3. The Holy Spirit’s Ministries, Part I - Inspiration, Illumination, Conviction, IntercessionRelated Media
We’ve considered the Spirit’s personhood and deity, and now, we will consider his various ministries.
Though Scripture has human authors, they were all inspired by the Holy Spirit—guided by him in the exact words they used and kept from error. Consider what Peter said in Acts 1:16 about the Spirit speaking through David’s writing of a Psalm: “Brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit foretold through David concerning Judas—who became the guide for those who arrested Jesus.” In addition, in 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter said this about Scripture:
Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
The writers of Scripture were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 27:15, “carried along” (translated “driven along” in NET) was used of how those sailing in a ship could not control it because of strong winds, so they let go and allowed the wind to guide the ship.
Likewise, in John 16:12-13, Christ spoke of the Holy Spirit’s work in leading the apostles in their writing and teaching of the New Testament:
I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.
The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture—guiding the authors in what was written and keeping them from error.
The Holy Spirit illumines Scripture, in that he enables us to understand it. In 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, Paul said this:
Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
This text describes both inspiration and illumination. As the apostles wrote, the Spirit gave them words which didn’t come from human wisdom but from the Spirit (v. 13)—words like election, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Then, it describes how the Spirit enables “spiritual people”—believers— to understand God’s Word (v. 13), which is why unbelievers (people without God’s Spirit) cannot understand them and therefore reject them (v. 14).
Tony Evans’ comments on the Holy Spirit’s illumination are challenging:
In His role as the Illuminator, the Spirit enlightens us so that we are able to grasp, experience, and apply God's Word to our lives. Anybody who can do that, we need to be close to. The Spirit can connect us to the mind of God.1
Another aspect of the Holy Spirit’s Illumination ministry is the believers “anointing.” Anointing is a word used primarily in the Old Testament meaning “empowerment” for something. The king was anointed with oil, symbolizing the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to lead; likewise, the priest and prophet were anointed to minister. The Holy Spirit also anoints every believer, probably in various ways, but specifically to understand Scripture and protect us from false teaching.
When talking about false teachers and their followers who had left the church of Ephesus, in 1 John 2:19-21, John said this:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us. Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
These people had left the church to follow cultic doctrine. However, John explained that part of the reason the remaining church members didn’t leave was because they had an “anointing from the Holy One” and knew the “truth” (v. 20). Instead of believing heretical errors about Christ, like those who left the church, the other members stayed because they were truly saved and had an anointing to understand Scripture. Now, this doesn’t mean true believers won’t have different understandings of Scripture, especially on minor doctrines. It just means that the Holy Spirit is always guiding believers to the truth and keeping them from damning errors, which would equate to denying the faith. In John 10, Jesus said his sheep hear his voice and they would not follow the voice of another (v. 3-8, 14-16). This is true because of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of leading believers into truth (John 16:12-13). True believers have an anointing—an empowerment to understand Scripture and discern error. This especially protects them from errors concerning the gospel and other foundational truths, which can affect one’s salvation.
How should we respond to the Illuminating work of the Holy Spirit? Because of the Spirit’s illuminating ministry, we should constantly pray to understand God’s Word. We should pray before, while, and after we read or listen to Scripture, including the teaching of it. As David prayed in Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes so I can truly see the marvelous things in your law!”, we should constantly pray the same way, which demonstrates our dependence on the Spirit for illumination.
As the Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture for us, he convicts us of sin—showing us where we are wrong and drawing us to repentance. In John 16:8, Christ said this about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to unbelievers, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Though this describes his work with unbelievers, it is true of believers as well. As believers study God’s Word, the Holy Spirit illuminates it, revealing ways that we have sinned against God or others. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says:
Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.
“Reproof” or “rebuke” refers to how the Word shows us what is wrong, so we can repent. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin through the Word, so we can become holy, as he is holy.
Not only does the Holy Spirit illuminate God’s Word and convict us by it, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Romans 8:26-27 says:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.
Though expressed in groans, the Spirit prays according to God’s will that we may, no doubt, grow in holiness, serve God and others, bear fruit for God’s kingdom, and be protected from the evil one, amongst many other wonderful things. William MacDonald’s insights on this are encouraging:
We are often perplexed in our prayer life. We do not know how to pray as we should. We pray selfishly, ignorantly, narrowly. But once again the Spirit comes alongside to assist us in our weakness, interceding for us with groanings which cannot find expression. In this verse it is the Spirit who groans and not we who groan, though that is also true.
There is mystery here. We are peering into the unseen, spiritual realm where a great Person and great forces are at work on our behalf. And although we cannot understand it all, we can take infinite encouragement from the fact that a groan may sometimes be the most spiritual prayer.2
- What stood out most in the reading and why?
- What is the doctrine of inspiration, and why is it important?
- What is the doctrine of illumination? How should we apply this ministry of the Spirit practically?
- What is conviction? How does the Holy Spirit convict?
- What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1712). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Related Topics: Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit)