Who/What Is the Holy Spirit in the Trinity? What's His Role?
- Summary: The Holy Spirit is not just a vague force from heaven representing God. He is a divine Person with a vitally important ministry on this earth since Jesus' ascension back to heaven. My hope in this Bible study is to give answers to such important questions as: Who/what is the Holy Spirit in the Trinity? And what is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity? What's His work, what does He do in the lives of believers?
Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
- • The Holy Spirit is the coequal third Person of the Holy Trinity, classically defined as: “There is one God, eternally existent in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
I. He is divine. The Holy Spirit is God, Deity, the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity
- • In the Great Commission quoted above, Jesus appears to be indicating an equivalence among the three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity — “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
- • Some other verses that show the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working in concert with one another are: John 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:2-4; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 4:4-6; and 1 John 5:7 (KJV).
Acts 5:3-4 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…  You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
- • The apostle Peter said that lying “to the Holy Spirit” was lying “to God.” Peter understood the Spirit of God to be clearly divine.
John 14:16-17a; 16:7 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth… [16:7] But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
- • The Holy Spirit was to fully and adequately take the place of Jesus on earth. Jesus was soon to ascend back to heaven, and in His place — and “for [our] good” — He was going to send the Holy Spirit to be with us forever. Deity (Jesus) was returning to heaven, and in turn Deity (the divine Holy Spirit) was coming from heaven to earth to be with us.
1 John 5:7, King James For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
- • This verse occurs as above in the venerable King James Version and a few others, but not in the majority of translations. In any case, the oneness among the divine Persons of the Trinity is certainly substantiated by the undisputed John 10:30 — “I and the Father are one.”
- • So let it be established in your thinking about the Holy Ghost (KJV) that He is divine, a coequal Person in the Holy Trinity with the Father and the Son.
Hebrews 9:14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences...?
- • The Holy Spirit is "the eternal Spirit." Angels, even the fallen Satan (Ezekiel 28:14f), are created beings (Colossians 1:16). Humans are clearly created beings (Genesis chapters 1-2). Only absolute Deity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are said in Scripture to be eternal, without beginning or end.
1 Corinthians 2:11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11, NKJV).
- • We human beings "know in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9). We do not have full knowledge of the ways and thoughts of God — "For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9, NLT). By contrast, unlike us humans, "no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11, NKJV). As Deity Himself, the Holy Spirit knows fully the ways and thoughts of God.
Psalm 139:7-8 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
- • The Spirit of God is omnipresent, an attribute possessed only by Deity.
II. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not just a force or influence
A. He dwells in believers.
- 1 Corinthians 3:16, KJV Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
- • The Spirit of God lives in us. This speaks of life, of personality.
B. He has a will.
- 1 Corinthians 12:11, Amplified All these [gifts, achievements, abilities] are inspired and brought to pass by one and the same [Holy] Spirit, Who apportions to each person individually [exactly] as He chooses … (NASB) just as He wills.
- • The Holy Spirit has a will; He makes choices; He determines courses of action. These are characteristics of a person. In this verse, we see Him deciding which spiritual gifts to give to which people.
C. He has a mind.
- Romans 8:27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
- • The Spirit has “a mind.” Intellectual capability is a trait that speaks clearly of personhood.
D. He has emotions.
- Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…
- • The Holy Spirit has emotions. Here, we see that He can be grieved. In Hebrews 10:29 we see that He can be “insulted.”
- • In addressing the common question: Is the Holy Spirit a person? we've seen that the Spirit of God has a will, a mind, and emotions. He is said to dwell in believers. These are clear indicators of personality.
III. What is the Holy Spirit’s work? What does He do? What Is the Holy Spirit's role in the Trinity?
A. He was involved in the very creation.
- Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
- • “God created … the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…” And John 1:3 says that through Jesus all things were made. In other words, all three divine Persons of the Trinity were cooperating in the creation.
B. He purifies believers.
- Matthew 3:11-12 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
- • Greek expert, professor D.A. Carson, says the grammatical construction “suggests a unified concept, Spirit-fire or the like” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Matthew, p. 105). Carson adds that “there are good reasons for taking ‘fire’ as a purifying agent along with the Holy Spirit” (105).
C. He comes upon believers for certain tasks.
- Luke 1:15-17, 67 …he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah…  His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.
- • The great prophet John the Baptist was empowered for His ministry by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit’s enablement John turned many Israelites back to the Lord. And He served as the contemporary prophet announcing the coming of the Lord (Jesus) to earth.
- • John’s father Zechariah, when “filled with the Spirit,” began to prophesy a mighty message about the coming Savior and John’s prophetic introduction of Him.
D. He gives the believer new life in the new birth.
- John 3:6-7 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
- • You’ll hear people use the expression “born-again Christians.” They are referring to the spiritual birth into eternal life (vs. 16) that is experienced by all who repent of their sins and receive Jesus Christ in faith as their Lord and Savior. Titus 3:5 refers similarly to this “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” This divine "Spirit [who] gives birth to spirit" is a life-giving Spirit.
E. He is our Comforter, Counselor, Helper, Advocate.
- John 14:16-17a And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth (NIV).
- • Some other translations: “another Helper (NASB) … another Counselor (RSV) … another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby) [Amplified].
