“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
Joel D. Otto
When the first Nicene Creed was written in A.D. 325, the article about the Holy Spirit was very succinct: “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” The ensuing decades, however, saw controversy over the place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. Some claimed that he was only a power of the Father. Others believed he was inferior to the Father and the Son. Still others taught that the Holy Spirit was a created angel.
When the Nicene Creed was completed in A.D. 381, the article on the Holy Spirit was greatly expanded in order to clear up the confusion. By identifying the Holy Spirit as “the Lord,” they taught that the Holy Spirit is true God, equal with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Corinthians 3:17; see also Acts 5:3,4).
Perhaps a more meaningful phrase is confessing that the Holy Spirit is “the giver of life.” At the very beginning, the Holy Spirit was involved in creation (Genesis 1:2). The book of Job testifies to the Spirit’s involvement in the giving of physical life. “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).
But most beneficial for us is that the Spirit has given us spiritual life. We were born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Jesus told Nicodemus that to be a member of his kingdom requires rebirth through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). To be born again means to believe in Jesus. Only the Spirit gives us such spiritual life (1 Corinthians 12:3). With-out the Spirit’s work, the teachings of the Bible and the message of Jesus’ cross are foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:14).
It takes a miracle of the Spirit’s power to raise us from unbelief to faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit works that miracle every time he creates faith through the gospel (Romans 10:17; Titus 3:5,6). The Spirit has been the “giver of life” for every Christian down through the centuries because he has worked the miracle of faith in each of us.
EXPLORING THE WORD
1. At a local church gathering in A.D. 589, the Western church added that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Eastern Orthodox church objected to this addition, and it is one of the reasons for the great schism between the Eastern and Western churches. Read John 15:26. What are some reasons that the Nicene Creed is accurate as we confess that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”?
The Eastern Orthodox Church especially objected because the western church added “and the Son” without consulting the eastern churches. But the Eastern Orthodox Church tends to have a hierarchal view of the Trinity, with the Father in a higher position than the Son and the Spirit. Jesus makes it clear that he and the Father are both sending the Holy Spirit. This again shows that Jesus is true God equal with the Father. It guards against a hierarchal view of the Trinity. Finally, it demonstrates that all the Persons of the Trinity are working in harmony for my salvation.
2. Pentecostals and charismatics emphasize a “baptism of the Spirit,” evident in special gifts of the Spirit, especially the ability to speak in tongues. How do Jesus’ words in John 16:13,14 help us see the real role of the Spirit? Why is this so important to understand?
Jesus shows us that the Holy Spirit’s role is to direct us to Jesus by working through the Word which reveals Jesus and his work to us. The Spirit, in a sense, is the “shy” Person of the Trinity because he doesn’t focus on himself but on Christ. Pentecostals and charismatics want to find a more prominent and outward role for the Spirit, But in doing so, they end up focusing on the person who supposedly possesses these outward and extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit. Christ and his work get pushed into the background, which is precisely what the Spirit doesn’t want to do. He wants to push Jesus to the foreground of our thinking and life.
3. What tools or means does the Holy Spirit use to give us spiritual life (see Titus 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14; Matthew 26:26-28)? How does this help us prioritize our lives? How does this inform the mission of the church?
The Bible clearly and consistently tells us that the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith and spiritual life only through the good news about Jesus in the Bible, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (the “means of grace”). The Bible does not promise that the Spirit works apart from the Word and sacrament. He certainly could because he is God; the Bible doesn’t tell us that he does. Therefore, our use of the Word and sacraments should be the top priority in our lives. That’s where the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. Proclaiming the gospel about Jesus faithfully and administering the sacraments rightly is the mission of the church. That’s how the Spirit grows and strengthens the church.
4. In John 3:7,8, Jesus compares the Spirit’s work to how the wind blows. What did he mean? Why is this important to remember as we carry out the church’s mission?
We can’t see the wind. We can see evidence that it is blowing. But sometimes we can’t even see that evidence until much later (like when leaves cover your yard after a storm). We can’t always figure out what causes the wind to blow or change directions. Likewise, we can’t see the Spirit at work. Sometimes we can see the evidence of the Spirit’s work (like when a person is brought to repentance or confesses faith in Jesus). But sometimes we don’t see the evidence until much later. Or maybe we won’t see the evidence until we get to heaven. We can’t figure out why the Spirit works with more outward success in one place and not another. The Augsburg Confession puts it well: “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.” This is important for us to remember that as we carry out the church’s mission of proclaiming the gospel and administering the sacraments our work is not to bring people to faith. We simply proclaim the gospel and trust that the Holy Spirit will produce the results according to his will. Our work is to be energetic and faithful in telling people about Jesus. We leave the results in the Spirit’s hands and not get ourselves worried when we don’t see the results we think we should see.
Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee.
This is the ninth article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed. Find this study and answers online after July 5 at www.wels.net.
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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015
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