The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit


The Holy Spirit as a person     

The Holy Spirit is fully God

Several passages of Scripture speak of the Holy Spirit in a way that assumes that he has the same divine status as the Father and the Son. One example is “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Since a person’s “name” in Scripture represents the character of the person, and since “the name” in this verse is singular, it implies that the Holy Spirit has the same character or attributes as the Father and the Son. Other “Trinitarian passages” in the New Testament carry a similar implication (see 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20-21). And when Peter confronts Ananias with the fact that he has told a lie “to the Holy Spirit,” he then says, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Other passages show divine attributes for the Holy Spirit, such as omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-8; cf. 1 Cor. 3:16) or omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10-11). And the second verse in the Bible indicates that the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of God”) was present at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:2).     

A distinct person 

The Holy Spirit should not be thought of as merely the power of God or the presence of God, but is, like the Father and the Son, a distinct person within the eternal Trinity. This is the implication of verses that speak of the Holy Spirit as distinct from the Father and the Son (such as Matt. 28:19 and the other Trinitarian passages mentioned above). It is seen quite clearly at the baptism of Jesus, where God the Father speaks from heaven and says, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt. 3:17), God the Son, who has become man, is being baptized (v. 16), and the Holy Spirit descends from heaven on him, for Jesus “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (v. 16). Each person of the Trinity is doing something different at exactly the same time.

In addition, the Bible ascribes many personal activities to the Holy Spirit. He teaches (John 14:26), bears witness to people (John 15:26; Rom. 8:16), prays to the Father on our behalf (Rom. 8:26-27), knows the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:11), and makes personal decisions about which spiritual gifts to distribute to which people ( 1 Cor. 12:11). The Holy Spirit personally guides Christians (Rom 8:14; Gal. 5:18; cf. Acts 16:6-7). Something can seem good to the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), and the Holy Spirit can be “grieved” by our sin (Eph. 5:30). These are all activities of persons.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Inspiring the Word of God 

The Holy Spirit guided all of the authors of Scripture so that what they wrote was not only their own words but also the words of God himself. “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21; cf. 1 Pet. 1:11; also Acts 1:16; 4:25; 28:25).

Empowering the Gospel message 

Jesus promises his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). Later, when the disciples are “filled with the Holy Spirit” they “speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31; cf. Acts 4:8; 6:10; 7:51; 1 Pet. 1:12). And Paul’s preaching to the Thessalonians resulted in many conversions when his preaching came to them “not only in word, but also with power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).

The power of the Holy Spirit was also evident in giving miracles that attested to the truthfulness of the Gospel message and its divine origin. After Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Luke 4:14), and immediately he not only “taught in their synagogues” (Luke 4:15) where his word possessed “authority” (v. 32), but he also began performing many miracles such as casting out demons (Luke 4:33-36) and healing “any who were sick with various diseases” (Luke 4:40). By placing these narratives immediately after the introductory statement about the Spirit in verse 14, Luke indicates showing that these great miracles are the result of the power of the Spirit working through Jesus, empowering him for his unique ministry. Similarly, Jesus says, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).

When Jesus promised his disciples, “You will receive power when the Spirit has come upon you,” the disciples would have understood this to refer not only to power that would accompany their words as they preached  but also to power to work miracles to give confirmation to what they were saying (for the word dynamis, “power,” very frequently refers to miraculous power not only in Luke’s gospel but also in the subsequent chapters in Acts – see Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7; 6:8; 8:13; 10:38; 19:11). Paul also said that the entirety of his gospel preaching throughout the world had been carried out “by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Rom 15:19). Both the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of his early disciples was carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christian interpreters today differ over the question of whether it is right to ask for or to expect that the Holy Spirit will similarly work miracles in connection with the proclamation of the Gospel today, but all agree that the Holy Spirit’s power is necessary for any effective ministry of any kind today.

Since it is the Holy Spirit who initially inspired Scripture, it is not surprising that the Bible can speak in the present tense about the Holy Spirit speaking directly through ancient Scriptures to readers who were alive many centuries later (see Heb. 3:7; 10:15), and so it is that the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture to Christians today will make Bible teaching effective in peoples’ lives.

Regenerating the sinner 

No human person has the power to impart new spiritual life to another person, nor can we who are spiritually “dead in our trespasses” (Eph. 2:5) make ourselves spiritually alive to God. This new spiritual birth can only come about by the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit . . . . You must be born again” (John. 3:5-7). He also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63). The UCCF statement speaks of this regenerating work when it says, “The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners, enabling them to turn to God from their sin and to trust in Jesus Christ.”

Sanctifying the believer 

The Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers to enable them to grow in personal obedience to God, for Paul says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13; cf. v. 4; here “deeds of the body” refers to sinful actions carried out in opposition to God’s law). It is the Holy Spirit who produces Christlike character qualities in the lives of believers, for “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit also convicts people of their sin (see John 16:8-11). This purifying work of the Holy Spirit is called “sanctification” in the New Testament (see 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2).

Guiding the believer 

Paul says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14), and he speaks of Christian believers as those who are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). In both verses the present tense form of the Greek verb for “lead” implies an ongoing, regular pattern of activity in the lives of believers, and in both verses such leading is connected to living in obedience to God’s moral standards (see Rom. 8:4, 12-13; Gal. 5:16-26). Believers in the New Testament regularly had quite specific guidance from the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 4:1; Acts 8:29; 10:19-20; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6-7; 20:22-23). Other instances of this same verb for “lead” (Greek agō) suggest that it indicates guidance that is individual, personal, and quite specific (cf. the verb agō in Luke 4:1, 9, 40; John 1:42; Acts 11:26; 17:19; 20:12). The help of the Holy Spirit in our prayers might also be considered a different form of guidance (see Rom. 8:26-27).

Empowering gifts for ministry 

Just as Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit before he began his earthly ministry, and then ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 4:1, 14, 36, 40-41, and section 2 above),  and just as the early disciples waited for the power of the Holy Spirit before they began preaching the Gospel (Acts 1:8), so in the ordinary life of the church, it is the Holy Spirit who imparts spiritual gifts to every believer: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7), and it is the Holy Spirit who gives different gifts to different people, for he “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).

Unifying Believers

The New Testament speaks of “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3), implying that the Holy Spirit imparts unity of mind and heart to those in whom he lives. Therefore Paul can speak of “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:14; cf. Phil. 2:1). And he emphasizes that differing spiritual gifts are intended to draw us together in the body of Christ, for they are given “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7), and the church is like a body that has many different parts with different functions, but it remains “one body” and the differing parts of the body need each other (see 1 Cor. 12:12-31).

These seven activities summarise the primary work of the Holy Spirit, a distinct person in the Trinity who is fully God.

This article appears by the kind permission of Wayne Grudem and Phoenix Seminary.

Picture of Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, AZ, USA.
Picture of Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, AZ, USA.