What We Know About the Holy Spirit

Much confusion exists today concerning the Person of the Holy Spirit. His personality is denied by both liberal theologians and extreme religious cults. Some liberals will acknowledge he is portrayed as a person, but claim the Scripture is communicating a myth. Radical cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny his personality, referring to him as simply an influence. Because of the comparatively little teaching about the Holy Spirit that has been done over the years, there are some good Christians who do not realize that the Holy Spirit is a Person.

The Holy Spirit has the Attributes of a Person

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity–equal with the Father and Son in essence. Since one of the major aspects of God’s nature is that he is a person, it follows that the Holy Spirit is a person. The apostle Paul noted the intellectual ability of the Holy Spirit when he asked, “What man knoweth the things of man save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11). The rational capacity of the Holy Spirit was expanded to include wisdom and communication when Paul’s prayer request for the Ephesians included “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). The emotional ability of the Holy Spirit is evident in the word of the apostle, “the love of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:30).

One of the problems associated with emotions is the possibility of being grieved by someone who is loved. The Bible warns Christians, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30). Isaiah cited an example of how Israel “rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit” (Isa. 63:10). The Holy Spirit has the ability to respond emotionally to the ideas and experiences he encounters. The Holy Spirit also has the ability of will and the ability to exercise it. By his own choice, the Holy Spirit accomplishes a number of specific acts, such as giving spiritual gifts. “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11). The Holy Spirit performs the actions of a person. The Holy Spirit does a number of things only a person can do.

It should be noted that the Holy Spirit is not a Person because he does those things attributable to personality, but rather does the actions of the personality because he is a person. Consider the following chart to see how the Holy Spirit does those things which only a person can do.

The Acts of the Person of the Holy Spirit

  • He teaches – John 14:26
  • He testifies – John 15:26
  • He guides – Rom. 8:14
  • He speaks – 1 Cor. 2:13
  • He enlightens – John 16:13
  • He strives – Gen. 6:3
  • He commands – Acts 8:28
  • He intercedes – Rom. 8:26
  • He sends workers – Acts 13:4
  • He calls – Rev. 22:17
  • He comforts – John 16:7
  • He works – 1 Cor. 12:11

The above actions cannot be accomplished by a mere influence or force. Only a rational, emotional, and active person could do all that the Scriptures teach the Holy Spirit accomplishes.

The Holy Spirit was Addressed as a Person

The New Testament clearly shows the early Christians recognized and affirmed the Holy Spirit as a Person. Peter obeyed the Holy Spirit when he was commanded to go to Cornelius’s household (Acts 10:19). Philip followed the leading of the Holy Spirit in his ministry also (Acts 8:39). Against his better judgment, Ananias came to Saul, obeying what the Holy Spirit had revealed to him (Acts 9:10-17). Paul and Silas were constantly led by the Holy Spirit in their ministry (Acts 16:7-10). The Bible also records the story of two disciples who attempted to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3).

At his trial, Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin, saying, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). Jesus also warned about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31), and the Bible also warns of the consequences of insulting the Holy Spirit. “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). Is it any wonder the writer concludes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31)? This would not be so if we had a proper reverence for the Person of the Holy Spirit as did David (Ps. 51:11).

Association of Persons

A fourth scriptural illustration of the Holy Spirit as a person is seen in the references to the Trinity. Jesus commanded his disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). Jesus acknowledged three distinct Persons of the Trinity but recognized their unity in a simple name. In our understanding of the Trinity, we realize that what is true of God is true of each part of the Trinity of God. God the Father is a personal God interested in us (John 3:16; 1 John 3:1). God the Son is also shown as a personal God interested in us (John 13:1). If the teaching of Scripture were unclear concerning the personality of the Holy Spirit, his association with other members of the Trinity of God as an equal indicates that he too is a person.

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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