We come now to the 3rd Article in our Lenten series on the Apostles Creed. “I believe in the Holy Spirit…”
A good way to get started might be to simply restate a point we made at the very beginning of this series, which is that although we ‘confess’ the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in that order, we actually ‘experience’ the Trinity in exactly the reverse order. It is the Holy Spirit who first directs us to The Son and The Son who brings us to The Father, “for no one comes to the Father except through Me” says our Lord. (John 14:6).
So in a sense, as we come to the 3rd Article of the Creed we are actually returning to the place where we actually began and were led to both confess with the mouth and believe with the heart in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Romans 10:9)
Who is the Holy Spirit? This is a difficult place to begin simply because we’re not all that used to thinking and speaking about the Holy Spirit in terms of ‘who He is.’ Typically, what we think and say about the Holy Spirit centers on ‘what He does.’ Which is just the way we began this sermon – by speaking about how the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus who brings us to the Father. That’s what He does.
But before we get there, it really is important that we have a solid understanding of ‘who He is.’
Let’s begin with the word, ‘Spirit.’ The word “SPIRIT” in the Old Testament is “ruach” and in the New Testament it’s “pneuma.” In both Old and New Testaments, these words can mean either, ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ or ‘spirit.’ So when we read in Genesis that God made Adam in the beginning out of the dust of the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” we could just as easily and accurately say that as God ‘spirited into his nostrils the spirit of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Gen.2:7)
Later, when the Church would expand its explanation of the 3rd Article in the Nicene Creed, it will direct us to confess that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord and GIVER OF LIFE.” This is based at least in part, on the Genesis account – the man became a ‘living being’ only after the breath or Spirit was blown into him.
The important point here is that without the Holy Spirit, that is, without God’s breath / God’s Spirit breathed into you, you are not a “living being,” at least not in the fullest and biblical sense. Your body may have a good strong pulse and perfectly normal brain waves, and it may meet all of the standard medical and legal criteria to call it ‘alive’ – maybe even ‘healthy.’ But according to the God’s Word, apart from the Holy Spirit breathed into you, there is no life in you. Not to get too cute here, but apart from the Holy Spirit breathed into you, you are one of the ‘living dead.’
This explains why, when Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, Jesus told him that he must be “born again.” His first birth was by his mother and father which gave him life in a physical sense. But the life that Jesus wants Nicodemus to have is the life that only the Spirit of God can give.
Understanding this should also help us better understand what we mean when we say that we are all born DEAD IN SIN. All of our vital signs might signal a healthy baby, but until the Holy Spirit is breathed into us we lack that life that God created us with in the beginning – which is a life with God that knows no death, no end – that is eternal life.
So as obvious as it may seem, when we confess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we are saying that we believe that the 3rd person of the Trinity is ‘spirit.’ But certainly not just any ‘spirit.’ As Luther points out in his Large Catechism, the Bible tells us that there are lots of different spirits, such as a ‘human spirit,’ ‘heavenly spirits’ and ‘evil spirits.’ But there is only one, Holy Spirit.
And that brings us to the word, “holy.” The word ‘holy’ in the Old Testament is “qavod” which literally means ‘weight’ or ‘heavy.’ When something is “qavod” it’s got weight to it and is not to be taken ‘lightly.’ It demands ‘respect’ and ‘reverence’ and ‘awe.’ What is “qavod” is ‘set apart’ from the common and ordinary and treated as ‘sacred.’
The word ‘holy’ in the New Testament is “hagios.” The word “hagios” has to do with being ‘set apart’ and ‘treated as sacred’ first and foremost because it touches upon God Himself. The 2nd Commandment tells us to keep God’s name ‘holy.’ We are to treat His name with reverence and set apart from the common and ordinary because His name touches closely on God Himself. God is holy.
The word “hagios” also has to do with being ‘set apart’ from that which is common and unclean. To be ‘holy’ is to be ‘set apart’ from sin and all its’ works and all its’ ways. To be ‘holy’ is to be pure, perfect, without sin – as only God is ‘holy’.
To confess that we believe in the HOLY Spirit is to confess that this Spirit not only touches closely on God Himself – but in fact, He IS God Himself. The Holy Spirit is God, in whom all the fullness of the deity dwells – not ‘bodily’ as it does with the Son, but in Spirit.
