WHO IS THE SPIRIT?
Written by Doug Ponder on May 26, 2013
The Promise of the Spirit
Before Jesus went to the cross, he told his followers that the time for him to leave the earth was quickly approaching. He told them of his impending betrayal and death. He explained that the world would hate them just as it had first hated him. And he warned them about an intense period of persecution and the many troubles that would follow. These were hardly the comforting words that his followers might have hoped for!
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on tell them two unbelievably significant truths. Jesus told them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The peace they are looking for is found in him, Jesus says. Second Jesus told them about something special, or rather, someone special. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
The Spirit Is A Helper Like Jesus
The “Helper” Jesus was talking about would not only be with us, as God has always been, but also be in us unlike ever before. Perhaps that didn’t seem like a big deal to his followers at the time, but Jesus himself thought otherwise. He told them, “Very truly I tell you, it is for your advantage that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Have you ever wished that you could have Jesus stand next you, physically, to walk with you and talk with you throughout your day? Perhaps we feel that life would be much easier if things worked that way. We could easily turn to Jesus and ask him, “What should I think about this?” or “Tell me what to do here.” But Jesus says that we’re wrong in thinking this way. He said, “It is for your advantage that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Helper will not come to you.”
The Spirit Is the Lord and Giver of Life
The “Helper” is, of course, the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity. Together with God the Father and God the Son, he is worshipped and glorified, for he is the Lord. The Spirit is called “the Lord” directly in the Scriptures. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Additionally, the Spirit is called “God” directly by the apostle Peter. He rebuked a man and his wife for lies saying, “You have lied to the Holy Spirit. . . . You have not just lied to human beings, but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).
The Spirit is also the Giver of Life. As Paul explained to Titus, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he 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 Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
Concerning his relationship to the other members of the Trinity, it is sometimes said that God the Father sends, God the Son accomplishes, and God the Spirit applies. For example, God the Father sent Jesus, God the Son, to accomplish redemption for his people. The Spirit, in turn, applies this work of redemption to all those who follow Jesus in repentance and faith. Others explain the relationship of the Trinity like this: The Father speaks, the Son is the Word that is spoken, and the Spirit is the one who makes the Word understandable.
The Work of the Spirit
The Spirit’s work is easier to understand, however, when we look to some of the things that God has promised the Holy Spirit does in our lives:
- The Spirit gives us a new heart along with new desires and new abilities to do what God has said (Titus 3:4-7; Phil. 2:13).
- The Spirit leads us into the truth, by bringing Scriptures to mind or by showing us the way forward when we don’t know what to do (John 14:26; Acts 13:2).
- The Spirit gives you the words to speak when you need to bear witness about the gospel (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12).
- The Spirit empowers us to be God’s witnesses, drawing people to God by giving them faith. (Acts 1:8; Eph. 2:8-9).
- The Spirit illuminates the Word of God so that we can understand what it means and do what it says (John 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:10).
- The Spirit allows us to have intimacy with God, softening our hearts and giving us love and affection for God our Father (Rom. 8:15-16).
- The Spirit convicts us of sin and gives us the desire to turn from it (John 16:7-11; 1 Thess. 1:5).
- The Spirit brings us new life and freedom from sin (Rom. 8:2, 10-11; 2 Cor. 3:17).
- The Spirit intercedes for us when we pray (Rom. 8:26-27).
- The Spirit gives us supernatural gifts so that we can serve other (1 Cor. 12:1-7).
The Presence of the Spirit
Sometimes we may wonder whether or not we even have the Holy Spirit. We look at our lives and see so much sin and brokenness that we doubt that it could possibly be true that the God who made the universe is actually living inside of us. At least, it doesn’t feel that way. But Jesus and receiving the Spirit are a “package deal” (Titus 3:5-7), so there is no such thing as someone who has been redeemed by Jesus that doesn’t have the Spirit. Nevertheless, the reason we may not feel the Spirit’s presence and power may be because we are “quenching” (1 Thess. 5:19) or “grieving” (Eph. 4:30) the Spirit through deliberate rebellion or through neglect. After all, Jesus did say “You have not because you ask not,” so it may be that we don’t experience more of the Spirit’s work in our lives because we have not asked him to move or we have not trusted that he would do so. The good news is that the Spirit will always work to supply you with the desire and the energy to do what pleases God; all that’s left is for you to “work out” what the Spirit “works in” (Phil. 2:12-13).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.