What Does Christianity Say About the Holy Spirit? Three Important Attributes

What Does Christianity Say About the Holy Spirit - Three Important AttributesThe Holy Spirit is often misunderstood by Christians who may not have taken the time to properly investigate His nature. But as Christians, our understanding and definition of the Holy Spirit is critical as it separates us from other believers using similar terms but holding different beliefs. There are three important characteristics possessed by the Holy Spirit as He is described in the Bible. These three attributes must be recognized by believers identifying themselves as Christians:

1. The “Personhood” of the Holy Spirit
As we examine the Biblical text, several key characteristics emerge as we study the nature of the Holy Spirit. The first and foremost feature is the characteristic of “Personhood”. The Bible repeatedly describe the Holy Spirit as a person rather than a force emanating from God. Let’s examine the case for the “personhood” of the Holy Spirit, using just a few of the possible verses supporting the Biblical case:

Personal Pronouns as Descriptors
The clearest indication of the “personhood” of the Holy Spirit is simply the fact personal pronouns are used when the Holy Spirit is being referenced.

Acts 13:2
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 10:19
While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.”

Jesus also refers to the Holy Spirit as a person:

John 15:26
“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 testify about Me”

The Spirit of Truth illuminates our minds with the truth of God’s knowledge:

John 16:13-14
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

Personal Characteristics of Knowledge, Feeling and Will
When we say the Holy Spirit is a person, we don’t mean He has hands, feet, eyes, ears and a mouth. Those are the characteristics of “corporeity”, not “personality”. Those are physical characteristics, not personal characteristics. The characteristics of personality are knowledge, feeling (or emotion) and will. The Bible attributes these kinds of personal characteristics to the Holy Spirit. Here, for example, we see the Holy Spirit’s ability to know:

1 Corinthians 2:10-11
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.

The Holy Spirit is described as having a knowledge of us even greater than the knowledge we have of ourselves.

Romans 8:26-27
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; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

In addition to the characteristic of knowledge, the Holy Spirit also has possesses the characteristic of emotion, love and feeling:

Romans 15:30
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…

The Spirit also has the ability to be ‘grieved’:

Ephesians 4:30
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

In addition to demonstrating personal characteristics of knowledge and feeling, the Holy Spirit also demonstrates the personal characteristic of Free Will:

1 Corinthians 12:11
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

The Scriptures indicate the Holy Spirit (often compared to the wind) has a mind and will of His own:

John 3:5-8
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind (Spirit) blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Personal Actions
Yet another characteristic of personhood is displayed by the Holy Spirit; the ability to act as an independent person who is able to make a choice. This ability to choose is a definitive characteristic of personhood, and the Holy Spirit demonstrates the ability to act in a number of ways. The Spirit acts as a creator, He testifies as a witness, He intercedes on our behalf, and He teaches and guides believers. Let’s begin by looking at the Spirit’s creative activity:

Job 33:4
“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

The Spirit gives life. He creates. But in addition to this, the Spirit also grants eternal life:

Revelation 2:7
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.”

The Holy Spirit also acts to testify as a witness:

Romans 8:16
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God

And the Spirit helps us and intercedes on our behalf

Romans 8:26
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;

The Spirit also teaches and guides us:

Nehemiah 9:20
“You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst.”

John 16:13-14
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

Personal Offices
In addition to all this independent activity on the part of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit also holds specific “offices” (or positions) typically held only by a person. The Spirit is said to be a “helper”, a “comforter” or an “advocate”:

John 14:16-17
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”

1 John 2:1
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin and if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

John 16:7
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

Personal Treatment
Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit is treated as a person throughout the Scriptures. As you read through the following passages, think about the manner in which the Holy Spirit is addressed or described. The Spirit is treated as though He is a person:

Isaiah 63:10
But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.

Hebrews 10:29
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?

Acts 5:3
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.”

Matthew 12:31-32
“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

2 Corinthians 13:14
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

Over and over again we see that the Holy Spirit is treated as though He is a person, not an impersonal force. He “turns Himself” to become an enemy, He can be insulted, He can be lied to, He can be spoken against and He has fellowship with us as believers.

