This Gospel Coalition booklet presents the Holy Spirit as our ultimate gift. DeYoung details the Spirit’s role in our lives, including his activity in conviction, conversion, glorification, and the imparting of gifts.
About the Author
Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He serves asboard chairmanof the Gospel Coalition and blogs at DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed. He is assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including Just Do Something; Crazy Busy; and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children.
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.
Timothy J. Kelleris the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Read an Excerpt
Let's be honest: one of the fun things about Christmas is getting presents. Some people get very few, some get too many. But most people get something. This past year I got some books (yay), clothes (meh), a Nintendo Wii (it was, er, for the kids), and a John Calvin bobblehead doll (priceless). All in all, a decent haul.
Think about your favorite gift, not just from Christmas, but the best ever. It's hard to beat an engagement ring for long-term impact. But what if I told you of a gift that provided a surer, longer-lasting promise than marriage? Money might be your favorite. After all, you can wield a lot of influence and do a lot of fun things with money. But what if I told you of a gift that provided more life-changing power, more world-transforming influence, than wealth? Maybe you are the sentimental type and your most treasured gifts are old photographs given by friends and family. Well, what if I you told of a gift that provided more than a picture of your beloved; it gave you his very presence with you for all time?
This would be some gift — a gift of promise, of power, of presence. And millions all around the world have received it. Or received him, I should say. For the gift, as you may have guessed, is the Holy Spirit. No other possession is as precious, helpful, dynamic, strong, and loving as the Spirit who dwells in those who belong to God through Christ (1 Cor. 3:16).
The Holy Spirit in All the Bible
The word for "spirit" is ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. The former is used roughly ninety times for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. The latter is employed more than 250 times as a reference to the Spirit in the New Testament. Both words can refer to wind or breath. The general idea is the same: ruach and pneuma express energy, motion, life, activity. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit set apart, belonging to God. He is God's power and presence among his people.
The Holy Spirit, though more "visible" in the New Testament, was also at work in the Old. He was present at creation, hovering over the face of the waters, poised to order and complete what the Father had purposed and planned (Gen. 1:2). The Holy Spirit was instrumental in the exodus (Isa. 64:7–14). He gifted God's people for service, equipping Bezalel and Oholiab not just with artistic excellence but with the Spirit's power to reshape a kind of heaven on earth (Ex. 35:30–35). We see frequently how the Spirit in the Old Testament rested on individuals like Balaam, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and Azariah for special acts of speaking or acting (Num. 24:2; Judges 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 2 Chron. 15:1). The Spirit could also come on people for a time and then depart, as Saul experienced (1 Sam. 16:14) and David feared (Ps. 51:11).
The Spirit's activity in the Old Testament is powerful but less than complete. It's no surprise, then, that the Old Testament looks forward to a coming age of the Spirit. Three prophecies in particular predict the glory of this new day. Joel 2:28–32 looks forward to the Spirit's coming upon all God's people. Ezekiel 36:22–37:14 awaits the day when the Spirit will dwell within God's people personally and permanently. And Isaiah 11:1–5 promises a Spirit-anointed Branch from the root of Jesse who will usher in the day of salvation for Israel. A universal Spirit, an indwelling Spirit, and a Spirit-empowered Savior: this is the age of the Spirit the Old Testament anticipates. Under the new covenant, this outpouring is realized (2 Cor. 3:1–11). The Spirit is poured out on all flesh (Acts 2:14–21), indwells all believers (Rom. 8:9), and empowers and glorifies the Spirit-anointed Messiah in his earthly ministry and saving work.
The New Testament emphasizes that last point more than we often realize. The Spirit empowered the Son through every stage of his ministry. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary in the virginal conception (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon when he spoke about Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:25). The Spirit rested on Jesus at his baptism (Matt. 3:16). Then the Spirit led Jesus, who Luke says was full of the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1). After the temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4:14) and announced in the synagogue that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to proclaim the good news to the poor (4:18).
It was by the Spirit of God that Jesus cast out demons (Matt. 12:28). Hebrews 9:14 says it was through the eternal Spirit that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice to God. According to Romans 1:4, Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead through the Spirit of holiness. From conception to birth through life, ministry, death, and resurrection, the Spirit was at work upon and through Christ.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is a person. He grieves (Eph. 4:30); intercedes (Rom. 8:26–27); testifies (John 16:12–15); speaks (Mark 13:11); creates (Gen. 1:2; Luke 1:35); has a mind (Rom. 8:27); and can be blasphemed (Mark 3:28–29). (Of course, the Scriptures are also said to "testify" and "speak," and no one thinks the Scriptures are human. Yet context shows in such cases that this is a personification of Scripture, signaling, in fact, that God speaks and testifies through the Scriptures.) In the Farewell Discourse (John 14–16), Jesus promises to send "another parakletos [variously rendered "helper," "counselor," "advocate"]," namely, the Holy Spirit, who is Jesus' successor in earthly ministry and in some respects Jesus' replacement, and an impersonal force or the like simply will not fit the descriptions of what Jesus' bequeathed Spirit will do.
