The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit: A Systematic Analysis

Introduction

The following is an attempt to concisely identify and explain the most prominent characteristics of the Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture in a systematic way. It is a daunting task and so a few shortcuts have been taken that should be clarified up front. The basic structure and attributes of the Holy Spirit that form the outline of this paper have been borrowed from Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology, a book that does a good job of explaining the bare essentials of theology in plain English for anyone to read. Basic Theology will be the primary source in this paper just behind the scriptures themselves, and other Systematic Theologies will act as support works. One other shortcut taken is that not every scripture about the Holy Spirit will be analyzed. Ideally, every single reference in the Bible to the Holy Spirit would appear in this paper and would be exposited to understand what it tells us about the Holy Spirit’s character, but this is an unrealistic goal for a ten- to twelve-page paper. The point of this paper is to get the basics, not the particulars. That being said, the attributes of the Holy Spirit that will be discussed are: (1) His Personhood, (2) His Deity, (3) His Indwelling Work, (4) His Filling Work, (5) His Baptizing Work, (6) His Sealing Work, and (7) His Gifting Work.

His Personhood

His personhood is important, not only because it is a common misconception that the Holy Spirit is an it instead of a he, but also because my outline can’t use the pronoun He unless this fact is established early on. How then can one establish or even define personality? Personality is simply “possessing intellect, emotions (or sensibility), and will.”[1] If this is the case, all we have to do is determine that the Holy Spirit has intellect, emotions and will and then we can confidently state that he does have personhood.[2] Notice that flesh is not a necessary requirement for personhood. Jesus is the only person in the Godhead to have flesh, and yet there are three “persons” in the trinity.

Intellect

The Holy Spirit clearly possesses a mind and the ability to use that mind in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 2:10 the Spirit is said to search the things of God, and Romans 8:27 says that a man can know the, “mind of the Spirit.”[3] This clearly indicates an intellect that the Holy Spirit possesses and controls.

Emotions

Merely displaying one single emotion would be enough to determine that the Holy Spirit does feel emotions, because by asserting that one emotion is being felt at one time by the Holy Spirit, there is the assumption that a change has occurred to feel that emotion, meaning a second separate emotion was felt before. With that in mind, Ephesians 4:30 clearly states that, “He can be grieved by the sinful actions of believers.”[4] But beyond that the Spirit is said to love in Romans 15:30. [5]

Will

The Holy Spirit’s will is dependent on showing that He makes decisions or discriminating judgments. He does in fact do this, particularly when “He uses [His will] in distributing gifts to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:11). He also directs the activities of Christians (Acts 16:6-11).”[6]

His Deity

It has clearly been shown that the Holy Spirit is a person and not an attribute of God or a mere influence on humanity, but is this person equal in essence with God? In order to prove this, we merely need to identify passages that equate the person of the Holy Spirit with God. This is easily managed in both testaments. “In the Old Testament, the Spirit is spoken of as Jehova (Isa. 61:1).”[7] Jehova, or YHWH, is the highest name for God and is revered among the Jews of the Old Testament. This name was not used lightly in any contexts, and so, equating the Holy Spirit with this name for God gives the Holy Spirit His deity.

In the New Testament, the clearest passage that equates the Holy Spirit with God is found in Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira lie to Peter about the land that they sold. Peter replies, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? …Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Clearly, Peter, the rock of the church, considers the Holy Spirit to have a rightful place in the Godhead.

On top of this, the Holy Spirit is ascribed many attributes of the divine. Geisler summarizes it well when he says, “Attributes of God such as life (Rom 8:2); truth (John 16:13); love (Rom 15:30); holiness (Eph 4:30); eternality (Heb 9:14); omnipresence (Ps 139:7); and omniscience (1 Cor 2:11) are ascribed to the Holy Spirit.”[8]These are clearly attributes of God and give credence to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is indeed divine.

His Indwelling Work

The Holy Spirit has interacted with humanity in a new way since Pentecost in Acts 2. In particular, the work of His indwelling was not previously seen in humanity.

This indwelling is a permanent gift that is given to all those who trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some suggest that it is not permanent in the current dispensation, but temporary. According to Romans 8:9, we have the Spirit of God and He dwells in us, but if anyone does not have this Spirit they do not belong to Christ. At the very least, to suggest that the indwelling of the Spirit is temporary, one must also say that eternal security does not exist.[9] The real knockout punch to the idea of temporary indwelling is found in John 14:16, when Jesus says that he will pray to the Father and send the Helper “that He may be with you forever.”[10]

It should also be noted that this indwelling is not a possession or removal of the will of the human. The indwelling of the Spirit can bring extra gifts to the person as it did in Acts 2 when the Apostles were given the ability to speak coherently in intelligible tongues for the furthering of the Gospel, but He does not remove a person’s own personality or override it with His when He indwells believers. This sort of possession is more characteristic of evil spirits as in Mark 5.

