What is the Holy Spirit?

I recently saw a survey by the Barna Group [1] which says that 58% of American Christians do not believe the Holy Spirit exists, or else have a skewed understanding of what the Holy Spirit is. But in fact, the Bible gives us lots of information about the Holy Spirit, and also how he works in our lives today. Let's look at what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, and learn about how the Holy Spirit affects us in our daily lives.

What is the Holy Spirit?

We are first introduced to the Holy Spirit in the very first paragraph of the Bible. When God created the Earth, it says "the spirit of God was moving over the water" (Genesis 1:2). This is who the Holy Spirit is - God's spirit which is present on Earth. In Christianity, God is often understood to be a "trinity" - one God, but with three different parts or aspects - God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the aspect of God that is in Heaven, Jesus left Heaven and came to earth as a human being to die for our sins, and the Holy Spirit is the invisible, omnipresent aspect of God who is still on Earth with us now. Jesus described the Holy Spirit in this way: "The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going." (John 3:8).

What evidence do we have for these claims? There are some very obvious Bible verses which give evidence that God is a Trinity, such as when Jesus was being baptized: "As soon as Jesus came out of the water, he saw the sky open and the Holy Spirit coming down to him like a dove. A voice from heaven said 'You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you.'"(Mark 1:10). In this verse we can see all three aspects of the Trinity - Jesus, God the Father (the voice), and the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained what happened here when he said "The Son was sent to speak God's message, and he has been given the full power of God's Spirit."(John 3:34).

Additionally, Jesus Himself told the disciples to go and baptize people "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Since Jesus tells us about the Holy Spirit, Christians should not claim the Holy Spirit doesn't exist, or is just "God's love on earth". Both of these views clearly go against what the Bible teaches, and should be rejected.

What does the Holy Spirit do?

So now that we know who the Holy Spirit is, let's look at what he does in the lives of Christians. All of the following things were spoken of by Jesus Himself:

  • Helps us worship God - "Even now the true worshipers are being led by the Spirit to worship the Father according to the truth... God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship Him according to the truth" (John 4:23-24)
  • Gives us spiritual life - "The Spirit is the one who gives life! Human strength can do nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are from that life-giving Spirit"(John 6:63)
  • Helps us discern the truth - "The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth."(John 16:13)
  • Gives messages from God and prophetic knowledge - "The Spirit doesn't speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen. The Spirit will bring glory to me by taking my message and telling it to you."(John 16:13-14)
  • Gives us spiritual power - "But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power."(Acts 1:8).
  • Teaches us and reminds us of God's Word - "The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you."(John 14:26).
  • Shows us what sin is - "The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God's justice and the judgment." (John 16:8)
  • Lives in us - "But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you." (John 14:16-17) Compare this with what Paul wrote: "All of you surely know that you are God's temple and that his Spirit lives in you."(1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • Helps us and will never leave us - "Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit, who will help you and always be with you." (John 14:16)

Additionally, the disciples wrote more about what the Holy Spirit does in their letters to the early Christians:

  • Shows us God's love - "All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love" (Romans 5:5)
  • Gives us peace - "But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace."(Romans 8:6)
  • Guarantees our salvation - "His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God promised."(Romans 8:17) and "The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future."(Romans 8:23).
  • Prays for us - "When we don't know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words." (Romans 8:26)
  • Changes our thoughts - "But God has given us his Spirit. That's why we don't think the same way that the people of the world think." (1 Corinthians 2:12)
  • Helps us recognize our blessings - "That's why only someone who has God's Spirit can understand spiritual blessings."(1 Corinthians 2:14)

There are a few more specific things which the Holy Spirit does in the lives of Christians, and more detail is given on each in the following sections.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Baptism is much more than just being dunked under water. Water baptism is just an outward display of the change happens in a person's heart when they become a Christian - this change is called the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit". This happens the very first time a person truly believes in Jesus. The Holy Spirit will move into their heart, and will let them feel God's love, peace, and give them all the benefits listed above. Jesus told us that unless someone receives the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, they are not a true Christian and are not saved: "I tell you for certain that before you can get into God's kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. Humans give life to their children. Yet only God's Spirit can change you into a child of God...Only God's Spirit gives new life.".(John 3:5-8).

