What is the Holy Spirit? (part 1)

· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 7 min.

The Holy Spirit belongs to the Trinity. In the history of Israel, He had a mediating role between God and the prophets. At the time of Jesus, He was responsible for many miracles. Even today, the Holy Spirit guides believing Christians through their lives.

The Holy Spirit, as the “third person” of God, is part of the Trinity. While it is relatively easy to imagine God the Father as the creator of the whole world, and Jesus, the Son of God, has been directly visible here on Earth in human form, it is more difficult to grasp the nature of the Holy Spirit and His functions.

The topic “Holy Spirit” is sometimes discussed controversially, which can be seen for example in the incisive Berlin Declaration of 1909. With this declaration, the Pietist fellowship movement distanced itself in sharp words from the then newly emerging Pentecostal movement: The spirit, which the Pentecostal movement particularly emphasized, would not be the Spirit of God at all, but would be literally from the devil.

Historically, the Berlin Declaration was declared irrelevant 100 years later by a new, joint declaration of Pietistic and Charismatic associations, yet the discussion on the topic of what exactly constitutes the true Holy Spirit has not been closed by this in the various Christian movements.

In this series of articles, I would therefore like to try to take a detailed look at the subject, independent of historical controversies and particular denominations. First, in this first article, I will describe as a basis some aspects of the Holy Spirit on which there is mostly agreement – only in the second part will I talk about certain more controversial aspects.


The Bible shows us that the Holy Spirit has been involved in various events that were formative for world history. At the time of the Old Testament, this mainly concerned God’s activity with his chosen people, Israel. The Holy Spirit was encountered by certain people, the so-called prophets, who appeared at important turning points in Israel’s history.

The Holy Spirit met the prophets mainly in their thoughts. He takes on a kind of mediating role between God in heaven and the prophets on Earth, showing them what God is up to and how they should communicate that to the people of Israel. Unlike angels, who appear at specific times with individual messages, the Holy Spirit usually accompanies a person permanently.

In doing so the Holy Spirit is not bound to a certain place, but can be with many persons at the same time. This is also reflected in the word used in the original Hebrew text for the Holy Spirit: the word ruach literally means “wind”. Just like a breath of wind, the Holy Spirit cannot be located exactly – we can feel the wind, but we cannot say exactly where it begins and ends.

Probably the most unusual event described in connection with the Holy Spirit concerns the way Jesus came to this Earth. The Bible reports that Jesus had no biological father, but was directly begotten by the Holy Spirit. This explains theologically how Jesus could come to this world without sin – which was necessary for Him to take upon Himself the sin of mankind at His crucifixion.

In order to avoid misunderstandings, I would like to point out at this point that the begetting of Jesus by the Holy Spirit is to be distinguished from the so-called “Immaculate Conception”. The “Immaculate Conception” is a special doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, which says that Mary, the mother of Jesus, herself was also without sin. However, there is no evidence for this statement in the Bible.

(Further reading: Luke 1:26-38)

At the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit also made a public appearance. When Jesus came up out of the water again after the baptism, the Holy Spirit came down to Jesus in visible form as a dove from heaven, and a voice was heard from above saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!" This event gave rise to what is probably the most common symbol for the Holy Spirit today: a dove.

(Further reading: Matthew 3:13-17)

The Holy Spirit accompanied Jesus throughout His life here on Earth. Through Him, Jesus did many miracles, such as healing a deaf-blind man. In doing so, Jesus makes it clear to the religious elite of the time that He was sent by God and was able to heal the deaf-blind man through the Spirit of God.

(Further reading: Matthew 12:22-32)

When it finally became apparent to Jesus’ disciples that he would be crucified and would have to leave the world again, they were very upset. But Jesus promised them several times that He would send them a helper afterwards: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would remind the disciples of everything Jesus had told them and continue to show the world that Jesus is the Son of God.

(Further reading: John 14:15-31; John 15:18-27; John 16:5-15)

Jesus’ promise was finally fulfilled on the holiday Pentecost, after He was resurrected and returned to heaven. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of “tongues of fire” that descended upon the first Christians. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they were suddenly able to speak in foreign languages. The people in Jerusalem, no matter what region they came from, could now hear the Christians praising God in their own language.

(Further reading: Acts 2)

Through this language miracle at Pentecost, God also showed that the message of Jesus was not only for the Jewish people of that time, but for all people, no matter what language they spoke, all over the world. However, the good news of Jesus were not only passed on orally. The most important documents were later also compiled into a book in the form of the Bible, which in turn was translated into very many languages.

The Bible contains accounts from the beginning of human history, about Jesus as Savior, to predictions about the end of the world and eternity. It was written over a period of many centuries by different people, from kings to simple craftsmen. That the Bible nevertheless makes a coherent book is explained by the fact that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors while they wrote it.

(Further reading: Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21)


The Holy Spirit was not only important for historical events, but He is also important for every single Christian today: The Bible tells us that if we don’t believe in God, we can’t actually understand Him. But in order to believe in God, we need at least some understanding of who God is and what Jesus did for us.

(Further reading: 1 Corinthians 2:10-16)

This is where the Holy Spirit comes in: Believing in God feels like a conscious decision at first. But the Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit came to our aid at this moment. Even if we didn’t feel it, he made us aware of which of our mistakes have separated us from God and where we need to change our lives.

(Further reading: Acts 10:44; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:5)

The moment we admit our mistakes to God, He forgives us, and we understand that only by His power can we truly change our lives, something special happens: the Holy Spirit “seals” us. The symbol of the seal goes back to the fact that instructions sealed by a king could not be undone.

(Further reading: Esther 8:8; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14)

The seal of the Holy Spirit means that as believing Christians we will definitely go to God in heaven after death to spend eternity with Him. In order for us to succeed in this, the Holy Spirit guides us through our lives. What used to apply only to chosen prophets of the people of Israel, is now experienced by all Christians who ask God about His plan for their lives and act accordingly.

(Further reading: Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16-18; Galatians 5:25)

When the Holy Spirit “dwells” with us permanently, He changes our character and produces many good qualities in us. These are also called the “fruits” of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul lists the following of these: Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, temperance, and prudence. By these qualities we can know that we have the Holy Spirit.

(Further reading: Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Timothy 1:14; and Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Timothy 1:7)

The Holy Spirit is a helper to us in various practical situations in our lives as Christians, just as Jesus promised the first disciples: The Holy Spirit helps us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. He helps us when we do not know what to pray. And he also helps us when we do not know how to tell others about our faith.

(Further reading: Acts 4:31; Romans 8:8-9; Romans 8:25)

In addition, the Holy Spirit gives each Christian an individual “gift”, a talent that allows us to share something with others. These talents vary – they range from practical to theological duties. They can be, for example, a specific position in the church or interpersonal skills that we could not exercise without the help of the Holy Spirit.

(Further reading: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 12:28)

Continuing reading the next article: “What is the Holy Spirit? (Part 2)”