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There’s a poem for children by Christina G. Rossetti that captures at once something of the wonder of the wind, as well as the concreteness of its work:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

The wind is never seen but is clearly known by its work.

Jesus compared the will of the wind to the work of God’s Spirit (John 3:8). Those who have seen His work know His reality. And yet very little of the Spirit’s work is properly recognized by God’s people today. As a consequence, too much focus is placed on the subjective experience of the Spirit rather than the broader dimensions of His reality. Let us consider first the objective work of the Spirit and then His subjective work.

the wondrous work of the holy spirit outside the believer

First, the Holy Spirit created and sustains all life. Equally with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the source of this universe and all that is in it. The creation narrative of Genesis informs us that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Just as an eagle broods over its nest to bring forth life, so the Spirit of God served as the life-infusing agent at creation (Gen. 1:2, NIV [1984] throughout; Deut. 32:11). When the psalmist speaks of the earth as “full of . . . creatures” and the sea as “teeming with creatures beyond number,” he declares, “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:24–25, 30). The molecules, the atoms that constitute everything in this earth, and the gravitational forces that bind the world together all derive their functioning power from the sovereign creating and sustaining Spirit.

Not only in creation but also in the accomplishment of redemption, the Spirit of God plays a primary role. For apart from His marvelous, mysterious work, there would have been no incarnation of the Son of God. The Spirit was the One who caused the conception of Jesus in the womb of the virgin. Luke 1:35 reports that the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary and that the power of the Most High overshadowed her. Apart from the Spirit, there would have been no incarnate Savior.

Beyond making us certain at the present moment that we have been redeemed, the Holy Spirit seals us in the permanent possession of our salvation.

The objective working of the Holy Spirit in creation and redemption deserves careful attention. This great God the Spirit, this all-powerful person of the Godhead, must be appreciated for all that He is and does. He is not a milquetoast will-o’-the-wisp who comes only as a divine after­thought in the progress of redemption. From creation to consummation, He is the Great One who continually performs wonders.

the wondrous work of the holy spirit within the believer

In similar fashion, the scope of the Spirit’s work within the life of the redeemed must be appreciated in all its fullness. Note seven works of the Spirit among the elect, the favored of the Lord:

First, the Spirit regenerates. How often the clear words of Jesus have been misunderstood. People universally rewrite “You must be born again” so that it reads instead, “You must born yourself again.” Not only does this misinterpretation make no sense grammatically (an intransitive verb has no object), but it makes nonsense of a profound spiritual truth. Just as we did nothing to cause ourselves to be born into this fallen world, so we can do absolutely nothing to bring ourselves into the divinely renewed world of redemption. We must be born “of the Spirit” (John 3:5, 8). We cannot coerce the Spirit of God to effect our regeneration. The wind blows where it will—and it is the Spirit’s will, not ours, that causes a person to be born from above (v. 3). Indeed, if our wills are renewed by the regeneration of the Spirit, we will choose to cry out to God for salvation, just as a newborn baby cries out once born. But give the divine Spirit the glory He deserves. The cry for salvation comes as a consequence of the new birth and could never be the cause of regeneration. The Spirit Himself sovereignly does this great work of total renewal.

Second, the Spirit assures. We keep on sinning even after we have been born again, don’t we? So how can we be so sure that we are children of God?

We can be so bold because of the assurance of the Spirit. In this most wondrous of works, “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). Nothing less than the Spirit’s constant working could keep the sinner certain of his salvation. After all, who would dare contradict the witness of God’s own Spirit? Because of His personal testimony within our own spirits, we can be at peace. Be assured: if His witness is there, you are a son of God.

Third, the Spirit seals. The gummed seals that we use today on an ordinary letter are not so impressive. They can be easily ignored and violated. But in the days of old, dripped wax with an official stamp of the king made it a perilous thing to break the royal seal.

So the regal Spirit seals every believer in the possession of all the blessings of redemption. In this case, it is the seal of the King of kings that cannot be broken. Beyond making us certain at the present moment that we have been redeemed, the Holy Spirit seals us in the permanent possession of our salvation. For “having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” until the day of Christ’s return (Eph. 1:13–14). It is a settled fact. His sealing work cannot be undone—all “to the praise of his glory” (v. 14).

Fourth, the Spirit sanctifies. The Apostle Paul uses a strange comparison and contrast to describe this work of the Spirit: “Do not get drunk on wine, . . . [but] be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). What happens when a person gets drunk? The alcohol of the “spirits” gets into his bloodstream and permeates every part of his person. He walks differently and talks differently, and he sees, hears, and acts differently. So is the experience of everyone who is “filled” with the Spirit. God’s holiness, the holiness of the Holy Spirit, permeates every part of his person. He goes happily to places of worship, praise, and prayer—places that he would not otherwise go. He talks boldly about Jesus the Christ. To abuse, he responds with love.

This experience of being filled with the Spirit is not something that happens once and then is done. The phrase literally reads, “Be being filled with the Spirit.” Paul calls us constantly, continually, more and more extensively to be permeated in all we think, say, and do by the abiding influence of the divine Spirit. It’s the greatest possible experience of life.

Fifth, the Spirit brings forth fruit in the life of every believer. And what a fruit it brings forth. No less than nine specific products of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22–23. Even for the first three of these fruits the world would give its all: “love, joy, peace.” But little does the world know that only the indwelling Holy Spirit of God is capable of producing true love, joy, and peace in the hearts of sinners. He can and will do it when no one and nothing else can.

Sixth, the Spirit distributes gifts. Never has every believer received all the gifts, but every believer has received some gift for ministering to others (1 Cor. 12:7–11). Some people have claimed that unless a person has manifested the gift of “speaking in tongues,” he cannot have been baptized by the Spirit. But Paul makes it very plain: not all believers have received the gift of speaking in tongues, but all have been baptized into the one body of Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, 29–30). During the age of the Apostles, God gave revelatory gifts such as tongues and prophecy that were necessary for providing a solid foundation of revealed truth to establish an infallible guide for the life of the church throughout the ages (Eph. 2:19–20). These gifts were essential for the grounding of the church on solid, unshakable revealed truth. But since this foundation has no need of being laid again in every new generation, these specific gifts related to new revelation have not been manifest since the days of the Apostles.

Yet to every single member of the body of Christ the Spirit gives spiritual capacities for ministering to others. For some, it is the gift to preach or to teach God’s Word (Eph. 4:11). For others, it is the gift of encouragement (Rom. 12:8). For still others, it may be the gift of administration (v. 8). No greater sense of fulfillment in life can be found than when we are using our spiritual gifts to the fullest. If we are a blessing to others, we know that we are most fully blessed. And this most satisfying of experiences will come only through the outworking of God’s gifts, given to us by His Spirit.

Seventh, the Spirit empowers for worldwide witness. The resurrected Christ promised it: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” to the world (Acts 1:8). The Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, and His power for witnessing to the world has been present ever since. For two thousand years, the Christian gospel has continued to spread to every continent and nation.

By the coming of the Spirit of God into our lives, we are empowered to give a worldwide witness, as well as a local witness, by our praying, our testifying, our giving, and our going. How great a privilege it is to be the instrument of witness to the whole world by the power of Christ’s Spirit.

Indeed, the Spirit does a great work, both without and within. A proper appreciation of His mighty deeds should stir up a spirit of submission and praise, for He accomplishes far more than inspiring spontaneous utterances within the occasional assemblies of believers. Creation, redemption, and consummation are all a part of the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2004.

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