This article on the work of the Holy Spirit shows that the primary work of the Holy Spirit is to put our focus on Christ.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2005. 2 pages.

The Shy Member of the Trinity The Work of the Holy Spirit

Some of you may wonder at times why you do not hear more about the Holy Spirit in the teaching and sermons of the Reformed churches. Your pastor will speak a lot about God the Father and about the Lord Jesus Christ but probably comparatively little about the Holy Spirit. Contrast that with many of the Pentecostal and charismatic churches where you will hear much more said about the Spirit, especially about the gifts of the Spirit. It is not that the Holy Spirit is never mentioned in Re­formed churches and in Reformed preaching, but overall there is certainly less said about him than about the Father and the Son.

You may be tempted to think that this indicates a deficiency in Reformed theology and preaching, and that this is an area where we can learn something from the charismatic churches. Yet this muted talk about the Holy Spirit is entirely in keeping with the emphasis of the Bible and of the Lord Jesus himself. Before we consider the evidence for this we should remind ourselves of the broad scope of the Spirit’s work.

The Scope of His Work🔗

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity and is fully and completely God. He has a vital function in the hearts and minds and lies of be­lievers and there are many aspects to his work. He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11); regenerates the hearts of God’s elect (Titus 3:4-5); fills us (Eph 5:18) and dwells within us (John 14:16-17). He has an active role in the life of the Christian. He assists us in prayer (Rom 8:26-27), assures us of our salvation (Rom 8:15) and guides us into all truth (John 16:12-14). Through him, Christ Jesus gives gifts to every member of the church (1 Cor 12) and works in us all the fruits of the Spirit (Gals 5:22-23). The Scriptures urge us to live by the Spirit (Gals 5:16), to be led by the Spirit (Gals 5:18) and to keep in step with the Spirit (Gals 5:25). We are warned against griev­ing or quenching the Spirit (Eph 4:30, 1 Thess 5:19). It would be worth our while to meditate and reflect on each of these activities of the Spirit. But in this article I want us to notice the primary focus of his work.

The Shy Member of the Trinity🔗

Despite the broad scope of all he does and the vital importance of his role in the life of every Christian, the Spirit does not want to stand in the centre of the stage. He does his work in the background. He does not want to attract attention to himself. One writer describes him as the “shy member of the Trinity.”1 This is because one of the primary roles of the Spirit is to focus our attention on Jesus. His task is to help us understand who Jesus is. His aim is to glorify the Lord. Jesus Himself taught us this when he spoke to his disciples about the Spirit’s work and said; “He will bring glory to me by taking of what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16:14).

Jesus said this in his last conversation with his disciples before his death during the last Passover meal he had with them. He had much more that he could have said to them but it was more than they could bear at that time. They would only be able to understand the full truth about Jesus after he had died and risen again. Even then they would need the help of the Spirit to grasp the truth about Jesus and its implications. This is why Jesus promised to send the Spirit of Truth; he would help them understand who Jesus was and what he had done, and would glorify Christ.

When the Spirit took what belonged to Jesus and made it known to the disciples, he did not give them a new revelation disconnected or dif­ferent from what Jesus taught. Rather it was all one piece with what Jesus had said. It was a continuation of his teaching, a development of his revelation, a further expansion of all he had said. The Holy Spirit took the teaching of Jesus and interpreted it for the disciples, explaining its meaning and implications.

Jesus told the disciples that when the Spirit came he would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). This was necessary for the disciples because after Jesus had ascended into heaven the disciples were in a new landscape. If you venture into unfamiliar territory, like central Africa, you need a guide. You don’t know the way and you need someone who knows the land and who can show you around and explain it to you. This was the role of the Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples were in a new country. They had entered the New Cov­enant. Some of the landscape was unfamiliar to them. So they needed a guide, the Holy Spirit, who would enable them to follow Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant.

The Spirit of Truth🔗

Some of the teaching and preaching about the Holy Spirit in the wider church misses this em­phasis on Christ. Too often the focus is not on the content of the Bible and the truth of God’s word but rather on a person’s experience; not on what a Christian believes but on how he feels; not on theology but rather on therapy.

Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide the disciples into all truth. He described the Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. The truth refers to all that God has revealed to us in the Bible. Central to all of this is the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ, who said; “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” He is the fulfillment of all that God promised and prophesied in the Old Tes­tament. He is the climax of God’s revelation. After Pentecost the Holy Spirit would enable the disciples to understand what Jesus did in dying on the cross, how this fulfilled the Scriptures and how he had paid the price for sin. He would enable them to believe the resurrection and to grasp its great implications and application for all who believe (as the apostle Paul developed these in 1 Corinthians 15). The Spirit would also guide them into the meaning of Christ’s kingdom and how it would increase and grow during this present age. He would also tell the disciples about what the future would bring – the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment and the new heaven and earth.

Glorify Him!🔗

All that the Spirit announced to the disciples focused on the Lord Jesus and gave him glory. The entire ministry of the Spirit is to direct our attention to Jesus. This is why we do not hear as much about the Spirit as we do about the Lord Jesus and the Father – because the Spirit is focusing our eyes on Jesus. You could compare this to floodlights that light up a build­ing. Such lights have an important function but they are set down low so our attention is not drawn to them but rather to the building they illuminate. In a similar way the Spirit is like a floodlight. He remains down low, in the background, and throws the light on the Lord Jesus. Our focus must be on him.

Our lives are often impoverished because we have a meagre knowledge of Jesus and we only grasp a minute part of his glory. Our great need is to have a knowledge of him that is ever expanding, to have a deeper insight into what he has done, to grasp more of his person and work, to know the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. We need to pray that the Spirit would help us to see Jesus in all his greatness and glory!

An old hymn from the seventh century beautifully expresses this great truth:

O Christ be thou our lasting joy,
Our ever great reward!
Our only glory may it be
To glory in the Lord.


  1. ^ The Holy Spirit – Shy Member of the Trinity by F D Bruner and W Hordern. (Minneapolis, Ausburg Publishing House, 1984).

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