In Acts 19 we read of a group of Ephesians who had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. When reading that verse in public one Church of England minister was heard to say that it was apparently also true, for the most part in most of the Anglican churches of his day. A W Tozer of the Christian and Missionary Alliance similarly remarked that if the Holy Spirit was withdrawn today most of what goes on in the name of Christianity would probably continue unaltered tomorrow. We live in the age of the Spirit but for many professing Christians it makes little difference to their every day lives.
From time to time sincere Christians have woken up to this great neglect of the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost and have reacted by seeking to draw attention to him in various ways. Now the Spirit's role is in fact not to draw attention to himself but to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says in John 15:26 When the Counsellor 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.
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Given this fact, it is important that, in the right sense, we can honestly say 'I believe in the Holy Spirit'. This is what C H Spurgeon used to say to himself as he ascended the stairs of the pulpit of the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit to preach. By that he did not mean 'I have neither prepared a message nor prepared myself for this moment but I believe God can do something anyway' . Rather, he meant that having prepared himself to preach and having prepared his message to be preached he wanted to rely for conversions and for making an impact on Christians on neither of those things or both but only on the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.
In the 18th century John Newton used to recommend young ministers to prepare their messages as if there was no Holy Spirit and then to preach them as if all depended on nothing but the Holy Spirit. In this way he sought to stress the paradox revealed in Scripture that, on the one hand, exalts the teaching that God is sovereign and yet at the same time insists on human responsibility. There is no way that we can logically reconcile these two clear biblical doctrines. Abraham Kuyper used to say that if we find a way to reconcile the two then we have misunderstood. Humanly speaking they truly do seem antithetical. They find their resolution ultimately only in the mind of God.
B B Warfield called Calvin 'The theologian of the Holy Spirit' because of the careful and thorough way Calvin set out the doctrine of the Spirit for the first time. Good Calvinists should have a clear theology of the Spirit in their heads. In practical terms, however, how are we to truly believe in the Spirit and honour him as we should yet give proper weight to the important doctrine of human responsibility? Perhaps something along the lines of John Newton's advice will serve us best. If we truly honour the Holy Spirit we will certainly notice references to him as we read the Scriptures, his inspired Word. We will be conscious of the need of his help when we come to pray. We will want to do nothing to make him grieved with us or to quench his fire in others. We will long to know him at work in conversion and sanctification; in illuminating his Word and guiding his people into truth; in restoring and renewing his people. On the other hand, we will also see the need to work hard at winning people to Christ; at seeking to grow in grace; at maintaining Christian unity; to know God's will and live to his glory. Belief in the Holy Ghost should not lead to some sort of spiritual inertia but to a tremendous confidence in God that he is with us, strengthening and helping and nourishing and using us to his praise as we live for him. The genuine fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc (Galatians 5:22).
There are many example of men in Scripture who were filled with the Spirit but the greatest example of such a man is the Lord Jesus himself for he was filled with the Spirit without measure. His very title Christ or Messiah means 'Anointed one'. He was anointed not merely with oil but with the Spirit himself. The Spirit of God was upon him enabling him to do what he did.
If we are Christians we too have an anointing. As C S Lewis once put it, we are little Christs. We will then look for the leading of the Spirit, for his guidance and help and power and blessing, as we endeavour to live lives that reflect the patterns laid down for us by the Saviour. That is what keeping in step with the Spirit is all about.
Never forget the Holy Spirit - not by talking about him or promoting the mere name but by actively seeking to keep in step with him in all he does.
This article first appeared in Grace Magazine