What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

The Holy Spirit does everything. Yes!

The Holy Spirit is the present-day advocate of Jesus Christ in our hearts. When Jesus was nearing His trial and crucifixion, He promised his apostles that He would ask God to send them His Holy Spirit. Jesus wanted the Holy Spirit also to be sent to anyone else who believes in Him, in Jesus. The Holy Spirit would remain with them all after Jesus died, was resurrected and returned to the Father.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them of everything that Jesus had already taught them (see John 14:15-18.)

Understanding Who the Holy Spirit Is
Understanding who the Holy Spirit is and how He advocates for Jesus within us was, for me, the most difficult of the functions of the Trinity to comprehend when my wife, two of our four children, and I came to Christ from Judaism twelve years ago. During a period of perhaps two years, I believe we were pursued by the Trinity and then delivered, finally, by the Dove, that is, by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

As a Jew, I felt I understood the person and function of God the Father. After all, I had had a father and was myself a father—so I had the tiniest clue. I understood, of course, that the human realm and the divine realm are fundamentally different from one another, but a clue can still be a clue.

As a Jew fascinated by the person and function of Jesus, who at that time I speculated might actually be the Jew’s Messiah, I felt I was beginning, as well, to understand the Person of the Son. After all, I was a son, and I had two sons myself. Another tiniest of clues.

But the Holy Spirit? Who is that? How does He work? Perhaps others among you may wonder the same thing.

Listing the Holy Spirit’s Functions
Try researching The Holy Spirit. You’ll get lists. The Holy Spirit does this; He does that; He does that other thing. You’ll find articles that use a number in their titles, something like Ten Things the Holy Spirit Does…or words to that effect. Review the chapter titles in books about the Holy Spirit. A Holy Spirit book on my shelf—by a favorite theologian, R.T. Kendall—uses twenty pages to detail twenty-one things that the Holy Spirit does for and among us Christians, each of them vital, some of them startling. Give it a read: I recommend it. HolyFire.

In short, the sentence I used to begin this article is fairly stated, although too casual. The Holy Spirit does everything.

Well, no. That’s not so.

Though the Holy Spirit was hovering over the waters at the moment of creation (Genesis 1:2), it was not He who commanded Fiat Lux (“Let there be light”). The Holy Spirit’s blood was not shed at the crucifixion in payment for our salvation as Christians—that was Jesus’ blood. What the Holy Spirit does instead is to bring the power of God and the love of Jesus into us each, individually, so they are manifest in our beings and therefore are directive of our actions—because our souls long to be directed away from destruction.

But our natures are sinful. Despite our inherent freedom, too often we misuse our freedom and engage in behavior that is inconsistent with God’s love and even inconsistent with our desire to live faithfully within our limited understanding of His love. As a consequence, too often we practice immorality, impurity, idolatry, hostility, quarreling, anger, dissension, envy, and other behavior of—fundamentally—not loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Because that is so, daily we need the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Yes, it was not He who created light out of darkness; it was not He who shed His own blood for our salvation. Instead, what He does—what He does daily right now, (not just what He did long ago)—instead, what He does daily right now is “produce this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

These are what please and glorify God. These are what certain us. As we scratch our ways through the thorny thickets of fallen existence outside Eden, these are what remind us of the magnificence of Jesus’ own sacrifice, of His own blood, for our salvation. And it’s the Holy Spirit who reminds us of it.

Is The Holy Spirit a Man?
This is one of those questions that make our human brains grapple with something outside our limited experience. We are locked into our own carnality. We can see outside of it, at the most, through a glass darkly (referencing the KJV version of 1 Cor. 13:12). Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “he” and “him” (see John 14:16 and 16:8, for example), which suggests that He has human form. However, as an element of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is not incarnate, as Jesus was.

That said, though, the Holy Spirit has what we might call a personality. By reading Scripture, we learn that He exhibits characteristics such as we have ourselves. He can be joyful (1 Thess 1:6 ESV). He can be hurt (Eph. 4:30 ESV)—best not to hurt Him! In fact, His fire can be quenched (1 Thess. 5:19 ESV)—don’t do that either!

