Recently a survey by George Barna revealed that 68% of the youngest American Christians believe the Holy Spirit is just “a symbol of God’s power or presence, but is not a living entity.”
I remember that when I was quite young, a neighbor friend about my age telling me he could never believe like we Christians because we believed that the Holy Spirit was God. I denied this was the case, but just to make sure, I asked my Mom. He assured me that this was indeed a belief Christians held and for the time being that was good enough for me.
The belief that the Holy Spirit is just a symbol cannot be derived from the Bible for it teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person. He has intellect (I Corinthians 2:10-11), emotion (Ephesians 4:30), and will (I Corinthians 12:11). This does not conform very well to the idea of the Spirit simply being an abstract representation.
Even more difficult to explain, assuming that the Spirit was merely symbolic, is why the Spirit is honored as an equal partner with God the Father and Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:19 says, for instance,“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The quotation in Matthew infers that there are three separate coequal persons. Each is regarded as God and as such is eternal (John 6:27; Hebrews 1:8; Acts 5:3-4). This, of course, is speaking of the Trinity. God is one Being, but in the unity of that one Being there are three coequal and coeternal Persons. This means the Holy Spirit is God.
To make the Holy Spirit a symbol is to rob Him of the honor, recognition, and even worship that is due Him. If we fail to realize He is an actual divine Person, we fail to see Him as Someone who seeks to minister through us and to us. We will tend to see ourselves as utilizing the Holy Spirit rather than the Holy Spirit utilizing us. As a Christian when I received the Spirit I was not just getting power from God, but a Person who supplies the power.
Furthermore, if we deny the reality of His personality, we have no right to expect personal fellowship with Him. A person can only have fellowship with another person. The thrilling truth is that it is possible to experience personal fellowship and blessing because of the Holy Spirit. When we are properly related to the Holy Spirit, we are having fellowship with Him. Then we can wish to one another as Paul did to the Corinthians, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion [fellowship] of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
If you are an older Christian and you happen across a younger one this week, you might want to ask, “What are your ideas on the Holy Spirit?” You might have a teachable moment of which to take advantage.