The Holy Spirit is not just a person; he is a divine person. Psalm 139:7 hints at his omnipresence. He is "the eternal Spirit" (Heb. 9:14). Lying to the Holy Spirit is the same as lying to God (Acts 5:3–4). Paul uses the phrase "God's temple" interchangeably with "temple of the Holy Spirit," thus equating the two (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).
Distinct from the Father and Son
The Holy Spirit shares the same essence with the Father and the Son, and yet he is distinct from them. Simply put, the Holy Spirit is God, but the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. He is his own divine person.
Though he is distinct from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9). To say, "the Spirit of God lives in you," or, "the Spirit of Christ is in you," or, "Christ dwells in you," are three ways of saying the same thing (Rom. 8:10). The Spirit is sent from the Father (John 14:26) and from the Son (16:7; 20:22). In fact, the identity of the Son and the Spirit so overlap that Paul can even say "the Lord is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17–18).
This does not mean the Son and the Spirit are one in terms of their being, but rather that their mission is so united they are one in their shared redemptive activity. Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and the Spirit will lead the disciples into all truth (16:13). Jesus came to bear witness to God the Father (1:14–18), and the Spirit comes to bear witness to Christ (15:26). The sinful world did not receive Christ (1:11; 5:43), and the sinful world will not receive the Spirit (14:17). The Holy Spirit is simply and gloriously another Helper (14:16), the very power and presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ on earth.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
Having examined the "who" of the Holy Spirit, we now turn to examine the "what," as in: "What does the Holy Spirit actually do?" Because the Spirit is not seen in the Bible, there is more to say about the work of the Holy Spirit than about the person of the Holy Spirit. The best way to know the Spirit is to understand and experience his effects. I have divided the work of the Spirit into seven categories: the Holy Spirit convicts, converts, applies, glorifies, sanctifies, equips, and promises.
The Holy Spirit Convicts
It is remarkable if you think about it. Jesus spends his last few hours before death teaching his disciples about the Trinity. Of all that he could have said, he felt it most necessary to speak of his oneness with the Father and his unity with the coming Holy Spirit. Five times in the Upper Room Discourse Jesus promises the Holy Spirit (John 14:16–17, 26; 15:26–27; 16:4b–11, 12–15). In the fourth of these statements Jesus speaks of the Spirit's convicting power:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper [parakletos] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:7–11)
Understandably, the disciples are upset that Jesus is leaving (John 16:6). But Jesus assures them it is for their good, for if he doesn't go away, the paraclete will not come. The "will not" is not because the Spirit and the Son cannot occupy the same space, but because the Spirit can come only after the Son's death, resurrection, and ascension. The inauguration of God's reign begun by Christ will be completed by the Spirit, but only after Christ's work is accomplished.
The church, then, in a paradoxical way, is better because Jesus is no longer physically here. Back in the first century one had to go to Palestine in order to be with Jesus. But now, on the other side of Pentecost, Christ can be everywhere by his Spirit. We don't have to travel to Israel to be with him or live in the mountains or light a candle to find him. We can do better than walking with him or seeing him. He can dwell in us anywhere at any time.
For the disciples, the presence of the Spirit was good news. He would be their Helper-Comforter-Advocate. But for the world, for those mired in sin, the Spirit would wield a convicting or exposing power (see John 3:20, where the same word, elegcho, is used). The Holy Spirit acts like a giant searchlight, exposing the world's wickedness and calling people everywhere to repentance. It's as if the world is having a nice romantic candlelight dinner, thinking everything is all sirloin and roses, and then voila! The Spirit flips on the lights to expose cockroaches scurrying up the walls and garbage strewn about the floor. We are not as good as we imagine, and the Spirit can prove it to us.
In particular, Jesus says the Spirit will convict the world of three things:
1. Of sin, because it does not believe in Jesus. At the heart of sin is unbelief. And there is no better (worse?) sign of unbelief than refusing to recognize Jesus for who he is.
