God the Spirit

I believe in the Holy Spirit

 

In our study through the Apostles’ Creed, we have completed Article 1, which focused upon God the Father, and Article 2, which considers God the Son. We now, therefore, come to Article 3, which has God the Spirit for its theme. Some theologians, such as Calvin, viewed the creed as possessing a fourth article which begins with the holy, catholic church; however, the threefold structure of “I believe” in correlation to the Persons of the Trinity seems to warrant there only being three articles. Furthermore, as we will see in the coming weeks, the concluding doctrines confessed within the creed are placed after the Holy Spirit precisely because they are included in the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Since we are, therefore, beginning our study of God the Spirit, we will structure our time around three questions.

WHO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?

The Holy Spirit is God.

That is the short answer, although clearly more needs to be said.

We believe that the Holy Spirit is God, together with the Father and the Son, yet together they make one God, not three. But even though the Spirit is God with the Father and the Son, He is not the Father nor the Son. He is a distinct Person within the triune Godhead.

“Person” is a crucial word here. The proper pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit is He, not it. The Spirit is not an impersonal force of God. He is not a metaphorical way of understanding God’s power throughout the universe. Instead, the Holy Spirit is a Person. He teaches and reminds (John 14:26). He guides and speaks (John 16:3). He bears witness to Jesus (John 15:26). He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He empowers (Acts 1:8). These are the characteristics of personhood, not an ethereal energy.

But the Spirit is also God. The Nicene Creed further describes the Third Person of the Trinity as such: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.” Many people think of the Nicene Creed as clarifying the church’s belief in Jesus’ divinity, yet it also clearly affirms the deity of the Holy Spirit as well.

Three texts directly affirm this. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus instructed us to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Next, in Acts 5, Peter confronts Ananias and Sapphira about lying about their offering amount. In verse 3, Peter says that they lied to the Holy Spirit, while verse 4 says it was to God. Finally, we have the closing benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, which says: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The testimony of Scripture, therefore, is that the Holy Spirit is God.

WHAT IS THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT?

Now that we’ve established that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the triune God, we must turn our consideration toward His work. We’ve already established the work of the Father in creating and ordaining all things. Furthermore, we took five weeks to study the work of Jesus via His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. We must, therefore, do the same with God the Spirit.

Question 37 of the New City Catechism is “How does the Holy Spirit help us?” This question itself points us toward a foundational aspect of the Spirit’s Person and work: He helps us.

During His last supper with His disciples, Jesus gives what many call the Upper Room Discourse, which is found in John 13-17. With Jesus’ crucifixion only hours away, Jesus gave many words of comfort and instruction to His disciples for the future. One of the great promises that He makes three times (John 14:16-26, 15:26, 16:7-15) in this discourse regards the sending of the Holy Spirit, Whom He calls the Helper.

The word parakletos is translated in the ESV, NASB, and NKJV as Helper. The KJV renders it Comforter. The RSV and CSB call Him the Counselor, while the NIV, NLT, and NET use Advocate. In light of these varied options, some choose to anglicize parakletos as the Paraclete.

So which translation works best?

The word describes someone who comes along beside another, so none of these translations are incorrect. In fact, keeping all of them in mind will likely help us stay nearer to what is meant by the original word in Greek. Although if we were to use one primarily, I agree with the ESV, NASB, and NKJV’s usage of Helper, since helper can easily include the functions of counselor, advocate, and comforter.

The KJV’s translation of Comforter, however, requires a bit of an explanation today. According to the Oxford Dictionary, comfort being used in “the sense [of] ‘something producing physical ease’ arose in the mid 17th century.” But the KJV, of course, was originally published in 1611, and its subsequent revisions kept much of its original wording. Comforter is one such example, which means that comfort did not mean producing physical ease when the KJV was published. At that time, comfort instead meant to strengthen or to give support. Thus, the KJV is not declaring that the Holy Spirit’s role is to give us ease but rather to give us strength, to be our Helper.

