November 04, 2021 Samuel Lindsay

I believe: the Holy Spirit

I believe: the Holy Spirit

I believe in the Holy Spirit...

In our excursion through the the Apostle's Creed we come now to the Holy Spirit. The apostles creed is a summary of the Christian faith, so for every line there is an immense background of biblical narrative and theology that we only skim each week as we look at the topics. That is especially true for this week because the doctrine (i.e. teaching) of the Holy Spirit is quite deep, and quite misused.

So lets stick to the big ticket things that we mean when we say "I believe in the Holy Spirit": Who is He? What does He do?

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is God. Now it was hard enough to get our heads around the idea that the God the Father and the God the Son were both one God expressed as distinct persons, but now we have to throw into that mix the Holy Spirit. There is one God expressed as three distinct persons.

This is something hard for us to understand, it has lead some to assert that we believe in three gods or that we're illogical. But here's the thing, if God is infinite and greater than His creation, isn't it quite plausible that He would be more complex than we can conceive? How much more complex is the potter than the pot? or the painter than the painting? The creator is beyond His creation, and He has revealed Himself to us in this way as three persons in one God.

How do we know the Holy Spirit (a.k.a Holy Ghost) is a person? Well, it's because the Bible speaks about Him as if He were another person (e.g. John 14:15–17, 16:7–8). He can be grieved (Eph 4:30). He is on mission to carry out the will of God.

The Holy Spirit is held up with the Father and Son as God when Jesus commanded his disciples to baptise "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). If the Holy Spirit was only an impersonal force of God, why should we be baptised in His name?

As with many things about God, the mechanics are a mystery. We are limited in time and space, so we cannot understand an unlimited God. But what we can know has been communicated to us, including that the the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father (John 15:26) and an is sent by Jesus (John 16:7).

What does the Holy Spirit Do?

In the ancient Hebrew world, the idea of spirit is closely tied to breath, wind and life. This is unsurprising, because when someone is alive, they are breathing air in and out - they have their spirit. This leads to ample opportunities across the pages of scripture to make puns on the those words. It also means that sometimes translators aren't sure whether they should translate something as breath, wind or spirit (e.g. Eze 37:7–10).

Given that the spirit is breath (e.g. life force), it is unsurprising to hear that the Holy Spirit is an agent in physical creation (Gen 1:2, 2:7, Job 33:4) and spiritual creation (Eze 37). It must be said that it is unhealthy to always create divides between spiritual and physical, because God made us as both physical and spiritual beings where it is impossible to delineate where the physical ends and the spiritual begins, but it illustrates the point - the Spirit brings about both birth into this world, and especially rebirth into the spiritual world (John 3:5–7).

So, like the other divine persons, the Holy Spirit seems to have some special jobs to do as part of the epic plan of salvation. He must rebirth and regenerate us so that we may live in God. He helps us understand and remember Jesus (John 16:13–14), and more broadly He is the one who brings the Word of God to His people through the prophets and writers (2 Pe 1:21, 2 Tim 3:16 "God-breathed" = In-spirited by God).

The Holy Spirit guides, comforts, convicts and teaches. He is our advocate and intercedes on our behalf (Rom 8:26–27).

So where does this leave us? Without the Holy Spirit we cannot know God, or be regenerated to life! Just as the work of Jesus is essential to God's rescue plan, so is the Holy Spirit. All three persons in the Godhead have worked, and are working cohesively to bring about the Salvation of God's people and the remaking of the world.

In some respects the Spirit takes a background job, because it is His job to illuminate Jesus and the Father, but He is no less God. He is working in us and through us. He is here with us while we wait for the bodily return of Jesus. In fact it was so important that He be here with us now, that Jesus would say it is to our advantage that Jesus left and the Spirit came! (John 16:7 ESV)

A last note: The place where a god lives is called a temple. Despite the fact that God cannot be contained, some part of His presence dwelt in the temple at Jerusalem. But now, we do not need that temple, because God dwells amongst His church by His Spirit. It means that in some sense each Christian is a mini-temple, a place where God lives by His Spirit - mobile holy ground. But it also means that the most holy place you can be this side of glory is in the gathered assembly of God's people (Eph 2:21–22, 1 Cor 33:17, 1 Pe 2:5).

Samuel Lindsay

"In [Jesus Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Eph 2:21–22).

"[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Tt 3:5–6).

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