The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit

The Great Commission is, quite rightly, one of the texts of Scripture that Christians know best. Jesus told His disciples,

All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. — Matthew 28:18-20

The Trinitarian form of Christian baptism — believers baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is one of the clearest and most familiar biblical testimonies to our triune God.

The Trinity is an unfathomable doctrine. No Christian can exhaust its meaning.

At the same time no Christian can deny the Trinity, and this text helps us to understand why this is true. To know the one true God is to know Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Where true Christianity is found, the affirmation of the Trinity is found.

One way to understand the doctrine of the Trinity is to consider that the doctrine emerged out of a need to affirm and explain that God is one — and yet also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Monotheism is basic and ascribed to God as revealed in both the Old and New Testaments. The Shema, the most central verse of Israel’s faith, sets this truth majestically:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. — Deuteronomy 6:4

That single verse could not be clearer. The entire Bible testifies that God is One.

Yet, at the same time and without the slightest consideration, the Bible also reveals and affirms the following propositions:

  1. The Father is God.
  2. The Son is God.
  3. The Holy Spirit is God.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the faithful churches’ way of holding all these revealed truths together, consistently and without confusion.

Looking back at the Great Commission, the pattern of Christian truth became crystal clear, even commanding baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As one of the most cherished hymns of the Christian faith elaborates, we praise God as “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

In the seventh grade I entered into my first real theological controversy. It all began in the school cafeteria when a classmate began arguing about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and she then began to question the legitimacy of my church and my theology. My classmate was caught up in the excitement of the charismatic movement, then resurgent on the American religious landscape.

I found myself arguing with my friend, but as I tried to frame my arguments, I came to an embarrassing realization — I didn’t know enough about the Holy Spirit. As I later learned, I was not alone.

Many Christians fall shamelessly short in understanding the Holy Spirit, or the third person of the Trinity. When we confess together, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we believe as Jesus Christ taught His church to believe. This phrase of the creed contains only six words, but these are six thundering words, revealing the mystery of God and reminding believers of our continual dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Despite the glories contained in this affirmation of the creed, so few of us today have any familiarity with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, or what theologians call pneumatology. In some evangelical circles the Holy Spirit has faded into the background of our theological interests, leaving us with an anemic view of the Spirit, and subsequently, a deficient relationship with the third member of the Trinity. Jesus Himself said,

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. — John 16:7

Jesus told His disciples and all of us that to have the Spirit is actually better than to have the physical Christ in our presence. Astounding as this claim is, how often do believers think of the Spirit and His ministry? Do we really believe the words of Jesus found in John 16?

Our silence on the Spirit indicts our faith, dampens our worship, robs our churches, empties the gospel of its beauty, and fails to glory in the resplendent mystery of the Trinity. The reason for our silence, perhaps, stems from the innumerable misunderstandings and misappropriations of the doctrine of the Spirit. The endless debates and controversies have plagued Christian spirituality, causing many of us to shrink away from pneumatology altogether. Falling away and surrendering the ground of the truth of the Spirit, however, subverts our own spirituality and those who espouse false notions of the Spirit. We must not remain silent about this glorious doctrine. We must press head-on into the Scriptures and uncover the beauty that the Apostles’ Creed affirms in this short article, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

The Ministry of the Spirit: John 14-16

As Jesus prepared for His passion, He left His disciples with parting words of comfort. He knew the trouble and anguish in their souls as they came to terms with the reality that they would not be with their Master much longer. Jesus, therefore, instructed them on the ministry of the Spirit and the crucial role He would exert in their lives and ministry. In these three chapters, Jesus detailed the inexplicable joy of the gift of the Spirit, and our pervasive need for His coming (John 14-16). Jesus described the Spirit as the One who abides, the One who teaches, the One who testifies, and the One who bears truth.

The Spirit Who Abides

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

No doubt, fear and panic flooded the disciples’ hearts and minds as they listened to the Lord Jesus for the last time. They had followed Him, loved Him, and found their purpose in Him. Indeed, Peter exclaimed,

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. — John 6:68

The disciples recognized, as we must, that without God we have no hope, no life. Without God we are dead and helpless. The fear of being left behind without Jesus gnawed away at the hearts of the disciples.

Jesus, however, promised not to leave them as orphans. The promise He gave to the disciples extends even to us. He uttered eternal words of comfort in saying that the Spirit would come. Not only would the Spirit come, but He would dwell with the disciples. Not only would he dwell with Christ’s disciples, He would dwell in them. Jesus promised an unfathomable unity and inexplicable bond that will exist between the people of God and the Holy Spirit. The intimacy of the believer and the Spirit rises to the sacred language of abiding. The Spirit himself, the third member of the Trinity, abides in you, in me, and in all who belong to Jesus Christ through faith.

The Spirit’s ministry of abiding in us restores all hope and secures us on the sure foundation of faith.

Even when the Enemy assails us, he cannot overcome us because the Spirit dwells in us. As the Spirit abides in us, the full presence of God is among us and in us. The Holy Spirit, therefore, explains how the church survives and how the gospel spreads to the ends of the earth. The Spirit abiding in us explains how you and I can hear the words of the Bible not as the words of man but as God’s revealed truth. Indeed, the Spirit’s presence in you explains why you have life.

Jesus promised the Spirit as an abiding presence forever. Thus, the Spirit does not come in seasons of difficulty only. The Spirit does not flee from you when you continually struggle with sin. His presence in you does not hinge upon your obedience or effort. His presence in you rests upon the infinite grace and love of God for you. God knows that without the Spirit, we will perish. He promises the Spirit, therefore, to dwell intimately in us, forever.

Excerpted with permission from The Apostles Creed by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., copyright Fidelitas Corporation, R. Albert Mohler Jr., LLC.

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Your Turn

The Person we know as the Holy Spirit is the most mysterious part of the blessed Trinity. Some might imagine Him as a puff of smoke, or some ghostly presence, or maybe not think about Him at all. And yet, if we have received Christ as our Savior, He is with us and within us to counsel, comfort, convict, empower, and give us new life! Do you believe that the Spirit within you is a better thing than if you were physically present with Jesus when He walked the earth? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

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Albert Mohler

R. Albert Mohler Jr. has been called “one of America’s most influential evangelicals” (Economist) and the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement” (Time.com). The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he writes a popular blog and a regular commentary, available at AlbertMohler.com, and hosts two programs: “The Briefing” and “Thinking in Public.” He is the author of many books, including We Cannot Be Silent, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and on programs such as NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He and his wife, Mary, in Louisville, Kentucky.

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