Let’s Go to Theology Class: Personhood of the Holy Spirit

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

Grounding your articulation on Grudem’s multiple chapters on the Holy Spirit, but adding scriptural support, as well as information from other sources (e.g., McGrath, Elwell), make a strong case for the personhood of God the Holy Spirit. By “personhood,” it is meant defining the Spirit as more than just a force, ghost, cloud, or some other type of substance; define Him as a person.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

As Grudem demonstrates by the three assigned chapters, there is much to consider relative to the personhood and the functions of the Holy Spirit. Further, Grudem does a fine job of revealing the many areas where denominations and believers tend to disagree. This is especially true regarding cessation of prophesy and other charismatic gifts or “signs.” I have become friends with an online lay minister from New Jersey who holds firm to the cessation school of thought. This came up during a recent conversation with him regarding speaking in tongues. What a great springboard for exploring the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Grudem explicitly states, “The work of the Holy Spirit is to manifest the active presence of God in the world, and especially in the church.” [1] Turning to the doctrine of God in three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), we understand that each is fully God and that there is only one God. Grudem refers to the Godhead as “an indication of the plurality of persons in God himself.” [2] Scripture provides numerous examples of God as three persons in one. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). The Spirit of God was present at the time of Creation (Gen. 1:1). The Father and the Son are God, as the Holy Spirit is also God. No one is subordinate to the other, nor did one come “out of” the other.

Grudem notes that the Holy Spirit is essentially the primary manifestation of the Trinity under the New Covenant. It’s worth mentioning that much of the work of the Holy Spirit is akin to the earthly ministry of Christ, and of the various offices within the church under the OT and the NT. The Holy Spirit is unique in that He gives power to the church, but He also ministers to the body through discernment, interpretation, imparting of wisdom, conviction, direction, and unification—calling the church together for fellowship. However, it is perhaps because of these “leadings” that many see the Holy Spirit as a force or enigma. Looking closely, we see several indicators of His personhood. He has the characteristics of a person; He acts like a person; He is treated as a person throughout church history; and, He is the third person of the Godhead. A mere “spirit” does not have a personality, yet we clearly see the Holy Spirit does possess a personality.

Regarding the Holy Spirit as a person, we can confidently trust the accuracy of Scripture. Paul said the Holy Spirit has the capacity to think (1 Cor. 2:10). Romans 8:11 identifies the Holy Spirit as “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.” According to the transliteration of this verse, the word “he” is expounded upon as meaning “the Spirit of the one having raised from the dead Christ Jesus.” [3] G.A. Cole notes that the personhood of the Holy Spirit is grounded in canonical Scriptures and expounded upon in early creeds. He admits that words can be tricky. For example, the Hebrew word rûah can be translated as “spirit” or “Spirit.” However, Cole says the ancient Hebrew language did not use capital letters as we’re used to seeing in English. [4]

In Psalm 51, David utilizes self-examination regarding the depths of his guilt, and discusses inward renewal in verses 10 through 13. This is arguably not referring to “self” renewal. In verse 10, he says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (NRSV). Kidner indicates the words heart and spirit refer to the impact of the “springs of life” (Pro. 4:23). [5] David is referring to his own spirit being renewed by the Spirit of God. Importantly, Romans 8:26-27 says the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; because we often do not know how to pray (or what to pray for), the Holy Spirit prays for us. As Cole notes, only individuals can pray—disembodied enigmas cannot. Isaiah said it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit (Isa. 63:10). The Spirit of God spoke to the disciples at various times (Acts 8:29; 11:12; 13:2). The Holy Spirit feels love (Rom. 15:3) and can impart grace (Heb. 10:29). Peter noted in Acts 5:3 that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit. You cannot lie to a disembodied enigma, but you can lie to a person. Stephen accused the Sanhedrin of disobeying the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51)—impersonal entities cannot issue commands.

