This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(53) Q. What do you believe concerning “the Holy Spirit”?
A. First, that the Spirit, with the Father and the Son, is eternal God. Second, that he is given also to me,so that, through true faith, he makes me share in Christ and all his benefits,comforts me,and will remain with me forever.
In the days after Jesus’s physical return to heaven, the disciples were waiting. Jesus had commissioned them to be his witnesses in a hostile world. But they lacked the power to take the first step. What was missing from their lives? The Holy Spirit. But the disciples weren’t waiting for the energy of an impersonal force. They were waiting for Jesus to answer his promise to always be with them (Matt. 28:20).
The Holy Spirit’s ministry is truly the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. He alone can transform us from natural to spiritual people. He’s the other comforter (John 14:16) who can bring joy into seemingly hopeless situations. Unless we experience the Spirit’s comfort, we’ll seek consolation in the wrong places. Unsatisfied, we’ll be half-hearted in worship and in kingdom work. Knowing the Holy Spirit is a matter of spiritual life or death.
Who Is the Spirit?
Some people say that the Holy Spirit isn’t a distinct person of the Trinity; they think of the Spirit as God’s energy or the way of describing God’s presence. But Scripture reveals the Spirit as a unique divine person. He can be lied to (Acts 5:3) and grieved (Isa. 63:10; Eph. 4:30). Jesus described the Spirit as a personal being like himself (John 14:26). Here’s how Jesus previewed the coming of the Spirit: “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26). Put more briefly, the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”[i] So the Holy Spirit is clearly distinct from the first and second persons of the Trinity.
At the same time, the Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son in divinity, glory, majesty, eternality, and immensity. The Athanasian Creed summarizes Scripture’s teaching: “We worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confounding their persons nor dividing their essence.”[ii] We may not collapse the three persons into one or split the divine essence into three. With the Father (Mal. 2:10) and the Son (John 1:3), the Spirit created the world; at the beginning “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). And while the three persons of the Trinity are never separated in their perfect works, the Father can be called creator, the Son deliverer, and the Spirit sanctifier—the Holy Spirit works to make the unholy more holy.
The Spirit has had a two-phase ministry among God’s people. From the creation of the world until the completion of Jesus’s earthly ministry, the Spirit helped God’s people perform special tasks. He moved prophets to speak (Num. 11:26), leaders to rule (Judges 3:10), and craftsmen to design and build with excellence (Exod. 31:3). But God’s people were still waiting for the Spirit to be “poured upon” them “from on high” (Isa. 32:15). Jesus’s incarnation began to fulfill the people’s expectations of the Spirit’s powerful ministry. The Spirit anointed Jesus as prophet, priest, and king (Isa. 42:1). And Jesus promised to leave the Spirit with his people following his death and departure. He said, “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). This helper is the “Spirit of truth,” the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). At Pentecost, Christ poured out his Spirit so God would always be with all his people, supplying their every need according to God’s riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
How Does the Spirit Benefit Believers?
The Holy Spirit is the agent who carries out God’s work of bringing the elect from death to life, changing who they are by working from the inside (John 3:5–8). As he regenerates his people, he grants true faith. Faith restores the lost bond of trust between God and his people. It connects us to Christ in a way that our meager attempts to fulfil the law never could. Every benefit of salvation comes from God’s Spirit-worked gift of faith. The Catechism’s three-fold, Trinitarian division of the Creed shows how all the remaining benefits of God’s gracious salvation—community, forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life—flow from the Spirit. So how can we summarize the Spirit’s blessed ministry?
The Spirit makes believers share in Christ and all his blessings.
Christianity isn’t just about believing in Jesus; it is about being united to him, connected to him, belonging to him. The Spirit who lives within us is our link to God (1 Cor. 6:17). Being spiritually united with Christ, God’s children also share all of his benefits. Christ gains for us new life through his death and resurrection. But we’re born into this new life through the work of the Spirit. Through sanctification, the Spirit constantly causes us to die to sin and come alive to righteousness (1 Pet. 1:2). He teaches us the rule of purity (1 Cor. 3:16). He convicts us of sin and our lack of righteousness (John 16:8). He frees “us of doubts, anxieties, and temptations,” and continues to work his “sanctifying grace in us even as we sleep.”[iii]
The Spirit comforts believers.
Comforter is his name (John 15:26 KJV)! And as our comforter, he coaches our spirits to confidently trust God in the midst of heartache and uncertainty (Acts 9:31). Believers are children of God (1 John 3:1). But we so easily forget, or fail to believe that it’s true. So the Spirit testifies to our adoption (Rom. 8:16), convincing us that we’re accepted by God, belong to God, and have an inheritance from God. The Spirit comforts believers by guaranteeing to us all of God’s promises (2 Cor. 1:20–22), including the gospel’s ultimate promise of perfect fellowship with God. Because the Spirit works through the word, the best way to experience his comforting work is to be committed to hearing God’s word.
The Spirit remains with believers forever.
When the disciples learned that Christ would be going back to heaven, they feared they’d be left alone. But Christ assures them that he wouldn’t leave them orphans but would come to them (John 14:18). In the flesh he couldn’t be with all believers at once. He fulfilled this promise when he sent his Spirit. Christians have, and can never lose, the same Spirit that hovered over the face of the waters in creation and who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit will go with us even through death as he recreates us. Even in our darkest hour, we can never be alone. God’s children can’t lose God’s grace because the Spirit will never leave.
Rest in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Trust that, by the Spirit, Christ will never leave us or forsake us. Submit to the Spirit’s sanctifying work in your life. And thank God for his life-saving gift.
[i] Athanasian Creed, 23.
[ii] Athanasian Creed, 3, 4.