One of the common stumbling blocks in our journey of faith is the challenge of understanding the Holy Spirit. Indeed, for many people, both Christians and non-Christians alike, the idea of the Holy Spirit can be somewhat difficult to understand and challenging to comprehend. It can be difficult to know how best to get a grasp on who the Holy Spirit is and how we can relate to Him in our day-to-day lives.
One of the reasons for this is that the other members of the Trinity are often considered easier to understand. Jesus was a human who walked on earth, engaged with other humans and taught those around Him. And we can read about this teaching in the Bible. As such, while we cannot see Jesus physically, we can nonetheless understand Him. And we can imagine what it would be like to walk on earth with Him. Equally, with God the Father, we can comprehend something of who He is. We all have a reference point for what a Father is or should be like. As such, we can grasp an idea of what it means for God to be a father to us.
Understanding the Holy Spirit as a person
One of the keys to understanding the Holy Spirit is recognising that the Holy Spirit is a person. Now, this doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is a human being or that He is non-divine. But it does mean that the Spirit is relational and personal. The Holy Spirit is not an “it” or a “thing”. He is a person of the Godhead who is eternally in relationship with the other members of the trinity. And He also desires a relationship with humanity.
Through the lens of the trinity we understand that God is one being who exists in three independent persons. Just as God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, are persons of the Godhead, so too is the Holy Spirit an independent person who, together with the Father and the Son, is relational, personal and engaged in our day-to-day lives.
Understanding the Holy Spirit as a person reminds us that we can relate to the Him in our walk with the Lord. We can know Him and approach Him, knowing that He desires a relationship with us. Recognising that the Holy Spirit is a person also turns the Holy Spirit’s activity that we read about in Scripture from being clinical to relational. The actions of the Holy Spirit are rooted in love and driven by compassion. It means that we can read through the biblical references to the Holy Spirit and know that we are invited into the story.
Understanding the Holy Spirit as God
Another key for understanding the Holy Spirit is knowing that the Holy Spirit is God. Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit is not simply a helper sent from God, but He actually IS God. This reminds us that our interactions with the Holy Spirit are not simply interactions with a spiritual helper, but with God Himself. When we receive the Holy Spirit and allow Him to work in and through us, we are engaging with and relating to God directly.
Throughout the Bible we see allusions to what we today know as the doctrine of the Trinity. We are introduced to the idea of a plurality in who God is, such as in Genesis 1:26, where God says “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” Then, in the New Testament, we read in John 14:16 that the Holy Spirit is distinct from and different to Jesus and the Father. Yet, at the same time, there is a clear sense of unity, in which the Father, Jesus and the Spirit are all unified as one being. As Jesus says in Matthew 28:19, they share one name; the name in which we are all baptised and saved. As such, we are drawn to the idea that God exists as one being in three persons.
The references in Scripture to the plurality of God and the individuality of the persons of God have led to the doctrine of the trinity, which affirms the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. He is the one who equips us, affirms us, walks with us and ministers to us through all seasons. He is our comforter and our counsellor, our ever-present help in time of need.
Resting in the work of the Spirit
Ultimately, the best way we can understand the Holy Spirit is by knowing Him personally. In Galatians 5 we read about the way in which the Holy Spirit takes residence in us and produces fruit in our lives. It is this fruit which is the sign by which we can know that the Holy Spirit is working with us and in us. As the personal God who loves us unconditionally, the Holy Spirit works within us. And as He works within us, He produces fruit and draws us closer to Him.
In Galatians 5:22-23 we read that this fruit looks like this: “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” In other words, when we accept the Holy Spirit into our lives, these are things that we should see! We should see the Holy Spirit outworking His presence in our lives in amazing ways. What a wonderful promise; that we can simply trust Him and rest in the fruit that He produces.
The starting point for knowing the Holy Spirit is, therefore, a position of rest. While God invites us through Scripture to know the Holy Spirit more fully, we don’t need to understand Him in His entirety. We must simply rest in the promises that we read in Scripture. And we must trust that our allegiance to Him will produce fruit that draws us closer to God. The Bible is clear that we don’t need to manufacture this fruit in our own strength. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit who works within us and through us, drawing us ever closer to Him and moulding us more into His likeness.
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