The Forgotten Third:
Developing a Relationship with God the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit has been a special interest of mine for many years. I actually wrote my doctoral dissertation on Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit). It is entitled “The Pneumatology of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).” It was done at Drew University in 1985. Other than the dissertation committee, I think only my mother-in-law has read my dissertation. A pity.
I also had the privilege of writing a chapter with the title “The Other Comforter” for Dr. Jack Fish’s book Understanding the Trinity (ECS Ministries, 2006). Not sure even my mother-in-law has read that chapter. But that doesn’t stop us from writing.
I did not grow up in a charismatic or Pentecostal church, but I’ve always felt that those of us of a non-charismatic persuasion are missing something (or Someone) critical in theology.
I’m reminded of the joke about a bank teller. The first man says, “I hear the First National Bank is looking for a new teller.” The second man says, “I thought they just hired a new teller last week.” The first man retorts, “Right. That’s the one they’re looking for.” I believe some theological thievery has taken place — and we’ve missed out on much we need to know about God the Holy Spirit. So let’s dive in!
The story is told of a little boy who stops in front of a Catholic church with his bike and he sees the priest come out.The priest says, “Come inside, young man. I want to show you something very important about our faith.”
The little boy says to the priest, “But somebody will steal my bike.” The priest says to him, “Don’t worry; the Holy Spirit will watch it.”
So the little boy goes inside and the priest says, “Let me show you how to make the sign of the cross.” The priest made the sign of the cross and said, “‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.’ Now you try it.”
So the boy makes the sign of the cross and says, “In the name of the Father and the Son, Amen.” The priest says, “What happened to the Holy Spirit?” The boy replied, “He’s outside, watching my bike.”
Some Christians act as if they have never heard of the Holy Spirit. It’s true! They never talk about Him. They never refer to His work in their lives. It is as if He doesn’t exist!
This is no new situation. In Acts 19 we read the following —
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
These men, sometimes called the Ephesian Dozen, had not heard of God the Holy Spirit. It took the Apostle Paul’s placing of his hands on them for the Holy Spirit to come on them and for that experience to be shown by their speaking in tongues and prophesying!
The Problem: Now, I’m no Apostle Paul. But, it seems to me, that many Christians today suffer from one or two general errors about the Holy Spirit. There are some who overemphasize Him and there are others who overlook Him. We will challenge both of these errors, for we seek a biblical balance in this critical topic.
A.W. Tozer put it this way: “Our blunder (or shall we frankly say our sin?) has been to neglect the doctrine of the Spirit to a point where we virtually deny Him His place in the Godhead. . . . [T]he doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all.”
The Solution: I will suggest that because the Holy Spirit is personal, we can (and should) develop a relationship with Him. We can speak to Him in prayer; we can ask Him for specific actions in our lives; we can treat Him as the Person He is! And because the Holy Spirit is divine, we can (and should) worship Him. But there is a caution with my “solution” which must be carefully considered.
As we will see, God the Holy Spirit has been sent to the church for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that He would direct our attention to the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Some Christians have therefore concluded that the Third Person of the Trinity is not to receive any serious attention on our part, that He is always and rightly in the background, and that to suggest a personal relationship with Him is tantamount to theological error.
This book will challenge that perspective as we examine His Person and His work in both the believer and non-believer.
Chapter 1- A Biblical Balance on the Spirit
Mike decided one week to analyze his prayers to the Lord. As he thought about his praying during devotions, his giving thanks at meal times, and his kind of SOS prayers during the day, he realized that most of his prayers were quite general. Often he prayed, “Father, please help me . . .” Or, “Lord Jesus, I worship You for . . .” He asked himself, “Wait a minute! Aren’t I forgetting Someone? Is it ever right to pray to the Holy Spirit?”
This kind of self-analysis is healthy, we believe, because it focuses the believer on the topic of prayer and the question “to whom should our prayers be directed?” Granted, it isn’t a very well-thought-out prayer to pray, “Father, we thank You for dying on the cross for our sins,” because it wasn’t the Father who died for us! But how Person-specific ought we to be in our praying?
The doctrine of the Trinity is clear in the Bible (even if the term “Trinity” isn’t used). The concept of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is specifically taught in the Word (Mt. 28; Jn. 1; Acts 5). Each member of the Godhead is real and actively involved in the world and in the life of the follower of Jesus. The more we learn of God the Father the more we appreciate His care over creation (Ps. 19; Rom. 14), His love in sending His Son (Jn. 3:16), and His giving of the Spirit (I Thes. 4:8, “give[s] His Spirit to those who ask Him”).
The more we learn of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the more we love Him for His atoning work on the cross for us (Gal. 1:4; 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 25; I Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14), for His abiding presence in our lives (Heb. 13:5), and for the joy He wants us to have as we serve Him (Jn. 17:13). Studying the ministries of the Son of God to us logically leads us to pray to Him in thanksgiving and praise.
But what about the Third Member of the Trinity? What about the Holy Spirit? He is certainly no do-nothing God! But what does He do? And are we right to pray to Him, to thank Him for what He does in our lives and in the world, to ask Him for things?
Let us be crystal clear that the Spirit of God was sent by the Father and the Son to glorify the Son, not Himself (Jn. 16:12-14). There we read —
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
The Father declared in Isaiah 42:8 “My glory I will not share with another.” And yet in John 17:5 Jesus prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world was.” These two passages are a great proof of the deity of the Lord Jesus, right? God will not share His glory with idols. But we draw the wrong conclusion if we think that the Spirit of God is excluded from the glory of God.
We are to glorify the Father. And we are to glorify the Son. Are we to glorify the Spirit? Yes and No. No, in the sense that there is an order in the Trinity and the Spirit’s primary role is to direct our attention to the Lord Jesus. But yes in the sense that we bring rightful glory to the Spirit when we become aware of and cooperate with His ministries in the world and in us — and we praise Him for His work. Such honoring of the Spirit is not a detraction from the glory we give the Son.
The point is that there are ministries that are clearly done by the Holy Spirit — and we should acknowledge and cooperate with those ministries. And we should be grateful to Him for what He does in our lives and in the world.
There is no mandate in the Bible that says we must “develop a relationship” with the Spirit of God. However, when I ask Him to bring conviction of sin to an unsaved friend, when I plead for His help in studying the Scriptures, or when I need to be reminded of my place in the family of God, these are aspects of a growing connection with God the Holy Spirit.
One might object and say, “There are no verses of any believers praying to God the Holy Spirit in the Bible!” And that person would be right. However, are there any biblical examples of believers’ praying to the Son?
I would suggest that the account of Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7 clearly shows Stephen praying to Jesus. We read, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep” (vv. 59-60).
That’s the only example I can think of in which a believer prays directly to the Lord Jesus. But how many examples do we need? It is perfectly appropriate to pray to the Son of God.
But what about the Spirit of God? Can we — should we — pray to Him? Here believers often fall into two general categories: (1) those who will only do what Scripture clearly models and (2) those who feel free to do anything which the Scriptures do not prohibit.
Although we have no direct passages which show a believer praying specifically to the Third Person of the Trinity, I am suggesting we are free to do so. He is not to receive the primary attention of our lives. But to say that is not to say He should not receive any attention from us.
Our Jehovah’s Witness friends deny the Trinity and say that the Holy Spirit is only God’s active power. He is not personal, they say. In our next chapter we want to prove the personality of the Spirit — and draw certain conclusions based on that evidence.
1. How would you present the doctrine of the Trinity from the Scriptures?
2. How would you prove from the Bible that the Spirit has been sent to glorify the Son?
3. Into what two categories can we divide Christians when it comes to a practice like praying to the Spirit?