By Reverend Mark Hunnemann
Many Christians can relate easily to Jesus because He is human, as well as God—and also being called the ‘Son’ is easily grasped on an emotional level. But the Holy Spirit, not to mention the Holy ‘Ghost’ (due to cold, paranormal connotations for some), seems to be less understood.
But once we are saved (through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit), what happens between our salvation and the time of our death? That is a long time…and the Holy Spirit is indispensable for the living of the Christian life. It is imperative that we understand what He does during our stay on earth. And certainly one of the greatest gifts of the New Covenant is the full indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers—I say ‘full’ because, in order to be saved in the OT, they had to have some measure of the Holy Spirit.
In our discussion of the Trinity, we talked about the full deity and personality of the Holy Spirit. What I want to focus on in this segment is what He does. I am going to put His work under four headings: empowerment, purifying, reveals, and unifies.
1. Empowerment: The great Cappadocian Father, Basil (330-379) stated that the Holy Spirit was ‘Christ’s inseparable companion.’ When Mary wondered aloud as to how she might get pregnant the Lord said: 35And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be borne will be called holy—the Son of God. (Luke 2:35) His virginal conception is accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus throughout His entire ministry and life.
As we shall see, from womb to tomb, the Holy Spirit was indeed Jesus’ constant companion. During the ‘hidden years’ we may assume that the Holy Spirit was with Jesus always. From the same psalm in which we have the terrible cry of dereliction, which Jesus screamed from the cross are these words, “Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Ps 22) We see a continuity of intimacy with God (through the Holy Spirit) throughout His life.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove, and then Mark tells us that the Spirit ‘drove’ Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. But the Spirit did not leave Him alone during this trial. And when He had defeated Satan, Luke says that He came out from this ordeal in the power of the Spirit and began His public ministry. (4:14)
Indeed, at Jesus’ first sermon He quoted from Isaiah 61: 1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;a
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound”
So, a defining trait of the coming Messiah, as foretold by Isaiah, would be that He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. We are told in the gospels that He drove demons out by the Spirit of God, revealing that the Kingdom had arrived. Finally, when Jesus rose from the dead we are told that the Spirit played a significant part in this as well.(Rom.1:4) And in His discourse in John 14-17, the coming of the Holy Spirit in His fullness was to be viewed as a gift. Jesus was the original Paraclete but He would send another, and He told His disciple (and us) that it was to our advantage that He leave, in order for the Holy Spirit to come in fullness—which occurred at Pentecost. I once had a case in which there was a mighty rushing of wind which shook the house but it was an unholy mimicry of Pentecost in my view.
If Jesus’ life was empowered by the Holy Spirit, then how much more does our life need to be empowered by Him! As Jesus said in John 15, without Him we can do nothing—nothing to please God that is.
“but be filled with the Spirit”, (Eph.5:18) This present participle indicates that though we receive the Holy Spirit definitely at conversion, there is an absolute need to continually keep being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ to be empowered to bear fruit.
We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is a Person (who can be grieved or pleased). That He empowers us does not mean that He is a celestial battery from which we gather energy—He is intensely Personal because he is the third Person of the Trinity. We commune with Him existentially (moment by moment).
Christ has baptized us by the Spirit into the Body of Christ in which we celebrate the diversity of Spirit given gifts because we need each other.(1 Cor. 12:13) And we too have access to the power of God in our lives and ministries. Through the Spirit and the work of Christ we have power over the demonic and Satan himself. God Himself dwells within believers! Do you consciously rely upon the Holy Spirit?
2. Second, the Holy Spirit purifies us. He makes us increasingly holy. Surely it is very significant that His name is the HOLY Spirit! He Himself is utterly morally pure, as well as being transcendent or set apart.
But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.(John 16:8-11)
In John 3:3-6 (Eph. 1-2) the Spirit awakens dead sinners to see their need of a Savior. He regenerates them and gives us the ability and desire to believe and repent. Without the work of the Holy Spirit applying the work of Christ, there would be no believers. But after initially purifying us through faith, He continues His role of sanctifier by changing us from one degree of glory to the next. (2 Cor. 3:18) Becoming more Jesus-like is the Spirit’s goal in our lives.
