Ministry of the Spirit

John 16:13-14

“But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you.”

The above text says so much about the role of the Spirit but very little about the particulars of the Spirit. It is the person of the Trinity who remains largely anonymous and draws little attention to Himself. In many ways this might speak volumes in regard to Christian service in general. As the Spirit serves as a witness to the honour to all God has achieved in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, it is this humility which witnesses to all what God has done in His gracious, loving kindness towards all human beings for all time. It is the Spirit who opens our eyes to the realisation that we are included in the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is the Spirit who actualises the affirmation and assurance of the Father to the Son, ‘You are my beloved child in whom my soul delights, I am well pleased with you,’ deep within our own soul. He makes our adoption in Jesus Christ the reality and ground of our existence and the core of what it really means to be. It is to be included in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit where there is true freedom that no other manner of being could possibly offer. The Spirit is not only the Giver but is also the very Gift who gives Himself entirely to the service of leading us to all truth. The only truth there is, is in the One Lord Jesus Christ, the way, truth and life. I hope to be able to expand, discuss and assess this statement on the Holy Spirit in an entirely Trinitarian context in all these areas.

Though this may be a tendency in some aspects of the study of the Spirit, one cannot embark in answering anything about the Spirit in abstraction from the Trinity. Gregory of Nyssa emphasised the indivisibility of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit where there is a continuous and united communion between them. He says:

‘It is not possible to envisage a severance of division, such that one might think of the Son without the Father, or separate the Spirit from the Son; but there is between them an ineffable and inconceivable communion’ (Kallistos, 1986 p. 8).

As is the nature of the Holy Spirit to not draw attention to Himself, this by no means diminishes the place He has in the life of the Triune God. The progression of the discussion of the Holy Spirit in the first few centuries of the life of the church appears to have moved to the background while debates regarding the divinity of the Son had to be settled. It was widely acknowledged that the baptismal formula of undertaking the rite in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit indicated the third person had equal status as the other two. However, it was only when the divinity of the Son was settled where adequate attention could be given to the Spirit’s place within the life of the Trinity. This showed the patience, wisdom, and humility of the Spirit in revealing and establishing the reality of the relationship, co-existence, nature, love and co-substantiation of the Father and the Son along with the Spirit so that, in the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, ‘Instead, by gradual advances and … partial ascents, we should move forward and increase in clarity, so that the light of the Trinity should shine’ (McGrath, 1997, pp. 311-312).

If we look at the Creed of Nicaea, at first glance, as it is recited, one might infer a hint of subordination beginning with the Father in the first clause, followed by the Son, in the second clause, with the Spirit placed in the third and last clause. However, there was never any intention of it being interpreted in this way. With the homoousion (of the same being) establishing the dynamic relationship between the Father and the Son, it was very quickly realised this relationship also extends to the Spirit in precisely the same way. Gregory of Nazianzus said, ‘to subordinate any of the three is to overthrow the Trinity (Torrance, 1991, pp. 212 & 239). Then again, even though it has been clearly established the Spirit’s position within the Godhead, when we encounter Him we do not see Him in His own name. Ultimately, He reveals the face of the Father in the Son or the face of the Son in the Father. In this way the Holy Spirit is described by T. F. Torrance as being transparent and translucent where He hides behind the Father and the Son so when we encounter the Spirit we also encounter the Father and the Son (ibid p. 212). When we actually encounter the very being of God it is the Father and the Son who are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit where the third person is ambiguous in the first instance (ibid, p. 211). In much the same way the doctrine of the Holy Spirit causes to be explicit what has always been couched in the gospel. In our initial encounter with God in Jesus Christ, the Son shows us the Father in an explicit way where the Spirit is only initially implied. Whereas Christ is the ‘image’ of the Godhead and the Spirit is the Image of the Son, we find the Spirit is actually ‘imageless’ (Colyer, 2001 p.217; Torrance, 1991 p. 210).

