Who Is the Holy Spirit? A Brief Introduction
*Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Holy Spirit: Filled, Empowered, and Led.
The early church exploded in growth not because they had fancy mission statements and programs. The early church exploded in growth because they had the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine a church whose strategic vision looked like this:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people. . . . I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:17–21)
Blood and fire and billows of smoke. This is the vision God has planned for you. This is the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not merely a matter of having the right doctrine. It’s rather a matter of experiencing the Spirit himself.
So who is the Holy Spirit and what does he want to do in me?
The picture of the Spirit in the Bible is an evolving picture, coming into clear focus only when seen through Jesus Christ, and even then, most clearly when explained in the works of John and Paul.
In the earliest portions of Scripture, the Spirit is a dynamic and, at times, unpredictable power who personifies God’s movements within the creation. In the first half of the Bible, the Spirit hardly appears as a person at all, but rather as a powerful force—like a mighty wind.
In the latter pages of the Old Testament, the Spirit begins to function in a more rational role and is frequently assigned the very specific task of inspiring prophetic speech. And in these latter pages, many of the prophetic oracles tell us that the Spirit will be characteristic of Jesus’ ministry and the new covenant in its entirety.
In the New Testament, the Spirit does indeed characterize the messianic ministry of Jesus, providing power and direction for his work.
The Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—show that Jesus was led by the Spirit, and the Spirit still appears more as a power than as a person in the Synoptic Gospels. In the book of Acts, the same power is offered to all believers, since all believers are now offered the Holy Spirit, who brings divine power to the church.
In John’s Gospel, however, we see that the Spirit is more than just a power, but is actually a person—distinct from the Father and the Son, but one with them. His personhood has been true all along, but we see it more clearly in John. Though John still uses the neuter pronoun to describe the Spirit, he speaks of the Spirit as a person. John continues to present the Spirit as providing power for the believers, but he goes further. For John, the Spirit is a person who provides a new way of living. We are born of the Spirit, he explains. We worship in the Spirit. And the Spirit actually represents a new way of life, distinguished from that of mere flesh.
In the works of Paul, the fullest image of the Spirit in the Bible emerges.
There we learn that the Spirit is the very air that Christians are to breathe—that we are to live in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and to be sanctified by the Spirit. This last phrase sums up the work of the Spirit for the disciple. As the divine and personal presence of a powerful and holy God, the Spirit’s main task in the Christian’s life is to empower us to become like Jesus. The Spirit himself forms a new way of living for the believers. He is our new DNA in Christ, changing us into the likeness of Jesus at a core level.
The Spirit’s main task in the Christian’s life is to empower us to become like Jesus.
 The grammar surrounding the word “spirit” in the Bible is a bit complex. The Old Testament word for “spirit” is a feminine word. Grammatically, a feminine pronoun (she) can be used with the Hebrew word for “spirit,” and feminine verbal forms are used with the phrase “Spirit of the Lord” in the Hebrew Old Testament (e.g., Judges 3:10; 1 Samuel 10:6). In the New Testament, the Greek word for “spirit” is neuter, being neither masculine nor feminine. Grammatically, the Greek word should take the pronoun “it.” In biblical Hebrew and Greek, however, gender is usually a grammatical construct and not a gendered one. In other words, having a feminine noun for the word “spirit” does not necessarily imply that the Hebrews thought of the Spirit as feminine, and having a neuter noun in Greek does not imply that Greeks thought of the Spirit as non-personal. Since the Spirit is a person and a member of the Godhead, it is proper to refer to the Spirit as “he.” To refer to the Spirit as “it” is not wrong, but this may create confusion about his personal nature. To refer to the Spirit as “she” in English would be misleading, since the English word “spirit” is not feminine (even though the Hebrew word is).
(Excerpted from David Young, Holy Spirit: Filled, Empowered, and Led (Renew.org, 2021).