The Spirit of God in the Mission of God: New Testament Letters

Here’s today’s Installment of “The Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit“:

The Spirit in the Letters of the New Testament

Much could be said about the Holy Spirit in the letters of the New Testament. The scope of this project, and the attention we have given to the Spirit in John and Acts, means we must limit this treatment to a mere summary of the various ministries of the Spirit reflected in the letters of the New Testament.[1]

Jesus offered himself through the Spirit to cleanse believers from sin (Heb 9:14). The Spirit works with Jesus to justify believers (1 Cor 6:11). Jesus was raised from the dead and declared triumphant by the Spirit (Rom 1:4; 8:11; 1 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 3:18). The Spirit attested to Jesus by various signs and wonders (Rom 15:19; Heb 2:4).

As noted above, a number of texts indicate that the Spirit’s work of regeneration in the new covenant corresponds to the Spirit’s work in heart circumcision under that old covenant (cf. Jer 6:9–10; Rom 2:29; Col 2:11–13). Many texts speak of the Spirit’s regenerating work, the new birth which enables people to perceive what they cannot perceive apart from the Spirit (1 Cor 2:12–14; 2 Cor 3:3, 6, 8; Gal 3:2, 3, 5, 14; 4:29; 1 Thess 1:5; Tit 3:5). Some texts explicitly state that apart from the Spirit one is not able to please God (Rom 8:8–9; 1 Cor 12:3; cf. Jude 1:19), making the Spirit the determining factor in whether one belongs to God (1 John 4:2, 6). Connected to this, it is the Spirit who reveals God, whether the revelation is Scriptural (1 Cor 7:40; Eph 3:5; 1 Tim 4:1; Heb 3:7; 9:8; 10:15; 1 Pet 1:11–12; 2 Pet 1:21) or an existential experience of the Spirit illuminating one to understand what God has done (1 Cor 2:10; Eph 1:17; 1 John 5:6, 8).

When believers are baptized in water, they become partakers of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). The reception of the Spirit is the reception of sonship in relation to God (Rom 8:15), and Paul can also say that God gives the Spirit to those who are sons (Gal 4:6). The Spirit gifts believers in various ways, and all these gifts are for the edification of the church (1 Cor 12:4–31; cf. 2 Cor 6:6).[2]

A number of texts refer to the indwelling ministry of the Spirit (Rom 8:9–11, 23; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13; 2:22; Phil 2:1; 1 Thess 4:8; 2 Tim 1:14; 1 Pet 4:14). Some texts speak of the Spirit and prayer (Rom 8:26; 9:1; Jude 1:20). The Spirit’s role in sanctifying believers is often in view (Rom 5:5; 7:6; 8:2–14, 26; 14:17; 15:13, 16, 30; Gal 5:5, 16–25; 6:8; Eph 3:16; 4:3, 30; 5:18; 6:17; Phil 1:19; 3:3; Col 1:8; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 2:13; Heb 10:29; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 John 3:24; 4:13). Some texts, like Matthew 28:18–20, are significant for our understanding of the triunity of God (see Rom 5:1–5; 2 Cor 3:17–18; 13:14; Eph 2:18; 4:4–6; 1 Pet 1:2).


[1] For discussion of the Spirit and spiritual gifts in Paul’s theology, see Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 307–70. See also Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994).

[2] There is not space here to develop these ideas, but see Schreiner’s discussion of spiritual gifts in Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 351–70, and for my take on the view that some gifts have ceased, see on Apostles, “So, Aren’t We All Cessationists (at least on this point)” available online: https://jimhamilton.wordpress.com/2008/05/23/so-aren%e2%80%99t-we-all-cessationists-at-least-on-this-point/; and on prophecy: “What Is Prophecy and Has It Ceased?” available online: https://jimhamilton.wordpress.com/2006/08/29/what-is-prophecy-and-has-it-ceased/.

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To see all the posts in this series, go to the category “The Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit.”

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