The Holy Spirit: The Third Person of the Trinity
8/26/2019 4:14:59 AM
Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 5:1-5
Aug 25, 2019
Rev. David Williams
A woman was giving a children’s story and talking about the Holy Spirit. She said the Spirit is like the wind. We can feel the wind, and see the effects of the wind, but we can’t see the wind itself. It’s invisible, just like the Holy Spirit. One little boy put his and up and said, “But I want Him to be un-invisible.” [Gordon Fee-God’s Empowering Presence, p. 6]
Many of us feel like that little boy- we want the Spirit to be un-invisible! We can imagine God, and God the Father. Jesus is more accessible as the Son because of his ministry on earth. But the Spirit seems hard to grasp.
There is lots of confusion over the Trinity. As I was looking for images for PowerPoint, I found a website denying the Trinity. But the rest of the site was about following the Bible, being saved by grace, etc. After some digging I realized it was by a Seventh Day Adventist who stuck to early Adventist theology that denied the Trinity! But the rest of the site had good, Evangelical stuff! But he denied the Trinity and the distinction of the Holy Spirit from God the Father.
Years ago, there was a CBOQ pastor in Kitchener who was Egyptian. His ministry was primarily with Arabic speaking Christians and outreach with Muslims. He came to Priory and gave a workshop “How to reach your Muslim neighbours.” One thing he talked about in that workshop was, “Ask them what they think Christians believe about the Trinity?”
In Islam, they misunderstand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to be God the Father, the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus. The Holy Spirit doesn’t show up in their confusion over God, over what Christians believe about God.
Hopefully most of you know the orthodox (correct) Christians believe is that the Trinity is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But how do we know that the Holy Spirit is God? What does it mean for the HS to be the 3rd “person” of the Trinity?
That’s what we’re going to tackle today.
We’re going to start by looking at a couple passages that show that the Holy Spirit is divine- that the Spirit is God, not a created being like an angel, or just the activity of God in the world. Then, we will examine what it means to be a person, and see that the Spirit qualifies as a distinct person, not just an impersonal force.
Today’s message is not a full discussion of the Trinity. We’re not going to talk about the deity of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, and, to be honest, it was the deity of Christ and the challenge of what that meant for our understanding of God that forced the first Christians to wrestle with and enlarge our understanding of God to be more than just God the Father. That’s beyond the scope of today’s message. We’re just focusing on why it’s 3 members of the Trinity, not just 2.
Please turn and read Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 5:1-5.
What It Says
We’re going to begin with looking at the deity of the Holy Spirit. This is in distinction from the Spirit being a created being, like an angel or some spiritual force. Along the way, we’re going to see that the Spirit is also more than just the activity of God in the world, God’s will being done, or something like that.
Matthew 28:18-20 is the famous “Great Commission” passage. It is Matthew’s description of Jesus’ final moments on earth and his last words to his followers. A very important passage!
Look at the baptism part of Jesus’ words, “baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus equates the Holy Spirit’s name with the name of God the Father and Son. Remember, “name” means character- the very essence of who a person is! So Jesus here equates the Spirit with the Father and Son in essence and character! Baptism is an act of surrender and submission. Baptizing “in the name of” includes the idea of submitting to the Father, Son and Spirit. If the Spirit was less than God, less than deity, merely a created being or the force of God in the world, then to equate its name with the Father and Son would be idolatry! And yet, the Spirit is distinct enough from both the Father and Son as to be identified separately in the baptism practice.
The Spirit is not “just” God’s activity in the world. The Spirit is more than just the movement of God, or the power of God at work in the world. The Spirit deserved to be named along with the Father and Son when people make a public declaration of their allegiance to God in the form of baptism.
Next consider Acts 5. In context, remember the Holy Spirit has been moving powerfully in the early church. Ananias and Sapphira lied about their donation. What does Peter say? Peter says Ananias has lied to the Holy Spirit in v. 3 and to God in v. 4. ”How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…? You have not lied to men but to God.” If the Holy Spirit is not God, then lying to the HS is not the same as lying to God. But Peter equates lying to one with lying to the other.
Peter equates the Holy Spirit with God. Remember, Peter was a devout Jew. He was a radical monotheist. He believed strongly that there is only one God. But, in other passages, Peter and the disciples worship Jesus- something reserved for God alone. Here Peter equates sinning against the HS with sinning against God. Clearly, Peter was already starting to understand that the nature of God was far more complex than was revealed in the OT alone.
So what does all of this mean? Peter and the other Apostles all treated the resurrected Jesus as God. Here we see Peter treating the Spirit as God. Jesus equates the name or essence of God the Father, Son and Spirit and commands that his followers submit to all 3 equally in repentance. Without getting into the details of the deity of Jesus, assuming that for a moment, we see that the Spirit of God is divine, the Holy Spirit. But is it a “person”? If the Spirit is part of God, could the Spirit just be the movement or God, or the force of God? Why does the Spirit deserve special mention as a “person of the Trinity”?
To answer that, we have to consider what is meant by “personhood.” Theologians have input on this as do philosophers. Personhood requires intelligence, will, emotions, language and the ability to enter into relationships. [Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 878; Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 662]
We’re going to look at a handful of verses that speak of the Spirit having one or more of the characteristics. Our goal is to show that the Spirit is a “He” not an “It.” That means the Spirit is a “person” of the Trinity, not an “it” of the Trinity, not an effect of, or manifestation of, or the work of God as an impersonal force.
