The Function of the Holy Spirit

This lesson demonstrates the role played by the Holy Spirit in executing God the Father's #1 goal in sending Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of all humanity.
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We've noted two views concerning the relationship of the Godhead/Trinity:

  1. Godward (within the Godhead) – all are similar in character, power, revelation (each are revealed to be equally divine).
  2. Manward (their appearance to man) – after the fall of mankind into sin, each person in the Godhead has taken a different function in accomplishing the plan to save mankind from the condemnation due to to sin, of which all humans are guilty and stand condemned. If there is a difference between the persons in the Godhead, it is due to function and not nature.
    1. For example, if one does not know something (like Jesus said he did not know the end of time – Matt.24:36) it was because He, in His role or function as the Son, chose not to know.
    2. If the Son submits to the Father in the function of the sacrifice sent by the Father, it is a submission motivated by love and humility, not submission done because of inferiority.
    3. God the Son is love in that He submits to God the Father's will in order to carry out the plan to save mankind.

We've also said that our study of the Holy Spirit is centered around the idea of how He functions in relationship to the others in the Trinity in accomplishing the plan of salvation. We've established that He is God, now we need to study how He functions towards man in the completion of the plan of salvation.

  1. The Father – chose the plan (vicarious atonement). Sent the Son to complete the plan.
  2. The Son – revealed the plan to mankind. Fulfilled the plan with His death, burial, and resurrection.
  3. The Holy Spirit – in this lesson we will review the Holy Spirit's function in carrying out God's plan of salvation.

Before we do that, however, we need to keep in mind that although each person in the Godhead seems to have different functions, all three act in a seamless unity without anyone functioning independently from the others.

For example, the Father chose the plan, but the Holy Spirit and the Son both knew and agreed to it, and the Father sent the Son and the Son came forth through a miraculous birth EMPOWERED by the Holy Spirit.

The Function of the Holy Spirit

Here is a summary of human history from God's perspective. God has essentially two goals to accomplish in all of history, two goals that determine man's place in eternity, the rest of the events of history are just wallpaper.

Goal #1

Execute the plan of salvation (vicarious atonement) in real time which would be the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

25Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;
- Romans 16:25-26
3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
- I Timothy 2:3-6

Goal #2

The glorification and exaltation of the church belonging to Christ at His return.

9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
- II Thessalonians 1:9-10

From God's perspective the first and second coming of Jesus Christ are the high points in all of human history. All events work in conjunction with these two whether we realize it or not.

Now, how the Holy Spirit functions or is active in accomplishing these two goals is the context of our study. We get to know Him by studying what he has done to bring about the completion of these two goals: 1) The cross of Christ 2) Glory of the church.

Of course, the Holy Spirit may have been active in other ways, but we will examine only the information revealed to us in the Bible.

The Holy Spirit – Old Testament

The Holy Spirit's activity in the Old Testament worked primarily toward the Father's first goal.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
- Galatians 4:4

In His function during the Old Testament period the Holy Spirit was primarily involved in two spheres of activity:

1. The Creation

In order for Jesus to come, there had to be a world created and sustained.

A. The Holy Spirit was active in the initial creation before the fall of man.

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
- Genesis 1:2

B. He was also active after the fall of man, sustaining and maintaining a fallen creation to support fallen mankind.

24O Lord, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your possessions.
25There is the sea, great and broad,
In which are swarms without number,
Animals both small and great.
26There the ships move along,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.
27They all wait for You
To give them their food in due season.
28You give to them, they gather it up;
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
29You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
You take away their spirit, they expire
And return to their dust.
30You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the ground.
- Psalm 104:24-30

This intervention by God, The Holy Spirit, was especially needed after the complete destruction of the world by the great flood caused by man's sinfulness. The Holy Spirit sustains a fallen world inhabited by a fallen people so that the Father's two main goals can be accomplished.

This is the Spirit's function in creation and post-creation to serve God's plan as well as His function regarding…

2. The Nation of Israel

In order for Jesus to enter the physical world as a man he needed a human, social, cultural, and religious identity. Beginning with one man, Abram (re-named Abraham) a man who lived in the Mesopotamian capitol of UR (modern day Iraq), God formed a family, the tribes, and finally a nation with its own history, culture, laws, and religion. These were known as Jews who were given the land of Israel as their home.

According to God's plan, goal #1 - Jesus would come to earth and enter human history on the stage of the Jewish nation.

The Jewish nation would be the channel through which Christ would come in order to complete goal #1 (vicarious atonement) through His death, burial and resurrection.


