By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 30 2019 12:26PM
** This sermon series on the 39 Articles gratefully acknowledges Foundations of Faith edited by Lee Gatiss and The Faith We Confess by Gerald Bray for their exposition and reflection of the Anglican Faith.
Who is the Holy Spirit? What do you know about the third person of the Trinity? The Holy Spirit is often side-lined and sometimes overlooked in the church. He forms part of the opening of our service liturgy; we dutifully recite that we believe in him in our creed; and he forms part of the words with which a priest blesses us. But generally speaking, many of us are likely to have a better understanding of God the Father and God the Son than God the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, this may be one of the reasons that we have an Article of Religion specifically about the Holy Spirit. It was added in 1563 to the original Articles of 1553, probably because it was felt that something needed to be said about the Holy Spirit in order to reflect the Trinitarian pattern of the creeds more exactly. The 5th Article states that ‘The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.’ There are a few things to explore about our belief in the Holy Spirit, which we’ll do, making reference to our readings from Scripture. Firstly, we’ll address the controversy that has arisen over the belief that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Then we’ll explore how the Spirit is both divine and personal. Finally, we’ll address our need for the Holy Spirit both in our lives and in our churches.
Let’s examine the controversy that has arisen over the belief that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is the belief of the Anglican church that this is so, as it is mentioned in Article 5 and in both the Athanasian Creed and the Nicene Creed printed in the Book of Common Prayer. It is Eastern Orthodox churches that do not accept that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father. The Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Trinity is that the Father is the ‘fount of deity’ and that the Son and Spirit derive their divinity from him. Western doctrine on the Trinity from Augustine teaches that God is a Trinity of love. The Father loves, the Son is the Beloved and the Spirit is the bond of love which unites them. This love is perfect and equal – else the Father’s love for the Son would be unrequited. So the Spirit who proceeds from the Father as his love for the Son must also proceed from the Son in his responsive love for the Father. As our readings from John’s gospel and Galatians show us, the Holy Spirit is also an outpouring of God the Father and God the Son’s love for us. Jesus said in v16 of John’s gospel ‘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.’ In v26 he goes on to say that the Father will send the Spirit ‘in my name’. And Paul tells the Galatians that ‘because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father.”’
These passages indicate the common belief, adopted in the Council of Florence in 1439 that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. Any doctrine that suggests that access to the Father directly through the Spirit with no reference to the Son must be resisted because it removes the atoning work of Christ on the cross from the central experience of the believer. We need only look back to our readings today to know that God sent his Holy Spirit after we were redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Galatians 4: 4-5 reminds us that ‘when the time had fully come, God sent his Son … to redeem those under the law, that we might have adoption to sonship.’ And as we may remember from our recent study of John’s gospel, Jesus’s words to his disciples in the passage we have read today are part of his reassurance to them that they will not be left alone when he returns to the Father. As he says in v18 ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’ Without the saving work of Jesus, we could not have the Holy Spirit with us and in us – our sinful nature would prevent this intimacy with God.
For that is indeed the nature of the Holy Spirit. He is fully divine and fully God. As the second part of the Article declares, the Holy Spirit is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God. Sadly, this is not always recognised by our churches. Some of the things that have been said about the Holy Spirit include that he is the candle lighter that the Father and Son use in the world, or that he’s like a currency that the Father gives his children to use in the world. We should resist this kind of thinking. As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is truly and wholly God. In God’s words to Ezekiel in our passage this morning, he says in v27 ‘And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ This is not some third-party power but God himself. God doesn’t say ‘I will put my Spirit in you and he will move you’. No, his words are one continuous action. It is God who both puts his Spirit in us and moves us to follow his decrees because the Spirit is God.
Moreover, the Spirit is not merely a powerful force. He is a person and we can be in relationship with him, as we can with the Father and the Son. Jesus gives him a personal title: he is the Advocate. Elsewhere, he is referred to as the Comforter. He intercedes for us, as Paul explains in Romans 8:26-27: ‘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.’ The Holy Spirit speaks to us and sets people apart for ministry. Acts 13: 2 records: ‘While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’’ And v4 records that the Holy Spirit sent them out. Having the Holy Spirit living with us and in us is a very real relationship. He is our Guide and our Enabler. He spurs us into action for God.
This brings us to our final point. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches. Taking words from our Ezekiel reading, it is the Holy Spirit who keeps our heart as flesh. God’s words through Ezekiel show us what we are like without him. As he says in v26: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ Without God, we are uncaring and selfish; with God we have hearts of love, like his. We speak often of spiritual gifts – particular strengths the Holy Spirit has given us to use in God’s service – and these should of course be cherished. But we should not forget to seek out the Spirit as he is and for what he is – truly God, equal in majesty and glory – rather than simply for what he offers us. Through the Spirit we can encounter Jesus. As Jesus told us in v26 of John’s gospel: ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ The Holy Spirit always points us to Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross and he gives us his gifts so that we can proclaim Jesus to the world.
So, let us not be guilty of sidelining the Holy Spirit. Let’s not give him the minimal responses and worship. Let us embrace the relationship he offers us and let us ensure we never lose sight of the glory, the majesty and the divinity of the person of the Holy Spirit.