The indwelling work of the Holy Spirit was different in the Old Testament than it is today. The exact terminology is debatable, but in some form, the Holy Spirit did go into the holy men of antiquity. Systematic theologians sometimes call this indwelling and sometimes call it filling. In fact, Jewish thought is not of a personal entity for the Holy Spirit at all, but the few times that the word spirit is used it refers to God’s energy, such as in Isa 40:13 and Zech 4:6.[11] This view is the minority in Christendom, however, and so His seeming indwelling in the OT must be examined.

The clearest passages that suggest an indwelling of some sort are found in Psalm 51 and 1 Sam 16. In Psalm 51:11 David pleads with God not to take His Holy Spirit away from him. This would logically suggest that David did have the Holy Spirit. Most of the time when this verse is examined, it is done so to the exclusion of its context. In the verses surrounding this one David also asks that God’s “presence” not be taken away, that “a steadfast spirit” may be renewed in him, and that God would sustain “a willing spirit” within him. These verses make it nearly impossible to determine if David is speaking of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, in verse 11, or if it is simply another description of the energy of God as the Jews take it.

The stronger argument for temporary indwelling in the Old Testament is found in 1 Samuel 16:14. In this passage, just after David is anointed king, the attention is turned to Saul. The text says that then “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.” Putting aside the discussion of whether or not God directs and controls demons, we should turn to the more pertinent question for this paper: Was Saul indwelt by the Holy Spirit?

In context, it seems clear that the Holy Spirit did indwell Saul and that Spirit did leave him. The integrity of the third person of the trinity is upheld as the word Spirit makes much more sense contextually to refer to the third person of the trinity and this would be the plainest reading of the text. This view is substantiated by looking back at when Saul was anointed king in 1 Sam 10:10 and the Spirit of God came mightily upon Saul. It makes sense to take this as an indwelling for the purpose of ruling as king over Israel since the Spirit left him when another was anointed the new king.

Other passages that fall into “Old Testament Indwelling” could also be examined, such as Luke 11:13 or John 20:22, but the case has been clearly made for a temporary Old Testament indwelling and a permanent New Testament indwelling, so they will not be discussed here.[12] Some might argue that a “temporary indwelling” is merely another phrase for “filling.” I would not spend much time arguing this point. The issue becomes largely one of semantics and not doctrine. Instead of arguing we should define our terms and be done with it.

His Filling Work

There are two different kinds of filling, one of which is more closely related to indwelling, which is why it will be discussed next. These two kinds of filling will be more thoroughly explained later. For the purposes of this paper the differences and similarities to the Spirit’s indwelling will be discussed, and this will be considered a satisfactory treatment of the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Similarities

The main similarity has to do with the way the Holy Spirit interacts with humanity. In both cases He takes up residence within a human being and changes the status quo of a situation. These two events can often happen at the same time as they did at Pentecost. The apostles were both indwelt with the Holy Spirit and immediately filled in order to speak in tongues and preach to the crowds of people gathered at Pentecost. Because of this singular similarity between the two works, many people get them confused in their minds. It is important therefore to focus on their differences to distinguish the two works.

Differences

Filling and indwelling are most clearly different in three important ways. First, indwelling is merely the presence of the Holy Spirit and occurs in believers of the Gospel; filling is more overpowering to a person’s will and some are not convinced that a person must be saved to be filled. Second, filling is temporary for temporary purposes where indwelling is permanent for permanent purposes. Third, filling, in some senses, has to do with maturity and spirituality, an abiding state of fullness, where indwelling has to do with the Spirit’s mere existence within a person and nothing more.

The first point, the overpowering nature of Spirit filling, is the clearest difference. Ryrie describes the filling of the Holy Spirit, in some cases, as “a sovereign act of God whereby He possesses someone for special activity.”[13] This possession is the closest description of the filling of the Spirit that can be used, but it must not be misconstrued. Possession usually has a negative connotation where an evil spirit overrides a human’s will for the purpose of evil. In this context the Holy Spirit overrides a human’s will for the purpose of good.