Leaning into this title, Jesus told His disciples: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Consider that statement for a moment.

Jesus’ physical presence on the earth was gloriously good news. It was light shining into the darkness (John 1:5). It was the invisible God providing us with His exact image, the radiance of His glory (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).

Furthermore, as our Savior, Jesus is our great helper. We could not save ourselves from the righteous judgment of God for our sins, but Jesus paid our penalty in full. We have no right to approach the Father in prayer, yet Christ clothes us in His righteousness and continues to petition before the throne as our great High Priest. Jesus gladly acknowledged His role as our helper when He speaks of the Holy Spirit as being “another Helper” (John 14:16) to be with us forever.

Jesus’ physical presence on earth was good, but the giving of the Holy Spirit is now, because of the work of Jesus, even better for us. Jesus’ earthly ministry was done through the power of the Spirit (Acts 1:2). Upon receiving the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers received the same power to continue Jesus’ work on earth. Through the Spirit, Jesus made disciples, then He gave them the Spirit and sent them into the world to make more disciples. The Holy Spirit makes us into Christians, little Christs. We become His representatives, His ambassadors, His body, His church. This is the help that the Holy Spirit gives. He gives us strength to follow Christ and to teach others to follow Christ, to walk in discipleship with Jesus as we also disciple others.

We now return to Question 37: How does the Holy Spirit help us? Answer: “The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, comforts us, guides us, gives us spiritual gifts and the desire to obey God; and he enables us to pray and to understand God’s Word.”

We could summarize that answer into the following statement: The Holy Spirit helps us be disciples of Jesus. The Holy Spirit enables us to be Christians. The Spirit convicts us of sin in order to lead us to repentance. The Holy Spirit comforts us by giving us strength to die to self on a daily basis. The Spirit guides us into all truth. He pours spiritual gifts upon us for purpose of maturing together as the body of Christ. He gives a desire to obey Christ, since our love for Christ is proven by our obedience to His commandments. Finally, the Spirit enables us to pray to the Father by the blood of the Son and to understand the Scriptures that He authored.[1]

Each of these things is what it means to be a disciple. A disciple prays and pours over the Scriptures. A disciple longs to obey God. A disciple uses his or her giftings for the edification of the body. A disciple follows the Spirit’s guidance in truth, lives by the Spirit’s strength, and repents at the Spirit’s promptings. These are the basics of living a Christian life, yet we cannot do them without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Let us take the example of prayer. Saying a prayer is easy. Anyone can do it, and, in fact, most people probably do make some kind of prayer at some point in their lives. Prayer to the true God, however, cannot be made by just anyone. God the Father gives ear to the prayers of His children, those “who are led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14). In fact, it is the Spirit within us that enables to call God our Father and testifies that we have been adopted by Him (Romans 8:15). When we pray, therefore, we have faith that the Spirit brings our prayers to the throne of the Father through the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ our High Priest.

Praying, understanding the Scriptures, repenting of sin, these are all fundamental elements of following Christ, and we are powerless to do them without the Spirit’s power. Jesus words to His disciples are certainly true: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Since the Spirit unites us to Christ, we can also testify that without the Spirit we can do nothing. To be filled with the Spirit of adoption is to be a Christian. A Christian without the Holy Spirit is, in reality, not a Christian.

HOW DO WE KNOW THAT WE HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT?

Since the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is so essential to salvation, we conclude by discussing how we can be certain of being filled with Him. If that sounds like an unreasonable concern, consider with me one of the most terrifying portions of Scripture, Hebrews 6:4-8:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For the land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Although there are many differing interpretations regarding this passage, I believe the author is warning against those who participate in the community of God’s people without ever truly being a Christian, a disciple of Christ. They are ones who have tasted the heavenly gift and the goodness of God’s Word, but it has never become their manna, their daily sustenance. They have shared and experienced the Holy Spirit, but they’ve never been filled and indwelt by the Spirit. By proximity, they appear to be a Christian, yet in reality they are holding Christ up to contempt. In essence, they’ve found the treasure in the field, but they refuse to sell all they have to buy it.

