What is the Holy Spirit’s work?

“Fire the coach!” That’s what happens when a team loses too many times.

Put a group of baseball players together who know how to play the game, but don’t give them a coach for running the bases or telling them where to play on defense, and that team won’t go very far.

So it is in the lives of people.  You don’t have to be a Christian to have a good, moral life. God has given each of us a natural understanding of his will. Everyone in the world knows you can’t steal your neighbor’s house, spouse, or stuff. But this alone does us no good after we die—for no one can be morally perfect!

We needed a “Spiritual Coach.” The Bible calls our Spiritual Coach the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the Holy Scriptures to bring people from being morally good to eternally saved.

Some people say, “Don’t I get some of the credit for the good I do in my life?”  The answer is, “No.”  God gets all the credit.  No one would have a desire to obey God or have the ability to obey God if they weren’t first changed or renewed by the Holy Spirit.  The Bible says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

The Holy Spirit uses the Good News that Jesus died on the cross to save us. This powerful Word changes hearts and lives. The Holy Spirit gives us the desire and the ability to live according to God’s will. So you can see, in this sense, that the Holy Spirit gets all the credit for the good we do. In fact, because of our sinful nature, we cannot even cooperate with the Holy Spirit to produce faith and trust in Jesus.

But after Jesus takes possession of our hearts, we have the ability and desire to serve. Even then it isn’t a 50-50 cooperation. We love to serve Jesus because the Holy Spirit living in us motivates us to love and serve Jesus.  He is the Spiritual Coach who trains us, directs us, and leads us on to victory for Jesus’ sake.

If I were the devil I would work very hard at ruining the work of the Holy Spirit.  I would try to keep people away from the Bible and make them think, “I’m good enough the way I am.”  Because if I could keep people away from the Bible, the tool the Holy Spirit uses to bring us and keep us in faith, then I could easily deceive them about their relationship with God, and they wouldn’t even know it!

Let’s recognize the temptation of Satan to try and entice us away from Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will continue to work hard to keep us as God’s children.  Let’s never fire our Spiritual Coach! Let’s enjoy his work in our hearts and lives.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.  1 Corinthians 12:3

“We’ve got spirit, yes, we do! We’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”

That cheer used to bounce back and forth across the gym during high school basketball games. The cheer comes to mind as we talk about the Holy Spirit, because there are those who confuse “spirit,” that is, the emotion or enthusiasm talked about in the cheer, with the Holy Spirit who is spoken of in the Bible. Still others think of the Holy Spirit as an impersonal power or energy flowing from God.

The Bible, however, teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person, not merely an impersonal force or emotion. It shows this by ascribing to the Holy Spirit intelligence, emotions and will; the key components of personality.

  • In Romans 8:27, for example, the apostle Paul speaks of “the mind of the Spirit,” and adds that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” Such a description fits a personal being, but does not fit an impersonal force.
  • The prophet Isaiah says that when the people of Israel rebelled against God they “grieved his Spirit” (63:10). Paul also describes the Holy Spirit as a personal being with emotions when he warns Christians not to “grieve the Spirit of God” by their behavior (Ephesians 4:30). Paul also speaks in Romans 15:30 of “the love of the Spirit.” A person can have emotions, but we could hardly talk about an emotion having emotions.
  • In speaking of spiritual gifts given to God’s people by the Holy Spirit, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit “gives them to each man, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). In other words the Holy Spirit is a being with a will, who distributes spiritual gifts as he decides to or wants to. Being able to make decisions is a characteristic of a personal being.

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity—true God with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is called God in the Bible; when the apostle Peter accused a man named Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit, he told him that he had lied to God (Acts 5:4). The Holy Spirit does things only God can do. The Bible says the Holy Spirit was active in the work of creating the universe (Genesis 1:2).

It’s good to know who the Holy Spirit is, but it’s also important to know what the Holy Spirit does. The special work of the Holy Spirit is to create faith in Jesus in the hearts of people who could not and would not believe in him on their own. Paul writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

The Holy Spirit does his vitally important work of creating faith in human hearts through the Gospel, the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life on earth, died a terrible death on a cross and rose from the dead to take away the sins of the world and give eternal life to all who believe. In fact, right now the Holy Spirit is at work through these words, inviting you–yes, pleading with you–to believe in Jesus as your Savior and giving you that faith as a free gift.

There was a group of believers in the city of Rome in Paul’s day. When that apostle wrote to them, he reminded them that the Holy Spirit had made his home in their hearts, and gave them this wonderful promise: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

School spirit is great, but the Holy Spirit and his work are absolutely essential. May God grant us a rich measure of his life-giving Spirit!

When the Words Don’t Come

 The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26

When the Words Don’t Come

Give some careful thought to the following statement: The times we find it hardest to talk to God in prayer are often the times we need to talk to him the most.

