Belgic Confession Article 11: The Holy Spirit True and Eternal God
We believe and confess also that the Holy Spirit from eternity proceeds from the Father and the Son. He is neither made, created, nor begotten, but He can only be said to proceed from both. In order He is the third Person of the Holy Trinity, of one and the same essence, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.
The question of the Holy Spirit‘s identity is as important as the identity of Jesus Christ. Typically, when the divinity of Christ has been denied, the divinity of the Spirit has been denied also. So too, in fact, is His personhood denied; those who deny His divinity consider the Holy Spirit to be no more than a power going out from God (see Article 8, concerning the Adoptionists). Holy Scripture, however, presents the Holy Spirit as true God, a divine Person.
We can list the evidence concerning the Spirit‘s divinity under the same headings as used in relation to Christ‘s divinity.
The Holy Spirit has Divine Names
David prays to the Lord in Psalm 139: ''O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off‖ (vs 1,2). In the following verses he continues to confess how well the LORD knows him. Then it is as if in vs 7 he suddenly changes topics to the Holy Spirit: ''Where can I go from your Spirit?'' Yet this is not a change of topic, as the second part of vs 7 makes clear: ''Or where can I flee from Your presence?'' Hebrew poetry frequently says the same thing twice, with the second part of a verse repeating in different words the sentiment of the first part of the verse. So it is here. David interchanges ''LORD'' and ''Spirit'', and thereby reveals that the Holy Spirit in fact is God, Yahweh.
In line with David‘s prayer in Psalm 139, Peter can describe the Holy Spirit as God in his words to Ananias. ''Why,'' Peter asked him, ''has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit …. You have not lied to men but to God'' (Acts 5:3,4). Note here how Peter interchanges the words ''Holy Spirit'' and ''God'', though still talking about the same ''person''.
This is because Peter knows the Holy Spirit to be God.
The Holy Spirit has Divine Attributes
The Holy Spirit is EVERYWHERE
David asks, ''Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there'' (Psalm 139:7,8). David‘s point is not only that the Spirit is God (see above), but also that the Spirit is everywhere; nowhere is he able to get away from God‘s presence.
Jesus intimated the same thing when He assured His disciples on the day of His ascension that He would be with them always (Matthew 28:20). Christ ascended into heaven, but returned on Pentecost in His Holy Spirit (cf Romans 8:9). This Spirit is not limited to one town or to one person, but is present with God‘s people wherever they are. That is because the Spirit is divine.
The Holy Spirit KNOWS ALL THINGS
No creature is able to search or comprehend the depths of God. But the Spirit is able to do so for He is God. Says Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:11: ''For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Paul‘s argument is that the Spirit knows God‘s thoughts exactly because He is divine, is God Himself just as a man alone knows his own thoughts.
No separation is to be made between God and the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is Involved in Divine Work
The Holy Spirit was involved in the creation of the world. In Genesis 1:1,2 we read, ''In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.'' Elihu states that ''The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life'' (Job 33:4). Yet creation is distinctly not the work of a creature (how could a creature create!), but the work of God alone.
In the same vein, one can mention the Spirit‘s work in relation to Mary‘s pregnancy. ''The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God'' (Luke 1:35). God has so established creation that no woman can become pregnant without the involvement of a man.
Yet in this case no man is involved, and that is to say that God Himself intervenes in the normal order of things to achieve pregnancy in a fundamentally different way. Here is a work of creation.
The Holy Spirit is also busy with the work of recreation. In Psalm 104:30 we read how it is the Holy Spirit who renews creation, causing seeds to sprout anew each year and plants to develop new buds. ''You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.'' This renewal is not the work of a creature.
The same is to be said of human rebirth. Because of the fall into sin, people need to be born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus: ''Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God'' (John 3:3). He added, ''Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God'' (vs 5). So too Paul to the Corinthians: ''No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit'' (1Corinthians 12:3). That people dead in sin are made alive can only happen through the work of One who is God.
The Holy Spirit Receives Divine Honor
In Matthew 28:19, the Holy Spirit is placed on a level with the Father and the Son. ''Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The same is done in 2 Corinthians 13:14, ''The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.''
Consequences of the Holy Spirit’s Divine Identity
That the Holy Spirit is true and eternal God leads to particular consequences. They can be listed as follows:
Give Him Honor
It will not do to think or speak of the Holy Spirit as if He were simply a power, be it a great power from heaven. The Spirit is not an ''it'', not a ''thing'', not even a ''power''; He is true God on a level with the Father and the Son. So, as we speak of the Spirit we need to be conscious of the fact that we stand on holy ground.
