Holy Spirit : “Active Force” or Person of the Godhead?

by William J. Stewart

Is the Holy Spirit a “who” or a “what”? There are some in the religious world who contend that the Spirit is nothing more than God’s “active force”, a source of energy which the Lord uses. Let us notice from the Bible that the Spirit of God is indeed a person of the Godhead.

A fellow with whom I have studied who takes the position that the Holy Spirit is nothing more than an impersonal force lays a great deal of stock in the fact that the Spirit does not have a name. He strongly affirms that since no name is given to the Holy Spirit, he (or “it” as he would say) cannot be a person. The premise of this argument is faulty, since many children when they are born do not immediately have a name. Are they therefore not people, simply because they’ve not been named? Or how about the child who is in the womb? Is that child, though unnamed, not still a person?

However, notice, Jesus has said that the Spirit has a name. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son ad of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19). The objection may come, “…the Father, we would call Jehovah, the Son, we would call Jesus, but what is the Spirit’s name?” Perhaps that is for God to know, and for us to wonder about. Perhaps his name is “Holy Spirit”? It matters not. What is worthy of note is that Jesus spoke of the Spirit as a person in His commission to the apostles.

The Holy Spirit is spoken of throughout the Bible with characteristics which are peculiar to a person, not a source of energy. Notice:

  • The Spirit (1) MOVES. “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)
  • The Spirit (2) CAN BE BLASPHEMED. “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)
  • The Spirit (3) GIVES LIFE. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)
  • The Spirit (4) COMES, is (5) SENT FORTH and (6) TESTIFIES. “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26)
  • The Spirit (7) CONVICTS OF SIN. “Nevertheless 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 depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:” (John 16:7-8)
  • The Spirit (8) GUIDES, (9) SPEAKS and (10) HEARS. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13)
  • The Spirit (11) CAN BE RESISTED. “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51)
  • The Spirit (12) COMMISSIONS WORK and (13) SENDS. “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” (Acts 13:2-4)
  • The Spirit (14) CAN BE PLEASED. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:” (Acts 15:28)
  • The Spirit (15) LEADS. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
  • The Spirit (16) HELPS and (17) MAKES INTERCESSION. “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26)
  • The Spirit (18) HAS A MIND. “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27)
  • The Spirit (19) WORKS MIRACLES. “…in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:19)
  • The Spirit (20) LOVES. “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me,” (Romans 15:30)
  • The Spirit (21) SEARCHES and (22) HAS KNOWLEDGE. “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 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 2:10-11)
  • The Spirit (23) WASHES, (24) SANCTIFIES and (25) JUSTIFIES. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
  • The Spirit (26) IMPARTS GIFTS. “…for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit… one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
  • The Spirit (27) REVEALS. “…which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:” (Ephesians 3:5)
  • The Spirit (28) CAN BE GRIEVED. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)

It is also noteworthy that when the Spirit is referred to in the Bible, personal pronouns are used (he, his, him), not neuter pronouns (it, its). If the Holy Spirit were not indeed a person, we should expect the latter.

Those who oppose the person of the Holy Spirit will scoff at the idea that He might be God. These same ridicule the thought that Jesus is God (see Jesus is Jehovah notes on our site in the studies section). There certainly is not the multitude of verses regarding the Spirit being God that we find regarding the Father, nor are there the same number as reveal the Son to be God, however, if there is but one text which identifies the Holy Spirit as God, then it should suffice.

Consider Acts 5:3-4:

“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.'”

Who did Ananias lie to? In verse 4, Peter says that the lie was to “the Holy Spirit”. Can you lie to a “force” or an “energy”? No, you can only lie to a person (which makes this a 29th personal attribute of the Holy Spirit). However, notice as Peter continues, he tells Ananias, “You have not lied to men but to God.” The lie was “to the Holy Spirit”, whom Peter in the following verse identifies, not as “God’s active force” or “God’s power”, but as “God”. Even if no other text identifies the Spirit as God, Peter here revealed that the Holy Spirit is God, one with the Father and the Son (cf. Matthew 28:19).

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