It is through the Son where we come to know the Spirit and thus we can establish a Christological framework for pneumatology where one of its functions is ecclesiology. When we look at the event on the Day of Pentecost, where the Spirit was poured out on all flesh, Torrance argues that there is a different meaning to Spirit which in a way is different to the Holy Spirit. When one talks about the Spirit of God, or in this case, the pouring out of His Spirit on all flesh, in the New Testament, the meaning here is pointing to the deity of God without distinction between the Father, Son and Spirit. When the Spirit was poured out on all flesh, the sending of the Spirit, by the Holy Spirit, is actually the sending of the Father, Son and Spirit (John 14:23[1]). We actually participate in the receiving of the Spirit by Jesus Christ at His baptism in which He did not receive for His sake but for ours. It was His mediating of His Spirit to us in His humanity so that we might share in His divine nature (Torrance, 1996 p. 148). Thus the pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the deification or divinisation of humanity. As the Nicene Fathers of Alexandria defined salvation as, ‘being taken up into the life of God,’ what Torrance proposes as the actualisation of this event on the Day of Pentecost in humanity’s deification is quite reasonable (McGrath, 2001 pp. 361-362). The response to this eschatological event was Peter’s great sermon whereby he begins with the prophecy of Joel and immediately makes the connection to Jesus Christ who from beside the Father, sends the Holy Spirit, who pours the Spirit of the Father, Son and Spirit on all flesh actualising the reality of having been taken up into the life of God. Thus, Peter, having been filled with the Spirit, points to Jesus Christ as the Messiah, Saviour and Lord. The Holy Spirit makes the reality of humanity’s inclusion into the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit sharing in their deity real to Peter whereby his witness and subsequent testimony, by the Holy Spirit, impacts thousands. Nevertheless, the Spirit remains anonymous in this great event (Acts 2:1-41).

It is the Lordship, Deity, Divinity and holiness of Jesus Christ which establishes the Lordship, Deity, Divinity and holiness of the Spirit. By pointing to Jesus Christ and exalting Him as Lord of Lords who sits at the Father’s right hand in majesty, the Spirit’s self effacing and humble activity in fact exalts Him as He exalts Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1996 p. 151). In fact, the distinct service of the Holy Spirit is following on from the same manner of service as the Son who exalts the Father by making Himself the least and inturn becomes exalted. As we understand kenosis or the self-emptying of the Word of God where Jesus makes Himself insignificant so that God the Father may be glorified, there is no reason to suggest that the Holy Spirit would be any different The Holy Spirit calls people to the Son rather than Himself where His self-effacing nature is not something that is unique to His role but is the nature and heart of the Triune God (Kärkkäinen, 2002 p. 18; Phil. 2:5-11)[2].

There has been a tendency in much of contemporary theology to confine the work of the Holy Spirit who functions only within the body of the church. Jürgen Moltmann showed a great concern for the fact that the Spirit has been neglected in many areas of human activity. Cutting off the Spirit in this way from the world has had the tendency for some Christians to disengage from crucial areas of human life and the wider community where He is constantly at work in the ministry of reconciliation. Moltmann argues by ignoring the world as part of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and by focussing on the world to come and resisting in engaging with body and nature, the work of the Spirit is being seriously misunderstood (Moltmann, 1992 pp. 8 & 109). Furthermore, by placing a duality between the supernatural and the natural with a propensity to determine what is sacred (what is established as appropriate Christian activity) and what is secular (what is established as worldly activity which the Christian should refrain from) the pneumatological doctrine is narrowed and restricted to pious notions. As a consequence, the Spirit is almost owned by the church and its function is determined accordingly to fit in with their doctrines and traditions. Consequently, the work of the Spirit can often be resisted in some circumstances such as in the areas of politics, human rights and the environment and in other circumstances work might be wrongly attributed to the Spirit such as the triumphalist’s health and wealth doctrines. Even though this goes on, the Spirit ever continually is, ‘guiding, luring, wooing, influencing all humanity, not just the church,’ which is often mistaken in its understanding of His role (Pinnock, 1996 p. 216). By trying to bring the Spirit under the control of the church and disengaging Him from Christology, institutionalisation and hierarchal models of church structure have emerged. As the church has appeared more disengaged with the realities of the world by disconnecting itself from creation and day to day life, congregations have consequently shrunk as a result (Moltmann, 1992, p. 2).

