Who is the Holy Spirit?
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Dove of the Holy Spirit, circa 1660, stained glass, Throne of St. Peter, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Italy.
And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever--the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know him, for He lives with you and will be in you.
Ironically, teaching about the Holy Spirit throughout the history of the Christian Church has served, at times, to divide and occasionally disrupt the harmony of those who follow Jesus Christ. The irony comes in the fact that Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit before they began their ministry together as the Spirit would give them both the power and the unity they would need to serve fruitfully. (Acts 1:4-8) The fingerprints of the Devil are all over the confusion about who the Holy Spirit is and how He equips us as believers. So, for the next few weeks, I will write about who the Holy Spirit is and then what He does in our lives as we serve the Lord.
Understanding Who the Holy Spirit is begins with the recognition that He is one Person of a Triune God--which is a really difficult concept to embrace rationally. Try explaining that to a young child--I have. It seems to not make sense that we, like the Jewish faithful, believe that God is One and yet, as Christians, we believe He is also Three. While the word "Trinity" is never explicitly used in the Bible, it is easy to deduce the reality that the God we worship is three Persons. Father God sent Jesus His Son to die on the Cross to save us from sin and to conquer death through His resurrection. Jesus must have been fully human to suffer in our place on the Cross but also had to be fully God to offer a perfect sacrifice for our sin on that Cross. In the opening prologue of his gospel, the Apostle John famously declared that Jesus, the Word, was with God in the beginning and was God at that point. (John 1:1) What about the Spirit? Genesis 1:2 tells us that the Spirit of God was also present in the beginning at creation, hovering over the primordial waters. His presence with the Father and the Son at that crucial moment in history makes the reality of a Triune God very clear. Why is it so crucial that God is Three and not just One? In his first Scriptural letter, the Apostle John writes simply but profoundly that "God is love." (I John 4:8) If God were just One person, this pronouncement would make no sense. For love to exist, there must be both a lover and a beloved; it takes two people for love to be truly manifest. God was love before He created any of us because there were three Persons in the Godhead to engage in a loving relationship. The fact that God did not need human beings as an object of His love makes the fact that He chose to create us even more marvelous and significant. Speaking of love, one of the critical ministries of the Holy Spirit is to pour the love of God into our hearts. The Apostle Paul wrote these exact words to the Roman Christians in the New Testament letter by that name, chapter 5, verse 5. We must remember that true love is not a feeling--it is a choice or a commitment. Where does the power to make that decision to love (be committed to) God come from? Clearly not from us or it would be a consequence of human achievement that could lead to pride or envy. Instead, the Bible makes it clear that the capacity to love God comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. If I feel like I am far from God or not committed to Him as I wish I was, the solution is not to try harder, not to read the Bible more, nor to be at the church every time the door is open. We just need to simply pray and ask God, the Holy Spirit, to pour more of His love into our hearts. Believe me, the Lord is thrilled to answer that biblical prayer. Jesus talks more about who the Holy Spirit is in the gospel of John, chapter 14, verses 16-17. In preparing his disciples for His absence from them, first after His death on the Cross and then ultimately following His ascension into heaven, Jesus told these men that He would ask His Father (see the Trinity at work again) to send them "another" Counselor (inferring that Jesus Himself had been their first Counselor and the Holy Spirit would relate similarly to them). Unlike Jesus, God incarnate bound by the temporal restraints of human life, God the Holy Spirit would be with the disciples forever. Besides offering all followers of Jesus unlimited fellowship from the standpoint of time, the Holy Spirit, according to Jesus, would offer us a new level of intimacy in our relationship with God as well. He would not only live with us (as Jesus did) but He would also "be in you," the Spirit of God actually communing moment by moment with our heart, mind, soul and spirit. What an amazing promise! Jesus identified the Holy Spirit in this passage as the "Spirit of truth." Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts about what is true and what is not. When we read the Scripture, God's written Word of Truth, it is the Holy Spirit Who teaches us and personalizes the application of this Word to our lives. The work of the Holy Spirit can at times seem mysterious and mystical. After all, Jesus Himself compared the Spirit to the wind in John 3:8. You see evidence of the Spirit's work but you cannot tell where the Spirit has come from or where it is going. And yet the gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the most precious presents our Triune Lord has ever shared with us. The Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the down payment, the deposit if you will, on our place in the Father’s house. (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5) The presence of the Holy Spirit in my life is the sign that Jesus is changing me, making me more like Him—preparing me to spend eternity with Him. One day, the process will be completed and I will finally be home with my Lord. Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we thank You for Who You are in all of Your incredible character! Thank You for showing us how to love one another as we read in the Scripture about how You love within the relationship of the Trinity. Thank You that You have never left us as orphans (John 14:18); instead You live in us through Your Spirit. Please pour Your love into our hearts every day so that we can love the way that You love. Lead us into all Truth, help us to recognize what is True, and empower us to live out Your Truth each moment of each day. In Jesus' Name, Amen.