How does the divinity of the Holy Spirit shape the life of the local church?
The divinity of the Holy Spirit matters a great deal for believers and for the life of the church. But why does it matter and how? As we take up this mystery, we must carefully and prayerfully attend to the sacred Scripture in the company of the communion of saints, especially the great doctors of the church catholic.
Trinitarian First Principles
John Calvin, in his excellent commentary on Acts, reminds us that the Holy Spirit is God. Commenting on Ananias’s deceit, Calvin notes, following Acts 5:4, “he who lies to the Holy Spirit lies to God, for the divinity of the Holy Spirit is clearly asserted in this way of speaking.” Calvin also refers us to 1 Corinthians 3:16, where “Paul says in a similar vein, ‘you are temples of God, because the Spirit dwells in you’” These texts remind us that Scripture assumes the Spirit’s divinity. The Spirit is God and of God.As we take up this mystery, we must carefully and prayerfully attend to the sacred Scripture in the company of the communion of saints, especially the great doctors of the church catholic. Click To Tweet
Let’s think about this for a moment. The Spirit is God, together with the Father and Son. Father, Son, and Spirit are not three Gods but one God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each is fully and truly God. Considered in more technical terms, one divine essence or substance is common to the three. Godhead is common to them. However, each one of the three is distinct from the other two.
As we said a moment ago, the Spirit is God. New Testament texts like John 15:26 illuminate this truth for us. Jesus speaks therein of “the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father.” The Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father through the Son, for the Father sends the Spirit in the Son’s name. See John 14:26. The Spirit is consubstantial with Father and Son, but distinct from them. The Spirit’s procession—to again use a technical term—distinguishes the Spirit from the Father (who is from no one) and the Son (who is eternally born of the Father). In sum, the Spirit is God, and the Spirit is of God the Father. Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament untether the Spirit from God the Father or God the Son. The Spirit proceeds from them—from the Father in a primary sense and the Son in a secondary sense—and leads to them.
The Spirit and the Kingdom of God
Given this very brief lesson in Trinitarian first principles, we are free to contemplate how the Spirit’s divinity shapes the life of the local Christian congregation. Let us consider briefly Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus in John 3:1-21. Apart from the Spirit, we, as with Nicodemus, approach Jesus “by night,” that is, in spiritual darkness. (3:1) We come to him with all kinds of pre-conceived notions about who he should be and what he should do.Because the Spirit is God, the Spirit has the power to enlighten our darkness, helping us to truly see. Click To Tweet
Because the Spirit is God, the Spirit has the power to enlighten our darkness, helping us to truly see. With the aid of the Holy Spirit of God, we may indeed see the Kingdom of God. Such sight, however, assumes the new birth, water baptism and its concomitant, Spirit baptism. The church is the fruit of the Spirit’s work. Believers are born anew by the Spirit, and gathered to God’s Kingdom in the church, the living body of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the primary shaping effects, then, of the Holy Spirit’s divinity, is deliverance from darkness to light through new birth via the waters of baptism and the regenerative work of the Spirit. The Spirit is God, and so the Spirit blesses us with what is proper to the Spirit’s life in himself, that is, eternal life.
The Spirit’s ministry in the life of the church always assumes a Trinitarian pattern. The Spirit is not interested in promoting the Spirit’s self. It is, after all, not the Spirit’s Kingdom that we see but God the Father’s. Rather than implying the Spirit’s inferiority, this pattern expresses God’s inner life. The Spirit is from the Father, and so leads us to the Father through the Son. That is ‘how’ things are in God, and the reason why the triune God works among us as the triune God does.
Pastors, church leaders, and all biblically minded Christians benefit immensely from honouring this trinitarian pattern of Scripture. Let me illustrate this with reference to the church’s prayer and public worship. Prayer should not be directed to the Spirit. Instead, we are to pray to the Father through the Son in and by the power of the Spirit. Accordingly, our prayer follows the logic expressed in John 17:26. Jesus makes his Father’s name known—“I will make it known.”Prayer, when animated by the Spirit, assumes the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father. Click To Tweet Jesus is from the Father and so makes the Father’s name known. The Father has priority and precedence in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus does not send the Father but the Father does send him. Prayer should, accordingly, honour the priority of the Father in the life of the Trinity. In addition, while we do not bring petitions before our Father in the name of the Spirit, we do, however, bring praise and petitions before and to him in the name of the Son. We do not then pray to the Son in the name of the Father but we do pray to the Father in the name of the Son. But what about the Spirit? The Spirit is “the love with which you have love me [Jesus].” The Spirit is that love and gift, binding us to the Father through the Son so that their love may indwell us. Prayer, then, animated by the Spirit, assumes the Father’s love for the Son with a view to their love inhabiting us. Prayer, when animated by the Spirit, assumes the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father. When that love fills us—love that is the Spirit—our lives become pure prayer, prayer without ceasing. See 1 Thessalonians 5:17. The Spirit cannot but help to call out through us to the Father and the Father’s Son as their love, binding us to them, teaching us to know, obey, and love them, world without end.
A similar trinitarian dynamic applies to the church’s worship. Worship takes many forms. Certain activities, however, must be present in the church’s worship if its worship is indeed to be worship. The Word—the Gospel of Christ—must be faithfully preached and heard. Integral to the church’s worship is preaching, for “faith,” as Paul notes in Romans 10:17, “comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” That children, women, and men are able to hear and obey is because of the Spirit. The Spirit works tirelessly to open ears to the Good News. Ears with which to hear the Word—this is the gift of God the Spirit.The Spirit works tirelessly to open ears to the Good News. Click To Tweet And because the Spirit is God, the Spirit has the power to bring forth obedience and praise amongst all people, Jews and Gentiles. Moreover, the Spirit’s divinity guarantees the efficacy of the church’s sacraments, baptism and Lord’s Supper. Baptism cleanses and restores as it does because of the secret ministry of the Spirit. The Spirit takes what Christ has obtained for us, applying it to us in such a way that we might feel his tender mercy and forgiveness. In the case of the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit seals us through bread and wine in the promises of the proclaimed Word in order that they might vivify us and lead us afresh back to the Father through the Son. In all that the church does, the trinitarian pattern is evident, that is, the eternal and irreversible order of the three persons of the holy and blessed One.
In conclusion, the Spirit clearly proceeds from the Father by nature, and is poured out among us through his Son. The Spirit does not proceed as an adjunct from God the Father but as God himself. This great mystery shapes the church in myriad ways. In the case of this little piece, I discussed the trinitarian patter of prayer and worship: from the Father, through the Son, in and by the power of the Spirit. We pray and worship in the power of the Spirit, through God’s risen Son, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
 Calvin, Commentary on Acts, 1:135.