This overriding of will through filling can be seen in Luke 1:15 in John the Baptist, Acts 4:31 in the believers of the gospel, Acts 9:17 and 13:9 in Paul, and in many other instances.[14] The Spirit’s filling appears fifteen times in the New Testament and four of them before Pentecost.[15]

The second point, the temporary aspect of filling, again relates to this first kind of filling, where the filling of the Spirit was given to a human for a specific purpose at a specific time. In all of the cases where filling was that overpowering sensation, there was a task that needed to be accomplished which the Spirit assisted the believer in doing. In Acts 2:4 it was preaching the gospel in tongues, in Acts 4:8 it was Peter to preach the Gospel to the rulers, elders, and scribes, and in Acts 4:31 it was for the new believers to speak with boldness instead of timidity. Each time a specific motivation was clear behind each filling.

The third point, the abiding fullness of the Spirit, refers to the second kind of Spirit filling. This kind is described most clearly in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Paul goes on to describe what being filled with the Spirit is and he seems to describe a spiritual person. This kind of filling of the Spirit can then be described as “the pervasive influence and control of the Spirit in a believer’s life.”[16] It is progressive sanctification, or the transforming of the mind, or a mature believer maturing. Whatever words used, this Spirit filling is more closely related to indwelling. It is the daily surrender of one’s own will for the will of God. This is the filling of the Spirit Paul describes in Ephesians 5:18.

His Baptizing Work

The baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is the most misconstrued of all the works of the Holy Spirit. It is similar to indwelling in some ways, and this, along with other issues, causes confusion. Ryrie introduces his chapter on baptism in a poignant and important way:

“This [baptism] is confusing to many people as they seek to understand the ministries of the Spirit. Confusion of this sort is most difficult to dispel since it is often connected with experiences some have, and it is always difficult, if not impossible, to persuade people that their experiences may not be in line with Scripture. Also, we must recognize that many believers have sincere hunger to know and experience all that God has for them, and in seeking such, they may not always keep on track with the teaching of Scripture.”[17]

Some of the issues with baptism have to do with an over-emphasis on water baptism, some with the necessity of tongues to accompany one’s baptism, and some with the idea of multiple baptisms of the Spirit or different kinds of baptism at different times. These confusions are understandable but should be corrected to line up with the scriptural view of baptism of the Spirit.

The scriptural view of baptism of the Spirit has three key components: (1) it is unique to this dispensation, (2) all believers receive it (3) it occurs at the point of salvation and regeneration and is not repeated thereafter.[18]

First, it is unique to this dispensation. This view is fairly uncontroversial. All believers generally agree that the baptism of the Holy Spirit did not occur until Pentecost and no example of it is found in the Old Testament. This is important to remember when dealing with the third point because it reveals a possible misunderstanding of Spirit baptism.

Second, all believers receive it. This is slightly more controversial than the first point. The most important text for determining this is 1 Cor 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” The best supporting text for this conclusion is Ephesians 4:4-5, “There is one body and one Spirit just as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Clearly, baptism here refers to Spirit baptism and it happens once for all believers, all those in the body. Together these texts make it clear that all believers are baptized in the Spirit and His baptism is not dependent on one’s sanctification or carnality. The people of Corinth were at many different levels of carnality and Paul says that they were all baptized into one body.[19] He uses the same phraseology when he says, “one body,” in Ephesians. There is one body; one baptism. Which leads to the final point.

Spirit baptism occurs at salvation and is not repeated thereafter. Some denominations contend that the Spirit baptizes us many times and these denominations often link these second baptisms with the gift of speaking in tongues. The problem is a misunderstanding of the distinction between Spirit filling and Spirit baptism. Keener tries to build a middle ground between the two interpretations by saying that “each tradition builds its case from some biblical texts, and it is possible that both traditions may be correctly interpreting their favored texts… Most Christians agree that we receive the Sprit at conversion but can be filled afresh with the Spirit on later occasions, the biggest conflict on this issue today may be semantic.”[20] While I agree that there is a semantic issue, the error Keener makes is in asserting that both parties are correctly interpreting the text. In reality, those who misunderstand Spirit filling to be the same as Spirit baptism are in fact wrong and need to adopt the correct biblical terminology.

The correct terminology is to assert that the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens once for all believers, as evidenced in 1 Cor 12 and Eph 4 as seen earlier. Refusal to accept the biblical terminology in this case leads to all sorts of doctrinal issues. This is different than the earlier semantic issue in the terms “temporary indwelling” and “filling” because neither phrase is used in connection with the Old Testament passages. In that case, different phraseology is acceptable. In this case, since the baptism of the Holy Spirit is clearly used to describe a single event, the phraseology is more rigidly limited.

