1. The Holy Spirit’s PersonhoodRelated Media
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is not a force, energy, or power, as some have wrongly believed. He is a person! Charles Ryrie describes how some have tried to deny his personhood throughout history:
Denial that the Spirit is a person often takes the form of substituting the concept that He is a personification of, say, power—much like claiming that Satan is a personification of evil. This denial of His personality has occurred throughout church history, first by the Monarchians, the Arians, the Socinians, and today by Unitarians, liberals, and some neo-orthodox theologians. But there is a great deal of evidence that He is a person. 1
In talking about the Holy Spirit’s personhood and encouraging believers to pursue intimacy with him, R.C. Sproul said this:
Do you know who the Holy Spirit is? Do you understand the Holy Spirit in terms of a personal relationship? Or does the Spirit remain for you a vague, misty, abstract concept or an illusive, amorphous force? Forces in and of themselves are impersonal. But the Holy Spirit is not simply an abstract force. He is a person who empowers the people of God for the Christian life.2
The Holy Spirit’s personhood is especially important to note, as the concept of pantheism is widespread. Pantheistic thought teaches that God is in everything. God is part of the trees, part of the earth, and part of every human being. To pantheist, god is an energy, not a personality. Though the Bible does teach that God is omnipresent—that he is everywhere—that doesn’t mean he is everything. In fact, Scripture clearly teaches against the worship of objects, which is often seen in pantheistic thought.
How do we know that the Holy Spirit is a person? There are many evidences.
Masculine Pronouns Used for the Holy Spirit
A strong evidence for the Holy Spirit’s personhood is the Greek grammar used to refer to him. Instead of using neuter pronouns like “it,” which are used for objects, masculine pronouns are used to refer to him. Consider how Christ speaks of the Holy Spirit in John 16:13-14:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.
Instead of using the pronoun “it,” Christ used the pronoun “he.” Similarly, Paul uses the pronoun “who” in reference to the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 1:13-14, he says:
And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.
Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person, not a “force,” as seen by the use of personal and masculine pronouns for him.
Are there other evidences of the Holy Spirit’s personhood?
The Spirit’s Association with Jesus’ Work
Certainly, there is evidence in the Holy Spirit’s association with the work of Jesus Christ. Consider what Christ said about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the disciples. In John 14:16, Christ said, “Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” Christ was saying that when he left the disciples, he would send them an Advocate or Counselor just like him. This is made clear by the Greek word used for “another.” It literally means “another of the same kind.”3 Tony Evans said this about Christ’s choice of words:
Jesus' choice of words emphasizes the unique work of the Spirit in continuing what He had begun while on earth without any loss of character, quality, power, or intimacy. Jesus could promise this because the Spirit is of equal divine essence with Jesus Himself.4
The Holy Spirit would do the same ministry that Jesus did with the disciples. He would teach, convict, comfort, lead, and empower them.
In fact, Christ taught that the disciples were better off with the Holy Spirit’s continual presence than if Christ stayed on the earth with them. In John 16:7, Christ said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.”
When Christ was on the earth, he was limited by locality because of his human body, but when the Holy Spirit came, the Spirit would uniquely be with each disciple, no matter the locality. For us, we may not have seen Christ or heard him teach in person; however, we lack nothing, because Christ has given us a Counselor just like him—someone who will be with us at all times. We can seek the Spirit’s help, ask him questions, and he will minister to us, just as Christ did with the disciples.
Again, the Holy Spirit’s personhood is, first of all, seen in the personal pronouns used of him and, secondly, in his association with Christ’s work. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us to minister to us, just as Christ did with the disciples when he was on the earth. Thank you, Lord!
The Spirit’s Association with Humanity
We also see evidence of the Holy Spirit’s personhood in the way he associates with humanity. Several passages demonstrate this. In describing how the apostles, elders, and the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 15:22) discerned that the Gentiles should not practice the Mosaic law, Acts 15:28 says, “For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules.” They came to this conclusion through a work of the Holy Spirit in them—no doubt, as they discussed and sought God through prayer.
We also see the Holy Spirit’s association with humanity in how he ministers to unbelievers. In John 16:8, Christ said this about the Holy Spirit: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
The Spirit’s Demonstration of Personality
Another evidence for the Holy Spirit’s personhood is the fact that he demonstrates aspects of personality such as will, intelligence, and emotions. He also demonstrates personality through his moral ministries. We will consider these further through various texts.
The Holy Spirit’s will is demonstrated in how he directs believers in carrying out God’s plans. For example, in Acts 13:1-2, the Holy Spirit calls for the elders of the Antioch church to set apart Paul and Barnabas for missionary work. It says:
Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Likewise, the Holy Spirit demonstrates his “will” as he distributes spiritual gifts to each person in the body of Christ. First Corinthians 12:11 says, “It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.”
