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The Holy Spirit is for Real

By Duane Garner

Whenever Reformed Christians start to talk about the Holy Spirit it seems that we quickly find ourselves in uncharted waters. We know what God the Father has done for us, we know what Jesus has done for us, and it might be easy for us to relate to God as Father, or God as Older Brother. But what does the Holy Spirit do? The very idea of a Spirit may seem cold and remote to us. To be sure, we are ready with certain answers – the Holy Spirit calls us to faith and regenerates us. We know He comforts and fills us and can be grieved by our sins.

But even in saying those things talking about what the Holy Spirit does feels odd to us. The work and person of the Holy Spirit is not something that we typically spend a great amount of time talking about or reflecting on. Perhaps we have the sense that the Spirit is the territory of the charismatics and the crazy 2 AM wing-nut preachers on the AM dial. We have seen some of the dangers and abuses there and we don’t want to go in that direction.Perhaps also we have also picked up the idea along the way that the work of God’s holy Spirit is emotional, abstract, experiential. And we tend to be the kind of people who want objective, firm, concrete answers and definitions. So we might not know what to do with questions like, “Are you Spirit-filled?” and “How do you know?” and “How do you know you know?” No sooner do we start talking about the Holy Spirit than we begin to feel like we are leaving the reservation.

However, that should not be the case. Should we be at ease conceding 1/3 of the Godhead to the category of the unknown and uncomfortable to talk about? Especially when we listen to what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit. Three times in John 15 – 16 Christ makes promises about what the Spirit will do after he has ascended and the Spirit has descended.

First in 15:26 he says – When the helper (comforter) comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. In 16:7 Jesus says – It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Then in 16:13 – 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.

Notice first that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as He. The Holy Spirit is not a power, not a mysterious force like in Star Wars. The Holy Spirit is not even a descriptor of the power of God.  The Holy Spirit is a unique person of the God-head, He has a personality, He is a member of the Trinity and therefore the Holy Spirit is God.  Look at how Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit, packed into just a couple of verses there in John. He is to be a comforter. He will testify of Christ in the same way that the apostles will bear witness of Christ. He will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. He is the Spirit of truth who will guide us into all truth. He glorifies Jesus by telling the world about Jesus.

Now if we plug in the common assumption that what the Spirit does is purely unseen, abstract, internal then what Jesus is promising is essentially a bunch of nice thoughts and fuzzy feelings. Not that there’s anything wrong with nice thoughts and fuzzy feelings. Certainly the Holy Spirit brings us a comfort, a heartwarming, a happiness that words sometimes fail to describe.

But how exactly does the Spirit comfort? How does he testify of Christ? How does He convict? How does he guide us into truth? How does he glorify Christ? Are these things that happen immediately to our souls? Or are they mediated through certain means?

Over the next few days I want to consider five dimensions of the Holy Spirit’s work with us and for us.

First, the Spirit’s work is intensely focused on creation.

This idea that the Holy Spirit only deals with vague emotions and unseen things is really not supported by the Scriptures. The first time we see Him in the scriptures He is moving on the face of the waters, engaged in the work of creation. Later see the Holy Spirit filling the craftsman Bezalel to work with his hands in building the tabernacle. Then the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson and gives him incredible strength and gifts to deliver God’s people. And as the Gospels open the Spirit moves upon the womb of a virgin to create the Son of God. Did the Spirit deal with Mary’s mind only? No. If we think that the Spirit only deals with the warm and fuzzy abstract stuff, we would believe that all of these works are outside of the Spirit’s jurisdiction. But the Bible says these are all Spiritual works.

Whenever there is a contrast between spirit and flesh in the Bible, the focus not on the difference between material things and immaterial things but between that which has real strength, and that which does not.

Which means that using material things like water, bread and wine are entirely within the scope of the Spirit’s work. Some Bible commentators and teachers like to split apart water baptism from Spirit baptism. They say one is just a sign, and the other one is for real. How do you know what is for real, unless you can feel it and see it?  The baptism that is real is the one that you can hear splashing and see dripping. If the real baptism is the one that happens on the inside, then how do we know for real that it happened?

The Spirit works on and through creation and He works in ways that we can all see and smell and taste and hear and touch.

Many Spiritual works are things that you can take a picture of.



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