Father, Son, & Who?

A Barna research report this week revealed that 58% of American Christians don’t believe the Holy Spirit exists. “Fifty-eight percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is ‘a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.’”[1] Interestingly, the same survey revealed that about 60% of American Christians do not believe Satan exists.

I suppose you could argue that if you think Satan doesn’t exist then what do you need the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit for? We can also argue that it doesn’t matter if you believe Satan exists or not. Without the Holy Spirit you are traveling up temptation’s raging river without a paddle—or a boat for that matter.

I’ve long thought that the problem many people have with understanding who the Holy Spirit is, and His role, can be boiled down to our description of Him. The Bible always describes God’s character in human terms we can understand from our already pre-existing relationships. Two examples: when we call God, “Father,” we can understand that because we associate the term, “Father,” with that which is already familiar. We know what a father is and what his role is. The same can be true when we call Jesus the, “Son of God.” We already have in our minds what a son is and what his relationship to his father is. These anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s nature, in part, aid our understanding of who God is.

But when we come to the descriptive term, “Holy Spirit,” we encounter a problem. It’s not like the term “Holy Spirit” is similar to “mother,” or “Father,” or “Son.” We have trouble wrapping our minds around how it works. We wonder exactly how the Spirit of God is related to God when we can’t picture him in anthropomorphic terms we already understand. The Holy Spirit is God, but He’s not the Father and He’s not the Son, and He’s not described with anthropomorphic terms. So how does that work exactly?

The Bible tells us quite clearly that the Holy Spirit is a person, with attributes of personality, and He is deity, co-equal with the Father and the Son. But the term, “Holy Spirit,” seems impersonal as opposed to titles like Father and Son. Maybe it’s because we think of the term “Spirit” like an essence instead of a person. Yet we forget that when we die our spirit enters God’s presence. I.E., we enter God’s presence. The spirit is us. So why don’t we take that thinking and apply it to God in the sense of personhood and personality? The Holy Spirit is God.

It’s troubling enough when a majority doesn’t believe in the Evil One. You can’t defend yourself against an enemy you don’t believe exists. But when you regulate the Holy Spirit to nonexistence in your belief system then you’ve wiped away the only source of power you have for defeating the enemy’s schemes. American Christianity is in a mess of trouble when it doesn’t recognize the existence of an essential member of the Godhead.

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