Let’s say that a man were to approach you on the street and tell you, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God.” What would you think? You probably be wondering if the man had lost his mind. How can you anyone call themselves a Christian, while denying Jesus was God’s Son?
My Father used to joke, “I can call myself a bird and stick a Feather in my hat, but that doesn’t mean I can fly.” The point being that sticking a label on something, doesn’t make it so.
What if I told you that the majority of people who call themselves Trinitarians don’t really believe in the Trinity? They label themselves “Trinitarian”, but they really aren’t. That may seem like a particularly outrageous assertion to make, but I assure you, it is backed up by hard stats.
In a 2018 study by Ligonier ministries and Life Way Research in which 3,000 Americans were interviewed, the researchers found that 59% of US adults believe “the Holy Spirit to be a force, not a personal being.”[i]
When it came to Americans with “evangelical beliefs” …the survey found that 78% believe that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father.
A fundamental tenet of the Trinity doctrine is that there are three coequal persons. So if the Son is created by the Father, he cannot be equal to the Father. And if the Holy Spirit is not a person but a force, then there are not three persons in the Trinity but only two, at best.
This illustrates that the majority of people who believe in the Trinity, do so because that is what their Church teaches, but they don’t really understand the Trinity at all.
In preparing this series, I have watched a number of videos by individuals promoting the Trinity as a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. Over the years I’ve also discussed the Trinity in face-to-face encounters with strong proponents of the doctrine. And do you know what is interesting about all those discussions and videos? They all focus on the Father and the Son. They spend an enormous amount of time and effort trying to prove that the Father and the Son are both the same God. The Holy Spirit is virtually ignored.
The Trinity doctrine is like a three-legged stool. It is very stable as long as all three legs are firm. But you remove just one leg, and the stool is useless. So, in this second video of our series, I’m not going to focus on the Father and the Son. Instead, I want to focus on the Holy Spirit, because if the Holy Spirit is not a person, then there is no way it could be part of the Trinity. We don’t need to waste any time looking at Father and the Son unless we want to change from teaching the Trinity to a duality. That’s a whole other issue.
Trinitarians will try to convince you that the doctrine dates back to the first century and will even quote some early church fathers to prove the point. That doesn’t really prove anything. By the end of the first century, the majority of Christians came from pagan backgrounds. Pagan religions included the belief in a Trinity of Gods, so it would be very easy for pagan ideas to be introduced into Christianity. The historical record indicates that the debate over the nature of God raged all the way into the fourth century when finally Trinitarians, with the backing of the Roman Emperor, won out.
Most people will tell you that the Trinity as an official church doctrine came about in 324 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea. It is often referred to as the Nicene Creed. But the fact is that the Trinity doctrine did not come into being in 324 A.D. at Nicaea. What was agreed upon by the bishops then was the duality of the Father and the Son. It would be more than 50 years before the Holy Spirit was added into the equation. That occurred in 381 A.D. at the Council of Constantinople. If the Trinity is so obvious in Scripture, why did it take the bishops over 300 years to codify the duality of God, and then another 50 to add in the Holy Spirit?
Why is it that the majority of American Trinitarians, according to the survey we just referenced, believe the Holy Spirit is a force and not a person?
Perhaps they arrive at that conclusion due to the almost complete lack of even circumstantial evidence supporting the idea that the Holy Spirit is God. Let’s look at some of the factors:
We know that the name of God is YHWH which means essentially “I exist” or “I am”. In English, we might use the translation Jehovah, Yahweh, or Yehowah. Whatever form we use, we acknowledge that God, the Father, has a name. The Son also has a name: Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew, meaning “YHWH Saves” because the name Yeshua uses the short form or abbreviation for the divine name of God, “Yah”.
So, the Father has a name and Son has a name. The Father’s name appears in Scripture almost 7000 times. The Son’s name appears around a thousand times. But the Holy Spirit is given no name at all. The Holy Spirit does not have a name. A name is important. What’s the first thing you learn about a person when meeting them for the first time? Their name. A person has a name. One would expect a person as important as the third person of the Trinity, that is, the person of the godhead, to have a name like the other two, but where is it? The Holy Spirit is given no name in Scripture. But the inconsistency doesn’t stop there. For instance, we are told to worship the Father. We are told to worship the Son. We are never told to worship the Holy Spirit. We are told to love the Father. We are told to love the Son. We are never told to love the Holy Spirit. We are told to have faith in the Father. We are told to have faith in the Son. We are never told to have faith in the Holy Spirit.
- We can be baptized with Holy Spirit – Matthew 3:11.
- We can be filled with Holy Spirit – Luke 1:41.
- Jesus was filled with Holy Spirit – Luke 1:15. Can God be filled with God?
- The Holy Spirit can teach us – Luke 12:12.
- The Holy Spirit can produce miraculous gifts – Acts 1:5.
- We can be anointed with Holy Spirit – Acts 10:38, 44 – 47.
- The Holy Spirit can sanctify – Romans 15:19.
- The Holy Spirit can exist within us – 1 Corinthians 6:19.
- The Holy Spirit is used to seal the chosen of God – Ephesians 1:13.
- God puts his Holy Spirit in us – 1 Thessalonians 4:8. God does not put God in us.
Those wishing to promote the Holy Spirit as a person will put forward Bible texts that anthropomorphize the spirit. They will claim these to be literal. For instance, they will quote Ephesians 4:13 which speaks of grieving the Holy Spirit. They will claim that you cannot grieve a force. That you can only grieve a person.
There are two problems with this line of reasoning. The first one is the assumption that if you can prove the Holy Spirit is a person, you proven the Trinity. I can prove that angels are persons, that doesn’t make them God. I can prove that Jesus is a person, but again that does not make him God.
The second problem with this line of reasoning is that they are introducing what is known as a black or white fallacy. Their reasoning goes like this: Either the Holy Spirit is a person or the Holy Spirit is a force. What arrogance! Again, I refer to the analogy I’ve used in previous videos of trying to describe the colour red to a man who was born blind. There are no words to properly describe it. There is no way for that blind man to fully understand color. Let me illustrate the difficulty we’re facing.
Imagine for a moment that we could resurrect someone from 200 years ago, and he had just witnessed what I did. Would he have any hope of properly understanding what just happened? He would’ve heard a woman’s voice answer my question intelligently. But there was no woman present. It would be magic to him, sorcery even.
Imagine that the resurrection had just occurred. You are sitting at home in your living room with your great-great-great-grand grandfather. You call out, “Alexa, turn down the lights and play us some music.” Suddenly the lights dim, and music begins to sound. Could you even begin to explain how all that works in a way that he would understand? For that matter, do you even understand how it all works yourself?
Three hundred years ago, we didn’t even know what electricity was. Now we have self driving cars. That is how quickly our technology has advanced in such a short time. But God has been around forever. The universe is billions of years old. What kind of technology does God have at his disposal?
What is the Holy Spirit? I have no idea. But I do know what it isn’t. A blind man might not be able to understand what the color red is, but he knows what it isn’t. He knows it is not a table or chair. He knows it is not food. I don’t know what the Holy Spirit really is. But what I do know is what the Bible tells me. It tells me that it is the means that God uses to accomplish anything he wishes to accomplish.
You see, we are engaging in a false dilemma, a black-or-white fallacy by arguing whether the Holy Spirit is a force or a person. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for one, claim it to be a force, like electricity, while Trinitarians claim it to be a person. To make it either one or the other is to unwittingly engage in a form of arrogance. Who are we to say there can be no third option?
The claim it is a force like electricity is sophomoric. Electricity can do nothing by itself. It must operate within a device. This phone is run by electricity and can do many amazing things. But by itself, the force of electricity can do none of these things. A mere force cannot do what the holy spirit does. But this phone can do nothing by itself either. It requires a person to command it, to use it. God uses the Holy Spirit to do whatever he wants it to do. So it is a force. No, it is much more than that. Is it a person, no. If it were a person it would have a name. It is something else. Something more than a force, but something other than a person. What is it? I don’t know and I don’t need to know anymore than I need to know how this tiny device enables me to converse and see a friend living on the other side of the world.
So, going back to Ephesians 4:13, how is it possible to grieve the Holy Spirit?
To answer that question, let’s read Matthew 12:31, 32:
“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31, 32 NIV)
If Jesus is God and you can blaspheme Jesus and still be forgiven, then why is that you cannot also blaspheme the Holy Spirit and be forgiven, assuming the holy spirit is also God? If they are both God, then blaspheming one is blaspheming the other, is it not?
However, if we understand that it is not speaking about a person but rather what the Holy Spirit represents, we can make sense of this. The answer to this question is revealed in another passage where Jesus teaches us about forgiveness.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3, 4 NIV)
Jesus doesn’t tell us to just forgive everybody and anybody no matter what. He puts a condition to our forgiveness. We are to forgive freely as long as the person, what’s the word, “repents”. We forgive people when they repent. If they are unwilling to repent, then we would merely be enabling wrong conduct to forgive.
How does God forgive us? How is his grace poured out upon us? How are we cleansed from our sins? By Holy Spirit. We are baptized in Holy Spirit. We are anointed with Holy Spirit. We are empowered by Holy Spirit. The Spirit produces a new person, a new personality. It produces a fruitage that is a blessing. (Galatians 5:22) In short, it is God’s gift freely given to us. How do we sin against it? By throwing this wonderful, gift of grace back in His face.
“How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29 NIV)
We sin against the Holy Spirit by taking the gift that God has given us and stomping all over it. Jesus told us that we must forgive as often as people come to us and repent. But if they don’t repent, we don’t need to forgive. A person who sins against the Holy Spirit has lost the capacity to repent. He has taken the gift that God has given to him and trampled all over it. The Father gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit but that is only possible because first he gave us the gift of his Son. His Son gave us his blood as a gift to sanctify us. It is through that blood the Father gives us the Holy Spirit so as to wash us free of sin. All these are gifts. The Holy Spirit is not God, but the gift God gives us for our redemption. To reject it, is to reject God and to lose out on life. If you reject the holy spirit, you have hardened your heart so that you no longer have the capacity to repent. No repentance, no forgiveness.
The three-legged stool that is the Trinity doctrine depends on the Holy Spirit being not only a person, but God himself, but there is no scriptural evidence to support such a contention.
Some might quote the account of Ananias in an effort to find some morsel of support in Scripture for their idea. It reads:
“Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” (Acts 5:3, 4 NIV)
The reasoning used here is that since Peter says they lied to both the Holy Spirit and to God, the Holy Spirit must be God. Let me illustrate why that reasoning is flawed.
In the United States, it is against the law to lie to an agent of the FBI. If a special agent asks you a question and you lie him, he can charge you with the crime of lying to a federal agent. You are guilting of lying to the FBI. But you didn’t lie to the FBI, you only lied to a man. Well, that argument won’t get you out of trouble, because the Special Agent represents the FBI, so by lying to him you have lied to the FBI, and since the FBI is a Federal Bureau, you have also lied to the government of the United States. This statement is true and logical, and what is more, we all accept it while recognizing that the neither the FBI nor the US government are sentient beings.
Those trying to use this passage to promote the idea that the Holy Spirit is God, forget that the first person they lied to was Peter. By lying to Peter, they were also lying to God, but no one thinks Peter is God. By lying to Peter, they were also working against the Holy Spirit which the Father had previously poured out upon them at their baptism. To now work against that spirit was to work against God, yet the spirit was not God, but the means by which he had sanctified them.
God sends his holy spirit to accomplish all things. To resist it is to resist the one who sent it. To accept it is to accept the one who sent it.
To summarize, the Bible does tell us that it is of God or from God or sent by God. It never tells us that the Holy Spirit is God. We cannot say exactly what the Holy Spirit is. But then neither can we say exactly what God is. Such knowledge so beyond comprehension.
Having said all that, it doesn’t really matter that we cannot accurately define its nature. What does matter is that we understand that we are never commanded to worship it, love it, nor put faith in it. We are to worship, love, and put faith in both the Father and the Son, and that is all we need to worry about.
Clearly, the Holy Spirit is not part of any Trinity. Without it, there can be no Trinity. A duality perhaps, but a Trinity, no. This is consistent with what John tells us about the purpose of eternal life.
John 17:3 tells us:
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (NIV)
Notice, there is no mention of coming to know the Holy Spirit, only the Father and the Son. Does that mean the Father and the Son are both God? Is there a divine duality? Yes…and No.
With that enigmatic statement, let us conclude this topic and pick up our discussion in the next video by analysing the unique relationship that exists between the Father and the Son.
Thank you for watching. And thank you for supporting this work.