2. The “Deity” of the Holy Spirit
We’ve examined the Biblical evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit, so let’s now turn to another important Christian truth related to the Spirit: the Deity of the Spirit. The Bible repeatedly attributes God’s own properties of identity, presence, knowledge and power to the Holy Spirit Himself. Let’s look at the attributes of the Holy Spirit and see if they are identical to the attributes of God:

Divine Identity
There are places in the Bible where the Holy Spirit and God the father are mentioned interchangeably; the Spirit therefore takes on the title and identity of God the Father:

Acts 5:3-4
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.”

Divine Presence
We also see in the Scripture that the Holy Spirit shares the Divine attribute of omnipresence:

Psalm 139:7-10
Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.

Divine Love
The attribute of omnibenevolence (Divine love) is often attributed to the Holy Spirit:

Romans 15:30-31
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…

Divine Knowledge
In addition to this, the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as having the attribute of Divine omniscience:

1 Corinthians 2:10
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.

John 16:13-14
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

John 14:26
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

Divine Power
And, of course, the Scriptures also attribute Divine omnipotence to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is described as the Creator of life:

Job 33:4
The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

Psalm 104:29-30
You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground.

John 6:63
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

In addition to these powers, the Spirit is also seen as the power behind the very words of the Prophets and the Bible:

2 Peter 1:21
for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

2 Samuel 23:2-3
The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue. The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me, “He who rules over men righteously, who rules in the fear of God”

And finally, the Holy Spirit is recognized as the power behind the Salvation we are offered in Jesus Christ:

Hebrews 9:14
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?

Romans 8:11
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Divine Union
The Bible unites the Spirit and equates Him to both God the Father and to Jesus. Many passages mention all three in the same breath in a way that demonstrates the equality of attributes and characteristics that we have already discussed:

1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.

Matthew 28:19
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”

3. The “Distinction” of the Holy Spirit
We’ve examined the Biblical evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the deity of the Holy Spirit, but there is one more Biblical perspective we need to examine if we want to get a clear picture of what Christians believe about the Spirit of God. This final characteristic of the Holy Spirit is known as “distinction”.

Distinct from the Father and Son
From a Christian perspective, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force emanating from God. Christianity proposes the Holy Spirit is a personal, all-powerful yet distinct member of the triune Godhead:

Luke 3:21-22
Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

And, unsurprisingly, we also see that the Holy Spirit is distinctly mentioned alongside the two other members of the Godhead. There are many verses where this triune and distinct relationship is described, revealing all three distinct members of the Godhead in a simultaneous manner:

HS List

The Holy Spirit is distinct from God the Father, even though He displays all of God’s attributes and even though the Scripture clearly teaches God is one.

Subordinate to the Father and the Son
Another aspect of this “distinction” of the Holy Spirit is the way in which He chooses to subordinate Himself to the other members of the Godhead. In the same way that Christ was fully God and yet subordinate to the Father, the Holy Spirit is subordinate to both the Father and the Son. It’s important for us to remember, however, this subordination does not mean the Holy Spirit is unequal or less than God Himself. James R. White in The Forgotten Trinity says:

“Just as the Son voluntarily chose to take the role of Suffering Servant so as to redeem God’s people, so too, the Spirit has chosen to take the role as Sanctifier and Advocate of the people of God. But since it is the Spirit’s role to direst the hearts of men to Christ, and to conform them to His image, He does not seek to push himself into the forefront and gain attention for himself… difference in function does not indicate inferiority of nature.”

The Spirit here is seen as subordinate to both the Father and the Son in the way He functions as a helper, comforting and helping believers to remember all that Jesus taught, and being sent on this mission by the Father Himself.

The essential Christian concept of the Holy Spirit is not simply an unimportant nuance within Christianity. There is an orthodox position related to the nature of the Spirit; He is a:

1) Distinct Person within the Triune Godhead,
2) Distinct from the Father and the Son
3) Possessing All the Attributes of Personhood and
4) Possessing All the Attributes of Deity

This understanding matters to us as Christians because it distinguishes us from other theistic believers who use the same term but define the Spirit differently. It’s not enough to say we believe in the Holy Spirit; we must understand the personal, distinct and divine nature of this member of the Godhead if we want to properly identify ourselves as Christians.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity. My gratitude to Tim Thetford who presented this material when we served together as church elders.

Comment on this blog, Subscribe to J. Warner’s Daily Email, or download the Cold-Case Christianity App from the iTunes Store or Android Marketplace.

Check Also

Three Tips for Parents Raising the Next Generation of Case Makers

Print PDFIf you’re a Christian Case Maker (a Christian interested in making the case for …