It took a while for Christians to become clear that the Holy Spirit is really and truly God.
- Father? Check.
- Son? Check.
- Spirit? Some ambiguity — for centuries actually.
Once that was clear, though, we joyfully proclaimed and celebrated the mystery: as the hymn puts it, “God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.”
What does the Heidelberg Catechism (the widely used and well-loved 450 year old Reformed summary of biblical Christianity on which I blog with unflagging enthusiasm) have to say about the Holy Spirit? The question comes up in the line-by-line explanation of the Apostles’ Creed:
53 Q. What do you believe concerning “the Holy Spirit”?
A. First, that the Spirit, with the Father and the Son, is eternal God.
Second, that the Spirit is given also to me, so that, through true faith, he makes me share in Christ and all his benefits, comforts me, and will remain with me forever.
Sounds like two things. Hmm… the title of this post promised six. Look a little closer:
1. The Holy Spirit is “eternal God.”
That may seem obvious, but back in the 4th century it was a big debate. In a.d. 381 Bishops from around the Christian world gathered in Constantinople and declared that the Spirit is truly God, a Person of the Trinity along with the Father and the Son.
Considering how little attention many Christians pay to the Holy Spirit that is a point worth repeating. The Spirit is neither our own enthusiasm nor some optional second-stringer. We are talking about the nature of the God we worship.
2. The Holy Spirit “is given also to me”
That’s very good news. Because of the Holy Spirit, God is not far away but present with me, and in me — if I’m a Christian. It does not depend on a particular kind of experience. Jesus promised to send the Spirit to his followers, and he is true to his word.
3. The Holy Spirit gives “true faith.”
It is the Spirit who gives faith — and in biblical Christianity, faith is the Main Event. Paul makes it clear that only by faith are we “justified,” or made innocent before God. Paul makes it equally clear that faith is a gift of the Spirit.
If you find that you have even a little bit of faith, take it as clear evidence that you have the Holy Spirit.
4. The Holy Spirit “makes me share in Christ and all his benefits”
It isn’t just faith. Theologians like the writers of the Catechism credit every step of the life of salvation to the Spirit — making the call of the gospel clear to us, justifying us before God’s judgment, adopting us into God’s family, engrafting us into Christ’s body, and renewing our lives to look more like Jesus.
Anybody who says Reformed theology doesn’t have much to say about the Spirit hasn’t been looking.
5. The Holy Spirit “comforts me”
Then there is the winsome promise of comfort. Jesus promised that the Spirit would be our comforter in affliction, our advocate in the face of accusation. The Spirit matters for real living on a daily basis — we would be miserable without him.
6. The Holy Spirit “will remain with me forever”
None of this is a temporary matter. God is reliable. The Spirit is with each of us and all of us for the long haul. He will help us all the way to the end of life’s journey.
You probably noticed what is missing here.
There is no discussion of the Spirit giving gifts —neither gifts like tongues nor gifts for ministry. Ever since the Pentecostal revivals of the early 20th century we can hardly think of the Spirit except in terms of gifts. But that just wasn’t so for most of Christian history.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: Which of the Catechism’s statements about the Spirit rings truest for your own faith? What do you find is missing?