Are there any foundational components to the Christian faith? Certainly, there are mysteries that still cause many a theologian to scratch his head, but there are also basic and elementary teachings that are fundamental to the faith. One of those teachings is on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has a place of prominence in historic Christianity that is appropriate for a person of the Holy Trinity. In the two historic Christian creeds (the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed), the Holy Spirit receives more attention than God the Father. Yet the Spirit’s work can remain somewhat mysterious to us because of His inherently behind-the-scenes dynamic to the ordinary Christian life. Nevertheless, the Spirit is of such vital importance that should we diminish His necessity, nor His personhood, we necessarily do harm to the Christian message.
The Nicene Creed speaks of the Holy Spirit as “the Lord and Giver of life.” This is nothing other than a codification of Scripture’s teaching. Whether you wish to consider the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19, the Apostolic Benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, or the sin of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 (especially v. 3 paired with v. 4), the Scriptures treat the Spirit as distinct from the Father and Son, and yet equally God; divine, eternal, and worthy of worship.
The Holy Spirit is involved in the work of redemption. Now He does not send the Son, nor does He die on the cross, but He takes that work of redemption once-for-all accomplished by Christ and applies it to Christians. When considering the very entrance of any into the Kingdom of God it could only happen by means of the Spirit. New birth is Spirit-founded rebirth (cf. John 3:5-8).
The Holy Spirit is the chief worker of sanctification. In other words, He is the One who primarily cleanses Christians from the corruption of sin. He makes Christians holy. From first to last, the entirety of the Christian’s life is the outworking of the Spirit’s work. He convinces men of sin. He enables sinners to have godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). English Pastor-Theologian John Owen invites us to see the Spirit of God and “what are the supplies of grace which he bestows on them that do believe…” The Holy Spirit resides in believers so that they become temples of the Most High God.
Acclaimed author C. S. Lewis described this renovating work of God the Spirit to be akin to a house project. “Imagine yourself as a living house” Lewis writes. “God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on . . . But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of . . . You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Mere Christianity)
What Lewis puts before us is that same promise which Christ gave to His disciples on the night before He died. John 14-16 may be one of the riches storehouses of teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. There we learn of the Spirit’s future place of residence: us. The Lord Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17 ESV)
The Holy Spirit also came to comfort believers. Now this does not mean He comes along to make our pillows fluffy, and warm up our coffee when we’ve let it sit out for too long. The King James Bible translates the same word as “Comforter” which we saw used before as “Helper.” The literal meaning of the Greek word used by John is that the Spirit is one who is called alongside to help the believer. In secular Greek, such an individual assisted in the legal realm. He comes to strengthen believers as the Latin root suggest (confortare ‘to strengthen’). The Spirit has not chiefly come to give you a hug, but to enable you to kill the sins that lurk in your heart, which would devour you whole.
The Spirit makes the Bible precious to those who hate it. The Spirit raises the dead men as He sees fit. The Spirit renders the Lord’s Supper and Baptism more than mere memorials. The Spirit makes the work of the church effective, for He empowers every act so that the church may continue “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit,” that it may be “multiplied.” (Acts 9:31) What is the goal of the Spirit’s work? The renewal of the cosmos beginning with the hearts of Christ’s bride, the Church.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit [Spiritus Sanctus]
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.