Spiritual Growth

Who is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?

Chelsea Kight

If you want to understand who God is, you need to understand all of who God is. Getting your head around the difference between God the Father and Jesus is one thing. But many struggle to grasp who the Holy Spirit is in a way they could explain clearly to someone else.

God is one God, but three persons. That’s not a simple idea to get to grips with.

When theologians speak of the three-in-oneness of God, they refer to Him as “the Trinity.” The Trinity is God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit.

Understanding who the Holy Spirit is, the place He holds within the Holy Trinity and the role He plays in individual lives is vital to anyone exploring what it means to become a Christian and anyone trying to follow Jesus.

Knowing the Holy Spirit will radically change your life because He is the way you will experience the life of God within you.

So let’s take a deep dive into this topic and see how He can transform you.

Here are some shortcuts to specific sections of content if you’re in a hurry:

Who Is the Holy Spirit?


When Christians talk about God coming to live in their hearts, it’s the Holy Spirit they are describing. The Bible describes the Spirit as the “breath” of God.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you." And with that He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
(John 20:21-22)

So just as you need oxygen to live in your human body, if you trust in Christ, you are born again in a spiritual sense and the Holy Spirit becomes the source of new life God places within you. You no longer just relate to God as a higher power outside of yourself. God transforms you from within so that you become more like Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in the life of a believer. But this does not mean God separates Himself into three separate parts.

God is three distinct persons who somehow are one in substance. God is unique in this way, so it’s not surprising that it takes some work to come to terms with this truth.

The Bible helps us to break down the mysteries of the Holy Spirit into ideas we can grasp.

The Holy Spirit is a Person


Often, people describe the Holy Spirit as a presence or an "it." But the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit has thoughts and a will.

The Holy Spirit can be grieved and even insulted. But He can also be pleased as we rely on Him to give us the strength to live in a way that’s consistent with God’s plan for us.

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.
(Galatians 6:8, New Living Translation)

The following verses from the Bible help us see the truth about the individual nature of the Holy Spirit:

  • “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

  • “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ — the things God has prepared for those who love Him — these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

  • “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

  • “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).

  • “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever” (John 14:16).

  • “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

  • “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

The Holy Spirit thinks about believers in Christ and responds to them. He knows the Father’s thoughts and communicates those thoughts to them. When you pray or read the Bible and sense God speaking to you through that, that is an example of the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

The more you let this sink in, the easier it will be to give the Holy Spirit the place of authority He deserves in your life.


The Holy Spirit is God Himself


The Holy Spirit is an equal among and a true member of what is known as “the Godhead.” That’s just another way of describing the three-in-oneness of God.

The Godhead is made up of three equal persons living in perfect unity with each other. Believing this is vital to understanding the powerful role the Spirit plays in the lives of Christians and the way God is active in the world.

The Bible verses in this section show that the Holy Spirit is God. They describe Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit interacting and existing in community with one another.

  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).

  • “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “‘You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9-12).

  • “God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us” (Acts 15:8).

  • “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

  • “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God. If you are a follower of Jesus, these verses prompt you to thank God for giving you His Spirit and help you see the Holy Spirit as worthy of your honor and love.


What Does the Holy Spirit Do?


The Holy Spirit has many different roles. But the first thing to understand is that the Holy Spirit is given to people who believe in Jesus to bind them together with God and help them become more like Him. For Christians, the experience of eternal life does not begin at death but when they trust in Jesus and God places His spirit within them.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit equips people for ministry, gives people specific insight and wisdom, teaches people how to interpret God’s Word, communicates with the Father on people’s behalf, and empowers Christians to live according to God’s design.

Here are some Bible verses about the work of the Holy Spirit:

  • He lives within followers of Jesus and produces lasting change in their character.

    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

  • He teaches the truth about Jesus.

    “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” (John 14:26).

  • He says what the Father tells Him to say.

    “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13).

  • He gives believers the power to share their faith.

    “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

  • He produces God’s love in human hearts.

    “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

  • The Holy Spirit is a promise of the great things to come for those who trust God.

    “You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

  • He gives people the skills and abilities they need to share God’s love; these are sometimes called “spiritual gifts.”

    “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (Hebrews 2:4).

The Holy Spirit is unique and creative. The more you learn about Him, the easier it is to recognize His presence in your life.


Where Is the Holy Spirit in the Bible?


Jesus is easy to find in Scripture. In a sense, He is everywhere, but we also have four books, known as Gospels, which are biographies of His life specifically. In the book of Jeremiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament, we see early references to God as Father. This is also how Jesus often referred to Him when He was teaching.

