God the Holy Spirit


In our study of the Trinity we have come to the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. And as we examine what some theologians have spoken of as the "shy member of the Trinity," I think it is so important that we emphasize once again that there is no subordination of nature in the Godhead. Don't ever think of Son or Spirit as being in any way inferior in nature to the Father. They are all of one undivided divine substance. They are all equally and fully God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, equal in all the divine attributes.

And so I thought I would read to you from an ancient creed to show to you how they made these fine distinctions in the early church. This is the excellent Athanasian Creed. And I think you will see that he was a master at condensing many paragraphs into a few words. I've left out some sections, not because they are not good, but just to save time and space. The Athanasian Creed agrees with me that this doctrine of the Trinity is essential for Christians to affirm and we must not recognize as Christians those who have heretical views on the Trinity. It affirms what I said in the first sermon, that Old Testament saints and early believers all believed the doctrines of the Trinity. Anyway, let's work through this. That first phrase is a very important one.

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity...

There he is opposing both polytheism and Unitarianism. But he is also opposing any concepts which separated the Persons of the Trinity. Orthodoxy holds that what one Person does, the others are involved in. As the early church father Gregory Nazianzen said, "No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one." He was saying that while you can distinguish them as a Trinity, yet they are a unity. The Athanasian Creed goes on to say:

Neither confounding the Persons [that's opposing modalism], nor dividing the Substance...

That's opposing Arianism. And I won't comment on every phrase here, but every phrase is carefully crafted to rule out some aspect of some heresy.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal… The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Ghost uncreated... The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal… So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, there be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father [and of the Son], neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

That's as far as we will read. It would be fun sometime to give a thorough exposition of the Athanasian Creed to show what each phrase was opposed to, but the main thing I wanted to stress this morning is that we must not think of the Spirit as being inferior to the Father in nature just because He has a lesser role. There is no subordinationism in nature. That is heresy. It is so important to keep in mind that each Person of the Trinity willingly took on their roles and relationships, and in doing so did not in anyway give up their nature or any of their attributes.

Let me illustrate the difference between nature and roles. Let's be radical and say that there are two twins who are equal in every way – even genetically. They are equal in arm wrestling ability, grades in school, and in every way. That would be an equality of nature and an equality of abilities. Let's even say that they start out with the same amount of money. Each has $100,000 to his name, so that they are equals even economically, which rarely happens. But twin #1 decides to start a business, and twin #2 decides to invest his in the stock market. They are both equally successful, but twin #2 wants additional income, so he decides to work for twin #1. By becoming an employee, he voluntarily places himself under the authority of his brother. He now has a role of submission, even though he is not inferior in nature at all. He is no longer equal in role or relationship. Though they are brothers, one is now under the authority of the other and gets paid to obey the other (at least while he is on the job). The only difference between them now is that of role and relationship. No one would deny an equality in arm wrestling, economics, looks, abilities. But everyone would agree that their roles are now not equal – at least while on the job.

Illustration two: Two young people in our congregation may be equals in role when they are young even though they are a male and a female. Neither has a higher role in relation to the other. The Bible says that they should honor and respect each other just like brothers and sisters would (or at least like brothers and sisters should). They are under the authority of different sets of parents. When they get married, they voluntarily change their roles to that of husband and wife by taking marriage vows. Some conservatives make the big mistake of thinking that women in general need to be in submission to men in general. That is absolutely not the case. And yet that's the way some hyper-conservative men treat women. They fail to treat those women as equals in every sense of the term even though they have no role or relationship to the woman that would justify a failure to treat them as equals. We must not confuse the issues of roles and relationships on the one hand with nature on the other hand.

That is the way it is in the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are unequal in their roles, but they are all equally and eternally God. And it is the role of the Holy Spirit that we are examining today – a role of one who fades into the background. The Holy Spirit's role is to glorify the Father and the Son and to carry out their will. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit prefers to not be the focus of attention. He prefers to be out of the limelight, or as one scholar said, He prefers to be the limelight that shines on the Son to the glory of the Father. And before we make any applications to ourselves, let's look at the Scriptures which outline this role.

