The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series
The Holy Spirit and Us: A Study on the Personality of the Holy Spirit
Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 10:57 AM CST
By Amos D. Millard
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us” (Acts 15:28, ASV). Historically and theologically implicit in these words, which summarize the first council of the Early Church, is the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person who actively expresses His personality in and through the Church. Notwithstanding, the history of the Christian church has been occasionally marked by heretical sects, generally styled as Monarchians and Patripassians, who taught that there was but one person and one essence in the Godhead.1
The heretic Arius, who denied the eternity of Christ, also held that the Spirit was only “the exerted energy of God” — a view repudiated by the Nicene Council in 325. And in the 16th century Socinus not only denied the deity of Christ, but also taught that the term Holy Ghost only designated God’s energy when exercised in a certain way.2 A.A. Hodge observes that this is now the opinion of all modern Unitarians and rationalists.3
Fundamental Bible believers may unconsciously reduce the Holy Spirit to a mere “emanating influence” or “energy” in their thinking. R.M. Riggs in The Spirit Himself warns, “The Holy Spirit must never be considered merely as a blessing, a feeling, or an influence. How far short of the full truth it is to refer to Him as It.”4
Myer Pearlman suggests two reasons why there may be difficulty in understanding the Holy Spirit as a person: (1) Because throughout the Scriptures His operations are invisible, secret, and internal, and (2) Because the Holy Spirit never speaks of Himself or represents Himself. Rather He always comes in the name of and represents another.5 His special office work is to exalt the person of Christ, even as Christ exalted the Father.
Two questions emerge from an analysis of the personality of the Holy Spirit: (1) What are the evidences and nature of His personality? (2) What bearing does the fact of His personality have upon believers?
1. The Evidence and Nature of His Personality
By simple definition, personality is commonly said to be that which constitutes distinction of person. Floyd L. Ruch defines personality as the “fundamental organization in the individual which determines the unique nature or individuality of his interactions with himself and with his environment.”6 Hence he deduces that personality exists or expresses itself in a two-directional sphere of consciousness: (1) inner or self-consciousness, and (2) environmental or exterior consciousness. Professor Ruch then outlines the components of personality in terms of: character (ethical conduct), temperament (emotions), abilities (intellectual and physical), interests (will), and physical manifestations.7 These basic elements of personality are commonly reduced to three: (1) intelligence, (2) emotions, and (3) will. Personality does not necessarily require corporeity. Myer Pearlman said, “Personality is that which possesses intelligence, feeling, and will; it does not necessarily require a body. Moreover, lack of definite form is no argument against reality. The wind is real though without form (John 3:8).”8
An examination of biblical evidence reveals how extensively personality is ascribed to the Holy Spirit — both explicitly and implicitly. His intelligence and knowledge are indicated by such statements as: “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). “And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27). He is said to be the Spirit of wisdom (Ephesians 1:17), the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2).
The personality element of feeling is ascribed to the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures: He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:20). “But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10). His will is revealed by His volitional bestowal of spiritual gifts upon men: “But all these [gifts of the Spirit] worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will” (1 Corinthians 12:11). The Holy Spirit actively directed the early missionary movement: “The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
The Bible not only indicates direct affirmations of personality to the Holy Spirit but also implicitly ascribes personality to Him in other ways. His works affirm His personality. Just as workmanship bespeaks the personality of the workman, so the work of the Spirit bespeaks His personality. He is revealed in creation (Genesis 1:2), in empowering men amidst difficulties (Zechariah 4:6), in teaching (John 16:13), in guidance (Isaiah 48:16; Romans 8:14), in comforting (John 14:26), in prayer (Romans 8:26), and in other ways.
The use of personal pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit affirm His personality. R.A. Torrey points out the remarkable fact that in the Greek language the word for Spirit is a neuter noun, calling for a neuter pronoun; but when the reference is to the Holy Spirit, in numerous instances a masculine pronoun is used. For example, John 15:26, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me.”
