This past Sunday we went over question 36 from the New City Catechism. If you’ve been following along with us you might have noticed that I skipped over question 35. That was intentional and I’d be happy to talk with anyone who is curious as to why.
But I love how question 36 gives such a clear definition of the Holy Spirit and I pray that as a church we will continue to pursue the Holy Spirit for the glory of Christ.
Question 36: What do we believe about the Holy Spirit?
Answer: That he is God, coeternal with the Father and the Son, and that God grants him irrevocably to all who believe.
Scripture: John 14:16–17
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Commentary by Sam Storms
Rarely does a Christian struggle to think of God as Father. And to envision God as Son is not a problem for many. These personal names come easily to us because our lives and relationships are inescapably intertwined with fathers and sons here on earth. But God as Holy Spirit is often a different matter. Gordon Fee tells of one of his students who remarked, “God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand; but the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.”
How different this is from what we actually read in Scripture. There we see that the Spirit is not third in rank in the Godhead but is coequal and coeternal with the Father and Son, sharing with them all the glory and honor due unto our triune God. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal power or an ethereal, abstract energy. The Spirit is personal in every sense of the term. He has a mind and thinks (Isa. 11:2; Rom. 8:27). He is capable of experiencing deep affections and feelings (Rom. 8:26; 15:30). The Spirit has a will and makes choices regarding what is best for God’s people and what will most glorify the Son (Acts 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:11).
We see even more of the Spirit’s personality when he is described as being grieved when we sin (Eph. 4:30). The Spirit, no less so than the Father and the Son, enters into a vibrant and intimate relationship with all whom he indwells (2 Cor. 13:14). The Spirit talks (Mark 13:11; Rev. 2:7), testifies (John 15:26; 16:13) encourages (Acts 9:31), strengthens (Eph. 3:16), and teaches us, especially in times of spiritual emergency (Luke 12:12). That the Spirit is personal is seen in that he can be lied to (Acts 5:3), insulted (Heb. 10:29), and even blasphemed (Matt. 12:31–32).
Above all else, though, the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9). His primary role in us, the temple of God in whom he dwells (Eph. 2:21–22), is other-directed or other-oriented as he ministers to direct our attention to the person of Christ and to awaken in us heartfelt affection for and devotion to the Savior (John 14:26; 16:12–15). The Holy Spirit delights above all else in serving as a spotlight, standing behind us (although certainly dwelling within us) to focus our thoughts and meditation on the beauty of Christ and all that God is for us in and through him.
As we prayerfully meditate on the person and work of the Spirit and give thanks for his powerful presence in our lives, we would do well to consider the words of Thomas Torrance, who reminds us that “the Spirit is not just something divine or something akin to God emanating from him, not some sort of action at a distance or some kind of gift detachable from himself, for in the Holy Spirit God acts directly upon us himself, and in giving us his Holy Spirit God gives us nothing less than himself.”