Who is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?
Topic: Holy Spirit Passage: John 16:7, Acts 1:8, Genesis 1:1–1:2, John 14:16
The Holy Spirit
Grace Community Church
Sept. 12, 2021
Who is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?
For the next several weeks we are going to be taking a look at the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. Throughout this series we want to anchor our understanding of, and experience with, the Holy Spirit in scripture.
Depending on your background, you may not have heard much about the Holy Spirit at all. Some church traditions are uncomfortable talking about the Holy Spirit – they believe in Him but they don’t talk about Him much, often out of a desire to avoid the excesses they’ve seen in churches that focus a lot of attention on the Holy Spirit. Churches with a cessationist view go so far as to say the gifts and miracles of the Spirit ceased with the completion of the canon.
If you come from a more charismatic background, you may have heard a lot about the Holy Spirit, perhaps you’ve seen and experienced things that you attribute to the Holy Spirit, and there may be a longing in your heart to see and experience a greater degree of His working in your life and in the church. But with that longing, you may also realize that some of the things you saw in the charismatic church weren’t healthy or well-anchored in scripture.
The extremes that charismatic churches and Christians (and I’m speaking in generalities, not every charismatic church or Christian falls into such extremes) can be vulnerable to flow from an overemphasis on experience over scripture. Rather than scripture guiding their experience, their experience guides their understanding of scripture. “I know the Holy Spirit causes people to bark like dogs or act drunk because I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it.”
The extremes that churches that say little about and expect little from the Holy Spirit are vulnerable to also flow from an overemphasis on experience over scripture. That may not be what you expected me to say, but it’s true. It might be personal experience or it might be their religious tradition’s experience but ultimately it comes down to “I don’t believe the Holy Spirit still (fill in the blank), heals, does miracles, gives supernatural gifts like prophecy and tongues, speaks frequently and powerfully to believers because I’ve never seen it or experienced it in my church or in my life.”
We want scripture to direct our experience, not the other way around.
We’ll look at many of these issues and questions over the next several weeks. If you have a particular question you’d like us to examine, let me know. But let’s begin with two scriptures, both spoken by Jesus, about the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: 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 go, I will send him to you. John 16:7
Jesus says it’s to our advantage, it’s better for us that he leave and the Holy Spirit come. If I’m honest, it seems like it would be better to be with Jesus in person and see his ministry, hear his teaching, watch him touch and heal and deliver and minister to countless lives, walk with him and get to know him personally. Jesus sent his disciples out to cast out demons and heal the sick. They came back rejoicing because they had power to do those things. Those were the very ones Jesus said, it is to your advantage, it is better for you that I go away so I can send the Helper (Holy Spirit) to you.
After Jesus rose from the dead, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Again, think about it. If all the disciples needed to advance the gospel and the kingdom of God on earth was to know Christ and proclaim Christ, they were ready right then and there! They had been taught by the very best – Jesus himself! They had seen him die on the cross, they now saw him resurrected from the dead so they were excited and motivated! What more do they need?
They need the Holy Spirit. According to Jesus. Don’t go anywhere, don’t talk to anyone, until the power of the Holy Spirit has come upon you.
So, who is the Holy Spirit and what does He do? Let’s begin with some important biblical theology about who the Holy Spirit is.
- The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Gen. 1:1-2
The Holy Spirit is introduced to us in the second verse of the first book of the Bible. Although the word “trinity” never occurs in the Bible, we see the revelation of the Trinity unfolded increasingly through the Bible. The Trinity consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Gen. 1, God says “let there be light” – and there was light. Let there be an expanse…let there be vegetation…let there be animals…
But then God comes to man, and He says, “Let us create man in our image.” When God speaks of creating man in His image, He speaks to Himself and refers to himself as a plurality. He doesn’t say “Let me…”, He doesn’t say, “I think I will create man in my image…” He says, “Let us create man in our image.” From the very first verses of the Old Testament we see a revelation of the Trinity.
There are many, many examples of the Trinity throughout scripture but one of the clearest examples of the Trinity is found at the baptism of Jesus by John. The Son is baptized with water, the Spirit descends as a dove, and the Father speaks and says, “this is My beloved Son, with whom I’m well pleased!” All three Persons of the Trinity are actively involved in mankind’s redemption.
Theologian Wayne Grudem states the Trinity in three simple statements:
- God is three Persons
- Each Person is fully God
- God is One
There aren’t three Gods, there is one God, but God is comprised of Three Persons. That’s why we should never refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”. He is the Third Person of the Trinity, as much a Person as the Father or Jesus is.
- The Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus on the earth
What does the Holy Spirit do? In a word, everything. Everything that God is doing in the earth today, He is doing by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the active presence of God. When God works a miracle, He does it by the power of the Holy Spirit. When someone gets saved, they are saved by the power of the Holy Spirit. A church without the Holy Spirit is a church without God!
Just as Jesus said apart from me you can do nothing, apart from the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. The great 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon titled The Unknown God said this, “without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind or chariots without steeds. Like branches without sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless. As an offering without the sacrificial flame, we are unaccepted.”
Jesus said, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…John 14:16
That word “another” means another of the same kind. The Holy Spirit isn’t a different helper than Jesus, He’s another Helper like Jesus. The Holy Spirit carries on the active ministry of Jesus in the earth today. This gives us an important guide when we are seeking to discern what’s of the Holy Spirit and what’s not. Is it something Jesus did or would do?
I think two dangers for the church is 1) to sensationalize the work of the Spirit or 2) to institutionalize the work of the church.
To sensationalize the work of the Spirit is to emphasize feelings and experiences over scripture and truth. To sensationalize the work of the Spirit is to create services that make theatrical displays of God’s power. I think of one televangelist who makes a big show of waving his arm over one section of the crowd and everyone in that section falls, then he waves his arm over another section and that section of the crowd falls down “under the power”. It leaves people impressed by the supposed power of the Spirit this man has harnessed. In fact, that’s the problem. It doesn’t accomplish anything for the kingdom, it simply makes for a good show and puffs up the guy with all the power.
Jesus never did any of that. Everything Jesus did, every miracle he performed, every sign and wonder he did (which, by the way, he did by the power of the Holy Spirit), was to advance the gospel message and the kingdom of God. Jesus never sensationalized the power of God or sought to make a show of it. Just the opposite, Jesus often discouraged people from advertising what God had done. So the ministry of the Holy Spirit through Jesus always had a serious, gospel-advancing tone to it. He set free the demon-possessed, healed the sick and suffering, comforted the broken hearted, and expressed God’s love for the downtrodden and the outcast. Even Jesus’ miracles that seemed to have little kingdom benefit like turning water into wine or feeding the five thousand had massive spiritual and symbolic meaning to them. Jesus never sensationalized the Spirit’s working.
But the other extreme is to institutionalize the work of the church and I think this is the greater danger in the church. I know it’s the bigger temptation for me, it’s where my heart leans more naturally. To institutionalize the church is to reduce Christianity to the things we can do and organize. To institutionalize the church is to reduce Christianity to a system of beliefs and the responses that flow from that system of beliefs. Orthodox Christianity does have a system of beliefs that are absolutely essential to being a Christian. Christianity does call for a response (repentance and faith) to those beliefs. But Christianity is – according to scripture – more than that.
We need the gospel but we need more than the gospel. We need the Bible but we need more than the Bible. We need preaching but we need more than preaching. We need to live out our faith but we need more than living out our faith.
We need the Holy Spirit.
We can inform someone about Jesus, but only the Holy Spirit can transform their life!
We can preach the gospel, but only the Spirit can take a spiritually dead person and make them alive to God!
We can shine the light of the gospel, but only the Spirit can open blind eyes that they might see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!
With the right skill set someone can attract large crowds, but only the Holy Spirit can baptize them and make them the church!
That’s why Jesus took the best trained, best taught, most motivated believers ever and said, “you’re not ready. You’d get nowhere and accomplish nothing. Wait for the power of the Holy Spirit, then I will send you out into the world!”
Jesus said, it’s better for you that I go – because I will send you the Holy Spirit.
Paul warns us not to quench the Spirit, which means it’s possible for believers and churches can quench the Spirit.
The book of Acts is all about the church filled with the power that comes from the Holy Spirit. Paul writes chapters about cultivating and pursuing the gifts of the Spirit. He writes to be filled with the Spirit, and he urges us to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.
Whatever background you come from, whichever direction your heart leans, I ask that we all come to God’s word with open hearts and open minds to hear what He says about the Holy Spirit.
Let’s ask God to pour out His Spirit on Grace Community Church in a fresh and powerful way.
Let’s expect with faith to see the Spirit’s good working in our lives and our church.
Let’s ask God to give us fresh boldness to be witnesses for Jesus everywhere we go!
Let’s commit to altering our experience to fit scripture rather than altering our understanding of scripture to fit our experience.
More in Holy Spirit
September 19, 2021The Purpose of the Power of the Holy Spirit