‘I believe in the Holy Spirit’
Timothy Cross continues looking at the Apostles’ Creed
Apart from the Holy Spirit’s working in our souls we would not and could not become Christians. God imparts his divine grace to us through the blessed agency of the Spirit.
From Scripture, we learn that the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force or mere influence. He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), has a teaching ministry (John 14:26) and has ‘will’ (1 Corinthians 12:11) – all characteristics of personality, as is the fact that he has an intercessory ministry (Romans 8:27). Only a person prays.
The Holy Spirit is coequal with the Father and Son in the unity of the Holy Trinity. In the formidable incident concerning the hypocrisy and judgement of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter’s reprimand was: ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit … You have not lied to men but to God’ (Acts 5:3-4).
The Holy Spirit is God. He possesses all the divine attributes of omnipresence (Psalm 139:7), omniscience (1 Corinthians 2:10), omnipotence (Zechariah 4:6) and eternity (Hebrews 9:14).
The Spirit is also self-effacing. He does not draw attention to himself, but to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said of him, ‘He will glorify me’ (John 16:14). Perhaps the chief way he does this is by applying Christ’s finished work of redemption – ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5) – to the human soul.
The redemption accomplished by Christ at Calvary is only made effective in a person’s life when personally applied by the Holy Spirit. We are powerless to save ourselves. Spiritually dead in sins as we are by birth, we can no more bring about our second birth than we brought about our first birth.
Only the Spirit of God can impart salvation to us. Only he can bestow the new birth, convicting us of our sin and need and enabling us to trust the crucified and resurrected Christ as our personal Saviour. Paul explained: ‘No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Salvation, then, is a matter of a redemption accomplished and applied. It was accomplished by Christ at Calvary. It is applied to the human soul by the Holy Spirit.
The ongoing life of the Christian is also very much a ‘life in the Spirit’. The description of the early church as ‘walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 9:31) is descriptive of normative Christianity.
The Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus with us day by day. Jesus promised ‘I will not leave you desolate, I will come to you’ (John 14:18). He fulfilled this by sending the Spirit. ‘By this we know that he abides with us, by the Spirit which he has given us’ (1 John 3:24).
The Spirit is as essential for sanctification as for salvation. Holiness is impossible without the Holy Spirit’s aid. He brings glory to Christ by enabling Christians to live Christ-like lives. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22).
Even the finest Christians are still plagued by indwelling sin. Yet the Holy Spirit enables them to grow in grace and overcome habits displeasing to God. It is ‘by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body’ (Romans 8:13), that is, mortify the vices of the lower nature.
The chief, private means of grace for the Christian are Bible reading and prayer. When we read the Bible, God speaks to us. When we pray, we speak to God. Again, the Spirit’s aid is indispensable.
As the Spirit is the ultimate author of the Bible, he is the Bible’s best interpreter. Hence we pray for his illumination when we open the sacred pages. ‘Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law’ (Psalm 119:18); ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit helps us pray. We all find prayer difficult at times, but ‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words’ (Romans 8:26).
In the Christian life, there are no ‘elite’ and no ‘ordinary’ Christians, for every Christian is indwelt by and promised the extraordinary aid of the Spirit of God himself. He is indispensable for salvation, sanctification and Christian service. So it is that every Christian is exhorted to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:11) – to know more and more of the transforming power which only he can bring.
He is there for the asking, for Jesus said, ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’ (Luke 11:13).