(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.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    17 replies to "Have We Made the Holy Spirit the Odd Man Out?"

    • James Reid


      Why do we openly reject needing a Helper? The Father is understandable… the Son is Worthy, but we cringe on the fact we NEED a Helper, often rejecting the Help we gain from our Help Mate… wait, don’t we do that out of pride?

      We reject that which is familiar and easily heard for something much more complicated… the world. Why, because we are far to intelligent to recognize, we need Help.

      Thanks for your words.

    • John From Down Under

      I’ve personally known an overzealous Christian in my circles for many years who will evangelize anything with a pulse & won’t let go until they repeat “the sinner’s prayer”. Literally shoving Jesus down people’s throat. Theological aristocrats may scoff at his ‘sinner’s prayer’ unbiblical concept or that he clearly does not believe in ‘sovereign election’, but the real heart of the issue goes to his confusion in trying to do the HS’s job.

      In the same vein, I wonder as Lisa pointed out about correction, & particularly the theological perfectionism of the mushrooming online discernment industry ministries, & the incessant efforts of some to set everyone straight with pin point doctrinal accuracy. Phil 3:15 would principally indicate that some misunderstandings will ultimately be clarified by divine intervention not the relentless pounding of human reasoning. The correct way needs to be pointed out (Acts 18:26) & then left to the Spirit to illuminate one’s understanding

    • Greg

      It is unfortunate that many churches have ignored the work of the Spirit. I think, maybe, it’s due to a backlash against pentecostal/charismatic movements, which often place too much emphasis on the Spirit. There must be a good balance, somewhere, between most denominations and the pentecostal movements. That balance is what I’m searching for, and I will try to rely on the Spirit to find it.

    • John From Down Under

      Self-critiquing my last comment with the benefit of hindsight…

      The example I gave sounds incomplete. I meant to highlight that many who engage in forceful evangelism, do it based on faulty theology that does not ascribe to the Spirit His rightful role in conviction of sin & ultimately conversion. As a non-Calvinist I concede that Reformed theology takes care of this problem once and for all.

      I’ve also seen others who understand that without the Holy Spirit’s conviction and illumination all human efforts are futile, and yet their methods don’t reflect their understanding.

      On the other side of the coin we have post-conversion confrontational polemics between Christians, where the role of the Spirit to bring illumination and understanding can be equally ignored. Ultimately, trusting the Spirit to do His work will produce a more relaxed attitude in our interactions where we can be graciously firm without the forcefulness to convince people on our points of view.

    • Seth R.

      The Holy Spirit is ignored in Evangelical rhetoric for the same reason Sanctification is ignored in favor of Justification. Sanctification is the reformative power of the Holy Ghost operating in the life of the believer. And it’s largely ignored in the rhetoric.

      It seems that many in the Evangelical world are so concerned with whether they have been forgiven that they have forgotten that Christ did not just die to forgive us. He also died to make us into something more.

      The key passage here is Romans chapter 8 where the distinction between sanctification and justification is laid out. I wrote a lengthy article on this at an LDS-Evangelical dialogue blog. I would link to it, but I think it might violate the “no self-promotion” clause.

    • Ed Kratz

      John, you said

      “many who engage in forceful evangelism, do it based on faulty theology that does not ascribe to the Spirit His rightful role in conviction of sin & ultimately conversion. As a non-Calvinist I concede that Reformed theology takes care of this problem once and for all.”

      Can you explain what you mean by Reformed theology takes care of this problem?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Have We Made the Holy Spirit the Odd Man Out?

      What would be a good book to remedy this?

      Has anyone read Francis Chan’s book about the Holy Spirit? If you have, would you recommend it?

    • Brian Roden

      I’ve listened to the audiobook of Forgotten God 3 or 4 times now. It challenges me every time. I highly recommend it. It will make you stop and think, whether your background is cessationist, which overlooks some of the ways the Spirit works, or Pente/Charis, which can tend to focus too much on the spectacular.

    • Ed Kratz

      Truth, I have not read Chan’s book but I have read Chafer’s He That is Spiritual a couple of times now and continue to be impacted by his proposals.

      One thing interesting that a few comments touch on is the reluctance to place too much emphasis on the Holy Spirit due to the connection with Charismatic groups. But I don’t think application, or mis-application as the case may be, should deter on what is a reasonable Trinitarian understanding of how God operates in our life. Romans 8, in particular, reminds me of how much we need the Helper.

      The Holy Spirit’s enablement need not be equated with continuation of spiritual gifts. Perhaps Chan and even Deere would necessarily make this connection.

    • Brian Roden

      I can also recommend Dr. Gordon Fee’s “God’s Empowering Presence” which is a heavy volume (which I’m still reading) analyzing all of the references to the Holy Spirit in the Pauline epistles. There’s also his more popular-level “Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God” which kind of condenses and summarizes GEP by theme, rather than going epistle-by-epistle.