Of course, being Jewish didn't automatically save you, it meant that God would offer salvation to the world through someone from your nation. We note that the Bible is silent on the Holy Spirit's direct activity with the development of the chosen people. The interaction is largely between the Father and the Patriarchs as God the Father calls and chooses Abraham and his various descendants (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, etc.).

However, once the nation was formed, the Holy Spirit is seen as the source of the extraordinary and supernatural powers which allowed certain ones in this nation to experience the following:

A. Leadership (wisdom, courage, knowledge, etc.)

Moses to elders

16The Lord therefore said to Moses, "Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting and let them take their stand there with you. 17Then I will come down to speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and I will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.
- Numbers 11:16-17


So the Lord said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him;"
- Numbers 27:18


24Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the Lord blessed him. 25And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
- Judges 13:24-25


Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.
- I Samuel 10:6


Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
- I Samuel 16:13

The lesson to these people about the Spirit was that no man was worthy of leadership unless he was led by the Holy Spirit.

B. Workmanship (extraordinary ability)

1Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2"See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, 4to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, 5and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.
- Exodus 31:1-5

C. Prophecy (Speaking for God/Future)

The Holy Spirit provided accurate, oral records for the creation, early human history, moral laws as well as predictions of Jesus' coming and work. For example:


Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.
- Numbers 11:25


Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, the man who was raised on high declares, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, "The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue."
- II Samuel 23:1-2


The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives.
- Isaiah 61:1

The Old Testament did not deal with the question of the "manner of indwelling" but rather with the very real fact that certain things were done by the power of the Holy Spirit which could not be done any other way. The Holy Spirit's work in the Old Testament period draws to a close and the first of the Father's goals is within view as we look at how He operated in the period leading up to and including the life of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit Before/During the Life of Jesus

A. The activity of the Holy Spirit is seen more before and after Jesus' life than during it.

While Jesus is on the earth, He is the dynamic presence of the Godhead active among men. The Trinity works in unison but is most often revealed individually.

B. The work of the Holy Spirit Pre-Birth of Jesus

1. Sending John the Baptist

13But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.
- Luke 1:13-15

2. God's first goal in view and announced

It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
- Luke 1:17

3. Mary Conceives

The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
- Luke 1:35

C. The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus.

1. The Baptism of Jesus

13Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" 15But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him. 16After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."
- Matthew 3:13-17

This was Jesus' anointing (like David when he was anointed king) However, Jesus' anointing was different: He fulfilled all the Old Testament prefigurements of the One to come. No other person was ever anointed as king, prophet, and priest at the same time.

Also, all three persons of the Godhead are manifested at the same time and place. The Father speaks, the Son is present in Jesus and the Holy Spirit appears as a dove. For the purpose of this study the Holy Spirit is present at the anointing of Jesus where His ministry begins.

The work of the Holy Spirit in…

2. Jesus' Ministry

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness.
- Luke 4:1

Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was indwelled and empowered. This is found in both His holy, pious and faithful life as well as the miraculous power He displayed.

3. The Death of Jesus

Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
- John 19:30

Jesus offers his perfect life in payment for the sins of humanity and dies so on a stage of human history prepared and sustained by the Holy Spirit.

4. The Resurrection of Jesus

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
- Romans 8:11

The resurrection of Jesus, powered by the Holy Spirit confirms the legitimacy of God's first goal and all the teachings by Jesus that comes before it and after through the apostles.

3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
- Romans 1:3-4


The activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament had as its purpose the setting of the stage so that God's first goal could be reached and revealed – the cross of Jesus (including His death, burial and resurrection).

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
- Hebrews 10:1

When we study the Bible beginning with the Old Testament what we see is the shadow before we actually see the object, action or person causing the shadow.

For example:

  1. The kings, prophets and priests as well as their work were only shadows of Christ and His work which was to come.The Jews failed to understand this.
  2. The Jewish nation was only a shadow of what God ultimately desired – a glorious kingdom/church sanctified by the blood of Christ, not the blood of animals.
  3. The great temple with its elaborate sacrificial system was only a preview of the perfect sacrifice to come.

Jesus' atoning death was to be the supreme act of love and worship service since it was contained in a perfect demonstration of God's love for man (His redemption from sin, condemnation, and death). The cross (vicarious atonement) was also a perfect demonstration of man's love for God (Jesus, the man, obeyed God into death).

Finally, it was a perfect demonstration of man's love for other men (Jesus, the innocent man giving His life for His enemies who were guilty of sin). Those, therefore, who desire to worship in Spirit and Truth must do so in light of the cross of Jesus Christ because:

  • It is worship directed by the Holy Spirit.
  • It is worship based on truth.
  • It is worship made possible by the combined efforts and manifestation of the complete Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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