One of the questions I am often asked about the Holy Spirit is based on a very honest desire to honor God with language:
How do I refer to the Holy Spirit? Even more, how do I understand the Holy Spirit — as a He, She, or It?
There seem to be at least three answers to these questions. So let me give them a shot and see if they make sense to you.
First, when we look at common names for the Spirit, we learn what most of us know deep down inside: God is bigger than gender. Men and women are both created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27): God is bigger than gender. He has chosen to reveal himself as Father, but how he has revealed himself as the Holy Spirit?
- Feminine — the Hebrew form of the word for Spirit (ruach) is a feminine noun
- Masculine — the Greek term Jesus uses repeatedly in John chapters 14-16 for the Holy Spirit is Comforter/Counselor/Advocate (paraklaetos), a masculine noun
- Neuter — the Greek word for spirit (pneuma) is a neuter noun
So if you want to split hairs on this issue, you can say that God revealed himself as the Holy Spirit with feminine, masculine, and neuter nouns.
Which brings us to the second answer. Just like my Thai and Chinese friends with multiple names, the name of a person doesn't necessarily define that person. The name simply gives us a handle to identify them until we get a chance to personally know them and build a relationship with them.* These names help us understand and appreciate the Holy Spirit, but ultimately yearn in our souls for a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. We are going to come to know the Spirit by experiencing what he does in our lives and the relationship we build with the Comforter during our walk with God.
The final answer, however, is the one I believe is most crucial to understand. The Holy Spirit is about God getting personal with us. Read Jesus' words about the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and you will notice just how up close and personal.
The Holy Spirit is all about God building a relationship with us by living inside us! The Holy Spirit cries out with our own spirit testifying that we are God's beloved children (Romans 8:16). We can grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). We can result and insult the Spirit (Acts 7:51; Hebrews 10:29).
The Holy Spirit is about God's presence with us and within us. We are the place God lives, a holy temple, through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:20). Jesus promised us that he would not leave us alone, he wouldn't leave us orphans, but would come to us through the Holy Spirit and reveal himself to us and make his home with us through the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-27).
The Holy Spirit is our partner in the dance of grace. As we learn to let the Spirit take the lead in this dance, we find ourselves moving closer and closer to becoming like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), displaying the virtues of Christ (Galatians 5:22-23).
So as we think about the nature of the Holy Spirit, rather than focusing on the gender of the nouns used to identify the Holy Spirit, let's remember what the Spirit did and what the Spirit is doing in our lives and in our world. Let's celebrate the Holy Spirit as the presence of God in us! Let's invite the Holy Spirit to exercise more influence and control over our passions and our thoughts.
Who is the Holy Spirit and how do we think of the Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is God in us, the Holy Presence of God himself, who will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5; Romans 8:32-39).
What can you back up of your concept of the Holy Spirit in Scripture? (Yes, it's good to go look up some of these things and keep them somewhere with the references!)
If the Holy Spirit is a partner with our spirit in the "dance of grace" (Romans 8:5-17), then how do you plan to invite the Spirit to take the lead in your dance?
What do you think about the idea that the "Holy Spirit is about God getting personal with us"?
What does that mean in your life?
* I want us to be careful on this, because the names of God are holy and should not be used in vain or used lightly. In fact, many of the names of God are used to express who God is and what God does.