It used to be said that the Holy Spirit was the forgotten person of the Godhead. Now, it seems, the majority of evangelicals aren’t even sure if He is a person. The State of Theology survey on both sides of the Atlantic shows that most think the Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal being (55% UK, 56% USA). Is that a problem? Yes, Scripture makes it clear that the Spirit is a person. The belief that He is just a force (as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses) was condemned as heresy at the Council of Constantinople in 381. But this is not only about a core article of faith, it has deep practical implications for our everyday spiritual life.
There are many ways in which the Bible teaches that the Spirit is a person and they all relate to His ministry to believers. So it matters a great deal that He is indeed a person. There is such a thing as the communion or fellowship of the Holy Spirit and you can only commune with a person (2 Corinthians 13:14). In His activity within believers it is clear that He has a mind (Romans 8:27), a will (1 Corinthians 12:11; Acts 15:28) and emotions (Ephesians 4:30). Not only can He be grieved but He can be vexed or angered and insulted (Isaiah 63:10; Hebrews 10:29). He can also be lied to (Acts 5:3-4).
As someone who speaks, the Spirit personally teaches, convinces and reminds (Acts 8:29; Acts 13:2; 1 Corinthians 2:13; John 16:8; John 16:13-14). He empowers (Zechariah 4:6) and guides believers (Isaiah 48:16; Romans 8:14; Acts 16:6-7). He witnesses with them (Romans 8:16), comforts them (John 14:26) and intercedes for them (Romans 8:26). He commands (Acts 8:29; 13:2; 16:7) and must be obeyed (Acts 10:19-21).
Can we do without the personal activity of the Spirit? That would be an impossible thought. The confused opinions about the Holy Spirit revealed in the recent survey show the need for clear teaching in the truths of Scripture. We have tools for this purpose in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. One of those who helped compile these documents was Francis Cheynell (1608–1665) who also wrote about the trinity and the practical necessity of believing in One God in Three Persons.
Obeying the Spirit is For Our Comfort
In hearing the Word we must give the same attention and devotion to the Spirit as we do to the Father and the Son (Hebrews 3:7-8 compared with Psalm 95:8). The Holy Spirit forbids us to harden our hearts against Him speaking in the Word (Acts 7:51). We grieve the Spirit when we resist the Spirit and will not give our spiritual assent and consent to the Word.
God the Holy Spirit is to be obeyed. We are devoted to His service in baptism. Our bodies and souls are temples consecrated to His honour and service. The Spirit conquers our carnal reason, puts to death our corruptions and subdues our hearts to obey Him as well as the Father and the Lord Jesus.
The Spirit is the spirit of conviction, regeneration, conversion, sanctification, edification and consolation (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Galatians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 12:8-9). The Spirit is the God of all comfort, it is His special function to comfort mourners.
It highly concerns us to obey the Holy Spirit and answer the many calls and motions of the Spirit with sincere obedience. Thus, our effectual calling may provide evidence of our election. This Spirit is the spirit of sanctification and adoption, the spirit of revelation and comfort, putting sin to death, making us live to righteousness. The Spirit quickens, moves, enables, inclines, persuades us to beleive in Christ, to love one another and to keep all the commandments of God.
This Spirit of faith, love, and obedience is the spirit of sanctification. If you find the spirit of sanctification in you, take good comfort even though the spirit of adoption seems to withdraw from you. He is certainly present and not idle or silent; He speaks by His real works and sweet fruits. The spirit of sanctification is one and the same as the spirit of adoption.
We know from the Spirit that Christ abides in us, that we dwell in Him and He in us (1 John 3:23-24; 4:13). If there is therefore a spirit of faith, love, and obedience in you, rejoice in it, lift up your heart to God in thankfulness for it. Thank God if you have a heart obedience to the doctrine given to you by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:17). If you are much engaged in supplication and thanksgiving, the spirit of supplication will be a spirit of adoption and an oil of gladness (Hebrews 1:9).
The Spirit will teach you to cry “Abba, Father” with comfort (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15). The Spirit will fill your souls with all joy, and peace in believing, and in obeying. The joy of the Spirit shall be your strength. The comforts of the Almighty, including all the comforts of the kingdom of God (which consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit) shall be all-sufficient to revive and support your dejected spirit. All your fears and discomforts shall be dispelled, your wants supplied, your wounds, sores and infirmities healed. Ultimately, you will be filled with all the fulness of God (Malachi 4:2; Ephesians 3:19).
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