First, we need to ask the question this way: Who is the Holy Spirit? The Bible tells us that this “Spirit” is actually a Person, an intelligent, loving, divine being with personality and thoughts and emotions. Far from simply being the small-s “spirit” of God in this world, or an ethereal influence left behind by the teachings of Jesus when he returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit is the third fully co-equal and eternal member of the Godhead.
Admittedly, we can’t comprehend how a “Spirit,” who is able to be actively present in Los Angeles, London, and Lesotho in a single moment, can actually have personhood. But in I Cor. 12:11 Paul remarks about the Holy Spirit and the concept of spiritual gifts: HE gives them to each one, just as HE determines. So he makes choices and exercises judgment, and actively gives spiritual talents to men and women.
John 14:16 declares that the Holy Spirit will “be with you forever.” He is a great (and timely) teacher; in Luke 12 Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will instruct us, in a moment of crisis, just what we should say. He comes into a Christian’s life (I Peter 1:2) and makes him or her holy. Right after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost gave the infant Christians the desire to witness and share their new faith; his presence energized the church for action and outreach. Three thousand new converts were emboldened in a single day.
Now some tough news: unfortunately, it is possible to lie to the Holy Spirit. Two selfish Christians, Ananias and Sapphira, did so in the days of the early Church (Acts 5). Speaking of emotions and personality, our acts of rebellion can bring him grief (Acts 4:30).
Especially in Protestant circles, we believe that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ true representative here on earth. Acts 13 details how he led the new Christian church to select Barnabas and Paul for a special missionary work. And twenty centuries before the invention of Mapquest, he even guided their itinerary (Acts 16).
One of the most beautiful metaphors in the Bible is found in Romans 8:14, 15. Thos who are led by the Spirit of God, Paul writes, are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. It is one of the Holy Spirit’s paramount roles to like that of a social worker: to solidify our adoption into God’s family! He continually reminds us of what a wonderful heavenly Father we have.
The old Christian pop song from the 1970s, “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” is a great reminder that the Holy Spirit takes our hand – and puts it in our Father’s hand. He reminds us that we are royalty, that we were chosen by God to enter into his family. When we have fears or doubts, the Spirit quietly affirms our choice to be children of a heavenly king. In fact, Ephesians twice tells us that the Holy Spirit’s encouragement seals or cements this glorious connection between our heart and God’s. Through his influence we enter into an unshakable friendship with our redeeming Father.
A final note: there are some who timidly suggest that after the death of Jesus, there was no miraculous resurrection, no Easter triumph over death . . . but that the “spirit” of Jesus survived. No real person, only the ideas and the principle of the Golden Rule and the parables. But no! All of the New Testament dynamically proclaims that a real and living Jesus, with a body and with personality and a desire to return, lives and is in our universe today. Just so, the Holy Spirit is no vaporous philosophy or influence, but a real and explosive personal being who guides today’s Church – and each of us – toward the day of triumph.