A Powerful Breath
The dynamic role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life
By Frank M. Hasel
The work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible has something delightfully elusive about it. Jesus compares the Holy Spirit with the wind (John 3:8), and the Old Testament describes the Holy Spirit in similar language: He is ruach, i.e., breath, wind, or spirit (cf. Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4). He is like the wind: no one knows where He is coming or going. He is invisible, yet He is real. Everybody knows and experiences the results. Like the breath we breathe, the Holy Spirit is essential for our spiritual life. Without Him we could not exist spiritually, yet He assumes more of a background position in the Bible.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
It is not surprising that the Holy Spirit surfaces in Scripture less prominently than God the Father or Jesus Christ. One of His significant tasks is to magnify the redemptive work of Christ and to point human beings to Jesus (John 15:26). The message of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is never “Behold Me; worship Me; come to Me; get to know Me.” Instead, He exalts Jesus and magnifies His glory; He leads people to a saving knowledge of Jesus and through Him acquaints them with God the Father. He leads them to obey the revealed and inspired Word of God. In our sinful world of egocentricity and self-promotion, the beauty of the Spirit lies not in self-display, but in divine selflessness. He teaches us to give glory to God the Father through Jesus Christ His son (John 16:13-15). For this reason believers are rightly called “Christians,” not “Pneumians.”1
The Necessity of the Holy Spirit
Without the Holy Spirit we would not have the Bible as the foundation of our faith. Our knowledge of God depends upon Him. He knows God like no other created being. He even searches the depth of God (1 Cor. 2:10, 11). For this reason He is uniquely fitted to make God and His will known in a trustworthy and authoritative manner, for He is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26). Indeed, the process of divine revelation and inspiration is uniquely His work (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21). Yet the result of His inspiration is not a Book that is primarily about the Holy Spirit, but rather a Book that points to Jesus Christ the Son of God (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44, 45; John 15:26; 16:14).
The Holy Spirit Inspires
The Holy Spirit also awakens in us an appreciation of the divine message and kindles our desire to obey the Word of God. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand what He has inspired (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12, 14, 15; Eph. 1:17-19). He never contradicts Holy Scripture and does not supersede the Bible. The Holy Spirit not only authored the written Word of God, but He was also significantly involved in the Word becoming flesh (Luke 1:35).
The Holy Spirit Leads
Scripture tells us that from the very beginning the Holy Spirit was active in this world. He was present when our world was created (Gen. 1:2). He guided the people of God by giving visions and dreams through His prophets (e.g., Dan. 2:19; 7:1; 2 Sam. 23:2). He empowered individuals and kings to lead and deliver Israel (e.g., Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29). He guided the New Testament church (Acts 1:8; 2:38; 13:1-4, 9; 20:28) and equips the church to spread the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ to prepare the world for His soon return.
The Holy Spirit Brings Awareness
On a personal level, the Holy Spirit is the author of our spiritual life (John 3:5, 6). It is the Holy Spirit who awakens our sinful and dead heart (see Eph. 2:1; Eze. 36:26, 27) and opens our blind eyes (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4) to the deceptive reality of sin. He arouses our misguided conscience, brings awareness about divine justice and judgment, and leads us to repentance (John 16:8-11).
The Holy Spirit Helps Mold Character
Once we accept Jesus Christ as our only Savior, the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are adopted as God’s children (Rom. 8:16). The Holy Spirit not only leads sinners to Jesus, but also breaks the power of sin and enables the believer to live victoriously through the blood of Christ (Rev. 12:11). As the Holy Spirit cleanses us from sin and sanctifies us (1 Cor. 6:11), He conforms our character to His divine likeness (2 Cor. 3:18) and produces the fruit of the Spirit within us (Gal. 5:22, 23).
The Holy Spirit Unites the Church
Through the Holy Spirit we are effectually united with Christ. This work on the individual level leads to a specific community of faith: the church. We are baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This is done in the one name of the true God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19), indicating that the Holy Spirit is as fully divine as God the Father and God the Son. Hence, God’s church is called the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; Eph. 2:19-22). Having experienced salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone, there is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit in the church (see 2 Cor. 13:13; Phil. 2:1, 2). He builds the faith community together into a spiritual house of God “in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). He assists believers and is their “Helper,” “Comforter” (KJV), or “Counselor” (RSV),2 as the word parakletos has been translated (John 14:16). He actively supports and equips the various members of the body of Christ by giving special spiritual gifts to each as He sees fit (1 Cor. 12:11) and produces love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22).
The Holy Spirit Transforms
The Holy Spirit works harmoniously together with God the Father and God the Son to accomplish our salvation. Taking into consideration this broad activity, the work of the Holy Spirit can be described as God’s sublime presence and influence. The English word “sublime” expresses something high in excellence. It describes something that is exalted by nature and is elevated in dignity and honor. It converts something inferior into something of higher worth.3 The ministry of the Holy Spirit is indeed sublime and superbly divine. He works without coercion, yet He is immensely powerful. The Holy Spirit is God’s sublime gift of Himself leading to a transformation of our lives and bringing us into joyful fellowship with Jesus Christ and God the Father.
1 Graham A. Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007), p. 284.
2 Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, by Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
3 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sublime (accessed Oct. 31, 2011).
Frank M. Hasel, Ph.D., is professor and dean of the Theological Seminary at Seminar Schloss Bogenhofen, Austria.