Sustainer God

Luca Rossetti da Orta, The Holy Trinity, fresco, 1738-9, St. Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea (Torino)
Luca Rossetti da Orta, The Holy Trinity, fresco, 1738-9, St. Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea (Torino)

The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is one of the three persons in the Trinity--along with the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Father. The Trinity is a concept that is important in the history of Christianity but was never specifically taught in the Bible. The Trinity is important as we attempt to understand and describe what is happening in our salvation and in God's care for us today, but it is not essential that we understand everything about the Trinity to experience God's love and embrace.

The division between the Eastern and Western churches which became complete in 1053 occurred because of conflicting definitions of how the members of the Trinity relate to one another. The Western Church, of which the Presbyterian Church is a branch, teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son while the Eastern Church teaches that the Holy Spirit like the Son proceeds only from the Father. Neither of these positions is very clearly taught in Scripture but each can be inferred from various texts. In the Nicene Creed, which we repeat on Communion Sundays, the phrase "and the Son" which is placed in parenthesis is the root of this division in the Church.

No matter how the Trinity is configured, the Holy Spirit is God among us today. She is God working in our hearts to draw us to salvation, and she is God working in our lives to purify us and perfect us for the world to come. Jesus called the Holy Spirit "the advocate" or "comforter" because she would comfort us while we wait for Jesus to return. (John 14:15-16:15) There are many descriptive names for the Holy Spirit. Together they give us an idea of what the Spirit does and how we are changed by the Spirit's work.

An important historic symbol of the Holy Spirit is a dove descending. This reminds us specifically of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove when Jesus was baptized. (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, and John 1:32) The dove represents the Spirit bringing comfort and God's presence to us today to sustain us and keep us functioning.

We sometimes describe the members of the Trinity by their best known actions as God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer. This is also a way for us to refer to the Trinity without using words that can limit our image of the Trinity to only one gender. Remember that all images are limited ways for us to refer to the persons of the Trinity. None of these words or images is by itself complete in identifying God or God's works.

The Works of the Holy Spirit

There are in Scripture different works of the Holy Spirit. These works include the Gifts of the Spirit mentioned by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12:1-11; I Corinthians 12:27-31; and Romans 12:6-8; and the Fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23.

The Gifts of the Spirit from I Corinthians 12 are

In I Corinthians 12:27-31 the list is broadened to include

The Fruit (singular) of the Spirit from Galatians 5 is

It is not clear that Paul intended for these lists to be considered complete. He may have been listing them as examples of what the Spirit provides us.

It is important to us to remember that the Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts that should be used in the Church to serve God and other people and that the fruit of having the Holy Spirit in control of our lives is that we will be improved in terms of our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These all together are the Fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

The Holy Spirit and the Bible

We also believe that the Holy Spirit used the work of the writers of the Bible and breathed life into the words that they wrote. Inspiration or "breathing into" is an important part of the work of the Holy Spirit. In our worship services we ask God to send his Spirit onto us and help us receive the Word of God from the words read to us from the Bible. This is the other side of the Holy Spirit's use of the Bible called "illumination." Together inspiration and illumination make the Bible useful in our lives. We believe that we receive the Holy Spirit as we receive and are moved by the Word of God.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

In Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 12:10 Jesus refers to a sin against the Holy Spirit called blasphemy. Jesus says it is one sin that can never be forgiven. There is some disagreement of what this sin is. Augustine of Hippo taught that this blasphemy is the rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life. If you continue to the very end to reject the Holy Spirit as she works in your life, you have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. Rejecting the voice of the Holy Spirit is rejecting the offer of peace with God.

Please note: I have used feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit not because she is demonstrably female, but because all the pronouns in Scripture for her are personal pronouns with no biological gender; however, we do not have a non-gendered personal pronoun in English we only have the impersonal pronoun "it." That impersonal pronoun, if used for a human person would be insulting. Its use would also deny a major part of how we understand the Trinity. I have, therefore, tried to use personal pronouns consistently to avoid this insult, and since we already use the masculine personal pronouns to describe Jesus (who was physically male) and more often than not to describe God the Father, I thought it appropriate to use feminine pronouns to balance things out a bit.

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