A lot. That is the answer to the question: what does the Holy Spirit do in the life of the Christian? A lot. In fact, He is intimately involved with every part of a Christian’s life. He not only brings life to our dead souls, but helps us live out that new life. He not only births us into the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3,5), but also helps us to take every step as children and citizens in that kingdom.
When Jesus was speaking to His disciples in light of His departure from them into heaven, He promised to send them another Helper or Advocate – one who would be with them forever (Jn 14:16). This Spirit of Truth would indeed be with them and in them (v17), teaching them (v26), guiding them in the truth (16:13) and enabling them to live lives of holiness as they continue to be made more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). So how does He do this? How does the Holy Spirit work in our lives? And what does this mean for us?
We are weak. There is no doubt about that. Sin still affects us in many and various ways. This includes even our prayers to God – we do not know how to pray as we should (Rom 8:26). How often do we feel that we cannot find the right words or say the right things and, when we do, that it gets no further than the ceiling? Just like Isaiah, we feel like our lips are unclean, filthy before God (Is 6:5).
And yet, the Father sends the Spirit into our hearts to help us. We ought to pray always according to God’s will (1 Jn 5:14-15), and yet we cannot do that perfectly. Nonetheless, it is of great comfort to know God has provided the solution – the Spirit takes our imperfect prayers and makes them perfect. He speaks with “groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26) – invisibly and inaudibly – to conform our prayers to God’s will. And He surely works in us, as He transforms our will and desires so that they reflect those of our Heavenly Father to whom we pray. As we endure to the end and wait patiently for our hope before us (v25), we need not fear that the imperfection of our prayers will hinder us. Let us pray with confidence, assured that the Father hears us, as He hears the One whom He has sent into our hearts.
By nature as fallen humans, our minds are darkened. Our thinking is futile; we cannot know God or His Word; we are ignorant due to the sin in us (Eph 4:17,18; Rom 1:21; Jn 1:10). Even though we have been brought from death to life by the Spirit (Jn 3:3,5), we still have finite minds and minds which are still clouded with the presence of sin. And yet, we have been given the Spirit. Not “the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). In fact, through Him, we are said to have “the mind of Christ” (v16). As we read the Word of Christ, the Spirit helps us to understand it, thereby helping us to renew our minds (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23). We come to know God’s will for us and come to trust it more and more. God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Ps 119:105) and the Spirit shows us this light we can now see.
Imagine you are standing in a dark room with absolutely no light at all – it is pitch black. It is lonely and silent. You do not know where you are or what surrounds you. And then, out of nowhere, you notice a small light growing brighter and brighter. As it does, you start to notice more and more where you are. There are things which are good and, as the light gets brighter, you get to see them more clearly and you are glad that you are surrounded by such good things. However, as the light gets brighter, you also start to notice things which aren’t so good – in fact, perfectly unpleasant, bad things. Things that make you horrified. You realise that the things that you could now see, both good and bad, were there all along – you just couldn’t see them without the light. The light showed you both.
Just like this, the Spirit pours God’s Word into us and shows us many things that we could not see before – the good and gracious things from God, as well as the sin around us and in us. Our need for the Spirit’s illumination is why Paul prays fervently to God that the church of Ephesus would be given “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of [their] hearts enlightened…” (Eph 1:17-18a). May we echo this prayer with Paul as we implore the Father to give us and others more of the wisdom and knowledge that comes only from the Spirit. And may we rely on the Spirit as we seek to understand God’s Word, humbly submitting as He shows us our sin and shows us the glory of God.
Another area in which the Spirit works in our hearts is to give us assurance. God has given us many promises in His Word, and all of them are true. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Num 23:19; Heb 6:18) and yet, in His grace, He gives us means by which we may be reassured. One such way is the seal of the Spirit (Eph 1:13; 4:30). Like the mark made by the ring of a king, we have been marked by our great King. He owns us. It is His mark to say “you are mine.” In fact, the Spirit is called our guarantee. Just as a down payment promises that a full amount will be paid, so God has given us the Holy Spirit who is our assurance that we will be glorified. Though humans default on their loans, God will not. “He who calls [us] is faithful, He will surely do it” (1 Th 5:24).
The Holy Spirit also gives us assurance that we are God’s children. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Rom 8:16-17). For children to be told by their parents that they are loved; that they are in fact their children and that nothing can change that, is reassurance indeed. How much more that the God of the universe should not only call us His children, but give us assurance we are! When we are in times of doubt or suffering (v17,18), this guarantee should fill us with confidence and thankfulness – that our heavenly Father will hold us tight, so that no one may snatch us out of His hand (Jn 10:29).
GIFTED FOR MINISTRY
In the Old Testament, unlike the New Testament, only some of God’s people received the power of God’s Spirit to equip them for ministry. The Spirit of the LORD came upon certain people at certain times to fulfil the work of the Lord (e.g. Jdg. 3:10; 14:19; Num 11:24-25). The hope that God would empower all His saints for ministry is reflected in Moses’ words: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit on them” (Num 11:29). He looked forward to the day when God would empower all His people for ministry. We see this great fulfilment at Pentecost in Acts 2, where Peter cites Joel 2:28-32 – the Holy Spirit came on “all flesh” regardless of their status or gender. He came on all believers, no matter who they were. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).
As Scripture bears witness, like a body with many parts, the people of Christ are His body, with many gifts (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12). We do not all have the same function in the body of Christ, but we are all united in Him. We are to recognise our diversity, as well as our unity. As a gift of grace, the Spirit enables us to allall to serve our Lord in many and varied ways, for building up the body of Christ in love (1 Cor 13; 14:1; Eph 4:15). God does it, not because He needs us, but because He has chosen to work through us. We have the unspeakable privilege to be God’s fellow-workers (1 Cor 3:9), realising how undeserving we are and knowing, moment-by-moment, how much we need the Spirit to help us to use our gifts for the glory of God. We have received God’s gifts of grace – so we must find them and use them for Him.
The Spirit of God plays an integral role in our lives as Christians. God gives many good gifts to His children, but the greatest one that He can give us more of is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13). The Spirit already dwells in us, but let us continue to ask our Heavenly Father to be filled more and more with His power (Ac 4:31; 13:52), that we might walk by Him (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:16) in grateful obedience all our lives.
Joshua Parker attends Wahroonga Presbyterian Church and is currently studying Physiotherapy at Macquarie University