Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost?

Bob RoaneLoving and Trusting God, Theology

This article was originally written to answer a question at Belhaven University.

God the Holy Spirit

The Spirit is the third person in the Holy Trinity, equal to God the Father and God the Son in power, glory, and eternity. The Spirit, together with Father and Son, is to be believed in, loved, obeyed, and worshiped. In Jesus’ Great Commission, He commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.”1 Notice, God’s New Testament name (one name) is Father, Son, and Spirit (three persons). “The doctrine of the Trinity is basic to the Christian religion. The whole of Christianity stands or falls with it.” (R. B. Kuiper)

God the Holy Spirit is not a thing or a force. The whole Bible speaks of Him as a divine person, our Creator, Comforter, Counselor, Guide, and Advocate.2 The Spirit gives new birth and new life to sinners. Salvation does lie in our hands, but in God’s alone. The Holy Spirit must first work in us for us to trust and obey God. He must remove our heart of stone and give us a new heart so that we repent of our wrongs and believe on Christ. The Spirit makes us Jesus’ followers and moves us to follow His decrees and keep His laws.3 The Spirit unites us to Christ and to Jesus’ other followers in His family, the Church, and gives us gifts for serving others.4 The Holy Spirit is the Author of the whole Bible and He helps us understand it and put it into practice by loving God and our neighbors.5

The chorus from Keith Green’s song “There Is A Redeemer” expresses this: “Thank you, oh my Father, For giving us your Son, And leaving your Spirit, ’til the work on earth is done.”

English Words Change Their Meanings

In the Hebrew Old Testament the word for Spirit is ruach, and in the Greek New Testament the word is pneuma. The King James Version (KJV) first translated in 1611 uses “Holy Ghost” 90 times and “Holy Spirit” 7 times. It is not clear why the translators used Ghost in most places and then Spirit in a few places for the same Greek and Hebrew words. By “ghost,” KJV translators did not mean a specter or phantom of a dead person thought to appear to living people. In the fictional story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the ghost of Jacob Marley visited Ebenezer Scrooge. This is not at all what the Bible means for the Holy Spirit.

With more recent Bible translations, “Holy Spirit” has replaced “Holy Ghost”. English words change their meanings. In the days of King James, ghost meant the living essence of a person. As language changed, people began to use “ghost” for a vision of a dead person and “spirit” for a person’s living essence or soul. The words “ghost” and “spirit” changed places over the past 400 years. To avoid confusion, I prefer not to use the term “Holy Ghost.”

The Holy Spirit’s Ministry

The Spirit convicts the world of sin and righteousness and judgment; glorifies the Lord Jesus; and transforms believers into Christ’s likeness.6 God the Spirit applies the all benefits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to Christ’s followers. These benefits include: Effectual Calling, Justification, Adoption, Sanctification, Saving Faith, Repentance Leading to Life, Good Works, Perseverance, and Assurance of Grace and Salvation.7 Jesus’ people receive benefits in this life, when we die, and at the resurrection (Judgment Day). We are so blessed!

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor 2:9)

Jesus taught that our Father in Heaven gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him and Paul urged us to keep on being filled with the Spirit, constantly being guided by Him.8 No wonder Pastor Walter Chantry said, “The great part of our prayer work should be imploring Almighty God for a greater measure of His Spirit.”9

Using a Hymn as a Prayer

I close this article with a hymn by Thomas Benson Pollock (1839-1896). I use it myself as a prayer and you may wish to do the same:

1. Spirit, strength of all the weak, Giving courage to the meek, Teaching faltering tongues to speak, Hear us, Holy Spirit.

2. Spirit, aiding all who yearn, More of truth divine to learn, And with deeper love to burn, Hear us, Holy Spirit.

3. Spirit, fount of faith and joy, Giving peace without alloy, Hope that nothing can destroy, Hear us, Holy Spirit.

4. Source of love and light Divine, With that hallowing grace of thine, More and more upon us shine,  Hear us, Holy Spirit.

5. Holy, loving, as thou art, Come and live within our heart, Never from us to depart, Hear us, Holy Spirit.

6. May we soon, from sin set free, Where thy work may perfect be, Jesus’ face with rapture see, Hear us, Holy Spirit.

Benediction: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

Notes:  1 Matthew 28:18-20.     2 Gen 1:2; John 14:16-17.     3 Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 3:3-8.     4 Acts 2:42-47; 1 Cor 12:1-11.     5 2 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Peter 2:19-21; Mark 12:28-31.     6 John 16:7-9; Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18.     7 See Westminster Confession, chapters 10-18.     8 Luke 11:13; Eph 5:18.     9 Shadow Of The Cross: Studies in Self-Denial.