The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit
“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.” John 15:26. (NLT)
The third person of the Godhead has probably generated the most debate among Christian Scholars, while continuing to be the least understood by Christians in general. However the Bible provides us with sufficient information about His personality, individuality and deity.
The passage in John points to two specific parts that can be studied when learning about the Holy Spirit; first, “He comes to us from the Father” [author’s paraphrase]. This part of the study focuses on the person-hood and deity of the Spirit. Second, “the Spirit will testify about [Jesus Christ]”. This relates in part to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Why is He under-understood?
The excessive debate and controversy around the understanding of the Holy Spirit has increased wariness about this topic. We are uncomfortable dealing with anything seemingly nebulous, or with manifestations that seem ‘spurious’. The discomfort is predominately from two areas.
First, the risk of crossing the line between the spiritual and the emotional has been the major deterrent to studying the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, this unneeded restraint has worked to the detriment of clearly understanding other major doctrines. How does one understand the Trinity, or the doctrine of Salvation, or even the doctrine of Man, to name a few, if we have no clear understanding of the Holy Spirit? For it is the Spirit who will teach us all things; it is He who reminds us of the things that Christ has said. If He be the teacher, then we must have a clearer idea about our life teacher and coach.
Second, in the role that the Spirit plays, He does not draw attention to Himself but brings all our attention towards Jesus Christ. Therefore, we may have falsely assumed that it might be better to ignore the Holy Spirit completely, than to risk taking away any attention from Christ. Some of us have countered that problem by swinging to the other side, focusing distinctly on the Holy Spirit. That again would be an inadvertent slip-up from the Biblical focus.
What does the Bible have to say in all this? Considering that almost all the books in the Bible make mention of Him and His works, we can infer quite a bit.
Where do we begin?
Since the Holy Spirit is the source of the inspired Word of God, it would have been easy for Him to ‘include’ unequivocally both His person-hood and deity. However, that would be against His nature and character. So to know Him, we cannot turn to a few verses in the Bible and find His bio. We will begin this series by considering three relational characteristics of the Spirit.
In relation to the Godhead
First, the titles of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father: The Holy Spirit is introduced in the second verse of the Bible where He is called the ‘Spirit of God’. Later in Genesis, He is referred to as ‘My Spirit’. In Isaiah, He is called the ‘Spirit of the Lord God’. In Mathew, He is called the ‘Spirit of your Father’. These titles imply that the Holy Spirit is the agent who reveals to us the thoughts, revelation and knowledge of God the Father.
Second, the titles of the Holy Spirit in showcasing the glories of Christ: The Holy Spirit is called the ‘Spirit of Christ’ in Romans; the ‘Spirit of Jesus Christ’ in Philippians; and the ‘Spirit of his Son’ in Galatians. The work of the Spirit in the saint is to reveal Christ in us to a greater depth, so that we can truly say each day is better than the last.
These lists are only indicative and certainly not exhaustive. However, they are sufficient to teach us an important lesson: the Spirit does not work independently, but always works relationally. Additionally, we see in these titles the unity of the Godhead in the Trinity.
In relation to Mankind
The most common and precious title in reference to us, mankind, is that of the ‘Comforter’. As a Comforter, He remains by the side of the saint. He does not “take over” but comes “alongside”. He holds up the heavier side of the load. He strengthens. As a ‘Parakletos’, the Greek word for Comforter, He also pleads for us with groans too deep for words.
Incidentally, the word “Comforter” must be understood in the context of the language used. The origin of the word “comfort” is “cum-forte”, which is to come alongside and to “strengthen” (Forte means to strengthen, from where we get the word fortitude). This is a more precious act than merely sympathizing without the power or the will to do something about it. The Holy Spirit strengthens as a comforter.
While on this topic of understanding titles, it is important to clarify our understanding of the commonly addressed name – ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘Holy Ghost’. Now both mean the same. The King James Version refers to Him as the ‘Holy Ghost’ and is Anglo-Saxon based; while the word ‘Spirit’ has a Latin origin. The more important distinction, however, is the use of the word “Holy” in the title Holy Spirit. If “Holy” is a descriptive title attesting His holiness, we then risk comparing the holiness of the Spirit with that of the Father, or with the Son. However, we know the Trinity is entirely holy, and there is no one “holier” than the other within the Trinity.
The title “Holy Spirit” is therefore best understood in relation to us, and the work He does in us. It is the Holy Spirit who applies the work of Christ in us, thereby producing holiness in us.
In relation to His Personal Attributes
There are various titles the Bible uses that describe the attributes of the Holy Spirit. For example, in John, He is referred to as the ‘Spirit of Truth’; in Romans, He is referred to as the ‘Spirit of Holiness’; in Hebrews, as the ‘eternal Spirit’; and in 1 John, the ‘Holy One’. We would realize the detail of the Spirit’s involvement in every aspect of the creation and the creature if we were to list the titles and study them individually.
In beginning to answer some of the pressing questions about the Holy Spirit, we will introduce in coming articles the various titles mentioned earlier. These will provide the composite of the person-hood, character and work of the Spirit.