Who Is the Holy Spirit?
Some years ago a teacher in a fifth-grade class asked his students
if anyone could explain electricity. One boy raised his
hand. The teacher asked, "How would you explain it, Jimmy?"
Jimmy scratched his head a moment and then replied, "Last
night I knew it, but this morning I've forgotten." The teacher
shook his head sadly and said to the class, "What a tragedy. The
only person in the world ever to understand electricity, and
That teacher's position may describe you and me when we
study the doctrine of the Trinity. We accept the fact that the Holy
Spirit is God, just as much God as God the Father and God the
Son. But when it comes to explaining it, we are at a loss.
In recent years people have talked more about the Holy Spirit
and written more books about Him than possibly any religious
theme other than the occult. This has come about largely because
of the influence of the charismatic movement, which has been
called Christendom's "third force" alongside Catholicism and
Protestantism. The more recent charismatic movement, which
has some of its roots in historic Pentecostalism and stresses the
Holy Spirit, is now deeply entrenched in most of the mainline
denominations and in Catholicism. We may feel that it is such a
vast subject and we know so little about it. Nevertheless, God in
His Word has revealed all we should know.
Many questions will arise in this book for which answers are
being sought by puzzled and at times untaught believers. In fact,
millions of Christians on every continent are now asking these
questions. They are seeking and deserve biblical answers. For
example: What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? When does it
take place? Is speaking in tongues possible or necessary today? Is
there an experience called a "second blessing"?
To start our study, we need to ask a critical question at the very
beginning: Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit Is a Person
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person. Jesus never
referred to "it" when He was talking about the Holy Spirit. In
John 14, 15, and 16, for example, He spoke of the Holy Spirit as
"He" because He is not a force or thing but a person. Whoever
speaks of the Holy Spirit as "it" is uninstructed, or perhaps even
undiscerning. In Romans 8:16 the King James Version refers to the
Holy Spirit as "itself." This is a mistranslation. Nearly all of the
newer translations have changed "itself" to "himself."
We see from the Bible that the Holy Spirit has intellect, emotions,
and will. In addition to this, the Bible also ascribes to Him
the acts we would expect of someone who was not just a force but
a real person.
He speaks: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit
says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of
the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).
"And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the
Holy Spirit said, `Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work
to which I have called them'" (Acts 13:2).
He intercedes: "And in the same way the Spirit also helps our
weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the
Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for
words" (Rom. 8:26).
He testifies: "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you
from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the
Father, He will bear witness of Me" (John 15:26).
He leads: "And the Spirit said to Philip, `Go up and join this
chariot'" (Acts 8:29).
"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons
of God" (Rom. 8:14).
He commands: "And they passed through the Phrygian and
Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to
speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they
were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not
permit them" (Acts 16:6-7).
He guides: "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 RSV).
He appoints: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock,
among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd
the church of God which He purchased with His own blood"
He can be lied to: "But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled
your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the
price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your
own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is
it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not
lied to men, but to God'" (Acts 5:3-4).
He can be insulted: "How much severer punishment do you
think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of
God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by
which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?"
He can be blasphemed: "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy
shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit
shall not be forgiven. And whoever shall speak a word against the
Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak
against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this
age, or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:31-32).
He can be grieved: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30).
Each of the emotions and acts we have listed are characteristics
of a person. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, like gravity
or magnetism. He is a person, with all the attributes of personality.
But not only is He a person; He is divine as well.
The Holy Spirit Is a Divine Person: He Is God
Throughout the Bible it is clear that the Holy Spirit is God
Himself. This is seen in the attributes that are given to the Holy
Spirit in Scripture, for example. Without exception these attributes
are those of God Himself.
He is eternal: this means that there never was a time when He
was not. "How much more will the blood of Christ, who through
the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse
your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb.
He is all-powerful: "And the angel answered and said to her,
'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most
High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring
shall be called the Son of God'" (Luke 1:35).
He is everywhere present (that is, omnipresent) at the same time:
"Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy
presence?" (Ps. 139:7).
He is all-knowing (that is, omniscient): "For to us God revealed
them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the
depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man
except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts
of God no one knows except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:10-11).
The Holy Spirit is called God: "But Peter said, `Ananias, why has
Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back
some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not
remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?
Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You
have not lied to men, but to God'" (Acts 5:3-4, italics mine).
"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the
Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory
to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor.
He is the Creator: the first biblical reference to the Holy Spirit
is Genesis 1:2 (Moffatt) where we are told "the spirit of God was
hovering over the waters." Yet Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning
God created the heavens and the earth." And in Colossians 1
where Paul is writing to the Church at Colossae about the Lord
Jesus Christ, among other tremendous truths he tells us, "For in
Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or
authorities-all things have been created through Him and for
Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold
together" [cohere] (Col. 1:16-17).
Thus, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
were together creating the world. To understand and accept these
facts is of the greatest importance to every Christian, both theologically
One day I made a few of these assertions about the Holy Spirit
to some seminary students. One asked, "But He is usually mentioned
last. Doesn't that imply inferiority?" Yet in Romans 15:30
He is not mentioned last: "Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord
Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with
me in your prayers to God for me." And in Ephesians 4:4 Paul says,
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in
one hope of your calling."
But more than this, the usual placement of the three Persons
of the Trinity in the New Testament has to do with their order
and function. Thus we say that we pray to the Father through the
Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, I have already
shown that functionally the Father came first, then the Son
became incarnate, died, and rose again. Now the Spirit does His
work in this age of the Spirit. The order has nothing to do with
equality, but only with function and chronology.
When I first began to study the Bible years ago, the doctrine of the
Trinity was one of the most complex problems I had to encounter.
I have never fully resolved it, for it contains an aspect of mystery.
