Questions from the Street: “Who/What is the Holy Spirit/Ghost?”

Mark Wheeler

Pentecost, June 8, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

John 14:16-17, 26

Questions from the Street: “Who/What Is the Holy Spirit/Ghost?”

God of all, may Your lavish grace and saving power be known by all people in all places, so that the world may resound with Your praise as all nations bow down before Your loving rule made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Last week I was working on a project for our home – and if it works, for any smallish room in the church. I am making a homemade portable air conditioner. Now, I don’t care if you like Home Depot or Lowe’s or Ziggy’s or Harbor Freights or any of the Ace Hardware stores. When I am in the process of inventing something – nobody has exactly what I want/need, so I wander around the store looking – for someone/anyone to help me. I like Home Depot because they wear those bright orange vests – if only those bright orange vests knew how to help….

When I finally find someone, I usually say something like, “I know this isn’t your department, but I’m looking for something like …..

We are in a series addressing questions people off the street might ask. We have been blessed to get some questions from some of your friends and neighbors. Today’s question comes from someone right here in our pews. It’s a great “Home Depot” kind of question. The question asked was “What is the Holy Ghost?” And another person asked, “Who is the Holy Spirit?

It’s a great question, in part, because many of us do not understand the different roles of the different “persons” of our “Triune God”. Wow – that was a ton of “Churchese” packed into one sentence. Let’s unpack a little, and then try to answer this question in particular.

There are any number of Bible passages that speak to this question, and to the words Christians use to talk about this question – so, admittedly, I picked and chose one of my favorites. I invite you to listen to the Word of God from the Gospel according to John 14:16-17, and 26 …. —-

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you….

26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

As Christians, we believe that God is the holy TRINITY – Three in One, traditionally named FATHER, SON, and HOLY SPIRIT. More contemporarily, people have used names like “Creator, Christ and Comforter” – which has the preacher’s advantage of alliteration. This, too, is biblical, but in my mind doesn’t carry the weight of relationship like “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” does. The technical, theological language is “three persons in the one God-head”.

This is, truly, one of those mysteries for which there is no great, accurate, certainly no easy, understanding. We believe that, somehow, God is, by Himself, a divine community. All three “persons” are co-equal and completely God, all at the same time. This is one of those times when I wish we had the capability to show video clips in the sanctuary, because there’s a wonderful 3-minute animated argument between St. Patrick and a couple of Irish snake-farmers discussing the bad analogies used to describe this Trinity. For those who have FaceBook, I will try to post that video alongside my sermon this afternoon. (here it is:

But, just to start the conversation, today’s passage from John includes all three persons of the Trinity. “And I (the Son) will ask the Father, and He will give you … the Spirit …. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my (the Son’s) name ….

The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, Page 14 in your Song Books, give definitions for these “persons”.

The FATHER is the CREATOR of all that exists.

The SON proceeds from the FATHER and is SENT to us as our LORD and SAVIOR. The Son is God, of the same substance as God the Father. He existed from the beginning, but was made incarnate (came in bodily form) of a virgin about 2,000 years ago; eventually He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; but on the third day he rose from the dead. 40 days later He ascended into heaven where He reigns/rules with God the Father; and He will come again one day to judge the living and the dead.

The HOLY SPIRIT proceeds from the FATHER and the SON, and was given to believers after the SON ascended back to the FATHER. The Holy Spirit also fully God, is equal to the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is not just a “THING” that God gives us – the Bible uses a PERSONAL pronoun to describe this “person” of the Trinity. Look at today’s passage again. Jesus, the Son, says, “I will ask the Father, and He (the Father) will send another advocate to help you.” And advocate has personal connotation. Advocates are not merely things; advocates are personal. But look further: “The world cannot accept HIM (not IT!), because the world neither sees HIM nor knows HIM … but you know HIM, for HE lives with you….

Okay – but what is His job? Which department does He work in? When I pray to God, is it ever appropriate to pray to the Son or the Holy Spirit, or is it always supposed to be to the Father?

Real quickly, and too briefly, the Holy Spirit’s job, according to John 14, is to come alongside believers and help us in our faith. He is our Advocate. Some English translations here say He is our Counselor, Consoler, Comforter(ah, there’s that contemporary name). The Greek word is parakleton, “beside-caller”, “comer-alongside”. He is our strength, our courage, our confidence, our help. He is the one who “giftsbelievers with things like faith and words of knowledge and speaking in tongues, and prophetic words and gracious hospitality. It is the Holy Spirit, as our helper, who produces in the faithful the “fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

So is it OK to pray to the Holy Spirit? YES! And to pray seeking His aid and resources and for faith to live and do what is right in our world so filled with wrong.

Today when we go to our time of prayer, I will invite different forms of prayer for the Holy Spirit’s presence to be revealed in us and with us. On that first Christian Pentecost Day, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit swept across the believers in some powerful ways, demonstrating God’s perfect power and love for His people – thunder, wind and flames filled the Upper Room where they met. Outsiders thought they were drunk – and 3,000 Jews became Christian believers that day. That’s what I’m praying for here!

But before we go to prayer, one more common question I get – do we call Him Holy SPIRIT or Holy GHOST?

The first mention of this third person of the Triune God is in GENESIS 1:2 (that’s pretty early in the Bible), where it says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, the SPIRIT of GOD was hovering over the waters.”

Of course, that’s one English translation. The old King James Version usually names Him Holy GHOST, most more modern English translations have chosen the slightly less spooky word Holy SPIRIT. They are both attempts to translate the Hebrew word “ruach” and the Greek word “pneuma”, both which also mean wind and breath. Was it the wind of God that hovered over the earth? Was it the breath of God that was breathed into (inspired) the first human?

The Latin Vulgate (the first translation of the Bible into a vernacular language used the LatinSpiritus Sanctus” = Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).

Henri Nouwen writes, “Being the living Christ today means being filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus. Jesus and His Father are breathing the same breath, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the intimate communion that makes Jesus and His Father one. Jesus says: ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14:10 [just before our passage today]) and ‘the Father and I are one’ (John 10:30). It is this unity that Jesus wants to give us. That is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Living a spiritual life, therefore, means living in the same communion with the Father as Jesus did, and thus making God present in the world.”

The Holy Spirit’s department is to bring us closer to Jesus. Let’s lean on Him for that, and invite His power into our everyday lives of faith. Amen.

God of all, may Your lavish grace and saving power be known by all people in all places, so that the world may resound with Your praise as all nations bow down before Your loving rule made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


A Vision for the 21st Century for Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry”; Theology Matters; May/June 2014; Pp. 7-8.

Nouwen, Henri;–God-s-Breath-Given-to-Us.html?soid=1011221485028&aid=-WhxAb0nMKU; June 5, 2013.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 411.


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