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This series will take us through big beliefs of faith, using the book Café Theology to consider the big story of God and how it affects our smaller stories of faith.
Week 6: The Role of the Spirit

This week, the Rev. Sharron Cox teaches on the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, focusing on the important work of the Spirit for us in our lives as Christians.

In terms of “copy” or “press,” the Holy Spirit seems to get short shrift in the Nicene Creed we recite each Sunday during worship. Yet, the Holy Spirit takes center stage in our Episcopal worship and prayers. The Spirit is invoked in the Eucharistic Prayer to make for us the common elements of bread and wine into holy elements of Christ’s Body and Blood, whether we believe these elements are symbols or they actually become the Body and Blood. Through other sacramental acts and rites, we call upon the Holy Spirit’s power to mark, strengthen, empower, bless, absolve and anoint us throughout every phase of the life of faith until, at death, we pray that the Spirit continues its work of sanctification, making us holy as we begin to enter into the eternal dwelling place of God (BCP 464). In the lives of Christians, the Holy Spirit not only creates and empowers us for life and ministry, but helps us grow in becoming holy.
The Bible is replete with evidence of the Holy Spirit and its work among the people of God. God’s Spirit is at work in the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. A wind, or spirit, from God is hovering over the dark waters before God speaks light into existence. In Genesis 2, God forms man out of the dust and breathes life into him. Psalm 33 attests to the Spirit of God as the source of life: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.” (Psalm 33:6) Throughout the Old Testament, we read of various people being equipped to serve God. A picture “emerges from the Old Testament… of a divine Spirit which is distinct from the Lord and yet equivalent to God’s creative and redemptive presence…[1] From this inheritance of their Jewish faith, the early followers of Jesus were able to see God’s Spirit at work in Jesus’ life and ministry in new ways, and they were promised that the Spirit would empower, comfort, counsel and abide in them to continue Christ’s mission (John 14-16).
It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to God and brings us into belief and repentance, enabling us to accept our status of children of God. The Spirit embeds itself in us and in our lives, and it is the Holy Spirit who continues to pour life into us as part of our ongoing conversion. The Spirit empowers us. The Spirit inspires the scriptures to guide and form us more into the likeness of Christ. The Spirit inspires creativity, resulting in a diverse humanity with differing gifts (Romans 12:6) for the mission of the Church and for all creation.  Evidence of this empowerment are the gifts given to Christians to assist in the ministry of the Church and the mission of Jesus Christ to the world.[2] St. Paul speaks of these gifts for ministry given by the Spirit in both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.
Yet, the role of the Holy Spirit is not just to empower Christians for life and ministry. The Spirit is also the one who sanctifies and makes holy the followers of Jesus as alluded to earlier. We are already made holy by our baptism, which grafts us into Christ Jesus as we are adopted as children of God, but growing in holiness requires our active involvement. In doing so, we grow to share in the holiness of Christ (Hebrews 12:10) by slowly being transformed into the likeness of Christ through the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).[3]
The work of growing in holiness is generally internal work. We need to cultivate the practice of being with God and being with God in prayer. For prayer is not just providing God with a daily “to-do” list. We actually need time to just be with God, turn our attention back to God and listen to God; a kind of prayer we often overlook. And we should infuse the things we do with prayer. When we come to worship, pray and ask the Spirit to reveal who God is calling you to be and become as you offer praise and thanksgiving through worship. When we read the scriptures, pray over what you are reading or have read. Listen for what God is telling you about your life and ministry through these very words. When we serve others, pray that the Spirit inspires you to learn more about loving, not just this particular neighbor for whom you are caring, but to grow in love for all people. For unless we grow in these virtues, these fruits (Galatians 5:22), and demonstrate an active love for our neighbors, self and God, we are not likely to grow in holiness.[4]
To summarize, the work of the Holy Spirit, as one of the three persons of the Trinity, is first through our initial conversion and then the ongoing process of our conversion, a “conversion of the heart,” if you will, as ancient writers were prone to describe it. Through the Spirit, humans are brought into relationship with God and are invited to build, heal, reconcile and restore that relationship when we fall away through selfishness, sin or apathy. By way of this ongoing conversion, we grow in holiness as we draw ever more close to God.
Questions for Reflection:
  • While most of us focus on the evidence and work of the Holy Spirit as recounted in the New Testament, where is similar evidence seen in the Old Testament? Who are some of the biblical characters through which the presence of the Holy Spirit is seen?
  • How has the Holy Spirit empowered you for ministry in the Church and in the world?
  • It is the Holy Spirit which draws people to God. How does the Spirit participate in a person’s conversion?
  • Sanctification is a very “church-y” word. What does it mean to you? Why should we seek continued sanctification?
A Prayer for this Week
Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer, p.251)

[1] Geoffrey Wainwright, “The Holy Spirit” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 276.
[2] Michael Lloyd, Café Theology: Exploring Love, the Universe and Everything (London: St. Paul’s Theological Centre, 2012), 245-284.
[3] Owen C. Thomas and Ellen K. Wondra, Introduction to Theology, 3rd. ed. (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2002), 220.
[4] Robert Davis Hughes III, Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008), 127.