The very first Baptism of the Spirit happened was at Pentecost (a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover) when Jesus' disciples were all together in Jerusalem. After Jesus was resurrected, but before he went to heaven, he told his disciples: "Don't leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5). We know this was the first Baptism of the Holy Spirit because before this "The Spirit had not yet been given to anyone, since Jesus had not yet been given his full glory." (John 7:39). This means that no one in the Old Testament had the privilege of having the Holy Spirit live in them, although they were saved through faith in a future Messiah, as demonstrated through their obedience to the Old Testament laws.

This event is described in Acts chapter 2: "On the day of Pentecost all the Lord's follower were together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak."(Acts 2:1-4). The disciples then went outside and preached in these languages to all the people in the streets. The special effects of wind and fire which came with this Baptism of the Holy Spirit were a special one-time display to the believers in Jerusalem. It showed them without a doubt that they had received the Holy Spirit just like Jesus said. Christians today do not get this fancy display of fire and wind, but we can know that the Holy Spirit is there by the love and peace we feel.

The Fruit of the Spirit

Another way that Christians can be sure they are filled with the Holy Spirit is by noticing the changes in their behavior to produce the "fruit" of the Spirit. This is a set of personal characteristics listed in Galatians 5:22: "God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled." As a Christian matures, they should start to display these sorts of characteristics. Some of these may be more difficult for some people than others, but we will have the Holy Spirit's help. If you want to work on one or more of these characteristics you can pray that the Holy Spirit would work in you to help you develop it.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit also means that you will have help trying to resist sin: "If you are guided by the Spirit, you won't obey your selfish desires. The Spirit and your desires are enemies of each other. They are always fighting each other and keeping you from doing what you feel you should."(Galatians 5:16-17). The Holy Spirit can eventually help reform your character so you will not want to sin, and will find the things you used to do are now totally unappealing. It's an amazing change that we can't do on our own without the Holy Spirit's help.

The Gifts of the Spirit

"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve the same Lord, and we can each do different things."(1 Corinthians 12:4). In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and Romans chapter 12 there are descriptions many different spiritual gifts. These are not "superpowers" to show off, but are meant to be used to help the church and fellow Christians. These gifts include:

  • Speaking with wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8)
  • Speaking with knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8)
  • Strong faith (1 Cor. 12:9)
  • Ability to heal the sick (1 Cor. 12:9)
  • Ability to do miracles (1 Cor. 12:10)
  • Prophetic knowledge (1 Cor. 12:10)
  • Spiritual discernment - recognizing if God's Spirit is present or not (1 Cor. 12:10)
  • Speaking languages that the speaker does not know (1 Cor. 12:10)
  • Understanding languages that the hearer does not know (1 Cor. 12:10)
  • Teaching ability (1 Cor. 12:28)
  • Church leadership (1 Cor. 12:28 and Romans 12:8)
  • Serving others (Romans 12:7)
  • Encouraging others (Romans 12:8)
  • Financial generosity (Romans 12:8)
  • Being kind to others (Romans 12:8)

Christians may have one or more of these gifts - if you want to learn more about each gift, try my article here. We should not try to all be prophets, or all try to be healers, because it depends on what gift God has decided to give to each person. Additionally, the ones such as speaking unknown languages require a great degree of restraint, to know when is the time to use it and to not use it just to sound "spiritual" (see 1 Corinthians chapter 14). Since they are gifts from God, we shouldn't brag about them or think they are due to some greatness on our part. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 that even if he had all sorts of amazing spiritual gifts, it would be worthless unless he first loved God and others. This is true not just for Paul, but for all Christians. Loving God and others is more important than trying to use spiritual gifts.


As we have discovered, the Bible clearly speaks about the Holy Spirit as the third part of the Trinity - an equal part of God along with God the Father and Jesus the Son. The Holy Spirit should be an important part of the Christian life, as he helps Christians live Godly lives in many different ways. The changes in a Christian's character to be more like Jesus (the "fruit of the spirit") come from the Holy Spirit's help. The many spiritual gifts which help Christians serve others also come from the Holy Spirit. If a Christian is not filled by the Holy Spirit, then they are not a true Christian. You can tell by looking through these lists of characteristics and gifts if you are truly filled with the Holy Spirit. If not, ask the Holy Spirit to come live in you, and give you God's peace and love right now! It will start a whole new phase of your Christian life, and guarantee your eternal life as well!


[1] Barna Group - Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist