Know What You Believe – A series based on The Apostles’ Creed – Part 8
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
A few days ago, a friend of mine, with some degree of tentativity and embarrassment, brought up the topic of the Holy Spirit. She said, “I need your help. I don’t know where I’ve been all my life. I’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ. But only now, in my covenant group as we have been studying Know What You Believe by Paul Little, have I become aware of the importance of the Holy Spirit. I must admit that this has been the missing piece in my understanding of the Christian faith. In fact, the very phrase ‘Holy Ghost’ always sort of spooked me out. I can’t wait until you address it in the series on The Apostles’ Creed.”
Perhaps her experience is yours.
It has been said, “The Holy Spirit is the shy member of the Trinity.”
Granted, there are Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal groups that make the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit their primary emphasis. But that is not intended to be the error of those of us in the Presbyterian tradition. If anything, we have nodded our heads in intellectual assent at the statement, “I believe in the Holy Ghost,” without giving too much time to either doctrinal reflection on or intentional experience with this third member of the Trinity.
All week I have been struggling with how to approach this topic. At one point, I had a six-page, detailed outline that would have dazzled and confused you as a sermon. It could have been the outline for a multi-week series, or even a book with a dozen or so chapters. Then I did another outline, which was so simple because it was a story, the story of Lonnie, a troubled woman who was transformed by the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This story could be titled “The Stripper Who Became a Saint.”
What I’m going to do this morning is hit some of the major themes of the massive outline, and then end up with this story that may be even more helpful to you than the intellectual, doctrinal approach. Though let me warn you, stories themselves, without the foundation of biblical, doctrinal truth, can come up with a strange mixture of truth and heresy, and an inadvertent crazy mixture of both. There is the necessity of some systematic doctrinal understanding of the faith.
A brief word about why for the rest of this message I will refer to the Holy Spirit instead of the Holy Ghost. The word “ghost” is an old way of referring to a spirit who has personality and existence independent from a physical body. That’s not our popular notion of ghost today. A ghost is a weird, nebulous, floating, vaporous presence, manipulated by Hollywood producers and practitioners of the occult in a way that distorts the biblical understanding. I would be happy if we would change the wording of The Apostles’ Creed to what it really meant when the word “ghost” was used in the English translation of it. It was talking about a spirit who does have personality and existence independent from a physical body.
Now, let’s get to work undergirding what we do with the prayer, “Almighty God, increase our understanding of who you are, particularly as it involves the person and the work of your Holy Spirit, throughout all history, and in our lives personally.”
I. First, let us look at the of the progression of The Apostles’ Creed that brings us to the holy Trinity.
We have already given attention to God in the person of the Father, the Creator of all that is. We have then moved on to concentrate on God in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son, whom we have seen primarily in His function as Redeemer. Now, we give our attention to God in the person of the Holy Spirit, whom we see primarily as the Sustainer of all that is.
So what we have here in our Confession is a Trinitarian progression, addressing God as Father, God as Son and God as Holy Spirit.
This is the most difficult of all doctrines. It is quite easy to move from truth to heresy without even realizing that we are making that move.
Let me use the precise words of William Barclay to explain this dynamic tension:
The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is Three in One and One in Three. The doctrine of the Trinity steers between two dangers. On the one side there is the danger of tritheism, the danger of making Father, Son and Holy Spirit into three separate and independent entities, and therefore into three gods. On the other side there is the danger of Unitarianism, in which the Father alone is God, and the Son no more than a supremely great man, and the Holy Spirit no more than an impersonal force and power.
It might well be true to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is the most difficult of all Christian doctrines. It is easy enough to state; it is not difficult to say that God is Three in One and One in Three; it is not difficult to speak of three persons and of one substance in the godhead; but when we try to explain and interpret these statements in intelligible terms, then almost anything that one can say suffers the danger of running into some kind of heresy.
Remember, the Bible doesn’t talk specifically about “the Trinity.” We deduct the doctrine of the Trinity from our careful study of the Bible. You and I have to learn to be content to understand enough about the divine Trinity to live by, while admitting that we will never fully comprehend the infinite.
The Trinity describes God in three specific relationships to us.
We see God in the person of the Father, Creator of all that is. We see God in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, the One who came in the miracle of the incarnation and rescued us from the consequences of sin, carrying out His atoning work on the cross. We see God in the person of the Holy Spirit, the One who turns our thoughts to God through His revelation, guidance, controlling, equipping, and direction of life.
Let’s never forget that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is a person. God is three persons.
