All good gifts come to us from the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit. In every work of the Trinity, the Spirit is the one who brings the work to completion. He is especially associated with working within creation as the life-giving and fruit-producing agent of the Godhead. The Father speaks to us today through his Word. Christ, the Incarnate Word, is also the content of the Father’s saving speech. The Holy Spirit, who inspired Scripture, is at work within us to understand and embrace the gospel and to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Not only at work within us, the Holy Spirit actually indwells us as the down payment on our final salvation.
Following are answers to four common questions people have regarding how the Spirit works in our lives today:
1. What is authentic Christian experience?
Authentic Christian experience runs the full spectrum of human circumstances and emotion, from joy and vigor in the rich blessings of profound communion with Christ and his church, to apathetic listlessness at the humdrum monotony of daily existence within that communion, to sorrow and frustration over the seeming absence of Christ as we struggle with the same sins day in and day out, taking two steps back for every step forward.
Foremost, authentic Christian experience is determined by the written Word. In the Psalms, for example, we have a wide range of emotions with which to express our praise, laments, thanksgiving, and questions. While our experience within the Christian life will vary, it's important to remember that what the Father has declared to the believer in Christ and made effectual through the Spirit will never change.
When the Father has forgiven our sins by the blood of Jesus, declared us righteous by giving to us what Christ has earned, and the Holy Spirit has made that effective by baptism and the bread and wine of the Supper, we can be assured that no matter how we feel or how greatly we struggle, our forgiveness and righteousness are forever secured by his unchangeable decree. Whether our earthly pilgrimage is easy, hard, or a complex terrain of both, we can continue on knowing that the road certainly ends in the great and unspeakable bliss of finally being in the presence of the Lord forever.
2. Where does God speak today?
God speaks today through his Word, both preached and written. Through this Word the Spirit brings conviction of sin, faith in Christ, and instruction in everything necessary for faith and life. Even baptism and the Lord's Supper receive their efficacy from the Spirit through the Word. As signs and seals of his promises, the sacraments assure us of God's favor. Shaped by regular exposure to God's Word, we are able to view God, ourselves, each other, and our world with the proper “spectacles.” Even in matters not directly addressed by God's Word, the Scripture-saturated mind and heart are able to exercise godly discernment.
3. Where does God work today?
While God is pleased to work through various means (life circumstances, books, friends, and so on), it's important to distinguish how he can work from how he has promised to work. His sovereignty and power mean that he is able to work how and wherever he will, but Scripture shows us that he has promised to work in the hearts and lives of Christians by the Holy Spirit through the preached Word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While Christian conferences, Bible studies, ministries, and fellowship with friends in community can all serve to encourage and edify us in the Christian life, it's the Holy Spirit who takes the words of law and gospel, preached by God's ordained ministers, and uses them to bring about greater love of the Father and Christlikeness in the hearts, souls, and minds of believers. The Spirit also works through the ministry of elders and deacons, as well as the broader fellowship of the saints.
4. Where can we see signs and wonders today?
We can see signs and wonders every week during the divine service! The sign of Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing of our consciences is shown through baptism; and the wonder of our participation in his life, death, and resurrection is seen in the Lord’s Supper every time we eat the bread and drink the wine. While these signs aren't wondrous—certainly not as exciting as watching blind men see or dead men rise—Scripture assures us that it's through these plain, simple, and unimpressive acts that the Father has promised to meet us. He himself is there, washing away our sins with the water and feeding our souls in the bread and wine, assuring us that he is with us always, by the Spirit, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). Once again, God may work wonders whenever and wherever he chooses, but we expect to find his wonder-working power where he has promised to meet us.
Adapted from “Q & A on the Spirit with Michael S. Horton,” Modern Reformation Mar/April 2015.