In Biblical thought, to speak of the spirit of someone is equivalent to speaking of the person himself (e.g. II Samuel 13:39). It is the same with God: the Spirit of God is regarded as synonymous with God Himself (e.g. Psalm 139:7). The early Christians also evidently considered the Holy Spirit to be God: when Peter confronted Ananias (Acts 5:1-11), he said first that Ananias had ‘lied to the Holy Spirit’ (verse 3) and then that he had lied ‘to God’ (verse 4). In Peter’s mind, God and His Spirit were one and the same.
As with Jesus, the divinity of the Holy Spirit is assumed in the New Testament, rather than taught. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul not only treats the Holy Spirit as synonymous with God, but refers twice to the Holy Spirit’s temple. First he states that we are God’s temple because the Holy Spirit lives in us (I Corinthians 3:16; also Ephesians 2:22); a little later on, he says that Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19). If the Holy Spirit has a temple, He must be worthy of worship – and therefore He must be divine.
The pictures used of the Spirit in the Bible – water (e.g. Isaiah 44:3; John 7:37-39) and fire (e.g. Luke 3:16; I Thessalonians 5:19) – help us to understand His nature and His actions, but underplay His personal nature. Perhaps this is why many of us find it difficult to comprehend the Holy Spirit as a person. Even Augustine fell into this trap; he unhelpfully equated the Holy Spirit with the love that binds the Father and the Son together. It is so much easier for us to think of Him as the power of God, or as some kind of energy or life force (a bit like ‘the Force’ in ‘Star Wars’, perhaps). There is some basis to this; the words for ‘spirit’ (ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek) also mean ‘wind’ and ‘breath’ (Ezekiel 37:1-10; John 3:8; John 20:22), and the Bible speaks of prophets being “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21) – which conjures up an image of a leaf being blown along by a strong wind. “The power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:19) is probably His most obvious attribute – but He must be more than mere power, if Zechariah’s words are to make any sense: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Just as the human spirit carries an individual’s personality, so the Holy Spirit carries all the personality of God. He is “another advocate” (John 14:16) – a word that can also be translated as ‘comforter’, ‘counsellor’, or ‘helper’, all roles that can only be performed by someone personal. He teaches (John 14:26), guides (John 16:13; Acts 16:6,7), warns (Acts 20:23), bears witness (John 15:26), and prays (Romans 8:26). He makes His own decisions (I Corinthians 12:11),He has emotions (Isaiah 63:16; Ephesians 4:30, Hebrews 10:29), and He can be insulted (Mark 3:29). All these things are evidence that He is a Person.
This makes a difference. If the Holy Spirit is just a force like electricity, then (potentially, at least) it can be harnessed or even manipulated by us for our own ends – just as ‘the Force’ in ‘Star Wars’ could be used for evil as well as for good. (If this seems far-fetched, what about those faith healers who promise guaranteed results, effectively claiming to have the power of the Holy Spirit ‘on tap’?) But if the Holy Spirit is personal, then He will resist such attempts to control Him. If the Holy Spirit is merely God’s power or energy, if it ‘radiates’ out from God like heat and light from the sun, then God keeps His distance from us. But if the Holy Spirit is God Himself living with us – and even in us – then God is not ‘out there somewhere’, but right up close… and personal.