The church is clearly described as the, ‘body of Christ,’ a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In our understanding of the church, there is the obvious human element which cannot be overlooked. Rather than view the Incarnation as God coming to us in a human being, what we find is the startling reality that He has come to us literally as a human being. It is not God in a man but God as human enfleshed. What we have in the Incarnation is God revealing Himself by actually revealing Himself in such a way that there is now the real possibility for humanity to be with Him and for God to be with us. There was an event in our history and a time when God come to our aid in our brokenness and depravity and stood by our side in the depths of our brokenness and depravity (Torrance, 1991 p. 150). Here was the holy God, the Creator, who dwelt among sinners where He allowed Himself to be touched and to touch others in a way that was totally comprehensible as the Human Being interacting and communicating with His fellow creatures. The Infinite has clothed Himself with our finiteness, the Eternal has clothed Himself with our temporariness so that His good will is displayed for all to see. The whole process from Incarnation to the Resurrection is the work of the Spirit in and with Jesus Christ the Messiah in willing obedience to the Father. Jesus Christ in communion with the Spirit showed by communing with humanity what God is really like. Thus the role of the Spirit is to bridge the gap between the actual life of Christ and ourselves opening our eyes to the majesty of the love of the Father. (Zizioulas, 1985 pp. 110-111 & 126-129). The Spirit actualises our adoption in Jesus Christ as children of the Father where we share in His actual Sonship in whom the Father is delighted to include. In the Incarnation, the very being of God interpenetrated the entire human race to the very depths of our fallen being, including our mind and thoughts. By pointing to Jesus Christ and helping us to see that in Him God actually reveals who He is, we are able to see and hear clearly in our human capacity and intelligibility what God is really like. Because Jesus is now human, it is revealed by the Spirit that we have been included in the divine life of the Father, Son and Spirit. Thus there is a very good reason why the Holy Spirit points to Jesus Christ rather than Himself. In Jesus we can conclude that to be truly spiritual is also to be truly human with the Person of Jesus Christ the very image of what this looks like in what is said and done. When the Spirit draws us into this reality, our frail humanity is transformed where we actually experience a glimpse in a limited way what it is like to live as a deified human beings. (Krotke, 2000 p. 160-163).

As I have said previously, the Spirit is transparent and translucent thus a certain degree of mystery exists. Jesus Christ and God incarnate shows us God in a concrete and understandable way clearing up much ambiguity about who He really is. However, seeing God for who He really is in Jesus Christ gives us more clarity of understanding the Father and the Spirit who are of the same being as the Son. Though the knowledge of God revealed to us and is made real by the Spirit, it is still limited. Nevertheless, we are left with nothing to fear and can be greatly comforted by what He has revealed in Jesus Christ.

Hans Urs von Balthasar describes the nature of the Spirit very clearly in the following way:

“The Spirit is breath, not a full outline, and therefore he wishes only to breathe through us, not to present himself as an object; he does not wish to be seen but to be the seeing eye of grace in us and he is little concerned as to whether we pray to him provided that we pray with him, “Abba, Father,” provided that we consent to his unutterable groaning in the depths of our soul. He is the light that cannot be seen except upon the object that is lit up; and he is the love between the Father and the Son that has appeared in Jesus. He does not wish to be glorified but “to glorify me,” by “taking what is mine and revealing it to you’[3], in the same way the Son wishes nor is able to glorify himself but glorifies only the Father[4] (1996 p. 111).

The self-effacing characteristic of the Holy Spirit is the way He is to the very core of His being which is the same as the very being in Jesus Christ. In addition, we can know from Jesus Christ who is of the same being with the Father that the self-emptying nature of the Spirit is continuing in the same nature and purposes as the Triune God. The Spirit is not seen and does not wish to be seen but points us to the one He wants us to see, Jesus Christ, so that in revealing Jesus Christ, He may be glorified. In turn, Jesus Christ, points us to the love of the Father so that in revealing the love of the Father towards us, He glorifies the Father, and therefore the Son is also glorified. As we see what the Triune God has done for us and we receive their love in Jesus Christ, we give glory to the Father in the Son by the Spirit and in doing so we all share in their glory and are glorified.

