n recent issues of Knowing & Doing we have looked at Christ’s call to discipleship and at the cost of discipleship. Understanding and embracing these truths is essential to becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ. But knowing what we must do and even committing ourselves to doing it, though necessary, is not sufficient. We need power to live out our commitment. And if we lack it we will become discouraged, then disillusioned, then settle into a life of spiritual mediocrity. This has happened to many would-be followers of Jesus over the centuries.
Jesus tells us very clearly that the power to live as his disciple comes from the Holy Spirit. With this assertion, no one who takes the Bible seriously, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox, would disagree. But, for a variety of reasons, in many churches today there is a lack of clear, in-depth, practical teaching about the person and work of the Holy Spirit in relation to discipleship. As a result, many people struggle in their spiritual lives, and their discipleship is weak and anemic.
In a brief article it is impossible to give a full account of the work of the Spirit in discipleship (the Christian life). What we can do, however, is look at some important truths about the Spirit that will help us faithfully follow Jesus Christ.
Who or What Is the Holy Spirit?
We live in a culture that is significantly influenced by eastern religion, New Age thinking, and other worldviews, all of which can confuse our understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work. As these nonbiblical systems of thought have gained strength over the past fifty years, there has been a corresponding decline in biblical literacy in the culture and the church. As a result, many in the church today have very little understanding of the Bible and what it teaches about the Holy Spirit. For example, it is not uncommon to hear professing believers refer to the Holy Spirit as “it.” From this and other anecdotal evidence, it appears that many people think of the Spirit as an impersonal force or power like “the Force” in Star Wars. Because of the vague and erroneous ideas that many have about the Spirit, we need to begin by briefly clarifying who the Holy Spirit is.
Although the Holy Spirit is quite prominent in the New Testament, that is not the case in the Old Testament. He was present and active at creation, was active in inspiring the prophets and anointed and empowered various leaders of Israel, including judges and kings. However, he is not described as empowering the ordinary Israelite living under the Old Covenant. And his Personhood is very much in the background, with his work often (but not always) described in ways that suggest impersonal divine power or agency. This “low profile” and involvement chiefly with the leadership in Israel is a major difference between the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament and New Testament.
The Holy Spirit begins to come out of the shadows so to speak in the New Testament. He first causes the conception of the Messiah, then later anoints and empowers his ministry (Matt. 1:20–21; Luke 1:34–35, 3:21–22). Then at Pentecost he breaks forth in full intensity, launching, empowering, and guiding the church and its mission. This inaugurates the Age to Come, sometimes called the Age of the Spirit, which was prophesied in Joel 2:28–32 and was announced by Peter at Pentecost. From this time forward, all of God’s people—masters and servants, male and female, old and young—will receive the Spirit, and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).1
In the fuller light of Jesus and the church, the Holy Spirit’s personhood and his crucial role in the work of the kingdom and discipleship becomes evident. Jesus speaks most fully about the Holy Spirit in John 14–16. In these chapters, we see that far from being an impersonal force, the Spirit is a person, “another counselor” who takes Jesus’ place when he returns to the Father; the Greek word for another means one of the same kind. The Spirit is a divine person just like Jesus but, unlike Jesus, he has not become incarnate, taking on human nature and a physical body. Yet the Spirit carries on the work of Christ and makes him personally present to us in this world. (Note the way the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ in Romans 8:9–11.) In John, Jesus goes on to say that he teaches, brings to remembrance (14:26), bears witness (15:26), convicts (16:8), guides, hears, speaks, and declares the future (16:13).
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