The Lord and Giver of Life: How the Holy Spirit Works

The Nicene Creed states that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. We believe he proceeds from the Father and the Son. We believe that he alone is to be worshiped and glorified with the Father and Son. And yet, we often reduce the Holy Spirit to an impersonal force that can be conjured up to flood and fill the atmosphere. The giver of Life can often be neglected, and his presence taken for granted, since we are constantly dependent on him.

In his excellent book, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, Michael Horton broadens our vision of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Horton sets out to show that the Spirit is at the center of redemption history as God’s perfecting presence in creation, redemption, and everyday life.

When we explore the Spirit’s work from Genesis to Revelation, creation to consummation, a common conclusion emerges: he is the person of the Godhead who brings everything to completion…The Holy Spirit is the one who turns a house into a home—created space into a covenantal place where God dwells with his people (41).

The Holy Spirit’s Work in Creation

Beginning with Genesis 1, Horton spends the first chapters discussing the Holy Spirit’s role as Lord and Giver of life in creation. He introduces a very helpful and important distinction between the different speech-acts of the triune God in creation: direct and indirect.

  1. Direct: And God said, “Let there be…” and there was.
  2. Indirect: And God said, “Let the earth bring forth…” And the earth brought forth.

The direct type of speech is an immediate act of creation that “brings a world into being” (51). The indirect type of speech is “the Spirit’s work within creation to bring about the intended effect of the Father’s command, in the Son” and bring things into “maturity” (51). In both types of speech-acts, the Holy Spirit is the “perfecting agent,” bringing the work of the Father and Son to completion (54).

With this distinction between speech acts established, Horton then considers how the Spirit works in redemptive history. He draws scintillating analogies between God’s direct and indirect works in creation with those of salvation, the inspiration of Scripture, the building of the church, and the life of believers.

The Holy Spirit’s Work in Redemption

Regarding the Spirit’s work in salvation, Horton writes:

Recalling the distinction I drew from Genesis 1, regeneration belongs to the “‘Let there be…’ And there was…” type of speech act, while sanctification comprehends the “‘Let the earth bring forth…’ And the earth brought forth…” type. The Spirit is gradually producing the effects of regeneration and union with Christ—hence, the fruit of the Spirit in, with, and through our own activity (216, emphasis mine).

By a sovereign, gracious, and direct act, we receive the new birth and respond in (Spirit-given!) faith and repentance to the gospel (2 Cor 4:6). Then, by an indirect act of God, we are progressively sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ as the Spirit produces his fruit in us (Gal 5:22-23). To put it another way, the Spirit “begins immediately to renovate the mansion in which he once breathed merely the natural (i.e., biological) life but now breathes the breath of eschatological—new creation—life” (205).

The Holy Spirit’s Work in Everyday Life

Where Horton is most helpful, however, is in his discussion of the Holy Spirit’s work in everyday life. There’s a widespread notion today that the Spirit takes us “off the map” into the great unknown. When the Spirit “shows up,” things are expected to get wild and crazy. We are told not to put God in a box by submitting our innovative and questionable experiences to Scripture. Yet, Horton reminds us that, “Restricting the Spirit’s agency, power, and presence to the ‘fireworks,’ however, deprives us of the joy of recognizing his role in our everyday lives” (244).

The Spirit is at work in these last days not to stir people to ecstasy and spontaneous convulsions but to put things right in a world of violently competing wills and aversion to the good, the true, and the beautiful. He reorders our loves, so that we will set our hearts on the Giver rather than his gifts. He gives wisdom and understanding, illuminating our hearts to receive, proclaim, and obey his word (245).

The Spirit is not a freelance operator, generating fresh stages of revelation in these last days, but is working in the hearts of the unregenerate to bring them to faith and in the hearts of the regenerate to illuminate their understanding through the Word (262).

Conclusion

Horton’s focus on the Spirit’s direct and indirect work from Genesis to Revelation serves as a helpful corrective, reminding us that the Spirit doesn’t arrive on the scene at Pentecost, working exclusively in immediate and extraordinary ways. Realizing that the Spirit works more often than not in ordinary ways through ordinary means keeps us from undervaluing ordinary activities like reading/hearing Scripture, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and corporate worship. Rather than restlessly waiting or looking for the Spirit to “show up” in extraordinary ways, we should look and long for the Spirit to work in the ways he has promised: through the word, at the table, and through other believers.

Contemplating the Spirit in this manner helps us consider, with renewed appreciation, not only what the Spirit does, but how much he does and how dependent we are on him. This wider and deeper understanding of the Spirit’s person and work only serves to fuel our worship of the Lord and Giver of Life for bringing something out of nothing, order from chaos, life from death, fruitfulness from barrenness, and maturity from immaturity.

*Image: The New Earth, by Don Clark, from the children’s Bible storybook The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden, by Kevin DeYoung

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