Bill McFarland

March 11, 2007


There are very few things in the history of Christianity, very few aspects of the mystery of godliness, that have caused more controversy and more puzzlement than the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has been regarded as everything from just the words of the Bible itself to an emotional experience.  The Holy Spirit has been treated in every way, all the way from as if he didn’t exist to being the god of the Christian age.  The Holy Spirit has been regarded as if that deity which is found in the Father and in the Son, deity which communicates with us through revealed truth, somehow is different when it comes to the Holy Spirit and his work.

Perhaps our looking into 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus would be one good way for us to examine what God meant the role of the Holy Spirit to be in the church over time.  I say that because these are the three letters written toward the end of Paul’s life and ministry.  These letters are concerned with how the church which had spread through the world through the preaching of apostles like Paul was going to be able to survive without those men still here in the flesh.  So what he has to say about the Holy Spirit and his work in these three letters becomes particularly relevant for our understanding of his work in our lives today.

It’s true that Paul mentions the Holy Spirit in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus less often than he does in his other letters.  But it also the case that what he does have to say about the Spirit in these letters is exceedingly important.  For example, in Titus 3:4-7, Paul makes mention of the fact that God our Savior has poured out on us richly the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit so that we might be justified through Christ Jesus and what he has done for us.

This study today is actually the third part of a series in which we have studied God the Father and then the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and now we will look into this theme of the Spirit, who Paul says in II Timothy 1:14, dwells in us.  Follow along as we look at this theme in this way.

First, we would point out that these three letters remind us that the Holy Spirit is intended to have a helping ministry.  I mean by that that neither he nor his gifts are the center of attention in these three letters.  It is interesting to observe, for example, how Paul speaks of the Father and of the Son but does not emphasize the Spirit in the same words.  For example, in I Timothy 1 the letter begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.”  Then we studied in I Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  And in I Timothy 6:13, Paul charges Timothy “in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.” 

These three statements (and there are others like them certainly in these letters) emphasize the work of the Father and of the Son but clearly don’t mention the Spirit as often.  Now, why is that?  It fits with what Jesus taught his disciples when he was about to offer himself up for us all.  What Jesus had to say about the work and the role and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit would glorify him in what the Father had done through Him.  In John 15:26, for example, the Lord said to his disciples, “But when the Helper (the Comforter) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”  Notice that the work of the Spirit is not to call attention to himself.  Where the Holy Spirit is you don’t find people majoring on the Holy Spirit.  You find them majoring on Christ and what the Father has done through him.  In John 16:14-15, notice Jesus said, “He (that is the Spirit of truth) will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he (the Spirit) will take what is mine and declare it to you.” 

The reason the Spirit has a role like this is that He, like the Father and the Son, works in the interests of our redemption.  The reason the Spirit calls attention to what has occurred in the offering of the Son of God instead of to himself is that he is interested in our salvation, and he works toward that goal.  The Holy Spirit is as much a divine person as the Father or the Son.  He possesses the same nature and all the same attributes of deity as the Father or the Son possess.  The Holy Spirit is not an “it.”  He is a “he.”  He is not an experience or an emotion.  He is a divine person.  He loves just like the Father loves.  He sacrifices unselfishly just like the Son does.  He can be grieved just like the Father’s heart can be broken when we are headed in directions that are dangerous to us and to our future, to our person.  The Holy Spirit is not less important than the Father or the Son, but he has a ministry which is designed to help us enjoy what the Father has purposed and what the Son has purchased and what has been provided through the work of the Spirit.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit has a vindicating ministry, a confirming ministry.  In I Timothy 3:16, as Paul discusses the household of God, which is the church of the living God, he describes what that truth is in verse 16.  “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He (that is Christ) was manifested in the flesh, vindicated (or justified -- vindicated means shown to be righteous, shown to be just, proven to be just) by the Spirit.”

