One hundred years ago, Seventh-day Adventist Minister Elder Wilcox summed up his understanding of the office of the spirit in the following words:
“Wherever God’s children are, there is the Spirit – not an individual person as we look upon persons, but having the power to make present the Father and the Son. That Spirit is placed upon God’s messengers, the angels; but the angels are not the Spirit. That Spirit is placed upon God’s servants, His human messengers, but the human messengers are not the Spirit. They are possessed by the Spirit, and used by the Spirit, and have within them the power of the Spirit; but they are not the Spirit. The Spirit is independent of all these human or material agencies. (M. C. Wilcox, Questions and Answers Vol. 11, 1919)
We have seen that Holy Spirit, does not infer personal identity, or conscious entity apart from its body, but refers to one or more aspects of the Spirit or mind of Christ, (such as: life, the divine nature and influence, light, power, thoughts, whether audible, written, or otherwise manifested, etc.) and to His office of communicating that Spirit to others, inclusive of the agencies of men, angels, the written word, etc.
Angels are part of the office staff. They are agents that Christ uses in His office of Holy Spirit, to communicate His Spirit or various aspects of it to men. Sometimes, as we have shown, the agencies, or channels, are not distinguished from the Spirit itself, but are collectively, along with the blessing communicated through them, referred to as the Holy Spirit. This understanding clarifies certain statements by Christian author Ellen White that otherwise would seem to contradict each other. Let us consider some of these difficult statements.
Though there are different shades of meaning for spirit, contrary to what you might think, the term “spirit” in Scripture, does not imply consciousness, or personal identity separate from one’s body. When someone dies, there is not a conscious entity that separates from the body and goes to God.
So what is it that goes to God at death? Notice that the Scripture uses the term, “return” to God who gave it. In other words, whatever God gave to man to impart life is what returns to God.
The word “ruwach”, (strongs number 07307) is the Hebrew word translated breath in this passage. It is most often translated “spirit” (232 times). It tells us that God breathed this spirit (or breath) of life into Adam. It came from Him. He was not transferring a preexisting intelligent entity to a new body as is the case in reincarnation theology.
From the passage itself, we cannot conclude that a conscious entity, the identity of a person, or even the record of one’s life goes to God at death. From the context, all that we can conclude goes to God at death is actually “returning to God”. In other words, what goes to God at death, is something that came from God to start with. It is the spark of life that God breathed into man in the beginning, that returns to God at death.
God has an accurate record of every aspect of our lives:
He already has the blueprint of the soul5. There is nothing residing in man that needs to take its flight to God at death, so that God can know how to raise a person to life at the resurrection. He already has an accurate knowledge of what individually identifies a person.6 Death is like the light from a light bulb, when the current is withdrawn, the light simply goes out.
We also read in Ecclesiastes that animals and human beings have the same spirit.
19For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath <07307>; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all [is] vanity. 20All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knoweth the spirit <07307> of man that goeth upward, and the spirit <07307> of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21)
This is not saying that animals have a personal identity that is preserved, like human beings. On the contrary, it shows us that the term “spirit” in these passages refers to the spark of life, and not to a personal, conscious identity
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Corinthians 5:4)
He is not speaking of his personal identity, implying that he, as an intelligent entity, was hovering in their meetings listening to what was going on, while physically he was somewhere else, rather he is saying that they would have his methods, ideas, thoughts, etc.
“Spirit” Refers to the Mind or its Contents
The following text in the Old Testament was quoted by Paul in the new.
Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him? (Isaiah 40:13)
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? (Romans 11:34)
Receiving God’s Spirit does not Involve Personality
When God and Christ pour on us their Spirit, or dwell in us, it is not as a “ghost” – a personal, intelligent individual identity apart from its body, taking over our bodies. That would destroy our identity. Yet, something from God does comes upon, or in, us. His life, power, nature, thoughts, etc. come upon and in us, and His living messengers come to us bringing these blessings.
Commenting on the distinction to be made between a being and its spirit, Elder John Loughborough, in an article printed by James White, says:
Now, no one would contend that Christ had been on the earth personally ever since the disciples commenced to fulfill this commission. But his Spirit has been on the earth; the Comforter that he promised to send. So in the same manner God manifests himself by his Spirit which is also the power through which he works. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Rom. viii, 11. Here is a plain distinction made between the Spirit, and God that raises the dead by that Spirit. … (Is the Soul Immortal? September 18, 1855 James White editor, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald)
When a man fathers a child, his seed carries with it life, human nature, intelligence, attributes, characteristics etc. from the man, and forms the fetus. It is of and from the man, but not the man himself. The Holy Spirit is the divine nature, life, intelligence, power, thoughts, attributes, and an open line of communication, etc. of and from the Father and Son, but it is not the Father or Son personally. However, there is an interesting statement I will quote which illustrates how it is with receiving the Spirit.
The gospel of Christ becomes personality in those who believe, and makes them living epistles,8 known and read of all men. (Review and Herald, December 15, 1891 par. 9)