Basics of the Reformed Faith: The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit

Far too often we hear people speak of the Holy Spirit as an “it,” not a “who.” One reason why this is the case is that the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work is to bring glory to Jesus Christ, not to himself. This is why J. I. Packer calls the Holy Spirit the “shy member of the Trinity.” But this self-effacing role of the Spirit does not mean that the Holy Spirit is impersonal and not God. The Spirit possesses the same divine attributes as do the other members of the Trinity. Even as we speak of the Father as God, the Son as God, so too we must speak of the Holy Spirit as God. He is the third person of the Holy Trinity.

While there is not as much biblical evidence for the deity of the Holy Spirit as there is for the deity of Jesus, it would be a mistake to conclude that the evidence is neither clear nor decisive. We start with the Bible’s direct assertion that the Holy Spirit is God. In Acts 5:3-4, we read the story of Ananias and Saphirra, specifically of their deceit and the charge brought against them. “You have not lied to men but to God.” To lie to the Holy Spirit (as they did) is to lie to God. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul tells us that the Spirit who indwells us, is God’s Spirit. He makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 6:19. At the very least, both of Paul’s comments are indirect assertions of the deity of the Holy Spirit.

There is significant evidence for the deity of the Holy Spirit found in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 63:10, Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of God, as does the Psalmist in Psalm 95:9. In Hebrews 3:7-9 the author of Hebrews attributes the words spoken by God in Psalm 95 to the Holy Spirit. “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test . . . for forty years.” What the Old Testament prophets attributed to God, the author of Hebrews attributes to the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is said to possess divine attributes. In Genesis 1:1-2 we read that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Even as John and Paul attribute the work of creation to the Son (who is true and eternal God), so too, Moses assigns the work of creation to the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 33:6, the Psalmist states that the Holy Spirit (the Ruach, the breath of God) creates all things. As the Son is eternal, so too, is the Holy Spirit, who was with God before all things were created.

In Job 33:4, we read, “the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” As the Father and the Son are said to give us life, so too does the Holy Spirit. But not only does the Holy Spirit grant us life and breath, he also gives the new birth, something only God can do (John 3:5). We cannot enter God’s kingdom until God’s Spirit gives us eternal life.

Then we have a whole catalog of divine attributes applied to the Spirit. He is omniscient (in Psalm 139:7-10, the Psalmist says that the Holy Spirit is everywhere present). In 1 Corinthians 2:11, Paul says the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. God is omnipresent. The Holy Spirit is omnipresent. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is God. The Scriptures also teach that the Holy Spirit is omnipotent. In Isaiah 11:2, the Holy Spirit is described as possessing the power which God alone possesses. He is, in fact, all-powerful, because God is all-powerful.

The Scriptures mention other divine attributes of the Holy Spirit as well. The Holy Spirit is the author of our sanctification (1 Peter 1:2), he seals us unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14), ensuring that the work God has begun in us will reach completion (Ephesians 4:30). It is through the Holy Spirit that the prophets and apostles spoke (1 Peter 1:11). And Peter proclaims “[that] prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:21). Finally, there are those verses which speak of the work of the Spirit in uniting believers to Jesus Christ, enabling them to approach God without fear. The Holy Spirit is described by Paul as the “Spirit of prayer” (Romans 8:15-16). It is the Spirit who unites us to Christ and enables us to cry out to God. It is the Spirit’s work to ensure that the saving benefits of Christ become ours.

Given this vast amount of biblical data and the great confusion of our age regarding the God of the Bible, it is vital that since the Holy Spirit is God (with the Father and the Son), we worship God in unity and the Godhead in Tri-unity. For God is one, yet revealed in three distinct persons who are each God.

Since the Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity and is true and eternal God, then we must invoke, worship, and serve the blessed Holy Spirit, even as we do the Father and the Son. After all, we are baptized into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:9). The apostolic benediction is given in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must ascribe all glory, majesty and honor to the Holy Spirit, even as we do so to the other members of the Godhead. We pray to the Holy Spirit, we worship the Holy Spirit, we invoke the blessed Holy Spirit.