We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. But though we are orthodox in our creeds, I wonder if we truly realize how absolutely dependent on the Spirit we really are? I’m struck by the pervasive presence of the Spirit in the New Testament.[i]
The Holy Spirit was intimately connected with Jesus throughout his entire life. Prior to Jesus’ virginal conception an angel said to Mary, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35; cf. Matt. 1:18, 20). When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the Father anointed him with the Spirit (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). Then Jesus was immediately driven into the wilderness by the Spirit for a season of testing (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1). Luke says that Jesus was “full of the Spirit” when this happened; he afterward returned to Galilee in “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
In Jesus’ first sermon, he claimed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of a Spirit-anointed ministry of redemption and restoration to Israel (Luke 4:16–21). Peter’s summary of Christ’s ministry describes “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). When skeptical religious leaders accused him of casting out demons by satanic power, Jesus said, “if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).
In his death, Jesus offered himself as an atoning sacrifice through the Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14). Paul tells us that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). After Jesus’ resurrection he breathed on his disciples, saying “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Then followed Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on the church, as the Spirit of Christ.
The exaltation of Christ inaugurated the new age of the Spirit. Jesus, the quintessential Spirit-filled one, the Last Adam, has lived and died in our place. He is now exalted in glorified humanity. In this exalted position, the Spirit so identifies with the risen Lord Jesus that Paul speaks of Christ as “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45) and the “Lord of the Spirit”[ii] (2 Cor. 3:18).
As Sinclair Ferguson writes:
From womb to tomb to throne, the Spirit was the constant companion of the Son. As a result, when he comes to Christians to indwell them, he comes as the Spirit of Christ in such a way that to possess him is to possess Christ himself, just as to lack him is to lack Christ.[iii]
This is important for us to grasp because the Spirit, as given by our exalted Lord, is the agent who personally effects our transformation. When we embrace Christ as revealed in the gospel, he gives us his Spirit. The Holy Spirit remakes us after Christ’s likeness, changing us by the sight of his glory into his very image (2 Cor. 3:18). We are dependent on the Spirit for every inch of progress in our pursuit of holiness and transformation. As Calvin wrote,
It is the Spirit that inflames our hearts with the fire of ardent love for God and for our neighbor. Every day he mortifies and every day consumes more and more of the vices of our evil desire or greed, so that, if there are some good deeds in us, these are the fruits and the virtues of his grace; and without the Spirit there is in us nothing but darkness of understanding and perversity of heart.[iv]
All the leaves of the New Testament rustle with the fresh breeze of the Spirit. The apostolic writings pulsate with the Spirit’s life. They burn with the Spirit’s fire. Meditate for a moment on how the New Testament letters speak of the Spirit’s work.
· Christ bore our curse and died in our place so we could receive the promised Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:2–3, 5, 14).
· The Spirit gives us understanding of the gospel and makes it effective in our lives (1 Cor. 2:4, 12; 1 Thess. 1:4-5).
· The ministry of the new covenant is a ministry of the life-giving Spirit who brings freedom and transformation (2 Cor. 3:5-18).
· The Spirit is the agent of our sanctification, spiritual cleansing, and renewal (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:5).
· The kingdom of God consists of life and joy in the Spirit (Rom. 14:17), and the Spirit causes us to abound in hope (Rom. 15:13).
· Our access to God is in the Spirit (Eph. 2:18); in the Spirit we worship God (Phil. 3:3) and pray (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20).
· We are joined to the body of Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and God inhabits us as his new temple through the Spirit’s indwelling of the church (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:22).
· We know that we abide in God and God in us, because he has given us his Spirit (1 John 3:24; 4:13).
· The Spirit secures our salvation by sealing us for the future day of redemption (Eph. 1:13;4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22).
· God gives his Spirit as the down-payment and guarantee of our inheritance in Christ.
· The Spirit assures us that all of God’s promises will be fulfilled (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:19-22;2 Cor. 5:5).
· God pours his love into our hearts through his Spirit (Rom. 5:5), and gives us assurance of our sonship by causing us to cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6).
· The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).
· We now serve God not under the old written code of the law, but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6).
· We walk in the Spirit and set our minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-6 ).
· God’s glorious Spirit rests on us when we suffer for Christ (1 Peter 4:14).
· The Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts to know God better (Eph. 1:16-19), strengthens us in our inner being (Eph. 3:14-16), and fills us with the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-21; 5:18).
· The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in our hearts and enables us to put sin to death, promising to give life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:9-14).
It's obvious, isn't it? We are dependent on the Spirit for everything relating to our life and walk in Christ. The Spirit is the purchase of the Son, bequeathed to us through his death, resurrection, and ascension to God's right hand. He gives the Spirit to give us life and to secure, seal, sanctify, and assure us. It is by the Spirit that we live, walk, worship, pray, serve, and suffer. The Spirit opens eyes, strengthens hearts, enables holiness, and fills us with the fullness of God.
Are you consciously depending on the Spirit? Do you long for more of his manifest presence and fullness? Then ask, seek, and knock. To end with the words of Jesus,
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
This post was written for Christianity.com.
[i]This article is slightly edited and expanded from two sections of my book Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2010). Used with permission.
[ii]As Sinclair Ferguson explains, the last phrase of 2 Cor. 3:18, “ ‘from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ translates three Greek words: apo (from), kyrio (Lord, genitive case following the preposition apo) and pneumatos (Spirit, also in the genitive case). The statement is amendable to more than one interpretation: (1) ‘from the Spirit of the Lord.’ (2) ‘from the Lord who is the Spirit’; (3) ‘from the Lord of the Spirit.’ The third option may, at first glance, seem to be the least likely, but it is the most natural rendering and one that is highly illuminating theologically. Paul is then saying that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Spirit. There is no ontological confusion here, but an economic equivalence; nor is there an ontological subordinationism, but rather a complete intimacy of relationship between Jesus and the Spirit. In effect, Paul is teaching that through his life and ministry Jesus came into such complete possession of the Spirit, receiving and experiencing him ‘without limit’ (John 3:34), that he is now ‘Lord’ of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). With respect to his economic ministry to us, the Spirit has been ‘imprinted’ with the character of Jesus.” Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996) p. 55.
[iii]Ibid, p. 27.
[iv]John Calvin, Instruction in Faith (1537), Paul T. Fuhrmann, trans., (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1977) p. 52.