Who is the Holy Spirit?

Do you have a good grasp on the Person of the Holy Spirit? Much confusion exists within evangelical circles as to who the Holy Spirit actually is. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave some of the most in-depth teachings on the person and work of the Holy Spirit to his band of disciples in the Upper Room. Jesus says in John 14:16–17, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

The Holy Spirit possesses all the attributes of God as well as divine personhood. Sometimes it is easier for us to think of God the Father as a person since we can relate to our earthly fathers. We also see Jesus the Son as a person because he came physically to earth as a man. Yet, it’s a little more difficult for us to wrap our minds around viewing the Holy Spirit as a person—especially when referred to as the Holy Ghost. What comes to your mind when you think of a ghost? A phantom floating around or Casper the friendly ghost or some misty fog? I want you to notice the masculine pronouns Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit—“him” and “he.” Jesus doesn’t say “it” will be with you and “it” will dwell in you. First and foremost, the Holy Spirit is not an “it” but a “he”—a divine person who is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Son. The Holy Spirit was not created. He is not subservient to Jesus or the Father, but shares the same essence or being as God. I encourage you to be careful in how you speak of the Holy Spirit, and to do so as a “he” or “him,” not an “it” or a force, energy, fog, mist, anointing, or anything else that is something you can easily manipulate or confer onto another person.

Jesus also describes the Holy Spirit as “another helper.” We can translate this word “helper” (parekletos) as “counselor” or “comforter” or “advocate.” There is no good way to translate this unique Greek word into English and capture all of its nuances because it has multiple meanings where the context will determine how to best understand the term. When you think of a Counselor, today’s usage of the word like a marriage counselor or a camp counselor may impact your thinking. This may cause some confusion in thinking about the Holy Spirit solely in therapeutic terms. In popular usage, one goes to a counselor for psychological help which does not convey the original meaning of the word “helper” or “counselor.”

The word “helper” is a good translation, but it can also mislead you to think that you’re the one in charge of your life and the Holy Spirit is more of your personal assistant to help you along whenever you need him. This may confuse the issue to think that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to you as merely your helper, but not a sovereign and divine person who is fully God. The word parakletos also describes the role of a legal advisor or an advocate who helps in the court of law, whether as a lawyer, witness, or representative. The word also denotes reinforcements sent to the front of the battle to help the struggling troops.

Jesus does not simply say that he will ask the Father to give you some help now and then. He promises a divine person—a helper, an advocate, a strengthener. In this Upper Room discourse, Jesus is about to leave his disciples and ascend to heaven after his resurrection. How will Jesus mediate his presence and do what he has been doing the past three years while physically on earth? How will the ministry, help, encouragement, teaching, and leadership of Jesus continue in our lives if he is not physically there? Christ’s presence will come through the gift of the Holy Spirit sent to strengthen, lead, guide, protect, and help us until he returns and brings us to heaven.

The Holy Spirit will supply all of our needs and continue the ministry of Jesus in our hearts. While on earth in a physical body, Jesus guarded, protected, advocated, taught, ministered, and cared for the disciples. Now that he has ascended into heaven as the resurrected Messiah, the Holy Spirit will continue to carry on this work of Christ in our lives as well.


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