Why the Holy Spirit matters: Christianity and the importance of the Spirit

In a passage made famous for its teaching about spiritual gifts, Paul begins by stating emphatically, 'No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.' (1 Corinthians 12:3). Today, the Holy Spirit is well known for his role as author and distributor of gifts. But to begin with, our very faith in Jesus and our profession of faith in Jesus (the two always go together if our Christianity is sincere) is a change that is effected in us by the Holy Spirit: to come under the subjection of the Lordship of Jesus is a work of the Spirit of God that no one is sufficient for themselves.

In Book I of The Holy Spirit, John Owen outlines what he calls 'General principles concerning the Holy Spirit and his work'. And he begins with something of an outline as to why the subject of the Spirit really does matter so very much. And I've tried to summarise the first part of that outline here with five reasons why the Holy Spirit matters:

1. Our salvation depends on the Holy Spirit

God gives his Spirit to save sinners. Two promises run throughout the Scriptures in salvation history from the beginning of sin: 1. God's Son would take on our nature and suffer for us, and 2. God's Spirit would make effectual to us his obedience and suffering for us. These 'two great means of recovering fallen man' are: 1. God gave his Son for us and 2. God gives his Spirit to us.

2. Genuine Christianity depends on the Holy Spirit

The reception of the Holy Spirit is the mark of genuine Christianity. Jesus promised to send the Spirit, not only to the Apostles and first Christians, but also to 'all who would believe in him through their word' (John 17:20). Christ sends the Spirit to supply his own absence, and ultimately to bring us to himself. 'If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ' (Romans 8:9).

3. The work of the gospel depends on the Holy Spirit

The effectiveness of the gospel depends on the Spirit. The gospel is itself called the 'ministry of the Spirit' (2 Corinthians 3:6-8). Without the Spirit the gospel would be dead and ineffectual. And to separate the gospel from the Spirit is to reject it, and to kill it. (Isaiah 59:21).

4. The Christian life depends on the Holy Spirit

Whatever God works in us, God works by his Spirit. And there is nothing done by us that is acceptable to God but that which is an effect of the Spirit's operation.

5. Condemnation depends on the Holy Spirit

The only unforgivable sin is against the Holy Spirit, because -- as God has no other Son to offer for our sins if he be rejected -- God has no other Spirit to make Christ's work effectual to us if the Holy Spirit is despised.

The importance of the Spirit

Today Pentecostals continue to emphasise the importance of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism emerged as a movement, now over a century ago, intent on bringing the role of the Spirit back into focus, primarily because it felt that his work had been neglected in the Church largely since 'early times'. And to be sure, the Pentecostal desire has got something unequivocally right.

The importance of the subject is immeasurable because the necessity of the Holy Spirit's work is absolute: Our salvation, Christianity itself, the gospel, Christian growth and the condemnation of the unforgiven, all depend critically on the Holy Spirit, both his person and operation. The Spirit matters because God gives the Spirit to save us.


Owen, John. The Holy Spirit--His Gifts and Power. Christian Focus Publications 2004, p. 39-47.

No comments: