What to Make of the Holy Spirit

 
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At times, we treat the Holy Spirit like the red-headed step-child of the Trinity. Why is that? It is the Spirit who sends His preachers armed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens people with His gifts handed out through earthly words, water, bread, and wine. He is the One who daily and at all times forgives our sin. He will raise us from death on the Last Day. When we look closer at what Scripture says about God's Spirit, there is not a single aspect of our salvation that is not overseen by the Holy Spirit. But, that is why we downplay the work of the Spirit.

God's Spirit never asks our opinion about God, Jesus, free grace, or good works. He does not offer us a multiple choice questionnaire as regards our worthiness to be a Christian. He never rests from His salvific work or goes on vacation. We want to take the wheel and enjoy being the captain of our destiny every now and again, but He does not even take a siesta.

We want unique experiences. Out of our mind religious experiences. Moments of emotional uplift. Intellectual ecstasy. Instead, we are treated all the same. The Spirit announces to us through His preacher that we are all together, a unity, in Christ Jesus. One Lord, one faith, one Baptism. No room for our ideas. No opportunity to show off what we bring to the table. Just the ordinary, common work of the Spirit for our salvation. Ordinary words, water, bread, and wine. Ordinary preachers. Ordinary sinners who want to do (at least some of) the Spirit's work in place of God's Spirit.

Our basic problem with God's Spirit is that He works in two ways: inward and outward. Outwardly, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through His preachers and delivers His gifts of salvation to us for Christ's sake. Inwardly, He operates on us through His Word and the same gifts of salvation. We prefer this to be switched around. We want something to happen in us before anything happens outside of us. We want Jesus in our heart apart from a preacher's words. We want to work ourselves up to faith, holiness, and good works apart from God's gifts of salvation.

But, when we reject how the Spirit works outwardly and inwardly for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, we reject God's Word of Law and Gospel. The Spirit works through His Word of Law to convict us of sin, to crush our need to earn God's favor, to awaken in us a hunger and thirst for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Once this is done, the Spirit speaks His Word of Gospel to us. He creates justifying faith where and when He chooses. The Spirit, it turns out, is completely free to do as He pleases with us. That is the rub. God's Spirit is free to work out our salvation, and we are not.

The Holy Spirit creates faith through the Gospel of Christ. The Spirit reveals who Christ is for us. He alone saves us from unbelief and hopelessness when distress and afflictions sweep over us. He alone brings us into relation to God as "Abba, Father." He strengthens us through His Word and gifts to resist temptation and kill the old Adam who resists all the works of the Spirit.

We prefer this to be switched around. We want something to happen in us before anything happens outside of us.
— Donavon Riley

By putting the old Adam to death, the Spirit draws us into His saving work for the world. Further, through His efforts, the Spirit even lays down the good works we walk in, that we seek to do for our neighbor in selfless, self-giving love, all the days of our life.

We do not like this at all. This is why we prefer to downplay the work of the Spirit. Given an option, we will altogether reverse the work of God's Spirit. We begin saving ourselves from sin and death by beating the old Adam to a pulp. In fact, we insist that if we are going to be worthy to stand before most holy God we must be presentable. Beat the old Adam into submission, get justified for our efforts, and end with sorting out and categorizing the gifts of the Spirit.

We do not want to have anything to do with hearing God's Word. That it comes to us from a preacher, who is outside us, outside our immediate control, is unacceptable. What is more unspiritual, we think, than a person and a word from God that is outside us? Instead, for us to overcome sin and death, we must daily repent. We must daily bring sin to heel. We must climb ever upward toward heaven. In short, we must daily become our own savior.

Under this faulty assumption, we imagine, our obedience to the Law is the way to God. Jesus shows us by His example how this is done. And faith, when done right, is an imitation of the Son's faithfulness to His Father. God's Spirit, God's Word, God's gifts are inferior because they are handed down from the Holy Spirit to us. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are likewise spiritual exercises. Through our piety and "remembrance" of Jesus and the Supper, we do the Spirit's work for Him.

That is why we so often treat the Holy Spirit like the red-headed step-child of the Trinity. We reject the Spirit's work because we reject the Gospel. We do not want to receive Christ Jesus as gift. We prefer to work our way to Him. But, the Spirit is not some impersonal power. He is God Himself. He does not work in us abstractly. He works through His words, water, bread, and wine to bring us to faith in Christ Jesus our Savior. This is the only way God is God for us, God in Christ, God for us through faith created, sustained, and preserved by the Holy Spirit.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Manager for Higher Things, a contributing writer for 1517, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. He is also the co-host of The Banned Books podcast and the As Lutheran As It Gets podcast.



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