Summary: Who is the Holy Spirit and what does he do?
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
It would be good to review for a moment the discussion of the book. Paul is concerned about divisions in the church. The Corinth saints have begun to form parties, or at least identify themselves, under the names of church leaders. Chapter 1, verse 17, reveals what is at the heart of these divisions: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Note that phrase “eloquent wisdom.” This is what the Corinth saints prided themselves in possessing. As Paul described them in 1:5, they were “enriched in [Christ] in all speech and all knowledge. From verse 17 on, Paul discusses this matter of what is true wisdom as opposed to worldly wisdom. The cross of Christ is foolishness to the world, but real power to those being saved. The Corinth believers themselves exemplify God’s wisdom in calling those who seem weak and foolish into his kingdom. In chapter two, Paul notes that his style of ministry seems foolish, and, yet, those with spiritual maturity understand that the gospel of the cross is profound wisdom. It is now, discussing how people are able to be spiritually discerning, that he introduces the work of the Holy Spirit. In this context, he explains how the Holy Spirit illumines the mines of Christians to understand the gospel and Scripture.
Before we move on, it seems wise to consider the Holy Spirit and his work. Paul will make reference to him twenty four times in this letter, seven times in chapter two alone. Who is the Holy Spirit and what does he do?
The Holy Spirit is God; he is the third Person of the Trinity. As our Confession puts it: “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”
Is that clear? If it is, you have a sharper mind than most theologians! It is an incomprehensible doctrine, as most doctrines of God are, such as God being without beginning or present everywhere. We have nothing from our own experience to explain it. Why then do we have such a doctrine? Because Scripture pushes us to do so. Scripture makes clear that there is only one God. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. That is a quote from Jesus in Matthew 12:29 quoting Deuteronomy 6:4. Even so, Scripture ascribes to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each attributes that belong to God only. Perhaps these names then merely describe the same divine person as he carries out his different work, like Spiderman and the other superheroes who have secret identities. There are two problems with that idea. One, we presume that neither the Father nor the Son lie when they speak of each other and the Holy Spirit as persons other than themselves. When Jesus says that he is sent by the Father and that he does the Father’s will, he really is speaking of someone different from himself. The other problem are the verses that speak of all three persons together. Jesus’ baptism is a good example. While he is being baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on him and the Father speaks from heaven. What can we do, but discern that the nature of God transcends our mortal capacity for understanding?
Again, the Holy Spirit is God. Blasphemy against him is unforgivable. Blessings are given in his name along with the Father and the Son. The Spirit is so closely tied with God that some, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, mistake him for an impersonal force or merely another way of speaking of God’s inner being. But Paul’s discussion in verses 10b-13 with the Corinthians gives the right balance. He makes the connection between the Spirit and God (think “the Father”) so tight as to seem that they are the one and the same. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (11). We don’t treat our spirits as beings separated from us. But then Paul goes on in verse 13 to speak of the Spirit teaching us. We do not speak of our spirits teaching: “My spirit will now teach you.” The Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the divine Trinity.