May 22, 2018

The Person of the Holy Spirit

The Person of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday marks the moment when the promises of God are fulfilled in the sending forth of the Spirit. The Apostle Peter explained what occurred in in this triumphant occasion of the outpouring of the Spirit and in His infusion.

Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. Acts 2:33 – KJV

Peter explained that the supernatural sights and sounds, the charismatic phenomenon of that Day of Pentecost, the speaking in tongues and the outburst of joy were all indicators of the ascension and session of Christ at the Father’s right hand. He explained the movements of grace: the ascent of the flesh of man into heaven in Jesus Christ is accompanied by the descent of the Spirit of God into earth.  Undoubtedly, this reveals to us that the inner life of the Godhead has now been opened and made available to our own interface and interaction.

Paul is undoubtedly the patron saint of thoughts because He explains to us the mind of the Spirit more than any other. In his epistles, he reveals that the Godhead is interpersonal. The nature of the Trinity is summed up in an extra biblical word, but a vital word which explains this mystery of God nonetheless: the term perichoresis. It speaks of the divine flow of persons by which they interpenetrate one another.

In every treaties on pneumatology, the various historians of the Church, when studying the progression of the doctrine of the Personhood of the Holy Spirit, have all marked that one of the most grievous errors that one can commit in approaching the understanding of the Holy Spirit is to suppose that the Spirit is an impersonal force which we can possess for ourselves. Viewing the Holy Spirit as mere power or as a simple activity of God brings us to the point where we will erroneously presume that we are the ones who can detain the Spirit of God instead of availing ourselves to Him. For this reason, one of the very essential and crucial components of pneumatology is upholding the divine Personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Personhood in our western conceptualization is understood as being individual. This is unfortunately an improper understanding of the concept. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who introduced the notion that the concept of a person’s substance is greater than relation. Followed by the Cartesian axiom “I think therefore I am”, the individual according to Western ideology is viewed as the person – an individual in isolation, an individual according to his rational, an individual according to his properties and substance. Unfortunately, this notion of the person from Aristotelian concept has influenced what we perceive of God and we claim to understand the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as Persons but we understand this definition and concept of persons in the Greek philosophical categories. Thus, we see the Father individual, separate from the Son; the Son individual, separate from the Father and the Holy Spirit, individual, separate from the Father and the Son. This has given us a wrong portrait of the triune Godhead.

The term person originates from the Latin terminology personare. ‘Personare’, interestingly, does not mean an individual but it means, “to sound through”. ‘Per’ refers to ‘one’ and ‘sonare’ means to sound through. So, the person must be understood in terms of shared identity.

Originally, the term ‘person’ refers to an interpenetration of categories. For instance, the Father is Father because the Son is Son. The identity of the Father as Father cannot be assumed by Him, unless He shares the Son’s identity as Son. In other words, it is the son’s identity that makes the Father Father. According to the Latin conceptualization of personare, it would mean that the Son sounds through the Father and the Father sounds through the Son. So, the concept of personhood cannot be understood accurately in isolated, individual concepts. You are not an individual; you are a person!

This means that when the Apostle Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost to explain to the Jewish audience what had just occurred and He tells them that the sign of the session of Jesus Christ is the effusion of the Spirit, he was saying that the Spirit is sounding through the Son in session at the Father’s right hand. This is more accurately presented in the epistles of Paul. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, we are told that the last Adam, a title describing Jesus Christ in the humanity He had assumed, has become the quickening Spirit (1 Corinthians15: 45). This means that in the same way that the incarnate Son embodied and represented the Father, the Spirit has sounded through the glorified Son. This shows us that the bestowing of the Holy Spirit, which officially declared the closure of all the types and shadows under the systems of the Old Covenant had brought us into a new reality of God previously unthought-of.

In the course of his deliberation with the Corinthians as to the gold standard of wisdom presented in his gospel, the Apostle Paul makes certain statements about the nature of Spirit and relates it to the ontology of the Spirit of God.

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  1 Corinthians 2:10-11 (KJV)

The meaning of this phrase presents to us the most beautiful concept of the Personhood of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who searches the internal things that pertain to the nature of God. This means that all we will ever know of God will remain external to Him as long as we are observing with our senses. It is for this reason that erroneous interpretations will abound, proceeding from the minds of men; for every opinion of man concerning God is simply man’s thought concerning God. For God to bring us into the realities of what He is, we must receive within the ontology of our being the same Spirit that searches those realities within God. The apostolic church fathers called the Holy Spirit, “the modesty of God”, because it is the nature of the Holy Spirit not to refer to Himself but to glorify the Father in revealing the Son. Thus, if you emphasize the Spirit without ending in the revelation of the Son for the glory of the Father, you have not truly known the Spirit.

How do we penetrate the impenetrable? How could we understand what it means to experience God – not just believe in Him or acknowledge His existence? How do we experience Him today, not simply to agree with the historicity of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago? This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The knowledge He bestows to us is not simply academic or mental, but it is experiential knowledge. The Spirit is the One who passes through the Father and the Son in His divine person. In other words, He proceeds from the Father through the Son and brings us into the experience of those things unfathomable.

How can we love the One who is now invisible within the bosom of the Father? The same love that the Father has for the Son is communicated to us by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us that we have the assurance that we been received and included into the Father-Son relation by the fact that He has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts and the Spirit brings us into the same address of the Son to the Father, crying out “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6-7). This is the passing-through nature of the Holy Spirit. He is always the One who brings us into the realities of the inner-shared life of God. He is not merely an impersonal force, which we are to detain or utilize, but He is the One in, through and by whom we are to experience the Father-Son relation.


* This article is an extract from Dr. Shawn Smith’s sermon on the occasion of Pentecost Sunday 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.