Christians: What Kind of Person is the “Holy Spirit” anyway? – Sunday Takeout

Batman and Robin

‘Holy Ghost, Batman!’

This week we began a four-week study on what Francis Chan calls the “Forgotten God” — the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Terry said we find the Spirit easy to forget or ignore in part because we don’t get what the Spirit is.

  • Maybe we grew up with the old translation, “Holy Ghost,” and just thought he was spooky.
  • Maybe we read a translation that calls the Spirit our “Advocate” and figure he just does the same thing Jesus does — stands up in our defense when we screw up.
  • Maybe we read a translation that calls the Spirit our “Comforter” and consider that a nice, but not very useful job. You can run to Mommy and get comforted when you make a mistake, but ultimately you need to get back on the field and do battle yourself.

Fight our own fights; seek comfort from God

And so we continue battling, all by ourself, and run to God for comfort when we (ourselves) mess up.

Before I continue, I will say upfront that it irritates me to get a better understanding from a Greek lexicon (which is sort of an Oxford English Dictionary of the Greek language) than I can get from the English translations we all use. After all, people died to provide us translations in our own language. They were considered heretics to suggest that ordinary people could understand the Bible and were martyred by the church for it. And so when I turn away from their work to read the Bible like a scholar, I feel like a traitor to their courage.

Nonetheless, I’m going to say that I understand the Holy Spirit better by looking at how people have studied the Greek word that describes what the Spirit does than by reading the several words used in English translations of the last four centuries. In Greek, the Holy Spirit is our “paraclete” (John 14). This word is translated as “advocate” or “counselor” (advisor) in some contexts during the Biblical era. But its most common meaning is “helper.”

The Spirit is a helper?

I have the same visceral response at that point that you may. Treating God as a helper just doesn’t seem right. I can’t imagine saying:

“Hey, Spirit, I’m a little busy right now. Would you check up on the kids?”

But what if the Spirit were here to help us in a different sense? What if the Spirit’s job is to help us accomplish what God wants done? Then what we’d be asking would be more like:

“Ummm … Spirit … I’m really embarrassed but I want to slap that girl silly for the way she’s treating my daughter. And I know that’s not what Jesus wants from me. Would you help me do what Jesus wants me to do?”

And what if we really believed that — as God says — anything we ask for that is in his Name (that is to say, according to his character) we will receive. Then the request would sound something like this:

“Spirit, I’m truly sorry that I want to slap that girl silly for the way she’s treating my daughter. I know Jesus has a different plan in mind. Thank you for the power to do what Jesus wants me to do. So be it. Amen.”

As God says in John 14:20, on the day the Spirit arrives, we know that God lives in Jesus and we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us. And if Jesus is in us, then like the apostle Paul, what we do, we do by God’s power, through God’s Spirit.

How can you rely on God’s power, through the Holy Spirit, to do God’s work today?


About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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2 Responses to Christians: What Kind of Person is the “Holy Spirit” anyway? – Sunday Takeout

  1. Matt Kantrowitz says:

    The title should be “WHO is the Holy Spirit”, not “WHAT.” Ironically, your whole point about inadequate understandings of him was illustrated quite well in the title.

  2. Oh Matt, you got me! (Although the text is correct while the headline is wrong …) And of course in Greek the Spirit is “it” and in Hebrew the Spirit is “she” which leaves us in a bit of a conundrum as translators, doesn’t it? Rather makes you question the decision on the part of ALL the English-language translators to make the Spirit male … As if God who made humanity male AND female in God’s own image (Gen. 1) was somehow, God-self, uniquely masculine. But, who am I to pick nits with the great scholars who have given us God’s word?

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