The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit
The role of the Holy Spirit as a central dynamic of Christian spirituality is an expression of the trinity of God. The Father sent the Son into the world and empowered Him by anointing Him with the Spirit. When the Son ascended to the Father after completing His earthly mission of redemption and reconciliation, He sent the Spirit to continue His work through those who have been made alive to Him in the world. The triune God is a relational Being whose cosmic work of creation, redemption, and reconciliation integrally involves all three Persons of the Godhead. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God participated in the creation of the heavens and the earth, revealed God’s word and will by inspiring prophetic messengers, and endowed specific people with skill, leadership, and strength. But while the Spirit’s indwelling in Israel was selective and temporary (as in the cases of Samson and Saul), after the Pentecostal experience in Acts it was universal (all believers) and permanent.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is multifaceted, but three essential aspects are (1) bearing witness to Jesus Christ, (2) applying Christ’s redemptive work in human hearts, and (3) working personally and progressively to form Christlikeness in the lives of believers. He empowers us to live a new quality of life, He purifies and purges us as we submit to His authority and control, and He equips us with spiritual gifts and opportunities to build others up in the faith. But as J. I. Packer observes in Keep in Step with the Spirit, there are limitations to seeing the doctrine of the Spirit as essentially about power, purity, or performance. While all of these are vital components of the work of the Spirit of God, it is best to see the Spirit as an active, personal presence in our lives. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus Christ by mediating Christ’s presence to us. The Spirit assures us of the Father’s love and care, brings us into personal fellowship with Jesus, and transforms our character so that we become more like Him.
It is wrong to speak of the Holy Spirit as an “it”—He is a living and loving Person, not a force to be utilized. Jesus called Him the Paraclete, a name which means “one called alongside” to help (John 14:16, 25; 15:26; 16:7). Paracletos is variously translated Helper, Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Intercessor, Supporter, and Strengthener, and each of these terms carries a different nuance of the Spirit’s ministry to us. The Paraclete guides us into the truth (John 16:13) and makes Christ’s provision for our sin and His personal presence real in our lives. He makes it possible for the people of God to be progressively conformed and transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
The Scriptures use a variety of images to convey the manifold riches of the Holy Spirit’s work. Here are twelve ministries of the Spirit:
1. Convicting. The Spirit convicts unbelievers of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). Apart from this ministry, people would never realize their sinful condition and desperate need for the saving grace of God.
2. Regenerating. The Spirit imparts eternal life through the new birth, and this in turn implants the divine nature in the child of God (Titus 3:5; 2 Peter 1:4). We who were formerly dead (Ephesians 2:1-3) have become new creatures who are alive to God (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:3-11; Ephesians 2:4-6).
3. Baptizing. By the Spirit, all believers in Christ have been “baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13), and in this way we have been adopted by the Holy Spirit into the family of God (Romans 8:9, 15; Ephesians 1:5). Since there are differing views of Spirit baptism, we will return to this later.
4. Sealing. The Holy Spirit of promise is the pledge of our inheritance, and He seals all who trust in Christ for the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22). The Father gives us the Spirit as a pledge, a “down payment” that guarantees the fulfillment of His promises.
5. Indwelling. The Spirit of God permanently indwells all believers in Christ (John 14:16-17; Romans 8:9), so that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in us (1 Corinthians6:19).
6. Filling. When we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we are under His control (Ephesians 5:18). The filling of the Spirit produces the fruit of Christian character and maturity (Acts 6:3, 5; Galatians 5:22-23).
7. Empowering. This is another aspect of the filling of the Spirit, and it relates to His sovereign and surprising power for ministry in word and deed (Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9-10).
8. Assuring. The Spirit testifies to the truth of our life in Christ and bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:24; 5:7-8).
9. Illuminating. The Spirit of God who inspired the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21) also illuminates the Scriptures “so that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10- 16). Since the things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned, the Spirit gives believers insight into the meaning and application of God’s Word.
10. Teaching. Jesus promised His disciples that the Spirit of truth would “guide you into all the truth” and “disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13). The divine anointing teaches us (1 John 2:27), and the Spirit glorifies the Son by making Jesus’ words known to us (John 16:14).
11. Praying. Because we do not know how to pray as we should, “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and speaks to the Father through us (Romans 8:27). When we pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), we have access through Christ to the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
12. Gifting. As we will see, the manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to the community of faith for the mutual edification of all the members of the body. These gifts are energized and directed by the Spirit as they are exercised in other-centered love (1 Corinthians 13).