F. He will teach us and give us recall of what we have learned.
- John 14:26, KJV But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
- • God gives us human teachers of His word (Ephesians 4:11). But the ultimate, infallible Teacher is the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27). He inspired the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21), and therefore He is the One perfectly qualified to teach us their meaning.
- • Not only does the Spirit teach us the things of God, He also gives us recall of these things when we need them. He will “bring to our remembrance” the things we have learned about the Lord.
G. He testifies about Jesus.
- John 15:26-27 [Jesus said] “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
- • A vitally important work of the Spirit of God is to testify about Jesus. He reveals Him in the Scriptures, and He reveals Him to the hearts of men and women. One of the main benefits of your Bible reading is having the Holy Spirit give you insights and illumination about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit's role in this regard is not to bring focus upon Himself, but upon Jesus.
H. He convicts mankind of sin.
- John 16:8 And [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
- • The Holy Spirit exposes to us our sinfulness and brings us under conviction. He makes us aware of our guilt before God, and hopefully we cooperate with this conviction by sincerely repenting to God for our sins.
I. He will show the future.
- John 16:13, KJV …when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth … and he will shew you things to come.
- • He has shown us things to come in the hundreds of predictive prophecies in the Scriptures. And as He deems it to be needed, He gives to individual believers specific guidance and insight for their own futures.
J. He will glorify Jesus.
- John 16:14, KJV [Jesus said] He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
- • Some have called the Holy Spirit the “silent Person” of the Holy Trinity. It is not His purpose to draw attention to Himself, but rather to draw our focus to the Son of God in such a way that the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified.
- Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1 4 “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…  you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” … [2:1] When the day of Pentecost came…  all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." Note carefully: how many of those baptized/filled with the Spirit spoke in tongues? — All of them!
- • The Holy Spirit empowers the Christian. And this power comes in the baptism with the Holy Spirit. As at the first New Testament Pentecost, the Spirit-filled Christian will speak in tongues as the Holy Spirit gives that supernatural ability.
- • And the goal, the divine purpose, of this mighty Spirit-baptism is to make us powerful witnesses for Jesus Christ. As the late evangelist T.L. Osborne aptly said, that is the purpose of Pentecost.
L. He inspired the Scriptures.
- 2 Peter 1:20-21, KJV But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
- • As the NIV descriptively translates it here, the inspired writers of Scripture “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” That helps us understand why the Holy Spirit is the best teacher of what the Scriptures mean, since He Himself inspired them!
M. He calls and sends out ministers.
- Acts 13:2-4 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit…
- • The Holy Spirit exercises the divine prerogative of calling and sending out ministers. Here it was two apostles, Barnabas and Saul/Paul (Acts 14:14). Notice, too, that this is one more proof of the Spirit’s full Deity.
N. At times He restricts us from certain actions.
- Acts 16:6-7 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.
- • Paul and his company, certainly with good intentions, were apparently heading towards the province of Asia, and also Bithynia, to preach the Gospel. But in both instances, the Holy Spirit prevented them. Shortly after, we see the Spirit’s reason (vss. 9-10), as Paul received a vision from God calling him to preach the Gospel in Macedonia, where a great harvest of souls was gathered for the Lord.
O. He fills our hearts with God’s love.
- Romans 5:5 …God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…
- • The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with an awareness of God’s love for us. And (Galatians 5:22) He also fills our hearts with love to express to others.
P. He will lead and guide the children of God.
- Romans 8:14, KJV For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
- • As we read the Scriptures, the Spirit gives us direction and guidance. And as we seek God in prayer, the Spirit of God faithfully leads us in the paths we should take.
Q. He bears witness within.
- Romans 8:16, NKJV The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
- • This is a very deep level of communication between God and us — the Holy Spirit bearing witness to our spirit. As we look to God for illumination, the Spirit of God “bears witness” deep within us concerning the truths we seek.
R. He helps us to pray.
- Romans 8:26-27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
- • The Holy Spirit is an indispensable help to us in our prayer lives. In “our weakness” we are often uncertain what to pray for. But the Spirit comes to our aid and “helps us” pray “in accordance with the will of God.”
S. He gives us the gifts of the Spirit.
- 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them… To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
- • The Holy Spirit sovereignly, “as He determines,” gives the gifts of the Holy Spirit to God’s people — such vitally needed things as prophecy, healing, and miracles. The Spirit is an Equipper of God's people for their part in the work of the ministry. And He continues to give these supernatural gifts to Spirit-filled people in our day, just as in the early church.
T. He enables the believer to bear the fruit of a godly life and to grow in holiness.
- Galatians 5:22-23, KJV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…
- • The Holy Spirit is a sanctifier, a producer of holiness in us. He transforms and shapes our character by placing within the willing believer the godly virtues listed here. As we cooperate with His sowing of these fruits in us, we will grow increasingly into the desired holy and Christlike character.
This list undoubtedly could be expanded. But we have seen a fairly comprehensive view of the Spirit of God. He is the third Person of the Holy Trinity. And He is a Person, not just a force or an influence. His work is multi-faceted and is indispensable in our lives as we pursue Christlikeness within and effective ministry towards those around us.
[2019 edit: I have added an extensive Scriptural article on the enabling, empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit, which you are welcome to read at You Can Be Powerfully Enabled by God's Holy Spirit.]
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