“Use the force, Luke.”
Like many in my generation, I grew up with my imagination firmly planted in places like Hoth and the Dagobah system—the fictional locales of the Star Wars universe. Lucas’ films gave us a story of stark contrast between good and evil; they also gave us “the force,” a mysterious form of energy that unites everything in the universe. By manipulating the force for selfish ends, some had the power to do evil; it was up to the Jedi to use the force to do good.
For many of us, I suspect we’ve assumed that the Holy Spirit is something like “the force” from Star Wars. It’s a power source, a mysterious form of energy that we can tap into when we need it.
Because of this, one of our primary misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit is something we can “use” when problems become difficult or when we feel overwhelmed.
But the Holy Spirit isn’t like this. He is God. He is a person. And this changes the way we understand Him.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS GOD
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He gathered His closest followers in the upper room to share not only His last meal, but to deliver a farewell address—a “commencement speech,” as one writer puts it, ushering in a new way of living in His absence.
There, He delivers this promise:
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
Now, if you were reading this in the original Greek, you’d zero in on Jesus’ phrase allon parakleton, “another Helper.” Why would this stand out? Because Jesus is basically saying “another of the same type.” He’s saying that the Holy Spirit is fully God in every way that Jesus is fully God. The Holy Spirit, first and foremost, is God—not some force to be manipulated.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS PERSONAL
This also means that like God, the Holy Spirit is personal. Again, we use this word in a very specific way. Usually when we say “personal” we mean something like “relational” or even “intimate.” But here say that God is personal in the sense that He has a personality; He has the characteristics of being a person.
In what sense is the Spirit a “person?” On the one hand, we never see the Spirit ascribed a specific human form. When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit is said to descend “like a dove,” for which reason the Spirit has often been depicted as a dove in Christian art. On the other hand, we can find at least three characteristics about the Spirit that help us see that He is indeed a personal being:
- The Holy Spirit has intelligence
27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
Here Paul emphasizes that the Spirit has a distinct “mind,” conveying a sense of intelligence and understanding.
- The Holy Spirit has a will
When the early Church was struggling to decide how to handle the integration of Jews and Gentiles, the early council met to make a decision. They could confidently claim that their decision “has seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28). The Holy Spirit seems to have a specific will and a specific purpose.
- The Holy Spirit has emotions
Paul cautions his readers in Ephesus not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit therefore also has emotions and can experience pain over our immoral character.
HE, NOT “IT”
One of the most immediate applications here is that we refer to the Holy Spirit not as an “it” but as a “He.” He is God. He is personal.
This changes everything. A “force” is something I can use—when I need help, when I’m feeling down, I can use a force to navigate life and get me through. But a person is someone I relate to—someone who challenges me in the context of a relationship. So if the Holy Spirit is personal just like the Father and Son, I am compelled to treat Him with the same dignity, respect, and love as I do the Father and Son.