This is WHO the Holy Spirit is. He is Spirit. He is Holy. He is the Holy Spirit.
And now we’re ready to think about what the Holy Spirit DOES. What is the work of the Holy Spirit?
The $100 theological word for the work of the Holy Spirit is “sanctification.” “Sanctification” is a Latin word built on the word “sanctus,” which means ‘holy’ with all of the same connotations as “kavod” and “hagios.” The work of the Holy Spirit is to ‘sanctify’ us, to ‘make us holy.’ That is, to bring US ‘close’ to God as His ‘holy ones.’
But stop right there. How can sinners like us come ‘close’ to the holy, holy, holy God? As long as we are still in our sins, we cannot. And so it’s right here where we understand better WHY the Holy Spirit must bring us to The Son who brings us to The Father.
It is the Son who has suffered, died, been buried and raised from the dead to atone for and forgive the sin of the whole world. The Holy Spirit now works to bring the whole world to Jesus, one person at a time, that every individual may believe and find their peace in the knowledge that Christ died FOR ME.
It is just this faith in Jesus Christ that God has deigned to count as ‘righteousness.’ Apart from faith, the work of Christ is fully accomplished yet never received. And this God has deigned to count as ‘unrighteousness’ and the basis for His judgement on the Last Day.
Listen to how Paul puts it to the Corinthians. After stating in unequivocal terms that “the unrighteous”- that is, those who refuse to believe in the accomplished work of Christ and Him crucified for MY SIN, and who insist on persisting in that which God calls ‘sin,’ “will not inherit the kingdom of God,” he goes on to say, “and such were some of you. But you were washed, you were SANCTIFIED, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and BY THE SPIRIT OF OUR GOD.” (1 Cor. 6:11).
It is Jesus who has ‘justified’ me by doing the ‘justice’ that my crimes against God deserve. It is the Holy Spirit who ‘sanctifies’ me by bringing me to Jesus and giving me the new life of faith that believes that all that Jesus did on that cross was FOR ME.
This is the ‘new life’ that the ‘Spirit of God’ gives and that only He can give. And His work is not a once and done work which leaves us on our own to deal with God if we fall and sin again after we have been justified by the blood of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit continues to increase and strengthen my faith. The ‘new life’ that He breathes into me creates in me a whole new heart and mind that, instead of refusing the free gift of life and insisting on persisting in what God calls ‘sin,’ now believes the gospel and desires to please God in all that I think and say and do – that is, to live according to His Word and do works that HE calls ‘good.’
Writing to the Galatians, Paul directs us away from the ‘desires of the flesh which are against the Spirit’ and to the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ which is ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal. 5:19-23).
On the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit blew His breath and rested as tongues of fire on the Apostles of Jesus, Peter replied to those who asked, “what then shall we do,” by offering them “the gift of the Holy Spirit” through repentance and baptism. (Acts 2:38) To refer to the Holy Spirit as “the gift” is perfect. He is the ‘gift’ that keeps on giving – producing His ‘fruit’ in us and through us.
Everyone who confesses that they believe in the Holy Spirit ought to breathe a deep sigh of relief every time they speak these words. How many times every day are we faced with having to make a decision which are not as clear cut as we’d like for them to be and we’re not sure what the ‘right’ decision or the ‘best’ decision is?
What a relief to know that we don’t need to look for a ‘special message’ or ‘revelation’ from the Spirit, which He never actually says He will give. Given a vast array of responsible choices we could make, we’re free to use our God-given wisdom as it has been informed by God’s Word to make the best decision we can – and then rest assured that the Holy Spirit will use it to produce His fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…” and so forth.
Maybe we can begin to understand a bit more clearly now why, when our Lord wants to comfort His disciples as He speaks to them of His imminent arrest and death, He tells them that “it is to our advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:7,13)
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the believers ‘guide.’ He is our ‘travel guide’ who leads us into the “truth” that is all too often twisted and distorted by the ‘false spirits’ and ‘evil spirits’ in this world. The Holy Spirit leads and guides weary pilgrims into the water of baptism were we die and rise with Christ. And then, through the hearing of the gospel, continues to lead and guide us through this life and into the life to come and which never ends.
How does the Holy Spirit do this? He does all of this by “the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” which we will explore next week.