Last Fall Christianity Today reported the findings of a recent survey on basic Christian beliefs. 96% of those surveyed affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity. However, 18% replied “Agree” or “Don’t Know” to the statement “The Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus,” and a shocking 58% replied “Agree” or “Don’t Know” to the statement “The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.” Much confusion abounds when it comes to a biblical and orthodox view of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence and power of God, and is a vital gift that Christians receive in baptism.
The significance of the Holy Spirit is apparent at the beginning of Mark’s gospel. John the Baptist preached a baptism “of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, but said that Jesus would “baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:4, 8, NIV). If John is the Baptizer, then Jesus is the Spirit Baptizer. Christian baptism includes the forgiveness of sins, but there is more. Forgiveness of sins is a means to a greater end of communion with God. In Christian baptism our sins are forgiven and we receive the gift of God’s indwelling presence, the Holy Spirit. Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
It is difficult to summarize the importance of the Spirit for Christian living. The Holy Spirit is essential for the church’s mission. Just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus (Mark 1:12) and the early church (Acts 11:15-17; 16:7-10), so the Spirit leads the church today. Just as the Holy Spirit empowered the ministry of Jesus (Luke 4:18; Matt. 12:28), so the Spirit empowers the church and Christian preaching (Acts 4:29-31; 1 Cor. 2:4-5). The Spirit gives gifts so that the church can be edified and can participate in the ongoing work of the risen Lord (1 Cor. 12:4-7).
The Holy Spirit is essential for one’s ongoing spiritual transformation. Christians “are being transformed into [the Lord’s] image”-the verb is passive, signifying something that happens to us, not something we do-and this work of transformation “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). The “fruit of the Spirit” is the result of the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23; see also 2 Thess. 2:13 and 1 Pet. 1:2).
The Holy Spirit is essential to our future hope. The indwelling presence of the Spirit is a firstfruit (Rom. 8:23) and deposit or guarantee (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:21-22) of what is to come. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise our mortal bodies one day (Rom. 8:11).
The faculty, staff, and students of Harding School of Theology invite you to join us as we carefully reflect on our annual theme “The Power of the Spirit.” More importantly, we invite you to join us as we seek the Spirit’s presence and empowerment and as we participate in God’s mission to redeem all things.
Mark E. Powell
Associate Professor of Theology
Kevin P. Emmert, “New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies,” Christianity Today, October 28, 2014, accessed February 27, 2015, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/new-poll-finds-evangelicals-favorite-heresies.html.