In recent years, there has been an increasingly growing interest in pneumatology from all parts of the church. Studies by people such as John Zizioulas, Yurgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenburg, Karl Rahner, Michael Welker and Clark Pinnock, who cover a wide spectrum of church traditions, have shown that pneumatology is a meeting place for honest and open dialogue (Kärkkäinen, 2002 p. 100). Upon reading the various traditions, there are overlapping ideas that have endeavoured to break free from the rigid, static terms in Western theology. This is especially evident in the disconnection and subordination of the Spirit to the Son typical in much of the West. As the studies have progressed, the Spirit has been endeavouring to bring the church closer together than ever before (ibid pp. 105-145). In hindsight, what started out through the varying disciplines early in the 20th century as a growing and evolving emphasis in pneumatological study has subsequently resulted in a workable unity only made possible through the miraculous work of the Spirit. The result at the beginning of the 21st Century is beauty of richness and diversity from the Eastern, Western, Pentecostal, feminists, ecological, liberationists theologies, though some even sharp differences remain, the Spirit can still display the unity of all in a single body called the church (ibid p. 177).

Though the whole church glories in Jesus Christ, it is the Spirit who reveals the glory of God’s one and only Son. The Spirit is self effacing in all that He does so that we see the reality of what has been disclosed to us. The Spirit reveals to us the reality of our inclusion in Sonship of Jesus Christ and we actually share and experience the all-powerful love He receives from the Father. As Jesus points to and glorifies the Father, Jesus is glorified. As the Spirit points to and glorifies the Son, the Spirit is glorified. As the Spirit opens our eyes where we see the glory of the blessed Trinity, we realise that we are included in their beautiful love and life. When we receive their glory, we too are glorified in all our humanity. The Spirit reveals our adoption and how closely by God’s side we really are and how much God is for us. In this way, the Spirit shows our connection to every aspect of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension so we see His end as our inclusion into the very deity of the Triune God as truly deified and divinised human beings. We are actually participating by the Spirit, in the Son before the Father the abundant life Jesus promised to us. We have been given a taste of what is to come and hope that draws us to what will soon be for always. As the Spirit is acknowledged by the church through their studies in pneumatology, there is found more common ground than was realised than ever before. This is so typical of the hidden work of the Spirit who nurtures and woos the church to the glory of God the Father, Son and Spirit.


Colyer, EM 2001, How to read T. F. Torrance: Understanding his Trinitarian and Scientific Theology, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill.

Hollinger, D 1995, ‘The church as apologetic: a sociology of knowledge’ in Perspective, in T. Philips and T Okholm. (eds), Christian Apologetics in the Modern World, IVP, Downers Grove, pp. 182-193 & 229.

Kallistos of Diokleia 1986, ‘The Human Person as an Icon of the Trinity,’ Sobornost, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 6-23.

Kärkkäinen, V. M 2004, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International and Contextual Perspectives, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Krotke, W 2000, ‘The Humanity of the Human Person in Karl Bath’s Anthropology,’ in John Webster’s (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK pp. 159-176.

McGrath, A. E. 2001, Christian Theology: An Introduction, Blackwell Publishers, Mass., USA.

Moltmann, J 1992, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, Translated by Margaret Kohl, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

Pinnock, C 1996, ‘Spirit and Church,’ in Flame of Love: a Theology of the Holy Spirit, IVP, Downer Grove, pp. 113-147, 264-268.

Torrance, T. F 1991, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Faith of the Ancient Catholic Church, T&T Clark Ltd., London.

Torrance, T. F 1996, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons, T &T Clark, London.

Von Balthasar, H. U 1996, Explorations in Theology III Creator Spirit, Translated by McNeil, B, Ignatius Press, San Francisco.

Zizioulas, J. D 1985, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, St. Vladimir’s Press, Crestwood, NY.

[1] Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

[2] Phil. 2:5-11, ‘Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

[3] (John 16:14)

[4] (John 5:41; 7:18)