1 Cor 2:10-11 “These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God…. No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” The Spirit “searches” all things. That is, the Spirit investigates, comprehends and understands all things. Furthermore, the Spirit knows the thoughts of God! Clearly the Spirit is intelligent! The Spirit investigates and understands things outside itself. The Spirit knows God’s thoughts. One cannot know another’s thoughts without some thought of one’s own!
Consider a Messianic passage from the OT. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.” (Isa 63:10) Here we see that the Spirit will rest on the Messiah, whom we now know to be Jesus. The Spirit is the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge (among other things). It is not definitive in and of itself, but combined with other passages about the Spirit, it does seem consistent here that the Spirit resting on the Messiah has and not only bestows the characteristics of wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge.
1 Cor 12:11 “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” The Spirit makes determinations of who should receive which spiritual gift. Determination is a sign of intelligence. It is also a sign of will or agency. The Spirit determines who gets the gifts, not the Father, not the Son. The Spirit exercises His own will here. Certainly, that will is in keeping with that of the Father and Son, but it is described as being the Spirit’s will, not the Spirit carrying out the will of another.
Acts 20:28, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Here we see Paul’s parting words to the elders in Ephesus before his return to Jerusalem. Notice he says that the Spirit has made them overseers of the flock. It’s not that God has made them overseers through the Spirit, but that the Spirit has made them overseers. This is another example of the Spirit exercising His will independently of the Father or Son!
Rom 8:16 “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Paul refers to the Spirit as “himself” and says the Spirit testifies or communicates with our spirits that we are the children of God. Here we see communication and relationship.
Ephesians 4:30a “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Isaiah 63:10a “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” In both Ephesians and Isaiah we read about grieving the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians, Paul warns us not to grieve the Spirit, but rather to cooperate with His sanctifying work by altering our behaviour. In Isaiah, the prophet says that the people of Israel rebelled in sin and this grieved the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has emotions- is capable of being grieved, of experiencing grief!
But what about language? Does the Spirit speak? Is he capable of communication? 1 Tim 4:1 says yes! “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Similarly, Peter in his 1st letter speaks of the Spirit at work in the prophets of the OT and says that the Spirit predicted the suffering of the Messiah. (1 Pe 1:10-11) “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.”
Elsewhere, the Spirit is said to teach, remind, anoint, help, intercede, search or examine our hearts and know the mind of God. These are all relationship words!
This is not an exhaustive study, but is a broad array of verses and statement about the Holy Spirit. Hopefully you can see that the Spirit is more than an “it.” The Spirit is a “He.” The Spirit has the characteristics of an individual, of a person- he is intelligent, has a will, is able to take action directly, speaks and communicates, and even enters into relationships. (Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 1 John 2:20, 27; Rom 8:26-27)
So why does all this matter? How do we apply all this stuff about the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit? First, we apply this to our understanding. We are to worship God to the best of our ability and knowledge. These are things God has revealed to us about himself and we have a responsibility to do our best to understand them. It is an act of gratitude and an act of worship to study what God has told us about himself!
To know God means to know the Holy Spirit. As we walk with God, and get to know him better, part of that is learning about the Father, part is learning about the Son and part is learning about the Spirit. This is so we can grow in maturity, grow in understanding and also grow closer to God.
We need to refute errors about the Holy Spirit when confronted with them. Remember, I said at the beginning that Muslims believe the Trinity is God the Father, the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus! We need to be able to lovingly and accurately correct people who hold false beliefs as part of our witness!
Similarly, I mentioned that website I found dismissing the Trinity. I’m not sure how he reconciles the deity of Christ or what he does with the passages we’ve looked at today. One of the major arguments I found vs the Trinity was actually pretty weak Some people argue that because the “word” Trinity doesn’t appear in scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity must be a later invention and not really an accurate depiction of Scripture. In fact, quite the opposite is true!
While the term Trinity is not in the Bible, the principles of the Trinity clearly are. It is precisely because there are so many passages in Scripture describing, pointing to or assuming the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that the word “Trinity” and the doctrine surrounding it were developed. The Trinity is an attempt to make sense of what is in Scripture, not something Christians try to read into Scripture. Frankly, it would be easier if there was no Trinity evidence in the Bible, but there’s too much!
Another application is that not all spirits are holy. John says we are to test the spirits. The New Age movement talks a lot about spirits or “the universe.” “The universe sent me to you…” etc. If we are to discern the truth, if we are to be protected from false spirits, we need to know about the true, Holy Spirit! He’s not an impersonal force at work within us or around us. He’s not the universe. He is an entity. He is a divine entity. He is a personal entity.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, including the Spirit. In the past, we’ve talked about the fact that Jesus gives us the clearest picture of what God is like. People like Jesus! They’re just skeptical about God. But Jesus is God! Jesus reveals God’s character and nature. And, since the Spirit is God, Jesus reveals to us what the Spirit is like too! Jesus even uses the word “comforter” or “advocate” (paraklete in Greek) to describe both himself and the Spirit, “I will send you another advocate.” So if you like Jesus, you’ll like the Holy Spirit too!
The Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity we actually experience! [Erickson, p. 862] The Spirit is the point at which God becomes personal to the believer. It’s the Spirit that is active within us, bringing us new life, dwelling in us. It is through the Spirit that the Godhead works in us. The most “tangible” part of God to us is the Holy Spirit! So thank God that the Spirit is a person- intelligent, with a will, emotions, language and able to enter into relationships. Amen.
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