The Spirit assists the Father and the Son with their work and remains in the background for the most part

First, the Spirit assists the Son and Father with their work and in doing so remains in the background. You can see this right from the first chapter of Genesis to the last book of the Bible. While the Spirit was present in Genesis 1:2, hovering over the waters and energizing this earth, it is the work of the Father and the of the Word that is highlighted. The Spirit was very much involved in creation. In fact, He was the one who carried out what the Father planned and what the Son spoke. Psalm 104:30 says to the Father about His creative work, You send forth Your Spirit, they are created. And yet, despite the pervasive presence and power of the Spirit from Creation and on, He is not highlighted. This is why some have called the Holy Spirit, the "shy member of the Trinity." Not shy in the sense of bashful, but shy in the sense of willing to be in the background.

Let me give you an example from the last book of the Bible. In Revelation 4-5 you have an awesome description of the splendor of the Father on His throne and of the work of the Son. It is just an incredible description of both. But the Spirit's role (while still described as being absolutely indispensable) is mentioned in only two small phrases found within two verses. In Revelation 4:5 it says, Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Don't get hung up on the number seven. It is symbolic of perfection. Commentators point out that it is the number of perfection. So the Spirit in all His perfections is likened to seven brilliant lamps shining before the throne casting His light on the Father and on the Son. His preferred role is to shine the spotlight on Father and Son, or rather to be the spotlight that highlights Father and Son.

Chapter 5 continues the vision and in verse 6 John describes the seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. This again speaks of the Spirit in all His perfections. He is all seeing, speaking of His omniscience and providence, and He is obviously indispensable to the success of the Father and Son's mission. But notice that the Spirit is sent, and secondly that there is little mention made of Him. And the remarkable thing is that God the Spirit prefers that. His role is to assist.

That is so backwards to the way that we tend to think. We want to be recognized by others, don't we? But actually, there are some people with a special gift of the Spirit called "helps" that partakes of the Spirit's character and heart in a way that goes way beyond any other gift. People with the gift of helps don't want to be in the spotlight. God's Spirit has so worked in their lives that they prefer to help others and see them succeed. In fact, nothing makes their heart feel so glad as when they are able to help another person be a success. They feel fulfilled when their efforts have made another person succeed. And they feel somewhat embarrassed if you complement them too much or make a fuss over them too much.

I believe that this gift of the Spirit is perhaps the closest reflection of the heart of God, and I delight when I see a person who has this gift. So anyway, we have seen that the Holy Spirit assists the Father and Son with their work. You could say that He is the Helper. And that is one of the Spirit's names, by the way: the Helper. That ought to make those of you with the gift of helps feel real good.

In giving Scripture by inspiration, the Spirit points to Jesus

Second, when the Spirit gives special revelation, it always points to Christ. John 15:26 says, "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. Revelation 19:10 says, For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

So the Scriptures are given by the Spirit. But do you know what the heart of the Scriptures is all about? It's about Jesus. Luke 24:25-27 indicates that all the Scriptures speak of Christ. I've got a book called, *Christ, The Key to Interpreting the Bible,*and it shows how Jesus appears on every page of Scripture. I've got a larger two volume set entitled, With New Testament Eyes: Pictures of Christ in the Old Testament, which does the same thing. Most people believe this, so I won't harp on it. But meditate upon the fact that it is the Spirit who inspires the Word, and His goal in doing so is that we might see Jesus. He testifies of Christ.

The role of the Spirit is to glorify the Son

Third, His role is to glorify the Son. John 16:12-14 says, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.

Three things to notice there: first, He does not speak on His own authority. Second, He does not reveal anything on His own initiative, but only what He hears, He speaks. It's the Son that takes the initiative. Third, verse 14 says that His role is to glorify Jesus. Fourth, He speaks about Jesus. And you see this emphasis over and over again in the Bible.

