Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our Forgotten God, the Holy Spirit: Part II

In our last post, we learned that the Holy Spirit was equal in Godhood to the Father and the Son, but He is often not treated as such. He dwells inside new believers for three primary purposes: to provide divine inspiration, to serve as witness to the New Covenant, and to be the conduit connecting us to God. In Ignatius’ analogy, the Holy Spirit can be thought of as the rope which connects us to the Cross, and which God uses to guide us into our proper locations.

In the course of researching this study, I identified exactly 100 individual New Testament passages which describe actions of the Holy Spirit and—sure enough—all of them neatly fit into the three categories of the Holy Spirit’s purposes described above. I broke it down by each Biblical author, and though Luke tended to focus on the action-oriented ones (inspiration and conduit), and Paul tended to focus on the philosophical ones (conduit and witness), overall it evened out: verses about divine inspiration accounted for 34% of the Holy Spirit’s actions, verses about serving as a witness accounted for 28%, and verses about being a conduit for grace constituted the remaining 38%. So it does not appear that any one of the three is more “dominant” or common than the others.

Let’s look at each individually and we will see how the Holy Spirit goes about fulfilling His role in our lives as inspirer, witness, and conduit.

Our Inspiration

When we study the thirty-plus explicit references to the Spirit’s divine inspiration, we quickly see that by far the most common method by which the Spirit inspires is through the Scripture. About 85% of the time that the New Testament talks about the Spirit inspiring someone, it refers to either the inspiration of the authors of the Old Testament or the inspiration given to believers who are preaching/teaching about the Scripture.

So we see then that there is both the past-tense mode of Scriptural inspiration (that the Spirit at one time inspired the Scriptural authors) and the present-tense mode (that the Spirit in an ongoing manner guides preachers and teachers to properly understand and explain His word). [1][2]

By all accounts in the New Testament, this seems to be the normal and standard mode of divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit: by inspiring the writing of the Scripture and inspiring our reading of the Scripture. Thus it is safe to say that some 85% of the time that the Holy Spirit speaks to you, it will be through the Scripture (either a personal Bible study or someone teaching about the Scripture).

It is true that a small portion of the time we see the Spirit inspiring through prophesy or vision, but these are all in the very rarest of events. Indeed, they almost exclusively are related to the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, the revelation of John which was part of inspiring Scripture (and thus really part of the 85% above), and the prophesies of Jesus Himself. We do see in Acts 11:28 that there were a few rare prophets wandering around the apostolic church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but these are exceedingly rare. [3]

So while we cannot exclude the possibility that the Spirit may lead a modern Christian through prophesy or visions, we can say that it is quite rare—normally He will speak through the Scriptures and teachings about the Scriptures. Further, we can say with certainty that a prophet will never contradict what the Spirit inspired in the Scriptures: the Spirit is of truth and always teaches and reinforces that Jesus is Lord; if we hear anything from a would-be prophet which disagrees with Scripture, then it may be disregarded:

“Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. …We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1John 4:3,6) [4]

Thus we may conclude that the normal mode of receiving inspiration from the Spirit is through study of His scriptures and hearing the teaching of those whom the Spirit is leading. On very rare occasions some have been given prophesies and visions, so we cannot dismiss such things out of hand; rather, they should be tested to see if they are in line with Scripture and if not, rejected.

Our Witness

The second role of the Holy Spirit is to provide a witness of the New Covenant made between God and man via the Christ. But what do we mean by His role as witness?

There are two opposite errors people make with regard to the New Covenant, and the Spirit actively opposes each error. The first error is to deny Jesus as Lord (such as is done by Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.); the second is to deny that believers are safe in Christ. Either of these is an attack on the sanctity of the New Covenant, and the Holy Spirit within our hearts is to give us the hope and comfort that we can be certain of our calling and our salvation.

We are told numerous times that the Holy Spirit is moving about in the world and reminding men that Jesus was the righteous Son of God, and should be worshipped as Lord. [5] The most explicit of these I quoted in my last post, but I think it bears repeating again:

“This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” [6]

Often overlooked by modern Christians, though, is how the Holy Spirit serves to reassure us about our own salvation. In 1Cor 3:17, Paul says that when we are joined to the Lord through salvation we “become one spirit with Him.” A consistent theme throughout Paul’s letters is to refer to the Holy Spirit not as our inspirer but rather as a “seal” or “guarantee” placed upon our hearts. [7] This seal identifies us as the sons of God [8] and is the all the proof we need of our relationship to Him. [9]

In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us is the proof that we have been saved – no matter what is going on around us. It is our guarantee that we will be with God. And providing us this security is the Holy Spirit’s way of providing us joy, comfort, and peace during difficult periods. [10]

Logically, if the receipt of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is to be our guarantee and comfort in times of struggle, how can we be certain that we have received Him? We will get into that a bit in the next post.

Our Conduit

Up until this point, I’m quite certain that all of my fellow Protestants are on board. We agree that the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture and preaching/teaching the Bible, and very, very rarely, through visions and dreams and prophesy. Also I’m sure that my Protestant friends were all on board with the Holy Spirit as the witness preaching Jesus to those around us, and that His presence within us seals the covenant of God and helps give us confidence in periods of weakness and oppression. So we’re all good up to this point.

But the next point is the one in which far too many Protestants fail. If I look critically at the faith I have chosen, this is where we too often neglect what the Scriptures teach, and worship our systematic theologies rather than the Holy Spirit. For the Bible is actually very, very clear that the Holy Spirit is the conduit or pathway by which we connect to God, and our earliest creeds in church history serve to remind us that He too is worthy of our worship.

Recall Ignatius’ analogy from last post: that the Holy Spirit is the rope which winds through our faith (the pulley) and connects us to Jesus. Yet I know far too many Protestants who—content in their Bible studies and day-to-day routines (and indeed, I am at times guilty of this as well)—give not a moment’s thought to the rope to which we are supposed to be clinging. We pray to God the Father; we ask it in the name of His Son…and that is it. We worship God as Creator and Jesus as Savior...and that is it. We ask the Father to use us for His plans, and we know that this can only be achieved because of the work of the Cross…and yet we do not “hold on tightly” to the rope that Jesus uses to place us in our spots.

The Holy Spirit is more than “just” the inspirer of the Scripture. Far, far more. Failing to acknowledge this results in a failure to worship God as He intended. Refusal to worship the Holy Spirit—yes, not just use the Holy Spirit but worship Him—is a failure to worship God as He is. The Holy Spirit is the part of God which is connecting us to the Father. God offers His hand to us, and His hand is the Spirit…how foolish are we if we refuse to hold it, and instead choose only to study the letters He wrote with that hand!

We are offered the same Spirit who inspired Paul and John and Peter every moment of the day. And indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who forms our conduit, our connection, to God. It is from the Holy Spirit that we receive the salvation Jesus earned for us on the cross. [11] It is the Holy Spirit who judges our hearts and empowers us to sanctification so that we might be more holy and pleasing to the Father. [12] The Holy Spirit is the conduit which connects us to God when we worship and pray. [13] The Holy Spirit in fact prays on our behalf, interceding to the Father with the desires of our hearts. [14] It is the Holy Spirit who whispers God’s calling into our hearts, telling us where to go, how to minister, and how to serve the Father. [15] And when we say the Jesus stepped down from heaven into Earth, we are not telling the full truth: the reality is Jesus was carried to Earth and placed in Mary’s womb under the power of the Holy Spirit. [16]

In addition, it is from the Holy Spirit that we receive spiritual gifts and through Him that we develop spiritual fruits. The Bible tells us of many kinds of spiritual gifts received over time. After receiving the Spirit, the apostles were able to speak in a variety of foreign languages such that everyone could understand them—the appropriate term for this is xenoglossy, the speaking of a language which was unknown to the speaker. [17] At other times in the New Testament (three times, to be precise), we see Christians receive a spiritual gift of glossolalia, commonly calling “speaking in tongues.” This appears to be the speaking of languages which are nonsensical to our ears, but which can be interpreted by others to share the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. This generally seems to occur shortly after conversion, but Paul says that it continued in him for many years. [18] Other spiritual gifts include the ability to prophesy, wisdom, miraculous healing, and the like. [19] The goal of the Spirit is to make us people who are loving, kind, joyful, peaceful, patient, good, faithful, gentle, and demonstrate self-control. [20] Now of course, many of you reading this wish to know the ultimate question: are such gifts still given today, or not? For that, you must wait until the next post. For today, we merely wish to point out from the Scriptures that such gifts have been recorded as being given to early Christians—and not only apostles, but everyday church members as well. However, not all Christians showed these types of gifts: of the 3,000 saved on Pentecost, they were amazed at the miraculous works done by the apostles, clearly implying that they themselves were not experiencing such miracles. [21]

Conclusion – Part II

In Part I, we saw that the Holy Spirit was God—neither more nor less God than the Father or Jesus. There is only one God, and the Spirit is an active and important part of it. Indeed, one could argue that He is the most important part to us in the church age, for it is the Spirit who is manifest for us today. Many Christians make to little of the Spirit, instead glorifying an action or work of the Spirit (Scripture, speaking in tongues, prayer, miracles, prophesy, etc.) rather than the Spirit Himself.

In Part I we also learned that the Spirit, according to Himself through Scripture, has three basic reasons for being here: to provide inspiration, to provide witness, and to provide a conduit to God. Today we explored each of those.

Today, we learned a few things about how the Spirit achieves this role.

We found that, in order to fulfill his role of divine inspiration, the normal and common method is through the past inspiration of Scripture and the present interpretation of Scripture; on a much rarer (but still real) basis, He speaks through prophesies and visions.

We found that in order to fulfill His role as witness, the Holy Spirit speaks about Jesus into all men’s hearts, proclaiming Him as righteous Lord. Furthermore, when we receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts He bonds with our spirits, and provides a seal and guarantee of the New Covenant so that in times of struggle or oppression we may rely upon this for hope, peace, and joy.

Finally, we found that the Holy Spirit is our conduit, the connection to God. We cannot pray to the Father except through the conduit of the Spirit—any more than a rock can lift itself up to a building without being tied to a rope. The Holy Spirit is the part of God which is connected to us, and it is to Him and through Him that we pray and worship—and from Him that we receive God’s blessings and gifts and calling for our lives.

In our next post, let us see how we should—and should not—respond to the Holy Spirit.


[1] Spirit inspiring Scripture when it was written: Matt 22:43, Mark 12:36; Luke 4:18; Acts 1:2-5, 4:25, 28:25; Eph 3:5; Heb 3:7, 9:8; 1Pet 1:21; 1 Thess 1:5; 1 Tim 4:1; Rev 2:7-29, 3:6-22. There are many, many more New Testament quotes of the Old Testament; however, I am counting here only texts which explicitly state that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible.
[2] Spirit inspiring the interpretation of Scripture by preaching or teaching: Matt 10:20; Mark 13:11; Luke 1:15-17, 12:12; Acts 2:17-18, 4:8, 6:10, 7:55, 15:28, 21:11; Rom 15:16, 19; 1Cor 2:10-14; 1Thess 1:5.
[3] Spirit inspiring prophesy or visions: Luke 1:67, 2:25-27; Acts 11:28; John 3:34; Revelation (all one vision: 1, 4:2, 14:13, 17:3, 21:10)
[4] Also: John 15:26; Acts 13:9; Rom 1:4; 1Cor 12:3; 2Tim 1:14
[5] John 1:32-33, 14:16-26, John 15:26; Acts 5:32; Rom 1:4; 1Cor 12:3; Heb 2:4; 1Tim 3:16; 1Jo 5:6-8
[6] 1Jo 5:6-8
[7] 2Cor 1:22, 5:5, 6:6; Eph 1:13, 4:30
[8] Rom 8:11, 14, 16-17
[9] Heb 10:15; 1Jo 3:24; 1Jo 4:13
[10] Acts 9:31, 13:52; Rom 14:17, 15:13; Gal 5:5; 1Thes 1:6; Phil 1:19; 1Pet 4:14
[11] John 6:63, 7:39; Rom 5:5, 8:6-9, 11; Gal 6:8; 2Cor 3:6; Tts 3:5
[12] John 16:7-14; Rom 2:29; Gal 5:16-25; Eph 2:22, 3:16; Phil 2:1; 2Thess 2:13; 1Pet 1:2
[13] Luke 10:21; Rom 8:26-27; Eph 2:8; Heb 9:14; Phil 3:3; Jude 20; Rev 1:10
[14] Gal 4:6; Rev 22:17
[15] Matt 4:1; Luke 4:1; Acts 1:8, 2:4, 8:29, 10:19-20, 11:12, 13:2, 13:4, 19:21, 20:22-23, 20:28, 21:4
[16] Matt 1:18-20; Luke 1:35-41
[17] Acts 2
[18] Acts 10:46, 19:2-6; 1Cor 14:2-19
[19] 1Cor 12:4-11
[20] Gal 5:16-25
[21] Acts 2:38-43

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