First Corinthians 12:1-11 tells us that spiritual gifts are endowed by the Holy Spirit, and that He acts in accordance with His will (12:11). He is the searcher of men’s hearts and minds; He is the power behind creation and regeneration. His works indicate possessing intelligence, will, knowledge, self-determination, and the general aspects of personhood. Amazingly, Paul said the Holy Spirit searches all things, even the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10). This certainly points to the quality of omniscience. Athanasius of Alexandria speaks quite succinctly that one cannot separate the Son from the Father, or the Spirit from either the Son or the Father. [6] Further, he suggests that if two persons of the Godhead are persons, then the Holy Spirit cannot be a non-person. This would be completely alien and incompatible to the rest of the Godhead. Athanasius adds, “That which is from God could not be from something that does not exist.” [7]

I also think the idea that the Holy Spirit is a person aids in addressing the arguments of cessation theorists who believe spiritual gifts, the offices of prophet and apostle, and miracles (especially, but not limited to, healing, resurrection of the dead, and manipulation of the empirical world to further the will of God) are no longer in operation. Given the doctrinal position that God works through the Holy Spirit, it is not theologically or logically possible for the Holy Spirit to cease operating in the world and in the community of believers. Given that He is an equal part of the Godhead with the Father and the Son, who are eternal and cannot change, then neither can the Holy Spirit change. On a very simple but profound tenet, if the Father and the Son are persons, than so too must the Holy Spirit be a person. Accordingly, I strongly believe in the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

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I want to start encouraging more feedback so we can open a dialog. Presently, in order to leave a comment you need to scroll back to the header and click on LEAVE A COMMENT, but I’m in the process of figuring out how to move the COMMENT bar to the end of each post. Thanks for reading. God bless.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 634.

[2] Grudem, 227.

[3] Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 626.

[4] G.A. Cole, “Holy Spirit,” contained in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 395.

[5] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: Kidner Classical Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 210.

[6] Athanasius of Alexandria, “On The Holy Spirit and the Trinity,” contained in The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed., edited by Alister E. McGrath (Chichester, West Essex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 166.

[7] 166.

Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. —Frederick Buechner

God calls people. Whether it is the calling of Abraham to leave the land of Ur, or the calling of Moses, confronted with the burning bush, or the calling of Isaiah who encountered the glory of God, or the calling of the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, an awareness of call is both mysterious and powerful. A calling is always a demonstration of the love and initiative of God, but through vocation we also come to an appreciation that God takes us seriously. It becomes the fundamental fact of our lives; everything about us is understood in light of this call. Many have said they’re not qualified to serve the Lord. You’ll be happy to hear that God does not call the qualified. Instead, He qualifies the called.

Called of God: The Three Expressions of Vocation

  • The general call—the invitation to follow Jesus, to be Christian
  • The specific call—a vocation that is unique to a person; that individual’s mission in the world
  • The immediate responsibilities—those tasks or duties God calls us to today

Finding Your Unique Purpose for Life

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Erik Rees wrote a wonderful book called S.H.A.P.E. Finding & Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. Rick Warren notes in the forward to the book, “God has given every creature he made a special area of expertise to fulfill its purpose. For instance, some animals run, others hop, some swim, others burrow, and some fly. Each has a particular role to play based on the way they were shaped by God.” This is true for us as well. We were all uniquely designed and “shaped” by God to do certain things. None of us are an assembly-line product. We are a custom-made, one-of-a-kind, original masterpiece.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV). Rick Warren says, “Instead of trying to reshape yourself to be like someone else, you should celebrate the shape God has given you.” God wants you to truly understand and accept who he has made you to be. He longs for you to experience the release that comes with simply living as the person He created you to be. Can you be anything you want to be? Perhaps. I don’t know. But you can be everything God wants you to be. And you become that by discovering your uniqueness.

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This call on your life by God is actually your Kingdom Purpose, which Rees defines as “…your specific contribution to the Body of Christ, within your generation, that causes you to totally depend on God and authentically display His love toward others… all through the expression of your unique shape.” The Bible says, “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits” (MSG). Your Kingdom Purpose, however, is more than a career. It’s a special commissioning from God to make a significant difference on this earth. It’s the banner of your life that you carry and wave for God’s glory. Your Kingdom Purpose is very much a reflection of your faithfulness to God. The more time we spend with God, the more we learn of His goodness and faithfulness—and the stronger we become in Him.