The Spirit empowers our evangelism so as to proclaim the good news of Jesus

Fourth, the Holy Spirit's role is to empower our evangelism which proclaims the good news of Christ. Acts 1:8 says, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. He empowers us to witness about Jesus. Do you see where the Spirit's focus is? You cannot disconnect the Spirit from the Son. His whole ministry points to the Son. You can see it in Luke 24 and many other passages.

Unfortunately, there is a new movement in the evangelical church today called inclusivism that says that people can be saved in pagan lands without knowing about Christ. They say that the Spirit brings saving revelation through creation or perhaps through insights of other religions. But the clear testimony of Scripture is that the Spirit has chosen to draw people to salvation only through the knowledge of Jesus, and He has further chosen to only bring this knowledge of Jesus through the Scriptures. Look at Romans 10:1-4.

Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Rom. 10:1-2)

Zeal is not enough. They must have a specific kind of knowledge.

For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end [or goal] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:3-4)

And then, in verses 5-10, He goes to the Old Testament to show how Christ is the message that must be believed.

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.... For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:9, 11-15)

Paul's logic is inescapable. Pagans cannot be saved without preachers bringing them the message of the Gospel of Christ from the Scripture.

You can see the same message concerning the Gentiles in Acts 10-11. The Spirit was powerfully at work in moving Peter to go to Cornelius' house, and was powerfully at work in Peter's Scriptural message. It was only as the message of Christ was spoken, that the Spirit fell upon them and transformed them.

Even when there are angels, they are not allowed to preach the Gospel. God has chosen to use human instruments. And so, in Acts 11:13-14 we see the angel telling Cornelius, Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter, he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household. In Acts 11:12 Peter says, the Spirit told me to go with them…" The Spirit prepares hearts, but he never evangelizes apart from the message of the Gospel of Christ.

The Spirit applies redemption to the elect and unites them to Christ

Fifth, the role of the Holy Spirit is to apply the redemption purchased by Christ into the lives of people, thus bringing them new life in Christ. John 3:3-8; Ezek. 36:26-27; Acts 26:18 and so many other passages show that this is the case. 2 Corinthians 4:3-5 says, But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. Scripture indicates that in ourselves we are hostile to Christ. We need the Holy Spirit's regenerating work to give us faith in Christ.

The Spirit's sanctification is designed to make us more like Christ

Fifth, the Spirit's sanctification is designed to make us more and more like Christ. Let me quickly outline how sanctification is the work of all three Persons of the Godhead. The Father planned our sanctification because Romans 8:29 says For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The Son purchased our sanctification. Ephesians 5:25 says, Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her…

And the Spirit works that will of Father and Son into our lives. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. His work of sanctification is conforming us to the image of Jesus. His whole work points to Jesus to the glory of the Father. When the Spirit stirs us up to prayer, we are not self-focused or even focused on the Spirit. He stirs up our faith in the sufficiency of Jesus in petitioning the Father. The same is true of those who worship in Spirit.

Further Applications

And all that we have looked at so far has huge ramifications in our lives. We've already looked at some of the applications. Let me end with three more. And we'll pick up next week with more on the Trinity.

Understanding how the Spirit works helps us to properly define what true freedom and liberty are all about

First of all, understanding how the Spirit works helps us to properly define what true freedom or true liberty is all about. The Spirit not only gives freedom from sin, bondage, death, etc. (Rom. 8:2) but He is truly free. His will is not bound in any way by our will. Romans 9:19 says, For who has resisted His will? Speaking of the distribution of spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:11 says, But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. That says that the Spirit is totally sovereign in which spiritual gifts you get. You can't bind His hand.

