The Ministry of the Spirit
Any discussion on the church would be severely lacking without a close look at the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Without him, the church would never have been founded. Godly leaders would never have been called, believers added, gifts distributed, service rendered, or growth realized.
The Holy Spirit is mentioned some fifty-six times in the book of Acts as filling, helping, guiding, calling, aiding, growing, sanctifying, maturing, organizing, assisting, regenerating, teaching, testifying to, interceding for, reminding, grieving over, and loving believers, who make up the church. Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is no church. But with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the church shines forth beautifully as he makes her his glorious dwelling.
To comfort the hearts of his despondent disciples, who have just learned that Jesus will soon be leaving them, he promises them a “Helper” (John 14:16). Jesus unveils the identity and ministry of this divine Helper in subsequent verses:
- The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
- When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)
- Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
The Greek word used here in reference to the Holy Spirit is paraklētos, which means “one called to another’s side, specifically to help and aid.” It can also denote an intercessor, an assistant, or someone who pleads another’s cause before a judge. The word itself reveals the all-encompassing role of the Spirit within the body of Christ. He is our Helper, Intercessor, Assistant, Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, and Sustainer.
What love Jesus has for the church! He doesn’t leave her to fend for herself with her own devices, inventions, creativity, or wit. Surprisingly, he says, “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). If we listen closely, we can almost hear the disciples bemoan Jesus’s words. “What could possibly be good about you leaving us, Jesus?” Peter is so steadfast in his resolve that Jesus will not be leaving that he takes Jesus aside from the others and rebukes him (Matt. 16:21–23).
Yes, the disciples have a daunting and seemingly insurmountable task of walking in Jesus’s footsteps and continuing his ministry on earth. The proclamation of the gospel to the nations, the organization of the church, discipling believers, caring for orphans and widows, and all the rest—“You can’t leave us, Jesus! How are we to accomplish all of this?” In his love and comforting care of his disciples, he essentially says, “My Father will give you a Helper.”
The Holy Spirit is sufficiently enough to equip and empower you to discharge every aspect of the turning-the-world-upside-down ministry to which Jesus has called his church.
The exaltation of Christ to the right hand of the Father at his ascending enthronement and subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit can clearly be seen as advantageous after a quick survey of a few of the numerous ministries he performs within the church:
- He counsels (Isa. 11:2)
- He imparts wisdom (Isa. 11:2)
- He adopts (Rom. 8:15)
- He calls to ministry (Acts 13:2–4)
- He empowers (Acts 1:8)
- He illuminates (1 Cor. 2:10–13)
- He produces fruit (Gal. 5:22–23)
- He seals (2 Cor. 1:22)
- He strengthens (John 14:26)
- He helps (John 14:16)
- He intercedes (Rom. 8:26)
- He provides truth (John 14:17, 26)
- He teaches (Luke 12:12)
- He testifies (John 15:26)
- He guides (Acts 16:16–17)
- He grieves (Eph. 4:30)
- He convicts (2 Thess. 2:6–7)
- He loves (Rom. 5:5; 15:30)1
One characteristic we don’t often consider, and perhaps have never considered, as a ministry of the Holy Spirit is that of a beautifier. Each of the above ministries is for the purpose of beautifying the church in order to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
Like a bride waking up on her wedding day and spending hours perfecting her beauty, every aspect of the Spirit’s ministry to, in, and through the church is to make her holier and consequently more beautiful. Here we benefit again from the wisdom and insight of Jonathan Edwards, who believed sanctification—the inward transformation of our affections to make us more like Jesus—is beautification. That is, being made holy is being made beautiful. In his sermon “God’s Excellencies,” Edwards preached:
Holiness is the very beauty and loveliness of Jehovah himself. ’Tis the excellency of his excellencies, the beauty of his beauties, the perfection of his infinite perfections, and the glory of his attributes. What an honor, then, must it be to a creature who is infinitely below God, and less than he, to be beautified and adorned with this beauty, with that beauty which is the highest beauty of God himself, even holiness.2
This is the incomparable work of the Holy Spirit in the lives and hearts of every redeemed believer, to make us beautiful by making us like Christ. Edwards says we should be amazed that God would make any of his creatures holy, even the unfallen angels, but how much more glorious is it for God to “sanctify sinners—loathsome and abominable creatures—and make them like to himself.”3
This beautification process begins as we are brought into an intimate relationship with the one who is supremely beautiful and lovely. In John 16:14, Jesus emphasizes that the ministry of the Spirit is not to draw attention to himself but to glorify Christ, “for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” In all his conforming and transforming work in the life of individual believers and the life of the church, the Holy Spirit perpetually points to Jesus.
Glancing at Jesus doesn’t make sinners beautiful. Being a mere spectator of a local church doesn’t make sinners beautiful. Living on the edge of gospel-centered ministry doesn’t make sinners beautiful. The beauty for which we are saved is accomplished only through an intense, heartfelt stare at Jesus. We all know what it’s like to receive a glaring stare from a parent when we’ve disobeyed. Words aren’t necessary for a reprimand; the stare alone communicates the required level of conformity. Edwards says we need such a sight of the divine beauty of Christ that our hearts and wills bow before his loveliness. Naturally, as long as our redeemed souls are encased in sinful flesh, we oppose the Spirit’s work of beautifying holiness. But “one glimpse of the moral and spiritual glory of God, and supreme amiableness of Jesus Christ, shining into the heart, overcomes and abolishes this opposition, and inclines the soul to Christ.”4 When the Spirit causes the beauty of Christ to dawn in our hearts, all opposition to holiness flees, our eyes firmly rivet to his flawless loveliness, and we are made beautiful.
A chief work of the Spirit is to bring beauty out of chaos. In creation, the Spirit brought harmony out of formlessness and void (Gen. 1:2). In redemption, the Spirit brings life out of death and sin (John 3:5–6, 8). In sanctification, the Spirit brings beauty out of fallen flesh and wayward hearts (Rom. 8:9–11). The church becomes an instrument of Christ’s beaming radiance in the world through the individual expressions of the work of grace by the Spirit in the lives of believers.
This is a guest article by Dustin Benge, author of The Loveliest Place: The Beauty and Glory of the Church. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.
- For further investigation into the personhood of the Holy Spirit, see Biblical Doctrine, ed. John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 334–35.
- Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1720–1723, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach, vol. 10 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 430.
- Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1720–1723, 430.
- Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1743–1758, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach, vol. 25 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 635.