Monday, January 01, 2007

Getting to know the Holy Spirit

I gave this lesson at church after having studied through sections of J.I. Packer's "Knowing God". The book is quoted extensively and the lesson is meant to explore the answers to three questions:

    Who is the Holy Spirit?
    What does he do?
    What should our response be?

    Who is the Holy Spirit?

    In order to understand who the Holy Spirit is, we must first look to the Trinity.
    The heart of Christian faith in God is the revealed mystery of the Trinity.

    Trinitas is a Latin word meaning “threeness”. Our Christianity rests upon the doctrine of the Trinitas, the threeness, the tri-personality of God. We talk about God the father and the son, but seldom speak about God the spirit. But, God cannot be split into only the parts we wish to address. Our God is a triune God.

    John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In this scripture, John sets out the mystery of one God in two persons. But this is not all that John means us to learn about the Trinity. In John 14 Jesus is about to leave, but promises the gift of “another counselor” (Jn 14:16). Let’s take a look at this counselor to get a clear picture of the third person of the Trinity.

    The word translated as “counselor” is Parakletos. My study Bible defines it as follows: comforter, encourager, helper, etc. Christ designates the Holy Spirit as “Paraclete” (Jn 14:16), and calls Him allos, another, which means another of equal quality (and not heteros, another of a different quality). Therefore, the Holy Spirit is designated by Jesus Christ as equal with Himself, i.e., God. This new Paraclete, the Holy Spirit is to witness concerning Jesus Christ and to glorify Him. The Holy Spirit is called a Paraclete because He undertakes Christ’s office in the world while Christ is away from the world (Jn 14:26; 16:7-15).

    The word Paraclete is rendered in a variety of ways in different translations: counselor (NIV, RSV), comforter (KJV), friend (Message), helper (NAS), advocate (Weymouth), one “to befriend you” (Knox). J.I. Packer in “Knowing God” wrote - The thoughts of encouragement, support, assistance, care, the shouldering of responsibility for another’s welfare, are all conveyed by this word. Another comforter – yes, because Jesus was their original comforter, and the newcomer’s task, the Holy Spirit’s task was to continue this side of His ministry. It follows, therefore, that we can only appreciate all that our Lord meant when he spoke of “another comforter” as we look back over all that Jesus himself had done in the way of love, and care, and patient instruction, and provision for the disciples’ well being, during his own three years of personal ministry to them. “He will care for you,” Christ was saying in effect, “in the way that I have cared for you.”

    Jesus named the new comforter. He is the “Spirit of Truth”, “the Holy Spirit”. This name denotes deity. Packer writes – In the Old Testament, God’s Word and God’s Spirit are parallel figures. God’s word is His almighty speech; God’s Spirit is his almighty breath. Both Phrases convey the thought of His power in action. The speech and the breath of God appear together in the record of creation. (Gen 1:2-3) “The Spirit [breath] of God was hovering over the waters. And God said… and there was…”. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath [Spirit] of his mouth” (Ps 33:6). The Spirit is Holy. He is God the Spirit and one with God the Father and God the Son.

    What does he do?

    The work of the Holy Spirit is vital. “…were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel, no faith, no church, no Christianity in the world at all.” - J.I. Packer “Knowing God”.
    When Jesus left the world he committed His cause to his disciples: But how could they be counted on to get it right? They were not good students; they consistently failed to understand His teaching and missed the point throughout his ministry. They were stubborn, prideful, uneducated and often thick. How could they be expected to do better now that he had gone?

    But they would not fail because Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to them, to teach them all truth and so save them from all error, to remind them of what they had been taught already and to reveal to them the rest of what their Lord meant them to learn. (Jn:14:26; 12:49-50; 17:8,14; 16:12-14; 15:26-27) Packer wrote – The promise was that, taught by the Spirit, these original disciples should be enabled to speak as so many mouths of Christ so that, just as the Old Testament prophets had been able to introduce their sermons with the words, “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah,” so the New Testament apostles might with equal truth be able to say of their teaching, oral or written, “Thus saith the Lord Jesus Christ.” And the thing happened. (1 Cor 2:9-13)

    The Spirit testified to the apostles by revealing to them all truth and inspiring them to communicate it with all truthfulness. Hence the gospel, and hence the New Testament. But, the world would have had neither without the Holy Spirit. – J.I. Packer – “Knowing God”
    … without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth – in short, no Christians. – J.I. Packer – “Knowing God”.

    The light of the gospel shines, but (2 Cor 4:4)“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

    What follows, then? Should we conclude that preaching the gospel is a waste of time and write off evangelism as a hopeless enterprise, fore-doomed to fail? No, because the Spirit abides with the church to testify of Christ. To the apostels, he testified by revealing and inspiring, as we have seen. To the rest of us, down the ages, he testifies by illuminating: opening blinded eyes, restoring spiritual vision, enabling sinners to see that the gospel is indeed God’s truth, and Scripture is indeed God’s Word, and Christ is indeed God’s son. (Jn 16:8)

    It is not for us to imagine that we can prove the truth of Christianity by our own arguments; nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit, by his own almight work of renewing the blinded heart. It is the sovereign prerogative of Christ’s Spirit to convince men’s consciences of the truth of Christ’s gospel; and Christ’s human witnesses (you and me) must learn to ground their hopes of success not in clever presentation of the truth by man, but on powerful demonstration of the truth by the Spirit. – J.I. Packer – “Knowing God”. (1 Cor 2:1-5)

    Because the Spirit does bear witness in this way, people come to faith when the gospel is preached. But, without the Spirit there would not be a Christian in the world.

    What should our response be?

    1. Do we honor the Holy Spirit by recognizing and relying on his work? Or, do we slight him by ignoring it, and thereby dishonor not merely the Spirit but the Lord who sent him?
    2. In our faith; do we acknowledge the authority of the Bible which He inspired? Do we read and hear it with the reverence and receptiveness that are due to the word of God?
    3. In our testimony: Do we remember that the Holy Spirit alone, by his testimony, can authenticate our testimony, and look to Him to do so, and trust Him to do so, and show our trust by chucking the gimmicks of human cleverness?
    4. In 1973 J.I. Packer wrote – Can we doubt that the present barrenness of the church’s life is God’s judgment on us for the way in which we have dishonored the Holy Spirit? And, in that case, what hope have we of its removal till we learn in our thinking and our praying and our practice to honor the Holy Spirit? “He shall testify…” He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”