Understanding the relationship between the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit is foundational to understanding how God works.

Source: Ambtelijk Contact. 7 pages. Translated by Bert Stulp.

The Relation Between Word and Holy Spirit

1. Introduction and Exploration of the Field🔗

1.1 Connection with the preaching of the Word🔗

Speaking about the Holy Spirit is having a tailwind nowadays. A lot is being blown across the ocean toward Europe. We hear of Toronto Blessing and Willow Creek. Do traditional Reformed churches miss the boat in this area? Is the Spirit lacking among us? Those are essential questions we also hear on home visits. In this article, we want to seek the basic principles together, around an open Bible, especially when it comes to the relation between Word and Holy Spirit. With that we do not have in mind only (theological) reflection, but also practical equipping. After all, as office bearers we may fully conduct our service in the power of the Holy Spirit.

1.2 Basic Principles🔗

“It must especially be practical,” can be heard everywhere. That is the ultimate goal for many! The temptation nowadays is therefore great to react to all kinds of trends that occur while speaking about the Holy Spirit and his gifts. You can create a big discussion about the gifts of the Spirit, and all kinds of expressions thereof in personal, congregational, and church life. If we do that here, we could quickly get stuck in a reflection and discussion of symptoms. In an article like this one, we would love to try and get a bit further ahead. For that, we firstly need a further foundational reflection about the basic principles. The basic education is indispensable. We also must continue to see the matters in the proper relation and not let ourselves be led in a wrong direction by the issues of the day. In all ages people have generally felt more attracted to the spectacular than to the “normal.” We already see that in the New Testament. Here are two examples:

1.2.1 Jesus’ Work🔗

During Jesus’ walk on earth, many appeared to be impressed by his miracles, healings, the multiplication of the loaves, etc. That is so great — how he dealt with sickness and demons; how he provided for material needs! That is our man! People want to keep Jesus (first and foremost) as a miracle worker. We already find that depicted in Mark 1 after the evening on which Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many others. Jesus’ prayer in the early morning after that is interrupted by Peter who comes and states, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37). However, notice Jesus’ answer: the Saviour suggests going somewhere else. The motivation is clear (see Mark 1:38b; cf. Luke 4:42-44): “so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” In the synagogue of Nazareth we read about the tension between the expectations of his fellow citizens and the message of Jesus. In Luke 4 it seems that initially the message sounded pleasant to them (Luke 4:22), but they do not hear the message. They are fixed strongly upon seeing actions as performed by Jesus in Capernaum. And the event in Nazareth ends in the rejection of him who has been sent with the Spirit of the Lord. The suffering Servant and his preaching must be silenced!

1.2.2 Paul’s Service🔗

A second important line can be found with the apostle Paul. More than once, the apostolate and the preaching of Paul have been discredited by people who had a much more spectacular message and who in their appearance were impressive, contrary to an insignificant person like Paul. He did not want to give in by bringing an “adjusted gospel.” To him, the message of cross and resurrection, in all its roughness and controversy, could not be relinquished! (1 Cor. 1 and 2; cf. 2 Cor. 11:1-6). Paul also personally knew about the special gifts of the Spirit, but he was very apprehensive about wrong emphases which would detract the attention from the main message.

Also read about this in 1 Corinthians 14:18-19: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” That is a ratio of 1:2000! A strong expression to let all the emphasis fall on that which is essential in the Christian church — that which others might despise as “basic education” is the absolute main principle to Paul!

Paul personally knows of the signs of an apostle (read about his defence in 2 Cor. 12:11, 12; cf. also 1 Cor. 9:2). Paul was “not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.” He then further states, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”

But Paul and his gifts do not form the foundation! It is not about the messenger and his qualities or shortcomings. That is actually a betrayal of the gospel. When we read 1 Corinthians 15 it becomes crystal clear what was important, then and now; just read verses 1 and 2! With that message of the gospel, it all stands or falls. That was true then and it still is true today!

The message of the risen one is central: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Cor. 15:3). That message is unrelinquishable!

The Foundation🔗

For the theme that requires our attention today, the gospel according to John is of decisive importance. In John 14:15-31 the Saviour gives ample attention to the relationship between himself and the Helper (Comforter), as well as to the relationship with the Father. In John 16:5-15 the work of the Holy Spirit is dealt with extensively. Who the Spirit is, and what he is doing, is not left up to our imagination but is revealed to us!

