Neil Chambers continues our Apostles’ Creed series …
Two years ago, while preaching through Deuteronomy and the instruction given there for Israel’s calendar, I was convicted of the usefulness of having times in our church year, where we remember God’s great saving acts and rejoice before him—celebrating his kindness to us in Christ. It would give a pattern to our year and make prominent what was core in our confession of Christ, and would help us remember, and not forget, that we are the Lord’s people, saved by His grace to live for Him.
‘I believe in the Holy Spirit,’ is a somewhat understated affirmation … It is a bit like saying ‘I believe in breathing.’
We already celebrated Christmas and Easter. What would we add? It was a no brainer: Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit on the first disciples recorded in Acts 2; an event of fundamental importance to the individual and collective life of Jesus’ followers.
This moment was the beginning of the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Spirit (e.g. Eze 36:26-27; 39:29; Joel 2:28-32; Is 44:3). It was the beginning of the fulfilment of John the Baptist’s prophecy that the Lord Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5). It was the beginning of the fulfilment of our Lord’s promise to those who would believe in Him (John 3:5-6; John 7:37-39). It was the birth of the Christian church, the reconstitution of true Israel on the basis of repentance and faith in Jesus (Acts 2:38-39).
No Spirit, No Life
“I believe in the Holy Spirit,” is a somewhat understated affirmation of something so central to the Christian life. It is a bit like saying “I believe in breathing.” Just as we would have no physical life without air, we can have no life as God’s people without the Spirit.
Yet there is much that could be explored in this simple statement. We could consider the role of the Spirit in creation and in the continuing sustaining of life (e.g. Gen 1:2; Ps 104:30). We could think about God maintaining His commitment to the covenant with Israel in sending Spirit-empowered judges and prophets. We could consider the relationship of the persons of the Trinity where the Spirit is as equally God as the Father and the Son.
But here I intend to focus on the Spirit as the experienced reality of believers: the great gift of the new covenant; the repeated testimony borne throughout history in the lives of believers to the resurrection and exaltation of the crucified Lord Jesus. For the Christian life is inexplicable and unliveable without the Holy Spirit.
You cannot belong to Jesus unless you have the Spirit of Jesus.
All Jesus’ followers are baptised with the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; Acts 19:2; Romans 8:9). You cannot belong to Jesus unless you have the Spirit of Jesus. We need to be clear on this and not let our Christian lives be hampered by any false teaching that only those who experience what is called the sign of the gift of tongues have been baptised with the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus baptises all who repent and believe the gospel with his Spirit. By this he makes us his own—true members of his new covenant people. If we belong to Jesus, we are those to whom God has given a new heart and new Spirit that moves us to keep his law (Eze 36:26-27; Jer. 31:33-34).
And the Spirit is an experienced reality. Many—especially those who have grown up in Christian homes and can point to no particularly dramatic experience of conversion—are sometimes unsettled by this assertion. Yet the Spirit’s presence and work is experienced at every point of our Christian lives.
Our response to the gospel and to our growing understanding of Christian truth is the Spirit’s work: the Spirit convicts us of the truth of the Spirit-given word (2 Pet. 1:21) and so teaches us to call on Christ as Lord. The Spirit animates our dead hearts so that they can respond to the Word (1 Cor 2:14-16). Nobody can make the fundamental Christian confession that “Jesus is Lord” without the work of the Spirit (Rom 10:9-12; 1 Cor 12:3).
The Witness of The Spirit
Having received the Spirit of the Son, we share in the Son’s address … ‘Abba, Father’
Having moved us to trust the Lord Jesus, the Spirit then assures us of our present relationship with God as our Father, and we his adopted children. Spiritually united to Christ, we are invited to share in his relationship with the Father and prompted by the Spirit to cry out “Abba, Father”, to God. Having received the Spirit of the Son, we share in the Son’s address (Rom 8:14-17; Mark 14:36). This is the confidence that is at the heart of the Christian experience of prayer, based on our Lord Jesus’ effective atonement.
