Do you know the Holy Spirit?

If you tend to refer to him as “it,” I’m betting no.

Years ago a pagan relative of mine asked me, “You keep saying ‘Holy Spirit this, Holy Spirit that.’ What do you mean by that? What’s the Holy Spirit?”

“Oh,” I said, half-surprised, half-not-all-that-really-surprised, that she didn’t know. This being the case, it was time not to be Mr. Theologian. “Holy Spirit is another name for God.”

“Oh,” she said. And our conversation moved on.

That’s really all the explanation we need to give most people. Trying to explain the trinity is going to become a big long discussion, and one we oughta save for new Christians. Mainly because they’ll want to understand the mystery… not mock it.

The Holy Spirit (KJV “Holy Ghost”) is God. Therefore “Holy Spirit is another name for God” is a quick-’n-dirty explanation which points people in the right direction.

As opposed to the wrong direction, which is the more common view. Too many people think the Holy Spirit is a force, a power: God’s might, by which he gets stuff done. When God creates stuff, he does it using his spirit. When God heals people, he uses his spirit on ’em. When God saves people from sin and death, he dumps some of his spirit into them. When God drives out evil spirits, he knocks ’em back by throwing some of his spirit at them.

People call him “the spirit of God,” but think of that “of” as a possessive—something God has, not someone God is. After all, the Spirit does so many things for God, and for us, it’s easy to get the idea he’s nothing but an instrument or tool. Which is quite a lot like certain bosses treat their assistants and employees: Like they’re machines, not people. Same way with certain Christians and the Holy Spirit. We ungrateful humans treat him like a refrigerator full of treats, instead of the one who spiritually feeds and nourishes us.

The Holy Spirit is a person. He has a mind of his own, Ac 13.2, 16.6 even though he, same as Jesus, does as the Father wants. Jn 16.13 He’s not the Father, because he comes from the Father. He’s not Jesus either, because Jesus sent him to us. Jn 15.26 He’s his own person. And he’s God, Ac 5.3-4 same as the Father is God.

In fact, he’s the God we interact with on a far more regular basis than we do the Father. Because he’s the God who lives within us, who actually saves us.

God the Holy Spirit saves us.

Yeah, I know, we Christians usually say “Jesus saves.” We’ve even written songs about it. We’ve also coined the term “Jesus lives within my heart.”

Technically neither is true. Jesus achieved salvation: When he died, he paid the penalty for every sin everywhere. He 9.15 Our own rightness can’t possibly go far enough, so Jesus makes up the difference. Ro 5.18 But how does this rightness get from Jesus to us? That’d be where the Holy Spirit comes in.

No, Jesus doesn’t live in your heart, even though tract-writers and evangelists simply love this idea. (And misquote Revelation 3.20 to “prove” it.) Jesus is in heaven working as our high priest. He 7.26 But someone who is inside you, sealed to every individual Christian as the down payment on our salvation, is the Holy Spirit. Ep 1.13-14 That’s why we Christians are collectively called “the temple of the Holy Spirit” 1Co 3.16-17 —the Spirit indwells every one of us. Yeah, okay, in our hearts; the bible isn’t specific, but why not. He carefully joins us together into a temple, with Jesus as the cornerstone which props up the building. Ep 2.20-22

It’s actually the Spirit who got us saved in the first place. Every single time Christians introduce pagans to Jesus, the Spirit, behind the scenes, has been laying the groundwork—pretty much since before the pagan was even born. The Spirit empowered the very first Christians, Ac 2.1-4 who then were able to share Jesus with the folks who became the ancient Christians, Ac 2.37-41 who passed him down through generations of ancient Christians, medieval Christians, modern Christians, and so on, down to now. Each of us, before we became Christian, were prepped by the Spirit to be receptive to the gospel. He grants us the ability to accept Jesus. 1Th 1.5-6 And once we accept him, he’s sealed to us, as our helper and guide in following Jesus, producing fruit, and growing in truth.

Didn’t realize how involved he was, didya?