2.1 Characteristic of the Holy Spirit🔗

Helper (Comforter):

When we read in John 14:16 about Jesus’ prayer to the Father to give another Helper, who will be with the disciples forever, the continuity with the work of Jesus himself rings through. Jesus is the Helper; the Holy Spirit is another Helper.

Sending by the Father: in John 14:24 we hear that the Father sent the Son. That line continues for the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 where it is said of the Holy Spirit, “whom the Father will send in my name.” There is mention of the tight Trinitarian relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In that John 14:26 is very illustrative. The Father sends the Comforter in the name of the Son. John 15:26 puts the emphasis on the work of the Son in the sending of the Comforter: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” These are the basic principles for the person and the place of the Holy Spirit. Whoever ignores these basic things runs the great risk of giving an interpretation of his own about the Holy Spirit.

2.2 The Work of the Holy Spirit🔗

2.2.1 No Free Reign But the Preaching of the Trinitarian message.🔗

Here also the deep unity in the work of the Father and the Son is striking. There is special emphasis on speaking in the work of the Son. He has made known the will of the Father. It is then also important for the disciples of Jesus that they in love will keep his word (John 14:23), and then follows: “and my Father will love him.” The direct context shows that Jesus does not just speak his own words. We read in John 14:10: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (See also John 10:38 about being “in the Father.” For the deep unity see also John 17:21: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”) Also in line with that, John 14:24b says, “and the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

Then the narrative regarding the work of the Holy Spirit continues clearly in John 16:13: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (regarding the Son “not speaking on his own authority,” see also John 12:49). That is completely in line with John 14:26b, where we can read of the Holy Spirit: “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

2.2.2 The Holy Spirit Does Not Practise His Own Hobbies, But He Glorifies Christ🔗

The Holy Spirit never intends to draw attention to himself. The goal of the work of the Spirit is not the realization of his own program. In everything we are dealing with the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. The Holy Spirit does not practise his own hobbies, passionately and wildly.

The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ. John 16:14 states that very concisely as being the work of the Holy Spirit pre-eminently: “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (cf. John 17:4a, where it shows that the Son is intent on the glorification of the Father). When we read on in John 16 the Trinitarian aspect strikes us again in John 16:15: “All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (cf. also John 17:10).

Just as the work of our Lord and Saviour is totally focused on doing the will of his heavenly Father, we see that with the Holy Spirit. That quiet, serving work of the Spirit is so immeasurably deep and rich, never clamorous or flaunting. He is not selfcentred, but all the attention falls on the one sent from the Father and the work of salvation that is given through him.

That is no different now than in the days of the disciples. Through the Holy Spirit we find comfort in the wounds suffered on the cross by our Lord and Saviour.

Summary of 2.2.1 and 2.2.2🔗

The close connection with the Father and the Son is very characteristic for the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. If on this point we want to do justice to the gospel according to John, we are impressed by the marvellously rich Trinitarian lines.

The Holy Spirit leads us in the way of the Word: you find an accumulation of words such as speaking, preaching, remembering, reminding. The Holy Spirit opens the Word. The Holy Spirit opens the hearts of people to the Word. That is the meaning in and behind Christ being glorified in the lives of people. There the work of the triune God will shine again. The Father has sent his beloved Son into the world, so that the lost children of man are not only shown their sin and guilt by the Holy Spirit, but through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit may learn to know also the Father and the Son (John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”).

2.2.3 The Spirit Truly Sets You Free🔗

Deep words sound in 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (cf. John 4:24). That has nothing to do with licentiousness.

In Galatians 5:13 it states: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (cf. 1 Cor. 8:9).

The Word sets us free. The Holy Spirit gives us freedom — by that work we are saved from compulsion. That is not a nice and easy life, but the Holy Spirit makes us really share in the new life of true thankfulness. Galatians 5:13b speaks also of serving one another through love, as the fulfilling of the entire law (Gal. 5:13b-14). It comes down to Christians walking by the Spirit (Gal. 15:16ff.). Flesh and spirit are opposed to one another. Life by the Spirit guarantees fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26).

