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Eyes shut, waist high in chilly river water; He feels the hot Palestine sun on His hair and face. His cousin’s strong arms tip His body backward beneath the surface. And then, with a lunge, He’s upright again; the sun blazing into His eyes, water streaming from His face, His hair soggy on His shoulders. The crowd on the riverbank, strangely quiet, watches Him wade forward until He stands among them on the bank.

Something makes Him look up. There, floating just above Him, wings outspread, is a dazzling white dove. And above the whisper of its wings, He hears a Voice He recognizes, a Voice that speaks from high in the sky: “ ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ ” (Mark 1:11).

Who is the Holy Spirit?

What is that dove? Christians understand it to represent the Holy Spirit, the Third Member of the Trinity. But who is that?

God the Holy Spirit is mentioned far less in the Bible than God the Father or God the Son. Yet even though the Spirit often works behind the scenes, His power is awesome— and since Jesus ascended to heaven nearly 2,000 years ago, the Spirit has been our connection with heaven. That’s the reason why we need to understand more clearly who He is and what He can do for us.

It is key to understand that the Holy Spirit is separate and distinct from Jesus and the Father. He is not simply a force or God’s thoughts. How do we know this? One way is to notice that all Three were present at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus Himself had just come out of the water. Then, the Father spoke in “a voice from heaven” (Matthew 3:17), and the Spirit moved between them in the form of a beautiful dove.

Another reason we know that the Spirit is an equal Member of the Trinity is Jesus’ sober warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31, 32). It isn’t possible to blaspheme a force or a thought. Only God can be blasphemed. Therefore, since the Holy Spirit can be blasphemed, the Holy Spirit is clearly a full-fledged Member of the Godhead.

Another Bible evidence that the Spirit is a separate and distinct Personality from either Jesus or His Father is that He can speak on His own. As Peter was pondering his rooftop vision in Acts 10, the Spirit told him, “ ‘Simon, three men are looking for you’ ” (verse 19). Also, the Spirit intercedes for us when we pray to God (Romans 8:26), and He can be personally grieved (Ephesians 4:30). You can’t grieve a force! And the Spirit alone provided a temporary rapid-transit service after Philip had finished baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39)!

Jesus perhaps summed it up best in John 14 when He promised the Spirit’s personal presence after His own departure. “ ‘I will ask the Father,’ ” He said, “ ‘and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you’ ” (verses 16, 17). Jesus clearly spoke of the Holy Spirit as a distinct Person, separate from Himself and the Father.

Why do I need the Holy Spirit?

Since Jesus promises it to us, the Spirit’s presence must be a good and necessary thing. But why? What can the Spirit offer us? From beginning to end, the Bible is full of exciting answers to this question. Listen to what Jesus says about our heavenly Friend.

The Spirit is our Teacher. “ ‘But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ ” (John 14:26). The Spirit opens new wonders for us, not only from Jesus’ words but throughout the rest of God’s Holy Scriptures.

The Spirit convicts the heart about its sinfulness. Jesus said, “ ‘When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment’ ” (John 16:8). Even as far back as Genesis, God’s Spirit was striving for the souls of humanity (Genesis 6:3).

The Spirit guides us into all truth, even truth about the uncertain future. “ ‘But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come’ ” (John 16:13; emphasis added). When we read our Bibles, we should always ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to understand them.

The Spirit helps us be born again. Speaking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus said, “ ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit’ ” (John 3:5). How can we be born again? Jesus tells us in the Bible’s most beloved verse: “ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ ” (John 3:16). If we believe in Jesus—confess our sins, accept His sacrifice for them, and allow Him to be the Savior and Lord of our lives—then we are in a saving relationship with Him.

The Spirit helps us grow heavenly personalities! “But the fruit of the Spirit,” Paul says, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. . . . Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–25).

How can I receive God’s Spirit?

God will give Him to us if we ask. Jesus assures us that just as parents want only the best for their children, God is willing to give the Holy Spirit to us if we want Him in our lives (Luke 11:13). And Jesus Himself will baptize us with the Spirit.

To receive the Spirit, we must repent of our sins and seek Bible baptism. " ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,’ ” Peter said on the Day of Pentecost. “ ‘And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ ” (Acts 2:38, 39).

We must be willing to continue to seek for truth. “ ‘True worshipers,’ ” Jesus said, “ ‘will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks’ ” (John 4:23).

Why not pray this prayer right now? “Heavenly Father, I long to have Your Holy Spirit in my life. I want Him to give me a new spiritual birth. I want Him to teach me more about You through Your Word. I want Him to make my conscience sensitive to sin. I want Him to guide me more and more into the truth I need to hear. And I long for the heavenly personality He can give me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

by Maylan Schurch
From the December 2009 Signs