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 (visit highstreet.press).
If the Bible reveals the Father and Son as co-creators of everything, what role does the Holy Spirit play? Is He an instrument of creation – an impersonal force like the noonday sun hardening clay, or wind stirring up waves on the water?
To the contrary, from the first chapter of Genesis onward, we see the Spirit as a personal, almighty person who puts His shoulder into the work of creation along with the Father and the Son.
Genesis 1:2 declares, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The word translated “hovering” means brooding, as a bird hatching her eggs. It is the same word used in Deuteronomy 32:11, where Moses declares that Yahweh “watches over his nest like an eagle and hovers over his young; he spreads his wings, catches him, and carries him on his feathers.”
As one commentary puts it, “The immediate agency of the Spirit, by working on the dead and discordant elements, combined, arranged, and ripened them into a state adapted for being the scene of a new creation.”
Job offers a unique insight into the work of the Holy Spirit in Job 33:4: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” There is striking parallelism in this verse. The Holy Spirit is identified by two different words: ruwach (wind, breath, exhalation) and neshamaw (wind, vital breath, divine inspiration, intellect). God is given two different names: el (God) and Shadday (Almighty). And there are two different verbs used to designate the act of creation: asah (made) and chayah (keep alive; give life).
Robert Morey notes, “The verb ‘made me’ refers to an act of divine creation. It is the word used for the creative acts of God in Genesis 1:31; 2:2; 3:1; 5:1, etc. It is even translated ‘Maker’ in Job 32:22. Job’s choice of this particular Hebrew word is significant because it clearly reveals that he understood in some sense the Spirit of God is God.”
In speaking about God the creator, Job tells his companion Bildad, “His Spirit made the heavens beautiful” (Job 26:13 NLT). The psalmist declares, “The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars, by the breath [spirit] of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6).
In a psalm extolling the creative works of God, the psalmist writes, “When you send your Spirit, they [God’s creatures] are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Ps. 104:30 NIV).
We should note that the Bible describes another “hovering” of the Holy Spirit similar to His work of creation in Genesis 1:2. It is a stunning miracle, never to be repeated – the conception of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary.
Luke describes it this way: “The angel [Gabriel] replied to her [Mary]: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).
As the Holy Spirit is the agent of the Incarnation, He also brings new life to sinners as they repent and receive the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Later, after feeding the five thousand and declaring Himself the bread of life, Jesus watches many disciples desert Him because they cannot accept His call to complete devotion. He tells His followers, “The Spirit is the one who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63).
Later, the apostle Paul writes, “[H]e saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy – through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). It is clear that the Holy Spirit shares in the creative and redemptive work of the Father and the Son.
The persons of the Godhead are three distinguishable centers of consciousness within one being. They interact with one another. Their lives flow through the others. None could exist independently of the others. Each experiences the consciousness of the others.
As a result, while either the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit is revealed as the primary agent in certain works – such as creation or redemption – none of them acts alone. This may not resolve every issue relating to the doctrine of the Trinity, but it should help us see the way in which the distinct persons of the Godhead are unified in essence and work.
Next: The Trinity and salvation