Who Are We, Anyway? A Bible Study by Jack Kelley As we begin another Christmas…
Is It Important That the Holy Spirit Is a Person?
By Dr. Matt Ayars
President Wesley Biblical Seminary
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with someone who denied the personhood of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, he is not God, and certainly not a person. The Holy Spirit is an impersonal force,” he said. In a study done by the Institute for Religion and Democracy, 55% of evangelical Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person. A study conducted by Christianity Today showed that 59% of evangelicals denied the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
In the 6th century AD at the second Council of Constantinople, the church definitively affirmed the biblical witness of the divinity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. In other words, to believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person but an impersonal force is to stand outside of the Holy Spirit’s teaching about Himself. Following a “holy spirit” that is not a person is to follow false teaching, which is very dangerous.
But what difference does it make? Does it matter that the Holy Spirit is a person or a force?
Yes, the difference is huge.
There are major consequences to denying the personhood of the Holy Spirit, and they are not merely consequences discussed in the upper rooms of ivory towers by theologians and academicians. Getting this point of teaching wrong about the Holy Spirit compromises the very Gospel itself. So, here are three major consequences of denying the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
1. Denying the Personhood of the Holy Spirit Denies the Authority of Scripture
The Scriptures clearly teach that the Holy Spirit is a person. We see this is in the names and titles used for the Holy Spirit and the attributes of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3–4), and frustrated (Ephesians 4:30). You can’t lie to an impersonal force (e.g., a rock or the wind). The Holy Spirit is described by the Bible as having attributes that only God has (e.g., omnipotence (Ps. 139:7–10)); and, if God is a person (as Jesus reveals), then the Holy Spirit must be a person if he is God. To say that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force is to deny the voice of Scriptures on the matter.
As we will explore in point three below, if the Holy Spirit is NOT a person, then Jesus’s promises that he will be with us always and that his work results in the restoration of the very presence of God in the hearts of people are all lies.
The bottom line is if you take the Scriptures seriously, you must take the personhood of the Holy Spirit seriously.
2. Denying the Personhood of the Holy Spirit Denies the Divinity of the Holy Spirit
As mentioned above, Jesus reveals that God is a person (John 1:1; John 14:9). If God is a person, and the Holy Spirit is God (as the Bible clearly teaches), then the Holy Spirit must also be a person. If the Holy Spirit is not a person, then the Holy Spirit cannot be God (i.e., co-equal with God the Father and God the Son).
Denying the divinity of the Holy Spirit means taking away from what the Holy Spirit is capable of in terms of applying the saving work of Jesus in the lives of believers (not to mention that it’s also blasphemy). Only God (including the Holy Spirit) is able to bring to life a valley of dry bones. People’s hearts are regenerated because of the power of the presence of God inside of them. That presence is mediated by the Holy Spirit. Some thing less than God himself is not able to generate resurrected life in sinners. Only the personal God indwelling believers is able to accomplish such a miracle.
3. Denying the Personhood of the Holy Spirit Denies the Truth and Power of the Gospel
This is a big claim, so how do arrive here? The good news of the Gospel is that humans were once estranged from God, but now—because of the saving work of Jesus—we are brought back into relationship with Him. Scripture employs a number of metaphors to make this point: (1) Christians are adopted as children of God; (2) Christians are citizens of the kingdom of God; (3) Christians are the bride of Christ; (4) Christians are forgiven; (5) Christians are a new creation. All of these metaphors—in one way or another—are only possible because humans are reconciled to God in a love relationship.
So, what does this have to do with the personhood of the Holy Spirit? If the Holy Spirit is NOT a person, then he cannot truly mediate the presence of God to his people. Once again, when Jesus promises His followers that He will be with them always, this is only true if the Holy Spirit is a person who is able to mediate the personal presence of Jesus to His followers. Paul says that the body of believers that makes up the church is the temple of God which houses His very presence. If the Holy Spirit is not a person, then this statement simply cannot be true.
If the aim of Jesus’s saving work is to restore the presence of God with us, then the Holy Spirit must be a person to truly bring the presence of God to believers. If the Holy Spirit is not a person, then the truth and power of Jesus’s saving ministry are denied.
Because of Jesus, God’s personal presence is available to us now. That presence is likewise brought to us by the Holy Spirit, only if the Holy Spirit is a person.
Imagine you’re lost in a dark cave and you cry out to God for help. In terms of saving you, God has two options: (1) toss you a flashlight, or (2) come to you and walk you out Himself. If the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force, then God has opted for #1. The problem with #1 is that it is not what Scripture teaches about the nature of salvation. According to Scripture, in salvation, God actually shows up and walks with us. This is only possible if the Holy Spirit is a person. Because the Holy Spirit is a person, God Himself is with you, which is the promise of the Gospel.