St. Paul’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
The apostolic testimony to the Holy Spirit is given by Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude and the author of Hebrews. One thing must be stated at the outset regarding the apostolic theology of the Spirit. They all, with full consent, take for granted the corruption of man’s nature. Thus, they refer to the Spirit as the Originator and Source all the saving, sanctifying and comforting influences that Christians experience. 1 They do not stop to inquire how the renewing of the Holy Spirit is to be harmonized with the freedom of the will – as if these questions were not part of their concern. Nevertheless, the fact of men’s responsibility along with the proclamation of converting grace and the renewing of the Spirit is set forth with a gravity and exigency to which the solution of these questions could add no further weight – if it were possible to solve them.
We do not find in any of the apostles the sheer volume of allusions to the Holy Spirit’s work in saving and sanctifying as we find in the Epistles of St. Paul. This is most accurately, besides other reasons, to be ascribed to the fact that Paul had not know Christ after the flesh 2 but had received his revelations more through an inward communication of the Spirit than by direct discourse with the Lord. Paul has this distinguishing feature, quite different from the other apostles.
Paul most emphatically affirms that Christ is never to be conceived of apart from the Spirit, and, conversely, that the Spirit is never to be conceived of apart from Christ. The memorable passage where he says, “Now the Lord is that Spirit,” 3 shows the close connection in which Paul places Christ and the Spirit and how fully he understands their joint mission. We will look at several features of Paul’s theology of the Spirit, but the above point should be constantly borne in mind as the groundwork and underpinning for all of Paul’s understanding of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle gives us quite an ample testimony to the dignity of the Spirit. In Acts we find him saying that the Spirit spoke by the prophet Isaiah 4 and that the Spirit testified from city to city that bonds and imprisonment awaited him. 5 In his own Epistles, Paul declares that the Holy Spirit sustained him in his ministry. 6 Paul appeals to the Spirit and calls Him to witness. 7 But in demonstration of the aforementioned connection in Paul’s theology of the work of the Son and the Spirit, we advert to the fact that Paul uses the same expression, sent forth (εξαπεστειλεν), to describe the Spirit’s mission as he used to describe the Son’s mission 8
The titles Paul uses for the Holy Spirit are quite numerous, and revealing of his understanding as well. For instance, he calls Him the Spirit of God, 9 the Spirit of His Son, 10 the Spirit of Christ 11 and the Spirit of Him that raised Christ from the dead.12 If we look at the economy in which the Spirit is sent, He is said to be shed on us abundantly. 13 If we examine the titles He is given by Paul in view of the blessings and benefits derived from Him, He is called the Spirit of grace, 14 the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, 15 the Spirit of adoption, 16 the Spirit of life, 17 the Spirit of meekness 18 and the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 19
Paul invariably attributes to the Spirit the instigation of the Christian life. Thus we find him saying, “No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” 20 And in another place he says, “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” 21 Whether or not we interpret the phrase “washing (laver) of regeneration,” as referring to baptism (which is not correct), the last phrase (renewing of the Holy Ghost) must be construed as referring to the active operation of the Spirit at the commencement of the Christian life. Since it is to this shedding or pouring out of the Spirit to which salvation is traced, this cannot be referred to mere doctrine. The personal Spirit is mentioned as the producing cause.
One may ask how men can said to be saved by the renewing of the Spirit when the salvation is in Christ. The answer is obvious. There is a chain, or series of events, of which no link may be lacking.
We are saved by divine purpose. God has so decreed and chosen us to salvation before the foundation of the world.
We are saved by the atonement as the meritorious basis of all.
We are saved by faith as the bond of union to Christ. We are saved by grace as contrasted to works we have done.
We are saved by the truth that conveys God’s testimony.
And we are saved, as it expressed here, “by the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” as producing faith in the heart. So we find the Spirit called the Spirit of faith, 22 that is, the Author or producing cause of faith.
Therefore we may unhesitatingly affirm that the commencement of the Christian life must be attributed to the Holy Spirit absolutely and completely.
Of all Paul’s epistles, it is perhaps to the Galatians that his doctrine on the economy of the Spirit is most full. This was, of course, due to the circumstances which necessitated the letter in the first place. We are all perhaps conversant with the history of the Galatian church. They had no sooner been founded than they were subjected to the test of counterfeit teachers. Representatives from the Pharisaical party of the Jews insisted that an adherence to certain Jewish rites was necessary for justification before God. Paul replied to this error by stating that they had not received the Spirit through works of the Law, but by the preaching of faith. The ordinary saving gifts of regeneration and holiness, as well as other supernatural gifts, were not received by any performance of the ceremonial and moral law.
The next thing Paul demonstrates is that the promised Spirit was procured by the vicarious death of Christ. This proves the assertion made earlier about Paul’s view of the joint mission of Son and Spirit. The giving of the Spirit is connected with the atonement. Paul says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” 23 The meaning of this passage is that the death of Christ was the purchase of this gift – the promised Spirit. The final article (ινα) leans on the words that describe Christ’s sacrifice.
Next Paul describes the Spirit of adoption as given only to those who are sons by faith. 24 This is to further show that works are excluded and that the reception of the promised Spirit is exclusively due to the merits of Christ. This is why he says, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” 25
The last part of the Epistle displays the Spirit’s work in another light. The last two chapters set forth the graces of the Spirit and the Christian’s fruitfulness. The same Apostle who, in the first part of the Epistle was anxious to assert the Christian’s freedom and bid that we stand fast in it, is not less anxious to set forth the Spirit’s renewing and sanctifying influence. As the believer’s being led by the Spirit, Paul adduces their liberty from the curse of the law as a proof. 26 Then after cataloging the works of the flesh, he specifies as the fruit of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and temperance.” 27 He calls these fruit, as if they grew on a living tree. George Smeaton asserts that Paul means that against such people there is no law, arguing that των τοιουτων is an allusion to people. 28 Thus from living by the Spirit Paul argues the duty of walking by the Spirit 29 and concludes by referring to the duty of sowing to the Spirit. 30
In short, we may say that in Paul’s theology, the Spirit is the Source of the saving faith of believers, the Renewer of their natures and the Sanctifier of their lives. All these operations of the Spirit are connected to the work of the Son. Never do we find in Paul the work of the Spirit mentioned without a direct link to the work of the Son. This is, to my mind, the one distinctive feature of Paul’s theology of the Holy Spirit. This is exactly as it should be, for Christ Himself said, “He will glorify me.” 31
1. See Eph. 3:16; Rom. 15:13
2. 2 Cor. 5:16
3. 2 Cor. 3:17
4. Acts 28:25
5. Acts 20:23
6. Rom. 15:19
7. Rom. 9:1
8. Gal. 4:4-6
9 Rom. 8:9
10. Gal. 4:6
11. Rom. 8:9
12. Rom. 8:11
13. Tit. 3:6
14. Heb. 10:29
15. Eph. 1:17
16. Rom. 8:15
17. Rom. 8:2
18. Gal. 6:1
19. 2 Tim. 1:7
20. 1 Cor. 12:3
21. Tit. 3:5
22. 2 Cor. 4:13
23. Gal. 3:13-14
24. Gal. 4:6
25. Italics mine
26. Gal. 5:18
27. Gal. 5:22
28. George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
29. Gal. 5:25
30. Gal. 6:8
31. John 16:1