Here’s how R.T. Kendall sums Him up—

The Holy Spirit “is a person and has definite ways. Call them peculiar, eccentric, or unique if you like; He has his ways. You may or may not like His ways. But get over it! He is the only Holy Spirit you have! He won’t adjust to you; you must adjust to hm.” (HolyFire, p 14, emphasis in original)

How Do You Know Whether You are Influenced by the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit dwells within you if you are a follower of Jesus Christ. As stated at the beginning of this article, His role is to advocate within you for the ideal of Jesus Christ. But how does that work?

In my view, there are two levels of His activity as an advocate which we might encounter. The first level relates to what are relatively ordinary challenges for us fallen humans. Here are three examples. Have you experienced a time of misery in your life when, struggle as you might, you simply could not fathom how to proceed in some relationship, or how to sustain your goodwill through a health crisis, or how to prevail in a work challenge?

In a moment, we’ll see how the Holy Spirit may assist us in these circumstances. But there’s a second level which is of a different nature. Have you ever been tempted—but feared—to assert with absolute authority a truth which other waverers would cringe to assert out of fear they have no such authority?

Do you personally have absolute authority to state absolute truth? As a fallen human, of course, you must realize that you do not. On the other hand, what does have absolute authority to state absolute truth? Only the Trinity has that. In you, a Christ-believing human being, what element of the Trinity is indwelling? It’s the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God; He is Jesus—they are the Trinity.

The Holy Spirit Assists and Advocates for Us
The first three of the possible miseries I cited above are common human experiences—relationships, health, work—and our troubles with them are endemic. Regarding relationships, left on my own I might quail and fail. Under the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, instead, I say, “I want improvement and will work toward improvement, with Christ’s help, this way.” Regarding my health, left on my own I might succumb to depression. Under the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, instead, I say, “I must improve my health by behaving differently, so I will follow this new plan.” Regarding my work, left on my own I might seethe with anger and resentment. Under the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, instead, I say, “I will change my work and moreover change my attitude toward my work, so my fury will not rise again.”

The Holy Spirit assists us as He advocates for the interest of Jesus Christ in our lives, and, further while we move away from failure, depression, and anger and toward new conviction and empowerment. When we encounter positive results, we thank the Holy Spirit for what He has done for us, and we pray that He will also assist those whom we love—which should be (and is) all our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Absolute Truth, Absolute Authority
But the ability to state absolute truth with absolute authority is made possible by a different and a higher level of the work of the Holy Spirit in us humans, interacting as an element of the Trinity with God Himself. Events of this kind are so powerful in their witness to us humans that, when they occurred years ago, they were written down and incorporated into the Bible, so later in time we could know of them and be blessed. Reconcile with yourself that these events do not happen for all of us—perhaps a suggestive of godly humility.

Scripture is studded with these events of absolute truth presented to us with absolute authority. They leave us shivering in holy dread. In the Old Testament, consider, for example, 1 Kings 18—the whole chapter but particularly verses 20 through 40. Elijah—one single man, buoyed by the Spirit of the Lord (verse 12)—pitted against the 450 prophets of Baal.

Whose was the deity that would show himself, either Baal or would it be the Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel? Although the 450 prophets of Baal cried out to Baal for a response to their offering, no response came, so they raved and cut themselves and were taunted by Elijah. Then Elijah demonstrated what he knew, with absolute truth arising from his absolute authority, as vouchsafed him by the Holy Spirit. Elijah knew that God would rain down his fire and consume the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and would lick up the water that was in the trench, so that the people would fall on their faces and cry out, “The Lord, He is God; The Lord, He is God” (verse 39).

Not all of us can have an experience of speaking absolute truth with absolute authority so that our words are fire. Elijah was gifted that way. So was Peter.

In the New Testament, only weeks after Peter three times denied his love and submission to Jesus Christ when the apostles were wretched with sorrow after the death of their leader—

“suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4 ESV)
But Peter spoke to the huge gathering of people in words they could understand. He spoke his longest sermon as recorded in Scripture. He spoke absolute truth with absolute authority since it was the authority of the Trinity channeled from the Holy Spirit and through Peter’s voice. And on that day 3,000 souls were saved.

That is the first 3,000 toward what has become during the past 2,000 years billions of souls, upon billions of souls, upon billions of souls…and still counting.

. . . the agency of the Holy Spirit.