Your Special S.H.A.P.E.

Rees explains the acronym S.H.A.P.E. He says, “As one of God’s custom-designed creations, your potential for significance and excellence is revealed by the S.H.A.P.E. God has given you. Rick Warren coined the term. He believes whenever God gives us an assignment, He always equips us with what we need to accomplish it. Warren (and by adoption, Rees) notes the following breakdown of  S.H.A.P.E.

  • Spiritual Gifts: A set of special abilities that God has given you to share His love and serve others.
  • Heart: The special passions God has given you so that you can glorify Him on earth.
  • Abilities: The set of talents that God gave you when you were born, which He also wants you to use to make an impact for Him.
  • Personality: The special way God wired you to navigate life and fulfill your unique Kingdom Purpose.
  • Experiences: Those parts of your past, post positive and negative, which God intends to use in great ways.

Wise stewardship of your life begins by understanding your shape. You are unique, wonderfully complex, a composite of many different factors.  What God made you to be determines what He intends for you to do. Plain and simple. Your ministry is determined by your makeup. If you don’t understand your shape, you end up doing things that God never intended or designed you to do. When your gifts don’t meet the role you play in life, you feel like a square peg in a round hole. This is quite frustrating, as I’ve learned firsthand. Not only does it produce limited success, it is also an enormous waste of your talents, time, and energy.

Just Be You!

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If you could press a rewind button on my life, you would see that for many years I was running away from God and toward the devil. I wanted to do whatever felt good at the moment. That included sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, shirking responsibility—first, chores at home, later, employment—and taking whatever I wanted from whomever had it. Consequently, it is natural for me (indeed for anyone with such a past) to want to start all over again. My struggle with addiction was nothing short of insurmountable. First, I had to want to stop drinking and drugging. I had to admit I had a problem. Then I had to want to do something about it. Once I came to grips with my addiction, I had to stay consistent. I had to get up every day and “quit” all over again. One day at a time. Relapse seemed to be my middle name.

We were not created to conform. We were not created to compare. We were not created to compete. Yeah, I know: That one sounds iffy. What’s wrong with a little competition to sharpen your skills? Fine. But it’s not your propter quod. You were also not created to compromise. Especially when it comes to Christian doctrine or your witness. Instead, you were created to contribute to God’s kingdom and make a significant difference with your life. You were created to just be you! God is saying to each of us, “Just be you. Be who I shaped you to be.”

Part of the Body; Part of the Plan

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There is one Body of Christ, but there is diversity of gifts within the Body. A diversity that God has ordained in order to ensure the health of the unified whole. Romans 12:8 essentially instructs us to hone our gifts and talents in order to maximize our S.H.A.P.E. Our calling is a gift from God. We don’t earn it, nor do we pick it for ourselves. We don’t need to be pre-qualified in order to serve. As I noted, we are equipped by God for God. Second Timothy 1:9 says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (NIV). After all, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works.

We long for work that is meaningful, joyful, and significant. We long to know that the work our hands and the work we do with our minds and through speaking is good, that in word and deed we are doing something that is fundamentally positive and worthwhile. Meaningful and rewarding. What a wonderful sentiment. Work that we enjoy and where we feel we are doing something significant and valuable. We long to know that we are making a difference. In situations where we turn from God and run amok, selfishly doing whatever feels good, taking prisoners, manipulating loved ones, lying to employers, shaming our parents, we cannot help feeling empty. We might deny it, drown it in booze, anesthetize it with opiates, but it’s there, like a dangerous undertow, pulling us further and further from shore.

As Unto the Lord

We’ve heard it said, “Whatever you do, do it as if unto the Lord.” Colossians 3:23 says, “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work” (MSG). While Paul was speaking at the time of those who were slaves, the principle would be applicable to all regardless of the work they are called to do. Frankly, the fundamental features of vocational integrity are simple. They include (i) knowing yourself and (ii) being true to who you are.

