Chapter 2- Because He Is Personal
I watched Bill and his son as they walked up my sidewalk. Bill was wearing a suit and carrying a leather briefcase. His son (probably about 8 years old) was also wearing a suit and carrying a little leather briefcase. I knew immediately that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I made a promise to the Lord years ago that I would no longer play Christian hide and seek when the cults came to my door. So, I stepped outside and greeted them, knowing that a good portion of my Saturday morning would be lost in theological debate.
As Bill and I talked, he shared with me what he believed as a Jehovah’s Witness. They don’t believe in blood transfusions; they don’t salute the American flag; they reject the doctrine of the Trinity; they deny the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit.
I listened carefully and then said to Bill, “Bill, there are a lot of areas we could discuss this morning. But wouldn’t you agree that the most important issue is the Person of the Lord Jesus? Let’s talk about who He is.”
And so we did. For the next half an hour or so, he tried to convince me that Jesus was Michael the archangel who gave up his angelic nature to become human and to die on a torture stake as a sacrifice for my sins.
[I must tell you that we had to go over some ground rules before we began our discussion, for they are taught to interrupt Christians and to control the conversation. One of the ground rules he agreed to was that we would not jump all over the Bible but stay with one passage until we agreed on its meaning or agreed to disagree. The other ground rule was that we would not interrupt each other. I had to remind him of this second ground rule a couple of times!]
Our conversation focused on the Person of the Lord Jesus. We could have discussed the Person of the Holy Spirit. And he would have told me that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Spirit is not personal and that he is not divine and that he is not even a “he.” The Spirit in their theology is God’s mighty force. But we didn’t discuss the Spirit.
I didn’t feel I was getting very far in our discussion, although I tried to share the truth of Christ’s deity with Bill several times. Finally, I sensed the Spirit’s leading me to ask the following question: “Bill,” I said, “is that your son?” The little boy had put his briefcase down and was playing with our dog in the front yard. “Yes,” Bill said proudly. Bill was pleased that his son accompanied him in going door to door to share the Jehovah’s Witness’ “gospel.”
“Bill,” I said quietly, “you know that you and I can’t both be right in our view of Jesus? You remember that Jesus said that whoever causes a little child who believes in Jesus to stumble deserves to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea, right?” I was referring to Matthew 18:6.
“Bill, I’m not sure how to say this, but if you are wrong in your view of the Lord Jesus, you are misleading your own son.”
At that point Bill looked at his watch and said, “I’m sorry, but we have another appointment we’ve got to get to. Thanks for the conversation.” And they left.
Bill and I could have talked at length about the Holy Spirit. But we didn’t. That conversation was not the critical one. However, is the Holy Spirit merely “Jehovah’s impersonal force”? How do we know the Spirit is personal?
Evidences of Personality:
Of course our Jehovah’s Witness friends must reject the personality of the Holy Spirit because they reject the doctrine of the Trinity. They say the word “trinity” isn’t in the Bible — and it isn’t. But the concept of the Trinity is biblical. The term was coined by the Church Father Tertullian in the fourth century to account for the biblical material that God is both one and three. [There are many other terms that are not in the Bible, such as “theocracy” or “kingdom hall” or “Watchtower Tract and Bible Society.”] Jehovah’s Witnesses are, in my opinion, religious rationalists in the sense that what they can’t understand they won’t accept. They say it is illogical to think that 1+1+1 = 1! [A rather juvenile retort by the Christian might be something like this: “Yes, but 1X1X1=1! Right?”].
If my conversation partner Bill were to grant the personality of the Holy Spirit, he would have to admit that God is not mono-personal. And he would be fast on his way to affirming the doctrine of the Trinity!
What evidences do we have that the Holy Spirit indeed is personal? Well, we have both didactic (teaching) and anecdotal (life experience) evidence. Didactically, Scripture tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18- “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit . . .”). We grieve persons, do we not? Yes, we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but (as we’ll see later) that involves being controlled and empowered by Him. We are also not to lie to the Spirit (a grievous sin we will examine later in Acts 5).
By the way, it is interesting that the Greek word for “spirit” is neuter (Koiné Greek uses the three genders for nouns — masculine, feminine, and neuter), but He is routinely referred to as “He” in the Scriptures (see John 14-16 for Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit).
One must ask, what characteristics establish a personality? Typically there are three: emotions, intellect, and will. The emotions of the Holy Spirit are shown by the truth that He can be grieved (Eph. 5:18; see also Is. 63:10 where we read that Israel “ rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.”) We grieve persons, correct?
By the way, although we have no specific verse saying so, is it not logical that if we can grieve the Spirit, we can conversely bring joy to Him? We do, however, read in Galatians 6:8 that we can please the Spirit!
Romans 8 teaches that “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (v. 5). The Spirit has certain desires for us. That sounds rather personal.
The intellect of God the Holy Spirit can be shown in several ways. Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit leads the people of God — and it takes intelligence to do that. We read in Acts 13 the following —
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
The Spirit of God leads God’s people (Romans 8:14 says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”). The Spirit also reminds us of our adoption into God’s family (Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”).
The Spirit also desires to govern our minds, which assumes intellect (Romans 8:6 says, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”)
We frequently have the expression “the Spirit says . . .” Speaking takes intelligence. Usually. The Spirit of God speaks (see I Cor. 12:3; I Tim. 4:1- “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith . . .”; Heb. 3:7; 10:15). We also have the recurring statement to the churches in the book of Revelation that they are to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6).
It also takes intelligence to intercede for others. Again we read in Romans 8 —
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
We also learn that the Holy Spirit is our primary Teacher in this dispensation — and His curriculum is the Word of God, the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). Contrary to the opinion of some students, it takes intelligence to be a teacher!
Anecdotally, we also learn that the Spirit of God can be lied to (Acts 5, a text we will examine in our next chapter). We lie to persons, right?
The third evidence of the Spirit’s personality is His will. The Spirit has a will — and that is to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). We saw in Acts 13 the Spirit’s plan for an early missionary endeavor as He said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” His calling indicates His will.
One aspect of His will for believers is expressed in Romans 8 — “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (v. 13). Part of His will is that the believer engage in the execution of the misdeeds of the body.
The Spirit gives spiritual gifts which are distributed according to His will (Heb. 2:4). The issue of spiritual gifts will be examined more closely in Chapter 5.
Colossians 1:9 speaks of the Spirit’s wisdom and understanding: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives . . .”
If the Spirit of God is personal, then we can relate to Him. We can become concerned about His emotions and His responses to our behavior. We can seek to please Him, not lie to Him, nor grieve Him.
If we recognize the personality of God the Holy Spirit, we will clearly see that He is not God’s impersonal force, but a Someone with whom we can develop a relationship. Developing that relationship, I would suggest, involves gaining a deeper understanding of His various ministries to the people of God.
1. Given the little attention many Evangelicals pay to the Holy Spirit, aren’t we almost like Jehovah’s Witnesses in our treatment of Him? Why or why not?
2. List several emotions that you experience as a believer. Which might find a counterpart in the Holy Spirit?
3. How do we discover the will of the Holy Spirit?