We often treat the Holy Spirit as a kind of the “black sheep” of the Trinity. Many have a flawed understanding of who the Spirit is based on what they have experienced or been taught. Our misunderstandings of the Spirit are errors that we should carefully avoid. The Spirit’s work is essential to the functioning of our Christian life, and his character and attributes are essential to our understanding of God’s nature. In order to commune with and appreciate the Spirit, we must study what the Scriptures say regarding who the Spirit is and how he works in our life.
The work of the Spirit in the believer’s life begins with regeneration. The Bible is clear that we are all sinful, incapable of our own righteousness and spiritual life (Rom 3:10–12; 8:7–9). Our minds are hostile to God, and in our flesh, we cannot please him (Rom 8:7–8; Isa 53:6).
How then can someone who is dead take a step toward God? How could someone who is blind see? Paul explains:
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:3–7).
Our salvation, in his mercy, comes forth by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Every believer’s story starts with the work of the Spirit bringing a miraculous new birth. He raises the dead, gives sight to the blind, ears to the deaf. This is the work of regeneration in the believer (John 3:3–5; 6:63).
The Spirit, having turned the human heart towards God, now begins work in him.
A believer who has been given new life is called to no longer live like they used to, but to live as a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). They are to put sin to death (Eph 4:22, Col 3:5) and to live out their new identity created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). The believer is to imitate and obey Christ (Phil 2:3–8; John 13:12–15; 1 John 2:6).
Although the power and the presence of sin remain after the new birth, through the work of the Spirit believers “are being transformed” (2 Cor 3:18). It is through the Spirit’s power and work that the believer can grow up into Christlikeness. The goal of God’s regenerating work is that we would be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Since the Holy Spirit is responsible for sanctification, the believer is to be dependent upon Him in order to live a life of joyful obedience.
The believer is to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), which means the believer can and will obey God (Ezek 36:26–27) and that God’s law is now written on the heart (Jer 31:31–34). The righteousness we once hated is now delighted in and longed for, and the desires of the flesh may no longer be gratified (Gal 5:16). He empowers the believer to act in sacrificial service (1 John 4:10; Rom 5:8; Phil 2:5–8) towards their neighbour (Matt 22:39). He causes them to have “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22–23).
The Spirit will sanctify the saints, but it does not happen right away. There will still be struggles and temptations, successes and failures. We will fall short of living out our new identity and will at times choose to gratify the desires of our flesh rather than trusting in the promises of God. However, a believer cannot go on sinning with a clear conscience, because the indwelling Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and righteousness (John 16:8).
Testifies to Christ
The Spirit works by testifying to the believer the sufficiency of who Christ is and what Christ has done (John 15:26, 16:13–15). He bears witness to Christ’s perfect life and obedience, his wrath-absorbing substitution in the place of sinners for the forgiveness and cleansing of sin, his perfect righteousness which he imputed to all those who trust in him, and his marvellous resurrection showing his power over death and sin.
He also bears witness to us that because of this work of Christ, and despite our sins and weaknesses, God has adopted us as his own children. The believer has “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”(Rom 8:16–17). It does not matter how weak a believer feels or how much he struggles; through the Spirit, he can always cry out to his Father (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit is a help and encouragement even in the darkest nights. In the seasons of struggling, the Spirit will break through to comfort and remind the believer of the work of Christ on his behalf and God’s love for us as sons, “a never ending, never giving up, unstopping, always and forever love.”
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:13–14).
The Holy Spirit secures the believer when he puts his faith in Christ. Not only does the Spirit of God get the believer “in” through regeneration, but he also is the guarantee that we will make it to the end (Eph 4:30). The believer has full confidence that, in Christ, God’s view of them isn’t going to change. He has given them as a down payment the Holy Spirit! The Spirit ensures that what God has started in regeneration and sanctification, he will also bring to completion (Phil 1:6).
Peter likewise describes God’s sealing power:
[God] has caused us to be born again to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet 1:3–5).
Regeneration and glorification are a package deal. When one is born again, it is to an inheritance that is secure! The believer is absolutely, firmly, eternally secure because he is being guarded by the very power of God—the Spirit himself (Luke 1:35, 4:14; Acts 1:8; Rom 1:4; 15:13, 1 Thess 1:5, 2 Tim 1:7). What a great hope and assurance the believer has because of the Spirit of God. No matter how weak and weary he may feel, he can have great assurance because God has promised to sustain him to the end (John 10:27–28; 1 Cor 1:8).
Distributes Spiritual Gifts
The Spirit also works in the life of a believer by distributing spiritual gifts as he wills (1 Cor 12:11). What we consider to be “spiritual gifts” are different kinds of service to God for the purpose of building up the body of Christ in love (1 Cor 12:5, 12–26). The Spirit works in Christians to encourage, uplift, challenge, and edify each other. The Spirit is alive and working when the church is united and thriving as each member functions in his or her spiritual gifts. Without the Spirit giving different gifts to his people, the church would be as useless as a body made up entirely of hands or eyes (1 Cor 12:17).
When we come to the Scripture we see that the Spirit is valued and loved as an essential person of the Godhead. We should, therefore, love him, trust him, rely upon him, and have communion with him, all the while being thankful for his regenerating, sanctifying, securing, edifying, unifying work that plays out in our lives every day.