Many Christians have at least a basic understanding of God the Father and of God the Son. Most would be able to accurately describe at least some of the roles that each performs. Yet when it comes to God the Spirit many Christians find themselves clueless as to what the Spirit does. They believe that the Spirit is part of the Trinity and thus divine but when it comes to defining what the role of the Spirit is many are left speechless. Often the Spirit is described as the conscience of the believer, that part inside each individual that helps point out right and wrong. Sometimes the Spirit is the power that enables Christians to have specific talents in order to accomplish God’s will. And in some cases the Holy Spirit has no power at all outside of the written words of the Bible. Rarely is the Spirit described as a part of the Godhead with specific roles and specific functions to accomplish in the world. And because of that, most Christians find themselves confused over what exactly the Spirit is.
This reality may be most evident in the world of art. For centuries artists have been painting and drawing representations of the various beings of the Godhead. The most pictures are of Jesus the Son, almost always in a human form since that is how humanity has best encountered him. There are also many pictures of the Father in art and the majority depict the Father with a human body probably because it is easier for humans to conceive of the Father in a form they recognize. The Spirit has the least amount of renditions in the artistic world and most of the pictures depict the Spirit as a dove or possibly even a floating phantasm. Very rarely is the Spirit depicted the same as the Father and Son are depicted, as humans. It seems that for many it is easier to conceive of the Spirit as a ghost than an individual who is equal in “Godness” as the Father and Son. And yet, for the Theology of the Trinity to work the Spirit must be an equal with the Father and Son finding their identity in relationship with each other. The Spirit is a distinct being, a distinct individual.
God the Father created the world and humanity. After sin entered the picture, God the Son redeemed the world and humanity through his death, burial, and resurrection. After the Son ascended to the Father, God the Spirit came to allow the world and humanity to participate in the divine life. It is the Spirit that convicts the world of sin and points individuals toward a relationship with God through the Son. It is the Spirit that helps to bring about an age of justice and righteousness and love in a world desperately in need of being made right. It is the Spirit that works towards a renewal of the earth (a renewal that the earth has been groaning for since it was corrupted by sin). And it is the Spirit that allows God to be near and for Christians to feel a very real presence of God in their midst.
The Spirit is so much more than just a floating ghost flying around to give people talents or whispering in their ears encouragement to make right choices. The Spirit is a distinct individual in the Godhead who works in relationship to the Father and the Son for the ultimate redemption of the world.
Editors Note: This is part 1 of 6 in a series on the Holy Spirit. The series is not meant to be exhaustive but to serve as a starting point for a fuller understanding of the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer and of the world.