Point of fact: Whenever we see God act among people, whenever we read about God doing things in human history, that’s the Holy Spirit. Unless Christ Jesus is making a personal appearance (something he’s been known to do from time to time Ac 18.9-10 as he sees fit) every God-encounter you have is with the Holy Spirit. Not the Father, nor the Son. Not that they don’t know you; if you know the Spirit, you know God. And whenever you ask God to help you, be with you, be near, speak to you, comfort you, or empower you, it’s the Holy Spirit who personally answers those prayers.

Our paraclete. (Whatever that means.)

John 14.25-26 KWL
25 “While I’m with you I’ve told you these things.
26 The adviser, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name:
He’ll teach you everything.
He’ll remind you of everything I told you.”

The night before Jesus died, he instructed his students that after he left them, the Father’d send the Holy Spirit to be with them. Instead of Jesus, the Spirit would become their teacher, and reinforce everything Jesus taught.

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the adviser.” The original word is paráklitos, which has been translated all sorts of ways, depending on the Christian, and which aspect of the Spirit each of these Christians wanna emphasize. Some folks try to dodge the whole debate and leave the word untranslated: “Paraclete” is how they put it. Jn 14.26 NJB So lazy of ’em.

Paráklitos is a compound word, and sometimes people break it into its components: Pará/“with,” and klitós/“clitoris.”

KIDDING. I’m kidding. Calm down.

Klitós means “called” or “invited.” So, if all you know is first-year Greek, or how to abuse a Greek dictionary, you’ll deduce “paraclete” means “called with.” But as you should know from English-language compounds, a “crowbar” has nothing to do with crows, and a “blacklight” isn’t black. Neither is a paraclete something we’re called with. It’s what the ancient Greeks used to call their attorneys. Usually it had a legal meaning, but it could be any adviser. That’s why I translated it that way.

Other words which’ve been used on paráklitos have been comforter (KJV), advocate (NIV, NLT, NRSV), helper (ESV, NASB, NKJV), or friend (the Message). Even Jesus gets called a paráklitos, 1Jn 2.1 and in the Septuagint, Job calls his friends “evil paráklitoresJb 16.2 Elsewhere in the bible you’ll also find paráklesis, meaning “advice,” “counsel,” or “exhortation.”

So when Jesus calls the Spirit the person who’ll “teach you everything,” he’s describing the Spirit’s primary job. Like Jesus, who trained his students, then was constantly around them to correct and guide them, the Spirit does likewise. And like Jesus is Lord, the Holy Spirit is also Lord. He’s our adviser. He points us the right way.

People assume because the Holy Spirit is our helper and friend, somehow we take lead in that relationship, like executives do with their assistants. Not even close. The Holy Spirit is God. We have no business bossing God around. The reason Jesus used “adviser” is because he wants his students—us included—to recognize how our relationship with the Spirit is gonna work. We do the work, and he guides us in how to do it right. He’s the master; we’re the apprentices. We obey as best we can, and the Spirit provides power and guidance. It’s not all him, and it’s definitely not all us. It’s relationship.

Christians who misjudge the Spirit.

Of course there are Christians who teach otherwise. Humans are creatures of extremes, y’know.

Some of us insist God is almighty and sovereign and does everything, and we humans only appear to help, but we’re just… well, there, watching God work, and not getting in his way much. We’re passive participants in the kingdom. Or we’re rotten sinners who are lucky to even watch; if we even dared participate we’d just ruin everything. Best we stay out of things altogether.

Then there’s the other extreme: People who presume God completely removed himself from the picture—even took his miracles with him!—and left things all to us. They don’t count on the Spirit at all. Nor do they understand the Spirit at all. To them, his only job is to drop pertinent memory verses into our brains. But the job is wholly ours to do. Or shipwreck.

Neither idea is the Holy Spirit as Jesus describes him. The Spirit, whom Jesus was conceived by, Mt 1.18 who filled him, Mk 4.1 who empowered him, Ac 10.38 wants to work in our lives in the very same way he worked in Jesus’s. The Father sent him in Jesus’s name, to never leave us, Jn 14.16 to point us to the truth, Jn 14.17 and to live in us like he lived in Jesus.

And to be our adviser: To help us live as Jesus wants, and to train us for the kingdom which the Holy Spirit is gonna build us into.