“The Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17) and “God [the Father] is Spirit” (John 4:24). Biblically speaking, the Holy Spirit is God. It is evident from Scripture that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct, and yet one.
But what does the Holy Spirit do? Many good books, and some questionable ones, have been written about this question.
From the Bible, we know a lot about what the Holy Spirit does in and with Christians. For example, the Spirit dwells in those who belong to Christ (Romans 8:9). The Spirit regenerates us (John 3:5-6). The Spirit testifies that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16), guarantees our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 1:22), produces godly fruit in us (Galatians 5:22), sanctifies us (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and unifies us with other believers (Philippians 2:1, Ephesians 4:3-4), etc. Scripture describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth (John 14:17), of life (Romans 8:2), and of grace (Hebrews 10:29).
After Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples and explained that one of them would betray him, he prepared them for his death by telling them what would happen once he had accomplished his sacrificial work on the cross. Jesus’ discourse is recorded in John 14 through 17. Jesus told the disciples that the Father would send the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit would do certain things. Let’s use John 14:26 as a summary framework for understanding what the Holy Spirit does today.
John 14:26 reads, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I have said to you.”
The Helper, whom the Father will send in my name
The Spirit helps us in our Christian walk. The Greek word used here is usually transliterated Parakletos, meaning Advocate or Comforter—someone who beseeches on behalf of another. This term does not appear often in the New Testament. An additional usage is in 1 John 2:1, where Jesus is described as an Advocate for us with the Father. Jesus, who knows our frame and our weaknesses, having shared humanity with us as God in the flesh, comforts us by pleading our cause through his sacrifice and resurrection for us.
Jesus uses the term Parakletos to refer to himself and the Holy Spirit – “I will send you another helper” (John 14:16). Jesus is our helper in heaven, whereas the Holy Spirit is our helper on earth, now that Christ has ascended to the Father.
The Spirit also pleads the cause of Christ in our hearts and in our minds. He educates and prompts our consciences, helping us resist the temptations of the devil. He reminds us of Christ’s will for us so we can be led by Christ, and helps us in our prayer life when words and thoughts fail us (Romans 8:14, 26-27), thus making intercession for us.
This is not an independent work of the Spirit. Whatever the Spirit does is according to the will of the Father. The Spirit continues, in Jesus’ name, the work of the Father and the Son in the world and in the church (Ephesians 1:17).
Some churches speculate that this is the “Age of the Spirit” referred to in Acts 2:18 – “I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” The context of this passage reveals that the prophecy, originally from Joel 2:29, had its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:14-16). There is no indication that there was to be a special “end-time” repeated application of this verse.
“The Age of the Spirit” is an appealing concept, especially to people who have been influenced by New Age thinking. However, there is no biblical evidence to support it. The idea is reminiscent of a third-century heresy called Sabellianism. Sabellius taught that in the history of salvation God is revealed in three stages – first as the Father (the Creator), then as the Son (the Redeemer) and finally (now) as the Holy Spirit. Sabellius did not believe that God could be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at the same time.
Perhaps Sabellius was trying to counter Tritheism, the idea, in contrast to monotheism (the teaching that there is only one God), that God is three different gods! Today, tritheistic thought occurs when people imply that the Holy Spirit has a separate will from the Father and the Son, or when they claim that the work of the Spirit is independent of or in addition to the work of the Father and the Son.
The work of the Holy Spirit is the work of the Father and the Son, not the Spirit’s own agenda. The Father does nothing apart from the Son and the Spirit; the Son does nothing apart from the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit does nothing apart from the Father and the Son.
We are “elect according the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). The “age of the Spirit” is not an age in which the Spirit calls attention to himself or sets up shop independently or in addition to the Father and the Son; rather, it is the age in which the Spirit carries out the Father’s will by making known to the world that the Father sent the Son for the redemption and salvation of humanity. In that sense, we are in the age of the Spirit.
He will teach you all things
In John 16:13 Jesus says, “The Spirit will guide you into all truth.” This is not an independent action of the Spirit. John 16:13 stresses, “He [the Spirit] will not speak of his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.” Just as the words that Jesus spoke were the words of the Father (John 17:8), so it is with the Holy Spirit – the Spirit does not speak his own thoughts, but the thoughts he hears from the Father. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one. The Spirit and the Son do only the will of the Father.
How does the Spirit lead and teach us? Sometimes we forget the most obvious way, or we feel (mistakenly) that it is not enough. “Moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), people of God wrote the Old and New Testaments. The Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude, the books of Hebrews and Revelation were given to the church through the Spirit’s inspiration since the day of Pentecost. They are instructive for us, showing what God’s will is for us, teaching us more fully in the way of Christ. “The sword of the Spirit…is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
The Spirit also guides believers to take opportunities to spread the gospel. This can be observed in the book of Acts. When opportunities presented themselves, such as the gathering on the day of Pentecost and the crowds at the market place near Mars Hill in Athens, the Holy Spirit inspired Christians to take advantage of those opportunities.
Within the church context, the Holy Spirit provides gifts and strengths to individuals for the furtherance of the gospel and for the edification of the believers. This “demonstration of the Spirit” is part of teaching and guiding (1 Corinthians 2:4, 12:11).
And bring to your remembrance all things that I have said to you
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by James Henderson in 2004 and updated in 2014. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
The Holy Spirit helped the apostles remember the life and teachings of Christ and to write about them for future generations, including us. The Spirit also helps us remember the example and words of Jesus so we can become more like the Son.
The Spirit points us to Jesus. Always. The Spirit does not draw attention to himself, but he glorifies Jesus, and declares him to us (John 16:14). Confessing that Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came and died and rose for us is a work of the Spirit of God in us (1 John 4:2). The Holy Spirit never minimizes Christ by taking center stage for himself. Never. The Gospel is about the atoning work of Jesus Christ, enabled by the Father and proclaimed through the Spirit.
God the Father sent Jesus Christ to us and pointed to him, saying that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased (Luke 3:22). The Son affirmed that he did the works of the Father who sent him (John 5:36) – so the Son pointed us to the Father. The Son also pointed to the promise of the Father – the Holy Spirit, who always points us to Jesus. These three are one – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
“By this we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13).