“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy, by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior...” (Titus 3:4-6).
What does it look like when the Holy Spirit gets to work on his mission? What does he do? I can sympathize with James Montgomery Boice when he said, “In asking what the Holy Spirit does we sense almost instinctively that our question is nearly unanswerable.”1 A thorough answer would be immense. The Holy Spirit does everything God does, and he plays unique and important roles in salvation and in the life and ministry of the church, so here we will look briefly at some of the works of the Spirit, many of which will be fleshed out in more detail later.
The work of the Spirit in the world
We already say that Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world of sin (John 16:8). The Spirit also restrains the evil in the world (2Thes 2:7). It’s terrifying to think that this world is not as bad as it could be, but apparently things would be much, much worse if the Spirit did not prevent it. One day, though, his restraining influence will be removed. “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2Thes 2:8). But that’s a topic for another time.
The work of the Spirit in salvation
The Spirit is responsible for the “washing of rebirth and renewal” (Titus 3:4-6). When people are “born again”, it is his power that effects the regeneration, and so he is called the “giver of life.” Those who are born again, who are justified, are also sanctified — that is, they are made progressively more Christ-like by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:1-17). “The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus by reproducing his character in believers.”1
The work of the Spirit in believers
We already saw that the Holy Spirit is our advocate and helper or counselor. Despite the term evangelicals use, it is the Spirit who comes to live in our hearts (Rom 8:9). He also intercedes for us: “[T]he 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” (Rom 8:26).
The work of the Spirit in the Church
We saw last time that the Spirit teaches us. He also leads and directs the Church (both as a whole and individual communities) as seen in Acts 13:2-4.
Finally, the Spirit is responsible for giving to the Church the spiritual gifts he grants to individual believers. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1Cor 12:7, cf 1Pet 4:10). Spiritual gifts are assigned to believers “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13).
The apostles tell us that there are many different spiritual gifts. Some are showy and impress people, such as working miracles or speaking powerfully. Others are quiet and impress only God, such as having a special heart for charity or service. JD Greear says spiritual gifts are “really just a specialization in an assignment given to all Christians.”2 None are unimportant. Each gift — each believer — has a role to play in building the Lord’s Church into what he desires it to be.
The Holy Spirit helps us, indwells us, transforms us, and provides the power behind the work of the Church. There is no believer who doesn’t need more of him in their life. Francis Chan said, “seeking a ‘healthy balance’ of the Holy Spirit assumes that there are some who have too much Holy Spirit and others who have too little. I have yet to meet anyone with too much Holy Spirit.”3 So ask God to give you more of his Spirit. Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
For more on this, I suggest Francis Chan’s, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.
1 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith
2 JD Greear, Jesus Continued...
3 Francis Chan, Forgotten God
Part of Christianity 101