The personhood of the Holy Spirit

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” published by the MBC’s High Street Press and available through Amazon and other booksellers.

The Bible reveals both the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit. In this column, we focus on the Spirit as a person, for without personhood the Spirit cannot be divine. In the next column, we show from Scripture how this person possesses all the attributes of deity.

One of the clearest demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s personality is His use of personal pronouns in reference to Himself. Two examples make this plain:

Acts 10:19-20 – “While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him, ‘Three men are here looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them with no doubts at all, because I have sent them.’”

Acts 13:1-2 – “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”

Note that the Holy Spirit speaks personally to Peter as well as to believers in the Antioch church. These are actions of a sentient being, not an impersonal force.

Jesus also uses personal pronouns to speak of the Holy Spirit, telling His followers: 

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14).

According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit arrives, guides, discerns the truth, hears and speaks, discloses future events, testifies about Jesus, and glorifies Him – all demonstrations of personhood.

Personal activities

Now, let’s consider several passages of Scripture that describe the Holy Spirit’s personal activities. We see that the Spirit: 

Speaks. In the last recorded words of King David, he claims to speak for God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me, his word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). 

In Luke’s account of the Ethiopian official’s conversion, he notes, “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go and join that chariot’” (Acts 8:29). 

Reveals future events. When a prophet named Agabus visits Paul in Philip’s home in Caesarea, he takes Paul’s belt, ties his own feet and hands with it, and says, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him over to the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:11).

Chooses and empowers. The Spirit installs and enables the judges of Israel, such as Othniel: “The Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s youngest brother, as a deliverer to save the Israelites. The Spirit of the Lord came on him, and he judged Israel …” (Judg. 3:9-10). 

Confirms our adoption into God’s family. Paul writes, “And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir” (Gal. 4:6-7). 

Intercedes on our behalf. Paul explains that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27). 

Appoints overseers. Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Distributes spiritual gifts. In writing to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts, Paul depicts all three members of the Godhead working together, emphasizing that “God produces each gift in each person” (1 Cor. 12:6). After a partial listing of these gifts, Paul concludes, “One and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills” (v. 11).

May be blasphemed. When certain Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus responds that He drives out demons by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:24-28). He continues, “Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (v. 31; see also Mark 3:28-29).

May be grieved. Paul warns the Ephesians, “And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30; see also Isa. 63:10-11).

May be insulted. The writer of Hebrews warns his readers of the danger of deliberate sin, which necessarily insults “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:28-29).

Imparts new life. Jesus tells Nicodemus of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, causing one to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).

Other passages could be cited, but these are sufficient to demonstrate the personality of the Holy Spirit.

Next: The deity of the Holy Spirit