2. Of righteousness, because Jesus went to the Father. The world is impressed with its own supposed goodness (Isa. 64:6) when it should be impressed with Jesus. We want to determine who Jesus is and decide what he really accomplished. But his ascension into heaven is enough to demonstrate his identity as the holy Son of God, one with the Father.
3. Of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. This is the most damning evidence the Spirit could bring against the Jews: they killed the wrong man and worship the wrong ruler. But the Spirit will come and bear witness to the resurrected Christ so they might see that the one they follow has been defeated and the one they murdered has proven victorious. The blow dealt to Satan on the cross was a precursor to the final defeat that awaits him and his spiritual children. Satan can still bark and bite, but he's on a short leash headed for the pound.
The primary fulfillment to this threefold promise came at Pentecost (Acts 2:22–24, 37), but the ongoing work of Spirit-prompted conviction continues wherever there is sin to be exposed and forgiven. The convicting work of the Spirit is the first element in regeneration. God the Holy Spirit must awaken us to our selfishness, our antipathy to godliness, and our indifference to Christ. Jonathan Edwards observed:
The Spirit that is at work takes off persons' minds from the vanities of the world, and engages them in a deep concern about eternal happiness, and puts them upon earnestly seeking their salvation, and convinces them of the dreadfulness of sin and of their own guilty and miserable state as they are by nature. It awakens men's consciences, and makes them sensible of the dreadfulness of God's anger, and causes in them a great desire and earnest care and endeavor to obtain his favour.
When the Spirit is at work, we will not just be embarrassed by our failures or regret our mistakes; we see our sins in relationship to God and experience what David felt when he cried out, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Ps. 51:4). No sentient man or woman is a Christian who has not seen his or her sin in light of the Spirit's convicting work and seen it as an offense against Almighty God.
The Holy Spirit Converts
The classic passage on conversion is John 3, where Jesus talks with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews (v. 1). Unlike many of the other Pharisees in the Gospels, Nicodemus seems like an honest seeker, if a little cowardly. He doesn't appear hostile to Jesus. In fact, he strikes me as a sincere religious man genuinely interested to learn from Jesus. There's only one massive problem with Nicodemus: he's not born from above. He recognizes that Jesus is a teacher come from God. He affirms that Jesus has done miracles with God's power (v. 2). But this is not enough. Jesus says to him in effect, "I don't care that you see the miraculous with your eyes. I want you to experience the miraculous in your heart."
Nicodemus, like the rest of us, must be born again (John 3:3). Or to put it another way, we must be born of water and the Spirit (v. 5). Nicodemus should have been familiar with this curious imagery, for it comes from the Old Testament (cf. v. 10). Jesus is no doubt thinking of Ezekiel 36, in particular the references to water and Spirit (vv. 25, 27). In Ezekiel's prophecy waters points to cleansing, and the indwelling of the Spirit suggests a new heart (vv. 25–26). Thus, in John 3, Jesus is not talking about the sacrament of baptism but about the supernatural work that removes the stain of sin and makes us new.
This is what the Bible means by new birth, conversion, regeneration, or being born again. Conversion is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5 calls it the "washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." Just like the wind (pneuma) blows where it wishes, so it is with everyone born of the Spirit (pneuma). God the Holy Spirit must invade our heart and awaken us to the vileness of sin, the truthfulness of God's Word, and the preciousness of Christ.
Jesus could not be any clearer: there is no Christian life without the converting work of the Spirit. He enables us to understand and spiritually discern the things of God (1 Cor. 2:12–14). He grants us repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18). He pours out God's love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). He enables us to believe in the promises of God (John 1:12–13). "No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father," Jesus says in John 6:65.
And how do the elect come to God? "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). So we come to faith in the Son by the Father's appointing and the Spirit's imparting. Faith itself, then, is a gift, a gift that comes at conversion when we are born again by the Spirit working through the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23–25).
The Holy Spirit Applies
Think of all Christ accomplished. He kept the prescriptive and penal requirements of the law. He took on human flesh and satisfied divine justice. He conquered death, sin, and the Devil. As the covenant-keeping Messiah, he won for his people every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). Jesus Christ is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
Union with Christ
But how does all that Christ accomplished become ours? That's a question most of have never considered. John Calvin asks: How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son — not for Christ's own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand, that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.
So how do we share in Christ's benefits? Calvin's answer: "The Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Holy Spirit"
Copyright © 2011 The Gospel Coalition.
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Table of Contents
The Holy Spirit in All the Bible, 7,
Who Is the Holy Spirit?, 9,
The Work of the Holy Spirit, 10,
The Gospel Coalition, 29,