Though I do not totally understand it to this day, I accept it as a
revelation of God.
The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit is a living being. He
is one of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. To explain and
illustrate the Trinity is one of the most difficult assignments to a
Christian. Dr. David McKenna once told me that he was asked by
his small son, Doug, "Is God the Father God?" He answered, "Yes."
"Is Jesus Christ God?" "Yes." "Is the Holy Spirit God?" "Yes."
"Then how can Jesus be His own Father?" David thought quickly.
They were sitting in their old 1958 Chevrolet at the time.
"Listen, son," he replied, "under the hood is one battery. Yet I
can use it to turn on the lights, blow the horn, and start the car."
He said, "How this happens is a mystery-but it happens!" The
Bible does teach us the reality of the Trinity, both in the Old and
New Testaments. Let us look at some of the major passages.
God unfolds His revelation of Himself in the Bible progressively.
But there are indications from the very beginning of the
Book of Genesis that God subsists in three Persons-the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit-and that these three Persons constitute
the one God. Christianity is trinitarian, not unitarian.
There is only one God, not three, so it is clear that the Christian
faith is not polytheistic.
The Bible begins with the majestic statement: "In the beginning
God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
Hebrew scholars have told me there are three numbers in the
Hebrew language: singular, one; dual, two; plural, more than two.
The word translated "God" in Genesis 1:1 is plural, indicating more
than two. The Hebrew word used here is Elohim. Matthew Henry
says it signifies "the plurality of persons in the Godhead, Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost. This plural name of God ... [confirms] our
faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, which, though but darkly intimated
in the Old Testament, is clearly revealed in the New."
As we have seen concerning creation, even from the beginning
God gives us glimpses of the truth that the Godhead consists of
more than one Person. I have italicized some of the key words. In
Genesis 1:26, God said, "Let us make man in our image, according
to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over
the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and
over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Further, in
Genesis 3:22 the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become
like one of Us, knowing good and evil." And in Genesis 11:6-7,
the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the
same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing
which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come,
let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not
understand one another's speech." When Isaiah heard the voice of
the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" he
answered, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isa. 6:8).
The New Testament's doctrine of the Trinity is much more
fully developed than that of the Old Testament. Since revelation
is progressive, more light is thrown on this subject as God more
fully disclosed Himself at the time of Christ and the apostles.
The last command of Jesus before His ascension is recorded in
Matthew 28:18-20. In it He ordered His followers to "make
disciples of all the nations," baptizing converts "in the name of
the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to
observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age." Here Jesus taught that after He left
this earth, His followers were to carry His gospel message to all
nations. The Holy Spirit was to use them to call out a people for
His name. This trinitarian commission to baptize associates the
Holy Spirit with God the Father and God the Son as their equal.
He is God the Holy Spirit.
It is thrilling to note that Jesus says believers will not be left
alone. Through the Holy Spirit whom He and the Father sent, He
will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He will remain
with every believer right to the end. This thought has encouraged
me a thousand times in these dark days when satanic forces are at
work in so many parts of the world.
Along this line the apostle Paul also said, "The grace of the
Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the
Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14). This benediction
clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and
one with the Son in the Godhead. It is not one plus one plus one
equals three. It is one times one times one equals one. The Holy Spirit
is one with the Father and the Son. If the Father is God, and Jesus
is God, then the Holy Spirit is also God.
The chief problem connected with the doctrine of the Trinity
concerns Christianity's claim to be also monotheistic. It rejects
polytheism, the belief in more than one God. The answer is that
trinitarianism preserves the unity of the Godhead, and at the
same time it acknowledges that there are three Persons in that
Godhead that is still of one essence. God is one, but that oneness
is not simple-it is complex.
This is a terribly difficult subject-far beyond the ability of our
limited minds to grasp fully. Nevertheless, it is extremely important
to declare what the Bible holds, and be silent where the
Bible is silent. God the Father is fully God. God the Son is fully
God. God the Holy Spirit is fully God. The Bible presents this as
fact. It does not explain it. Nevertheless, many explanations have
been suggested, some of which sound logical, but they do not preserve
the truth of scriptural teaching.
One Christian heresy in the early church was called "modalism."
It taught that God appeared at different times in three different
modes or forms-as Father, then as Son, and finally as Holy Spirit.
Those who held this view thought it preserved the unity of
monotheism. But it also meant that when Jesus prayed, He had to
be talking to Himself. Further, to say, as Acts 2 does, that the Father
and the Son sent the Holy Spirit makes little sense if we accept
modalism. Moreover, it violated the clearest presentation of the
Trinity-in-unity as expressed in Matthew's statement by Jesus in the
Great Commission. It was Jesus who said that His disciples were to
baptize their converts "in the name of the Father and the Son and
the Holy Spirit." The Greek construction makes it clear that Jesus
is referring to three separate Persons. He clearly taught the doctrine
of the Trinity.
We have seen that the Holy Spirit is a person, and is God, and
is a member of the Trinity. Anyone who fails to recognize this is
robbed of his joy and power. Of course a defective view of any
member of the Trinity will bring about this result because God is
all important. But this is especially true for the Holy Spirit, for
although the Father is the source of all blessing, and the Son is
the channel of all blessing, it is through the Holy Spirit at work
in us that all truth becomes living and operative in our lives.
The most important point I can make in summary is this: there
is nothing that God is that the Holy Spirit is not. All of the essential
aspects of deity belong to the Holy Spirit. We can say of Him
exactly what was said of Jesus Christ in the ancient Nicene Creed:
He is very God of very God! So we bow before Him; we worship
Him; we accord Him every response Scripture requires of our relationship
to Almighty God.
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is God!
Excerpted from "The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life" by Billy Graham. Copyright © 2000 by Billy Graham. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.