The day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, just seems weird. Flaming tongues of fire that didn’t burn? Spontaneously generated languages? For those of us handicapped by a dominant thinking function (e.g., yours truly): Umm… No thank you. Gospel, yes. Jesus, yes. But this Spirit character, yikes.
Yet, however much the name “Spirit” and the symbolism of descending doves and flaming tongues might ignite the imagination, it needs to be said that the Holy Spirit is not Casper the Friendly Ghost, He’s not a “good vibration” or a warm sensation. He is, as Christians confess, “the Lord and giver of life, proceeding from both the Father and the Son” with the same mission as the Father and the Son.
Having just celebrated Pentecost, I wanted to reflect on the one who Jesus calls “the Helper.” In a three-part series, we’ll ask, “Who is the Holy Spirit and what does he do?”
Our answer will be: he is a conveyor of truth; a creator out of nothing; and a comforter of the afflicted.
The Conveyor of Truth
Acts 2:17-21 records Peter, quoting from the prophet Joel, speaking to a shocked and skeptical crowd:
In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
The Holy Spirit conveys the truth—about God, about us, and our situation. Just like God spoke in the beginning, and Jesus, the incarnate Word, spoke during his earthly ministry, so too does the Spirit speak, conveying the truth through Peter to others.
But the Spirit does more than speak “through the creature to the creature” (Hamann); He both empowers proclamation and enables hearing. It is by the Spirit that one can announce the great deeds of God and it is by the same Spirit that the ears of the deaf are opened. John Calvin writes,
For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded.
We can read the Bible and we can hear words proclaimed, but it is by the Spirit alone that we come to know, to believe, to comprehend, that this word applies to us. For the word of God is beyond my reason. The word describing how I have fallen short of the law and that I’m a sinner in need of an Other who can rescue me, actually falls on deaf ears.
It is by the power of the Spirit that I see myself in light of the proclaimed truth: that I am indeed a sinner and desperately in need of a Savior. This is beyond my common sense and my upbringing, even against whatever philosophy I’m currently ascribing to. In order for me to believe this word, I need my ears to be unstopped and my eyes to be open. The Holy Spirit conveys the truth to those who are deaf and blind to it.
But this conveying of the truth doesn’t stop once I’ve been made a Christian by faith, because I perpetually need to hear the proclamation of what God has done for me, for us, on our behalf in spite of ourselves. In this way, the Spirit works through conviction and assurance (or reassurance). The Spirit comes, says Jesus, both to convict the world if sin (John 16:8) and to witness to Jesus (John 15:26). In other words, the Spirit preaches the law and the gospel. By telling the truth the Spirit points me past the lie of my “goodness” to the reality of my need, stirring sorrow and causing me to look afresh to my savior. Simultaneously, the Spirit whispers the reassuring words that Jesus died for my sins and was raised for my justification (Romans 4:25), that in Him there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1), and that even now He lives and intercedes for me (Romans 8:34).
By the telling of this double-truth the Spirit frees us to tell the truth about ourselves: “I am a sinner.” But the second truth is the deeper truth—the final truth: “in the name of Jesus Christ” there is “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
Originally posted here: http://liberate.org/2013/05/28/i-believe-in-the-holy-spirit-part-i/
 John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion I.viii.4 (79).