As Christians, our understanding and definition of the Holy Spirit separates us from other believers using similar terms. A proper understanding is important because it defines us as Christians and helps us understand how to respond to God’s Spirit. In this sense, the truth about the Holy Spirit has definitive and practical value to all of us as Christians. First, a proper understanding of God’s Spirit distinguishes us from other theistic believers. The Christian worldview describes the Holy Spirit as 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
Other theistic systems describe the Spirit differently, however, and these differences separate them from the Christian worldview:
Religions and Cults Denying the Trinity
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Unitarians, the Christian Family Fellowship and the Unification Church (Moonies) teach the Holy Spirit is God’s spirit or God’s active and impersonal force (like radar or electricity), and not an actual person. Some Christadelphians believe one way God uses his Holy Spirit is in the form of his angels.
Christianity disagrees, based on the clear Biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person with personal attributes just like God the Father and Jesus.
The Islamic Faith
Islam teaches the Holy Spirit is an agent of divine action or communication commonly identified with the angel Gabriel who delivered the words of the Koran to Muhammad.
Once again, Christianity disagrees, based on the clear Biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit is a unique person distinct from God, and not an angel of God.
The Bahá’í Faith
Bahá’í believers, recognize the Holy Spirit, also known as the “Most Great Spirit”, as the “bounty of God”. It is usually used to describe the descent of the Spirit of God upon the messengers (prophets) of God, which are known as “Manifestations” of God, and include (among others) Jesus, Muhammad and Bahá’u’lláh. The Holy Spirit is the conduit through which the wisdom of God becomes directly associated with His messenger, and it has been described in different religions as “the burning bush” (when the Spirit appeared to Moses), the “sacred fire” (as recognized by Zoroaster), the “dove” (as the Spirit appeared to Jesus), the “Angel Gabriel” (as He appeared to Muhammad), and the “Holy Maiden” (as the Spirit appeared to Bahá’u’lláh).
Christianity disagrees, based on the clear Biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person with personal attributes of His own and not a mere conduit.
The “Oneness Pentecostal” Faith
Oneness Pentecostals (like Orthodox Christians) believe Jesus had two natures while he was walking the earth. He was both God and man. But Oneness Pentecostals also believe God is now in the “form / mode / manifestation” of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is simply God the Father in another form. They make a careful distinction here: the Holy Spirit is not a coexistent person within the Godhead, along with the Father and the Son, but is instead, God the Father in another “mode”.
Christianity disagrees, based on the clear Biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit presently exists alongside the Father and Jesus as a distinct, divine person within a triune godhead.
The Mormon Faith
Mormonism distinguishes between the “Holy Spirit” and the “Holy Ghost”. The Holy Spirit is understood as God’s presence via an essence filling the immensity of space and enabling God to know what is going on (in this sense, the Spirit is likened to electricity). The Holy Ghost is understood as the third god in the polytheistic Mormon doctrine of the gods. The Holy Ghost is a “spirit man” and can only be at one place at one time.
Christianity disagrees, based on the clear Biblical teaching that there is only one God, yet the Holy Spirit is a distinct person within the Godhead.
The Jewish Faith
Although most Jews consider the Holy Spirit to be a thoroughly Christian concept, the Holy Spirit stems from a Hebrew figure of speech, the “ruah ha-qodesh”. In Jewish usage, however, this concept was never identified with a separate person, but with a Divine power which could fill men, as, for instance, the prophets.
Christianity disagrees, based on the clear Biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person within the Godhead. While there are lots of ideas related to the nature of God and His Holy Spirit, it’s easy to see why Christians would reject some of the common notions that are offered by other theists. The Christian essential truth that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person within the triune Godhead has been affirmed for thousands of years. It is one of many Christian essentials that defines us as believers and demarks us uniquely within the community of religions.
A proper understanding of the Holy Spirit helps to define us as Christians, but there is a second important reason to investigate the nature of the Spirit. A proper understanding of the Holy Spirit actually determines (in large part) how we worship. If the Holy Spirit is a divine person, our worship is going to be radically different than if it is an emanation, influence or force from God. If the Spirit is a mysterious force or wonderful power, then shouldn’t we be learning how to grasp and utilize this power from God? If, on the other hand, the Spirit is a person within the triune nature of God, wouldn’t He be worthy of our praise, adoration and love? There are typically two views of the Holy Spirit related to our relationship with Him:
1. The Holy Spirit is something that we must grasp and utilize
2. The Holy Spirit is God Himself and has the power to grasp and utilize us.
There is a big difference in these two views of the Spirit, and how we come to understand the Holy Spirit’s nature will definitely have an impact on how we live and worship as believers. If the Holy Spirit is a distinct, divine person, the following areas of our Christian life should be impacted:
It Should Impact the Way We Give Thanks
How many times have you offered thanks to God the Father for giving up His Son on the Cross? How many times have you offered thanks to Jesus for dying for our sins? It seems easy for us to offer thanks to these two members of the Godhead, but can you remember the last time you thanked the Holy Spirit for anything? Now that you know a little more about the Spirit, can you see why it would be appropriate to thank the Holy Spirit specifically for His work in your life? Can you see why it might be important to thank the Holy Spirit for being the eternal and infinite Spirit of God who came into this world of sin and darkness to pursue us so patiently? Can you see why it might be important to thank Him for bringing the Word of God to our minds, comforting and helping us to understand all that God has revealed to us in the scriptures and interceding for us? A proper understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit will change our prayer life.
It Should Impact the Way We Worship
We owe our salvation just as much to the love of the Spirit as we do to the love of the Father and the Son. R. A Torry writes, “But what of the love of the Holy Spirit? He was sent by the Father in answer to the prayer of the Son, leading Him to seek me out in my utter blindness and ruin. He followed me day after day, week after week, and year after year, though I persistently turned a deaf ear to His pleadings, following me through paths of sin where it must have been agony for that holy one to go, until at last I listened. He opened my eyes to see my utter ruin and then revealed Jesus to me as just the Savior who would meet my every need, and then He enabled me to receive this Jesus as my own Savior.” A proper understanding of the love of the Holy Spirit will change the way we worship.
It Should Impact the Way We Relate to God
There are some important truths about the Holy Spirit that simply cannot be ignored if we want to understand the nature of the Triune God of the Bible. If we want to understand the nature of God and understand how he deals with each of us personally and as a family, we need to understand his nature properly. We need to understand that he cares about his children enough to assign important tasks to each member of the Godhead. When we see what God values, we recognize how much He is to be valued. A proper understanding of the role and responsibilities of the Holy Spirit will change the way we relate to God.
There are good reasons to take the time to investigate and understand the nature of the Holy Spirit. A proper understanding of God’s Spirit defines us as Christians and helps us to relate to God in a proper and meaningful way.
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.