Theological Primer: The Holy Spirit
Apr 19, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung
From time to time I try to post brief articles like this one as a short primer on some topic in systematic theology. The aim is clarity. The approach is brevity. Previous entries were limited to 500 words. I cut myself some slack this time and upped the ante to 1000 words. Starting now.
Many Christians rarely think about the Holy Spirit. God the Father we know about. God the Son we think about all the time. But God the Holy Spirit? There are fewer songs to him, fewer meditations about him, and fewer churches named after him.
But this may not be altogether a bad thing.
Granted, it is very possible that traditional conservative Christians know too little about, and cherish to lightly, the person and work of the Holy Spirit. But before we pursue this criticism too far, we need to remember that the New Testament itself says a great deal more about Jesus Christ and God the Father than it does about the Spirit. More importantly, we must not forget that the work of the Holy Spirit is first of all to glorify Christ (John 16:14). So whether we realize it or not, we are very intimately connected with the work of the Spirit, because whenever we are drawn to Christ as Savior, led to worship Christ as Lord, made to behold Christ as glorious, we are being operated on by the Holy Spirit.
The focus of most of our churches is on Christ and not the Spirit, because that’s the focus of the apostolic gospel, the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit himself! Of course, this is not to suggest that singing to the Holy Spirit or worshiping him is inappropriate. Far from it. Every person of the Trinity is equally glorious and deserving of praise. But Spirit-led worship has at its heart not an emotive experience (though emotions are good) nor a spontaneous feel (though spontaneity isn’t bad), but rather a Christ-exalting, cross-focused, word-centered event where the name of Jesus is praised in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.
A Personal Spirit
On Sunday night I saw a few minutes of the Morgan Freeman Story of God series on the National Geographic channel. It only took a few minutes to hear both a Hindu and a Jew refer to God as a force, a power, or a binding energy. There was no suggestion that God–whether one or many–was a person with whom we could have a relationship. So it bears repeating: the Holy Spirit is not a force or a principle of nature or a part of God or mode of his existence. The Holy Spirit is a person—a teaching (Luke 12:11-12), speaking (Acts 13:2), interceding (Rom. 8:26), grieving (Eph. 4:30) person—distinct from the Father and the Son.
The Spirit is eternal God (Heb. 9:14). He is everywhere, which does not mean the Spirit is everything or in everything, but rather that there is nowhere we can go where the Spirit isn’t also present (Psalm 139:7). The Spirit alone knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11). The Holy Spirit is fully divine, his name being used interchangeably with the name “God” (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). The Holy Spirit is active in our salvation along with the Father and the Son (1 Peter 1:1-2). Jesus commands his disciples to be baptized in the name (singular) of all three persons (plural) of the Trinity, underlying the equality of rank, power, and majesty among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while also emphasizing their fundamental unity (Matt. 28:19; cf. 2 Cor. 13:14).
The Holy Spirit is not simply an omnipresent being that is with us in the sense that he is everywhere and so wherever we go there he will be also. The Spirit lives within us (1 Cor. 6:19) and makes his dwelling in our hearts (2 Cor. 1:22; Gal. 4:6). We have fellowship with him (2 Cor. 13:14). This imagery should not be understood spatially as if the Spirit gets his mail delivered in the upper left chamber of that beating muscle in the chest. Rather, the Spirit dwells in us by animating our personality, shaping our character, renewing our minds, and stirring our emotions.
A Beneficial Spirit
There are at least three benefits we experience through work of the Holy Spirit.
The first benefit is that we share in Christ and all his blessings. We too are looked upon with filial favor. Everything Christ accomplished is ours. All he won is ours. The promised inheritance of Abraham is ours (Gal. 3:14). All this and more because we belong to Christ and Christ’s blessings belong to us through ministrations of the Spirit.
The second benefit is the Holy Spirit’s comfort. Most of us have heard that the Holy Spirit is a Comforter (John 14:16 KJV). Other translations render paracletos a “Helper” (ESV), a “Counselor” (NIV), or an “Advocate” (NRSV), but the truth is still there: God comforts his people by the Holy Spirit. This happens in a number of ways. The Spirit may supernaturally strengthen your soul and give you a peace that passes understanding or a calm confidence in the work of the Lord (Acts 9:31). He may also comfort you through other Christians as you share in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit of truth, he will often speak to you through the Word of God, leading you into all truth (John 16:12), encouraging you with the words of Scripture he inspired and now illuminates. He may cause you to remember a precious biblical truth or direct your thoughts to the finished work of Christ or give you eyes to see more clearly the glory of God. The Spirit may comfort you with the gift of assurance so that you more boldly embrace your new identity in Christ and more firmly trust the promise of eternal life.
The third benefit is the Holy Spirit’s presence forever. Before studying the Heidelberg Catechism in depth several years ago, I had not really thought about Jesus’s promise that the Holy Spirit would be with us forever (John 14:16), but the promise is very good news. In heaven, the Spirit will continue to keep us holy. He will continue to teach us more about the inexhaustible riches of Christ. He will continue to be the personal bond that unites believers in fellowship. And He will continue to minister to us the presence of God the Father and God the Son, who together with the Holy Spirit are Triune God, blessed forevermore, Amen.
Kevin DeYoung blogs at DeYOUNG, RESTLESS AND REFORMED.