The Holy Spirit is one third of the Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Son Jesus – collectively referred to by some as ‘the Godhead’. However, among long-time and new Christians alike, the Spirit is often the least clearly understood of the three. In this article, I hope to answer 4 of the most popular questions asked, beginning with “What is the Holy Spirit?”
For new believers, I’ll try to keep all my answers relatable and to-the-point – rather than ‘dry’ and theological. In addition to Bible verses, I’ve also included references for further reading if you want to dive deeper into any topic.
1. What exactly is the Holy Spirit?
People often ask “What is the Holy Spirit exactly?”. No surprise, since spiritual ideas and concepts are a bit harder to capture within the limits of our everyday language.
For starters, the Holy Spirit is actually a ‘who’ – a Person, not a ‘what’. But a little more on this later!
In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is an inseparable part of the Trinity. He – not ‘it’ – is the Spirit of God who has existed from the very beginning, appearing many times in the Bible. This includes Genesis 1:2, as he floated over the dark waters, all the way up to Revelation 22:17, when he speaks as one with the bride of Christ (see also 2 Corinthians 3:17; Ephesians 4:30; John 15:26). Today, God’s Spirit dwells in each of us; a gift from Him for anyone who repents and has faith in the redeeming work of Lord Jesus Christ.
Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.2 Timothy 1:14
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?1 Corinthians 3:16
Are you a friend of God? Read our devotional to find out!
2. How is the Holy Spirit a Person?
As said above, the Holy Spirit is a Person. But how so?
For some people, this is a really strange thing to hear. After all, when we use the word ‘person’, we’re traditionally talking about someone with an actual physical body. With hair, eyes, hands, legs, the works.
However, think about it for a moment. When we speak of such physical aspects, what we’re really doing is describing the material markers of a person – not who the person is, nor the invisible qualities that form a personality.
Thus, when we say the Holy Spirit is a person, we are essentially saying he is not some ‘detached force’ or ‘abstract energy’ – with zero distinct identity.
Quite the opposite! In fact, in the original Biblical language, Jesus himself describes the Holy Spirit using a pronoun, indicating personhood (see John 14:26; John 15:26).
Moreover, the Spirit has his own will, feelings, and judgment. For example, he can feel grief (Ephesians 4:30), love (Romans 5:5), and can convict us (John 16:8). As a Person, he is also capable of intelligently knowing things, “even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
The above are most certainly person-defining qualities. However, you might ask: how is the Holy Spirit as a Person different from mere people like us?
For starters, he is God’s Spirit. Thus, he isn’t restricted at all to the same physical time-space markers we are. That’s also why he’s able to dwell inside all believers, at the same moment.
In short, it’s not that bizarre to see the Holy Spirit as a person. After all, if God can create each of us with a personality, He most certainly can exist as His own Spirit with divine personal qualities – and far beyond!
Read our list of favorite Bible verses to keep your faith strong.
3. How can I receive the Holy Spirit?
You receive the Holy Spirit when you first truly repent for your sins, sincerely declare your faith in Jesus Christ as God who died to redeem you, and aim to walk a new life in our Savior’s name.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”Acts 2:38
What does repenting for our sins look like?
First, we begin by believing in God’s existence, and then confess from our heart that we have done wrong in His eyes (e.g. being prideful, unloving, judging others, lying, selfishness, etc. – to any extent in our lives).
In short, we willingly let go of our personal ego and admit we’ve strayed away from God’s original plan for us (1 Peter 2:25). To repent thus means humbly seeking God’s forgiveness with a genuine desire to become a better person, according to His greater will – not simply ours (see Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9).
Faith in Jesus Christ is also crucial to receiving the Holy Spirit. This means not seeing him as a mere mortal man or prophet. Rather, we choose to recognize him as the Son of God who came to pay the price of our sins, forevermore (John 3:16; John 3:36; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Thus, by His grace, Jesus has atoned for our ways and reconciled us with God.
But what about water baptism?
Lastly, regarding water baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit, this analogy offers a good clarification:
“It must be clear that baptism is no more required for becoming saved than putting on a jersey is required to officially join a sports team. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9), just as a professional football player is made a teammate by signing a contract. Baptism, like the uniform, is an outward, public sign, not a requirement in and of itself.”BibleRef.com; see also GotQuestions.org.
In other words, getting baptized in water is not a ‘mechanical’ cleansing of dirt from our bodies. Instead, it is ultimately a public expression of our true faith in Jesus Christ – but is not a physical ‘cheat code’ to unlocking salvation or receiving the Holy Spirit by itself.
Faith is the real heart of it all. Faith in what exactly? In the life, death, and resurrection power of Jesus Christ who saves us and grants us eternal life with God (John 3:16; 1 John 5:11). To this degree, baptism is a biblically recommended outward declaration of our inner trust – not a conditional ‘work’ we must do to receive the Holy Spirit.
Thus, to sum things up, the Holy Spirit is a gracious gift from God – placed inside you – when you sincerely confess and repent for your sins, believe in Jesus, and seek to live boldly in your faith and salvation.
Check out this article for a deeper theological dive into what believers call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is not the same as water baptism.
4. What does the Holy Spirit do?
To know what the Holy Spirit does, it is good to first understand why God has given him to all believers. For starters, Jesus, shortly before his ascension to heaven, says:
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.”John 15:26
In short, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in our lives keeps us focused on Jesus, bearing witness to the redeeming love of our good Savior (Acts 1:8).
From the vine of this truth, the Holy Spirit takes on many roles.
For example, he offers us true fellowship from within us, encouraging us day by day to lead more Christ-like lives (2 Corinthians 13:14). Of course, as mere humans, we’ll surely stumble on our journeys. However, it is the Holy Spirit who continuously spurs our desire to nurture a more intimate relationship with God.
Moreover, the Holy Spirit can also pray to our heavenly Father on our behalf (i.e. he intercedes for us). This can happen without us even knowing, especially so when we feel weak in our faith or are unable to find the right words to pray (Romans 8:26-27).
He bears fruit and brings gifts.
By living our lives in Christ, we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit. This enriches who we are according to God’s will. It can also make a highly positive impact on people around us (believers or not).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23
The Holy Spirit also teaches us God’s ways, strengthening our faith in the process. This can involve inspiring our spiritual learning as we read the Bible (John 14:26; 2 Timothy 3:16) – or even through spiritual gifts (Hebrews 2:4).
Of spiritual gifts, this can sometimes involve more direct supernatural moments with our living God. For example, receiving prophecy, healing, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 12). There are also other wonderful spiritual blessings, such as teaching, leadership, and more (see Romans 12:6-8).
The Holy Spirit also speaks to us in our spirit via very diverse ways. Occasionally, this can happen through what some Christians call ‘spiritual promptings’ that guide us to do, say, or pray specific things, always according to God’s will (John 16:13-15).
If you do receive such a prompting, be sure it lines up to what is taught in the Bible, never contradicting God’s established Word. This is why reading it is always important!
To learn more about the Holy Spirit’s promptings, I recommend reading Surprised by the Voice of God. An excellent book that’ll open your heart to believing God still speaks to His people today.
By God’s loving grace, the Holy Spirit also serves as a ‘deposit’ placed inside us. As believers, this guarantees our place in His heavenly kingdom and our eternal identity in Christ (Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:22).