by Dr. Lewis W. Spitz Sr.
“I believe in the Holy Ghost,” Christians confess. Who is this Holy Ghost? God’s people have always known the answer, but in the fourth century of our era some false teachers refused to accept it. Some refuse to accept it today. Therefore it is necessary to repeat the question and to insist on the right answer.
Only the Bible has the right answer. On the basis of the Bible the Christian church in the fourth century confessed its faith in these words of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”
The church was determined to leave no doubt as to its firm faith in the Holy Ghost as God and Lord.
The Holy Ghost, True God
Years later Christians decided to spell out still more fully and clearly their faith in the deity of the Holy Ghost. In the Athanasian Creed they declared: “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.”
If the Bible did not teach this doctrine, no one could believe it. But here it is: “The Lord, our God, is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). “There is none other God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4). The Old and the New Testament agree. But Jesus commands Holy Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19). Thus there are three divine Persons in this divine Unity.
“In this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another.” The Holy Ghost is called the Third Person of the Trinity; not that He is less God than the Father and the Son, but because He is named in the third place and proceeds from the Father and the Son.
God’s people are God’s temple because the Spirit of God dwells in them. St. Paul asked the Christians at Corinth: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). That is as clear as calling the Holy Spirit God. What an important temple God’s people are; God dwells in them. Therefore, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:17).
A terrible tragedy brought this home to the young church in Jerusalem. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit and died, because in lying to Him they lied to God. They defiled the temple of God, and God destroyed them.
Creator and Lord
“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding,” God said to Job (Job 38:4). Job had not been there, but God’s Spirit was. God’s Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, created the heaven and the earth. When the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The psalmist says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth” (Ps. 33:6). Therefore he exhorts: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (v. 8). To pay such a tribute to anyone but God would be idolatry, but it is proper thus to honor the Holy Ghost as Creator and Lord.
Omnipresent and Omniscient
Things are said of the Father and of the Son that can be said of God alone, but the same things are said of the Holy Ghost. As they are, such is He. There is no hiding from the all-seeing eyes of God. That is a terrifying thought for God’s foes; it is a comforting thought for His friends.
This comforting thought God’s people owe to His Holy Spirit, omnipresent and omniscient. David says: “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 139:7–10).
As the all-knowing God, the Holy Spirit knows the thoughts of all men and the inmost thoughts of the Holy Trinity. The hidden wisdom of God which none of the princes of this world knew, the things which God prepared for them that love Him–these the Holy Spirit knew, for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10). Only God’s Holy Spirit could reveal them as He did in the Gospel.
No human philosopher could ever have thought of God’s plan of salvation in the gift of His Son for the redemption of a sinful world (1 Cor. 2:14). The Holy Spirit participated in that plan and had a vital part in carrying it out.
Conceived by the Holy Ghost
Adam could have spoken the words of Elihu: “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the Breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4). Alas! Adam sinned and died. To restore man to life, God Himself had to become man. How could He? The angel said to Mary: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
The Holy Ghost has made it possible for God’s people to say: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.”
Indeed, my Lord! There is no doubt about His lordship. The Holy Spirit saw to that. At our Lord’s Baptism the Spirit descended from heaven like a dove and abode on Him. John the Baptist saw it and was convinced. God had assured him: “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1:33). John saw and bore record that this is the Son of God.
The Spirit Abode on Jesus
Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. The battle between the serpent and the Woman’s Seed was on. Jesus was the Victor, but the struggle was only begun. The battle for men’s souls now shifted to Nazareth.
Taking His text from Isaiah, the Lord preached His first sermon there. He read the words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). On these words He based His message.
John the Baptist was right when he pointed to Him on whom the Spirit abode and exclaimed: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
The Spirit on God’s People
Christ, anointed with the Holy Spirit, baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. To share that miracle, we go to Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection. There the Lord poured His Spirit upon His disciples. Cloven tongues like as of fire appeared to them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The Comforter, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father sent in the name of Christ, taught them all things and brought all things to their remembrance whatsoever Jesus had said unto them. Now the disciples understood the things which their divine Teacher had taught them, and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, they could not but speak of the things which they had seen and heard.
As the disciples spoke, the Holy Spirit was again at work. He called their hearers by the Gospel, enlightened them with His gifts, and kept them in the true faith. So on that day they that gladly received the Word of God were baptized, and there were added to the number of believers about three thousand souls.
Rivers of Living Water Then
The miracle of Pentecost was not limited to one day, as people are often inclined to think. Later the Christians in Samaria received the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:17). The Holy Ghost fell on all who heard the Word in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:44). Paul, baptized by Ananias in Damascus, was filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 9:17). Thus Jesus continued to baptize with the Holy Ghost.
In the early days of the New Testament church the gift of the Holy Ghost was accompanied by certain signs and wonders, such as the cloven tongues of fire. Such visible demonstrations of the Spirit’s presence are no longer needed. The Holy Ghost has demonstrated His presence and divine power by firmly planting the Christian church on earth and by keeping it, through the Gospel and the sacraments, with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
Rivers of Living Water Now
Jesus Christ continues to send the Comforter and to baptize with His Spirit those that gladly receive the Word. All of God’s baptized people must say: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior” (Titus 3:5–6).
God’s people cannot keep the gift of the Holy Ghost for themselves. Jesus said: “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). This He spoke of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive.
Encouraged by the Savior’s promise, God’s people go and make disciples through Holy Baptism and the teaching of God’s Word. They know that the Holy Ghost will continue to build the church by bringing people to saving faith in Jesus and that He will keep them in the faith.
The Guarantee of Our Inheritance
“And the life everlasting”–thus ends the Apostles’ Creed. How fitting–also for a meditation on God’s Holy Spirit!
Praising and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul says: “In Him you also, who have heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13–14 RSV).
Reprinted from the May 31, 1960, Lutheran Witness. LCMS congregations may reprint for parish use. All other rights reserved.
About the Author: Dr. Lewis W. Spitz Sr. graduated in 1918 from the “old seminary” on South Jefferson Avenue in St. Louis and then served parishes in Lovell, Wyo., and Bertrand and Blue Hill, Neb. In 1926, he was called to St. Paul’s College, Concordia, Mo. In an era when going to graduate school was rare, Prof. Spitz earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. In 1946, he was called to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where he taught systematic theology until his 1972 retirement. He contributed essays and chapters to various publications and authored a popular biography of C. F. W. Walther.
Always interested in the Synod’s future pastors, he conversed with students on his walks through the seminary campus well into his retirement years. Also, he was keen to make Lutheran theology accessible and useful to laypeople, as evidenced by The Lutheran Witness material reprinted here. He died in 1996 at age 100.