To summarize, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a one-time event that occurs at the moment of salvation, which joins us to the body of Christ while actualizing our co-crucifixion with Christ.[21]

His SealiNg Work

The sealing work of the Holy Spirit is clearly spoken of in 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13, and Ephesians 4:30. The first tells us that God sealed us when he gave us the Spirit in our hearts; the second reiterates that we were sealed when we believed and the Holy Spirit was given to us as a pledge of our inheritance; the third tells us that we were sealed for a specific time: the day of redemption.[22]

These three verses clearly define what sealing is. It is an act of the Holy Spirit that occurs at the point of belief that keeps those who believe right before God until the day of redemption. The effects are security and purity.[23] We are secure in the promises God has made to us. He has put his seal on those promises. We should be motivated to purity because of this seal. Remaining pure in a practical sense helps us in avoiding the grieving of the Holy Spirit.

His Gifting Work

Finally, it is through the gifting of the Holy Spirit that believers are equipped to do good works for which, Ephesians 2:10 says, we were made. The gifting of the Holy Spirit is also quite a controversial topic. The controversies of cessationism and limited lists of gifts will not be discussed in this paper. Instead, only the hard and non-controversial facts about the Spirit’s gifting work will be discussed.

In essence, the gifting of the Holy Spirit works in this way: a specific empowerment or gift is given to the believer at the moment of his belief, to be used for Godly purposes. Ryrie, as always, says it better and more concisely when he says it is “a God-given ability for service.”[24]

There are many lists of spiritual gifts found in Scripture. All told these lists include the following gifts: Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, Mercy, Words of Wisdom, Words of Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Discernment, Tongues, Apostles, Teaching, Evangelism, and Pastoring. These can be found in four major passages, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.

Note the common denominators in all of these gifts. When used properly, all of these gifts serve a definite purpose and usually that purpose is either evangelistic or edifying in nature. Also note that these gifts are not natural talents. A natural talent might enhance a gift, or be used in conjunction with a gift, but it is not the actual gift given by the Holy Spirit. The differences are worth mentioning. A natural talent is given by God through our parents, at birth, to benefit mankind in general. A spiritual gift is given by God through the Holy Spirit, at re-birth, to benefit the body of Christ in particular.[25]

Conclusion

This paper is hardly exhaustive on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. There are many other aspects to His character that are important, but have been left out. Things such as the Fruit of the Spirit (which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), His intercession, His guidance, His illumination, and His role as comforter have been excluded. Lines must be drawn somewhere. However, the seven topics that were covered, His personhood, deity, indwelling, filling, sealing, baptizing, and gifting, have been done so as thoroughly as can be reasonably expected. All in all, this minute window into the third person of the trinity is enough to generate a response of reverence at His holiness and might.

Bibliography

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology, 2nd ed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology: Vol 1. Kregel Publications, 1993.

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology in Four Volumes: Volume 2. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. Crucial Questions About the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996.

Ryrie, Charles. Basic Theology, 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1999.

Ryrie, Charles. Holy Spirit: Revised and Expanded, 2nd ed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997.

Wallace, Daniel B, ed, and M. James Sawyer, ed. Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit. Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2005.

[1] Charles Ryrie, Holy Spirit: Revised and Expanded, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997), 13.

[2] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 257.

[3] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1999) 395.

[4] Ryrie, Basic Theology, 395.

[5] Ryrie, Holy Spirit, 14.

[6] Ryrie, Basic Theology, 395.

[7] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology: Vol 1. (Kregel Publications, 1993), 399.

[8] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology in Four Volumes: Volume 2. (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003).

[9] Ryrie, Basic Theology, 410.

[10] Ibid, 409-10.

[11] Daniel B Wallace, ed, and M. James Sawyer, ed, Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit. (Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2005), 17.

[12] Ryrie, Basic Theology, 411.

[13] Ibid, 434.

[14] Ibid, 434.

[15] Ibid, 433.

[16] Ryrie, Holy Spirit, 157.

[17] Ibid, 105.

[18] Ryrie, Basic Theology, 418-419.

[19] Ibid, 418.

[20] Craig S Keener, Crucial Questions About the Holy Spirit. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 20.

[21] Ryrie, Basic Theology, 419.

[22] Ibid, 414.

[23] Ibid, 415-416.

[24] Ibid, 436.

[25] Ibid, 437.

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