God the Holy Spirit and the Church
Before we can get into God the Holy Spirit and the Church we first must recap what we learned previously. In the introduction we learned that God is one in essence and three in person. We learned that God is revealed as a single being, existing in three distinct but interrelated and completely unified persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We, also, learned that the Nicene Creed was written to combat both Arianism and Gnosticism, both of which denied the triune nature of God.
In the section dealing with God the Father and God the Son we learned that God the Father and God the Son are our: creators, providers and saviors. We, also, saw the perfect picture of God the Father in the term Abba Father, and the perfect picture of God the Son in the Passover lamb and more specifically the celebration of Passover. And finally we learned that in order for God the Son to be your creator, provider and savior that he must be equal to God the Father.
God the Holy Spirit
We believe in the Holy Spirit the life giving god,
who proceeded from the Father; we worship and glorify Him with the father and the son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
Who was spoken through the Prophets.—Nicene Creed
Most Christian denominations do not speak about the Holy Spirit very often. In fact the three largest Protestant denominations in the world are: 1) Pentecostalism, 2) Anglicanism and 3) Baptist. Of those three the only one who is known for placing any emphasis on the Holy Spirit is Pentecostalism. Which has led most Christians to have a skewed view of the Holy Spirit. In fact the most popular view of the Holy Spirit is as the “good angel” who sits on your shoulder opposite the devil and who acts in essence as your conscious. However, that is not the only thing that the Holy Spirit does. And here is what the Baptist Faith and Message says about the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.
This description of the Holy Spirit exactly matches the way Jesus described the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel. In John 14:16 Jesus said this about the Holy Spirit, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give another advocate to help you and be with you forever”. The word “advocate” used here is the Greek word “parakletos”, which in some older translations is translated as “comforter”. However, that word does not adequately describe what the Holy Spirt is and what the Holy Spirit does. The word “parakletos” in Greek literal translates as “called to one’s side” or “called to one’s aide”. The word was used in a court of justice to denote a legal assistance, counsel for the defense, an advocate; then, generally, one who pleads another’s cause, an intercessor, or an advocate. Which fits in nicely with how we have described God the Father and God the Son, because we have described them as being our provider, creator and savior. Which is how we are now going to look at God the Holy Spirit.
God the Holy Spirit is Our Creator
Genesis 1:1-2 says this about says this about the world before creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
The word “spirit” here is the Hebrew “ruach”. And it can be translated as “wind”, “breath”, or “mind”. It is closely associated with “life” since there is no life without “breath”. Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep water. The Spirit (Ruach) of God was hovering over the water.” The scene is evocative, as though God hovers over the young world like an eagle hovering over its chicks.
The Spirit offers wisdom, ability, guidance, power, and revelation. So powerful is the breath of the Spirit that it can even bring the dead to life. Though Ruach when used in connection with God in the Hebrew Scriptures may simply refer to his power or his will, more often it signifies that God is present by his Spirit. “Holy Spirit” (Ruach Qodesh), “God’s Spirit” (Ruach El), “the LORD’s Spirit” (Ruach Yahweh), and “the Spirit of God” (Ruach Elohim)—all are phrases found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In the New Testament the Greek word “pneuma” (the Greek equivalent of ruach) refers to that which gives life to the body, to the human spirit, to good and and evil spirits, and to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word “parakletos” is also used and is translated as “counselor”, “advocate”, or “helper”.
The New Testament speaks of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the body of Christ so that together we can do the will of God on earth. The Holy Spirit is the One with power to re-create the life of God within us.
Genesis 2:7 says this about our creation “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The word “breathed” and “breathe” in Genesis 2:7 are the same word that was used in Genesis 1:2 when it says “the Spirit of God”. Which means that it is the presence of God’s Spirit in us that makes us different from the animals that God, also, created. But how does it make us different?
Animals are only able to react to things that are happening around. Animals only have two choices when faced with a problem. They can either fight or run away, which is sometimes referred to as the fight or flight reflex. But because God breathed his Spirit into us at our creation we have the ability to not just react, but to also make intelligent and rational decisions about the situations that we find ourselves in. And this is only possible because the Holy Spirit is around us and in us guiding us in the right direction, but you will only hear this guidance and direction if you are attuned to it.
God the Holy Spirit is Our Provider
In Romans 8:26-27 Paul describes the Holy Spirit using these words:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Paul here tells us that the Holy Spirit does two very important things for us. He helps us in our weakness and he intercedes for us when we do not know what to pray for. The first thing he tells us is that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. The word translated “help” is a complex word (in Greek “sunantilambanetai”) that means the Holy Spirit “takes hold of” (“lambane tai) our weakness (a) together with us (sun) and (b) instead of us (anti) as our intercessor (one who pleads a case on behalf of another). This means that the Spirit joins with us to help and empower us to be victors—not victims—in our circumstances. But the Spirit also works apart from us to take action on our behalf. When we are helpless, the Holy Spirit is truly our “helper”.
The second thing he tells us is that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we do not know what to pray for. Concerning the Holy Spirit’s activity in helping us pray, three observations are important: (1) As children of God we, have two main intercessors (mediators—ones who plead a case for others or take responsibility for others’ needs and situations): Christ who intercedes for us in heaven, and the Holy Spirit who intercedes from within us on earth. (2) “With groans” probably indicates that the Holy Spirit communicates with God the Father through our desperate inner cries and the longings of our hearts when we do not have words adequate to express our needs and desires to God. (3) The desires of our hearts must come from the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. He appeals to the Father for our needs “in accordance with God’s will”. When his desires become our desires, our prayers will be effective.
What all this means is that even though God the Holy Spirit does not provide our physical needs as God the Father and God the Son do, but he does provide something much more important than physical needs. God the Holy Spirit provides you with unlimited anytime access to God, which means that God the Holy Spirit provides for your spiritual needs. And he does that by working in conjunction with God the Father and God the Son.
God the Holy Spirit is Our Savior
Jesus in John 15:26-16:15 tells us this about the work of the Holy Spirit:
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father —the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
The Holy Spirit’s main role with respect to promoting the message of Christ is to “convict the world”. The term “convict”(Greek “elencho”) means to expose, refute and convince.
The Spirit’s work of convicting operates in three areas. (1) Sin. The Holy Spirit Spirit will expose sin and unbelief in order to awaken in you a consciousness of guilt and a need for forgiveness. Conviction also makes clear the tragic results of rejecting Christ and persisting in sin (going your own way apart from God). After experiencing the Spirit’s conviction, you must make choice about Christ. With the hope being that this leads to true repentance and a turning to Jesus as Savior and Lord—the forgiver of your sin’s and the Leader of your life. (2) Righteousness. The Spirit convinces your spirit that Jesus is the Son of God who came and showed the right way to God. He reveals that a right relationship with God does not depend on your own good works or efforts, but on Christ’s death on the cross for your sins. If we accept his forgiveness and turn over the rule of your life to him, his Spirit will empower you to do what is right by God’s standards and to overcome the ungodly ways and temptations of the world. (3) Judgement. The Spirit convinces you of Satan’s defeat, which Christ secured and guaranteed by his death on the cross for your sins. The Spirit also makes you aware of God’s present judgement of the world and the future judgement of the entire human race, including your own personal accountability to God.
The Spirit’s work of convincing of sin, righteousness and judgement will be evident in all who are baptized in the Holy Spirit (“filled” with the Spirit and consumed by his power) and are truly living as Spirit-filled believers. Christ himself, filled with the Spirit, testified to the world that “what is does is evil” and called people to repent and turn to God. John the Baptist, “filled with the Holy Spirit” from birth, exposed the sin of the Jewish people and commanded them to change their ways. Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, preached a message that convinced 3,000 people of their sin and guilt, calling them to turn from their sin and receive God’s forgiveness.
Any minister or church that is afraid to expose sin and call for repentance (a change of attitude toward God that causes a person to turn from sin and to surrender to God’s purposes) and godly living is not directed by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 clearly states that God’s presence in a congregation will expose the sin of unbelievers (secrets of their hearts, their God-defying ways) so that they can experience the Spirit’s conviction and Christ’s salvation.
The convicting work of the Holy Spirit is not only directed towards those who do not know Christ, but it also operates in and among Christians to teach, correct and guide them into truth.
The Holy Spirit also will speak to God’s people about sin, the righteousness of Christ and the judgement of evil in order to develop within them a Christlike character and a desire to live by his standard of right and wrong, guide them in their understanding of and ability to live by the truth and honor Christ through their lives. In these ways, the Holy Spirit works within Christ’s followers to develop and reflect Christ’s holiness (moral purity, spiritual wholeness, separation from evil and dedication to God) in their lives.
If Spirit-filled Christians reject the Spirit’s guidance and convicting work, and if they do not “by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13), then they are setting themselves against God and will be judged for that choice. Only those who receive and respond to the truth and are “led by the Spirit of God” are true “sons (or daughters) of God” (Romans 8:14), who are able to experience the benefits of the Spirit’s life within them. Sin (opposition, resistance and rebellion against God) hinders and destroys the life and work of the Holy Spirit within the believer.
The Holy Spirit reveals to believers more about Jesus. Through the Spirit, Christians experience Jesus’ presence, love, forgiveness, character, power, spiritual gifts, healing and all other benefits of our faith and relationship with Christ. The Holy Spirit does not draw attention to himself, but he brings honor to Christ. The Spirit makes us more aware of Jesus’ presence in our lives, which will strengthen our faith and inspire us to love, obey and worship God with more passion.
How God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit Work Together
The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know. ”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD. ’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. Ezekiel 37:1-10
This passage from Ezekiel tells us exactly how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit work together. Ezekiel was shown an old battlefield filled with dry bones. There was no life in them whatsoever—no possibility of life for the people to whom the bones had once belonged. It would be difficult to find a better illustration of our complete lack of power apart from God! The bones were helpless to act for themselves. But as the dry bones were a picture of complete need, so the breath provided a picture of the Spirit’s ability to meet that need. When God entered the picture, defeat became uncompromising victory. Alone, our lives may look as if there is no hope for the future, but when God restores us, people will be amazed at the new life they see. Which shows us that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit work together to be your creator, your provider and your savior.
And we believe in one holy catholic apostolic Church.
And we believe in one baptism for the remission of sins.
and we wait for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life to come,
world without end.-Nicene Creed
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.—Baptist Faith & Message 2000
Most of us hear the word “catholic” and we immediately think that it refers to the Roman Catholic Church, but that is not what the word means at all. It is actually defined as: of, relating to, or forming the church universal or comprehensive/universal. Which means that the church that the Nicene Creed speaks of is a universal church that knows no boundaries or borders.
The word “apostolic” means that the church’s primary mission is the same as that of the apostles. And what was the apostles primary mission. It was a little something called the Great Commission. Which says this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
This command applies to all of Christ’s followers of every generation. In his final instructions Christ states the goal and responsibility of his church (all his faithful followers-individually, in local congregations and as a worldwide community). They are to take his message to people of all nations and cultures. The church is to go into all the world and spread the message of Christ as revealed in his own teaching and through the teaching of his apostles (those the personally appointed to establish his original church and message). This task includes the responsibility of sending missionaries into every nation.
The preaching of the gospel is centered on “repentance and forgiveness of sins”, the promise of receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the challenge to live in a way that is uniquely different from the spiritually corrupt world. We must also preach with an expectancy of Jesus’ return for his church.
The primary purpose of Christ’s commission was to make disciples-disciplined “learners” and followers of Jesus who live by his commands and are continually growing in their relationship with him. To make disciples is the only direct command in this passage (the word “go” could be translated “as you are going”). Many people take about the Great Commission as a call to evangelism (to spread Christ’s message of forgiveness and new life with the aim that people will respond positively and accept Christ). But Christ’s words here are really a commission to the deeper aspect of discipleship-which goes beyond evangelism and on to solid teaching and continual spiritual nurturing that produces growth and progress. Effective evangelism cannot be separated from true discipleship. Christ does not intend for his followers to simply make converts to Christianity; he wants them to train and mentor (train by teaching and example) other people who will faithfully follow Christ and lead others to him as well. If individuals who accept Christ do not grow beyond the starting point, they will almost certainly become spiritually hardened toward God. A church’s spiritual energies and efforts must not be focused merely on enlarging church membership, but in making true disciples-life-long followers of Christ who avoid evil, follow Christ’s commands and pursue his purposes with all their heart, mind and will.
Christ commands us to concentrate on reaching spiritually lost men and women with his message of hope, but this does not mean that believers are called to Christianize society or to expect that all of the world will become Christians. While we must strive to make a positive difference in the world, we also must understand that the world system will remain defiant toward God until he returns to earth for the final time to destroy evil and judge the wicked. Until then, God’s people must separate themselves from the corrupt beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles that surround them. Believers should devote themselves wholeheartedly to God and his purposes. Devotion to Christ includes not hesitating to expose the evil and shame in the world so as to encourage others to avoid it.
Those who believe in Christ-who accept his message by faith and actively yield their lives to him-are to be “baptized” with water. (The word translated “baptized” literally speaks of being immersed, or put completely under the water.) This act of obedience serves as a public statement of faith in Christ-a sign that a person is identifying with Jesus in his death, burial (going under the water) and resurrection (coming up out of the water). It represents a person’s spiritual pledge to turn away from sin and immorality, to die to one’s own sinful nature and, with God’s help, to be raised up to live a new life. In this new life, the believer is complexity committed to Christ and his purposes.
Christ will be with his obedient followers through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We will be able to fulfill our task to take Christ’s message wherever we go, even to all people and all nations, only after we are “clothed with power from on high”.
And now we come to out original question. Are these ancient creeds still relevant today? And the answer to that question should be obvious by now. Of course they still relevant. They clearly and concisely define the major doctrines and beliefs of Christianity. And lastly they are still relevant because if we do not have concise statements that define what we believe, then we will believe anything. And that is the problem with today’s “church” and today’s “Christians”. Many “churches” and “Christians” have lost their focus and have started believing and even teaching false doctrines.
But our earlier passage from Ezekiel gives us a clear picture of what God can and will do in dead and dying churches. The dry bones that Ezekiel sees represented the people’s spiritually dead dead condition. Your church may seem like a heap of dry bones to you, spiritually dead with no hope of vitality. But just as God promised to restore his nation, he can restore any church, no matter how dry or dead it may be. Rather than give up, you must pray for renewal, for God can restore it to life. The hope and prayer of every church should be that God will put his Spirit into it. In fact, God is at work calling his people back to himself, bringing new life into dead churches.