Why Believe the Holy Spirit Is a Person?

Author Tim Barnett Published on 08/31/2016

A week ago I had two friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses over for what turned out to be a two-hour conversation. You can read more about that experience here. One of the topics that my Witness guests kept coming back to was the Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead. Instead, they believe that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal active force.

In our conversation, they were adamant about talking about the Holy Spirit. They repeatedly told me that the Holy Spirit is never referred to as a distinct person. This led me to ask a question, what attributes would distinguish a person from an impersonal force? Or, to ask the question a different way, does the Holy Spirit have the attributes of personhood?

There are three primary characteristics of personhood: will, mind, and emotions. It should be obvious that a force, like gravity or electromagnetism, cannot possess these properties. However, the New Testament demonstrates that the Holy Spirit has a will, a mind, and emotions. For simplicity, I walked through one example of each with my guests.

The Holy Spirit has a will. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:11 that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts as He wills. Paul writes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” It is clear from the context that it is the Holy Spirit who makes the decision about what gift each respective Christian receives. An impersonal force does not have the ability to make decisions. This is an attribute of persons, not impersonal forces.

The Holy Spirit has a mind. In Romans 8, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit intercedes (or prays) for believers. He says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26–27). In verse 27, we are told that God the Father knows the mind of the Spirit. An impersonal force does not have a mind and, therefore, could not intercede for believers. This passage only makes sense if the Holy Spirit is a person.

The Holy Spirit has emotions. Probably the most conclusive passage on this point is Ephesians 4:30. Paul states, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” How does one grieve an impersonal force? Grief is an emotion that is experienced by a person, not a force. Yet, Paul tells us explicitly that we cause the Holy Spirit to grieve when we commit sins.

After going through these three clear passages, I had one question. If the Holy Spirit has a will that decides (1 Cor. 12:11), a mind that thinks (Rom. 8:27), and emotions that feel (Eph. 4:30), how can anyone rationally claim the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force?

What happened next is very telling. Rather than deal with the argument that I presented, my Witness guests offered three challenges by way of response. In my next post, I will walk through their three responses that I received to this argument and how I responded.

If you want to learn more about witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses, read my Solid Ground article titled “Ready for the Knock on Your Door.” You may also want to watch this video on the same subject.