Kathleen Nielson|10:00 PM CT

Jealous for the Holy Spirit

At this year's TGC Council Colloquium in Louisville, as Don Carson and Tim Keller and John Piper discussed the Trinity, there was one particularly striking moment. I carried that moment away with me, have pondered it, and now am reminded of it by the recently released video. It was the moment when John Piper said he was feeling "jealous for the Holy Spirit."

In one sense, it seems appropriate that we focus more explicitly on the Father and the Son when discussing the Trinity. The Spirit does not point to himself but rather illumines, pours out the essence of the Father and the Son through the Word and into our hearts.

And yet, perhaps we aren't thankful enough for the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers. Right now the Father and the Son are invisible to us, and we must depend explicitly on the Spirit to reveal them through the Word. Recently, Revelation's pictures of the Holy Spirit have invaded my imagination: those seven torches of fire before the heavenly throne (Rev.  4:5), and the slain Lamb's seven eyes, "which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth" (Rev. 5:6). These pictures communicate a live, potent, brilliant presence of God, emanating directly from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

So when we read, for example, in the book of Ephesians that we are sealed with this Spirit, that according to the riches of God's glory the Father strengthens us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, that Christ actually dwells in our hearts through faith, that we may indeed by God's grace be filled with all the fullness of God . . . when we read these things, we should perhaps marvel more at the gift of the Holy Spirit, with his fire and his eyes, who actually comes to live in us.

No Longer Alone, No Longer Impotent

One specific outworking of more conscious marveling at the Holy Spirit might involve our understanding of sanctification. The whole current debate on justification and sanctification is so crucial and so complicated. John Piper and Tim Keller's recent discussion is helpful and clarifying. I find myself needing to get straight again and again both the truth of Christ's utterly sufficient work of justification on my behalf, and the truth of Scripture's call for my sword-wielding, hard-working, putting-off-and-putting-on progress in holiness. Thanking God for the Holy Spirit is helping me to hold those truths together in my mind and heart. The Spirit is the one who accomplishes in us the washing of regeneration and renewal, this Spirit whom God "poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5-6).

As a believer, the "I" called to work hard in the process of sanctification is an "I" no longer the same, no longer alone, no longer impotent. God has poured out in us the gift that not only motivates us but also empowers us in our sanctification. I don't need to be afraid to say I must work out my salvation with fear and trembling, for indeed it is God who works in me (Phil. 2:12). He does that through the powerful presence of his Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus to his disciples before he died, and delivered to his people after his resurrection. How wonderful is the fullness of seven torches and seven eyes: no one of us in the body of Christ is alone in receiving this gift or in living out its power.

As the Spirit applies the living and active Word to our new hearts, we grow into the likeness of Christ---of course not perfectly until the end, when we will see him face to face. In the meantime, I suppose there's no other way for us to keep truths like justification and sanctification together than for all of us to keep reading and studying all of Scripture, all of it, again and again---for the Word keeps telling us and telling us about Christ's work of justification for us and the working out of holiness that follows. Thank God for the Holy Spirit through whom God pours himself out to make all of this happen.

Kathleen Nielson serves as director of women's initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. She holds MA and PhD degrees in literature from Vanderbilt University and a BA from Wheaton College. Author of the Living Word Bible studies, she speaks often at women's conferences and loves working with women in studying the Bible. She shares a heart for students with her husband, Niel, president of Covenant College from 2002 to 2012 and now leading an enterprise developing resources for Christian schools around the world.

  • http://Mkenttravis.com M Kent Travis

    Excellent article--I needed/need the reminder. Often. The Spirit needs to hold a larger place in our hearts,minds, and imaginations.

  • Jonathan O

    Awesome article! Thank you for your thoughts.

  • http://www.gospelgrace.net/ Luma


    This was a wonderful reminder to me to train myself to be more mindful of the Spirit. I started Graham Cole's "Engaging with the Holy Spirit" a couple of days ago, looking forward to growing in this area.

    Thank you for your teaching and writing.


  • http://www.google.com/profiles/GaryFPatton333 GaryFPatton

    Kathleen, who says Holy Spirit can ONLY speak to us through the Bible? If so, what is a Word of Wisdom and Word of Knowlege that comes spontaneously as His Gift.

    Also who says that we work with Holy Spirit for our santification? Every reference I can find refers to our "conformance to the likeness of Christ" being a free gift of God.

    Might you mixing up your personal theology with what Scripture atually says?

    Otherwise you are: "Right On!

    Gary in TO

  • Ben

    Amen. Thank you.

    I have been reading "The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit," by George Smeaton. In meditating on what Scripture says about God the Holy Spirit--His Person, work, etc.--I am just in awe, and so thankful. What an amazing God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!!

  • Kristina D

    We should all strive to live more in His image. Jesus was an exemplary role model to every day life and while we can't be him as long as we're human, we have a prime example of who to strive to be.

    It reminds me of this video I recently came across-- it's a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.

    Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs