Lord’s Day 20
Question 53. What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost?
Answer. First, that He is true and co-eternal God with the Father and the Son; secondly, that He is also given me, to make me, by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all His benefits, that He may comfort me and abide with me for ever.
In this Lord’s Day we have the Catechism’s brief treatment of the Holy Spirit.
At first it may seem that the Reformed faith does not give enough attention to the Holy Spirit. After all, isn’t He as much God as the Father and the Son? And isn’t He the one who actually saves us today by giving us faith and uniting us to Christ? And hasn’t He been poured out in the New Testament church in a full and unique way, a way not known during Bible times? And so, shouldn’t He receive as much attention and praise as Father and Son?
While it may be true that we do not think about the Holy Spirit often enough, we must not fall into the error of overemphasizing the work of the Spirit at the expense of the gospel. This is what Pentecostalism has done, so that receiving the baptism or second blessing of the Spirit is viewed as more important than being saved through faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ, and being able to speak in tongues or perform or receive miracles is supposedly far superior to living a life of godliness and faith. This kind of emphasis on the Spirit robs ordinary Christians of comfort, and in the end is a denial of the gospel.
The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ, not to bring Himself as something extra or separate from the gospel (). This means that whenever we hear the true gospel of salvation in Christ alone, whenever we put our trust in Jesus as Savior, whenever we follow Him as our Lord, and whenever we worship Him in His exaltation, the Spirit is close by, doing His work in our hearts. The focus of our faith and worship is Jesus Christ, because that is the focus of the gospel in the New Testament, and of the Holy Spirit Himself. To be Spirit-led, or Spirit-filled, is to be focused in faith on Jesus Christ our Savior.
The Person of the Spirit
The first part of Answer 53 tells us who the Holy Spirit is.
The Holy Spirit is a real person, not an impersonal force of nature, or a mode of God’s expression. As a person, He teaches (), speaks ( ), intercedes ( ), grieves ( ), knows ( ), and wills ( )—all verbs with a personal subject.
The Spirit is not just any person, but He is a divine person, the third person of the Trinity, God Himself. By ascribing the divine acts of creation and resurrection to the Spirit, the Bible teaches that He is God (; ; ). The Scriptures also recognize that the Spirit possesses the unique characteristics of God: He is eternal ( ), omnipresent ( ), intrinsically holy ( ), and omniscient ( ). The Spirit’s name is also used interchangeably with the name of God ( ; and , and we are baptized in the name of the Spirit along with the Father and the Son, implying an equality of power and majesty among the three ( ).
The Bible also identifies the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9). By His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ earned the fullness and promise of the Spirit from the Father, for His people (). Today, the Spirit operates as the agent of Christ, to bring Jesus Christ and His saving work to His people.
The Work of the Spirit
When the catechism speaks of the Spirit’s work, it is very personal. But we must remember that the Spirit’s work is broader than just helping us individually. The Spirit has given us the Bible, God’s Word: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (). The Spirit also directs the spread of the gospel and the growth of the New Testament church ( ). The Spirit guides the New Testament church through controversy and opposition into a greater understanding of truth ( ). The Spirit works alongside the Word of God, written and preached, to open the hearts of the elect, and to make the call of the gospel effectual ( and ). All these things show us that the Spirit does not operate independent of the Word of God, or separate from the church of Christ. He saves by the gospel, and unites those whom He has saved to the body of Christ.
Nevertheless, His work is deeply personal. The Catechism puts it this way: “He is also given to me.” The Spirit is not simply an omnipresent being, from whom we cannot get away and whose power man cannot escape. Rather, the Spirit lives within us (), making every one of God’s people to be His dwelling place, a temple of the Holy Spirit ( ). Because the Spirit dwells in my heart as a believer ( ), He fills my entire being and influences my entire existence. Just as blood flows from the heart through the entire body to give life, so the Spirit, by His powerful presence, shapes my character, renews my mind, and sanctifies my emotions ( ). We cannot identify the location of the Spirit, but we do experience His presence and observe the result of His work ( ).
The Blessing of the Spirit
The Catechism mentions three benefits that we experience as a result of the Spirit’s work.
The first is that by a true faith the Spirit makes me a partaker of Christ and all His benefits. That the Spirit does this “by faith” means two important things: 1) that the Holy Spirit is the author of faith, and 2) that only believers benefit from the saving work of Christ. In the act of giving us faith, the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ. We are not partakers merely of benefits, but of Christ Himself. Out of Jesus Christ flows all blessing. He is the vine and we are the branches who have been grafted into Him by faith. The blessings that come from Christ include all the blessings of salvation (regeneration, calling, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification), as well as the blessings that are specifically the work of the Spirit (membership in the church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting).
The second benefit that comes through the Spirit’s work is the comforting presence of the Spirit. In the KJV, the Spirit is referred to as the Comforter (). Other versions of the Bible translate this word as “Helper,” “Counselor,” or “Advocate.” The Greek word is “paraclete” and refers to someone who comes along side you in your troubles to help, counsel, and comfort you. By giving this title to the Holy Spirit, Jesus was telling us that this would be the main ministry of the Holy Spirit—to help and comfort. He does this work in several ways, and usually quite indirectly, so that, again, we don’t always notice that the Spirit is doing this work. He will comfort us through the Word of God, maybe as we read it privately, or through a sermon. He may comfort us through other believers who also share the blessing of the Spirit. The Spirit does work directly on our minds, and so He will bring to our minds the truth of the Word and gospel, as we need it. He will also comfort us by assuring us that we are truly the children of God ( ). And often, through prayer, the Spirit will fill us with the peace of God that passes all understanding ( ).
The third benefit of the Spirit’s work mentioned in the Catechism is His abiding presence. Jesus’ parting promise was, “I am with you alway.” He keeps this promise today by dwelling in us by His Spirit (). Where the Spirit is, there Christ is ( ). Where the Spirit has come in saving power, and given grace and new life, the Spirit will never leave. His work is irresistible and irreversible. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” ( ).
Because of this we can have confidence as we face the future. Even in death, and beyond death in glory, the Spirit will abide with us as the personal bond that brings us into living and eternal fellowship with God.
Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the meaning ofin relation to the Spirit’s work, and in comparison to the modern teaching of Pentecostalism.
2. Give several proofs for the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Why is this important?
3. How would you reply to someone who says, “The Spirit led me to …” do whatever?
4. What are the evidences of the Spirit’s work in us? How do these work assurance?
5. What are some of the “works” of the Holy Spirit in connection with the church?
6. What does the Holy Spirit do for me personally as a believer?
7. When does the Holy Spirit give faith to the child of God, and what is the immediate result of this?
8. What are some of the blessings that come to us from Christ through the Holy Spirit?
9. How is the Spirit our “Comforter”?
10. How does Christ keep His promise to be with us till the end of the world?
11. How can we “grieve” and “quench” the Holy Spirit? (; )