The Holy Spirit is not a mere energy, force, or power. He does not only sanctify as if the Spirit’s activity exclusively focused on our personal sanctification. That sounds like the theology of expressive individualism (what can the Spirit do for me?) rather than the theology of the Bible. In reality, the Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life.
The Spirit Is Lord
In the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381), the creed defines the Spirit as “the Lord and Giver of life.” The creed follows the pattern of healthy words in Scripture. As Paul wrote, “the Lord … is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
The Spirit is no less Lord than the Father or the Son. Michael Horton writes, “The Holy Spirit is Lord in exactly the same sense the Father and the Son are the Lord” (2017: 30). The Spirit is Lord of all and deserves honour, glory, and worship.
The Spirit is Giver of Life
The Spirit is Giver of life. The Spirit with the Father and Son share the identity of Lord. Yet we can distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son by his role as “Gift” and “Giver.” The psalmist writes, “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created” (Ps 104:30). God’s breath vivified Adam (Gen 2:7). Elihu rightly says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). And Jesus himself says, “It is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63).
The Spirit gives life. He did in creation, and he does now. In the creation account of Genesis 1, God created by his Word. the Father spoke his Word, and something came into being: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Gen 1:3). Yet the Father’s creation by his Word does not completely define the one activity of God. The Spirit too did the work of God in creation.
Genesis 1:3 says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” A wind does not hover like a bird over unformed matter unless some power holds its there. In this case, it is the power of God himself for the Lord is the Spirit.
Horton rightly argues that in verses 3–10 of Genesis 1, the Father creates by his Word (“let there be). But in verses 11–25, he also brings forth life by the Spirit. The Spirit brings forth vegetation, swarming things, and creatures according to their kind (2017: 51).
The Word brings something into being from nothing, while the Spirit vivifies creation by bringing forth life to swarm and fly across the land. “Both are the result of God’s speech,” explains Horton, “but one brings a world into being while the other brings it to maturity” (2017: 51).
As the Spirit gives life to humanity (Gen 2:7), so he does also for plants and creatures. The divine speech-act “let there be” brings something into being while the Breath that the Father exhales when speaking the Word matures and vivifies creation.
The Spirit gives life.
The Spirit Perfects the Work of God
The Spirit does not have an isolated role from the Father and Son as if the sanctification of life-giving belonged to him and not the Father and Son. Rather, the Spirit has a distinct activity in the one work of God.
The Father sends, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit perfects. The Son does not have the activity of mediating salvation alone. The Father and the Son do the same works: “For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). The Son and the Spirit do the same works according to what befits the inner life of God.
Just as the Father providentially controls all things, so also does the Word (Heb 1:3) and so also does the Spirit. David writes, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Ps 139:7). The Spirit brings forth life and has no limit being infinite and everywhere.
The Father commands a storm, the Word upholds the weather system, and the Spirit energizes the wind. One God does one work through the distinct activities of the Father, Son, and Spirit. No activity of God can be hidden away in a silo on its own. The external works of God cannot be divided. They are one.
Given contemporary understandings of the word role, we should probably drop that word and adopt the word activity when speaking of the one God’s triune works in creation. Often people use the word role to signify different spheres of activity. So if we do use the word role, we need to explain that triune roles highlight the fitting description of a person’s activity in the one work of God.
The Spirit Is a Person
So the Spirit is Lord and Giver of life. He matures creation. He works in Providence. He completes the single triune work of God through his spiritual activity. He also sanctifies because the Son united to humanity to share the benefits of divine life with it at the Word of the Father.
Sanctification too then is the triune work of God, not merely the primary role of the Spirit. Instead, the Spirit’s activity of bestowing divine life to the believer (walking and living by the Spirit) brings to maturity the mediating activity of the Word whom the Father sent.
The Roman Catholic Church downplayed the Spirit by its insistence that the sacraments worked by their operation and that the Eucharistic elements lost their earthly substance and gained a heavenly one (see Horton, 2017: 18). The Reformers retrieved the Spirit by emphasizing the necessity of the Spirit in the sacraments. By the Spirit, Calvin argued, we partake of divine benefits through the Lord’s Supper. It is the Spirit that does this. He and the other Reformers reclaimed the Spirit’s place at the centre of our faith.
Today, we might once again push the Spirit to the sidelines. We do so when we place him in the category of sanctifier alone or in a category of a mere energy for spiritual power. He is much more than that. He is Lord and Giver of life.