Hero Image

We Are Blind Without the Spirit

What We Still and Will Believe

I believe in the Holy Spirit. (Apostles’ Creed)

What would it have been like to be among the Twelve and look Jesus in the face as he spoke the words of God to us?

Imagine, on that final night before his death, that he looks around the room and says to you, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’” (John 13:33). Which of us who love our Lord would have been exempt from how his original disciples felt? “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart” (John 16:6). Sadness flooded the disciples’ hearts like the Galilean water that filled the boat as Jesus slept that one stormy night.

Yet notice how Jesus comforts his disciples. He doesn’t rescind his statement, but makes another. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

He declared that his departure was for their good. He spoke of his leaving and the Helper’s coming in order to comfort them. One person of the Trinity would be departing, yet another would be arriving. And this, Jesus disclosed to their great surprise, served their advantage.

Spirit of Holiness

John’s Gospel treats us to an elevated exposition of the Helper. We learn, through his titles, who he is. He is an additional Helper who would be with them always (John 14:16). He is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father and witnesses to Christ (John 15:26). He is one whom the world cannot receive but who dwells with and in Jesus’s disciples (John 14:17). He, Jesus promises, will guide God’s people into all truth and glorify the Son (John 16:13–14).

Another important title shines a light on his work. He is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), and his title points to what he accomplishes in every justified believer on the ground of Christ’s finished work (Hebrews 13:12) and God’s will (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

“The Holy Spirit creates holy saints for the holy Christ.”

The Holy Spirit produces necessary holiness in Christians’ lives. Although they were once dead in sin, they have been washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Put another way, the Holy Spirit, through faith, sanctifies all those who have been united to Christ by faith. The Holy Spirit creates holy saints for the holy Christ.

If Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her that she might be a holy bride, without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:25–27), then the Spirit sees to it that the bride is presented to her Groom in the splendor of holiness. Christ will have his unblemished bride. Holiness will become hers through the agency of the Spirit of Christ.

Destined to Look Like Him

Why does the Spirit’s work of sanctification matter to the believer?

Scripture gives us plenty of reasons. Sanctification is the call of God on our lives (1 Thessalonians 4:7). Jesus sanctified himself so that his disciples would be sanctified (John 17:19). Holiness leads to eternal life (Romans 6:22). The beatific blessing of seeing God banks on holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Holiness is the sure path for usefulness (2 Timothy 2:21). The coming day of the Lord incentivizes holiness (2 Peter 3:10–13). And consider the highest reason for why sanctification matters: the Spirit creates Christlikeness in believers.

Sanctification is the logical movement from God’s faith-producing effectual call and our justification in Christ. It is the next necessary step in the triune God’s purpose to make us conformed to his Son’s image.

Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29–30)

The purpose of God in salvation — to the glory of his grace and the joy of the believer — is to transform sinners saved by grace into the glorious image of his Son. Can there be more excellent news in the universe? Is there any higher reason why sanctification matters? Is there a greater joy than to attain what we were created for — to be like Jesus?

Free to Behold Christ

This goal of glorification is the aim of sanctification and, hence, the work of the Holy Spirit. Progressively, the Holy Spirit weakens canceled sin and produces Christlikeness in the saint, who has already been set apart to bear Christ’s image. In 2 Corinthians, Paul unpacks the primary way the Holy Spirit works to the end of Christiformity, of transforming believers into the image of Christ.

In the first seven chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul sets forth a defense of his apostleship. He does this by connecting his ministry with the more glorious new-covenant ministry of the Spirit. In contrast to the old covenant, “the ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7), the new covenant, “the ministry of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:8), shines with a brighter, never-ending, and ever-increasing glory.

“The Spirit primarily does his work by enabling the believer to see the glory of the beautiful and all-sufficient Christ.”

The old-covenant glory, as Richard Hays has observed, “did not just peter out like a battery-powered flashlight; rather it was done away by the greater glory of the new covenant” (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, 135). The ministry of the Spirit is a ministry of righteousness, not condemnation. It doesn’t take life but gives life. It frees believers from blindness to behold the glory of Christ.

Gordon Fee captures the marvel of the Spirit’s work in removing the veil and its connection to sanctification:

The freedom that comes with the removal of the veil means that people now have access to God’s presence so as to behold the “glory” which the veil kept them from seeing: the “glory” turns out to be that of the Lord himself. In beholding this glory, God’s people are thereby transformed into the same likeness, from glory to glory. (God’s Empowering Presence, 309)

Sanctification Is Seeing

If sanctification, at its heart and as its aim, is transforming believers into the image of Christ, the Spirit primarily does his work by enabling the believer to see the glory of the beautiful and all-sufficient Christ. Sanctification is seeing. As believers behold the glory of Christ, by faith through the eyes of the heart, they become more and more like Christ from one degree of glory to another.

So, why does the church say “Amen” to the assertion in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? Because the Spirit works in us to see and savor the glory and beauty of Christ, and to bear his image. We believe in the Holy Spirit because, through his work, we see the glory of our Savior and become conformed to the glorious image we see.