Pneumatology: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The word used in both the Old and New Testaments of Scripture to refer to the Holy Spirit can be translated as spirit, breath or wind. The Greek word is pneuma, and so the study of the Holy Spirit is called Pneumatology. Thus, the Bible speaks of the Spirit in terms of the breath, wind, or movement of God. The Holy Spirit is involved with the work, power and presence of God in the earth.

The Bible is full of references to the Holy Spirit. You only have to read to the second verse of the Bible to find him, where we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, involved in the creation of the world. It is important to know what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a Person

First, we see that the Holy Spirit is a Person, distinct from the Father and the Son. Jesus said he would send ‘another’ comforter (John 14:6). And at the baptism of Jesus we see the three Persons of God, distinct from one another, all showing up in that one moment. God has revealed himself to us in the Bible as one God, who is made up of a united community of three Persons, equal in divine essence. Because God has revealed himself to us in this way, it is important for us to observe these distinctions in our teaching, conversation about God and in our prayers. For example, we cannot thank the Holy Spirit or the Father for dying on the cross. Jesus did that. There are no nail scars in the Father’s hands (He is a Spirit, and does not have physical hands!). The Holy Spirit is the third distinct Person of this Godhead.

But is the Spirit really a Person, or, as some groups teach, merely a force or power from God, like electricity? The way Scripture speaks about the Spirit makes it impossible for him to be an impersonal force. Scripture uses a masculine pronoun in Greek, which is unexpected grammatically, for the word ‘spirit’ is neuter, not masculine (John 14:6; 15:26; 16:13-14). The Bible wants us to know the Holy Spirit as a “He,” not an “it.” This is also seen in the simple fact that He is given names (Helper, Counselor, Comforter). You don’t name an influence, but a person. Additionally, personal activities are ascribed to Spirit in Scripture (such as teaching- John 14:26, bearing witness- 15:26, interceding or praying- Rom 8:26-7, speaking- Acts 8:29; 13:2, being grieved by sin- Eph 4:30. Finally, we are instructed to have “fellowship” with him (2 Cor 13:14). All of this shows us that the Spirit is a Person and not merely a power.

The Holy Spirit is God

The Holy Spirit is not just a person; He is a divine Person. That is to say, He is God. He is included in the Great Commission with the Father and the Son (Mat 28:19-20; to baptize in his name is idolatry if he is not God – Grudem). In the early days of the church, Peter spoke of the same event as lying to the Holy Spirit AND lying to God (Acts 5:3-4). Attributes of God (things that describe only God) are applied to the Holy Spirit in Scripture. For example, He is eternal (Heb 9:14), omnipresent (Ps 139:7), and omniscient (1 Cor 2:10). And works that only God does are applied to the Spirit in Scripture (Creation-Gen1:2, Ps 104:30; Incarnation- Mat 1:18, 20, Lk 1:35; Ministry of Jesus- Mt 7:28-29, 12:28; Miracles-1 Cor 12:10; Crucifixion- Heb 9:14; Resurrection of Christ-1 Pet 3:18; Rom 1:4).

The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is very active! The Bible teaches us many specific works that He does. Here are just a few:

  • The Spirit gives life, both physical (Gen 1:2; Ps 104:30) and spiritual, or regeneration (Jn 3:1-8, 6:63; Titus 3:5; Ez 37:14; Rom 8:2, 6, 11; 2 Cor 3:6; Acts 10:44-47). These verses show our complete dependence on Him.
  • The Spirit writes scripture (2 Pet 1:21; Mt 22:43; Acts 1:16; 4:25; 28:25; 1 Pet 1:11; Heb 3:7-8).
  • He convicts the world of sin (Jn 16:8-11; Acts 7:51).
  • He unites believers with Christ at conversion (1 Cor 12:13).
  • The Spirit seals believers (Eph 1:13; 2 Cor 1:22).
  • He indwells believers (2 Tim 1:14; Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 1:22).
  • He gives assurance/bears witness with believers concerning their sonship (Rom 8:16; Gal 4:16; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13).
  • The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of future salvation (the “down payment;” Eph 1:13-14. 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5).
  • He comforts believers (Jn 14:26).
  • He teaches/illumines believers (Jn 14:26, 16:13; Lk 12:12; Acts 11:28; 1 Tim 4:1; 1 Cor 2:12; Eph 1:17-19).
  • He sanctifies/purifies believers, making us increasingly like Christ (1 Cor 6:11; 2 Cor 3:18; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2; Rom 8:13).
  • He helps believers produce fruit (Gal 5:22-23).
  • He guides and leads believers (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:16-26).
  • The Holy Spirit makes pastors (“overseers”) in the church (Acts 20:28).
  • He helps us in prayer (Rom 8:26; Eph 2:18).
  • He is involved in spiritual warfare (Mt 12:28; Acts 13:9-11; 1 Cor 12:10; Eph 6:17).
  • The Spirit gifts believers for building up the church (1 Cor 12:7, 11).
  • He empowers believers for mission and service (Acts 1:8; 6:5).
  • It is the work of the Holy Spirit to maintain unity in the church (Eph 4:3).
  • He becomes grieved/outraged with sin and when believers drift from the faith (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19; Heb 10:27, 29).
  • He fills believers increasingly (Eph 5:18; Jn 7:37-39; Peter shown to be filled with the Spirit three different times: Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:23; This is a continual, deepening work, not a one-time experience).
  • He leads believers to praise (Eph 5:18-20).

Our Relationship with the Spirit

The Bible calls Christians to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. We are instructed to have fellowship with Him (2 Cor 13:14). This implies an ongoing awareness of the presence of God. Because the Spirit leads us, it is our responsibility to yield to Him. This means we surrender to his leadership. We ask the Lord daily to fill us with his Spirit (Rom 8:14; Eph 5:18). Scripture calls us to walk in the Spirit (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:16, 25), pray in the Spirit (Jude 20) and earnestly desire the gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the church (1 Cor 12:31a; 14:1, 39).

Let us pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” in every situation and aspect of our lives, and in the church! We are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit to breathe life in us and bring fruit to our ministry, for the glory of God.



Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and J.L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology were helpful resources used in this article.