Who Is the Holy Spirit?

Based on a talk given at the conference “Power from on High: The Pentecostal Promise,”  jointly sponsored by ICR and held at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, Danvers, Mass. May 21-22.


by Canon Mark A. Pearson

Yes, this is theology, and as soon as I say this I suspect numbers of you readers will think, “I don’t want intellectualism.  I want the experiences and the blessings of the Spirit.”  And I’d say to you, “You’re only partly correct.  Theology is very important.”  Jesus spent a lot of time teaching the content of the faith.  In John 8:32, He said, “…the truth will make you free.”  We tell our children that drugs can give a momentary high but there’s a price to be paid.  The same is true with the “drugs” of false religious experience.  God’s truth keeps us from such false experience.

Jesus told us to love the Lord “…with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).  The great Anglican evangelical leader John R. W. Stott wrote a book Your Mind Matters to

remind us a humbled, submitted intellect is part of Christian discipleship.

Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have consequences.  If we have been hurt by bad theology the answer is good theology, not no theology.  “No theology” can blind-side us to bad teaching.  Bad teaching about the Holy Spirit can occur in two different ways. 

First, one can have a deficient belief in the Holy Spirit, believing God did supernatural things in Bible days and will do them at the end times when Christ returns, but does not do them now.  Perhaps this is because one received the bad theology of “cessationism” — the gifts of the Spirit are not for today.  Or, perhaps this is an overreaction to the craziness of “charismaniacs.” Or, perhaps this is a desire to be overly safe — let’s keep God in a box.  In any case, one’s theology of the Holy Spirit can keep a person from participating in the present-day supernatural move of God.

The second bad teaching about the Holy Spirit occurs when one goes out of biblical  balance with theology that way over emphasizes dramatic experiences of the Spirit:  If it’s loud, if it’s contrary to reason and planning, and if it’s strange, then it must be of God and we should experience these things frequently. 

Then there’s the belief that all we have to do is “claim” some experience and God will do exactly what we’ve commanded Him to do.  Of course, this turns God into our slave, not our Lord and Master. This false understanding of the Spirit leads people to me-centered faith, a faith that centers not on God but on my experiences, whether from God or not.

Better to start with sound, biblical theology of the Spirit and let God give us the experiences He wants us to have.  This is the pattern of the New Testament epistles.  They always start with theology — with sound teaching — and once this foundation is in place, go onto practical applications, duties and experiences.

So then, Who is the Holy Spirit?  (I am indebted to Lee Grady, former editor of “Charisma Magazine,” for the following outline, which I’ve then unfolded.)

1.  The Holy Spirit is a Person and a member of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is not an “it” or a force (like Star Wars or the spiritual energy of which New Agers speak.)   Because (the) Holy Spirit is a Person of the Godhead, we dare not manipulate Him to get what we want — whether by manipulating spiritual experiences to get thrills or demanding He do this or that for us.  Rather, we’re to submit to Him Who is Sovereign God.  We are commanded not to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).

2.  The Holy Spirit is the One Who makes us born again.  Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).  Jesus made it possible to be put in a right relationship with God by dying in our place for our sins, paying the price of our sins for us.

It is the Holy Spirit, however, which makes us regenerate (born again, made a new creation) along with our being baptized.   (Too  often  American  Christians  focus solely on what Jesus did on Calvary and how we must accept Him as Lord and Savior.  While this is essential, Scripture also gives a strong role to baptism, to growth in holiness, and to the workings of the Spirit.)

3.  The Holy Spirit is Our Empowerer.  One can own a top end luxury automobile but it won’t get him anywhere if it’s out of gas.  Many people work hard for God and the betterment of people but they don’t seem to bear much lasting fruit, and they burn out after but a few years of serving.  Why is this?  Most likely they’re trying to accomplish things in their own strength.

I did a study of the Gospels recently finding that Jesus alternated taking in (being empowered) and giving out (ministering to others).  He needed regular replenishment. Can we consider ministering any other way?  When Paul tells the Ephesians (5:18) “be filled with the Spirit” the Greek uses the present continuous tense: keep on being filled.  Regularly come back to the Spirit for another filling.

4.  The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17). He is the One Who brought back to the minds of the Gospel writers what Jesus had done and taught so our Gospels would be accurate.  He is the One Who gave the Epistle writers the teaching Jesus did not have time to give while still on earth so our Epistles are just as much “the word of the Lord” as that which came directly out of Jesus’ mouth (John 14:26; 16:13).

5.  The Holy Spirit is the Paraklete.  This Greek word literally means “One Who comes along side” (para) “to call out to us” (kalein).  Sometimes this is to bring solace to us when we’re hurting, which is why The Spirit is sometimes called “Comforter.”   On other occasions The Spirit calls out to us to guide us, which is why He’s sometimes called “Counselor.”  Still other times He is the One Who “tough loves” us into recognizing our sins and repenting, which is why He’s said to “convict us of sin.”

6. The Holy Spirit is Intercessor.  We’ve got Jesus at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Romans 8:34), but sometimes we need help getting to Jesus.  St. Paul tells us, “we do not know  how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with signs  too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  Sometimes this is the groans of our travailing in prayer, or it’s as we pray in tongues. 

7.  The Holy Spirit is the Orchestrator.  Musical instruments all playing at once can be cacophony (literally, bad sound) or symphony (literally, sound together).  The difference is an orchestra leader’s direction and. orchestra members working together for the common good under their leader.  Paul stresses this unity-in-diversity point in 1 Corinthians 12 when he says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” and “Now (first) you are the body of Christ and (then secondly) individually members of it” (verses 4, 27).

8. The Holy Spirit is the Refiner.  God is holy and calls us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16 quoting Leviticus 11:44).  Biblical holiness is neither prissiness nor legalism but Christlikeness.  The fruit of active life in the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

With a solid theological foundation we have a good fireplace so the fire of the Spirit will warm, not burn.  +

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