Monday, April 6, 2009

The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit

by Bruce Mills

I introduced Romans 8 in my Sunday School class this past Sunday. In doing so, I presented a brief overview of pneumatology--the study of the Holy Spirit--because the Holy Spirit's role in initiating and maintaining our salvation is the focal point of Romans 8. After being mentioned only four times in the previous seven chapters, the apostle Paul mentions the Holy Spirit 16 times in Romans 8. When I was finished with my brief overview of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, several people in the class told me that it would be greatly appreciated if I would put the information on the blog so that they could review it later. So that's the purpose of this post.

There is no member of the Trinity about who there is more misunderstanding today than the Holy Spirit. Yet there are few subjects more important to the believer than understanding who He is and the nature of His work in the believer’s life. So who is He? My one sentence definition goes like this: He is the eternal Spirit who is a member of the eternal triune Godhead and who is the source of the Christian’s spiritual life, both as to its origin and its continuation.

The Holy Spirit is to our spiritual lives what the Creator is to the universe. Without God as Creator, the universe would never have come into existence. And without God as the continuing, sustaining, preserving power, the universe would crash out of existence. In similar fashion, without the Holy Spirit of God, the Christian would never have been born again. He would never have come into existence as a believer. And without the Spirit’s ever-present, sanctifying influence, the spiritual life of the Christian would drop back into spiritual deadness from which it came.

So who is the Holy Spirit, and how are we to understand Him? Well, first of all, the Holy Spirit is not some kind of impersonal force that flows through the universe and the objects in it like the force of Star Wars fame. That is a pantheistic concept which arises out of eastern philosophical mysticism. So He is not some influence or some energy that somehow emanates from the presence of God. Rather, the Holy Spirit, as the third member of the Godhead, is a person possessing a complete entity and personality of His own, just like the God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.

The Holy Spirit should never be referred to as “it,” but as “He.” That’s the way He is always referred to in Scripture. And if you need some proof that the Holy Spirit is, in fact, a person, you need only to study the Scripture and find out that the Scripture ascribes to Him intellect, emotion, and will, which are the three essential ingredients of personhood.

The intellect of the Holy Spirit is indicated in 1 Cor. 2:10, where it says, “The Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” The intellect of the Holy Spirit is such that He can plumb the depths of the knowledge of the eternal God.

The emotion of the Holy Spirit is indicated in Romans 5:5, where it says that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” His emotion is also presented to us in Isa. 63:10 and Eph. 4:30 where it says that He can be grieved.

As to the will of the Holy Spirit, we are told in 1 Cor. 12:11 that the Holy Spirit makes decisions, “distributing [spiritual gifts] to each one individually, just as He wills.” So, because He possesses intellect, emotion, and will, He thus manifests all of the elements of personhood, and thus orthodox Christianity has historically held that He is a person.

Further, Scripture indicates that He is revealed as one who speaks (Acts 13:2, Rev. 2:7). He prays in Rom. 8:26-27. John 14:26 tells us that He teaches us. He guides us, according to John 16:13. He commands us, as he did with Paul in Acts 16:6-7. And 2 Cor. 13:14 says that He fellowships with us. Scripture also says He can be lied to (Acts 5:3), He can be tested (Acts 5:9), He can be resisted (Acts 7:51), and He can be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31, Mark 3:29). So He is a person in every sense.

Further, we have to understand that the person of the Holy Spirit is also God. There can be no doubt about the deity of the Holy Spirit. He is God and always has been. This is made plain in three ways: His attributes, His works, and His titles.

Thinking first about the attributes of the Holy Spirit, it tells us in Scripture that He is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, holy, and glorious. All those are attributes of God.

And then when we look at the titles of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, we find that He is called by titles which demonstrate that He is God.

Rom. 8:14; Phil. 3:3 – the Spirit of God

Luke 4:18; 2 Cor. 3:17 - the Spirit of the Lord

2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 10:15-16 – the Lord

Judges 3:10 – the Spirit of Yahweh

Isa. 61:11 – the Spirit of the Lord God

Matthew 10:20 – the Spirit of the Father

2 Cor. 3:3 – the Spirit of the Living God

Acts 16:7 – the Spirit of Jesus

Phil. 1:19 – the Spirit of Jesus Christ

Rom. 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11 – the Spirit of Christ

Gal. 4:6 – the Spirit of His Son

Those are all titles of deity; titles showing a relationship of equality with the Father, and a relationship of equality with the Son. Therefore, by attribute and by title, He is clearly God.

Furthermore, if we study the works of the Holy Spirit, we find evidence of His deity. Gen. 1:2 makes it clear that He acted in creation. It says, “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Yet in John 1:3, speaking of Jesus, it says that “all things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” So if Genesis says that it was the Holy Spirit who acted in creation, and John says it was Jesus who acted in creation, then they must both be God. Both are eternal members of the Godhead and both acted in creating all that is.

It is the Spirit who acts to convict men of sin (John 16:8). It is the Spirit who enables men and women to serve God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It was the Spirit who energized the writers of Scripture and breathed out His word, so that they precisely and exactly penned the inerrant Word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21).

During the life of Christ, the Spirit was the agent of Christ’s birth and He was the means by which Jesus was identified by God as the Messiah at His baptism. The Spirit was there to strengthen Jesus in His temptation. The Spirit anointed Him for ministry. The Spirit was the source of His teaching and the power behind His miracles, so that blaspheming His miracles was blaspheming the Spirit. The Spirit even participated in His death, burial, and resurrection.

When it comes to mankind, the ministry of the Spirit continues as He convicts of sin, as He calls men to Christ, as He bears witness to Christ, as He regenerates and brings about the new birth, and then glorifies Christ as He indwells the believer and imparts the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

He seals the believer, communes with the believer, fellowships with the believer, teaches the believer, comforts the believer, sanctifies the believer, and empowers the believer for service. With regard to the church collectively, He forms the body of Christ, appoints those who are to lead it, and gives guidance to the church through His word and those men.

So that’s a short study on the Holy Spirit. He is God, He is a person, and He indwells all who are genuine Christians. I hope this brief study is helpful for you. If you want to read more on the Holy Spirit, I recommend getting a good Systematic Theology reference book, such as those written by Robert Duncan Culver, Wayne Grudem, Millard Erickson, or Lewis Sperry Chafer and study the Holy Spirit in depth. If you can find it, an older book which is unfortunately out of print, written by Rene Pache and titled The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit is outstanding.

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