Who is the Holy Spirit?

This post is part of a series of posts on the basics of systematic theology.  Why do we need theology, and what are the essential truths to know about each doctrine?  All the posts are archived under the category “Theology 101.”


Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is fully God.  He is a member of the Trinity and has every attribute and characteristic of deity.  He is given many titles indicating His deity, like “The Lord, the Spirit”  (2 Cor. 3:18), “Eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14), “Spirit of Glory” (1 Pt. 4:14), “Spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is. 11:2), “Spirit of God” (Gen. 1:2; Rom. 8:9), “Spirit of Truth” (Jn. 14:17), “Spirit of Holiness, Holy Spirit, Holy One” (Rom. 1:4; Mt. 1:20; 1 Jn. 2:20; this title is used 152 times). [A summary of these truths in chart form can be downloaded here.]

Additionally, the Holy Spirit has the attributes of deity.  He is omniscient (1 Cor. 2:11), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-10), omnipotent (Job 33:4), truth (1 Jn. 5:7), and wise (Is. 40:13).  Moreover, he participated in activities that are exclusive to deity.  He was or is involved in creation (Gen. 1:2; Job. 26:13; Ps. 104:30), the inspiration of Scripture (2 Pt. 1:21), the virgin birth of Christ (Mt. 1:20; Lk. 1:35), the regeneration of man (Jn. 3:5-10; Titus 3:5), the comfort of man (Acts 9:31; Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), the sanctification of man (2 Thess. 2:13), and serves as intercessor for man in prayer (Rom. 8:26).  Combined all these truths mean that the Holy Spirit is fully God.

Moreover, the Holy Spirit is a person, not a feeling, a force, idea, or movement. He has intellect, emotions, and will like a person  (1 Cor. 2:10-11; Rom. 8:27; Eph. 4:30; 1 Cor. 12:11; Acts 16:6).  His functions like a person in that He teaches, prays, testifies, convicts, and guides (Jn. 14:6; Rom. 8:28; Jn. 15:26; 16:8, 13).  And He relates like a person — He can be obeyed, grieved, blasphemed, resisted, and lied to (Acts 10; Eph. 4:30; Mt. 12:32; Acts 7:51; Acts 5:3).

“Spell this out in capital letters:  THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A PERSON.  He is not enthusiasm.  He is not courage.  He is not energy.  He is not the personification of all good qualities, like Jack Frost is the personification of cold weather.  Actually, the Holy Spirit is not the personification of anything.  He is a Person, the same as you are a person, but not material substance.  He has will and intelligence.  He has hearing.  He has knowledge and sympathy and ability to love and see and think.  He can hear, speak, desire, grieve, and rejoice.  He is a person.” [A. W. Tozer.]

The Holy Spirit is needed for a person to truly change (Rom. 8; Gal. 5:16-26).  So He produces fruit in the believer as evidence of His regenerating work.  Those who are truly inhabited by the Spirit will have some evidential fruit of that indwelling.

So the Spirit of God is not only involved in the justification of the believer, but also is vitally involved in the sanctification of the believer.  It has been well-noted that, “it is the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit that is the mark of our progress in sanctification.  Of course, God is pleased when we dutifully exercise the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us.  But I think God is even more pleased when He sees His people manifest the fruit of the Spirit.” [Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, 161; emphasis mine.]

The Spirit of God does this sanctifying work by indwelling (living in) the believer (Jn. 14:6; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 1 Cor. 6:19).  And unlike in the Old Testament (Ps. 51:11), He never ceases to indwell the believer.  And as He lives in the believer, He fills the believer (Eph. 5:18), controlling and influencing the believer.

And finally, the Spirit of God also gives gifts to the believer. Spiritual gifts are spiritual abilities and responsibilities given to each individual believer by the Holy Spirit for use in the church body so that the body is equipped and built up.  These gifts are given not for the benefit of the individual primarily, but for the benefit of the church body.  There are several lists of these gifts in the New Testament (Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11; 1 Peter 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:6-10, 28-30), and it is likely that these lists are not intended to be exhaustive, but merely representative of the kinds of gifts that the Spirit gives.  About these gifts, notice that:

  • These gifts are gifts of grace (charisma, “grace gift” 1 Cor. 12:4; Rom. 12:3, 6)
  • The gifts are various, but the source and purpose is the same  (1 Cor. 12:4-6)
  • The gifts are exercised by the individual, but God is still the One who does the work (1 Cor. 12:6)
  • These gifts are supernatural, not natural (1 Cor. 12:11)
  • These gifts are to each individual believer  to be used in serving others (1 Cor. 12:11)
  • These gifts are to be used in proportion to the grace that gave them to us  (Rom. 12:6)
  • These gifts are given according to the Spirit’s will, not worthiness or unworthiness (1 Cor. 12:11); different forms of gifting do not imply different levels of sanctification or significance.
  • These gifts are for the benefit of the entire church  (Eph. 4:11-13)

John MacArthur provides a fitting summary of the Spirit’s work:

“The Christian life begins and continues by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom God has graciously sent first to awaken us to our need for salvation, then to give us a new birth, and finally to dwell within us to eventually present us flawless when Christ returns.” [MacArthur, The Silent Shepherd, p. 9.]

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