Pointing to Another -
Holy Spirit, Distinct and Divine
By Dr Paul Petersen, Field Secretary, South Pacific Division
The Trinity-the Basic Argument!
The first article in this series outlined the arguments that moved the early Christians towards the doctrine of the Trinity. They accepted the divinity of the Jesus they worshiped, yet they maintained the oneness of God.
Based on Scripture and rejecting pagan philosophy, they understood that for Jesus to be fully God, he must be Creator, independent of the created world. He is therefore eternal, omnipotent, everpresent, and all-knowing. If He is less, He would be a second God. But as the Father and the Son are clearly two distinct persons or personalities, it follows that in the one God there is more than one person. This Bible based conclusion moved the early church the next step, to the identity of the Holy Spirit. How did the Christian Church reach its understanding of the Holy Spirit as eternal God, distinct from yet one with the Father and the Son?
Because the Christians were convinced of the full, eternal divinity of Jesus Christ, the numerous triadic or trinitarian references to the Godhead in Scripture naturally led them to understand the Holy Spirit in a similar way. The Spirit was mentioned in line with the Father and the Son and is evidently, therefore, both distinct from and of the same rank.
As said by Jesus in the gospel commission in Matthew 28:18-20:
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (NKJ)."
By mentioning the three persons, but using singular, refering to only one "name", Jesus indicates the close unity of being which characterizes the one Godhead with its three distinct persons or personalities. Other well known examples from the many triadic references scattered throughout the New Testament are found in 2 Corinthians 13:13 and Revelation 1:4-6.
But What About . . . ?
But is not the word "spirit" used about human beings refering to the identity of that person himself, not another person? Is not the term "spirit" itself and a number of the metafors used for "spirit" impersonal? And if the Spirit with capital "S" really is God, why are no prayers and no worship in Scripture directed toward Him, and why is so little said about the nature of the Spirit at all?
Such challenges and objections are often raised today as if completely new, yet they were far from unknown to the early Christian church. Its response back then in some ways mirrors the modern history of the Seventh-day Adventist movement as we also have come to understand the Holy Spirit as a distinct personality, yet one with God and part of the Godhead. Reflecting on the answers to these questions lead us toward at better understanding of both God and our own personal, spiritual life and salvation. The task is not just an intellectual exercise.
He is a Person
A number of biblical texts speak about the Holy Spirit in ways different from when Scripture mentions the spirit of man. Texts like these underline the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
- All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses (1 Corinthians 12:11, NRS).
- And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30, NIV).
- Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:31-32, ESV).
The Spirit has its own will and chooses accordingly. He can be grieved and blasphemed against. Such expressions are not fit for a mere power or influence, but characteristics of a person. Is the Spirit then a person just like you and me? No, we use limited human terminology to describe the divine, and the Spirit is so much we humans will never be.
He is Another-Yet They are One!
These quotations about the personhood of the Holy Spirit are important because they describe the Spirit as different from the Father and the Son. He is another. Jesus tells that sin against the Spirit is not identical with sin against himself. Though united as one in a way that no humans are, they are not the same person. They are distinct.
This distinctiveness is expressed in many New Testament texts. Luke underlines the "threeness" in his description of the baptism of Jesus, where Father, Son, and Spirit clearly are not identical,
o Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. (Luke 3:21-22, ESV)."
Jesus himself, when sharing the promise of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, also made it clear,
o I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever (John 14:16, ESV).
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26, ESV).
When Jesus spoke against blasphemy or sin against the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:31-32), he also thereby clearly indicated that he and the Spirit was not one and the same person. He told us that sin against him is not the same as sin against the Spirit. But if they were one and the same, there would be no difference!
This difference between Jesus and the Holy Spirit was significant for the early Christians' understanding of the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus had entered as our Heavenly High Priest, and maintaining his humanity he limited himself. When Peter following the Day of Pentecost further explained the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he, therefore, emphasized that Jesus
- . . . must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets (Acts 3:21, NIV).
He Points to Another
Why does the Spirit tell so little about himself? Why are no prayers in the New Testament directed to the Holy Spirit? The answer to these questions springs out of the role of the Spirit in the plan of salvation. Jesus told that
- He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:14).
The Holy Spirit is in a sense the humble representative of the Godhead. He is not speaking about himself, but pointing to another. It is in Jesus we know God as a person. The Sovereign of the universe has chosen to come to us as a human being in Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus, we know God as saviour and friend..
When praying, you communicate with God. Prayer is part of a dialogue. So, when you pray, you focus on the person you address, as you know him. You know him as Jesus, not as the Spirit. But when you pray, the Spirit comes to your aid to portray Jesus as he is. The Spirit who inspired the writers of the Bible, comes to us to illuminate our minds to see God in Jesus when we read the Word and in prayer respond to the divine mercy and love.
Secrets to a Spiritual Life
Jesus left his disciples. He serves as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. Maintaining his humanity he has limited himself. But God is still with us. The Holy Spirit, a distinct person and part of the one God, is here to point us to Jesus. He is ready to pour out the love of God in our hearts (Romans 5:5) and grow the fruit of love, peace, and joy (Galatians 5:22) in our lives. He shares gift to equip the Church for its service (Ephesians 4:7-13).
He is a humble representative of God. He points to another, and to receive His blessings, you must, therefore, forget yourself and look to that other, namely Jesus. The apostle Paul made this point clear,
- You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:1-2)
You know God the Father through Jesus, God the Son. And you know Jesus through God the Holy Spirit.