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Helper of the weak

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 28 Feb 2018

Lee Gatiss examines the next article in the Apostles’ Creed, as part of our Lent series — I believe in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17).

I believe in the Holy Spirit
So far in the Creed we have declared our faith in the Father who creates, and the Son who rescues. But the Christian faith is a Trinitarian faith: we believe in one God in three persons. Our God is Father, Son, and Spirit and always has been. So now we turn to the Holy Spirit and his work of renewing.

The Spirit has already been mentioned in the Creed, when we affirmed that Christ was “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” So it is clear that he has been involved in the work of our salvation from the start. His work is to make us new, with new relationships and a new community (the church, the communion of saints). He gives us a new start (the forgiveness of sins), new bodies (the resurrection of the body), and a new world (the life everlasting). We will look at these in the next two days.

The Nicene Creed (which you can find here in our modern English version) says much more about the Spirit than the Apostles’ Creed. It says:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.”

We will look more closely at the Holy Spirit by considering briefly who he is and what he does.

Who is the Holy Spirit?
As the Nicene Creed says, and the Bible affirms, the Holy Spirit is the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17). He is God. We worship him and believe in him as a fully divine person (not “a part of God” as some loosely say), just as we worship and trust in the Father and the Son. That’s why he makes an appearance here in the Creed.

In the early days of the church, the divine personality of the Spirit was recognised. Jesus told his disciples to baptise people “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Just as Paul finished one of his letters with “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). These familiar texts make no sense if the Spirit is not both personal and divine. The apostle Peter also draws that parallel when he says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? … You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).

Jesus calls him the Helper or Comforter (John 14:16, 26). He comes as Jesus’s own successor and substitute — and anything less personal or less divine than Jesus would simply not be up to that job! The Spirit can be grieved (Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30), which is not an emotion that an impersonal force can experience.

The story of Jesus’s baptism is a good one to remember here (Luke 3:21-22). As Jesus, the Son, was baptised, the Father spoke from heaven. At the same time, the Spirit took the form of a dove and rested upon Jesus. All three were there together. It isn’t that God wears different masks: first he appears as Father (in the Old Testament) then he appears as Son (in the New Testament) and now he appears as Spirit. No, he was always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time. That’s why we hear of the Spirit in the Old Testament too (e.g. Genesis 1:2; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:29; Judges 3:10; 2 Chronicles 24:20; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 42:1; Ezekiel 36:27; Joel 2:28).

What does the Holy Spirit do?
The Spirit is God and so he is involved in all that God does. He is not an instrument or force that God uses (or which we can “use”!). The Spirit himself IS God!

Just as certain aspects of God’s work are particularly spoken of as works of the Father (he is the one who sends), or the Son (he is the one who comes to die for us), so certain aspects of God’s work are especially related to the Spirit.

For example, he speaks through the prophets (Nehemiah 9:30; Zechariah 7:12). That’s why it is said that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). He convicts people of their sin, showing them their ungodliness and their need for Jesus (John 16:8-11). And he is the one who converts us, giving us new spiritual life (John 3:3-8), which new birth can be described as being “baptised in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13), something every Christian has had whether they realise it or not.

The Spirit particularly helps those who follow Jesus. He is our Helper, and lives within us (John 14:17; Romans 8:9). He helps us especially to pray: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

The Spirit also leads us as believers (Galatians 5:18). To be led by him does not mean mystical inspirations or ecstatic highs. It doesn’t mean visions and miracles for all. He leads us by helping us put to death evil desires and deeds (Romans 8:13). That will mean, ultimately, that we bear “the fruit of the Spirit” in our lives, and will grow in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). None of these is optional, and none can be produced in us by our own efforts alone.

There are also various gifts mentioned in the Bible, which the Spirit gives to us for the common good not just for our own enjoyment. No-one has all of them. But all are given to help the church live well for Jesus, so we are like different parts of a body working together. Various gifts are listed in e.g. Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 7:7, 12:8-10 and 28-30, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Peter 4:10-11 (and Exodus 31:3). These are not exhaustive lists, but indicate some of the gifts which are given to believers by the Spirit in whom we believe.

Questions for reflection:
1. What would you say if someone asked you who the Holy Spirit is?
2. Why do those led by the Spirit bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)?
3. What spiritual gift or gifts do you have, and are you using it/them for the wider good?

Prayer: Almighty God, whose Holy Spirit enables us to discern your will and desire your way: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the power of your Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and rejoice in your word, using the gifts that you give us to build up your church. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

We also had a blog post about the Holy Spirit this time last year, in our Lenten series on the Thirty-nine Articles.

Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society

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