Such a warning should rightfully disturb us. The author of Hebrews felt sure that it did not apply to his audience, but he wrote it anyway for their benefit. He wrote it so that they would be careful not to deceive themselves into thinking that they were following Christ simply because they were doing Christian things. But, of course, this now brings us to our final question: how do we know that we are truly indwelt by the Spirit and not merely sharing in Him?

Notice the analogy that the author of Hebrews uses. A land that has drunk frequent rain and produced a useful crop is blessed, but if it produced instead thorns and thistles, it is cursed. This is the same message that Jesus used to conclude His Sermon on the Mount. The person who hears the words of Jesus (aka has drunk the rain) and obeys them (produces a useful crop) is like a man who built his house on the rock, while the person who hears but does not obey (yields thorns and thistles) is like a man who built his house on the sand.

The test, therefore, is consider the fruit that we are producing. We must certainly turn to the list that we discussed above. If you have little-to-no desire to pray to your Father, it is possible that you do not have the Spirit of adoption that testifies of your status as a child of God. If you have no longing to obey Christ’s commands, then the Spirit may not be your guide into the truth of God. If you are almost never convicted by the Spirit of your sins (which differs from ordinary guilt over sin or the regret of being caught in sin), then you are likely not looking for the Spirit to wield the Scriptures as a sword to discern the thoughts and intentions of your heart.

Furthermore, Paul writes in Galatians 5 that living by the Spirit means keeping “in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). In other words, if we are living by the Spirit, we will also walk with Him. We will live and act continuously in His presence. He proceeded this verse with a list of fruits that the Holy Spirit produces in the life of one who walks with Him. These fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (vv. 22-23).

These are the qualities that should mark the life of a follower of Jesus Christ because they are characteristics that mirror God’s nature. Love is a fruit of being indwelt by the Spirit because God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). We should be continuously growing in patience because God is patient toward us, desiring that all people should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). We must be good and kind because God has given us the grand display of His goodness and loving-kindness toward us in sending Jesus Christ as our Savior (Titus 3:4). We should be marked by our faithfulness since we are imitating Him who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Yet the most important trait, which encapsulates these others in itself, is our desire to glorify Jesus. Christ said clearly of the Holy Spirit, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14). The Spirit causes us to glorify Christ, to exalt Him in all things as our Lord and Savior. He gives us an all-consuming love for Christ that glorifies the Father.

We must judge ourselves truly by whether we see progressive growth in these things. Maturity is a process, and God is patient. We love instant growth and quick fixes, but God almost never works like that. Called Abraham at the youthful age of 75, and Moses led the Exodus at 80. God let an entire generation of Israelites die off before He allowed them into the Promised Land. He kept His people in silence of revelation for 400 years before sending His Son, whom He promised back in Genesis 3:15. Jesus lived 30 years in obscurity before beginning His earthly ministry. Now 2000 years later, we are still waiting for Him to return. Patient, methodical, and providential are words that describe God’s work, not instantaneous nor quick. Similarly, our growth in Christ is a lifelong process of dying to self each day, of seeking to glorify Jesus above all things, and of seeking to imitate Him in all of our words and actions.

Last week, I cited Psalm 1’s description of the blessed man who delights and meditates upon God’s Word as a firmly planted tree. The analogy is not accidental. A large, beautiful, and strong tree takes decades to grow, not weeks. The Holy Spirit, by uniting us to Christ, causes such growth in us, a growth that in time bears much fruit. I pray that you see such growth and fruit in your own life.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, who is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son as God, who has been sent to us by the Father and Son to be our Helper, to united us to Christ that we may glorify and imitate Him by the strength that the Spirit provides.

Do you believe?


[1] Notice that anyone can read the Scriptures, but only the Spirit can give us understanding of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s