God is a Self-revealing God — He created the universe as a stage on which He would display His glory. He created intelligent angelic and human beings so that we could behold His glory and give Him glory. It is also intrinsic to His nature to share His life, to pour out of Himself, to invite others into His life. But God cannot share His life with those who are separated from Him by choice. He will not forcibly enter a life that has chosen to reject Him. Sin is not only an act; it is a state of being in which we choose to exist outside the life of God.
We can experience the life of God only as we turn from our sin through repentance and embrace by faith God’s solution to our sin. That solution is the holy, unblemished Lamb of God who died as an atoning sacrifice for us, taking our sin and God’s judgment against our sin, into Himself. When we turn in faith to Christ, we are forgiven of our offense against God and delivered from His judgment against our offense, since both the offense and the judgment were placed on the holy Sacrifice.
Now cleansed of sin we are reconciled to God — He is able to share His life with us. The Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, baptizes us into union with God, immerses us into a living fellowship with a living Savior, works in us to conform us to the life of Christ, works through us to share the ministry of Christ.
However, the Holy Spirit was at work in our lives long before He came to live in us. It was the Spirit who awakened us to our sin and separation from God. It was the Spirit who gave us the capacity to repent, to turn from our sin. It was the Spirit who shined the light of the glory of Jesus into our hearts, blessing us with faith to believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. And as we have said, having come to live in us, He continues to work in us and through us. Considering the primary importance of the Holy Spirit in our salvation and in the living of our Christian life, we do well to ask, who is the Holy Spirit?
Let’s review where we have been in this course of study.
Deity of the Holy Spirit
Historic Christianity confesses that the Holy Spirit is a co-equal member of the Trinity which is the way God has revealed Himself to us — one God existing eternally as three Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Though they exist in perfect unity as one God, they are nevertheless perfectly distinct as three Persons. Therefore, when the Apostle Paul pronounced a benediction over the Corinthian Church, he said, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).
When Jesus commissioned the church, He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
Because the Holy Spirit is of the same essence as the Father and the Son, He shares all attributes with the Father and the Son and is therefore uncreated, Self-existent Being, perfect in all expressions and manifestations of Himself. Because the Holy Spirit is Deity He is therefore infinite and can pour Himself into a million vessels and not be diminished. If the Father and the Son are eternal, then the Holy Spirit must also be eternal and so we read that Jesus offered Himself as a holy sacrifice “through the eternal Spirit” (Hebr. 9:14). If the Father and the Son are merciful, all-knowing and almighty, then so is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
The Holy Spirit shared in the work of creation with the Father and the Son, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).
Under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit anointed a limited number of individuals for service for a limited duration of time — artisans who built and furnished the tabernacle, judges and kings who exercised leadership. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophetic writers of the Old Testament to express the purposes of God to their generation.
Spirit-inspired prophets also spoke concerning the Messiah: “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (I Peter 1:10,11).
The Spirit of God anointed chosen servants, came upon them and gifted them, empowered them for service. The Spirit of God rested upon them for a particular service for a particular season but did not permanently indwell them.
But a revolutionary promise was given through Ezekiel, that someday not only would the Lord pour out His Spirit on His people — His Spirit would dwell in His people: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
“I will put My Spirit within you” said the Lord. But notice the condition for this indwelling of the Holy Spirit: there would be a cleansing, not an outward cleansing but inward, the result of a new heart. As a result of that cleansing the Holy Spirit will dwell in people. This inner cleansing would require a holy sacrifice, a perfect, unblemished Lamb by whose atoning work we would be washed, cleansed of sin. What a revolutionary thought: someday the holy God would dwell in people cleansed of sin. That would require a different sacrifice than Israel had known.
The Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus
Jesus was born “in the fulness of time”, according to the predetermined purpose of God. The Holy Spirit shared in the incarnation of the Son of God in human form, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit … But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18,20).
“The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit enabled the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Just as He shared in the creation of the world, so He shared in the incarnation of the Son of God in human form.
The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus for ministry, as we read in the account of His baptism, “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him” (Matt. 3:16). Isaiah had prophesied this, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2).
In fact, it appears that Jesus was entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit for the accomplishing of His ministry. In Luke 5:17 we read, “The power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing.” That power was mediated through the Holy Spirit, as Peter said, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Jesus voluntarily laid aside the independent exercise of Deity, humbly depending on the power of the Spirit for the exercise of ministry.
The Holy Spirit shared in the work of redemption with the Father and the Son, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebr 9:14).
The Holy Spirit shared in the work of resurrection, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
So we see that the Holy Spirit shared in the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of Mary, anointed and empowered Him for ministry, shared in the offering of Christ as the holy Lamb and raised Him from the dead. These actions, especially incarnation, atonement, resurrection — inaugurated the beginning of the end of time. We are living in the last age. Into this end time, as the instrument of Christ’s presence and ministry in the world, the Holy Spirit birthed the church.