The Holy Spirit knows what gifts will serve each believer best; he knows what gifts a person will need in the future when his church needs an administrator, small group leader, or children’s pastor. We can be excited about our spiritual gifts because the Holy Spirit knows all things and distributes gifts for the glory of God. The Holy Spirit demonstrates personality as he makes decisions.
The Holy Spirit demonstrates intelligence as he teaches and guides believers. In John 14:26, Christ said this about him: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.” In order to teach others, one must have intelligence, including knowledge and wisdom. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and as such generously distributes knowledge to us.
Intellect is also demonstrated in how the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:9-11, Paul said this about the Holy Spirit:
But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.
Paul said the Spirit knows the “deep” things of God (v. 10). There are many things that we cannot understand about God because they are too deep. We even struggle with what is revealed: “How can God be three persons in one, the Holy Trinity?” “How can God be in control of everything and yet we make free decisions?” and “How can Jesus be fully God and yet fully man?” We can’t fully understand these mysteries, but the Holy Spirit understands, as he knows the deeps things of God.
When Paul says the Holy Spirit “searches” and “knows” the things of God (v. 10-11), this demonstrates both the Holy Spirit’s distinctness from God the Father and their unity. Paul parallels the Holy Spirit’s knowledge of God with a person’s spirit knowing that person (v. 11). Certainly, this is a mystery.
Clearly, the Holy Spirit demonstrates personality through intellect. He knows God and his will and reveals it to people.
The Holy Spirit also demonstrates personality through his emotions. Ephesians 4:29-30 teaches that the Holy Spirit can be grieved. It says:
You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
No doubt, many things grieve the Holy Spirit, but here Paul talks about how we shouldn’t grieve him by our speech. Since the Holy Spirit indwells believers, he is with us when we curse others, complain, or speak sexual jokes. All this grieves the Holy Spirit and therefore should grieve us. Again, this demonstrates his personality.
In addition, Galatians 5:22 says the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, and patience, which are not only dispositions but emotions. Also, Scripture says the Holy Spirit experiences jealousy. James 4:4-5 (NKJV) says:
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
Though there is disagreement over what the word “Spirit” refers to, many see this as referring to the Holy Spirit being jealous over us. The Spirit demonstrates the same type of righteous jealousy a husband experiences when his wife cheats on him. The Holy Spirit demonstrates personality through his emotions.
The Spirit’s Moral Ministries
Finally, the Holy Spirit’s personality can be seen through his moral ministries. He teaches believers (John 14:26), prays for them (Rom 8:26), and guides them (Rom 8:14, Matt 4:1). Later, we will consider some of his other ministries such as his illuminating, sealing, dwelling, filling, and baptizing ministries.
Why is the Holy Spirit’s personhood important, and how should we apply this reality? Daryl Aaron illustrates the importance of this doctrine:
This is important practically because we cannot have a personal relationship with a thing, only with another person. Being a Christian means we are in a personal relationship with the triune God—three persons in one divine essence. As is true of any relationship that matters to us, we should want to nurture our relationship with God the Father and with God the Son and with God the Spirit.5
In light of this, because the Spirit is a person, we should develop a sensitivity to him and his activity, as we do with other people. As mentioned, Scripture says we can “grieve” the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:29-30). We should learn to sense his grief when we are committing sin or in a spiritually unhealthy environment or relationship. It seems like Jeremiah was aware of God’s displeasure. In Jeremiah 6:11, he said:
I am as full of anger as you are, LORD, I am tired of trying to hold it in.” The LORD answered, “Vent it, then, on the children who play in the street and on the young men who are gathered together. Husbands and wives are to be included, as well as the old and those who are advanced in years.
Often, we should feel the Spirit’s anger or grief over our sins, the sins of our friends, church, or nation. At other times, we may sense his power or presence. In Luke 4:18, Christ, quoting Isaiah, said this about himself:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed…
Christ could discern the Holy Spirit’s presence on him to do ministry. As we cultivate our relationship with God, we should be able to discern more of the Spirit’s work as well, in our lives, churches, and communities.
- What stood out most in the reading and why?
- What are evidences of the Holy Spirit being a person and not a force or energy?
- Why is recognizing that the Holy Spirit is a person as opposed to a force so important?
- How should we apply the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person?
- What questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (pp. 394–395). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
2 Sproul, R. C. (2012). Who Is the Holy Spirit? (Vol. 13, p. 13). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 352). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
4 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
5 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Related Topics: Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit)