God the Holy Spirit: His divine personhood and ministry

A fresh look at how Seventh-day Adventists view the Holy Spirit and His work

Woodrow W. Whidden, Ph.D., is professor of historical and systematic theology, Theological Seminary of the Adventist Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite Province, Philippines.
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Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Belief #5: "God the eternal Spirit was active with the Father and the Son in Creation, incarnation, and redemption. He inspired the writers of Scripture. He filled Christ's life with power. He draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond, He renews and transforms into the image of God. Sent by the Father and the Son to be always with His children, He extends spiritual gifts to the church, empowers it to bear witness to Christ, and in harmony with the Scriptures leads it into all truth."—The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual.

Many sincere anti-Trinitarians understand the Holy Spirit to be an operative conductor of God's energy, or an impersonal electrical current connecting us to the throne of God, or a celestial Internet facility seeking to provide a linkage by which God may communicate with human beings. While the Holy Spirit certainly is a great "channel" of communication, overwhelming biblical evidence suggests that this channel is not an impersonal force, but a personal Being; in fact, the fully divine Third Person of the Godhead.

While anti-Trinitarians deny both the personality and deity of the Spirit, Trinitarians confess the full deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. Seventh-day Adventists, committed to the biblical witness, hold that the Trinitarian position is convincingly biblical.

The biblical witness to the full deity of the Spirit

The Bible supplies three important lines of witness to the divine nature of the Spirit.

The first arises out of the numerous passages where the Holy Spirit is referred to in a triadic manner. That is to say, the Spirit is mentioned in equal status with the Father and the Son, the three constituting the Godhead.

The best-known biblical passage in this connection is Christ's gospel com mission where the risen Lord commands His followers to baptize believers "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). A second well-known instance of such a triadic, coordinate association of the Spirit with the Father and the Son, is 2 Corinthians 13:14: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Both these pas sages strongly suggest that the Spirit is a Being of coordinate essence and equality with the Father and the Son.

The second line of evidence comes from the book of Acts and the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The story deals with this couple who privately went back on the sacred vows they had made to God. When they laid their offerings at the feet of Peter and claimed that it was the whole of their pledge when it was only a part, they were struck dead. Peter gave a succinct explanation for their end: You have "lied to the Holy Spirit." This is followed with the significant revelation that they had "not lied to men but to God" (Acts 5:3, 4). The most obvious implication is that the Holy Spirit is God.

The third line of evidence is found in the many passages that describe the work of the Spirit as that unique to God. The clearest example of this is in 1 Corinthians 2:10, 11. "God has revealed them [the things God has prepared for those who love Him (verse 9

to us through His Spirit" (verse 10). And how is it that the Spirit is privy to such knowledge? "The Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (verses 10, 11).

What the passage suggests is this: If one wants to know the "things of man," one must obtain such information from one who is human. However, what is true on a human level, is even more true on the divine: "Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (verse 11). Only a divine being can truly know what is in the mind and heart of another divine being.

As on a human level, so it is on the divine. If one really wants to know the things of God, he or she must connect with God (the Holy Spirit), who alone can reveal the "things" of God (verse 12).

Furthermore, the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as active in the works of creation, conversion, and inspiration—all activities associated with prerogatives that are uniquely those of divinity.

The full deity of the Spirit

As with the deity of the Son, so with the theological implications of the deity of the Spirit. They both arise out of issues related to God's intention to redeem humanity from the ravages of sin and death.

Most certainly, if only One who was equal in nature and character to the Father could offer an efficacious sacrifice for sin, then by the same token, only One (the Spirit) who was fully divine could effectively communicate the efficacy of this sacrifice to those for whom the sacrifice was made (1 Cor. 2:7-12).

We need to ponder a number of other closely related implications that arise from the saving power and work of the Holy Spirit's full deity.

1. Only the Holy Spirit of God could bring the converting and convicting power of God's love to fallen humanity. Only One who has been eternally bound up with the heart of self-sacrificing love in the Father and the Son could fully communicate such love to fallen human beings.

2. Only the Holy Spirit, who fully shares the adopting heart of God, filled with love for His children, can impart to estranged human beings "the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:15, 16).

3. Only One who has worked with the Son in creation would be equipped to effect re-creation in souls ravaged by the destructive forces of Satan and sin (Rom. 8:10, 11). This re-creative function of the Spirit is closely connected with the work of bearing spiritual fruit. Thus, only a divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who works with Christ the Vine (John 15:1-11), is competent to produce in God's people the "first fruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23).

Furthermore, the "fruit of the Spirit" takes on clearer meaning when it becomes apparent that all these fruits (joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, etc.) are but manifestations of the one, all-encompassing "fruit" of love (see Gal. 5:22-24).

4. Only the Holy Spirit, who sustained Christ through the horrors of Gethsemane and Calvary, can effectually comfort us through our dark valleys and frightful nights of the soul.

5. Only the Spirit, who fully knows the heart of our great High-Priestly Intercessor, can fully represent the comforts and effectually impart the blessings of Christ's constant intercessions on our behalf before the Father of love.

6. Only the Spirit, who inspired the prayers of Jesus, can effectually help us in our weaknesses: "For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26, 27).

7. Only One who can be fully in tune with the heart of Jesus' incarnate ministry, and yet at the same time be able to be everywhere at once (the omnipresence of God, itself a divine attribute), could ably represent the personal, redeeming presence of Christ to the entire world.

The personhood of the Spirit

Scripture suggests that the Holy Spirit possesses some of the most emphatic characteristics of a personal Being. He can be lied to (see above; Acts 5:3, 4) and grieved (Eph. 4:30). My computer has numerous characteristics of personality, but try as I might, I can not lie to it or grieve it! These are things that we can do only to another person.

In John 14-16, the Holy Spirit is repeatedly referred to with personal pronouns (He, Him, who, whom, Helper). Some have objected that the Greek word for "spirit" (pneuma) is in the impersonal neuter gender. But it is quite telling that John often employs the Greek word ekeinos (translated "he") to refer to the neuter Spirit, and this word is in the very personal masculine gender. It is this grammatical fact that has led the majority of translators to render the other personal pronouns called for in these chapters as "He" rather than "it" or "that one."

Furthermore, these chapters in John ascribe other activities to the Spirit that are highly personal or interpersonal: teaching (John 14:26), bearing witness John 15:26; cf. Rom. 8:16), convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); guiding into truth, speaking, hearing, telling (verse 13), glorifying God, taking, and telling (verse 14).

Why is this issue so critical?

We need to sense more deeply than we have the power in the statement that the Spirit of Christ is the manifestation of the personal, redeeming presence of Christ to us and in us.

Consider an example. For those of us who are not mechanically inclined, writ ten directions have not proven to be as helpful as the personal guidance and encouragement of another person who really knows mechanics. I recall my brother, Ivan, and I in our childhood days, and how both of us shared a passion for model planes and ships. Every chance we had, we would haunt hobby shops looking for the latest scale-model replicas of the great military aircraft and naval vessels of the day. I loved putting them together, but I did not have the mechanical skill. Ivan, however, was blessed with a steady hand and wonderful mechanical insight.

When I simply went by the printed directions, I didn't make much progress. I usually botched the job badly. However, when Ivan was with me giving guidance, encouragement, and an occasional steady hand on the trickiest jobs, I was able to produce some fine models.

In spiritual matters, the Holy Spirit is like that—a profoundly sensitive, powerful, and helpful Person who guides, directs, and gives us a steady hand. His business is molding us into wonderful creatures of transforming grace. And among the most important means of grace that He imparts to God's people is the inspired Word of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21), the ability to understand and apply the Word's precious truths to ourselves (2 Peter 1:20, 21; John 17:17; 1 Peter 1:22, 23), and the granting of spiritual gifts for the edifying of Christ's body, the church (Eph. 4:4-16; 1 Cor. 12-14; Romans 12:3-8).

When the Spirit's work in inspiring and applying the Word and imparting spiritual gifts to us is seen in intensely personal terms, the effectual presence of the Third Person of the Godhead greatly forestalls any notion of spiritual manipulation that impersonal views of the Spirit so often engender.

The interpretation of the Bible, the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, and the manifestations of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 22-26) cannot be impersonally imposed on the body of Christ. Spiritual manipulations, such as paying for the privilege of holding a particular church office, performing legalistic observances to gain the favor of God, or politicizing one's own theological opinion to enhance one's ecclesiastical standing, are greatly hindered when the people of God realize their dependence upon the powerful, yet gently personal ministry of the Spirit. When He comes as the "flame of love" divine, there is not much room left for such maneuvering.

Seventh-day Adventists are not surprised that Paul's most compelling testimony regarding the dynamics of personal salvation (Rom. 1:16, 17; 8:4) reaches its climax in Romans 8:5-28. Here, using the language of intense personal interaction, the apostle reminds us that if the "Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in" us (verse 11), then we will be "led by the Spirit of God" (verse 14), while the "Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God . . . and joint heirs with Christ" (verses 16, 17).

Paul ends this great passage with the thought that we know that "the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (verses 26, 27). Could the great apostolic exponent of salvation express the work of the Holy Spirit in more personal terms?

Practical and personal applications

When we are called upon to serve, witness, and do mighty acts for God, it is the power of the personal Spirit that is present to guide, strengthen, and provide courage, vision, and wisdom. Thus only the Holy Spirit, the divine Comforter, can truly heal the sicknesses of the human soul and ordain our witness to and service in the world.

Is not a lover's personal presence at the very heart of the power of love? I most vividly recall the joy of communicating, via electronic means, with my fiancee when we were temporarily separated by seemingly interminable miles and days. But blessed as these electronic means were, they proved to be absolutely unsatisfactory. It was clear that nothing could substitute for the experience of the two of us actually being together personally! If during those days the only hope we had possessed of expressing and experiencing love had been by the medium of email or by telephone, I would have been "of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19)!

Thank God, the Holy Spirit is the effective, personal presence of the Bridegroom with His bride.

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