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THE SILENT SHEPHERD
THE CARE, COMFORT, AND CORRECTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
By JOHN MACARTHUR
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 John MacArthur
All rights reserved.
THE SILENT SHEPHERD: A PRIMER
When a Christian recites the simple affirmation from the Apostles' Creed, "I believe in the Holy Ghost," he or she is agreeing (at least outwardly) with one of the great, fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. But as with all the essential doctrinal truths of the Bible, it is not enough simply to agree intellectually with a bare-bones statement. God always wants His children to embrace the truth wholeheartedly, with a clear mental comprehension and a fervent, heartfelt commitment to apply the truth to daily living.
Many older works on the Holy Spirit, while excellent resource books, are inadequate when it comes to applying the truths of the doctrine to Christian growth. On the other hand, many of the popular contemporary books on the Holy Spirit are not doctrinal at all. They assume readers have a foundational knowledge about the Spirit and deal exclusively with experiential aspects of "living in the Spirit." There also is another large block of contemporary material on the Holy Spirit from a charismatic perspective, including its unscriptural excesses, imbalances, and wrong presuppositions.
In this book I hope to provide you with a balanced presentation by blending an appropriate doctrinal foundation in this chapter with scriptural discussions in subsequent chapters to point you toward personal application of the Holy Spirit's resources. The following summarizes well my burden for what this book would convey:
Because God in Christ has initiated the Messianic Age with its outpouring of the Spirit, man's relationship to God has been forever changed. No longer can the Law be used as a means of exclusion and oppression of the disenfranchised: Jesus has preached the messianic Gospel of release to the captive, sight to the blind, and good news to the poor; the new law of life has been written on the hearts of men. Thus we must abhor any new legalism which uses the Scripture to exclude and oppress—this is to turn the good news of Christ into "the letter that kills." We must, rather, recognize the "God-breathed" character of Scripture, and the "Spirit that makes alive." Only so will the Scripture be profitable. Conversely, the Spirit cannot be claimed as the mark of an elite, as that which distinguishes and divides. The Gospel of Jesus Christ includes the message that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh. All abuses of Scripture and the Spirit must hear God's message: "The promise is to those who are near, and to those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
It is not my purpose for this to be merely another theology handbook about the Holy Spirit. Yet it is important to focus first on elements of the basic doctrine to lay a foundation for our discussions in the remainder of the book.
Personality of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is a person. He is not a mystical force or metaphysical influence. He is a divine person—the third person of the Trinity—and acknowledging that fact is absolutely essential to an orthodox understanding of who He is.
Personhood has personality traits, and personality includes intellect, emotions, and will. And these attributes are characteristic of the Holy Spirit.
Attributes of the Holy Spirit
First Corinthians 2:10–11 says, "The Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God." These assertions assume that the Holy Spirit has infinite intelligence and must therefore be a person (see also Isa. 11:2 and Eph. 1:17).
The New Testament also affirms that the Spirit has feelings: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). We must understand, first of all, that divine feelings are not like human passions. God's anger, jealousy, hatred, joy, love, sorrow, and wrath are not reactive or passive emotions like the human variety. That is, His feelings do not rise and fall in response to various stimuli. God is both sovereign and unchanging (Mal. 3:6), so the feelings attributed to Him in Scripture are actually sovereign expressions of His eternal purpose and will, not like human passions that ebb and flow in response to circumstances. (When Scripture assigns such passions to God, it is using a figure of speech known as anthropopathism—applying human emotions to God, because our understanding and our language are not adequate to convey the full truth.) Nevertheless, these words mean something, and to suggest that the Holy Spirit could feel the emotion of being "grieved" would be meaningless if the Holy Spirit were anything but a person.
The Spirit's guiding of Paul in Acts 16:6–11 illustrates that the Holy Spirit has a will. He would not allow the apostle to preach in Asia and Bithynia but instead directed him to go to Europe and Macedonia. His will also determines the various ministries of individual believers, because He is "distributing [spiritual gifts] to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11).
Activities of the Holy Spirit
The Bible describes a wide variety of activities of the Holy Spirit that only a person could perform.
The Spirit Calls People for Special Service
"While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them'" (Acts 13:2). "So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus" (v. 4).
The Spirit Testifies or Witnesses
"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me" (John 15:26). "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16).
The Spirit Intercedes
"In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26).
In other places Scripture portrays the Holy Spirit as the recipient of various actions and attitudes that demonstrate His personhood. Again, these references would make no sense whatsoever if the Spirit were not a person.
The Spirit Can Be Lied To
"But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?'" (Acts 5:3).
The Spirit Can Be Blasphemed
"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven" (Matt. 12:31).
Relationships of the Holy Spirit
Because the Holy Spirit is a person, it is logical to assume that He will have relationships with other persons. Scripture illustrates this in many ways. Here are a few examples.
He Has a Relationship with the Apostles
"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials" (Acts 15:28—from the letter that the Jerusalem Council sent to the Gentiles at the church in Antioch).
He Has a Relationship with All People
He is related to unbelievers, as indicated in John 16:8–11, "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged."