If you think of some of the ways in which this truth is obvious in the gospel records, here is what you come up with.  This one who was manifested in the flesh at his baptism had the Spirit descend in bodily form like a dove and to abide upon him.  There is the Spirit, and the voice of the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17).  In his temptations, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, to face the opponent, to gain the moral right to speak to us (Matt. 4:1).  In the works that he did during his ministry, the Spirit was proving who he was.  In Acts 10:38, Peter spoke, for example, of how “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  That is what it means for the Spirit to have a confirming or a vindicating ministry.  And most importantly of all, Romans 1:4 declares that in his resurrection he was proven to be the Son of God with power “according to the Spirit of holiness.” 

The Holy Spirit has a ministry, and always has had a ministry, which is concerned with confirming to mankind the truth of what God has said or done.  The Spirit’s confirming work is what these signs wrought by the apostles of Christ later on in the early church were all about.  One great statement of this is found in Hebrews 2 as Paul spoke of that great salvation offered to us.  He said in verses 3-4 that “it was declared at first by the Lord, and then it was attested to us by those who heard (or confirmed to us by those who heard), while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.”  Paul claims in I and II Timothy and Titus that these signs of the Sprit which were wrought by him had some special function that not just everybody was able to do.  The Spirit’s work of confirming does not continue to repeat itself, in the sense that Jesus was manifested in the flesh and vindicated while here.  But having been vindicated, Jesus does not have to keep coming in the flesh and doing the same things over and over again.  What God revealed through the apostles and prophets was confirmed by the might works and signs that the apostles did, but once confirmed we don’t have to be sent apostles again to do the same things over and over.  The Spirit’s work is a confirming, a vindicating work.

Thirdly, notice that the Holy Spirit has a revealing ministry.  In I Timothy 4:1, Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”  Notice the statement “the Spirit expressly says.”  The Holy Spirit here, notice, is the revealer to the apostle Paul.  He is the one who was able to take what was future from Paul’s time and make known what would occur.  He made it known to Paul the apostle who in passages like this wrote it down so that Timothy would be able to read it and know what to expect.  This is exactly the same pattern of things that we read about in Ephesians 3.  The apostle speaks of his understanding of the mystery that was made known to him by revelation, verse 3 says, “as I have written briefly.”  And then he says, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”  There is the Holy Spirit’s work.  He revealed what had not been made known before to the holy apostles and prophets of Christ.  They wrote it down so that you and I can read it and understand it. 

When we say that the Holy Spirit has a revealing ministry, we don’t mean that somehow he will separately or independently speak to each one of us apart from the guidance of the New Testament which he offered through the apostles and prophets.   We may pray for wisdom and understanding in our handling of what he has made known, according to James 1:5-6, but the revealing work of the Spirit in terms of making new truth known occurred with the apostles and prophets of Christ.  And again, this is what Jesus promised the Spirit would do when he spoke to the disciples that night when he would be arrested.  In John 14:26 notice he said to them, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  Notice the Spirit would take men who had heard Jesus and bring to their remembrance all that he had said.  In John 16:13, the Lord said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”  He would guide them into the truth.  He would bring to their remembrance what Jesus had taught them, and he would guide them into the full implications of that.  Notice also now from what Paul writes to Timothy that to depart from what the Spirit of truth has revealed through the holy apostles and prophets is to depart from the faith.  That is an important implication of I Timothy 4:1. 

The Spirit has a helping ministry, a vindicating ministry, a revealing ministry, and then the Holy Spirit has a strengthening ministry, an enabling ministry.  Notice II Timothy 1:14.  Here we read from Paul as he has been discussing the glorious gospel of Christ.  “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”  The good deposit here is obviously the precious gospel, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some were so opposed to that gospel being made known that Timothy is told in this very context in verse 8 that he is going to need to be willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel.  Yet, he is called upon to successfully guard that gospel deposited to him, entrusted to him.  What a huge task that would be!  How could some one individual guard the gospel against so many opponents who hated so fiercely?  Paul’s answer is “By the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”  One old writer wrote, “For it is not in the power of the human soul when instructed with things so great to be sufficient for the keeping of it.”  (Chrysostoer)  I appreciate that statement that the help of the Spirit is needed. 