If you have lived more than a few years in this difficult place, you know how true that statement is. What words do you speak to God, exactly, when you walk out of a doctor’s office with the news that your spouse has stage 4 cancer? What words do you speak to God when your finances are on the verge of collapse? What words do you speak to God when you can no longer process how stressful your place of work has become? What words do you speak to God when it feels as though a member of your family has run a sword through your soul? What words do you speak to God when your marriage begins to implode? And what words do you speak to God when all the regrets from your past begin to smother you like a heavy shroud?

These are the times when the words don’t come. These are the times when coherent thought disappears. These are the moments when you and I cannot even articulate a simple cry to the Lord for help.

Enter the Holy Spirit. He knows. He knows very well how the wreckage of this sinful world can overwhelm us, paralyze us to the point of stunned silence. In those moments he comes to us. He intercedes for us. On our behalf he speaks to our heavenly Father “with groans that words cannot express.” And to such groans God listens and responds.

You are a forgiven child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. That means you possess the exclusive privilege of talking to the Lord in prayer. But when you set aside time for him and the words do not come, take heart. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what you need. What he says on your behalf will go beyond human words. God will listen. And he will answer.

I believe in the Holy Spirit

No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3

Working Behind the Scenes

Although certain individuals may get more public attention, those who work “behind the scenes” are essential in almost every joint endeavor. It’s true with our God too.

The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed begins: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Christians confess that the Holy Spirit is the eternal, co-equal, third Person of the Triune God. Present at creation, the Holy Spirit worked saving faith in the hearts of Adam and Eve after their fall into sin. The Spirit has created repentance and faith in human hearts ever since. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles in every word of the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit’s “behind the scenes” work truly is essential to the saving work of our gracious God.

The Holy Spirit had moments of public display. At Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3), at Pentecost (Acts 2) and in special gifts to the early Christian Church (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12), his work was clearly recognized. But for 21st century Christians, his work remains essentially “behind the scenes.”

The Holy Spirit is our “faith-starter.” By the gospel in Baptism and the Word, the Holy Spirit sparked the fire of saving faith in our hearts. We could not confess a living faith in Jesus as our Lord were it not for this gift.

The Holy Spirit is our “faith-builder.” By the Holy Scriptures he opens our understanding, increases our knowledge of God’s truth, and strengthens our trust in Jesus, which leads to our daily life of faith.

The Holy Spirit is our “faith-preserver.” Some have feared, “What if I lose my faith?” As we continue in the gospel of Christ, holding to his teachings, the Holy Spirit works “behind the scenes,” keeping us in the faith.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is the “Church-builder,” as you and I and our fellow believers share the gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection worldwide. The Spirit will ignite, strengthen and preserve faith in the hearts of repentant sinners, that they may have eternal life.

What does the Holy Spirit do for us?

A famous doctor once conducted a series of autopsies in which he made a stunning observation. Here is how it happened. He had carefully examined the body of a convicted murderer when he noticed a connection to the body of a convicted thief. The two individuals had the exact same internal problem. It got a little crazier. He went back over the notes from a few other cases and he discovered that a few more bodies had the same internal problem. But it didn’t stop there. He went back over all his cases and, regardless of the person’s background, all of the people had that same internal problem. The doctor shared his findings in a book which is still the top-selling book of all time.

Do you want to know what the connection was between all of those people? They all had heart problems. You have probably heard the name of the doctor. His name is Jesus. Jesus once pointed out (Mark 7) that all evil thoughts and actions come from within the heart. When someone cuts you off on the highway and your first reaction is NOT to smile and wave, it comes from within the heart. When someone hurts your feelings and you want to hurt them back, it comes from within the heart. When you say something in anger that you immediately want to take back, it comes from within the heart.

That is the problem. So what is the solution? One man said it well, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). We need new and pure hearts and God is the only one who can create them. This is where the work of God the Holy Spirit comes in. He uses something sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel to penetrate and change the heart. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God. Like a skilled surgeon, the Holy Spirit cuts deeply in order to heal divinely. The Holy Spirit uses that Word of God to teach us that the “blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:17). The Holy Spirit uses that Word of God to change the heart so that it beats with faith and hope and love. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God so that it pours out joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. Thank the Holy Spirit for your new heart!

How Does the Holy Spirit Work?

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to”  (Acts 16:6,7).

You can see the Holy Spirit working here.  He was clearly working to guide his first pastors to speak where they were to speak.  The Holy Spirit is here called the Spirit of Jesus.  That is exactly the work of the Holy Spirit … getting the message of Jesus out to people everywhere.

