Do you know the Holy Spirit?

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-surprised, she didn’t know. And since she’s pagan, the simplest answer was best: “Holy Spirit is another name for God.”

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

Yeah, I could’ve given her the full-on theological explanation of what spirit is, how Jesus revealed him, who he is in the trinity, what he does, how he lives in Christians, and how he’s a he instead of an it. But that’s the introduction we really oughta save for new Christians. Mostly because they’ll want to know all this stuff. Pagans don’t always care.

But basically the Holy Spirit (KJV “Holy Ghost”) is God. “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 all too common: 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,” and think of that “of” as a possessive: A thing God has. Not someone whom 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. Kinda like the way certain bosses treat their assistants and employees, or children treat their mom: Like they’re servants or 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, agrees with and 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.” And 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 remotely go far enough, so Jesus makes up the infinite difference. Ro 5.18 But how does this rightness get from Jesus to us? This’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 advocating for us with the Father. 1Jn 2.1 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 Spirit’s temple 1Co 3.16-17 —the Spirit indwells every one of us, together. Yeah, okay, in our hearts; the bible isn’t specific, but why not. He carefully joins us together into his 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 has been laying the groundwork behind the scenes. He’s been at it 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. The Spirit 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 still does when he sees fit Ac 18.9-10) 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.)

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.

John 14.25-26 NRSV
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

In this translation Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Advocate.” The original word is παράκλητος/paráklitos, which gets translated all sorts of ways, depending on the Christian, and depending on the aspect of the Spirit each Christian wants to emphasize most. 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: Παρά/pará, “with,” and κλητός/klitós, “clitoris.”

KIDDING. I’m kidding. Calm down.

Klitós means “invited, appointed, called.” So if all you know is first-year Greek, or how to abuse a Greek dictionary, you’ll deduce “paraclete” means “invited with, appointed with, 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 someone we’re invited with. It’s what the ancient Greeks used to call their attorneys. Usually it had a legal meaning, but it could be any adviser. Or helper.

“Advocate” (as we find in the NIV, NLT, and NRSV) can work. As can comforter (KJV), 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 παρακλήτορες/paráklitores Jb 16.2 Elsewhere in the bible you’ll find the related word παράκλησις/paráklesis, meaning “advice, counsel, 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 this 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 doing 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 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 his 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.