The word “persona” in Latin literally means a mask. It is a word that comes from ancient drama, in particular, comedy. The characters were standardized. Each comedy had a set of characters who appeared and reappeared under different names and in different situations in every play. The characters wore masks, and the masks were also standardized so that the minute a character came on the stage you could tell who he was by the mask he was wearing. If we connect the word person with that idea, we get the helpful picture that three persons in the Trinity represent three parts of what God plays in the drama of creation, redemption and the sustenance of life as we live it. God in this divine drama plays the part of Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. As God the Father, He is Creator. As God the Son, He is Redeemer. As God the Holy Spirit, He is Sustainer. Does this help you?
Remember, we are simply trying to approximate some idea of how we can understand the triune God, the One who ultimately is beyond our full understanding. So we try to do this with the use of analogies such as this one of the masks.
Perhaps you have heard the analogy of the candle. It is one, yet it has the wax, the wick and the flame. That is unity, yet diversity within that unity. The breakdown on that analogy is we are dealing with an inanimate object, and one dare not push it too far, limiting God the Father to wax, the Son to wick and God the Holy Spirit to flame. We are simply trying to show how you can have unity with distinct diversity of function within that unity.
Three weeks ago, I was at the 90th birthday party for my dear mother. I stood in the middle of that lovely retirement home atrium, momentarily caught up in my own personal musings. There was the buffet table, loaded with good food. There was my mother, standing as the central person in the reception line. There was my Father, sitting next to her in his wheelchair. Only God knows the levels of his awareness as he sat lovingly by his dear wife, the dementia not enabling him to express in any linear ways his thoughts. There were scores of people, some children and great grandchildren, other relatives, friends and acquaintances, representing every era of their lifetime.
And there I was. Occasionally, I would catch my mother’s eye and she would smile. Occasionally, I would catch the eye of my wife, Anne, as she vivaciously greeted people, and with some entered into intense conversation. Occasionally, I would catch the eye of my sister, Miriam. Occasionally, I would catch the eye of my daughter, Carla, and my daughter, Janet. Then I would catch the eye of a former college professor or a fellow student or colleague in ministry. As we stood there, I realized that I was one unified human being, but a different person to each of these. In my mother’s glance, I could sense the feel of the woman who birthed me and, to some degree, has me over-idealized. Thank God for mothers. I am her son. Then I would catch the occasional glance of Anne, who knows me so well and loves me with all my strengths and weaknesses. I am her husband. To Miriam, I will always be a brother. God only knows what crazy mix of feelings Carla and Janet have. To them, I am their father. And that former college professor will forever see me as his student. I am still one, yet I am many persons. There is great diversity in the way I am perceived and the way I have functioned through the years to each of these other persons. Yet, at the very heart and core, I am and always will be, in this life and the next, one human being by the name of John Huffman.
Does this help you to understand, at least to some extent, the divine Trinity – how God is Three in One and One in Three?
The closest we come in the Bible to an actual statement of the divine Trinity is in the words of commission Jesus gave to His disciples not long before He ascended into heaven, as recorded by Matthew, when He said, “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age'” (
II. Second, remember that the Holy Spirit has always been here.
I wish we had more time to develop this concept. Let me just sketch it for you briefly.
We tend to divide “holy history” into three eras of time. We see that first era as being that of God the Father and all that is involved in creation and bringing His creation in the fullness of time to the next era. That era we call the era of God the Son, the Redeemer, which begins with the incarnation and carries its way through to the final words of Jesus before His ascent, giving the commission and instructing them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The third era begins at Pentecost. Read about it in
Remember that even as God in the person of Jesus Christ was present at creation, and even before that, so was the Holy Spirit present even before the beginning of time.
You and I can trace His ministry throughout all history up until the day of Pentecost, carrying out specific functions. Although we would not label those eras of time, the era of the Holy Spirit, as early as
You can give numerous biblical texts to confirm how the Holy Spirit helped in the creation of the universe and humankind. Frequent references are made to how the Holy Spirit came, temporarily, to individuals, equipping them for service. We see the Holy Spirit inspiring the prophets. We see the Holy Spirit being the enabler of moral living. We read about prophets and kings who pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. One, Elijah, even requested a double portion of the Holy Spirit. And David, groveling in the shame and guilt of his lust, adultery, murder and dishonest cover-up, cried out for the restoration of the Spirit of God.
We see the Holy Spirit predicting through the prophetic writings the coming of the Messiah.
And we observe the record of Luke, who described Jesus in the earliest days of His public ministry, ” . . . filled with the power of the Spirit . . .” (
Paul Little, in our study book Know What You Believe, succinctly describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the earthly life of Jesus in these words:
The gift of the Holy Spirit was increasingly unfolded in Jesus’ lifetime on earth. He had a particularly intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Him (
Luke 1:35). Jesus was led by the Spirit ( Matthew 4:1). He was anointed for His ministry by the Spirit in a special way at His baptism ( Matthew 3:13-17). He offered Himself as a sacrifice through the Spirit ( Hebrews 9:14), and He was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit ( Romans 1:4). He gave commandments to the apostles, and through them to the church, by the Spirit ( Acts 1:2).
