The Promise of the Father

Becky ThompsonBy Becky Thompson12 Minutes

It was my third year of college, and I had just transferred to another private Christian university closer to home. Jared and I had been married for a year, and as a twenty-something married woman who had basically completed her degree in biblical studies, I felt there wasn’t much left to learn. (Ha! Now, doesn’t that tell you how little I actually knew!)

I was enrolled in a class called The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, which seemed like a refresher course, and I welcomed the idea of an easy class in my junior year of college. After all, I already knew so much about the Trinity from all my other studies.

By Trinity, I mean that I understood there is one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, as some denominations call Him). I’d taken classes that had explained that the three persons of the Trinity are all God, because they are called God in Scripture:

• God the Father is called “God” in 1 Corinthians 8:6: “There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live.”
• The Son, Jesus, is called “God” in Matthew 1:23: “ ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”
• The Holy Spirit is called “the Lord” (meaning “God”) in 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

I also knew that while Scripture calls each of the three persons of the Trinity “God,” it also reminds us that they are one.

• Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
• Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”
• First Timothy 2:5 says, “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (nlt).

When it came to the Holy Spirit, I was secure in what I knew as well. After all, I had met the Holy Spirit for myself when I was young, remember? I thought this class would be a breeze, and the professor might as well just give me an A and save us both the time.

On the first day of the course, I stepped into the classroom, found my seat, and listened to the professor’s welcome. I picked up a syllabus as a stack of them circulated the room and skimmed over the plan for the semester. What will the professor be teaching my classmates? I wondered. I wasn’t paying full attention as he began his introduction, but something he said snapped my mind right back into the room.

We were instructed to make sure that when we turned in our assignments, we capitalized the Holy Spirit’s name and referred to the Holy Spirit as He rather than It. The professor wanted us to know from day one that the Holy Spirit is very much a person. He is God, and He deserves the same honor and respect as the Father and the Son.

I wish someone had taken a picture of my expression the moment I realized that after three years into Bible school, a lifetime of growing up in the church, and even my own personal encounters with the Holy Spirit, I had not really thought of Him as a person. I knew He was God, but back then I was still most comfortable calling the Holy Spirit an it.

If someone had asked me, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” I would have answered, “It’s the Spirit of God.” I don’t think I am alone either. I mean, after all, the Greek word used for “Spirit” in the New Testament, pneuma, means “breath, wind, or spirit.”1 The Holy Spirit doesn’t have a body. So what leads us to believe that He is a person?

I’ll answer that question with another question. Are you your body? I know it’s weird. Follow me for a minute. You are a person. That is a fact. But are you your body, or do you simply possess a body? If something happened to a part of your body, would you stop being you? The answer is easily no, because we are not our bodies. We are spirits who live in bodies and have minds and emotions. As a matter of fact, when you die, your body will remain on earth, but your spirit will receive a new body in heaven. Why? Because your spirit is who you really are.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit is a person without a body. He’s not an it or some impersonal wind or force. He is the Spirit of God. If Jesus was God in the flesh—100 percent God and 100 percent man—then the Holy Spirit is 100 percent God without flesh.

The Holy Spirit possesses all the attributes of personhood—a mind, will, and emotions—but He doesn’t have the confines of skin to keep Him in one place. Jesus and Scripture make the personhood of the Holy Spirit clear. Let’s see what they say.

A Helper Who Abides with Us Forever

As Jesus and His friends gathered in an upper room to share a final meal before He went to the cross, He gave one last teaching to the disciples. These men had traveled with Jesus for three years. They had seen His works, participated in His miracles, and listened to His words. But on this night, Jesus told them He would be going to His Father, and they could not follow Him right away. Having given so much of their lives to following Him, the disciples were concerned why they couldn’t come with Him. I can only imagine the human response that rose in their hearts: What does He mean? What are we supposed to do? What will happen to us when He leaves?

However, knowing that they would need support after He returned to His Father, Jesus explained who was coming to help: “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” ( John 14:16–17 nkjv).

This specific description of the Holy Spirit is important, and each part reveals the truth about who He is.

“Another Helper”

The meaning of the Greek word translated as “another” is “another of the same kind.”2 It’s not as if Jesus said, “I’m going away, but I’m sending this completely different thing to be with you.” No, the translation means “another like Himself.”3

If there can be no disunity among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and they eternally remain perfectly one, then the Spirit must be like Jesus. And we know who Jesus is. The Spirit feels like Jesus. He speaks like Jesus. He comforts like Jesus. And He loves like Jesus.

“Abide with You Forever”

Jesus didn’t say the Holy Spirit would come and stay with them awhile. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come and abide with them forever. This is the same Spirit the Old Testament prophet Joel prophesied about hundreds of years earlier. Speaking on behalf of God, Joel said, “It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (2:28 nkjv). While the Holy Spirit had been present on earth in specific ways before Jesus came, it was not until Jesus returned to heaven and poured out the Spirit that the Spirit came to remain on earth.

“You Know Him, for He Dwells with You”

Jesus made it clear to His friends that they had already met this Helper through Him. They had gotten to know the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ life and ministry. As they had become familiar with Jesus, they had also become familiar with the Holy Spirit, who had dwelled with them in Jesus.

“Will Be in You”

This is my favorite part of what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit because it’s so clear. Jesus said the Holy Spirit not only had been with them but also would be in them. If you think my face was astonished as I learned the Holy Spirit is a person, imagine the faces of Jesus’ friends as He explained to them that the same Spirit who moved through Him would be in them. Can you picture those glances darting around to one another? Did He just say the Spirit would be in us?

But Jesus’ foretelling of the Holy Spirit is not the only time the Spirit’s personhood was revealed.