Monday, May 25, 2009

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Given the following scenario, what would your answer be? Is this a valid question?

One of the members of your church comes into your office one afternoon with a question about the Holy Spirit. She attended church with a friend on Sunday, and there was lots of talk about the Spirit, and lots of energy in the worship. “Pastor,” she said, “I never hear about the Holy Spirit in the Lutheran Church—it seems like we spend all of our time talking about God the Father and Jesus. What does the Holy Spirit do, anyway?” Explain the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and life of a Christian.


Guilty as charged! Migliore writes that often the church has been suspicious of movements that have stressed the power of the Holy Spirit. I even experienced some of that from a member of my candidacy committee because of past involvement with the charismatic movement. As mentioned in a recent lecture, the Holy Spirit is the “least understood”[1] person of the Trinity. By the very fact that Christians routinely refer to the Holy Spirit as “it” shows the depth of our non-acquaintance with this person of the godhead. The Holy Spirit’s presence in our Lutheran churches sometimes seems completely unnoticed. Such presence is more subtle than in Pentecostal or charismatic churches. H. Richard Niebuhr suggested that churches tend to be more oriented toward one member of the Trinity or another, but not all three equally.[2] Anthony Robinson maintains that mainline churches generally focus on the Father, evangelicals on Jesus as Redeemer, and Pentecostals on the Holy Spirit.


Our weekly confession of the Creed belies our tendency to ignore God the Holy Spirit. We state, “I believe in the Holy Spirit…”, but do we know what this means? Luther gave a prominent role to the Holy Spirit in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed. The Holy Spirit is active in calling us to faith in Christ, “enlighten[ing] us with his gifts,”[3] making us holy, keeping us in the faith and has done so and continues to do so for all God’s people past, present, and future. The Holy Spirit forgives sins and will raise us up on the last day, giving us the fullness of eternal life that we only now know in part. It is through this same Holy Spirit that we experience the communion of saints.


In the New Testament alone, we have 89 occurrences of the name Holy Spirit. If we include “God’s Spirit,” “Spirit of Jesus,” or “Spirit,” there would be many more. John the Baptist said of Jesus that he would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11). Jesus told his disciples that the Father would send the Spirit as an advocate or counselor who would lead them into all truth (John 14:26). There are many other functions of this same Spirit, which are too many too numerous to include. With such prominence, how is it that we know so little of God’s Spirit?

Migliore believes that our neglect, which he considers routine and suspicion of the Spirit has had “…damaging effects on both Christian life and Christian theology.”[4] Our understanding of God, Scripture, and other facets of church and the Christian faith and life may become distorted. God becomes distant and seemingly uninvolved in our lives. One of the most basic works of the Holy Spirit is to make Christ known. The Spirit draws us, helps us to experience and participate in the reality of salvation—personally and corporately as the church.

God gives gifts by the Holy Spirit to us for the benefit of the church and the world (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12-14; Eph 5). The Holy Spirit gives us assurance and hope which sustains us. It is through the Holy Spirit that God speaks to us (whether God uses the written Word, the community of faith, or whatever).When we sense that a particular hymn or sermon was just for us, that is the Spirit at work. God’s Spirit at work in believers is the “first fruits” (Rom 8:23) or “guarantee” (2 Cor 1:22) of God’s complete redemption of all of creation.


The Holy Spirit may be understood as, “the uniting and consummating love of the Trinity, the energy of the life of communion, the gift of mutual love and friendship.”[5] We are invited into this love, this life by God through the Holy Spirit. God makes God’s presence known in and through us to the world by the Holy Spirit.



[1] Largen

[2] Anthony B. Robinson, What’s Theology got to do with it? Convictions, Vitality, and the Church (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2006), 66.

[3] Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, Second Edition, ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 323.

[4] Migliore,224.

[5] Migliore, 231.

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2 comments:

Beth said...

Curiosity: Is this from your endorsement essays?

Ivy said...

Nope. It's from a Systematics final for Dr. Largen. She gave us lots of choices, which was cool.

Blessings.