Basic Axioms on The Holy Spirit

Basic Axioms on The Holy Spirit

Given that the Spirit is one with the Father and the Son from eternity, he is to be worshiped with them in one united act of adoration. We were all baptized into the one name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since God is one indivisible being, it is inconceivable that the Spirit could be anything less than the full unqualified God and so worthy of our worship and service. The Holy Spirit is one being (homoousios) with the Father and the Son, one in wisdom, power, and glory.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (C), composed in A.D. 381, sums up the considered biblical exegesis and doctrinal commitments of the church at the time. It has been recognized as authoritative through the centuries in both East and West.

We Believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life

Creator and Sustainer of the Universe

The Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, is confessed as the Creator of all contingent life. The one holy, catholic, and apostolic church acknowledges that the Father Almighty is the Creator of heaven and earth, that Jesus Christ is the one by whom all things were made, and that the Holy Spirit is the author and giver of life. In short, all three persons work together inseparably according to their distinct hypostatic particularities. In the case of the creation, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of creation (Gen. 1:2) and the created entities were brought forth by the breath of God’s mouth (Ps. 33:6–9). This mirrors the Trinitarian structure of C, with sections devoted to each hypostasis, demonstrating an awareness of their indivisibility.

This entails that the Spirit pervades the entire creation, inseparably from the Father and the Son. It demonstrates that all life is sacred insofar as it ultimately stems from God, who brought all entities other than himself into existence and continues to sustain them by his almighty power. I recall making vacation trips on a number of occasions to see family members in the USA from our home in Britain. Away for three weeks, we left in spring as the leaves were appearing on the trees and the stems were poking through the soil. What a change there was upon our return! The garden was now ablaze with color, vegetation having sprung up seemingly from nowhere. What power there was in the life force that animated each plant, shrub, and tree! It was the Holy Spirit that did it, giving vibrant life and exquisite beauty to each part, a sumptuous feast for the eyes. He also allowed a goodly number of weeds! These we were responsible to eliminate.

We cannot identify this beautiful and infinitely varied scene with the divine; that would be pantheism. Gustav Mahler gave a title to the first movement of his vast Third Symphony, “Pan awakes: summer marches in.” While we may appreciate his love of nature, such a sentiment fails to reckon with the distinction between Creator and creature. Nor, for the same reasons, can we accept the panentheist notion that creation and Creator are mutually dependent. On the other hand, it is all too easy to assume that the created order—my garden being part of it—develops simply of itself, independent of its Creator; that is deism and, I fear, is more common than we might suppose. No, the Holy Spirit gives life to the vegetation, the trees and plants around us, and sustains it by his mighty power, in accordance with his immanent causes, such as sunshine and rainfall. This helps us to appreciate how agricultural fruitfulness was listed as one of the blessings Yahweh promised to Israel in his covenant, upon the people’s faithful fulfillment of their obligations. All contingent life owes its existence to the Holy Spirit, not to innate powers of “Mother Nature.” It commits us to nurture, cultivate, and preserve the environment.

He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, The breezes and the sunshine, and soft, refreshing rain.1

Source of Eternal Life

This leads on to the reality that the Spirit is the source of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He transforms us into the image of God (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Peter 1:4). It was the Spirit of the Father that raised Christ, the Son, from the dead and will raise us too in union with the Son (Rom. 8:10–11; 1 Cor. 15:35–58; Phil. 3:20–21). He is the guarantee of the final renewal of the entire cosmos, concurrent with the redemption of the church (Rom. 8:18–23). In all these great works, all three Trinitarian persons work together without separation. Thus, not only is the Spirit the giver of life (Ps. 104:29–30), but behind that he is the Lord of life, since he is life itself.

Who Proceeds from the Father and the Son


The internal relations of the Trinity exhibit an order. While a range of orders are presented in the New Testament, indicating the equality of all three persons and their identical being, nevertheless there is a recurrent pattern throughout the Bible in creation, providence, and grace. This pattern reflects who God is in himself.