Finally, following His death and resurrection, Jesus gave His disciples His last instructions: “Wait for the gift my Father promised . . . You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (
Fifty days after the Sabbath of the Passover Week He had celebrated with them, the “Gift” came. This feast, called “Pentecost,” meaning fifty, was the day of the Jewish Feast of Harvest to give thanks for the grain harvest (
You know the rest of the story. How approximately 120 of them were gathered in that Upper Room for prayer. Suddenly, a violent wind came from heaven as very tongues of fire. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Holy Spirit enabled them. With this, the Holy Spirit, who had been present from the beginning of time, was ushered into the era of His most pronounced activity, the era in which you and I live now.
III. Third, let’s look at some crucial biblical facts about the Holy Spirit.
Fact One: The Holy Spirit is the revealer of TRUTH.
Are you aware that the Holy Spirit is actually the author of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments? That is a very important function. Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (
As the revealer of truth, the Holy Spirit also is the One who answers our prayers for God’s special help and guidance. He is the One who makes good on God’s promise of wisdom to those of us who ask for it.
It is very important, though, to emphasize that wisdom which the Holy Spirit gives is always congruent with His revealed truth in the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
This is a problem we have today in the whole debate over human sexuality. Do we get our wisdom from the spirit of this world and the prince of this world, Satan, who is constantly challenging God’s truth with that which is opposed to God’s truth? God’s Word says that there is no sin that is unforgivable but that of the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit, which I understand to mean as the refusal to repent of what the Holy Spirit calls sin, and come to the foot of the cross, receiving God’s amazing grace. It isn’t that a sexual sin is that much worse or more unforgivable than any other kind of sin. All sin is sin. All disobedience to God breaks the heart of God. Read
Fact Two: The Holy Spirit is the enabler of FAITH.
The biblical references are too numerous to quote. They make it clear that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. The Holy Spirit is the One who calls us to repentance. The Holy Spirit is the enabler of faith. The Holy Spirit is the One who carries out the act of regeneration in our lives, and the Holy Spirit is the One who enables us to stay close to the Lord and to trust Him in the most difficult of times.
Jesus told Nicodemus that to enter the Kingdom of God you had to be born again, born of the Spirit.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (
Fact Three: The Holy Spirit is the giver of spiritual POWER.
Too many of us today live immobilized by fear. Some of the greatest fears of all is social fear, the fear of what people think of us and say about us.
I don’t usually recommend movies, but this one I will. It is Radio. It is a story of the South, going through the turbulent racial upheaval of the ’70s. Coach Jones, a local football coach, much to the initial puzzlement of his wife and daughter, and the ultimate consternation of some of the power movers in the community, befriends a developmentally arrested African-American young man who lives in poverty with his single-parent mother. Radio pushes a grocery cart filled with his belongings, and has an ever-present transistor radio at his ear, from which he gets his name.
The coach takes a liking to this young fellow, who is much older than the high school students. Radio never made it through school, and the coach arranges for him to have remedial help, which shakes that community to its core for his taking that outcast and making him someone special. Finally, at the darkest moment, when Radio has made some embarrassing mistakes and the coach is threatened with the very loss of his long-term job, the coach explains to his daughter why he is doing this. He pulls up in the driveway in his pickup truck and says to his daughter, Mary Helen, “Hold on just a second. I want to tell you something, something I’ve never told anybody. His daughter looks over at him, and he continues, “When I was about twelve I had a paper route. There weren’t too many houses, so I had to cover quite a lot of territory, so I used to cut through the woods on this little dirt road.”
He explains that one day, while riding, he heard a noise. “It sounded like a rabbit or something caught in a trap.”
He realizes that the sound is coming from one of the house, so he went up and noticed that under one of the houses there was chicken wire and barbed wire around the bottom to keep the critters out. He said, “Then, all of a sudden, I saw these fingers coming through the wires. So I put my bike down. I got down on my hands and knees and I looked under there and there was this boy, about my age. I don’t know what was wrong with him – something was – they used to keep him under there. And I looked right at him. He looked back at me. We just sat there staring at each other for awhile. I ran that route for two years, Mary Helen, and I never did a thing. I just wanted you to know that.”
He needed to say nothing else. Finally, he had gotten the courage to do as an adult what he hadn’t had the courage to do as a youngster – to help someone in need at the risk of his own reputation and status in the community.
The Holy Spirit gives us the power to do what’s not easy, to go through the tough times in life, to take the risks. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-discipline.
Fact Four: The Holy Spirit is your ultimate GUIDE.
Jesus told His disciples on the night of His betrayal that He was going away but would send His Holy Spirit to them. “‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you'” (
The word in the Greek for advocate is parakletos. You will see it translated in at least three different words.
