“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
There is a very real sense in which the Holy Spirit is much harder for us to get our brain wrapped around than the Father or the Son. Just the way that we identify the 1st and 2nd persons of the Trinity is different that the 3rd. “Father” and “Son” are very personal names which we can relate to. We all have fathers. We’re all either sons or daughters. We know what it means to trust, to serve, to speak to, to even worship a Father and a Son.
But the Holy Spirit is… different. What we said last week about ‘who’ the Holy Spirit is, is about as good as we are able to do. The Holy Spirit is Spirit, He is holy. The Holy Spirit is God.
But the Scriptures make it clear that the Holy Spirit is no less ‘personal’ than the Father or the Son just because we can’t identify with Him very well. The Holy Spirit is the personal Person of the Trinity who acts as the match-maker who brings us to the Son and the Son to us. Apart from the Holy Spirit, our relationship with the Son, and with the Father through the Son, would never happen.
But it’s just that role of ‘matchmaker’ that moves the Holy Spirit away from being the center of attention. The Spirit doesn’t have face or a body because He wants us to focus on the face of Jesus and the body of Christ.
I can remember as a child how my parents would sometimes like to visit ‘model homes’ and dream about owning one someday. There were spotlights focused on the model homes in order to illuminate the homes. Just think about how weird it would be for someone to pull up and marvel at the spotlights and focus all their attention on the light they put out – and never pay much attention to the model home. The Holy Spirit is like that. “Fix your eyes on Jesus…” He says.
But at the same time, we dare not lose sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit is fully God who works all things together with the Father and the Son, and apart from Whom, the Father and the Son cannot accomplish their work.
The Holy Spirit was in the beginning, hovering over the deep before the world was formed and the void was filled. The Holy Spirit overshadowed the virgin Mary and the Son of God was conceived. The Holy Spirit rested upon Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan and then, immediately led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Holy Spirit blew His breath onto the apostles of Jesus and appeared as tongues of fire over them on the Day of Pentecost. The creation, the incarnation, the victory over the devil, the spread of the Gospel – none of it would have been accomplished apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true regarding our salvation. It would never happen apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
On the night when He was to be betrayed, Jesus promised His disciples that when He went away, He would send “the Helper” to them. The New Testament word that Jesus uses here is ‘parakleytos.’ It’s a word that is borrowed from the legal system. Literally, it means, ‘one who is called to stand by someone’s side to plead their case before the judge.’ Picture an attorney standing next the accused – you – before the judge.
Earlier, Jesus had told them that they would be hauled into court and put on trial for His name’s sake – that is, just because they are Christians. But they need not worry what they will say, “for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt. 10:20).
A ‘parakleytos’ is an ‘advocate.’ He does the talking before the judge on behalf of the one whom he has been called to stand beside.
In his first epistle to the church, John writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate, (a ‘paracleytos’) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1Jn. 2:1)
John broadens our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit here. The advocacy of the Holy Spirit is not to defend us by pleading our innocence – as though we had no sin by which the Father could actually convict us. Nor does the Spirit plead that there are certain ‘technicalities’ here that get us off the hook.
No, the “paracleytos” pleads our case before the Father by pointing to the righteousness of One, Jesus, who has taken the full punishment for all of our sins in Himself, and covered all of our guilt in His blood – just as the Father sent Him into the world to do.
“Your honor, this is one who’s faith is in the completed work of Your Son. And in your divine wisdom, you have ruled that it is by faith alone in Your Son that You count guilty sinners as righteous. Therefore, even though he is guilty, You must declare him innocent for the sake of Christ.” To which the Father cheerfully declares, ‘Welcome home my dear child.’
So it shouldn’t be too hard to understand why this word is sometimes translated as “Helper,” and sometimes “Counselor,” and sometimes “Comforter.” It’s all one in the same Holy Spirit, of whom we say, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit.’
But now we may wonder, ‘what’s the rest of that stuff in the 3rd Article all about? Is this somehow connected to ‘the Holy Spirit?’ Or is this a list of miscellaneous other things that we also confess that we believe it?’
