Doctrine Illuminated: The Holy Spirit
[10 Minute Read]
Section 5: God the Holy Spirit.
“We believe that the Holy Spirit is fully God and is to be worshipped as God. He worked in the creation of the world, the incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the writing of Holy Scripture. His mission is to draw people to the Son, apply the work of redemption, regenerate and indwell believers, baptize them into union with Christ and His body. He also endows believers with gifts, transforms them in the image of Jesus, and secures them for final salvation.”
The Holy Spirit has been referred to as the “forgotten God” or “shy member of the Trinity.” These nicknames fall short in describing who he is, and more so describe our own deficiency in understanding the third person of the Godhead. He might functionally be third, but he’s not of least importance. It can be easy to sideline the Holy Spirit’s person and work while trying to construct a sound theology of Jesus Christ’s person and work. Yet, we are tempted also to swing the pendulum by over-emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s work to the exclusion or minimization of his Christ-centered focus.
“We believe that the Holy Spirit is fully God and is to be worshipped as God.”
Personhood isn’t merely about having a body. God is three persons. This is the mystery of the Trinity. The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, has always had a vital place in history and in the Bible (from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22). While his own person, he is always identified with God the Father and God the Son as co-equal (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Revelation 1:4). He is “cut out of the same cloth” (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). He has all of the divine attributes, like omnipresence, which means “all-present” (Psalm 139:7). He also knows everything (Isaiah 40:13-14). When we worship Christ rightly, we are doing so through his Spirit and will know that we have worshiped the Spirit.
“He worked in the creation of the world, the incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the writing of Holy Scripture.”
In almost every place where the Bible records one of those hard to believe events, the Holy Spirit is there. The book of beginnings, Genesis, tells from the outset that the Holy Spirit was actively fluttering over the formless creation that God was speaking into existence out of nothing (1:2). Mankind, the pinnacle of the creative order, is said to have been fashioned after God who, in this context, is an ‘us’ (Genesis 1:26). This means that the Creator was a unity of persons, and that fluttering Spirit was among those persons who created everything. Moreover, the New Testament explicitly accounts for the supernatural conception of Jesus Christ through Mary, who was a young virgin (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35) by the Holy Spirit. And, it was the blessed Holy Spirit of God who descended upon the baptized Jesus as the symbol of God’s approval and power upon him as the Messiah (Mark 1:10). All of Holy Scripture, furthermore, is produced by Holy Spirit’s breath (2 Timothy 3:16). Even the great king David recognizes this when he says, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2).
“His mission is to draw people to the Son, apply the work of redemption, regenerate and indwell believers, baptize them into union with Christ and His body.”
While Jesus was on earth, he boldly asserted that if anyone wants to come to God the Father, they must come through himself, God the Son (John 14:6). But, what if you don’t have an embodied Jesus physically visible to see? The plan all along was that Jesus wouldn’t physically be present throughout the rest of history in Palestine—or anywhere else for that matter. Starting most overtly at Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit would serve as a spotlight on Jesus the Redeemer (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8-11) who would counter the intractable hearts of the world bringing them to faith in the Son (1 Corinthians 12:3) through inward regeneration (Titus 3:5). This Holy Spirit, through the effective planning of God the Father and execution of the plan by God the Son, becomes sovereign Applicator of redemption, which is the sum of God’s saving work (Ephesians 1:13-14). Once the Holy Spirit has effectively prevailed upon the hardened sinner in leading them to Jesus Christ the Savior, he doesn’t leave them. His work has essentially just begun (Philippians 1:6). The Spirit then enters or indwells the believer (Romans 8:9-11). The indwelling of the believer by the Holy Spirit mystically (and inseparably) unites him or her forever through Spirit baptism to Christ (Romans 6:3-5) and to his body, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13).
“He also endows believers with gifts.”
Much confusion and Christian “turf war” has existed over the last century about the Holy Spirit’s gifting of believers. Unfortunately, it has led to widespread misunderstanding and even heterodoxy, which is a deviation from orthodox Christian teaching. That has come in the form of believing that baptism of the Holy Spirit, gifting, filling, and tongues-speaking are different benchmarks on a spirituality spectrum to be achieved. While conversely, those who see the failings of overemphasis tend to keep the Spirit in a minimized corner of their theology and practice.
The fact of the matter is that we can be clear as God wants us to be if we just study his Word. We don’t have to be uninformed (1 Corinthians 12:1). Every true believer has the Spirit and therefore is spiritual. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, and each Christian has been blessed with at least one (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:4-10; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
The whole point of the Spirit’s gifts to local churches is for service, and it is the kind of self-forgetful service in sacrificial love for brothers and sisters. Sometimes we get obsessed with figuring out our spiritual gift mix that to the neglect of using what we have “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Others insist confidently on their own gifting to the point of imposing themselves on churches as if they were the lord of their gifts. Love, clarity, and order must govern the exercise of our gifts for the unity of Christ’s Church (1 Corinthians 13-14).
“[He] transforms [believers] in the image of Jesus, and secures them for final salvation.”
Because the Holy Spirit is invisible God, we sometimes are unaware of how truly present and powerful he is (Haggai 2:5; Zechariah 4:6). It is specifically God the Spirit who produces lasting change in the believer (2 Corinthians 3:18) through the truth of Christ (John 16:13-14). It is the Holy Spirit who banishes any sense of fear and causes us to lean into our identity as God’s heirs; his royal sons and daughters (Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:6-7). This restful relationship is not without its own measure of effort, however. God’s child must “keep in step with the Spirit” by striving against their own fleshly tendencies (Galatians 5:16-25) and being filled by him (Ephesians 5:18-20). You have the very word of God that the Holy Spirit of peace will fully prepare for eternity in heaven (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
The book of Revelation ends with an invitation from the Holy Spirit and the Church to “Come.” This invitation bids you, for now, to freely enjoy union to Jesus Christ, the Husband, in spiritual betrothal until our faith will be made sight; when our marriage is consummated eternally in heaven to God’s Son, and it’s the Holy Spirit who will get us there.