Who is the Holy Spirit?
Many people misunderstand the identity of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is commonly thought of as an impersonal force. Some people think of it as a healing or protective power to which God gives a believer access. But what does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit? Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is not just an impersonal power or a force, but a person – the third person of the Trinity, in fact. The Holy Spirit is God Himself.
The Holy Spirit appears synonymously with God in many places in the Bible, both in the New and Old Testaments. In Acts 5:3-4, Peter asks Ananias why he has lied to the Holy Spirit, and it is clear that lying to the Holy Spirit is the same as lying to God. He shares the characteristics of God, such as omniscience and omnipresence, as seen in Psalm 139:7-8, which says “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Again in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, God’s attribute of omniscience is also present in the Holy Spirit: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
The Holy Spirit is a divine person, and He is intimately involved in our salvation, along with the Father and the Son, as shown in Romans 8:11 which says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Holy Spirit has thoughts and knowledge (1 Corinthians 2:10), and He can feel sorrow and grief (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit can make intercession for believers (Romans 8:26-27). He also has a will and makes decisions (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
In summary, the Holy Spirit is God. He is the third person of the Trinity. Only as that divine person can the Holy Spirit be to believers a comforter and a counselor, according to the promise of Jesus (John 14:16,26; 15:26).
When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is that part of the Trinity that lives inside all believers. When and how He enters our hearts is debated for a couple of reasons. The first is the confusion over the terms “indwelled with the Holy Spirit,” “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and “baptized by the Holy Spirit.” The second reason is the tendency of some to see the receiving the Holy Spirit in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts as the model for us today.
Scripture clearly indicates that believers are indwelled with the Holy Spirit—that is, the Holy Spirit moves into their hearts—at the moment of conversion. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). All believers have the same spirit—the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 is more specific about the exact moment we receive the Holy Spirit: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Romans 8:9 explains simply that “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
If the Scriptures so plainly state that all believers have the Holy Spirit, why the controversy? There is a distinct difference between the Holy Spirit indwelling us and the Spirit filling us. The filling of the Holy Spirit was a tool used by God since the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 34:9, Joshua is filled with the Holy Spirit to take on Moses’ responsibilities. In 1 Samuel 19:18-24, King Saul and his servants are filled with the Spirit and prophesy. And in Luke 1:15, the angel explains to Zacharias that his son, John the Baptist, will be filled with the Spirit. After Jesus’ death and resurrection the Holy Spirit continued to fill people, including Peter (Acts 4:8), Paul (Acts 13:9), and the other disciples (Acts 13:52). This is different from the simple indwelling of the Spirit experienced by all believers. Some also confuse the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We believe it is the same as the indwelling of the Spirit, although others think it is more similar to the filling of the Spirit.
The book of Acts is a fascinating look into the change from the age of Judaism to the age of the Church. Jesus was a Jew. The disciples were Jews. But the Church is distinctly Christian. The disciples didn’t become Christians until John 20:22 when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. In Acts 2:4, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8:14-17, however, God waited to give the Samaritans the Holy Spirit until Peter and John could see. We aren’t told why, although perhaps it was so these devout Jews could witness the coming of the Spirit upon a group of people so despised by them. Acts 10:45 seems to corroborate this as the “circumcised believers” (Jews) “were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”
Today and always, we receive the Holy Spirit the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In John 3:5, Jesus says, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” When we accept Christ, God immediately seals us with His Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22).
How does a person grieve or quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30)?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:19, the apostle Paul told believers, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Ephesians 4:30 adds, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” What does it mean to grieve or quench the Holy Spirit?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Paul uses the same word used elsewhere related to “quenching” or “putting out” a fire (Mark 9:44). The idea was that of stopping or ending the ability of a fire to continue. In the context of Paul’s letter, he was encouraging believers to live a holy life according to God’s Spirit. They were not to stop doing the things they had been instructed to or to live in sin in ways that would quench or put out the fire of God’s Spirit at work among them.
In Ephesians 4:30, Paul commanded the Ephesian Christians not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” To grieve would mean to make the Spirit sad or do something opposite of what God’s Spirit desires. The context of the passage deals with the issue of anger, sharing, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). We are to build one another up as believers, not tear one another down. Tearing one another down grieves the Holy Spirit as it is inconsistent with God’s purposes for our lives.
In addition to sinning as the result of anger, Ephesians 4 offers other ways believers can grieve the Spirit. These include living like unbelievers (vv. 17-19), lying (v. 25), stealing (v. 28), using bad language (v. 29), bitterness (v. 31), unforgiveness (v. 32), and sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3-5).
In contrast, believers are to speak truth (Ephesians 4:25), not sin when angry (v. 26), work hard (v. 28), encourage (v. 29), and be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving of one another (v. 32). The contrast of grieving the Spirit includes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
There are similarities between quenching and grieving the Spirit. Both take place as the result of a believer who sins. Both take place as the result of a self-focused lifestyle that places self above God and others. Both include practicing the former ways a person lived before knowing Christ.
God’s desire is for the believer in Christ to live differently than before coming to faith in Christ. Doing so brings God joy and will not quench or grieve the Spirit of God who lives within those who believe.