So you see how this works when you observe your pastor in your church.  When he got the call to be your pastor, the Holy Spirit nudged him in the same way he did the Apostle Paul in the Bible passage above.  The Holy Spirit wanted your pastor to come to your place and church and be your pastor … and tell you about Jesus.  That is the great work of this “Spirit of Jesus.”

But there’s more, much more. The Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies and keeps the whole Christian Church on earth.”  That’s the way Luther’s Catechism says it.  What a great work this Holy Spirit does!  Look at it all!

The Holy Spirit confines himself to working through tools, or means.  We call these tools “The Means of Grace.”

The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, the Bible.  “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  The story of Pentecost Day in Acts 2 provides a good example to show us how “faith comes from hearing” God’s Word.  Pentecost was the day the Holy Spirit worked and caused everyone there to hear the wonderful works of God in their own language.

The Holy Spirit works secondly through Baptism.  Almost every church window you have seen depicting the work of the Holy Spirit depicts the Spirit as the Dove, with the shell and the water droplets.  The Holy Spirit is at work in baptism!  Remember Jesus’ own baptism (and yours!).   Know that when baptism happened to you, the Holy Spirit was working there through the water and the Word to promise you life and salvation and forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit works thirdly through The Lord’s Supper.  When you were confirmed in the faith and said that you believed Jesus was your Savior and you promised to be faithful to him as your Lord, God’s Spirit was there that day too … working! “ No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4).  You take the Lord’s Supper with other saints who believe Jesus as you do.  This confession and fellowship is the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

God’s Holy Spirit is working hard … for you!

How can simple water do such great things in baptism?

It is amazing that God promises blessings like forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38,39) and eternal life (1 Peter 3:21) from the action of water in baptism touching a person.  You might think that the water must somehow be special, almost magical.

But the water used in baptism is just simple water.  There’s nothing special about it in and of itself, even when it has been put to the holy use of baptism.  It’s not magical or holy.

When the water is used the way God tells us to use it (Matthew 28:19), however, it is the Word of God that makes the water a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).  The Word of God is what God says.  When God talks, powerful things happen (Genesis 1:3).  When he promises something, he means it and it happens (Ephesians 5:25,26).

So when we say that the water of baptism connects us to Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:27), we are talking about the special promises of God that turn simple water into water used by God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

God promises forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in him (John 3:16).  Baptism does not replace that clear promise.  Instead, it applies that clear promise to individuals (Mark 16:16).  Baptized people never have to question whether God’s promises apply also to them.  They’re baptized, and water, tangible and verifiable, makes that clear and certain.

Old Testament priests washed themselves at a large basin in the Temple in Jerusalem before God declared them ceremonially clean to serve Him.  Today God washes us in baptism and declares us ceremonially clean to serve him through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

It’s simple water, but it does great things in baptism.

Can I Pray to the Holy Spirit?

Sometimes children ask Mom for something, and when she says no, then they go and ask Dad for the very same thing.  If Mom and Dad aren’t on the same page, this can cause problems.   But if Mom and Dad are communicating and united in their approach to parenting, it really doesn’t matter if you ask Mom or Dad; the answer will be the same.

As Christians, we certainly can pray to the Triune God – and this is the most common form of our prayers.  But we can also pray to each member of the Trinity for specific things, if we so desire.  Think, for example, of the most famous prayer of all, the Lord’s Prayer.  It is addressed to the Father and doesn’t even mention the Son or the Spirit.  Yet Jesus himself taught us to pray in that way.

But whenever God’s people pray, there are a couple of important things to remember.  One, even though we may pray to only one person of the Trinity (such as the Holy Spirit), we are, in reality, praying to the Triune God, for the three persons are one God.  In fact, only prayers to the Triune God are heard and answered, for he is the only true God.  They communicate and work together as they hear and answer prayers.

Secondly, Christians always pray through faith in Jesus, for it is only covered with his blood and righteousness that we can approach God at all.  I can’t approach God because of who I am – a sinner – but only because through faith in Jesus God has clothed me with his Son’s holiness.  This is why Jesus told us five times on the night before he died to ask the Father for anything “in my name” (John 16:23, e.g.); it means to pray through faith in Jesus.

Finally, Christians always pray to God that he do what is good and best, and that we have the faith to humbly accept his decisions.  This is what it means to pray according to God’s will.  If you think about it, this is a wonderfully comforting way to pray.  For since God is holy and loving, he can only do what is good and best for his children on earth.

So – yes – we can pray to the Holy Spirit, if we so choose.  And he has so many, many good spiritual gifts to give us that enrich our life of faith: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – all the fruits that the Spirit produces in the hearts and lives of the followers of Jesus (Gal. 5:22-23).  Pray for these, and pray for them often!  For this is the kind of prayer that God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – loves to hear and answer.