2.2.4 The Holy Spirit Makes Witnesses🔗

It is of fundamental importance that we are fully aware that the disciples did not start to work with the Word in their own strength. At his parting Jesus had spoken of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 we read: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

That is close to Jesus’ words when he appears to the twelve (Luke 24:48-49): “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (cf. Acts 1:4b; John 14:26; 15:26, and 16:7).

The Holy Spirit involves people in the spreading of the Word. The love of Christ urges them. Being a missionary church is not only part of being a healthy church; it is part of her essence as church.

The work of the Holy Spirit in people is therefore not for their own benefit, or to impress others with all we have in spiritual good; the Holy Spirit makes servants. The Holy Spirit equips for service. It does not become something like: I have, I have...what you do not have!

Summary of 2.2.3 and 2.2.4🔗

The Holy Spirit places people in the freedom of the children of God. They do not, because of that, become conceited and proud; they become subservient. In a life-long struggle between flesh and Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit will become evident in word and deed, in witnessing and walk of life.

3. The Practice🔗

How do we stand in this as Reformed Christians? The request today is: “Just make it practical!”

To that I say: Okay, but then it must be based on the foundation of Scripture and confession. What do we do with all the “spiritual” forces which assail us?

3.1 Positive, Be True to the Calling🔗

In our Reformed tradition we have a wealth of healthy spirituality. The confession (the three forms) is saturated with the language of the experience of faith. That could be a topic on its own. Therein is stored wealth and spiritual wisdom, in which also the personal elements are worded in an affective way. Our feelings are not left out of the picture.

Testing is of great importance. In our culture of emotion and experience (preferably even more extreme), it is of great importance that we learn how to discern spiritually as elderly and young people. Our time also demands distinction of the spirits. That is also deeply rooted in the New Testament (cf. e.g., 1 Cor. 14:26ff.). The prophesy needs to be examined (1 Cor. 14:29 and 32). It comes down to distinguishing between what God gives and thus is in accordance with the gospel of Christ (and appropriate to the pastoral setting) and that which is self-made rhetoric. We must watch out for all kinds of psychic/psychological mechanisms, by which man works himself up to autosuggestion etc. and giving a cry.

Is the prophesy consistent with what God has revealed in his Word? (cf. the valuable observations of Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC, Grand Rapids 2000, 1140/1141 and 1144/1145).

Do we now dare also to look critically at ourselves? We must be willing to turn to ourselves with the question: what have we left out? How is it that there seems to be such a great breeding ground for all kinds of expressions of the spirit, often in lowercase? What are or were our shortcomings?

Then we also come to the question: what is a true remedy? Should we join more or less seamlessly with the currents or trends or winds that blow?

In addition to what we just saw as the basic principles (section 1), and as a foundation (section 2) from which to start, I will mention four aspects (without intending or being able to be complete):

3.2 Initiate a Remedy🔗

3.2.1 Have an Eye and Work for the Real Knowledge of the Word of God Personally as Christians and As Office-bearers🔗

That requires thorough translation within our families and in our congregations. How is the Bible instruction in the schools and how do we apply that in catechism, societies, and other forms of preparation?

Today the stones of Gilgal (Josh. 4) must also elicit questions from the children and young people and answers must be given. The preaching itself also contains an element of education that may not be ignored, and that does not count only for the “instructional services.” Nowadays you often hear: above all, it should be simple, because I fear that unfortunately, even in a Christian congregation, we no longer know the basic principles.

For some the ultimate church service is a “nice” service. Has the worship service turned into entertainment? In the Reformed worship service, the preaching of the Word takes place — that is the preaching of salvation! So the church service is the workplace of the Holy Spirit. Together we stand on the cutting edge of time and eternity. A church service can have or get something of heaven on earth, which is, the Lord in our midst through Word and Spirit — preaching reconciliation in all concreteness, as restoration of the relationship with God, with the neighbour and yourself and with creation.

3.2.2 Have an Eye for a Healthy Experience of Faith🔗

That means attention for the work of God’s Spirit which is never general or standard but unique every time in that one boy, that one girl, that one man, that one woman, each with their own life story and their own gifts (see 1 Peter 4:10 regarding variety).

God’s Spirit teaches people personal faith. That means both that it is a personal matter in which personal character remains, but it is also believing, trusting God’s promises and the God of the promises (that essential aspect also creates a firm bond among the believers). The renewing work of the Holy Spirit in a person is a miracle that is not less than that of creation (see Canons of Dort Chapter 3/4, Article 12: “regeneration is not inferior in power to creation or the raising of the dead”).

