"I Believe in the Holy Spirit"
As for me, I (John the Baptizer) baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove his sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.Matthew 3:11
And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting ... And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.Acts 2:1-2, 4
One of the more controversial subjects within the Christian church today is that of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit and how are we to understand His work? Because these questions receive a sometimes bewildering array of answers, there continues to be a great deal of confusion about the Christian confession of the person and work of the Spirit.
The most profound and influential expression of this confusion is the remarkable growth of the "Pentecostal" or "neo-Pentecostal" movements. One of the basic claims of these movements is that the biblical teaching concerning the Holy Spirit has only recently come into its own in the church. Only recently has the church begun to experience the fullness of the Spirit's power and gifts. This claim, together with the breathtaking growth of the diversity within the Pentecostal movement, has contributed to the uncertainty of many about the biblical teaching concerning the Holy Spirit. Though this present confusion and uncertainty demands more sustained attention, we will only be able to consider the most basic features of the Bible's teaching concerning the Holy Spirit.
The Person and Deity of the Holy Spirit
In the sequence of affirmations which comprise the Apostles' Creed the affirmation, "I believe in the Holy Spirit," is normally referred to as the "third article" of the creed. It is termed the "third article" because in it the Christian church confesses her faith ("I believe") in the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity. This article reminds us again that the whole of the Christian faith focuses upon the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as the one, true and living God.
We must, accordingly, begin our treatment of this article by emphasizing that the creed confesses the Holy Spirit to be one of the three "Persons" of the Trinity. Basic to the church's confession is her conviction that the Spirit is true and eternal God, coequal with the Father and the Son. In this confession there are two important claims, one concerning the personhood, the other the deity of the Spirit.
It is important that we understand and stress the "personhood" of the Holy Spirit. Because of the vagueness which so often attends our conversation about and understanding of the Spirit, we can easily neglect to emphasize that the Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Trinity. We begin to think of the Spirit as an impersonal power, and not as a Person with whom we may and do have fellowship in the communion of the Father and the Son. This may even be betrayed by our speech, whenever we inadvertently refer to the Holy Spirit as "it" rather than "he." However, the Scriptures plainly teach that the Spirit is personal and we must discipline our speech to communicate clearly this truth.
There are several ways in which the Scriptures underscore the personhood of the Spirit. In the gospel of John He is frequently designated as the "Comforter" (John 14:16, 25; 15:26; 16:7), the One who comes to be our helper and advocate. Only a Person answers to this designation and the role it reveals; for this reason the masculine pronoun is often employed to refer to the Comforter (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:8,13, 14).1. Furthermore, when the Spirit's presence and work is described, the Spirit is said to hear, speak, witness, convince, glorify, lead, give help, and intercede for believers (compare John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15; Acts 2:4; 8:29; 13:2; 16:6; Romans 8:14, 16, 26, 27; Galatians 4:6; 5:17, 18). The Spirit is One to whom we may lie or whom we may grieve (Acts 5:3, 4; Ephesians 4:30). None of these references can be understood, unless the personhood of the Spirit is presupposed.
Likewise, the Scriptures often testify to the deity of the Spirit. It is no accident, for example, that the Spirit is commonly termed the "Holy" Spirit, for He shares in the holiness, the set-apartness, of God Himself. The Trinitarian name of God into which believers are baptized parallels the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19). When the redemptive work of God is summarily described, the Spirit is often included with the Father and the Son as the author of our redemption (compare 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 1:3-13; 2:18; 3:14-19; 4:4-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14; 1 Peter 1:2). To lie against the Spirit is tantamount to lying against God (Acts 5:3, 4). And to be indwelt by the Spirit is the same as being indwelt by God Himself (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2). God Himself, in the person of His Holy Spirit, is present whenever and wherever the Spirit is present.
In connection with this confession of the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit, one of the disputed issues in the history of the church has been the relationship between the Spirit and the Father and the Son.
In the Nicene Creed we confess that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son."2 Though the Eastern Orthodox church has never accepted this language, it expresses well the biblical teaching that the Spirit may never be isolated in His person or work from either the Father or the Son (compare John 15:26; 14:16; 16:7; 20:22; Acts 1:4, 8). The Holy Spirit works to bring us into fellowship with the Father through the Son. Indeed, the Holy Spirit's work is to glorify the Son and enable us to come to the Father through Him. This language of the "procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son," therefore, provides a safeguard against any view of the Spirit which would allow for a fellowship with God the Father apart from the Son or find the Spirit present where the Son is neither known nor worshiped. The procession of the Spirit from the Father "and the Son" excludes any teaching that there is a general working of the Spirit apart from the Son from whom He proceeds.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
If the Holy Spirit is God Himself, one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, what distinguishes His presence and work from that of the Father and the Son? Though all of the works of God are equally the works of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, what work is "appropriate" to the Spirit?