It is true that at the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit appeared ''like a dove'' (Luke 3:22). That single episode of His appearing in the form of a dove does not justify portraying Him as a dove. On Pentecost His presence was indicated by the flame of fire on the head of each believer – and fire repeatedly depicts the presence of God in the Old Testament (think of the burning bush, Mt Sinai, and the Elijah‘s altar on Mt Carmel). Exactly because He is God, no creaturely depiction can do justice to His identity. He deserves the same respect, honor and devotions as the other Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Characteristics of God belong to the Holy Spirit
All we confessed concerning God is true also of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, like the Father and the Son, is eternal, almighty, just, wise, good, etc. This explains why David could confess that He could not get away from the Holy Spirit (Psalm 139:7). It also explains why men ''full of the Holy Spirit could give leadership befitting the people of God (Acts 6:3).
Through the Spirit of God who indwells them, these men could give good, wise, and just counsel to the church.
This Holy Spirit came to Earth
This Holy Spirit, true and eternal God as He is, has been with the Father and the Son in the glory of heaven from all eternity. This is the One, however, whom the Son sent to earth on Pentecost, and who – in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the tabernacle and in the temple made His home in the hearts of God‘s people. This is He of whom Paul could say to the saints of Corinth: ''Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?'' (1 Corinthians 6:19). What an awesome thought: none less than the Holy Spirit – true and eternal God! has made His home in human hearts, in our hearts! How astounding the gospel; God is not far off! And therefore how great the responsibility: ''Therefore honor God with your body'' (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Heresies Concerning the Spirit’s Divinity
Arius said that Christ was not true God. In the very same struggle concerning the deity of Christ, Arius said that the Holy Spirit is not true God either. When the early church corrected Arius‘ teaching concerning Christ‘s divinity in the Nicene Creed (Book of Praise, pg 437), it also corrected his errors concerning the Holy Spirit‘s divinity. Concerning the Holy Spirit the Apostles‘ Creed had simply said: ''I believe in the Holy Spirit.'' Over against Arius the Nicene Creed expanded that simple statement with the addition of the words, ''the Lord and Giver of life.'' With that addition, the early church sought to confess the Spirit‘s divinity.
This addition however, did not rid the church of misconception concerning who the Holy Spirit really was. So the church years later, in the Athanasian Creed (Book of Praise, pg 438) reinforced the confession of the Nicene Creed with this statement: ''such as the Father is, such is the Son, such is also the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Spirit uncreate. The Father is infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite…. In the same way the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Spirit almighty.'' And: ''Thus the Father is God, the Son God, the Holy Spirit God.'' It concludes its section on the Trinity (and thus on the Spirit‘s divinity) with this word: ''So he who desires to be saved should think thus of the Trinity.''
Necessity of the Spirit’s Godhead
Is, then, confessing the divinity of the Holy Spirit so important? Is anything truly lost if one were to insist that the Spirit were but a power coming from God? Simply put: if the Spirit were not God, there would be no Bible, no faith, no Christianity, no church.
Jesus told His disciples, ''However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come'' (John 16:13). If the Holy Spirit were not God, He would not be able to guide us into the truth of God. Nor would we have any certainty that the word He speaks would in fact be the Word of God. But as it is, true and eternal God Himself, the Holy Spirit, has given us the Bible. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired men to write Scripture (see Article 3 – 7). It is the Author‘s identity that makes this book so valuable!
Through His sacrifice, Christ obtained salvation for sinners – no less, and no more. The ointment you picked up from the pharmacy does not help you until it is applied. In the same vein, vital though Christ‘s work on the cross is for our salvation, it does not help us as long as it is not applied to us. We are not in a position to apply it ourselves since we are dead in sin (see Article 14). It is the work of the Holy Spirit to apply that salvation. In applying that work, the Spirit must first make the dead alive. He could not do that if He were not Himself true God.
As it is, the Spirit is mighty to work great change in dead sinners. The earth God created in the beginning was formless and void (Genesis 1:1,2). It wasn‘t until the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the deep that change came about, and God created light, sky, land, etc. Man was gifted to build remarkable structures, including an ark, the tower of Babel, cities, etc. But it wasn‘t until the Holy Spirit came upon the craftsmen of Israel that man was enabled to build a dwelling place for God on earth in Israel‘s tabernacle (Exodus 31:1ff). Season follows season, but it is the Holy Spirit who works the change we call new growth in spring (Psalm 104:30). So it is too with people dead in sin. Since the fall into sin, people produce the works of the flesh: ''sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy…'' (Galatians 5:18,19). But when the Holy Spirit makes His home in a sinner, He changes that person so that he produces the fruits of the Spirit: ''love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control'' (Galatians 5:22,23).
