Sunday, May 14, 2017

Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

Some friends of mine asked in a blog post about the Holy Spirit "how can a person live inside you?" They do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a person, or in the doctrine of the Trinity. The word "Trinity" does not appear in Scripture, but is a theological term describing a number of Biblical truths. The definition of the Trinity is that "there is one God who exists eternally in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."  My purpose in this post is to show where the Bible teaches the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

First, we have to understand what the term "person" means.  It does not refer to "a person walking down the street," or "the person who lives next door."  A person (this is not hard to understand) is someone who has a mind, will, emotions and can relate to others.  The Bible teaches that God is personal.  He is not like the "force" in Star Wars or some directionless cosmic energy, but He has a mind (Isaiah 55:8-9), the incredibly inventive mind that designed all of creation and knows the thoughts and intentions of every heart (Jeremiah 17:10).  He has a will (Mark 3:35), a will that chose to create mankind in His own image and that chose to send Jesus to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins (Luke 22:42).  He has emotions, the emotions of anger (Numbers 32:13), joy (Zephaniah 3:17), jealousy (Exodus 20:5), grief (Genesis 6:6)) and compassion (2 Kings 13:23).  He is capable of relationships, evidenced by his relationships with the people of God in the Bible, like Abraham, Moses, David and now those who have put their trust in Christ alone for salvation.

Our own personhood is a large part of the "image of God" created in each of us and that which distinguishes us from the rest of creation.  Our own personhood and consciousness does not end when we die and are absent from our bodies (2 Peter 1:13-15), but our spirits go on to exist in heaven or hell (Luke 16:19-21) where we continue to think, feel and communicate with others.  We cannot equivocate on the term person to say that a person has to have a body when Jesus clearly taught otherwise.

Do these characteristics of personhood apply to the Holy Spirit?  Let's look at what Jesus taught in John 14:15-17, John 14:25-26 and John 16:8-15.

1.  The Holy Spirit has a mind.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit " will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26).  Teaching requires a thinking mind.  In John 16:8 Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, says, "and when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment."  Sin, righteousness and judgment are deep topics, and convincing someone of their sin takes knowledge and intellect, just like guiding people and speaking to them as we will see in a moment.  (1 Cor 2:10-13).

2.  The Holy Spirit has a will.  "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" (John 16:13).  The Holy Spirit chooses not to exercise His own authority in speaking to the believers, but to speak on behalf of the Father  (another distinction between Father and Spirit).  Even Jesus said, "The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority" (John 14:10).  Does that mean Jesus does not have authority?  No, it means that He was not speaking using the authority that He clearly has.  In the same way, the Holy Spirit chooses not to speak on His own authority, but on the Father's authority.  He has a will (Acts 7:51; 1 Corinthians 12:11).

3.  The Holy Spirit has emotions.  This passage in John does not teach that the Holy Spirit has emotions, but others do, including Isaiah 63:10 (the rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit), Ephesians 4:30 (do not grieve the Holy Spirit) and Hebrews 10:29 (insulting/outraging the Spirit).

4.  The Holy Spirit is capable of relationships.  In John 16:13, Jesus uses the verbs hearing, speaking, guiding and declaring which are all relational.  John 14:17 says "you know him."  The Holy Spirit can be known, not just intellectually, but personnally and relationally.  Interestingly, Jesus does not call the Holy Spirit "it" but "he," a personal pronoun, and describes Him as "another Helper."  In Greek, the word means "another of the same kind."  In Acts, Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).  You cannot lie to an impersonal force, but only to a person.

On a final note, some might say that the Spirit of the Lord is just an extension of Yahweh or another way to refer to His action in the world, like "the arm of the Lord" or "the voice of the Lord."  Is the Holy Spirit distinct from the Father?  Jesus said that He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 14:16; 14:25, 16:7).  Can God send Himself?  In Hebrews 3:7, the author writes "as the Holy Spirit says, 'Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!'"  In context, the "he" is God the Father.  If the Spirit was the Father, how could the Spirit say "listen as he speaks?"  In Romans 8:26-27, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit intercedes for believers to the Father.  An intercessor is one who comes between two others and pleads the case of one to the other.  Biblically, the Holy Spirit is not an extension or operating mode of God the Father.

So, does the Holy Spirit dwell in believers?  Clearly, as Jesus taught about the Spirit, "you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (John 14:17).  I have demonstrated above that the Holy Spirit is personal, or in theological terms, "a person."  Therefore, the Person of the Holy Spirit can dwell in someone.

I will deal with the Deity of the Holy Spirit, the Deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity in other posts.  Please keep comments on the topic of the personhood of the Holy Spirit or the arguments I made above.  God bless you as you seek to grow in the knowledge of His Glory and Grace!