The best answer is that these things are all part and parcel of our confession regarding the Holy Spirit. A good way to think about these things as we confess them is to think of them as the blessings that the accomplished work of the Holy Spirit gives to all whom He unites the Son and the Father. Just as the outcome of the work of the Father is Creation, and the outcome of the work of the Son is our redemption, so the outcome of the work of the Spirit is, “the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church…”
The New Testament word for ‘church’ is “ekleysia.” It’s a compound word made up of two words. The root is “kaleo” which means, ‘to call.’ And the prefix is “ex” as in ‘exit’ or ‘out.’ The “Church” is the “ekleysia,’ those who have been ‘called out’ – called out of this world and into the Kingdom of God.
“The holy Christian church” is “the communion of saints.”
Just as the HOLY Spirit is HOLY, so all those who have been called, gathered and enlightened in this one, true faith by the Holy Spirit are ‘holy ones’ – they are ‘saints.’
Luther used to insist that that word ‘communion’ was best understood as ‘community.’ The holy Christian church is the community of saints. This is the ‘community’ or ‘communion, in which Jesus is always present – even if there are only two or three.
The community of saints is made up of those who live in this fallen and sinful world. But it also consists of those have been CALLED OUT of this world and who now live in the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s like they’re given a new citizenship and new brothers and sisters who are ‘fellow citizens’ – even while they still maintain their citizenship and relationships in this world.
And just to expand on that image, the “communion of saints” also live among the angels, archangels, who worship the Lamb who was slain in heaven itself. We believe that we are ALREADY WITH THEM and that they join with us – especially when we sit down at the wedding banquet table together in the feast of victory.
This is the “the community of saints,” over which God the Father has given God the Son to rule and protect and lead – like a good shepherd does His flock. In fact, Christ rules, leads and guides this “community of saints” so closely and intimately that it is called “His body.”
To the Ephesians, Paul writes, ‘And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to THE CHURCH, “the ekleysia’ which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1:22). To the faithful in Corinth, Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)
As long as this ‘communion of saints’ still lives in this world, it’s always going to be susceptible to danger and attack and falling in to sin. Temptation to sin abounds and membership in the “holy Christian church, the communion of saints,’ does exempt you from it. In fact, it puts you at odds with the world.
And so, this “community of saints” is told to pray for one another and encourage and support one another. It’s even given the command to rebuke and admonish one another when necessary to keep a brother or sister from going astray.
And yet, no matter how hard we try, everyone in this ‘communion of saints’ needs the forgiveness of sins on a daily basis. It’s just how weak and vulnerable we are. But it is just this – that this most unique of all ‘communities’ receives – “the forgiveness of sins.”
The Holy Spirit calls and gathers His sinner/saints together so that He may bring them the forgiveness of sins through the water of Holy Baptism, and proclamation of Holy Absolution, and the distribution of Holy Communion. It is through these ‘means of grace,’ that sinners become saints, over and over and over again.
The constant struggle against the temptations to sin that we bombard us, and the constant falling that we do, takes a toll on us both spiritually and physically. But the Holy Spirit is continually at work forgiving our sin, reminding us of all that our Lord has done for us, and guiding us to exercise our unique place in this world by doing good works of love and mercy.
But this life of faith is never easy and we never really show much improvement. It’s one step forward, one step back. One day we’re running strong and the next it’s a complete collapse and we’re starting all over again. As long as we are in this world, the life of faith is a daily battle against the forces of evil that oppose our Lord and His church.
But we believe that this world is not all that there is and that the warfare will one day be over. We believe “in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
Here we are given the wonderful assurance that the Holy Spirit’s work is not finished when we die. In fact, immediately on breathing our last, the Holy Spirit unites us with the community of saints who have gone before us in the faith and who live in heaven.
And on the Last Day when our Lord comes to judge the living and the dead, the Holy Spirit will still be our ‘Advocate’ before Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead. And our bodies will be raised from their graves to be united to our soul in heaven – “without spot or wrinkle or blemish or any such thing.”
So, it is the Holy Spirit who continues to work His unique work. God the Father’s work of creation is finished and God the Son’s work of redemption is finished. “But the Holy Spirit is at work without intermission until the last day.”
For the truth is, He has not yet gathered everyone whom He will gather into His Holy Christian Church. There are still other sheep that must be brought into the Communion of Saints, so that they too may receive the forgiveness of sins and share with all the saints in the life everlasting.
And so, until the Last Day comes, we will continue to confess this one, true faith in the words of the Apostles Creed saying, “I believe…”