A careful look at those two lists highlights the contrast between the two, with the first characterized by love for self, and the second characterized by love for God and the neighbor.
The change God the Holy Spirit works is no small change, but is a radical one – as radical as the change between the formless and void world of Genesis 1:2 and the ordered world of Genesis 1:31 concerning which God said it was ''very good''. That‘s not to say that the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating sinners is complete or perfected; though the change is radical, even the holiest of saints ''have only a small beginning‖ of the obedience God requires (Lord‘s Day 44.114). Nevertheless, the change is real and is radical. Dead people are made alive, and so Christianity is a real thing in this fallen world thanks to the mighty work of the Holy Spirit.
It is not just so that the change the Spirit works produces Christians – and nothing more. As a result of the fall into sin, people became alienated from each other; witness Adam‘s haste to blame Eve for the fall (Genesis 3:12), Cain‘s hatred of his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8), Lamech‘s readiness to kill another in response to a small offence (Genesis 4:23), etc. But scarcely was the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost Day, and people who by nature looked after their own skin ''were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need'' (Acts 2:44,45). The Holy Spirit gathered together the individuals in whom He worked faith so that they were one body, a body that functioned as a body ought to function – in self-denying care for other members.
Through the Spirit Christ gathers His church. See also 1 Corinthians 12.
Focus on Christ
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Divine Trinity. In the pages of Scripture we do not find the Spirit drawing attention to Himself. Rather, the Spirit continually draws attention to Jesus Christ, the glorious Victor over sin and Satan, and the Sovereign Ruler over today‘s world. Jesus, for example, told His disciples of the persecution that was sure to come on those who believe in Christ crucified (John 15:18-16:4). To encourage His disciples Jesus promised to send ''the Helper…, the Spirit of truth'' (15:26). Yet this Spirit would not draw the disciples‘ attention away from the Christ on whose account they would be persecuted and have them focus on Himself instead; rather, the ''Spirit of truth'' would ''guide you into all truth'' (16:13), meaning (says Jesus) that ''He will take of Mine and declare it to you'' (vs 15).
The Spirit, then, will impress on the disciples (and on all God‘s people) the things of Jesus Christ. That is why the first Christians on Pentecost day did not devote themselves to speaking in tongues and doing miracles (as if the focus should be on the Holy Spirit and His gifts), but they ''continued steadfastly in the apostles‟ doctrine'' (Acts 2:42) – which, as Peter shows in his Pentecost sermon, is about Christ crucified for sinners (Acts 2:22-33; see also 1 Corinthians 2:2).
The Holy Spirit, then, may be compared to a floodlight. A floodlight does not draw attention to itself, but wants passersby to notice the building upon which the floodlight shines. The Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself, and does not ask us to question whether we have the Holy Spirit. Rather, the Spirit wants us to look at the Christ and to believe that He is the Savior of the world. Salvation is in Christ, not in the Spirit, and so the Spirit directs us to Christ and to Christ alone.
Pentecostalists and charismatics would have us wonder whether we have the Spirit, whether we are filled with the Spirit, whether we are in tune with the Spirit. Similarly, New Age mystics and Asian gurus would have us consider whether we are listening well to the spirit within us. But the Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself. He dwells in our hearts in order to draw our attention time and again to Jesus Christ. So the question is not: do you have the Holy Spirit? The question is instead: do you believe in Jesus Christ? Then the focus lies not on something inside yourself, but on a specific event accomplished 2000 years ago on Calvary‘s cross and on the Victor‘s current work on the Throne of heaven and earth. A focus fixed on Jesus Christ gives immeasurable comfort in the struggles and doubts of this broken life.
Points for Discussion:
- Do the characteristics of God mentioned in Article 1 apply also to the Holy Spirit? Why or why not? If they do, how does this affect (or perhaps alter) your perception of who the Holy Spirit is?
- Explain Arius‘ thoughts concerning the Holy Spirit.
- Why is it important to salvation to confess that the Holy Spirit is God?
- Ought a Christian to focus on Jesus Christ or on the Holy Spirit? Why?