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New Horizons

The Apostles' Creed, Part 3: I Believe in the Holy Spirit

Sandy Finlayson

There has been a good deal of confusion about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Some see the Spirit as some sort of vague force that inspires people to certain heights of artistic expression or particular giftedness. Some in the church see the Spirit as the dispenser of spectacular gifts.

The first thing that the Apostles' Creed affirms is that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Cornelis Venema points out that any study of the Creed's teaching on the Holy Spirit must begin "by emphasizing that the Creed confesses the Holy Spirit to be one of the three Persons of the Trinity."[1]

The structure of the Creed shows that the church is confessing the divinity of the Holy Spirit. As J. I. Packer points out, "From the creating work of the Father and the rescue work of the Son [the Creed] turns to the re-creating work of the Spirit."[2]

The divinity of the Holy Spirit is evident from the divine attributes that he shares with the Father and the Son. First, the Holy Spirit is eternal. Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ "through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God."

Second, the Holy Spirit is everywhere present. Psalm 139:7 says, "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?"

Third, the Holy Spirit knows all things. This is stated in 1 Corinthians 2:10: "For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God."

Fourth, the Holy Spirit is all-powerful. In Luke 1:35, the angel tells Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God."

Fifth, the Spirit is holy. Romans 1:4 says that Christ "was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead."

An examination of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles shows that the Holy Spirit was active during Jesus earthly ministry and in the early church, but what is he doing now?

Most importantly, the Holy Spirit has a key role in the redemption of God's people. It is the Spirit who brings life. When Nicodemus came to see Jesus, he was given an interesting answer when he asked how he could see the kingdom of God. Jesus told him, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). The key phrase here is that we must be born again by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also brings about holiness or sanctification in the lives of God's people. The Spirit is actively purifying us and making us more like Christ.

As the Spirit brings about renewal in our lives, something very positive is taking place. Just as the Spirit helps us to fight against sin, so also the Spirit works his fruit into our lives: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control," the attributes that constitute godly character (Gal. 5:22–23).

The Bible also speaks of the Spirit of adoption: "You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' " (Rom. 8:15). There are two elements here. First, believers are able to call God their father because of the indwelling of the Spirit. Second, the Spirit assures us that we are children of God.

The Holy Spirit also is the guarantee of everything that we receive in Christ. Ephesians 1:13–14 says that we "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."

The Holy Spirit is also a comforting presence as Christ's people experience trials. In John 16:1–15, Jesus warns his disciples that they should expect persecution, but as they face it they will not be on their own. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of his disciples. The Spirit will also convict the world of its sin. This gives hope to those who are being persecuted that their persecutors may recognize their sin and turn to God in repentance and faith. Above all, the Spirit will guide Jesus' followers into all truth.

The Holy Spirit also gives gifts to God's people, so that they may serve God in the church and the world. Paul writes: "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.... To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor. 12:4, 7).

Much confusion has been caused by people focusing on the more spectacular gifts of the Holy Spirit that were given to the early church to confirm the apostle's ministry. Some continue to seek after these, but Paul stresses that all gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good, not to create spiritual superstars.

Finally, we must never forget that the gospel is to be preached in the power of the Spirit. It is not by our strength or our programs that the church will be built, but only through the power of the Spirit of God.

Packer states:

What then are the signs that Christ's self-effacing Spirit is at work? Not mystical raptures, nor visions and supposed revelations, nor even healings, tongues, and apparent miracles; for Satan, playing on our psychosomatic complexity and our fallenness, can produce all these things. The only sure signs are that the Christ of the Bible is acknowledged, trusted, loved for his grace, and served for his glory and that believers actually turn from sin to the life of holiness that is Christ's image in his people.[3]

Next time we will conclude our study by looking at the last part of the Creed, which shows how God is at work in the world through his church, and finally what hope we have for the future.

Endnotes

[1] Cornelis P. Venema, What We Believe: An Exposition of the Apostles' Creed (Grandville, Mich.: Reformed Fellowship, 1996), 102.

[2] J. I. Packer, Affirming the Apostles' Creed (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 113.

[3] Packer, Affirming the Apostles' Creed, 117.

The author is director of library services and professor of theological bibliography at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2010.

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