Who is the Holy Spirit?
This is a rather audacious question to try to answer. The Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Trinity. Therefore, He is a person, and as such, He is much more than a term to be defined. As a person, He has a mind, He has emotions and He has a will.
To say the Holy Spirit is a person does not mean He has hands and feet. Hands and feet are part of having a body, but are not necessary in order to be a person.
The understanding that the Holy Spirit is a person is at once very basic and of utmost importance. Over against and opposed to the concept of the Spirit as a person stands the idea of the Spirit as an impersonal power or force, a power that fills believers and yet is subject to the will of the believer enabling him or her to do what would not otherwise be possible. The best example I can think of is to liken the "impersonal power" concept as being in nature similar to the concept of "the force" made popular by the Star Wars series of movies. In some ways, these ideas are not similar at all. However, the main similarity would be the idea of being able to grasp and use the force for one's own personal benefit or aims. In this scenario, being "filled with the Spirit" would be a means to a happier life for the person able to obtain such "filling."
Our goal in asking the question, "Who is the Holy Spirit?" is to know Him and to grow in a relationship with Him. There is nothing in this opposed to a happier life, and in fact, it is a way to a happier life. However, the means are different in that the way to a happier life is in subjecting our wills to the will of the Spirit rather than using the Spirit according to our wills.
In order to introduce us to the Holy Spirit, I want to look at how Jesus introduced His disciples to the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that as a result of knowing the Spirit, the disciples would be guided into all truth. John 16:1-15 takes place on the night that Jesus was betrayed. Jesus had been working for some time to prepare His disciples for these events, and at this point, the time is upon them. He tells them:
But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. John 16:7, NLT
I want to look at the circumstances surrounding this statement, who this "Advocate" is and why it is best if the Advocate is sent.
First, let's look at the circumstances surrounding this statement. Jesus explains these circumstances when he says:
But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. John 16:5-6, NLT
The occasion was the immediate departure of Jesus, and because of this, the disciples were grieving. Jesus says, "...and not one of you is asking where I am going.” This indicates their state of mind. A little earlier, Peter had asked Jesus where He was going because he wanted to go with Jesus. (John 13:36 and following) The discussion that followed Peter's inquiry illustrates that the disciples had no idea what He was talking about when He said He was going away. They were confused, afraid and shaken. They had moved beyond wondering where He was going to complete bewilderment.
In addition to His own departure, Jesus also gave them some very bad news. He said:
I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer. John 16:1-4, NLT
The bad news was that not only would they be expelled from the synagogues, but they would even be killed for their faith. This is not the first time Jesus has mentioned this. Just prior to this, in chapter 15, Jesus told them:
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. John 15:18-19, NLT
If they were troubled at the beginning of chapter 14 when Jesus told them to stop stirring up their hearts, this news would have done nothing to allay those fears. It seems apparent that Jesus was telling them this as they were walking to the Garden after finishing the last supper. (John 14:31 indicates that Jesus said, "Come, let us be going" at the end of supper) It was a night of trouble, uncertainty and anguish of soul.
In view of these circumstances, Jesus promises to send "the Advocate.” Let's take a moment to consider what this word "Advocate" might mean. The King James Version translates this word "Comforter." The Greek word of the original text is "Παράκλητος.” (Paraklētos) This word is formed from two words "para" and "klētos.” Para means "close beside," and klētos means “to call.” Therefore, the word means someone summoned to one's side, especially as an aid. The most common use was for legal counsel and advice.
In view of their confusion, bewilderment and fear, the disciples needed a counselor, advisor and friend. Jesus told them:
There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. John 16:12, NLT
They were not able to understand what He had already given them, but here He is saying He wants to tell them so much more. His clear statement is, “...you can't bear it now." There were truths that Jesus wanted to teach them that they simply were not able to handle. In telling the disciples about the Holy Spirit in John 14:17, Jesus says:
But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. John 14:17, NLT
Here we see that the Holy Spirit was with them but would later be in them, and the fuller context shows that He would be making truth clear to them. This is consistent with the later teaching of Scripture, which says:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV
The Scriptures teach in these instances that the advocate/counselor to be given would make the things of God understandable to the disciples. In addition, this ministry is necessary because of the circumstances that the disciples would be in. In John 16:1, Jesus tells His disciples, “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith." He tells them this in the context of telling them they would be hated and persecuted for His sake. This gives us an idea why the Advocate, or as the KJV translates it, the Comforter, is necessary.
The Church in all ages has suffered persecution, difficulties and trials. Without the presence and help of the Advocate/Comforter, we would not be able to endure. We would all abandon our faith.
This then helps us to understand what is meant by calling Him the Comforter, but in addition, Jesus gives several reasons why it is advantageous for us if He goes and the Spirit comes. Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the world and in relation to His disciples.
In relation to the world, Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit as the work of convicting. He says:
And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. John 16:8-11, NLT
Here we see that in relation to the world, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment. All these have to do with the necessity of salvation. He makes us aware of our need for a Savior in the conviction of sin, and He makes us aware of the availability of salvation in the conviction of righteousness. Finally, He makes us aware of the necessity of a decision in the conviction of judgment. This is a simplified and abbreviated treatment of the subject, but it is shared to show that without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit no one would come to Christ for salvation.
In relation to the disciples, the work of the Holy Spirit is shown to be an Advocate or Comforter. Jesus says:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, 'The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.' John 16:13-15, NLT
He is the Spirit of truth and He guides us into all truth. The Holy Spirit guides us into knowledge of our Savior. Colossians 2:3 says of Jesus, "...in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:3, ESV) The Holy Spirit makes Jesus known to us.
In John 14, Jesus taught an important truth to His disciples. He said:
...Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? John 14:9, ESV
What is true of Jesus and the Father is also true of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son, to know Him is to know the Father and the Son. We worship one God. The Holy Spirit is shown by Jesus' teaching to be a separate person from the Father and the Son, and yet they are One. According to Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus known to us. As our Comforter, He gives us the strength to face the trials of life. As our Advocate, He intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26, ESV
The work of the Holy Spirit is so essential to the life of the believer that the Scriptures say:
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
Do you hear His voice of conviction?
Are you involved in things you know are not pleasing to God?
What do you do with the thought, that still, small internal voice that questions and asks, "Should you be doing this?" Until you learn to listen, you will quench the Spirit. He is an Advocate/Comforter. He will not overpower our will. A loving relationship requires that both parties willingly participate. God loves us and desires our love in return. In fact, He requires it as a condition of our relationship with Him. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart.
In addition to His voice of conviction, do you seek to hear His voice through His word? The Holy Spirit has given us the Bible. Do you read it, asking Him to make clear those things you do not understand? If one does not seek to understand and obey the word of God, it is hard to see how the Spirit of God is at work in that person. I am not saying the Spirit of God is not at work. I am saying it is hard to see. James 1:22 is speaking of this when it encourages us to be doers of the word and not hearers only. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to both hear the word and apply it in obedience in our lives.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
He is God, Himself, come to dwell within us until Jesus Christ returns to take us to be with Him.