Pneumatology: Who Is the Holy Spirit?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, February 15, 2021 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last month, I wrote on Theology Proper, which helps answer the question of who God is. We can never fully know God, but He has revealed much of His character to us. In that post, I also looked at the idea of the Trinity - how God is three distinct persons yet one God. As humans, we find the ideas of God as Father and Jesus as Son somewhat easy to grasp, especially since Jesus came to earth in human form. But the Holy Spirit is a much more vague concept for many Christians to understand. Today, we’ll look at pneumatology, which is the study of the Holy Spirit.

The word pneumatology comes from the Greek word for spirit, pneuma. Both pneuma and the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, have the idea of breath or wind also. This is where we get English words like pneumatic from; not because pneumatics have anything to do with the spirit, but more of the idea of wind.

The person of the Holy Spirit can best be described within the concept of the triune God. The Spirit is a full person along with the Father and the Son, so any characteristic that applies to one person of the Trinity applies to all of them. The Spirit is also eternal and unchanging, just as the Father and Son are. The Spirit is also omnipresent (all-present), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omniscient (all-knowing), just as the Father and Son are.

We often think of the Spirit as some sort of mysterious divine force rather than as a person, often because it’s easier for us to relate to the Father and Son as persons. But we can have a relationship with the Spirit just as we can with the Father and the Son.

In the Bible, we see the Spirit expressed in a variety of terms and images. Here are some examples:

There is no single passage in Scripture that we can point to in order to learn all about the Spirit, but it is evident throughout the Bible that the Spirit is working as God. We see the Spirit present at Creation in Genesis 1:2. We see the presence of the Spirit in Jesus in Luke 4:18-19. In the book of Acts, we see multiple times that the Spirit facilitates salvation. Throughout the Scriptures, the Spirit gives power and gifts to the people, such as leaders and warriors in the Old Testament and the apostles and others in the early church, especially leaders and missionaries. We see the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These are not traits that we can live out on our own, but ones that the Spirit lives out through us. They’re not our fruit, but the Spirit’s fruit that we make evident through our obedience to Him.

We are given lists of the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:1-16, and 1 Peter 4:8-11. There are three main views on the status of these gifts, particularly the gifts that are considered “ecstatic” (healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues): continuationists, cessationists, and cautionists. Continuationists believe that these gifts are still present and active today. Cessationists believe that these gifts are no longer active at all. Cautionists believe that it is possible that these gifts are still active but that is not a main focus of the Church. Personally, I am a cautionist, but I believe any of these views are plausible today.

We see that the written Word of God was inspired by the Spirit in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The Word also refers to the person of Jesus, who shares a unified relationship with the Spirit. There is a definite connection between Jesus and the cross event of salvation and the Spirit revealing that truth to individuals to provide for their salvation. God could work in people’s lives through the Spirit without the written Word of God, but He has revealed Himself through the Word so they may work together. The Holy Spirit uses the written Word of God to make us wise, lead us to Christ, bring us salvation, bring us to faith and sustain our faith, to teach us, to reprove us, to correct us, to train us in righteousness, and to make us complete in God for every good work.

The Holy Spirit may still be difficult for us to define, especially in our Western culture where many do not acknowledge the presence of spiritual beings. But, we know from God’s Word that the Holy Spirit is very much an active part of the Trinity, and the Spirit dwells within the hearts of all believers. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

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