecedent pronoun must be considered intentional to convey the fact that Jesus was referring to a person, not an influence or power.

The Spirit referred to Himself as a person.

While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him, “Three men are here looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and accompany them with no doubts at all, because I have sent them” (Acts 10:20).

As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work that I have called them to” (Acts 13:2).

What makes a person a person? It is a false assumption to think that perfect personality resides in humans. God alone is a perfect person, infinite in His being. God is not in the image of man; man is in the image of God. Yet, we can glean from man attributes of personality, which are eightfold:

1. Living
2. Intelligent
3. Purposive
4. Active
5. Free
6. Self-conscious
7. Emotional
8. Spirit

These eight attributes are present in the personal attributes and activities ascribed to the Spirit.

1. He searches all things and reveals the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
2. He exercises His Will (John 3:8; 1 Corinthians 12:11)
3. He bestows wisdom, understanding, counsel and power (Isaiah 11:2; Micah 3:8; Acts 10:38; Romans 15:13; Ephesians 3:16)
4. He speaks (Mark 13:11; Acts 13:2
5. He reveals (Luke 2:26; 1 Peter 1:11)
6. He guides into all truth (John 16:13)
7. He teaches (Luke 12:12; John 14:26)
8. He comforts, counsels, helps and loves the believer (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Romans 15:30; James 4:5).
9. He encourages (Acts 9:31)
10. He convicts (John 16:8)
11. He intercedes (Romans 8:26)
12. He commands (Acts 8:29; 13:2, 4; 16:6)
13. He can be obeyed (Acts 10)
14. He testifies to Christ (John 15:26)
15. He warns (1 Timothy l4:1)
16. He appoints to office (Acts 13:2; 20:28)
17. He may be grieved (Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30)
18. He may be lied to (Acts 5:3)
19. He may be resisted (Acts 7:31)
20. He may be blasphemed (Matthew 12:31-32)

The Holy Spirit should never be referred to as a “thing,” “it,” “influence” or “power.” He is a Divine Person with all the attributes of personality, which we find in finite man who is created in the image of God. If the Holy Spirit is only a power, influence, or emanation, we should ask, “How can I get more of this power?” But since He is a Person, our question should be “How can I place myself under His control so that I can experience His power and influence?”

The following chart reflects the unity and the equality of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit exhibits the same attributes of deity as the Father and Son (Moody Handbook of Theology 251). It should be noted that not all translators and commentators agree as whether the Hebrew and Greek should be translated as “Spirit” or spirit” in some of these passages.

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