    • Alex Guggenheim

      “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.”

      Heretic! You put God in a box! And if you’re not a heretic you’re getting really close with this diabolic construct that “he works in accordance with a proper Trinitariansm functioning”. What’s next? That we should pray to the Father because of some Trinitarian function? 🙂

      Now, on a more serious note. Your statement is fundamental to our approach toward all persons of the Godhead and their work. And here with God the Holy Spirit, if we do not grasp or even accept that there is a Trinitarian construct which is guided, not by arbitrary acts, but that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit interact with a protocol both stated and observed in Scripture, one that we can identify and provide a certain systematic theological explanation, then we will find ourselves with many erring propositions, practices and…

    • Ed Kratz

      ,“Heretic! You put God in a box! And if you’re not a heretic you’re getting really close with this diabolic construct that “he works in accordance with a proper Trinitariansm functioning”.

      Hahaha, you got me there for a minute. 😀

    • John from Down Under

      Lisa in response to your question; Can you explain what you mean by Reformed theology takes care of this problem?

      What I meant was that reformed theology strongly emphasizes that conversion is only made possible by a sovereign act of God who grants the gift of faith to enable belief in Christ and it does not depend on man’s efforts, including the pushy evangelist’s. (Not sure if I gave a theologically accurate definition, but I hope I got the thrust of it)

      Others of non–reformed orientation also believe this, but the reformed articulate it with more gravity because of how it fits into the entire reformed theology. Ultimately, this belief revolutionizes the way you do 1-on-1 evangelism. You understand that only the HS can convict people of their sinfulness & illuminate their understanding not your pushiness. The ilk of people I’m referring to, naively think that their forcefulness increases one’s chances of conversion & places the focus on the evangelist’s efforts not the HS

    • Susan

      I agree that once we present the gospel the Spirit is the one who illuminates a person’s mind to understand and convicts of sin. This is essential for true conversion which is why I’m not entirely keen on the mass ‘pray-with-me-prayer’ at crusades followed by the statement, “If you prayed that prayer you are now a child of God and can be assure of eternal life” or whatever. Statements like that shouldn’t be made so absolutely. There needs to be a lot of qualifying….

      I’ve also found that the Spirit guides the evangelism process for the one who is proclaiming the gospel. When the Spirit is described as the ‘comforter’ this is often misunderstood because the meaning of the text is difficult to translate into English. As I recall Sproul teaches that the word carries more the idea that the Spirit comes along side as we share the gospel to help us (perhaps in the face of persecution). I have found that the Spirit indicates to me when He wants me to share the gospel with…

    • Susan

      ….and He leads those someones to me. It is in this role of sharing the gospel with others where I have become most aware of the work of the Spirit. Anyone who does not avail themselves to God to be a witness of the gospel (to proclaim it verbally) truly misses out on one of the richest and most joyful experiences of the Christian life….and the amazing experience of being helped and lead by the Spirit of God. I think that few today know these things because there is currently such a downplaying of evangelism in the church.

      Lisa, you mentioned addressing falsehood in the teaching of the church and that it’s possible to take up an overzealous sword, which is true, but another role of the Holy Spirit which you didn’t mention is His role in empowering each believer with special gifts which are to be employed at specific times when they are needed. Among those gift are those of ‘word of wisdom’ and discernment. If one is propted by the Spirit to speak up and relinquishes

    • Susan

      this (often out of fear) deciding to pray only and let the Spirit do the job….it is possible to be out of step with what the Spirit is actually leading us to do. It is of course necessary to submit ourselves to the prompting of the Spirit to act and speak with much prayer and careful consideration….but sometimes we need to respond immediately.

      Having said these things I affirm what you have said Lisa. I fully agree that we tend to be awareness of the Spirit’s work …not relying on Him as we should, which is often reflected in our lack of prayer and sometimes in our hastiness.

      I agree with your comments about topical teaching. God’s word, as it is written, has a progression of thought which is powerful as the Spirit uses it to build one concept upon another. We can loose that it we are jumping around selectively attempting to draw out only one focal point.

    • Gerard

      After reading your article, I was persuaded to write. Since January of this year (2012) I have been learning to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not as “spiritual” or “weird” as one might think. In fact, it is as easy as the Bible says it is. The main reason I started my journey on this course is because I ran across a teaching that sparked my interest. I listened to the teaching, which was almost all Scripture, and then started doing what the Word says. I have been seeing miraculous healings through my own hands! I have always been leery of going off the deep end, or ending up out of balance. But I have not gone off balance. I would encourage you and anyone who reads this to look into this teaching. Here is the website for it:

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