But the interesting thing about this is that the Father had already ordained every spiritual gift that you could receive, and Jesus has already purchased it. So how can it be said that the Spirit does what He wants when He gives spiritual gifts? Well, the simple answer is that He freely wills the will of the Father and of the Son. They are of one will. There can be true freedom and total submission. And what the Father and Son delight to do, the Spirit delights to do. Submission to the Son's will does not make the Spirit unfree. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. He is the definition of liberty and He is the source of liberty. In John 3 Jesus told Nicodemus:

Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8)

It is a play on words since wind and spirit are the same word. So Jesus is saying that the Spirit can sovereignly regenerate whomever He wants to regenerate. So how do you reconcile that with James 1:18 which says that the Father regenerates us of His own will? There are a specific number of people that the Father predestined to be regenerated and a specific number that Jesus died for. That implies that the Son could not choose to save those whom the Father had not chosen, and the Spirit could not choose to save those whom the Father has not chosen. If the Spirit is subject to Son and Father, how can He be free? And the answer is that each person of the Trinity has freely chosen to do their roles and works in conformity with each other. What the Spirit did, He freely did, yet it was still planned by the Father. The only time a person under authority does not feel free is when he or she is bucking against his or her submission.

Part of the problem is that the word freedom has so many definitions. There are ways in which we have free will and there are ways in which we do not have free will. I don't care how much you wish it, you don't have the free will to jump twenty feet into the air. You don't have the freedom to be a bird or a fish. But you do have the freedom to do what God has willed. Some Arminians insist that unless people have the power of contrary choice, they are not free. But even God the Father doesn't have the power of contrary choice. Titus 1:2 speaks of God, who cannot lie. James 1:13 says, God cannot be tempted by evil. Adam and Eve had the power of contrary choice, and look where it got them. I am glad that in heaven all power of contrary choice will be completely removed from us so that we can never sin and can never fall from grace.

The Spirit helps us to define what true freedom and liberty means. It means glad surrender and submission to God's will. That's true liberty. When does a train have true liberty? It is when it is restricted to the role that it has as a train. The moment it jumps off of it's restrictive tracts, it loses liberty and becomes mired in the mud and unusable. Let God be the definition of liberty.

Strive to imitate the Spirit in serving without needing to be recognized

Earlier I applied the doctrine of the Spirit to the gift of helps. And for me, that is a marvelous application. But let's go beyond that and realize that the Spirit's constant willingness to serve unnoticed should be a model for us to serve without needing recognition. One author said:

There is something in all of us that wants to be seen and to receive the credit for what we've done. To accept the behind-the-scenes position where no one may know and notice the service we have rendered is difficult indeed. To work sacrificially, all for the purpose of pointing constantly to another, and for the honor he might receive, can be extremely hard to accept. But this is the way of the Spirit.

And this can be a test of our sanctification and the degree to which we are filled with the Spirit of God. The more of the Spirit that we have upon us, the more we will want all glory, laud and honor to go to the Son and to the Father. The more we will be delighted in giving recognition of what God has done in others lives. It is just the way the Spirit works.

Don't ostentatiously exercise spiritual gifts

This says something about the ostentatious exercise of spiritual gifts in some charismatic circles. It seems that the emphasis has shifted so heavily away from the Father and the Son and to the Spirit that almost everything is Spirit centered. Even the names of churches are Spirit centered. It is so contrary to the Spirit's lack of showiness that it makes you wonder what is going on. Paul wondered what was going on in Corinth. Over and over Paul said that what the Spirit gives, He gives for the edification of others, not for self-edification. He judged them as carnal, not spiritual, because the Spirit points away from ourselves.

Paul said, For the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says that someone could speak in tongues, prophecy and do mighty works, but if he doesn't have love for others, he is nothing. Verses 4-7 say, Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. That's what truly characterizes the Spirit. I think this is a good test of whether charismatic gifts are real or fleshly. Does the person seek to bring "exhortation and comfort to men" (14:3)? Paul says that what the Spirit gives, "edifies the church" (14:4).

Rejoice in different gifts and use them to God’s glory

The last application that I would like to make is to marvel at the way in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together in unity despite differing roles, and perhaps we could say precisely because of differing roles. If we could gladly embrace our callings and roles that God has given, it would hugely improve our relationships.

Next week Lord willing we will look at some culture transforming implications of the Trinty. But let's close for now.

God the Holy Spirit is part of the The Trinity series published on March 6, 2005

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