Not only does the Spirit assure us of our present relationship with the Father, the Spirit also assures us of future glory. The Spirit seals us as God’s own and is the down-payment—”the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:5). The Spirit’s presence is that portion of all that God has promised that we can enjoy now—and thus also proof that God will give us all the rest.
Switching the image in Romans 8, Paul describes the Spirit as the first fruits (Rom 8:23, epexegetic genitive)—that first part of the harvest that guarantees the rest of the harvest. The Spirit’s living in us makes us long for the fulness of what God has promised: the resurrection of our bodies (Rom 8:23-24).
Joy and Transformation
In this way the Spirit enables believers to receive the word with joy even in the face of suffering. This was the experience of the Thessalonian believers who received the word in “power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” In their suffering they knew the “joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:4-7).
It is amazing how often this real evidence of the Spirit’s presence is overlooked, and it is sought even less. But it is one of the surest signs of God’s work in the life of a believer.
Just as the beginning and end of our Christian jouney are embraced in the work of the Spirit, so the Spirit makes us grow and change to become more like Christ. It is by the Spirit that we can “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13). It is the Spirit who bears the fruit of Christlike character in our lives (Gal. 5:22-24). In fact it is only by the Spirit that we can live the Christian life. We either walk according to the Spirit or according to the flesh, and there is no neutrality (Rom 8:8; Gal 5:16-17). This is why preaching gospel-free moralism is so useless to bring about the change God wants in people, for we only meet the Lord who gives the Spirit in his gospel.
Service and Comfort
The Spirit is also experienced in equipping us for the service of Christ and his people. The gifts of grace (charismata) are “empowered by the one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” for the common good (1 Cor 12:7, 11). We are equipped for our common life by the Spirit, who will give to the body all that we need. We can be confident in his provision to provide for the health of the body where we use what he gives in love.
The Spirit floods our hearts with the reality that we are loved with a steadfast, generous, gracious love.
Finally, the Spirit is a source of great comfort. It is the Spirit who intercedes for us with “sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26-27) assuring us that our heavenly Father knows those longings we cannot articulate—especially when we are so perplexed and overwhelmed that we are unsure what to pray for. And it is through the Spirit that we are assured of the Father’s love, that his love is poured into our hearts. The context would suggest that the Spirit does this by assuring us of the truth of the gospel, that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:5-8). Despite our sin—and in light of Christ’s death for us—the Spirit floods our hearts with the reality that we are loved with a steadfast, generous, gracious love by the almighty, holy, living God. It is not something we have talked ourselves into or persuaded ourselves of: that assurance is his gift—a gift that persuades us to suffer for Jesus, knowing that it will be worth it and that God will never let us down.
A Vital Confession
I believe in the Holy Spirit. How could any follower of the Lord Jesus not? It is a vital confession to make, for it confesses that all my hope is in God to save, and that all the glory for our salvation will be his.
It is vital to teach believers about the work of the Spirit so that they can (i) have confidence in their saving God and His continuing work in them, and; (ii) start to understand how extraordinary the atoning work of Jesus is that the Holy Spirit can come to dwell in us (1 Cor 6:19-20) and that we can be adopted as sons, come to share in the Son’s relationship with the Father, and; (iii) make sense of their own experience and privilege as followers of Jesus.
The Spirit and Ministry
Pastors especially should refresh themselves in this confession. Doing so will promote …
- Pastoral boldness. Where God’s Spirit is at work God’s people will respond to the Spirit given word, and so you can teach and apply it clearly, persistently and boldly.
- Pastoral optimism. Where the Spirit is dwelling in a believer there will be growth and change—no matter how ensnared in bad habits their old way of life was. The Spirit will bear his fruit. And you can communicate hope to the believer struggling with sin, for by the Spirit they will be able to put sin to death.
- Pastoral prayer. So often we are at a loss when we see believers face trials that would crush us, or struggling with such complex life issues. But our God is never at a loss, and his Spirit in them is powerful to assure them of his love, give them confidence in their hope, and be a source of life sustaining joy. So we can always “pray in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication, … for all the saints” (Eph 6:18) confident of His power to work His good work in them and keep them to eternal life.
I believe in the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!