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For this to be true, we need to be sure that what we are doing comes from God; we take joy and pleasure in our work or responsibilities because they are given to us by God. Whether it is the task of raising children, running a business, providing pastoral leadership for a church, or leading the worship team, it is from the hand of God, a gift to us. We need to have a sense that what we are doing is “done for the Lord.” It is something we do with a “God-ward” orientation, something we offer back to God. In other words, our work is both given to us by God and is offered back to God. Paul addressed the aspect of “call” in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. Paul essentially tells Timothy to fulfill his call and to do so with diligence, focus, and courage. Paul’s words are applicable for a religious call or a non-religious vocation.

This Thing Called Diligence

The theme of diligence comes through often in the apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, but especially at the high point of his second letter to Timothy, where Paul urges him to proclaim the message and to be persistent in this task (2 Timothy 4:2). Diligence involves persistence. Timothy is urged to persevere in his work “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable… with the utmost patience.” In other words, it involves doing our work with care and commitment that does not waiver depending on the level of affirmation we are getting on that particular day. We do what we do because it needs to be done and our Christian character literally compels us to do it.

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But more, diligence also involves what Paul speaks of later in that same chapter when he calls Timothy to “carry out your ministry fully” (v. 5). Diligence includes thoroughness. Which means there is no substitute for hard work. Just one more thing my father told me as a teen that has taken me decades to grasp! There is no easy task—easy in itself. For an athlete to perform well, hard work is involved, regardless of how gifted or talented that athlete happens to be. And much of that hard work happens behind the scenes, in rigorous fitness programs that continue day in and day out, far from the eyes of sports fans. Musicians can only become accomplished at their task if they practice with thoroughness and persistence, which provides little reward for affirmation. But the same principle applies to all of us. Attention to detail must be a personal commitment or it is not a commitment at all.

Concluding Remarks

Regardless of our calling—the specific work to which we are called—we can never say that we do not have time, that our work is too important or not important enough, or that our calling is so all-consuming, that we have no time to offer hospitality along the way, care for the poor, generously share our material resources and, finally, give time to prayer and seeking God’s direction and inspiration. It is important to stress that we can become distracted from our calling. I can think of no finer example of tenacity regarding calling than the ministry and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

When Jesus reminded us to love our neighbor as ourselves, work was part of that. In fact, from my personal experience the workplace is where it is easiest to “lose it” regarding our treatment of others. It helps me to think of everything I do at work as a way to express God’s love to others. Don’t focus on the crap. Don’t focus on the aspects of your job you hate. Instead, remind yourself to spotlight the positives. If you do nothing else, at the very least think of how you can use work as an expression of love. If you work as a way to show love, then you’ll find yourself enjoying your work more because your boss is more impressed with you and you have a better attitude. It’s a great start to doing your work as unto the Lord.

At times our vocation is undermined because of pride. We are unwilling to accept what God has given us because we are not prepared to accept some aspect of our calling—it may appear to lack the prestige, the status, or perhaps the financial reward we believe we deserve or want. We are always looking ahead—doing what we do so that we are noticed, so that we will be promoted, so that we obtain another job, perhaps. And the consequence is that we are consumed with ourselves. Whatever the reason, if we are not true to ourselves, we are simply living a lie. The longer we live the lie, the sooner it will be that we are nothing more than hollow men and women.

Our only hope is to intentionally embrace the call of God. This is joy, and it will sustain us and give life to those with whom we live and work. There is great joy in knowing what God has called us to be and do, and to act with courage and humility in response to a needy world. Joy is found in giving ourselves fully—eagerly and passionately—to this call. For this to happen, though, we must learn to think about our vocation as God sees it.

A Daily Prayer (Spiritual Gifts)

Father God, we eagerly desire the spiritual gifts You’ve given for our common good. Help us understand the various gifts and how they work. May we use what we’ve received to serve others, administering grace in love and with renewed passion. Let our youth workers set examples in speech, life, love, faith, and purity. Cause them to be strong, alive-in-the-Word overcomers. Give them discernment to deal with troubled youth as they teach them Your life-giving principles. Thank you for every behind-the-scenes worker who is devoted to service. Bless them for their obedience and generosity. May You receive praise as a result. Reward them for serving You humbly and wholeheartedly rather than seeking to be noticed by others.