The accusation is often made that people in the reformed and presbyterian tradition do not focus enough on the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve all heard the accusation. Pentecostals and charismatics focus on the Spirit’s work, and let’s face it, we’re not them. Reformed people, defending our high view of the Spirit, will comment on how the Spirit’s work is focused on Christ and the Spirit’s ministry is to bring to remembrance the things that Jesus Christ taught (John 14). This is true; but do we give the due reverence that the Spirit deserves in our lives and in our ministries?
The ancient creed of Nicea confesses, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified…” We worship the Spirit, along with the Father and the Son. This is confessed as reformed people. Although it is confessed, because of the errors in pentecostal and charismatic traditions, it seems that the work of the Spirit is not talked about much in the reformed church. Sure, we talk about the Holy Spirit’s central role in salvation. Salvation is all of the Spirit. We talk about the the Spirit’s role in the sanctification of believers. But in the day-to-day life of the Christian, how much time do we spend thinking of the Spirit and how much he provides for us as we live lives unto the glory of God?
Several years ago I was challenged by a couple of women in my congregation to teach on the Spirit. Five or six years passed and I had yet to meet the challenge.
Was I afraid to teach on the Spirit?
Did I hold to a theoretical view of the Spirit’s work in my life?
A lot of self-examination accompanied my meditations on my own relationship with the Third Person of the Trinity. As I slowly began to put together a teaching series on the Spirit, I noticed some interesting things. One was that occasionally reformed people would refer to the Holy Spirit as “it.” I saw that pronoun used in discussions online. I also heard the pronoun used in conversation. The Holy Spirit is not an it, but a he. The Spirit is God, who along with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified. Another thing that I noticed over time was that when reformed people talk of the Spirit, it is often in a defensive or negative way. We speak against the abuses more than we speak of the positive role of the Spirit. This was intriguing to me.
A third pattern that I noticed related to the Spirit was that reformed people talk almost exclusively of the Spirit in relationship to soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Is our pneumatology strictly soteriological?
Five or six years passed and I took up the challenge to teach on the Spirit. As I studied and meditated on the Spirit’s person and work, I found that a greater love for the Spirit— worshiped and glorified— led to a greater love for the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit was the constant companion, comfort, and counselor to the Lord Jesus Christ during his earthly life, and the Spirit ought to be our constant companion, comfort, and counselor as we make our pilgrim journey from this life to the next.
What was the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus Christ while he lived and ministered on earth?
The ministry of the Spirit in the life of Christ began at his conception. The monikered Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” This is taught in the New Testament (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:35) and remains one of the great mysteries of our faith. The how and what will not be known until eternity, but the human nature and flesh of Christ was created within the womb of a virgin.
As Jesus grew, his reliance upon the Spirit grew as well. Luke 2:40 says that Jesus grew in wisdom, which is attributed to the work of the Spirit in Isaiah 11. A young boy teaching the theologians of his day was able to do so because the Spirit was equipping his human nature.
At his baptism the Lord Jesus was set apart for his public ministry. The gospels record that the voice of the Father proclaimed, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17).” As the Father proclaimed this approval and pleasure, it was the Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, that descended and set Jesus apart for his public ministry. He was equipped to preach the good news (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1).
When you think of the miracles of Christ, would you think it wrong to attribute them to the work of the Spirit? Ask a friend this question, “In the gospels, who healed the blind, turned water into wine, and raised the dead?” Your friend would rightly answer Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who performed miracles as evidence of his messiahship. But that’s only part of the story. Acts 2:22, speaking of Christ’s miracles says that they were miracles “that God did by him.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ. And when Jesus was confronted for these miracles in Matthew 12, he attributes his work to the Spirit as well. He is accused of performing miracles by Beelzebub, and Jesus says that this is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s work of miracles is intimately connected with the Spirit of God.
The Spirit is called the Comforter. We know this is true in the life of the believer, and it was also true in the life of Christ. When Jesus was driven to the wilderness to pray and meditate, the Word of God says that it was the Spirit who directed him. The Spirit drove him to places of comfort so that he could minister to him. The Third Person of the Trinity comforting the Second Person of the Trinity. If Jesus needed that consolation, how much more do you need the Spirit’s work in your life? The Puritan John Owen said, “By the Spirit was Christ directed, strengthened, and comforted in his whole course- in all his temptations, troubles, and sufferings, from first to last… In and under them he stood in need of mighty support and strong consolation.” Works, 3.175
Passion and Sacrifice
As Jesus prepared for the cross and endured the suffering of the cross, it was the Holy Spirit who sustained him through all of that time. The full wrath against sin was being poured out onto the God-man, Jesus Christ. As that wrath was poured out, Jesus sweat blood, he plead for another way if possible, he endured suffering for the sake of the elect. How was it humanly possible for Jesus to endure the full wrath of God against sin? It was the Spirit’s work that upheld Christ, and comforted Christ, and sustained him through the offering of himself upon the cross. Hebrews 9:14 says that the offering of Christ was “through the eternal Spirit.” Even on the cross-- a mournful time of suffering in which most Christians meditate on the the relationship between the Father and Son in securing salvation-- the Spirit is present with Christ, offering help and hope in the midst of wrath.
The Dead Body of Christ
When Christ was taken down from the cross, he was placed in a tomb. His soul was in glory and his body was in the grave. Acts 2:31 and Psalm 16:10 instruct us in the fact that while he lay in the tomb, the Spirit continued to minister to his dead body as his flesh was preserved from corruption. Calvin, commenting on Psalm 16 says, “These words… denote not so much the quality and condition of the place… inasmuch as his body, even when dead, will not be subject to corruption. Besides, we know that the grave of Christ was filled, and as it were embalmed with the life-giving perfume of his Spirit, that it might be to him the gate to immortal glory.”
Even as he was dead, the Spirit continued to minister to his flesh.
After three days the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead. The Spirit does this work as well. First Peter 3:18 says that Jesus was put to death and quickened by the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:11 says that he laid down his life and the Spirit raised him up.
It is clear that the life of the Lord Jesus Christ was a life dependent upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit. How much more do you need the Spirit of God in your life? If the Second Person of the Trinity was reliant upon the Spirit from womb to tomb, how much more is your reliance upon him? You were not conceived miraculously, yet you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Your dead body will see corruption, but your body will remain in union with Christ until the resurrection (Shorter Catechism Q37).
As one who professes Jesus Christ, you too must rely on the work of the Spirit from womb to tomb. Search the Scriptures to see his work. Do not be afraid to drink deeply of and profess joyfully the Spirit’s work. Do not let other’s errors of fixation on the Spirit’s work lead you to become a theoretical professor of the Spirit’s work. Search the Scriptures and find joy in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.