The Holy Spirit and the Birth of the Church
Two essential truths stand out in the recorded history of the New Testament Church. First of all, there was a definite, historical encounter with the Holy Spirit which dynamically empowered God’s people to be who they had not been before — the Church. Second, there was an ongoing encounter with the Spirit through which the Church was continually recreated and re-empowered. The church is a missionary organization empowered and resourced by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who was outpoured on the church at Pentecost, who came to indwell God’s redeemed, is the same Spirit who anointed kings and judges and prophets of the Old Testament. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost immersed the church into union with Christ and empowered the church to be God’s instrument of ministry in this last age of history.
On Pentecost the Holy Spirit birthed a proclaiming church, a witnessing church, a testifying church that could not be silent. The resulting harvest of souls was gathered by the Spirit into a new community in which racial, cultural and economic boundaries merged into something never before seen on earth — the Church, the body of Christ.
Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit who testifies of Jesus, witness is not merely a definition of what we shall do but it is the definition of who we shall be — the witnessing community. The Holy Spirit empowers this witness but the church is the mouth, the hands of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit anoints but the church is the vessel that carries the oil of anointing.
Confirming the witness of the apostolic church were miraculous signs and wonders, the greatest of which was lives redeemed and transformed for eternal fellowship with God — children of wrath became children of God. Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (I Cor 2:4). “Demonstration of the Spirit and of power” surely refers to signs and wonders but we must not limit our definition of signs and wonders — the power of the Spirit is manifest in preaching and the preaching is validated by the harvest. Souls turning to Christ are the greatest sign and wonder of the Spirit’s power and presence.
On Pentecost, the diversity of cultures listening to Peter represents the reversal of the judgment that fell upon the world at the tower of Babel. At Babel, the people were attempting to build a society apart from God, in opposition to God, in exaltation of man, and the scattering of the nations in language and culture was a “diversity born of judgment” 1. But as the gospel goes out to every tribe and tongue and nation, represented by those various people groups listening to Peter, a new unity of tribe and tongue and nation is being formed around the message of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, called out of darkness into light of which Peter later wrote (I Peter 2:9). Whatever language Peter spoke on that day, it was “a new language … the language of redemption” inspired and energized by the Holy Spirit. 2
The qualification for entering this new community has nothing to do with culture or race or national loyalty or economic standing. Entrance is through repentance and faith in the Savior and this entrance is open to all who are open to the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that after the Holy Spirit empowered His followers, the church was to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and then the end shall come (Matt 24:14). This means that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the beginning of the end of the age. His coming was also a promise of the inheritance that will be ours when this age is fulfilled.
We see signs of the age to come as sinners are pulled out of darkness into light, as demons are cast out and their dominating strongholds broken, as mercy flows into broken lives, as light abolishes darkness and everywhere the powers of this lingering age are overthrown and the presence of the age to come is proclaimed.
The Holy Spirit and the Believer
God is eternal, transcending the categories of time, and so there is a timelessness to His work in our lives. Though we are born in time, we were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). It is the Holy Spirit who meets us in time and actualizes in our lives the Father’s eternal purpose of redemption and holy blamelessness.
It was through the eternal Spirit that Jesus offered Himself on the cross but it is the Spirit who meets us in time and makes the cross a real and redeeming event in our lives. The Holy Spirit shares in the work of regeneration, bringing sinners to new life through faith in Christ, who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).
We are “born of the Spirit” as the Holy Spirit awakens us to the truth of our sin, the truth of God’s judgment against our sin and the truth of God’s saving grace through Christ. He does not save us apart from our will but He awakens our will, enlightens our will, moves our will toward salvation, removes the veil from our eyes so we can see our sin, brings us to an awareness of the cost of our sin, enables us to understand God’s solution — a sin-bearing Lamb — brings us to repentance and gifts us with faith to believe God’s solution.
Following our rebirth, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the believer and enables us to encounter Jesus as a real historical Person who not only lived and walked and spoke long ago but by virtue of His resurrection, is alive today. As an expression of His love for Christ, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into an intimate, living union with a living Savior.
Jesus said to His disciples, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). The gift of the Holy Spirit is an expression of Christ’s deep care and love for us. That love is transformational. Therefore, we grow as we allow Jesus to love us through the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The indwelling Holy Spirit is a seal of our salvation (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13,14). In the ancient world, kings would seal a document with a royal imprint which proved the authenticity of the document. In the same way, we are God’s document, a declaration of His life and purpose and we are sealed with His own Spirit. This seal is the declaration of our security in Christ.
The indwelling Holy Spirit is a pledge or downpayment of our future inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13,14). It is the Spirit’s desire to bring us into a foretaste of the intimate, everlasting communion which we will enjoy with our Lord in eternity.