This internal order is from the Father through or in the Son and by the Holy Spirit. As Basil argued, we should not be too insistent on the prepositions, since what is most significant is what is intended. All three are one identical being, equal in status and in possession of all divine attributes. The order does not affect these realities, but is the way in which the three subsistent hypostases relate to one another. Thus, the Father generates the Son, spirates the Spirit, and is neither begotten nor proceeds; the Son is begotten and does not proceed; and the Spirit does not beget nor is begotten, but proceeds from the Father in and through the Son.


These processions are reflected in the external works of God in creation, providence, and grace. In the case of the Spirit, he proceeds from the Father in and through the Son, while in relation to the creation he is sent by the Father and the Son. We can see this at the Jordan when Jesus was baptized. There the Spirit descended from the Father, not as a dove but “like a dove” (Mark 1:10), and came to rest on the Son. That was for the purpose that the Son would bestow him on his people. This pattern is evident in the missions as recorded in the Bible and in the ongoing work of God thereafter. In John Owen’s words, “the order of operation among the distinct persons depends on the order of their subsistence” in the Trinity. The missions reflect the processions. In every work of God, however, “the concluding, completing, perfecting acts are ascribed unto the Holy Ghost.”2 Or as Abraham Kuyper put it, “in every work effected by Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in common, the power to bring forth proceeds from the Father, the power to arrange from the Son; the power to perfect from the Holy Spirit.”3 Both echo John Calvin, who wrote that to the Father “is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.”4 Yet there is a difference. The processions are necessary acts, inherent in the nature of God. The missions are the consequences of his will. They might not have been, without any detriment to God’s own being or to the processions themselves. Owen describes them as voluntary acts and not necessary properties.5

Who Together with the Father and the Son Is Worshiped and Adored

Given that the Spirit is one with the Father and the Son from eternity, he is to be worshiped with them in one united act of adoration. We were all baptized into the one name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since God is one indivisible being, it is inconceivable that the Spirit could be anything less than the full unqualified God and so worthy of our worship and service. The Holy Spirit is one being (homoousios) with the Father and the Son, one in wisdom, power, and glory.

While there are no explicit statements to this effect in the New Testament, all that the New Testament teaches demands it. In consequence, we can see the threefold patterns in the letters of Paul and Peter, the baptismal formula, the apostolic benedictions in that light.6 While there is no express example of prayer being specifically offered to the Spirit, as there is to the Father and the Son, it is because our prayers are offered in the Spirit (Rom. 8:26–27; Jude 20). Moreover, since the three are indivisible, where the Father or the Son is mentioned, all three are entailed. That is why it is by the Holy Spirit that we have access through Christ, the Son, to the Father (Eph. 2:18). From this, it is clear that the Spirit is “in himself a distinct, living, powerful, intelligent divine person; for none other can be the author of those internal and external divine acts and operations which are ascribed unto him.”7

Who Spoke by the Prophets

The Bible itself is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. As the breath of God, he inspired the Old Testament prophets and the biblical authors. Paul teaches that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). This is a reference to the Spirit. As we will see, pneuma means “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit,” according to the context. There is a frequent overlap in usage, and the Spirit is compared to the wind or the breath of God on more than one occasion (Pss. 33:6–9; 104:29–30; Ezek. 37:1–14; John 3:5–14).

Moreover, in 2 Peter 1:20–21, Peter describes the Spirit’s work in the production of Scripture: “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit was the primary author who supervened, directing the thoughts and words of the human writers in such a way that they themselves were fully responsible and wrote according to their own particular character and inclinations.

Excerpt taken from Chapter 4: Basic Axioms, The Holy Spirit by Robert Letham, published by P&R. Used with permission.

  1. From Matthias Claudius, “We Plow the Fields and Scatter” (1782), trans. Jane M. Campbell (1861).
  2. John Owen, A Discourse concerning the Holy Spirit (1674), in The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (London: Banner of Truth, 1965–68), 3:94.
  3. Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. Henri De Vries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1900), 19.
  4. John Calvin, Institutes, 1.13.18.
  5. Owen, Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:117. This is correct, as long as one understands, as Owen does, that these are not three separate wills but rather one indivisible will express in its hypostatic distinctions.
  6. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, rev. and expanded ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019), 47–69.
  7. Owen, Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:67–68.
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