Many Christians who embrace Reformed Theology have a serious problem with the Holy Spirit. At least, I know that I, as a Christian firmly committed to Reformed Theology, have had a serious problem with the Holy Spirit for much of my life. We Reformed Christians love the Father, and we are crazy about the Son, but, to be honest, the Holy Spirit makes us feel a little uncomfortable.
To be precise, we are a bit suspicious of the Holy Spirit, in large part because we imagine that he is the rogue agent of the Trinity. Since we (rightly) magnify the eternal covenant of redemption forged between the Father and the Son in order to accomplish the salvation of God’s people, we naturally begin to distrust the Holy Spirit because we do not see how he is in any way related to this work of the Father and the Son.
For a variety of reasons, God has begun to challenge and transform my view of the Holy Spirit, especially by introducing me to the theology of the Holy Spirit within historic Reformed Theology. (B. B. Warfield, for example, described John Calvin as the “Theologian of the Holy Spirit.”) Reformed theologians have never viewed the Holy Spirit as a loose cannon, always doing something exciting, irrational, and emotional, but as the Person of the Trinity who applies to us everything that the Father sent his Son Jesus Christ to accomplish.
This is the fundamental division in the two parts of John Murray’s famous book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied–the work of Christ in accomplishing redemption, and the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the redemption that Christ accomplished.
Moreover, Puritan John Owen states the issue bluntly:
There never was, nor is, nor ever will be the least particle of holiness in the world, but what flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel. (The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power, 248.)
Better than the analogy of the Holy Spirit as rogue agent, we might think of the Holy Spirit as the Treasurer of the Trinity. On this analogy, we recognize that the Father has sent his Son to purchase an infinite treasury of grace for his people–a treasury purchased by the Son’s own blood. Only the Holy Spirit, however, is authorized to sign the checks for withdrawals from that treasury. We do not experience “the least particle of holiness” or of grace or of glory, except that which is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit himself.
I hope to write more about this in the coming weeks and months, especially as I have been in the middle of a sermon series on the Holy Spirit at First Evangelical Covenant Church in Lincoln, NE.