For many years I felt the work of the Holy Spirit was a mystery.
Of course, there is a mysterious element to how the Holy Spirit works (John 3:8). But the New Testament frequently and clearly demystifies the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Thought I studied in seminary and could offer a fairly thorough summary of the “theology” of the Holy Spirit, practically speaking, I did not really understand what he does or how he works.
On one hand we talk about Jesus’s death and resurrection—the centre and foundation of our faith. But on the other hand there is the Holy Spirit. In my mind, his work felt different and unrelated to the work of Christ.
I used to think the work of the Holy Spirit was connected with spiritual gifts, especially the more spectacular gifts, like tongues and prophecy.
Sometimes I felt that his work is to give an occasional “power boost,” for the purpose of bold evangelism, strong preaching, or passionate worship. Beyond this, I did not really understand the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
As a result, I did not feel I would get to experience much of his work in my life. Thankfully, there is so much more to the Holy Spirit than I knew then.
My understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit was truncated, incorrect, and unhelpful. It was only a small part of what the Bible teaches about him and what he does.
The Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus
The main thing I have realised is that the work of the Holy Spirit is definitely and intimately connected with the person of Christ and his work.
Jesus said, “He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14).
The work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus, to put the spotlight on him, and to draw our attention to him.
He does this by pressing home to our hearts the truth, righteousness, majesty, beauty, goodness, compassion, and love of Christ.
We must never divorce the work of the Holy Spirit from the person and mission of Jesus.
He makes us feel what we know.
The Holy Spirit Makes Jesus Real to Us
One way I like to summarise the work of the Holy Spirit is by saying, “He makes Jesus real to us.”
He does this so we can experience Jesus’s love and power in our lives. Through his work we can become like Jesus, help others come to Christ, and glorify Jesus in all we do.
The Holy Spirit does many things but all his work is for one thing only—to glorify Jesus and make him real to his people.
The work of the Holy Spirit includes conviction of sin (John 16:8), regeneration (John 3:5-6), assurance of salvation (Rom. 8:16), enlightenment (John 16:13), transformation (2 Cor. 3:18), fruitfulness (Gal. 5:22-23), gifting (1 Cor. 12:7), and empowerment (Acts 1:8).
However all these works are for one reason—to glorify Jesus and make his power real in the lives of his people.
The Holy Spirit Turns Theology Into Experience
Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, whatever we know about Jesus is theological, theoretical, intellectual information. It is simply “head knowledge.”
But the Holy Spirit takes these truths and sets our hearts on fire because of them. Then we can actually experience them in our lives and be transformed by our knowledge of Christ.
We desperately need the Holy Spirit to live the life that Jesus purchased for us through his death and resurrection. There is no other way.
“For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20).
This is the chief work of the Holy Spirit in our lives—empowering his people to live the life that Jesus died to give us.
The Holy Spirit and the Means of Grace
Practically speaking, how does the Holy Spirit actually work in us?
I have realised he works primarily through the normal means of grace: through the Word that he himself wrote, prayer, and fellowship with other believers among other things.
Learning this was really important to me. Somehow, over the years, I got the impression that the Spirit works mainly in spectacular ways that are often highly emotional.
But now I understand that he is at work in the ordinary Christian life. But here’s the key: the Holy Spirit takes these “ordinary” means and infuses them with his supernatural power, ultimately leading us again and again to Jesus, which is exactly where we need to be.