Many Professing Christians Apparently Don’t Know the Holy Spirit (HC LD 20, QA 53)

As Mark Twain used to say, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If you have a point to make, regardless of whether it is true or not, you can probably get some statistic to support it. You can probably get some “expert” to support it as well. I think we need to recognize the limitations of statistics and be careful and prudent with them, but they do have their place.

According to The State of Theology survey conducted in 2020 by Ligonier Ministries & LifeWay Research, 94% of evangelicals affirm that there is one true God in three persons. [1] I guess that’s encouraging from a certain vantage point, but the survey suggests that many evangelicals don’t actually understand what they’re affirming when they affirm the Trinity. After that question about the Trinity, 56% of evangelicals either agreed with or were unsure about the statement, “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.” [2] Don’t they know the Holy Spirit is a person who helps them? Twenty-two percent of evangelicals actually believe or are unsure whether the Holy Spirit can tell them to do something which the Bible prohibits. [3] Among other concerning things, this survey reveals that many professing evangelical Christians in the United States apparently don’t know the Holy Spirit. We could say they don’t know God, or at the very least, and this is being generous, they don’t know God as they ought. I think it’s safe to say you don’t know God if you think the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force that sometimes contradicts Scripture.

According to a 2009 survey done by the Barna Group, 58% of professing Christians agree that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” [4] Another 9% were unsure. Evangelical Christians would benefit greatly if they were taught the ecumenical creeds and Heidelberg Catechism. I’d love to see a resurgence of the Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian Creeds in North American Christianity. I’d love to see a reformation of the church in the United States sparked by awareness and interest in the Heidelberg Catechism and other Reformed confessions of faith. The further the church gets from the ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions, the less discerning it is. This is part of the reason Small Town Theologian exists – to call Christians to confessional Christianity.

So, it is apparently the case that though a large majority of professing evangelical Christians confess the Trinity, most are greatly confused about the third person of the Trinity.

When we confess the Apostles’ Creed, we confess only a short line about the Holy Spirit: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” But what is meant by that line? Heidelberg 53 asks, “What do you believe concerning ‘the Holy Spirit’?” This is where many professing Christians go wrong. Heidelberg 53’s simple answer helps us:

First, He is, together with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God. Second, He is also given to me to make me by true faith share in Christ and all His benefits, to comfort me, and to remain with me forever.

If someone doesn’t know the Holy Spirit, they will also be uninformed about how the Holy Spirit helps them.

Notice, Heidelberg 53 says, “He is . . .” He. The Holy Spirit is a person, not an “it” or a force. Along with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is “true and eternal God.” At the beginning of time, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2). In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira were deceitful. Peter said to Ananias, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. . . . You have not lied to man but to God” (vv. 3-4). It is true, the Holy Spirit is as much a divine and living person as the Father and the Son. The Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit is

the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

The Athanasian Creed adds, “the Holy Spirit is uncreated . . . immeasurable . . . eternal . . . almighty . . . God . . . Lord.” It goes on to say:

None in this Trinity is before or after, none is greater or smaller; in their entirety the three persons are coeternal and coequal with each other. So in everything, as was said earlier, the unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity, is to be worshiped. Anyone then who desires to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

Just contemplate that last line for a bit: “Anyone then who desires to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.” No one can be saved without knowing the person of the Holy Spirit and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing and experiencing the person and power of the Holy Spirit is essential to our comfort and joy in God.

When we confess the Holy Spirit, we confess that the Holy Spirit is a precious gift from God who dwells within us. Paul encouraged the Corinthians with these words: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God” (1 Cor. 6:19). Brothers and sisters, we’ve never received a gift as precious as the Holy Spirit! God gave the Holy Spirit to you as a gift to help you, comfort you, strengthen you, lead you, guide you, etc. We truly share in Christ’s anointing. The Spirit of God’s Son dwells in you urging you to cry out, “Abba! Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6)! The Spirit’s presence in you is the seal and guarantee that you are an adopted son and heir of God.

The Holy Spirit powerfully and graciously worked faith in you by the gospel (HC 21). Praise the Lord alone! You believe because the Holy Spirit has powerfully and graciously regenerated you and granted you faith (Jn. 3:5-8). The Holy Spirit is sustaining your faith, and through it, sovereignly and graciously applying to you the benefits of Christ. In John 14-15, Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Helper” (Jn. 14:16; 15:26). Why? Because the Holy Spirit helps God’s people and is with them forever (Jn. 14:16). He is the Spirit of truth, so he helps them with discernment and wisdom (Jn. 14:17; 15:26). Jesus said the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit “because it neither sees him nor knows him” (Jn. 14:17). This is why many professing Christians can believe such ridiculous things about the Holy Spirit; they don’t actually know him. They are ignorant hypocrites. But you, dear brothers and sisters, you know Him. Jesus told his disciples, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:17). How wonderful! You and I know the Holy Spirit, we know who He is, because He is always with us and always in us. He comforts us, teaches us, guides us, and loves us.          

Many professing Christians lust for miracles. They want to see the Holy Spirit’s power visibly demonstrated in miracles, but their lust often excites their imagination and veils their eyes to the Spirit’s power working in regeneration, faith, and sanctification. I think more than we need to see another person’s leg grow an inch by the hands of some self-proclaimed faith-healer, we need to see our brothers and sisters trusting in the providence of God, making progress in their battle against pornography, being faithful to their spouses even when it’s hard, showing patience and gentleness toward their unruly children, and remaining faithful to their local church. These are supernatural displays of the Spirit’s power and work that are often overlooked. And speaking for myself, I long to see the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power at work in my brothers and sisters in Christ. I want to see God physically heal people at Jerusalem Church by His providence, but I also want to see demonstrations of power in the spiritual growth of my church. I want to see people taking comfort in the gospel; that energizes and encourages my weak faith.

Dear saints, let us know the Holy Spirit and experience His marvelous power. Let us know that He is God, that He is ever with us, and that He has been given to us to help us every day.    


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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