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The Nature and Work of the Holy Spirit: Doctrine 402

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nature and work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. In some traditions, the Holy Spirit receives little attention. While in others, the Holy Spirit takes center stage. This article will look at the nature and work of the Holy Spirit and how essential he is in the life of the believer and of the church.

The Nature of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Saying that he is the third person does not mean that he came third or that he is in any way less than the other two persons. The Scripture never identifies the Holy Spirit as the third person. However, he is listed third in many places where all three persons are spoken of together (Matt. 28:19). He might be considered third, though, in the order in which he functions in the salvation of believers. This article will examine the Holy Spirit’s work later.

A Part of the Trinity

You cannot find the word Trinity in the Bible. But the Scripture does contain many references to the triune nature of God. The New Testament repeatedly mentions all three persons of the Trinity. And there are several times when they are found together. The best known of these is Matthew 28:19. But 2 Corinthians 13:14 and 1 Peter 1:2 also mention all three. And each of these lists is in a different order, indicating the relative unimportance of their order.

In Acts 5:3-4, the same passage refers to the Holy Spirit and God interchangeably. In Romans 8:9-11, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit all seem to refer to the same actor in our salvation. And, in Acts 16:6-7, the Spirit of Jesus and the Holy Spirit both direct Paul on his way.

The Holy Spirit is of the same essence as the Father and the Son. Together they are one being and share in all of their attributes. The Holy Spirit is eternal, has always been, and always will be.

Having Personhood

In the Star Wars set of movies, there is something called the Force. The Force is said to inhabit all living things to some extent or another. Those with an exceptional amount of the Force, and the right training, can become powerful warriors. The Star Wars Force is an impersonal thing with no mind and no purpose.

But this is very unlike the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is very much a person with his own identity and purpose. In Acts 5:3, Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4:30, we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. And, in John 16:12-15, Jesus told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to them to be their teacher. All of these only make sense if the Holy Spirit is a person rather than an impersonal force.

His Work in the World

We often limit the work of the Holy Spirit to the life of the believer. But he also plays a very important role in the world at large. In John 16:8-11, Jesus told his disciples something about what the Holy Spirit would do when he came. And that includes convicting the world of sin and judgment. Conviction of sin is a necessary step toward repentance and belief. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of our sinful condition.

In John 6:44, Jesus said that no one could come to him unless drawn by the Father. And in John 12:32, Jesus said that when he was lifted up, he would draw all men to himself. This drawing is an essential component of our salvation. Apart from it, no one would come to Christ. And this drawing by the Father and by the Son is done through the agency of the Holy Spirit. As he brings conviction of sin and judgment he is bringing us to a place of repentance.

This work of the Holy Spirit is an act of God’s grace on behalf of a lost and dying world. Because of God’s love for the world, he sent his Son to be our savior (John 3:16). And he sent his Spirit into the world to convict us of our need for a savior and to draw us to him.

His Work in the Believer’s Life

The Holy Spirit’s work is most clearly seen in the life of the individual believer.

Born of the Spirit

Regeneration, or being born again, is the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 3:5-8, Jesus had a private conversation with Nicodemus about entrance into the kingdom of God. And Jesus told him that only those born of the Spirit could enter the kingdom. Regeneration is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, giving new life to the one who puts their faith in Christ.

New Birth is not just a personal experience, though. Regeneration also inducts us into the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body.” This baptism is the common experience of all believers. When we are born again, it is into Christ. While we continue to function as individuals, we are a part of something that is bigger than any one of us. And it is the work of the Spirit to make that happen.

A Guarantor of Salvation

In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul tells us that when we believed, we were marked with a seal, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a deposit that guarantees our salvation until our redemption.

A seal was an impression made in a drop of wax that identified the author of a document, guaranteeing its authenticity. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives serves that purpose. If the Holy Spirit is in my life, I can have confidence that I belong to God.

When I bought a house, I had to put down earnest money. This was a downpayment that I would lose if I backed out of the deal. It served as a guarantee that I would follow through on the deal. The Holy Spirit plays the role of earnest money in my own life. He is the deposit, or first fruit, for all that is to come in the future. I can know that I have an eternal future with God because his Spirit lives in me now.

Our Teacher

In John 14:16-17, Jesus told his disciples that he would send to them another advocate to be with them forever, the Spirit of truth. He went on to tell them, in John 14:26, that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things and remind them of what Jesus had already taught them. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and guide to truth.

The Holy Spirit teaches us using the Bible. These inspired words are the basis for the Holy Spirit’s instruction. That means it is important that we be spending time studying the Bible. And that as we do, we seek the Holy Spirit’s help in understanding it. As appealing as it might be, the Holy Spirit does not give us instant illumination into every passage. It requires much work on our part as well as a sensitivity to the Spirit’s voice. There are many other voices that compete with the Spirit’s. But they will lead us into error.

The Holy Spirit will never lead you to believe something that is contrary to the Scriptures. If you receive some new revelation that is in any way contrary to the Bible, you can be sure that revelation did not come from God.

Our Guide to Sanctification

The Holy Spirit also works to guide and enable us in living holy lives. This process is called sanctification. It does not happen all at once. And there is some debate as to whether complete sanctification is possible in this life. But whether it is possible or not, it should be our goal. The Scripture uses terms like “walk by the Spirit” or “live by the Spirit” to describe how we grow toward holiness.

In Galatians 5:16, Paul tells us to walk by the Spirit. And if we do, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. He goes on to contrast the acts of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, the result of living by the Spirit.

There is a common image that pictures this well. In the picture, a person has two little figures sitting on his shoulders. One is pictured as a demon, encouraging you to do something bad. On the other shoulder sits an angel, warning against that action. But rather than a demon and an angel, the two figures are your own desires and the Holy Spirit. Our own desires, at least in the beginning, have the loudest and most insistent voice. But the more we listen to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit, the clearer he becomes until he can be clearly heard over the desires of the flesh.

And this is the process of sanctification. Listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice, and acting in obedience to it. The more we listen and respond, the easier it is to hear him. And as we respond to him, he produces his fruit within us, leading us more and more into holiness.

His Work in the Life of the Church

The Holy Spirit also works within the life of the church, the body of Christ. He equips us for service within the body as well as uniting us together as one people.

Uniting Us Together

1 Corinthians 12:13 was mentioned above in regard to our salvation. But the primary focus of this verse is dealing with the body of Christ. This body is an organic whole, make up of individual members who are joined together by the Holy Spirit. “For we were all baptized [immersed] by one Spirit so as to form one body.” The Holy Spirit makes us a part of Christ’s church.

Ephesians 4:3 tells us to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” It is the Holy Spirit that unifies the various members of the body into a single unity. As members of the body, we can destroy this unity that the Spirit brings to us by failing to love one another. But as we walk together in the Spirit, he will unite us into that body that Christ died to produce.

Equipping the Members

In an earlier article in this series, I looked at the spiritual gifts we are given, enabling us to serve the body (1 Cor. 12:7). These gifts are given to us by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit gives them as he chooses (1 Cor. 12:11), not for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of the body as a whole.

Questions to Consider

  • What is the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other persons of the Trinity?
  • How does the Holy Spirit work in the world? In your life? And in the church?
  • How dependent are you on the Holy Spirit in your daily life?

You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.

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Ed Jarrett

Just an old clay jar that God continues to see fit to use in his kingdom's work. I am retired, married with 2 children, and 4 grandchildren. I have followed Jesus for many years. And I love to share what He has given me from His word.

A Note to Readers

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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