But at first glance, it may be unclear where the Holy Spirit shows up in God’s Word. And yet the more you know what to look for, the easier it is to see Him throughout Scripture, from the very first verses until the last.

The following verses are examples of where the Holy Spirit shows up in the Bible.

You can also watch this video for an overview of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Bible.

  • The Bible begins with the Holy Spirit present at the creation of the world.

    “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).

    These are the very first verses of the Bible. The Spirit is present from the very beginning.

  • The Holy Spirit lived within Moses as he led the Israelites to the Promised Land.

    “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Gather for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Numbers 11:16-17).

    As the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, Moses did not have the capacity to care for every single Israelite. God the Father came up with a plan to take the burden of leadership off of Moses and distribute it to other Israelites. The Holy Spirit bestowed on these people God’s power to fulfill the role He had for them. As the Israelite nation moved forward, the Holy Spirit continued leading God’s people.

  • The Holy Spirit gave King David the words to say.

    “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2).

    King David was arguably Israel’s most beloved king, but he also failed spectacularly. Just like all of us, David was far from perfect. During the first half of his reign, King David had a close relationship with God and obeyed Him. This verse is an example of the Holy Spirit empowering King David to effectively lead the Israelites. King David foreshadows Jesus, the coming perfect King who spoke and acted in the power of the Holy Spirit when He was on earth.

  • The Holy Spirit prophesied about Jesus before the Son came to earth.

    “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from His roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:1-2).

    This prophecy describes Jesus as the true King of Israel and says He would be full of the Holy Spirit as He lived a life full of the Father’s wisdom, clarity and knowledge.

    The Old Testament was not yet finished when the book of Isaiah was written, but this prophecy shows the Holy Spirit moving history toward God coming to earth in the form of Christ.

  • Prophets in the Old Testament were filled with the Holy Spirit to speak on behalf of God.

    “The Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard Him speaking to me. He said: ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites’” (Ezekiel 2:2-3).

    “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8).

    Both Micah and Ezekiel were prophets who demonstrated powerfully what it looked like to have the Holy Spirit guiding them. They spoke what the Holy Spirit impressed upon them to speak and worked hard to persuade and motivate the Israelites to turn from sin and obey God.

  • John the Baptist witnessed the Spirit descending on Jesus.

    “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because He was before me.” I myself did not know Him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (John 1:29-33).

    This passage brings us to the New Testament and the start of Jesus’ ministry. The Holy Spirit came down from heaven and remained on Jesus for the rest of his earthly life.

  • Jesus Himself was filled with the Holy Spirit in order to carry out His ministry.

    “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

    Jesus said these words to Israelites while they were worshipping God in a synagogue. He began his ministry by telling His friends and family that the Lord’s Spirit “is on Me” for a specific purpose. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the Holy Spirit and wanted His disciples to understand the power of the Spirit. He even told them it was “better” for them that He leave, because then the Holy Spirit would be sent to them (John 16:7).

  • The first followers of Jesus were filled with God’s Spirit to take the gospel to the known world, and so are we.

    “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).

    This verse is vital to understanding the Holy Spirit. Before this point in history, the Holy Spirit did not indwell every follower of Christ. After Jesus died, rose again and ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came down and filled up every disciple and apostle of Christ to spread the gospel to the world. Now, whenever anyone puts their faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit immediately lives within them. God’s people get to experience the power of the Holy Spirit like Jesus did.

  • The Holy Spirit provides believers with the strength to live the Christian life.

    “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NLT).

    The daily experience of living life as a Christian requires qualities that only God can give. The fruit of the Spirit mentioned above are some of those qualities, but believers also need resilience and a continual thirst to know God more deeply. They need to be changed daily to become more like Jesus. God achieves this by coming to live within them, in the form of the Holy Spirit, and then cultivating those qualities from within.

    The Spirit helps believers to hear God’s voice, understand His Word and choose obedience over self-indulgence. In our own strength, none of this would be possible.

  • The Bible begins and ends with the Holy Spirit.

    “‘I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.’ The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:16-17).

    What a beautiful verse from the end of the Bible. The Holy Spirit wants to give people living water. He wants to change their lives and make them new.

These verses are simply a snapshot of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Without Him, the Bible does not make sense.

Why not take some time to study what it means to live a Spirit-filled life using our Holy Spirit Starter Kit?

The Holy Spirit is dynamic and knowable. The more you allow Him to guide and direct your life, the more you will become like Christ and experience the love of your Father in heaven.

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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture is taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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