The third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is a concept about which there is no shortage of writing and thought, and yet there is also no shortage of confusion and mystery. In all the religions of the world, there is nothing like the Holy Spirit. He is truly unique to Christianity. Within “Christendom” there is a wide variety of ideas and doctrines surrounding Him.
The existence and work of the Holy Spirit cannot be known except as He has revealed it to us. Pure reasoning and logic are wholely incapable of arriving at the conclusion that the Holy Spirit exists, much less of coming to an understanding of his person and work. Philosophy is totally void of any principles or ideas that can help us to know or understand Him. Science has nothing to reveal about the Spirit. He cannot be observed either directly or indirectly with the five senses. He cannot be measured, weighed, scanned, or put into a test tube. The only way that we can know anything about the Holy Spirit is through divine revelation. As such, the first, and only appropriate place to go to learn about the Spirit is to the Bible.
Let Us Not Go Beyond The Word
Many times when I hear a religious speaker talk about the Holy Spirit, he or she will say a great deal, but not provide any Scripture to back up what they are saying. It seems odd to me, but in many ways, the Holy Spirit is a topic that evokes a much stronger emotional response than Jesus Himself. While we may each hold ideas about the Spirit that are very comforting, or that have strong emotional moorings, we must be very careful not to speculate about the Spirit beyond what is revealed in God’s written Word.
That means that we must be careful not to limit the third person of the Godhead, who, like the Father and the Son, is all-powerful. As we teach our children to sing, “My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” At the same time, we must also limit ourselves, and be careful not to ascribe to the Holy Spirit that which the Scriptures do not. There is often a tendency to find the Holy Spirit and His work in places where the Scriptures do not. As with any topic, we must follow the Biblical rule of accepting only those doctrines that can be proven from Scripture. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
What Does The Word Say?
When we turn to the Scriptures to learn about the Holy Spirit, one of the most striking realities is the scarcity of material. While this is a surprise to many, it is in keeping with what Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do in revealing Scripture.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.John 16:12-14 (Emphasis mine)
If we open our Bibles with a bias to find the Holy Spirit under every rock, then we come up with a list of Scriptures that deserve examination. By my count, this gives us roughly eighty-eight passages in the Old Testament and two hundred sixty-four in the New Testament. As we go through we will find that not all of these passages are actually speaking about the third person of the Godhead, nevertheless, they deserve an honest examination to see what can be learned. Within those 352 Scriptures (total), we find roughly eighteen different names applied to the Spirit in the Old Testament and as many as thirty-nine possible names in the New Testament. Of those fifty-seven different descriptors, five are common to both Testaments. Each name communicates something different about His identity, His relationship to the Godhead, His relationship to man, or His work. Some of these names include Spirit of God, Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of Truth, and Comforter.
Approach This Study With Care
Consider two passages, both spoken directly from the mouth of our Savior:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.(Matthew 12:31)
And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.(Luke 12:10)
Whatever else we may gather from these Scriptures (and they will be examined mater in our study), they ought to cause us to give pause. The Holy Spirit is a topic of study that is not to be taken up lightly. We should take great care that we do not find ourselves guilty of the same folly as Job’s friends.
And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.(Job 42:7)
We must approach this topic with great reverence, and take care not to speak flippantly. We also, as best as we are able, must identify and set aside our preconceived notions and ideas, seeking only to learn what the Spirit has spoken about Himself in Scripture. We must approach this study with the attitude of young Samuel, saying, “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9).
Approaching With A Plan
As I have approached this study and wrestled with the material so that it could be presented in a meaningful and logical way there were decisions to be made. We will begin by examing all that the Old Testament has to say about the Spirit. I felt it important to go there first because as the revelation of the New Testament beings, these passages would have provided the background of understanding for our first-century brethren. As much as possible, we should seek to understand these things as they would have understood them. That makes this background important as we move into the New Testament.
The second decision that I made is much more significant with regard to the impact that it has on this study. While we will be examining each of the passages where the Spirit might be found, the goal is to come away with a unified understanding of the Spirit. I wanted for myself, and also for you, an understanding that fits with every passage that speaks to the topic, and that functions consistently, and provides clarity to the confusion. As such, it seemed best to me to arrange this study in a topical fashion. By necessity, that required that I wrestle with these Scriptures and assign them a topic into which they best fit. Those decisions at once betray the conclusions that I have reached in my study and also provide a definite bias toward convincing you of those same conclusions as you move through this material. Yet, I know of no good way to guard against this other than to plainly acknowledge it for what it is.
A Final Plea Before Beginning
As you continue with me in this study I ask that you do so both with discernment and an open mind. I ask that you, as I have attempted to do, be discerning about your own preconceived notions regarding the Spirit and His work. I ask that you also show discernment regarding my own ideas and conclusions. I am by no means perfect, nor do I have it all figured out. Please bear that in mind, and filter all that I say through the standard of the Scriptures. Also, please bear that in mind, and grant to me the same spirit of grace and of love you would wish for yourself. If you feel that I have erred, I would welcome an honest discussion that seeks to find unity in truth and love.
Just as important as the discernment that I ask of you, perhaps more so, is the open mind. I ask that you be willing to show honesty with yourself and with the Scriptures. Cast aside all that you think you know about the Spirit. Open your heart and your mind to learn what He has to say about Himself through the written Word. In the end, reexamine those things that you thought you understood at the beginning. Undoubtedly there will be some beliefs that you find confirmed, and so as you take them up again your faith in them will be stronger. Yet, there will also be some beliefs for which you will find no justification. This is where the real challenge lies, and where the real growth occurs. You will likely also find new truths that you had not even considered before. For my own part, some of the material that will, follow is as I had assumed it would be. Yet, much of it is not at all what I had expected or thought that I knew.
May we build one another up as together we open God’s Word, and may we grow closer in faith and in unity as together we grow closer to God and His revealed Truth.