The Christian and the Holy Spirit
God is often glorified as the One in Three and Three in One, and some provision is made regarding the Father; the Son is highly praised for His life, death, resurrection, and lordship, and the salvation offered through His sacrifice. Attitudes toward the Spirit, however, vary considerably.
Many prove enthusiastic about the Holy Spirit, to put it mildly. In their assemblies they put strong emphasis on what they believe to be the work of the Spirit among them. They speak more about the Spirit than they do about the Father or the Son. They address the Spirit frequently and believe the Spirit to be constantly communicating with them about all manner of issues, mundane and profound. And yet, for all the enthusiasm for the Spirit, substantive knowledge of what He has made known through the prophets and the Apostles is often lacking. All too often their thoughts and feelings get “baptized in the Spirit” and become justified as if it is the Spirit working in them, and yet their words and deeds often prove inconsistent with what the Spirit has made known.
And yet, for many others, one might be forgiven for wondering the same thing as the disciples of John in Acts 19:1-9, unsure whether God has even given the Spirit. Many such people may confess that the Holy Spirit exists, yet in practice they have completely conflated the Spirit with the revelation the Spirit has given in Scripture. In the extreme some such people manifest characteristics of “Christian deism”: God did great and wonderful things until the Apostles died, and ever since things have just carried on without much divine intervention. Such people may have a strong command of what God has made known in Scripture, yet knowledge of the Spirit, and perhaps even knowledge of God in Christ, may not go beyond the end of the written page.
Let none be deceived: part of the work of the Holy Spirit did involve communicating God’s purposes to mankind. The prophets would speak the “word of YHWH”; Peter declared that such men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit to do so (2 Peter 1:21). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave messages to the churches through John, and yet He wished for the Christians of Asia Minor to hear what the Spirit said to the churches (Revelation 2:1-3:21): even Jesus’ messages were often mediated by the Spirit. In the Bible, therefore, we have the revelation of God to man through the Holy Spirit so we may come to know of God and the salvation He has accomplished in Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been fully delivered (Jude 1:3); therefore, we have no basis upon which to believe the Holy Spirit continues to be given for people to speak in tongues, prophesy, or provide new spiritual knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
Whereas the Bible contains many instances of people making direct appeals to God the Father and even the Lord Jesus Christ, the text contains no instance of anyone making a direct appeal to the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Scriptures emphasize how the Father sends the Spirit on account of the Son (John 14:26, Acts 2:33, 38). The Holy Spirit directed Paul to write what is found in 1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40 precisely because the Corinthian Christians had allowed the exercise of spiritual gifts to go to their heads: it had become all about the exercise of spiritual gifts, not about love and mutual building up through what God had given. We may know the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error from what people say and do (1 John 4:1-4): any claim anyone would make regarding “what the Spirit told them” is suspicious. The Apostles, whom we all confess to have been inspired by the Spirit, did not rely on claims of being inspired by the Spirit to communicate the Gospel: instead, they relied upon the message which the Spirit gave them to speak, confirming it with their witness and the witness of David and the prophets (e.g. Acts 2:14-36). If it is truly made known in the Spirit, it is found in the Scriptures; if it cannot be found in or consistent with the Scriptures, it is not really from the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit did not glorify Himself; and yet He does communicate in Scripture regarding His continued relationship with those who are saved in Christ. Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as a “down payment” on salvation (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14); John declared how we may know we abide in God because He has given us of His Spirit (1 John 4:13); Christians individually and collectively have the Spirit dwelling in them (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, Ephesians 2:18-21). The Spirit prays for Christians, interceding with the Father through the Son with groaning too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27). When immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins Christians are baptized into one body, the church, in the Spirit: to this end Christians must be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit they share through the reconciliation they have gained with God and each other in Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:3). God strengthens Christians in their inner being through His Spirit (Ephesians 3:16); through that Spirit He would be powerfully at work in and through us, and by that Spirit He will raise us from the dead (Romans 8:9-11, Ephesians 3:20-21). The Spirit works to sanctify us, making us holy, empowering us to manifest His fruit (Galatians 5:19-21, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2).
Christians do well to navigate between the Scylla of enthusiasm and the Charybdis of Christian deism in regards to their relationship with the Spirit. As God the Holy Spirit is love does not coerce or compel; He does not force anyone to convert, become holy, or anything of the sort (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 4:8). We do not know–and cannot know–the working of the Spirit beyond that which He has made known to us in the revelation of Scripture; we can never know for certain whether a matter is of the Spirit or is of our subconscious or even perhaps a demonic temptation. It would be foolish for us to presume everything we think or feel comes from the Spirit; but would it not be equally foolish for us to presume everything we think or feel has no relationship with the spiritual realm and just involves our subconscious? Likewise, in humility, we may feel hesitant to consider a matter as coming from God or directed by Him in the Spirit since we cannot know it for certain; and yet, is it also not presumptuous to deny God the glory for what He may well have done to accomplish His purposes in our lives?
God’s purpose in Christ is for all mankind to be one with Him as He is One in Himself (John 17:20-23); the Holy Spirit has an important role in God’s work of reconciling mankind to God and to each other. The Holy Spirit has communicated the message of this work God has accomplished through the prophets and the Apostles in Scripture. In Scripture the Holy Spirit also attested to His presence in the life of the believer unto empowerment in sanctification. We must not fear developing a relationship with the Spirit in God through Christ on account of the excesses of enthusiasm; we must not get carried away in enthusiasm from what God has made known in Scripture. May we glorify God in Christ through the Spirit, obtain the assurance of God in the Spirit, and seek to live faithful lives empowered by the Spirit!
Ethan R. Longhenry