When Paul says “the Holy Spirit who dwells in us,” he is not talking about something which is miraculous in nature the same way miracles or signs were.  He is talking about something which is promised by the Father and which we regard as true by faith.  Remember that in Acts 2:38 this promise was offered to people through obedience to the gospel just as was the forgiveness of sins.  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  How do I know that God forgives me when I am baptized into Christ out of faith and repentance?  Well, because of his promise.  How do I know that he gives the Spirit to help me then live that life?  Because of his promise.

In passages like this throughout the New Testament, the presence of the Spirit promised by God is said to be such that he strengthens man.  In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church in chapter 1, verses 13 and 14, you may notice that he writes, “In him (in Christ) you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”  The Holy Spirit’s presence is a seal that God uses to identify what belongs to him.  The seal is for his view, and then the down payment, the help, is for our blessing and benefit.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:14-15, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner man.” 

It is this power and strengthening which enables us to pursue holy lives and to bear fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our lives.  Paul’s last letters illustrate what this means in practice.  The Spirit’s dwelling in us does not mean that the Spirit will call attention to himself or that there will be some feeling to sustain us.  It does mean that we have the Father’s promise in Christ that the Spirit will be with us and that he will make intercession for us.  It doesn’t take away the necessity of fleeing from wrong things or from pursuing right things, according to I Timothy 6:11, and it doesn’t remove the possibility of deserting the faith or making shipwreck of it.  But it does mean that when we want more than anything to be faithful, the Spirit will strengthen us in so doing.  You can use his word, which is his sword, and he will help us to be able to stand according to Ephesians 6, verses 12 and following.

Finally, the Holy Spirit has a renewing ministry.  In Titus 3, there is a wonderful passage that deals with what is offered to us in the gospel.  In verses 5 and 6 Paul makes note of the fact that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Notice that regeneration and renewal, whatever they mean, are parallel and occur at the same time as justification through Christ.  That is an important point.  Regeneration is a word which means “new life.”  It means “to be again born” literally.  And then renewal, as one writer put it, “the resultant renovation accompanying the regeneration.  The one points to the act of entering while the other marks the quality of the life.”  (D. Guthrie, p. 205).  One has to do with our being born again when we obey the gospel, and the other has to do with our being made new day by day and hour by hour as God continues to work on us as his children. 

Through the work of the Spirit the believer lives on a higher plain than before.  Those people who, according to Titus 3:3-4, “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to buried passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”  Those people are now expected to, according to verses 1 and 2, “be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”  That renewing work has the same impact as the fruit of the Spirit that we read of in Galatians 5.

Jim Bill McInteer described it this way: “The Holy Spirit is given to make us new again and to give us constant development and growth.”  That is the point I am making – constant development and growth.  As we look into the face of Christ, II Cor. 3:18 says we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  This is the Spirit’s work.  That idea gives us some confidence that we are people who can indeed be saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit’s work is an important part of what the gospel promises.  The old song, “We Praise Thee O God” has in it this line: “We praise thee O God, for thy Spirit of light, who has shown us our Savior and scattered our night.  Revive us again; fill each heart with they love.  May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.”  When we sang awhile ago “Standing on the Promises,” it said “listening every moment to the Spirit’s call.”  That has to do with being willing to listen to what the Lord calls us to be doing and then to do it.

We would say the same thing here that was said when the gospel was first preached.  To anyone who wonders “What shall we do?” we would say with Peter, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Do you need to make that beginning?  And then have you been walking in keeping with the Spirit’s guidance and the fruit being born in your life, does it honor him?  Make sure of that today.  If you need the prayers of your brothers and sisters in Christ or if you need to be obedient to the gospel, let it be known by coming right now while we stand and sing.