What is the Role of the Holy Spirit?
There lies a subtle irony in the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the contemporary Christian. The Spirit plays an essential and ongoing purpose in the daily life of the Christian. Yet many believers struggle to understand His indispensable role. The Apostle Paul described an example of this association in Eph. 1:13:
Royal dignitaries often used seals as identification marks with letters or scrolls. Paul leveraged this familiar first-century illustration to describe how the Holy Spirit distinguishes those who have placed their faith in Christ.
This unique “mark” is just one example of the connection between Christians and the Holy Spirit. Though He is a co-equal, co-essential, and co-eternal Person in the Trinity, there is sometimes an unfortunate perception that His role is less important than that of the Father and the Son. Therefore, it is important we understand the multi-faceted, all-encompassing nature of the Holy Spirit’s function in the Christian life.
The Spirit is a Who, not a What
Any discussion of the Holy Spirit must first be grounded in understanding who or what He is. It is easier for those who are less familiar with Scripture to draw personable connections to the Father and Son because of their familial titles. Still, often those individuals associate the Holy Spirit with being an impersonal, not relational, and amoral entity.
But Scripture shows that the Holy Spirit displays the same traits as any “person” does. However, we must remember He is personal and a Person, but not a person in the human sense. The Spirit communicates or speaks (Acts 8:29; 13:2); He teaches (1 Cor. 2:13); He is able to deliberate (Acts 15:28); He leads (Gal. 5:18; Rom. 8:14); He can be grieved (Heb. 10:29), and He intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26–27).
There are many other actions attributed to the Spirit, along with personal pronouns, that clearly show He is a Person. One of which is His role as a liberator.
The Spirit as Liberator
Jesus’s ministry began with a message of liberation. In Luke 4, Jesus gained notoriety as word of His teachings in local synagogues spread around the vicinity of Galilee. He eventually made his way to Nazareth and taught in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He unrolled the scroll and read these words from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk. 4:18–19)
After reading this excerpt, Jesus told his listeners, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” Though Jesus’s proclamation signified that those verses foretold of Him, it was the Spirit who Isaiah stated provides the “anointing” for Jesus to perform His liberating work. In other words, the Holy Spirit is an essential participant in Jesus’s mission and our calling from Him to help the most vulnerable in our society.
The Spirit as Helper
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn. 14:16–17)
Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, He told His disciples that He would send them a Helper. He knew that upon his physical departure, they would be lonely, depressed, and confused about what to do next. This Helper was and is the Holy Spirit.
Many of us are besieged by those same emotions throughout our Christian journey. We experience bouts of discouragement, frustration, and bewilderment. We wrestle with decision-making, and we struggle with temptation. Frankly, there are many times when we simply need help, divine help.
The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity who is our consummate Helper. As Jesus noted, “. . . you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” No matter our circumstances, the realization that we are never truly alone should help to comfort us, as it comforted Jesus’s disciples thousands of years ago.
The Spirit Seals Our Status
We began our discussion of the Spirit with Paul’s declaration of how the Spirit identifies us as followers of Christ. But He not only “seals” us as believers; more specifically, He grafts us into an eternal family. He is the seal of our salvation.
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
When we place our trust in Christ, we become heirs or children of God. There is an inherent affection and assurance in this status. The God who created the world, brought forth life, slung the stars in the night sky, and has existed eternally, receives us as His children. God is incredibly powerful while also being incredibly intimate. The profundity of this relationship cannot be overstated, and it’s the Spirit who seals it. As Michael Lloyd stated in Café Theology, “Because of the Spirit, we are in the Son. And because we are in the Son, we are children of God.”