One word is “comforter.” How reassuring it is to those of us who experience great losses to find God’s comfort through the personal work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Wednesday night I returned a call to an acquaintance of mine, a long-term professor at one of our Presbyterian seminaries. His 47-year-old daughter has a brain tumor. He is facing the reality that this daughter, mother, wife, pastor, is going to die. He wanted to know, “How did you get through it, John?” With the help of the Holy Spirit, we ministered comfort to each other.
Another word is “counselor.” The Holy Spirit helps you and me see things differently and then act on the counsel He gives. I was in a self-pitying mood Thursday morning. As I opened the One Year Bible, I said, “God, please, by your Spirit, give me a word for today!” Let me read to you what the Holy Spirit said:
Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children –
‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
or lose heart when you are punished by him;
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
And chastises every child whom he accepts.’
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children.” (
Wow! Did my attitude change for the rest of that day!
Another word is “advocate.” This is your lawyer who knows what you don’t know and understands what you don’t understand. The Holy Spirit is the One who whispers in your ear what you need to know at the right time.
The Holy Spirit, in a way, is all of these. He is your comforter. He is your counselor. He is your advocate. Our text says that he will guide you into all the truth. I have found the best way to get to know a new city when I travel is to have a guide book and a personal guide. You’ve got both the Bible and the Holy Spirit to show you the way.
Two quick footnotes. Remember, the Holy Spirit is the gifter who gives you specific spiritual gifts, and also promises you the fruit of the spirit if you are willing for it to grow in your life.
Remember also that you can grieve the Holy Spirit. We read about that in
I promised a story, the story of Lonnie.
Lonnie was a beautiful young woman, but she didn’t know that about herself. She was raised in a Houston family, abused sexually by both her father and her brother. Lonnie was attractive to men, but ugly to herself. Lonnie married a man much more like than her father and brother than she ever dreamed. She loved him but was used by him. He, instead, fell in love with cocaine and himself. One day, he up and left her, taking all their money, cleaning out their bank accounts. She was left alone to raise two little children.
She tried to get a job. She did, but couldn’t make much money by the time she had paid for child care. Someone told her that with a body and looks like hers, she could make a lot more money as a stripper. She interviewed for the job at a local club. She felt she had the word “shame” inscribed on her forehead. She needed the money and accepted the job. She put her kids to bed, drove her old car to the club, danced and, somewhat awkwardly, stripped. She wouldn’t do this long. It was temporary because she needed the money. But she made big money. The few nights turned into weeks and the weeks into months. She hated herself, but not enough to stop – even when those men looked at her in the same way as her father, brother and former husband.
One day her boss told her about a photo shoot for a magazine. It paid twice as much as she was making for just a few hours of her time. So she drove to Galveston to the address that was given. They hadn’t told her it was a hotel. She pulled up in front of it. The name of the hotel, believe it or not, was “Heartbreak Hotel.” Shame overcame her once again. Her head dropped. She cried out, “O God, help me!”
Lonnie got out of the car, walked toward the hotel entrance. She looked up and saw the strangest sight. Behind the sign, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was a huge billboard sign which read in large, bold letters, “Jesus Christ can mend a broken heart.”
Lonnie never went into that hotel. She turned around. She drove home. She never went back to the club. The next day she walked into the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, then pastored by our friend, Tom Tewell, who tells this story. She talked with one of the associate pastors. She told him her story. She expected to be shamed by the pastor. Instead, he said, “Welcome home, Lonnie!”
And Jesus Christ began to mend Lonnie’s broken heart.
At last report, Lonnie was still single. She was making less money than she did before. She was making it and supporting her children at a respectable job, claiming God’s help to live one day at a time.
What happened to Lonnie? I’ll tell you what happened to Lonnie! The Holy Spirit heard her prayer. The Holy Spirit caught her at her darkest moment. The Holy Spirit helped her look up at just the right second to see the Heartbreak Hotel sign framed by those ultimate words of hope, “Jesus Christ can mend a broken heart!” And as Lonnie was willing to face her need, the Holy Spirit was able to meet it and continues to meet it, revealing truth, enabling faith, giving spiritual power, and the guidance to be what she never dreamed she could be. The stripper has become a saint. The five-letter word across her forehead, “SHAME,” has been removed, and the Holy Spirit has replaced it with the five-letter word “SAINT.”
This is what the Holy Spirit has done or wants to do for you! Have you let Him? Will you let Him? These are the most important questions you will ever answer!
This is one of a series of sermons based on The Apostles Creed. Additional sermons from that series will appear in Preaching On-Line in March, April and May.
John A. Huffman, Jr. is the Senior Minister at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. He is a Senior Contributing Editor to Preaching.