He is related to believers in many ways, all as a result of His indwelling them. First Corinthians 6:19–20 says, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."
He Has a Relationship with Jesus Christ
"But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.... He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you" (John 16:13–15).
He Is Related to God
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14).
The Deity of the Holy Spirit
More than a dozen times in Scripture the Spirit is linked by name and nature to the other two persons of the Trinity (see Matt. 3:16; Acts 16:7; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 2:11; 3:16; 1 Peter 1:11). By various references that ascribe God's attributes to the Holy Spirit, God's Word also demonstrates that the Spirit is God.
The Spirit Possesses Omniscience
"For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11).
The Spirit Possesses Omnipresence
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me" (Ps. 139:7–10).
The Spirit Possesses Omnipotence
"The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:4).
The Spirit Is Truth
"It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth" (1 John 5:6).
The Spirit Possesses Wisdom
"Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him?" (Isa. 40:13).
Works of the Holy Spirit
Even before the contemporary age of specialization, people commonly understood that certain tasks required special materials, tools, and expertise. Only a locksmith could fashion the right replacement key to open a locked hope chest. Only a watchmaker could repair the intricate insides of a pocket watch. Today, only those with specialized knowledge can write software programs for computers. Certain skilled projects have always, by their nature, borne the imprint of experts. This same principle is true on a far more significant level concerning the crucial activities assigned by Scripture to the Holy Spirit. These works, because only one who is God could have performed them, further prove that the Spirit is deity.
The first major work attributed to the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the very first chapter of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters" (Gen. 1:1–2). These well-known first verses of Scripture clearly state that the work of divine creation was superintended by the Spirit.
Two other familiar verses verify that the Holy Spirit was at work in the work of Scripture inspiration: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20–21).
A third major event credited to the Holy Spirit involves the birth of the Lord Jesus. The Spirit's role in the work of begetting Christ is presented in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke: "Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God'" (Luke 1:34–35).
Several other activities of the Holy Spirit—or what more precisely might be called ongoing ministries—are worthy of inclusion as we round out our picture of the Spirit. (We will elaborate on some of these Spirit-directed ministries in later chapters.)
The Spirit Regenerates
"Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into 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 be amazed that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit'" (John 3:5–8).
The Spirit Comforts
"So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase" (Acts 9:31; see also John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).
The Spirit Sanctifies
"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13).
Representations of the Holy Spirit
We are all familiar with symbols being used to communicate messages or help describe complex concepts. Radio and television with their everpresent, repetitive commercial messages are prime examples of the use of symbols to communicate. For instance, a well-known brand of batteries uses a pink, drum-playing bunny to proclaim the great longevity of those batteries. The bunny has been seen in so many commercials during the past many years that it has become synonymous with the particular brand of battery. Large companies have used other more abstract symbols for years as trademarks. The Rock of Gibraltar has been used by one of the large insurance companies, and an oval enclosing a sphere (the lens or "eye" of the television camera) has been the corporate emblem of a major TV network.
Long before most man-made symbols were used to represent and promote worldly enterprises, God used figurative language and symbols in the pages of Scripture to convey spiritual truth. The entire Old Testament sacrificial system, with tabernacle and temple, utilized many symbolic items and rituals. The writers of the Psalms, Proverbs, and other poetic books used a lot of figurative and descriptive language to put forth God's truths. Of course, Jesus in His earthly ministry used parables and object lessons to set forth and explain doctrinal concepts. He always used familiar things and ideas that His listeners could identify with.
In a similar manner, God also used analogies to describe the person and work of the Holy Spirit. As long as we don't allegorize or stretch these analogies beyond reasonable limits, the use of symbols and illustrations can help a great deal in understanding who the Spirit is and what He is doing.
The New Testament uses several images to portray the Holy Spirit. They are listed below, along with pertinent Scripture references, roughly in order of importance and familiarity.
The Spirit Portrayed as a Dove
"Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased'" (Luke 3:21–22; see also Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; John 1:32). In this context, the representation of a dove brings to mind the Holy Spirit's purity (see Matt. 10:16, "Be ... innocent [pure] as doves"), His heavenly origin, and peace (He rested on Jesus).
The Spirit Portrayed as Fire
"And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them" (Acts 2:3). The little phrase "as of" indicates the tongues were not literal fire but simply suggestive of fire's effect. There was precedence in the Old Testament for the usage of fire in relation to the Lord's presence and works (see Ex. 3:2; 13:21; Lev. 9:24; 10:2; Isa. 6:1–8).
The Spirit Portrayed as Wind
"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:1–2). Most commentators are agreed that this wind was probably not a literal gust of air that could be felt. As with the tongues of fire, the emphasis is on the vivid word picture used to describe the sound of the Holy Spirit's approaching. So the disciples probably heard the sound of wind but did not necessarily feel a gust. (See also John 3:8, which uses the analogy of the wind in describing the Spirit's sovereign work in regeneration. The verse is probably also an allusion to Ezekiel 37:9–14, where the prophet commands the wind to breathe life into the dead bodies.)
Excerpted from THE SILENT SHEPHERD by JOHN MACARTHUR. Copyright © 2012 John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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