Just as the Holy Spirit was at work bringing us to repentance and faith through the preaching of the word, so He also works in us spiritual hunger and brings us “like newborn babies” to a longing “for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you (we) may grow in respect to salvation” (I Ptr. 2:2). He brought us to new birth and then He brings to us the milk of the word.
The indwelling Holy Spirit witnesses to us from within that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15,16, I John 3:1). John said, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (I John 4:13). He builds in us a sense of belonging, of intimacy in relationship with God; enables us to grasp and experience the depth of the love of God for us and He communicates the love of God to us.
The Holy Spirit progressively sanctifies believers, sets us apart from sin patterns and culture conformity so that we can serve the Lord as holy ministers: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thes. 2:13). Notice that we were chosen “from the beginning”, from eternity, for this purpose.
The Holy Spirit empowers believers, cultivates the life of Jesus in believers, baptizes us into the body of Christ, into union with Christ and His church, provides gifts which empower miraculous signs of God’s work among us. “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Hebr. 2:4).
The Holy Spirit not only performs miracles through believers. He also performs miracles according to His sovereign will without our participation, as when He supernaturally transported Phillip after his encounter with the Ethiopian man, removing him to a completely different location, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away” (Acts 8:39).
Because the Holy Spirit indwells believers, He communicates with us, directs our decisions, “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2,4).
The Holy Spirit teaches us. The same Holy Spirit who authored the Word of God through people interprets that Word to people. He interprets the mind of God to us from within our spirit, providing the wisdom we need to navigate this life. More than merely teaching us, the Spirit guides our steps, enables us to live the truth He has taught us and expresses truth through us as if we are a letter written by God to our generation. Paul said, “You are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3).
The Holy Spirit enables Jesus to release His life and minstry through us like a river. Referring to the Spirit, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38). One writer paraphrased that verse, “He that believeth on Me out of him shall escape everything he receives.” 3
That same author said, “What counts is not what we gain but what He pours through us.” Truly, Christ’s purpose is not that we would become “beautifully well rounded grapes but that He squeezes the sweetness out of us” into the lives of others. Life is not measured by what we accomplish “but only by what God pours out through us and we cannot measure that at all.”
Truly, the Lord is excited when He sees us abandoned to Him, spilling out His life. It is a great delight to the Lord, not only to share His life with us, but to pour His life through us and this He does through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Under the New Covenant, the Spirit is given to believers without any constraint of time: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16). As we have said, He is a pledge of our inheritance beyond time but empowers us to bear witness of the Gospel in this “time between the times,” that is, the time between the first and second coming of Jesus. 4
As we have said, our very witness is a sign of the end times. The consummation of the ages follows the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world (Matt. 24:14). Even in the last days of the end times, as the judgment of God is poured out on the world, the Gospel will still be preached with power and accompanied by the confirming signs of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will continue to work in Christ’s church until the end of time and in the last days of history, there will be an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit across the earth and in Israel — “the Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zech. 12:10) leading to massive repentance and salvation among the Jewish people. Some believe that the harvest in those final days of history will surpass the harvest in all the combined ages of the church. May it be so.
Now, as we near the end of this brief, humble and woefully inadequate treatment of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, after spending these months in study and many hours in previous years, I must confess the severe limitations of my understanding of the Third Person of the Trinity. I must agree with the commentator who said, “We do not know how the Spirit descended, how He indwells the Church or the believer, how He affects heart and mind, how He achieves the wonderful things that are done in His power … We are confronted only with the fact of His presence, with the power of His presence, with the effects of His presence.” 5
I do believe, though, that one question which we asked has been answered, “Why is there so little recognition of and praise given to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit?” In the ancient Nicene Creed, first formulated at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) and accepted in its present form at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, we confess, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets.” Yet though He is worthy of worship, He is not so much the object of our worship as the inspiration; not so much the focus of our prayer as its author and He would have it no other way. His object is not to teach of Himself but to reveal Jesus (John 14:26); not to glorify Himself but Jesus (John 16:13,14). It is His purpose to deflect attention from Himself to the Father and to the Son.
Even now the Spirit’s passion is for the Bridegroom Messiah to be united to His Bride and for the Bride to be united to her Beloved. And so He cries out with and through the Church and “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’” (Rev. 22:17).
On that day, when history is concluded, the same Holy Spirit who quickened us out of the darkness of sin and death into the light of salvation, will quicken our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11). But that day is not this day and so we say, “Come Holy Spirit, set our hearts on fire yet again.”
1. Boer, 137
2. Boer, 138
3. Oswald Chambers (92)
4. (Boer, p 99)
5. (Boer, 102)
1. What is the major difference between the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people under the Old Covenant and under the New Covenant?
2. What are some of the works of the Holy Spirit in our lives?