Thursday, November 7, 2019

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Spirit is not a dove, but once He used the form of a dove to symbolize Himself (Matt. 3:16)

1. The Holy Spirit is God, the same God who is revealed throughout Scripture. The apostle Peter identifies the Spirit as God in Acts 5:3-4. The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:17, identities the Spirit as the Lord, and in that context "the Lord" is God, the same God who revealed His glory to Moses. This means that He shares in all the attributes of God: He is eternal, invisible, present everywhere, all powerful, all knowing, perfectly righteous and wise, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 

2. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force. Jesus described the Spirit in personal terms when He called the Spirit "another Helper," just as Jesus had been a helper (John 14:16-17, 26). The word can mean helper, counselor, or advocate. The Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), which implies a personal relation to the Spirit. The Spirit can also be grieved (Eph. 4:30).  

3. The Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. The Spirit is sent by the Father and is “another Helper” compared to Jesus (John 14:16-17), so the Spirit is distinct from both of them, even though the three of them are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. We also see the Spirit distinguished from - and interacting with - the other persons of the Trinity in passages like Jesus’ baptism where He descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16-17).

4. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Son is distinguished as the only one eternally begotten from the Father (John 1:14) and the Spirit is distinguished as the one who eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. This term comes from John 15:26, where Jesus says, "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." The Eastern church argues from this that the Spirit only proceeds from the Father, but the Western church has argued that since Scripture also speaks of the Spirit as "the Spirit of his Son" (Gal. 4:6), that the Spirit proceeds from them both. This makes sense, since just as the Son reveals and points to the one from whom He is begotten, the Father (John 1:14, 18), so the Spirit reveals and points to those from whom He proceeds, both the Father and the Son (John 14:26, 15:26, Gal. 4:6). 

5. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life. "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). In both creation and salvation, the Spirit is described as the one who gives life. We get a hint of that when God gives life to man by His breath in Genesis 2:7, since the word for breath and spirit are the same (see also Job 33:4). Psalm 104:29–30 describes God's ongoing work in the order of creation by the Spirit, "When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground."

Therefore, it is fitting that the new spiritual life of salvation also comes from the Spirit. We are born again with a renewed nature by the Spirit (John 3:5-6). We are united to Jesus and given eternal life by the Spirit (John 6:54-56, 63). We are delivered by the Spirit from our sinful nature and its rebellious ways unto a new nature defined by virtues like love, peace, and self-control (Gal. 5:16-24). The Spirit gives life to the church, making the body work together in mutual service and binding it to Christ the head (1 Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13). And finally, our bodies will be raised up on the last day by the Spirit (Rom. 8:11). In short, while the Son accomplishes salvation, the Spirit applies these benefits to the elect. 

6. The Holy Spirit reveals God's word to humanity. The Spirit spoke through people and guided them to write down God's word for future generation in the Scripture. The apostle Peter told his readers to pay attention to Scripture, because no prophecy of Scripture came "by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). And while he had the Old Testament particularly in mind, Peter put apostolic witness on the same level (1:16-19, 3:2) and identifies the apostolic writings as Scripture at the end of his epistle (3:15-16). This is no surprise, since Jesus said that the Spirit would remind the apostles of His words (John 14:25-26), so that the whole Bible is the product of the Spirit's work. 

In connection with this work, the Spirit also gave gifts of healing and miracles to confirm the apostolic message (Heb. 2:4) and gave the gift of speaking in foreign tongues to communicate the inclusion of the Gentiles in the new convent (Acts 2:4-11, 1 Cor. 14:21-22). The new covenant being established and the canon of Scripture being finished with Jesus and His apostles (Heb. 1:1-2, 2:4, 2 Peter 3:2), these particular gifts have ceased with the passing away of the apostles.

Yet, the Spirit continues to work in the hearts and minds of people to enable them to recognize, receive, and understand the written word of God (1 Cor. 2:12–14). The Spirit gives us the ability to believe and obey God's word, not only externally, but also from the heart (Ezek. 36:26-27).

7. The Holy Spirit is essential to the Christian faith and life (Matt. 28:19). Neglecting the Spirit cannot come without fundamentally distorting Christianity. This usually happens by making the faith moralistic, merely formal and external, or a matter of "cold orthodoxy." On the other hand, many people today have a unbiblical understanding of the Spirit's work, isolated from the written word and the work of Christ. This can lead to a dangerous confusion between the Holy Spirit and your inner thoughts and feelings. But a proper appreciation of the Holy Spirit leads to a lively faith and active love in the fellowship of the saints which is guided by Scripture and leads us to appreciate and enjoy the work of Christ and the love of the Father. And so we confess in the historic words of the Nicene Creed of 381:
"And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets."

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