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Who is God the Holy Spirit?

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the the Trinity. He is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament, and is called “the Spirit of God” or “the Spirit of the LORD” (see for example, Genesis 1:2; 1 Samuel 10:10; Isaiah 61:1). In the Old Testament He often “comes upon” those set apart to serve God in some way (see for example Judges 6:34; 14:6; 1 Samuel 16:13; Isaiah 11:2; Ezekiel 11:5).

God gives another Helper

However, it is in the New Testament that we see who the Holy Spirit is and what He does most clearly. One of the themes in Jesus’ final speech with his disciples (John 13-17) before his death is the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16-18 we read:

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (ESV)

Jesus has just told his disciples that He’s going away (John 13:33, 36), and obviously they’re very upset (John 14:1). In this context Jesus says that the Father “will give you another Helper … even the spirit of truth … I will come to you.” The first thing to notice about the Holy Spirit is that He is like Jesus – indeed He is referred as “another Helper.” “Another” implies that there has already been a Helper – Jesus. Jesus also says that “I will come to you.” But how can Jesus come to the disciples, if He’s returning to the Father? The answer is by the Spirit, since He is also the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19). Therefore, the Spirit is a ‘He’ not an ‘it’. In other words: He is a person, not an impersonal force or power.

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment

But what does the Holy Spirit do? A couple of chapters later in John’s gospel Jesus tells us (John 16:7-15):

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.

In verses 8-11, Jesus speaks of the Spirit’s work in the world. That is, the Spirit will convict people of their sin (that they have not believed), righteousness (that their own righteousness is filthy in God’s sight, cf. Isaiah 64:6), and judgement (that their judgements are wrong, cf. John 7:24).

The Spirit’s work that will be particular to the disciples.

In verses 13-15, Jesus describes the Spirit’s work that will be particular to the disciples. When the Spirit comes He will guide “you [i.e. the disciples] into all the truth.” The Spirit will not speak on his own, but rather will teach the disciples what He hears from the Son (v. 14). According to John 14:26 the Spirit will also remind the disciples of all that Jesus taught them. As a result of this aspect of the Spirit’s work, the disciples could teach the early church faithfully and truly, and also write down the New Testament, so that we could have a true and accurate record of all the Jesus did and taught.

The work of the Spirit is also mentioned in many other passages: John 3:3-5 (bring about new spiritual birth), Romans 8:16 (the Spirit testifies that we are children of God), Romans 8:26-27 (the Spirit prays for us), 1 Corinthians 2:13-16 (enables us to understand spiritual truths), 1 Corinthians 12:13 (He dwells in every believer), etc.

Notes

  1. The title Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost refer to the same person – the 3rd member of the Trinity. Older translations, like the King James Version, used the title Holy Ghost, whereas more modern versions use the Holy Spirit.
  2. The title “Spirit of God,” and “Spirit of the LORD” are just different titles for the Holy Spirit, they are not separate spirits. This can be seen most clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:3 and Ephesians 4:30.

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Also read How do we receive the Holy Spirit?