When Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed, we pay close attention to the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and to Jesus Christ, his Son and our Lord. But of the third member of the Trinity, we say only, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Granted, later creeds and confessions have more to say about the Spirit, but most of these still tend to say much more about the Father and the Son.
Although some Christian traditions today focus more on the person and work of the Holy Spirit (for example, Pentecostalism and its developments), most Christians give much more attention to the Father and the Son. In the 1980s, two theologians even wrote a book called The Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity. Is the Holy Spirit really the “shy member of the Trinity”? How much attention should we give to him in our prayers, worship, and devotion? Does the Spirit even want our attention?
One with Father and Son
To begin to answer these questions, we have to admit that the Holy Spirit is often misunderstood. In fact, in a 2014 Ligonier survey, 50 percent of self-identified evangelicals said they think the Holy Spirit is more like a force than a person. I suspect those numbers have not improved in the years since. The Holy Spirit is not some kind of mystical power that mysteriously binds the universe together and helps Luke Skywalker move objects with his mind. Throughout the Bible, we see that the Holy Spirit is an active divine person, fully engaged in the mission of God in the world.
“The Holy Spirit is an active divine person, fully engaged in the mission of God in the world.”
As one of the three persons of the one God, the Spirit shares a single divine will with the Father and the Son. More than that, in a real sense, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit also share the same actions. When the Father acts, the Son and the Spirit act as well. This does not mean that the Father or the Spirit became incarnate, but it does mean that all three members of the Trinity operated in the incarnation. As Adonis Vidu puts it, they “share the same agency, and thus the same operations.” When we pray to the Father and he acts, the Son and the Spirit are acting with him.
Therefore, there is a sense in which we cannot separate worship and prayer to the Father and the Son from worship and prayer to the Spirit. Even still, the Gospel of John clearly speaks about the Son glorifying the Father (John 13:31; 17:1), and both the Father and the Spirit glorifying the Son (John 13:31; 16:14; 17:1). But who glorifies the Spirit? Just how much attention does he want?
God’s New-Covenant Gift
The Spirit’s mission in the plan of redemption is to point to Jesus. But this mission does not minimize the Spirit; rather, it again demonstrates the profound unity of the Godhead. Consider Jesus’s words about the Spirit in John 16:14: “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Jesus is probably referring here to the inspiration of the New Testament, which would be largely written by his apostles. In other words, the New Testament tells us that the Spirit is the active agent who gives shape to the New Testament. Peter says that something similar happened in the Old Testament: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The point in both texts is that the Holy Spirit is the primary agent and author of Scripture. This alone makes him worthy of our attention and adoration.
Not only should we give the Spirit attention because he is a member of the Trinity and he is the primary author of the Scriptures, but in our daily lives, God calls us to consciously depend on the Holy Spirit. If we are united by faith to Jesus, then we have received the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38). This is one reason the new covenant is so amazing: all the people of God get the gift of the Spirit so that all the people of God are equipped for God’s calling on us.
If you are a part of his people, you too will receive and display the work of the Spirit as he empowers you to accomplish his mission. To walk in daily obedience to our King Jesus, to love each other, and to come together as churches seeking to reach our neighbors and the nations is a miraculous work of the Spirit. Every Christian can lean into these truths — because we believe in the Holy Spirit, and we believe that under the new covenant, all of God’s people have been given the Spirit.
Seeking the Spirit’s Strength
We can see the transformative power of the Spirit more clearly in a text like Romans 8. In the first part of Romans 8, Paul writes, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). As a result of this work, we walk according to the Spirit and are not obligated to the flesh (Romans 8:12–15). We have the Spirit, so we are no longer enslaved to sin.
Paul continues, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). The next verse describes putting to death the deeds of the body as being “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14). We follow the Spirit where he leads us, and he leads us toward conformity to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).
John Calvin said, “The advancement of every man in godliness is the secret work of the Spirit” (Institutes 3.24.13). But the Spirit’s secret work does not make us passive. Romans 8, and other texts like it, indicate that we can actively seek the help of the Holy Spirit as he sustains us and conforms us to the image of Jesus. We cannot be transformed into the image of Jesus if we do not consciously depend on the Spirit. So, it is right and good to ask the Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us to fight sin. We can ask him to transform us into the image of Jesus.
Should we pray to the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. When we confess our belief in the Holy Spirit, we affirm his divine personhood and equality with the Father and the Son. We also confess that he gives power to every follower of Jesus to grow in Christlikeness, and so we can lean on him for daily, even moment-by-moment, help.
“We can pray to the Spirit, glorify him, and seek to be empowered by him.”
Even as we give attention to the Spirit, we should not forget John 16:14: the Spirit glorifies Jesus. Nor should we forget that Jesus teaches us to address “our Father” in prayer (Matthew 6:9). So, if we prayed exclusively to the Holy Spirit or talked only about glorifying the Spirit, this would not fit with the New Testament’s emphasis on the roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption. We ought to pray often to the Father to transform us into the image of his Son. But even as we do so, we recognize that this prayer will not be answered apart from the work of the Spirit.
So, let’s give proper attention to the Holy Spirit. In this glorious new-covenant era, the Holy Spirit himself empowers us for Christ’s mission and transforms us into Christ’s image. We can pray to him, glorify him, and seek to be empowered by him.