The disciples receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2

The Holy Spirit (sometimes also referred to as the Holy Ghost) is arguably the one figure of the Holy Trinity people tend to know the least about. Jesus is central to Christianity, and as He was a human, we know a lot more about Him. God, while He Himself is also a spirit (Genesis 1:2), is mentioned a lot more in the Bible. Many of the monotheistic religions have a god that shares at least some traits of the Christian God. But compared to God the Father and God the Son, God the Holy Spirit tends to have a vague description attached to Him (yes, the Spirit is a Him!) by ‘casual’ Christians. Who is the Holy Spirit?

Let’s study what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is said to act on behalf of God in a couple different ways. In ESV, the term ‘Spirit of God’ is used most often as an entity that enters a person and gives them knowledge and ability (such as in Ex 31:3). Job refers to the Spirit of God as having made him (Job 33:4). The Spirit of God is responsible for giving Ezekiel a vision in Ezekiel 11:24—the presence of the Holy Spirit was associated with prophesizing. Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit of God existing before God made anything on Earth. The exact term ‘Holy Spirit’ is used in the Old Testament only three times, but they are equivalent in terms of general meaning. In Hebrew, the word translated as spirit can also be translated as breath or wind, and so we also see verses like Exodus 10:13, where the Lord brings an east wind carrying a plague of locusts. This can also be understood as the spirit of God in action. Similarly, the Holy Spirit has a hand in many other miracles.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke distinctly of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not something to be discarded, and in fact, those who speak against the Holy Spirit are worse off than those who speak against Jesus (Matthew 12:32). Jesus is described as one who is able to baptize with the Holy Spirit instead of mere water (Matthew 3:11). At the end of Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is able to speak of the things of God through humans (Mark 13:8), paralleling the understanding of the Spirit in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit is also spoken of as “the Helper” who is able to “teach you (the twelve disciples) all things” (John 14:26). The helper will not come if Jesus does not go away (John 16:7), so Jesus says it is to their advantage that He has to go away.

That helper, the Holy Spirit, does indeed come a short time after Jesus’s ascension, in Acts 2. The disciples gathered and prayed, and the Holy Spirit came upon each of them, and the disciples were able to speak in tongues (speaking other languages they did not naturally know). That very day, they went out and preached the gospel to many, and amazingly, everyone present heard in their own language. With the Holy Spirit, the disciples continued to fulfill Jesus’s command to make disciples of the nations, traveling, preaching, and performing miracles. Through belief in Jesus, the Holy Spirit continued to spread among Christians. The apostle Paul restates the nature of the Holy Spirit, that He only resides in those who believe that Jesus is the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). Conversely, those who curse Jesus do not have the Holy Spirit within them. Paul further defines the functions of the Holy Spirit by mentioning a number of spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit provides. Among them are wisdom, faith, miracles, speaking in tongues, and prophecy (this is by no means a complete list). 1 Corinthians 12:7 says that each Christian is given spiritual gifts, although these differ by person. Figuring out a person’s specific gift (or gifts) is helpful to their spiritual growth and serving the church in the most effective manner. Since the spiritual gifts are meant to assist the global church, there is also a community aspect to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also acts in a person throughout their whole life in order to facilitate spiritual growth, as Romans 8:5-11 attests. There is a difference between living for the Spirit (God’s law) and living for the flesh (earthly desires such as wealth, power, and sex). A Christian, therefore, should always seek to align themselves with the Spirit as much as possible. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is what gives us our identity in Christ, and life in Him as well.


Further resources:

Spiritual Gifts Survey by GotQuestions
The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit chapter in The Portable Seminary


Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0