Over a period of time we should see change in our character. The fruit of the Spirit should become increasingly evident in our lives—an observable love which testifies to the Holy Spirit within. Problems with anger and bitterness should gradually be broken.
It is important that we pray before we make decisions, even for ministry opportunities or we may get there and a sense a deadness. Suppose you are in a situation in which you have made a commitment but something else important comes up and you are confused as to what to do. Instead of stressing out, say something like: ‘Father, I know that you have some resolution to this problem. Please reveal it to me.’ And wait to see what happens. It is easy to get stressed out and this one single bit of advice could change your life. Discerning the Spirit is a habit that takes trial and error for us to learn over time. I have made quick decisions which I wished later I had prayed more about. Is there anything in your life that needs purifying? We will all be ‘under construction’ until the Holy Spirit brings us home—He is the seal and guarantee of our glorification.
3. Thirdly, the work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal. “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”(2 Pet.1:21) Peter is saying that the OT prophets were guided by the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s mind and purposes to us. Many Christians are canonically challenged: meaning that they do not read the OT much. But every major doctrine in the NT finds its origin and foundation in OT, and probably within first 3 chapters of Genesis—and then expounded in more detail as OT progressed. I think we grieve the Holy Spirit when we do not read these books which is said to have been written by men ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Regarding the revealing of God in NT Jesus says: 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-14)
This is sometimes misapplied by Christians because clearly the primary meaning of this text is Jesus preparing His apostles for their foundational role in the church as being agents of revelation. Meaning that the primary focus of this text is the prediction of the coming NT—God’s written revelation.
So, to be empowered by the Holy Spirit we need to be men and women of the Word because the Holy Spirit speaks to us primarily to us through His Word.
When it comes to personal guidance by the Holy Spirit there are two opposite errors to avoid. The first is to be too subjective: ‘The Holy Spirit told me to do this, and He told me to do that.” There is a strong over-reliance on feelings to the neglect of the brain God gave us, and His Word (along with counsel of other people) I have seen the craziest things said and done all in the name of what people felt God had told them to do. It is interesting in the council of Acts 15 that there was a lot of discussion first, before coming to a conclusion: and they said that it ‘seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” The Holy Spirit usually does not bypass the brain in guiding us in specific situations.
The other error is to be too rational—relying too much on the brain to the neglect of the feelings/emotions and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Often after spending time in the Word and praying for a matter, and then waiting on God, a solution will come that ‘feels right’ and from the Lord. It is difficult to express this in words, but if we pray and wait upon the Lord, and not flip out when problems arise, then He will guide us. But this often comes in the form of advice from godly friends. Again, if you find yourself in a mess of a situation, then pray: ”Lord, I believe that You have a good solution to this.” And wait to see what happens—perhaps some new factor will arise or God will make it clear though His providence.
4. The Holy Spirit works to bring unity to believers. In the High Priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus actually says that the loving unity of believers is the final apologetic: an observable, costly love from Christians (especially to other believers) will testify to the truth of our faith. The world often separates over differences, but the diversity in the Body is God ordained and we need each other. God gives different passions and gifts to us as individuals, all within the unity of the Body.
Some evangelical leaders are compromising on the gospel by allying with Roman Catholics (whose view of salvation is seriously wrong) or rejecting penal substitution. The point is that in seeking unity, it must not be done at the expense of truth and the holiness and purity of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we have to set aside non-essential differences in order to give glory to God through the unity of believers. Some folks will call anyone ‘heretic’ who does not believe in every jot and tittle of their belief system. We have to rely on common sense and the leading of the Holy Spirit to know when to say ‘when’. Certain issues are non-negotiable and God the Holy Spirit does not want us to waffle on those in an attempt to have a shallow unity. Grace and truth, holiness and love—we need both to be bold and effective witnesses and to please the Holy Spirit.
Of all the Persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the most intimate with believers because He actually indwells us (and through Him, the Trinity). It should be our passion to walk moment by moment, keeping in step with the Spirit.
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.