Now if we want something spectacular from the Holy Spirit, then that is it! “God...who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17b). He has shown that in Abraham and especially in the resurrection of his Son from the dead. From that tremendous grace the triune God is going to gather a human heart to himself.

It is completely true: “God changes people.” Then those people do not become special in themselves, but the Lord and his work are magnified. With Psalm 66:16: “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” The wondrous work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people is richly worded in Romans 5:5: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Then wrath does not rule life, but the love of God for us, a guarantee for the glorious future. Here, too, the accent is on God’s own work. That love stirs up our love in return. Outpouring (see Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17, 18, 33; Acts 10:45) indicates an abundance and wealth. God is not stingy: not a single drop here or there, but streams of blessings! The Holy Spirit makes us experience the love of God.

Then personal experience is also involved. One author distinguishes two aspects in personal experience:

  1. This is what the soul experiences when the Holy Spirit works in the heart. The love of Christ fills the heart, reconciliation with God is enjoyed, and so much more. You can also call that experience of faith, or the soul experience of the children of God.
  2. But I can also call personal experience, endurance (Rom. 5:4), and refer to the result of testing, suffering, enduring. Then the truth of salvation is confirmed in one’s own life, which proves the genuineness of faith.

3.2.3 Have an Eye for the Fact That God Saves Not Only Souls, But People With Body and Soul (Lord’s Day 1 q/a 1).🔗

Especially in this time of economic crisis, we must learn to have an eye for all of life under the illumination of the Spirit. That is the way the Word must be read, understood, lived, and passed on. People ask: what is the benefit? Too long we have thought that the modern lives of people, also of us church people, can to a large degree be determined by ourselves. We have surrounded ourselves with all kinds of financial securities. We have lost firm ground, not only in the stock market but also in our thinking about security and prosperity. We have allowed ourselves too easily to be taken along on the waves of the high standard of life, whereas biblical reflection should be prophetic.

Do we still have time to be silent before the Lord? Do we still feel truly dependent on the blessings of the Lord?

3.2.4 The Holy Spirit Makes Us People Who Give🔗 First of All, We Want to Give the Lord the Glory!🔗

We do not flaunt our piety and spirituality as if it were a product of our own doing. A Christian points to Christ in word and deed. His blood clings to my freedom and my life. I owe my life to the Father’s giving love. The Holy Spirit makes me share in it. All honour to God! We Grant the Riches of the Gospel to our Fellow Man🔗

We want to share that with many, because indeed we have the Word for the world. The Great Commission is still valid. And we do not have to do it alone! Notice the build-up of Matthew 28 with those two pillars. The first one: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and the second: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We Also Grant Our Fellow Men to receive what they need materially🔗

Give us today our daily bread. We Also Want to Thankfully Acknowledge the Work of God in Fellow Christians.🔗

Jealousy is deadly...a bitter, suffocating root.

The Prospect — a Beckoning Perspective🔗

The Holy Spirit gives us the binoculars of the Christian hope. As Christians we do not lag behind endlessly, but we are actually an eternity ahead!

“The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (Isa. 11:9).

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12a).

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12b).

That not only gives perspective for a Christian, but Romans 8:21 testifies: “In hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In all this, the first-fruits of the Spirit play an important role and that also counts for the Holy Spirit in connection with prayer (Rom. 8:23, 26-27). According to God’s promise we await the new heaven and new earth (see 2 Peter 3:13; Isa. 65:17; 66:22).

Do we still yearn? Do our young people notice that there is a deep longing for the complete breaking through of God’s kingdom, where one day God shall be all and in all, and where also everything shall prosper again through peace?

That spiritual view is not bound by our earthly limitations. We cling to the Word. The Holy Spirit knows how to deal with our short-sightedness and shyness. The Holy Spirit lifts up our lives to the level of the Word of God (which reaches immeasurably far above our possibilities). That Word is and remains here and now the Word of promise. It is not a devaluation of the Word when you give God the glory (Rom. 4:20b) and in “hope...against hope” (Rom. 4:18) believe the promise of God. Then you are fully convinced with Abraham that God is also able to do whatever he promised (Rom. 8:21). That is a rich fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is how the Word and the Spirit agree and the heart says amen.

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