(by Lisa Robinson)
I recall my Trinitarianism class in Spring 2009, and when we got to the discussion regarding the Holy Spirit, my professor made some comical remark about how we tend to neglect the Holy Spirit in discussions involving trinitarianism. “Poor Holy Spirit”, he said. While the remark garnered some chuckles from the class, as I observe the landscape of Christianly activity, I often ponder if we have indeed confined the Holy Spirit and neglected the vital function as he works in accordance with a proper Trinitarianism functioning.
The Holy Spirit serves as the sending agent for the will of the Father, accomplished through the son. He reflects the thoughts and will of the Father (John 16:13) and conveys that to the spirit of man (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). He provides the illumination that is required to see the will of the Father and the testimony of his son and convicts accordingly (John 16:8-11). His presence indwells every believer (1 Corinthians 6:19) and should be relied on to the fullest extent by those He indwells (Ephesians 5:18; Romans 8:26-27)
I think we can neglect the Spirit’s role in a number of ways. Most notably, it is the Holy Spirit who enables the response of the non-believer to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one comes to the Father to believe in His Son unless the Spirit draws Him (John 6:44). Yet I find that we can place great emphasis on our methodology and efforts at conversion. I wonder if we place more emphasis on the right packaging, than understanding the product as only being accepted through the work of the Spirit.
Yes, we must proclaim the truth of the gospel, especially in light of competing and troublesome concepts that would seek to undermine it. But when I look through the pages of the New Testament, there are varying degrees of engagement. I consider Paul’s speech in Acts 17. He uses the idols of pagans to proclaim the good news and then left the rest up to the Holy Spirit to do the work. This is the same with Peters speech in Acts 2, whereby 3,000 hearts were pricked and wooed by the gospel to accept what God did through his Son. But it is significant to note that it was the Lord who added to the church that day. This is specifically because of the work of the Spirit.
I do understand that sometimes we will be required to extensively engage with an evangelistic process, as Paul did with the Thessolonicas (Acts 17:3-4). After all, this is the heartbeat of apologetics. And particularly in professional apologetics, the debates are often not to win hardened hearts, but engage the hearts of the listeners for the Spirit to do his work as the truth of Christ is proclaimed. It is not in eloquent debates, but through the work of the Spirit that one comes to Christ. The hardened and unrepentant can only sneer. Is it any wonder that in Michael’s cartoon depiction of Christianity vs. other religions, that so many objected to the plain truth depicted in the cartoon? It is because blind eyes cannot see the beauty of Christ, made possible by the work of the Spirit.
Nor, am I suggesting that we not refute doctrine that is contradictory to the historic witness of Christian faith. Certainly, Paul tells Titus to rebuke rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers that seek to trouble whole households (Titus 1:10-14). Paul tells Timothy to point these things out to the brothers, as a good minister of Christ (1 Timothy 4:6-7). But let’s keep in mind that this instruction is directed to them in a pastoral capacity who are responsible for shepherding the flock of God. Yet, I believe we can take up an overzealous sword that should be tempered by the direction of the Spirit. Speak the truth in love, yes. But leave the results up to the Spirit. That is His job.
The Holy Spirit was very much involved in the writing of scripture that testifies to the revelation of Christ (2 Peter 1:20-21). While scripture does require sound teaching to navigate through the 66 books to tie them together, it is ultimately the Spirit who illumines the heart to receive the truths of scripture. This is why I have become weary of topical teaching and efforts to make the bible relevant, as if it is not already relevant and can accomplish the purpose for which it was written. In fact, I have heard disdain for expository preaching that explains what is being communicated as if exegeting and expositing scripture on its own is insufficient for the Spirit to work through the very product He produced to impact spiritual growth.
I think we can neglect the role of the Holy Spirit in our interactions and especially concerning competing viewpoints. Our discussions can turn to arguments can turn to disdain. Why? Because somebody is wanting somebody else to see their point of view. We wrangle over words, jeopardizing the charity that should bind true believers together. Yet, I wonder how many recall the process involving their own theological evolution that extended far beyond the time and process by which we want for that other party to see. The same Spirit that was involved in our process is fully capable of bringing correction to erroneous thinking and/or practice or to that which we believe is erroneous. And who knows? It is quite possible the error or myopia can lie with us. Yet, the Spirit is fully capable of redirecting wandering thinking wherever it may lay.
The role of the Spirit ought to temper insistence at quick correction of another believer (Galatians 6:1). I think far more people believe that being the spiritual one involves wielding a correcting wand to a believer we think is erring, than is actually warranted by the supposed transgression. In reality, I think the truly spiritual one will have discernment at when confrontation is needed over a grievance or when it is best to not to address it at all. The same Holy Spirit that was involved with our Christian maturity to the extent that it is, is quite able to assist the person we are so wanting to correct. There is grace, after all.
So that does get to the vital role of the Spirit and being led by Him. An increased dependence and sensitivity will create an increased discernment on when to act or not, when to speak or not and how long we need to engage somebody or not, to do as the Kenny Roger song goes, “know when to hold them, and know when to fold them”. Does this require agents to act through? Yes, He uses people. But the ultimate actor is the Spirit in accordance to the will of the Father.
Friends, I must also add that I think this crucial to good stewardship of our time. With increased accessibility to information, that form opinions, that form deviations, that form arguments, it is easy to get sucked into a myriad of situations whereby we might spend excessive or even unwarranted time wielding influence, instruction or correction, moreso than might be needed.
This is why I believe prayer is such a vital element in any Christianly task we engage in to not only rely on the Spirit’s work in the situation, but also discern the Spirit’s work in us, lest we undermine His role and make Him the odd man out.