The Holy Spirit is presented in the Bible as an object of personal faith. He can be sinned against (Isaiah 63:10); grieved (Ephesians 4:30); obeyed, (Acts 10:19–21). Moreover, it is noteworthy that in the New Testament His name is invoked equally with that of Father and Son in baptism (Matthew 28:19), in confession of faith, and in the apostolic benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14). Thus it is a fundamental teaching of the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is a person in the same sense that God the Father and Jesus Christ are persons.
2. Implications of His Personality for Believers
What bearing does the fact of His personality have upon believers? R.A. Torrey points out it is of the greatest importance that the personality of the Holy Spirit be recognized for practical as well as for theological reasons.9 He points to three: worship, Christian living, and spiritual experience. (1) From the standpoint of worship, it must be decided whether the Holy Spirit is a divine person worthy of adoration, love, and faith, or merely an emanating influence or power. (2) From the standpoint of practical Christian living, it is important to discern if the Holy Spirit is a source of power to augment human limitations or if He is a dynamic personality whose will, intellect, and feelings interact with believers’ lives. (3) From the standpoint of spiritual experience, it is important to discern if the personality of the Holy Spirit is manifested in the gifts and fruits of the Spirit in and through believers (1 Corinthians 12–14; Galatians 5:22–24).10
One of the most significant passages in the New Testament on the practical ministry of the Holy Spirit to believers is to be found in the eighth chapter of Romans. Up to this point in the Book of Romans the Holy Spirit has been mentioned only once (Romans 5:5), but in this chapter He is mentioned 19 times, and the full dynamic force of His personality is brought to bear upon the totality of the believer’s being. He is introduced as “the Spirit of life” who indwells those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2). Then there unfolds a masterful development of the Spirit’s ministry in the believer’s life:
1. The believer’s will is said to be the first area over which the Holy Spirit exercises guiding control (verses 5–10). Hence, there is an interaction between the personality of the Holy Spirit and the will or volition so as to completely change the believer’s outlook and his motivations, bringing them into conformity with that which pleases God (verse 8).
2. There is an interaction between the Holy Spirit and the physical being of the believer. The Spirit that raised up Jesus in resurrection power “shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” The believer’s body is said to be the temple (place of worship) of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). In keeping with this fact, it should not be strange that spiritual worship should involve physical articulations of praise, extolling the “wonderful works of God” as the indwelling Spirit gives utterance (Acts 2:11).
3. There is an interaction between the Holy Spirit and the spirit of the believer: “The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (v. 16, ASV). Thus the Holy Spirit bears witness of relationship to God at the citadel of man’s triune being — spirit — not at the level of the physical or the emotions, though these may be involved in spiritual experience. It is man’s spirit, quickened by spiritual birth, to which the Holy Spirit bears witness. It is that part of man which corresponds to God’s essential being (“God is a Spirit” — John 4 :24) to which the Holy Spirit confirms relationship.
4. In the area of intellect or knowledge the Holy Spirit interacts with the believer. This is said to be particularly practical in prayer: “And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity; for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (verses 26,27, ASV). Thus the intelligence of the Holy Spirit takes over at the point of the believer’s limitations in prayer, particularly as it relates to the will of God.
In summary let it be noted that the full personality of the Holy Spirit interacts with the totality of the believer’s being in will (verse 6), in body (verse 11), upon his spirit (verse 16), and upon his intellect (verses 26,27). In worship, in Christian living, and in spiritual experience, the Holy Spirit touches all of these elements. Let Him be recognized as a divine person worthy of our adoration, love, and faith — for He is in every sense of the word God indwelling His people.
1. A.A. Hodge, Outline of Theology (New York: Robert Carter and Bros., 1878), 174.
2. John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Co., 1958), 5.
3. Hodge, loc. cit.
4. R.M. Riggs, The Spirit Himself (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1949), 9.
5. Myer Pearlman, Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1937), 282.
6. Floyd L. Ruch, Psychology and Life (4th ed., Chicago: Scott, Forsman & Co., 1953), 30.
7. Ruch, loc. cit.
8. Pearlman, op. cit., 282.
9. R.A. Torrey, What the Bible Teaches (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1898), 225.