Related Verses: John 16:12-15
Leading Question: Is the personality of the Holy Spirit as important to the believer as the divinity of the Spirit?
Note: Last week the emphasis was on the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The practical result of such an emphasis could be to increase the distance between a holy God and sinful humanity. This week the emphasis is on the personality of the Holy Spirit. Does contemplating an impersonal force contribute to greater peace of mind than contemplating a personal being? Does it make any difference whether one stands back from God in fear, or is drawn to him in affection and love?
In his Letters to Malcolm, C. S. Lewis engages in a conversation with, Malcolm, a sophisticated British conversation partner, about the relationship of a person to a God of majesty and power. This is Lewis’ comment about the “advantage” of seeing God as a person, even if one views God with terror:
I fully grant you that “wrath” can be attributed to God only by an analogy. The situation of the penitent before God isn’t, but is somehow like, that of one appearing before a justly angered sovereign, lover, father, master, or teacher. But what more can we know about it than just this likeness? Trying to get in behind the analogy, you go further and fare worse. You suggest that what is traditionally regarded as our experience of God’s anger would be more helpfully regarded as what inevitably happens to us if we behave inappropriately towards a reality of immense power. As you say, “the live wire doesn’t feel angry with us, but if we blunder against it we get a shock.”
My dear Malcolm, what do you suppose you have gained by substituting the image of a live wire for that of angered majesty? You have shut us all up in despair; for the angry can forgive, and electricity can’t. – Letters to Malcolm (1963), 96
On the positive side of the ledger, Ellen White comments on the value of seeing God in personal terms. Though she does not mention the Spirit explicitly, the same point would apply as we consider the personality of the Spirit:
It was the Maker of all things who ordained the wonderful adaptation of means to end, of supply to need. It was He who in the material world provided that every desire implanted should be met. It was He who created the human soul, with its capacity for knowing and for loving. And He is not in Himself such as to leave the demands of the soul unsatisfied. No intangible principle, no impersonal essence or mere abstraction, can satisfy the needs and longings of human beings in this life of struggle with sin and sorrow and pain. It is not enough to believe in law and force, in things that have no pity, and never hear the cry for help. We need to know of an almighty arm that will hold us up, of an infinite Friend that pities us. We need to clasp a hand that is warm, to trust in a heart full of tenderness. And even so God has in His word revealed Himself. – Education, 133
Jesus and the Spirit in John 14-17. In this crucial passage in the Gospel of John, the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit is both simple and complex. If one considers those factors which point to the personality of the Spirit, several emerge. Note the ones that are evident in John 16:13, 14:
John 16:13, 14: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (NRSV)
Among other things, the Spirit guides, speaks, hears, and glorifies. All of those functions point toward a personal manifestation, not an impersonal one.
The Advocate in John 14-17. When Jesus speaks of the Advocate, he not only suggests a personal being, but also links the Father, Son, and Spirit together. John 15:26, 27 is a key passage:
John 15:26, 27: When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. (NRSV)
The Witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:14-16. In Romans 8, the Spirit plays a large role, and in several verses, the personal role of the Spirit is prominent:
Romans 8:14-16: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (NRSV).
In Sum: In terms of a believer’s view of God, what is likely to be the result if one rejects both the divinity and the personality of the Spirit. One or the other? Are they likely to stand together or fall together? Which is most vulnerable in our modern world?