In his monumental work on the Holy Spirit, Abraham Kuyper offers a useful distinction between the particular works of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He suggests that "in every work effected by Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in common, the power to bring forth proceeds from the Father; the power to arrange from the Son; the power to perfect from the Holy Spirit." 3 According to Kuyper, we should think of the Father as the Author of all things, of the Son as the Mediator of all things, and of the Spirit as the Perfecter of all things. Whether in the work of creation or redemption, the peculiar work of the Spirit is the work of perfecting the will and purpose of God. The Spirit works within the creation and the creature to bring them to their appointed destiny or end.
Though this may appear to be too general a description of the Spirit's work, its usefulness will become more evident if we consider, first and briefly, the work of the Spirit in creation, and second, the work of the Spirit in redemption (recreation).
The work of the Spirit in creation is to perfect and bring to fruition the work of the Father and the Son. The Spirit actively molds and orders the creation, bestows and sustains the life of the creature, especially man, and directs the unfolding history of creation (compare Genesis 1:2; 2:7; Psalm 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The "Creator Spirit" is the One through whom the world's foundations were laid and the life of the creature is upheld. Through His Spirit, God is powerfully active in a variety of ways to accomplish His will and purpose within the realm of His creation.4
The work of the Spirit in redemption is to recreate, granting new life to fallen creatures who through the Fall into sin are by nature dead in trespasses and sins. The Spirit is the one who effectively and irresistibly applies to the elect all the benefits of salvation which are theirs in Christ. The fundamental work of the Spirit is to minister to us, all that we have in Christ, completing in us all that Christ has done for us in His life, death, resurrection and ascension. Through the Spirit we enter into the enjoyment of all the benefits of our salvation in Christ. The Spirit's work in redemption, therefore, consists in ministering to us on behalf of the Father and the Son all the gifts of God's grace.5
To make this more clear, there are several prominent Scriptural descriptions of the Spirit's work which deserve brief notice:
First, the New Testament describes the Spirit as the One through whom Christ administers and applies His saving work. Christ Himself continues to work in the gathering of His church through His life-giving Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17). For this reason, the great event of Pentecost in which the Spirit was poured out upon the New Testament church is a unique event in which the ascended Christ came in a special way to His people and continues subsequently to indwell and work among them (Matthew 3:11; Acts 2).
Second, the great work of the Spirit is the work of regeneration or the bestowal of new life upon people otherwise dead in trespasses and sins (Ezekiel 37; John 3:3; Romans 8:10, 11). The Spirit grants to us the new life which is ours in Christ. Thus, all the various aspects of our salvation — calling, conversion, faith, repentance, sanctification, perseverance — are so many fruits of the Spirit's life-giving work in us.
Third, the Spirit who ministers Christ's saving presence and grants new life is the One who sanctifies us (Titus 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). All those who are grafted into Christ by the Spirit and born again from above, are also purified and consecrated through the indwelling and purifying presence of the Spirit. They are, by the Spirit, in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ in purity, righteousness and holiness.
Fourth, the Spirit is the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:6). Through the indwelling Spirit believers are able to call God their "Father" and have the assurance that they are the children of God.
And fifth, the Spirit is the pledge of our full inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:5; compare 1 Corinthians 3:21-23). The Spirit is the "down-payment" or "first installment" of the fullness of the inheritance which is ours in Christ. What we have now by the Spirit is a promise of what we shall have in full, when Christ's saving work by the Spirit is completed in us.
I began by noting the confusion which often reigns today about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This confusion is often the result of failure to focus upon the basic Scriptural teaching about the Spirit. This teaching, as we have seen, is that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, the One who perfects the works of the Father and the Son in creation and redemption. The work of the Spirit in redemption particularly is to communicate Christ with all His benefits to us, to perfect in us the work of salvation accomplished for us by Christ.
Consequently, the most important question we can ask about the Holy Spirit is the question whether the telltale marks of His presence and work are manifest in us. These marks are: union with Christ and participation in His benefits; the new birth which produces the fruits of conversion, faith and repentance; sanctification and renewal after Christ's image; the assurance of our adoption into the household of God; and a present enjoyment of an inheritance in Christ which will someday be fully ours.
In this biblical teaching concerning the person and work of the Spirit, we are again reminded that our salvation is all of grace, from first to last. Just as the Father is the Author and the Son the Mediator, so the Spirit is the Perfecter of our salvation. Indeed, only those who have been born of the Spirit can enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5), for the Spirit alone perfects the Father's purpose and the Son's work in restoring us to fellowship with God.