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The Holy Spirit (3)

J I Packer answers the question, “Is the work of the Holy Spirit really important?”


Important! Why, were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel, no faith, no church, no Christianity in the world at all. In the first place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel and no New Testament.

When Christ left the world, he committed his cause to his disciples. He made them responsible for going and making disciples of all nations. “Ye . . . shall bear witness,” he told them in the upper room (Jn 15:27 KJV). “You will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth,” were his parting words to them on Olivet, before he ascended (Acts 1:8). Such was their appointed task, but what sort of witnesses were they likely to prove? They had never been good pupils; they had consistently failed to understand Christ and missed the point of his teaching throughout his earthly ministry; how could they be expected to do better now that he had gone? Was it not virtually certain that, with the best will in the world, they would soon get the truth of the gospel inextricably mixed up with a mass of well-meant misconceptions, and their witness would rapidly be reduced to a twisted, garbled, hopeless muddle?

The answer to the question is no—because Christ sent the Holy Spirit to them, to teach them all truth and so save them from all error, to remind them of what they had been taught already and to reveal to them the rest of what their Lord meant them to learn. “The Counselor . . . will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will speak only what he hears” (that is, he would make known to them all that Christ would instruct him to tell them, just as Christ had made known to them all that the Father had instructed him to tell them . . .

The promise was that, taught by the Spirit, these original disciples should be enabled to speak as so many mouths of Christ so that, just as the Old Testament prophets had been able to introduce their sermons with the words, “Thus says the Lord Jehovah,” so the New Testament apostles might with equal truth be able to say of their teaching, oral or written, “Thus says the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And the thing happened. The Spirit came to the disciples and testified to them of Christ and his salvation, according the promise. . . . Hence the gospel, and hence the New Testament. But the world would have had neither without the Holy Spirit.

Nor is this all. In the second place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth—in short, no Christians.

The light of the gospel shines; but “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor 4:4) and the blind do not respond to the stimulus of light. As Christ told Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3:3; compare v. 5). . . .

What follows, then? Should we conclude that preaching the gospel is a waste of time and write off evangelism as a hopeless enterprise, foredoomed to fail? No, because the spirit abides with the church to testify of Christ. To the apostles, he testified by revealing and inspiring, as we saw. To the rest of us, down the ages, he testifies by illuminating: opening blinded eyes, restoring spiritual vision, enabling sinners to see that the gospel is indeed God’s truth, and Scripture is indeed God’s Word, and Christ is indeed God’s Son. “When he [the Spirit] comes,” our Lord promised, “he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8 RSV).

. . .

Paul points the way here: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the Testimony of God in lofty words of wisdom. . . . My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1–5 RSV). And because the Spirit does bear witness in this way, people come to faith when the gospel is preached. But without the Spirit there would not be a Christian in the world.

—J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 69–71.

Posted 2008·11·13 by David Kjos
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Posted in: J I Packer · Knowing God · Pneumatology · The Trinity

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