“I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 9:1 ESV).
The third person of the Godhead is known in the New Testament by several names, or at least by several distinctive adjectives or identifiers appended to his essential nature of spirit. In Romans 8 alone he is called “The Spirit of God” (verses 9, 14), “the Spirit of Life” (verse 2), and “the Spirit of Christ” (verse 9).
The name by which he is most often called in Scripture is “the Holy Spirit.” Like many modern names this is loaded with meaning, however again like many modern names, those meanings are frequently unnoticed by many. We recognize the one to whom it refers, but we do not necessarily understand the attributes which the name suggests.
“Holy” is not simply a proper name or part of such. It is an adjective which is widely used and extremely significant in Scripture. Early in the Old Testament God himself is often described as “holy” (Leviticus 19:2), and his people (Israel) are called to be holy as he is holy.
In modern English the word holy is generally taken in the sense of “pure,” “perfect,” or “without flaw or sin.” Though that is included in the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek works and is certainly an attribute of God, it is not the root significance of those original words. Rather, they primarily indicated “that which is separate” and “that which is consecrated or devoted to [God]” (A Theological Word Book of the Bible, p. 215).
Few words or phrases could emphasize the perfect unity of God the Father and God the Spirit more than “Holy.” God’s Spirit is not just with him or like him; The two are perfectly identified together. Nor is this unique to only these two persons of the Trinity. Jesus prayed for all believers that they might be one, “just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:21).
Perhaps this holiness is one of the reasons (if not the primary reason) for Jesus’ dire warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30). His adversaries accused him of possessing an unclean spirit. He countered with the warning that anyone who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit is guilty of an eternal sin. The lesson to us is, “do not confuse God’s Spirit with other influences or pretenders.” He is different.
In both Old and New Testaments to be holy is to be different, separate, and especially to be dedicated to the service of God. God is unique; there is no other God who is a true, living God. He is different, without the limits of mortality, fallibility, and change with which we humans (and the gods we invent) struggle.
It is common to hear the Spirit of God classified with other “spiritual beings” such as angels or even demons and evil spirits as possessing the same essential nature. I suppose this primarily means that they are all without tangible bodies and they may all be perceived as having powers and abilities superior to those of man. But when we assign God’s spirit to that general category we must inevitably ascribe to him similar attributes to theirs. To many the only significant difference lies in the realm of goodness versus evil.
The Hebrew writer differentiates between Jesus as the Son and angels as “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:2-14). That same distinction applies to the Holy Spirit as a member of the divine Trinity. His attributes are those of God. He is perfectly united with God (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). He is not just a spiritual being assigned by God to certain tasks. He is separate, consecrated, belonging totally to God. He is not “just another spirit, but a better one.” He is unique as is God the Father.
This understanding makes the point of last week’s article — that he is also “our Spirit,” given to obedient believers by the Father — even more incredible. God has shared that Spirit who belongs totally to him — who knows his mind perfectly and represents his nature — with each one of us who has trusted in him and obeyed his will. They too are holy, consecrated and set apart. They are also unique and different from all that is worldly. The Holy Spirit is both a sign of that difference and a means by which God has made it possible.