What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

David Finkbeiner  and J. Brian Tucker
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Some jobs require so many different tasks that it can be really difficult to write a job description for them. We can feel the same way when trying to articulate the Holy Spirit’s “job description,” for the works of the Holy Spirit include all the many things the third person of the Trinity does both in the world and in our lives. Here we will attempt to consider many of these—although this job description will not be exhaustive.

The Wide-Ranging Work of the Spirit

The Spirit clearly works on a global scale, affecting history and the world in general. For example, He was involved with the Father and the Son in creating the world (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:29–30). He was also active in revealing God, both in empowering prophets to prophesy (e.g., Num. 11:25–30; Luke 1:67) and in inspiring Scripture (2 Peter 1:20–21). He was active too throughout the life of Christ, from His virgin birth (Luke 1:35) through His baptism (Luke 3:21–22) and ministry (Luke 4:1, 16–21; Matt. 12:28) to His death and resurrection (Heb. 9:14; Rom. 8:11; 1 Peter 3:18). He is even active in convicting the fallen world of humanity, exposing its sinfulness and skewed standards of righteousness and judgment (John 16:8–11).

In addition to His global works, the Spirit is active in the lives of believers as well. If Christ’s work is central for accomplishing the salvation of believers, the Spirit’s work is also critical for applying Christ’s saving work to believers. And if the salvation Christ accomplished takes us from conversion to glorification (see chapter 8 for more on these terms), the Spirit is also active in our lives all along the way. Consequently, let’s consider what the Spirit does in applying Christ’s work of salvation from the beginning of our Christian lives until He takes us home.

In the Life of the Christian

At the very outset of our Christian life the Spirit regenerates the believer, imparting spiritual life to those who are spiritually dead in sin (John 3:1–8; Titus 3:5–6; cf. Eph. 2:1–2; John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6). This work changes our very nature and enables us to turn to Christ. When we are saved, we are also baptized in the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Matt. 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). This work is both controversial and complex, but here we will simply say that it involves uniting us with Christ and His body and receiving the Spirit in our lives.

When the Spirit comes into our lives in Spirit baptism, He stays with us forever thereafter. This is called indwelling, a term that comes from Scripture’s teaching that the Spirit of God dwells in each believer (John 14:16–17; Rom. 8:9–11; Gal. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:14), and it evokes the remarkable image that each of us is His temple (1 Cor. 6:19). Because He is God, the Spirit is present everywhere, but with believers He is present in a meaningful way. We should therefore not think of indwelling in mere spatial terms, any more than we think of location when we talk about a “close friend” or spouse who is a “part of me.” The language is relational, personal, even intimate. All believers have Him, and He has us, even as He binds us to the Son and the Father (Rom. 8:9–11; Gal. 4:6). Our relationship with Him is the basis for all the other works He does in our lives. And because Jesus insisted that He will be with us forever (John 14:16), that relationship is permanent. He is always with you and will never leave you!

The Spirit’s permanent presence with believers means that they will always belong to God and that their salvation is eternally secure. This is called the Spirit’s work of sealing the believer. The term comes from the metaphor of the Spirit as a “seal” (2 Cor. 1:21–22; Eph. 1:13–14; 4:30), which suggests that the Spirit’s presence is like a seal signifying that believers belong to God and guaranteeing the completion of their salvation. Similarly, the Spirit is called a “down payment” (2 Cor. 1:21–22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14 csB) and the firstfruits (Rom. 8:23), metaphors picking up on the same idea as the “seal” metaphor.

Always Present

The Spirit’s constant and secure indwelling presence also means He is active throughout our Christian lives. He does, in fact, regularly intercede for us as we pray to our Father in heaven (Rom. 8:26–27). His intercessions for us are always effective because, being God, He perfectly knows God’s will for us and always prays in accord with it. This is why it’s so critical for us to pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18) and according to God’s will (1 John 5:14–15; Matt. 26:39); otherwise, our prayers will be little more than ineffective articulations of our desires (see James 4:2–3). Even more broadly, the Spirit is consistently working in our lives to sanctify us, setting us apart to God (1 Cor. 6:11), making us increasingly more like Christ in our daily lives (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 8:4), and producing His fruit of godliness in our walk with Him (Gal. 5:22–23). One of the means He uses to sanctify us is through God’s Word. In this connection, the Spirit illuminates believers as they read and study Scripture (1 Cor. 2:9–16; 2 Cor. 4:4–6). In this wonderful work, the Spirit helps believers understand, appreciate, and apply Scripture to their lives. Together the Word and Spirit are a powerful team in a believer’s walk.

At times throughout their lives, Christians can also be filled with the Spirit. In this work, the Spirit empowers believers beyond their own capacity. Sometimes that empowerment involves a specific task or situation, as when people prophesy (Luke 1:41–42, 67) or proclaim God’s Word powerfully (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31). Old Testament believers experienced this as well when the Spirit came upon them (Num. 11:25; Judg. 14:5–6; 1 Sam. 10:10). Sometimes the Spirit’s empowerment can characterize a believer’s life as a whole (Acts 6:3–5; 11:24). In these cases, believers so consistently submit to the direction of the Spirit and rely on His power that He produces true godly character in their lives. This is why Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18–21) and to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16–18, 22–25) rather than to “grieve” Him (Eph. 4:30) or “quench” Him (1 Thess. 5:19). Filling in this sense is absolutely essential to growing in godliness and producing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–25) and thus is inextricably related to His work of sanctifying us.

It should be clear by now that the Spirit’s works in the world and in our lives are extensive—and wonderful. And the list of the Spirit’s works mentioned here is not even exhaustive! But it would be negligent if we did not mention one other work of the Spirit. Given the controversy surrounding it, this work deserves an entry all its own.

For Further Reading:

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