Holy Spirit Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Holy Spirit

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The Holy Spirit ("the Advocate" in John) is the third person of the Holy Trinity in Christian ecumenical creeds and in Christian theology. One would not guess from the smooth, symmetrical treatment of the Holy Spirit alongside the Father and the Son in the creeds that there are real biblical problems in the move from binitarianism to full trinitarianism. In fact, full trinitarianism is biblically justified, but not by a wide margin.

In Scripture

Examples "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf" (John 15:26). "`Ananias,' Peter asked, `why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? . . . You did not lie to us but to God!'" (Acts 5:3-4). "But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him" (Rom 8:9). "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). "These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God" (1 Cor. 2:10). "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you" (2 Cor. 13:13).

Warnings "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" (Mark 3:29). "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30).

Points to Ponder

Moving to Trinitarianism The move from binitarianism to trinitarianism is conceptually and religiously not problematic. If one can conceive of and devote herself to two divine persons, probably she can to three. But biblically there are real problems in the move to full three-person theism. The New Testament's treatment of the Holy Spirit is difficult and elusive. Pneuma ("Spirit") is not a clearly personal name as are "Father" and "Son." "Spirit" may refer to a faculty or dimension of a person, as it sometimes does in Scripture (Matt. 5:3, 1 Cor. 5:3-5). Accordingly, some theologians are functional binitarians, conceiving the Spirit as a name for "God's active presence" or for "the power of God."

The Spirit is called "God" at most once (Acts 5:3-4). Old Testament passages about Yahweh are not transferred to the Holy Spirit as they are with Jesus Christ. Contrary to the case with Jesus Christ, no biblical author says that the Spirit is equal with God, or in the form of God, or in the image of God, or that he is God's "exegesis," or that he bears the very stamp of God's being. The Spirit is never said to be uncreated.

Does the Holy Spirit love? The most one can say is that whether the Spirit is ever said to love at all, let alone superlatively, depends on whether the genitive form of pneuma in Romans 15:30 is objective or subjective! More significantly, the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is never an object of worship or of prayer. By the late fourth century, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed could say that the Spirit is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son, but this is a theological deduction from the assumption that the Spirit is divine. It is not a repetition of a biblical claim.

Functions of a Person And yet. The Spirit speaks (Mark 13:11), searches (1 Cor. 2:10), bears witness and intercedes (Rom. 8:16, 26), teaches (John 14:26), apportions gifts (1 Cor. 12:11), exercises will (Acts 16:6-7), and can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). These are functions of a person.

Another Advocate Moreover, if in Romans 8:26, 34 Paul can attribute the same intercessory function to Christ and to the Spirit, and if intercession is a personal function, and if Christ is a person, then a reasonable inference is that the Spirit is too. Exactly the same goes for "another Advocate" in John 14:16.

Closely Associated and yet, Distinct The Spirit is repeatedly referred to in the New Testament as "the Spirit of God" or as "the Spirit of Christ." These locutions suggest both close association and distinction.

And the Spirit does perform divine functions. The Spirit judges (John 16:8-11), pours out the love of God (Rom. 5:5), gives life free from the tyranny of sin (Rom. 8:2), frees believers to be children of God (Rom. 8:15) and to know themselves as such (8:16), and begin responding as such (8:15b). The Spirit sanctifies (Rom. 15:16); renews (7:6); gives love (15:30), joy (14:17), hope (8:17 ff.), peace (8:6), and faith (1 Cor. 12:9). Moreover, according to Mark 3:29, the Spirit can be blasphemed — unforgivably so. Blasphemy in the New Testament is verbal injury to someone divine, usually God the Father. Finally, the Spirit appears in numerous bi-partite and tri-partite formulas with Jesus Christ, or with Jesus Christ and God the Father, implying that the Spirit is the same sort of being they are.

Pentecost When the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, fires start and winds blow and people speak and hear in unfamiliar languages. But these are only attention-getters. The real miracle of Pentecost — the God-almighty, Holy Ghost miracle — is that Jews whom Peter has accused of crucifying God's Messiah are "cut to the heart" and saved. The Holy Spirit cut through their armor and regenerated them in an act "not inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead." This is the characteristic work of the powerful and mysterious third person of the Holy Trinity.

Raising the Dead In fact, wherever previously hostile or indifferent persons find their hearts strangely warmed by the gospel and Jesus Christ newly attractive to them, Christians properly conclude that the Holy Spirit has been in the neighborhood to do the mighty work of raising the dead.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.