The Missing Piece
If the Incarnation of Christ is the greatest mystery of the gospel, then the person and work of the Holy Spirit is probably the most neglected aspect of the gospel. That, at least, is the assertion made by Packer in the 6th chapter of Knowing God. He points out that the apostle John begins his Gospel by presenting Jesus Christ as the eternal Word of God, coequal with God the Father yet distinct from him. But a careful observation of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of John reveals that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit of God to his disciples to serve as another Comforter, that is, to love, care for, protect and instruct his disciples in the same way that Jesus had done during his public ministry on earth. Packer observes: “If, therefore, the ministry of Christ the Comforter was important, the ministry of the Holy Spirit the Comforter can scarcely be less important. If the work that Christ did matters to the church, the work that the Spirit does must matter also.”
But what makes the Holy Spirit’s work so important? Packer suggests that the entire Christian faith rests on the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God. This bold statement is supported by two truths that must be set forth:
Without the Holy Spirit, there would be no gospel and no New Testament.
Christ left his disciples with the responsibility to go to the ends of the earth bearing witness of him to all men, but what kind of witnesses were they likely to be? Packer says, “They had never been good pupils; they had consistently failed to understand Christ and missed the point of his teaching throughout his earthly ministry; how could they be expected to do better now that he had gone? Was it not virtually certain that, with the best will in the world, they would soon get the truth of the gospel inextricably mixed up with a mass of well-meant misconceptions, and their witness would rapidly be reduced to a twisted, garbled, hopeless muddle? The answer to this question is no – because Christ sent the Holy Spirit to them, to teach them all truth and so save them from all error, to remind them of what they had been taught already and to reveal to them the rest of what their Lord meant them to learn.” The Holy Spirit fulfilled the will of Christ and so produced the gospel and the whole New Testament by the mouths and pens of these same disciples.
Without the Holy Spirit, there would be no faith and no new birth.
What is the response of sinful men when confronted with the truth of God’s word? Is it not to reject it, to rebel against it, and to refuse to hear it? How then can anyone be saved? This is the essential ministry of the Spirit in the work of evangelism. It is he who convicts of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8). Packer explains the ministry of the Spirit in full when he says, “To the apostles, he testified by revealing and inspiring, as we saw. To the rest of us, down the ages, he testifies by illuminating: opening blinded eyes, restoring spiritual vision, enabling sinners to see that the gospel is indeed God’s truth, and Scripture is indeed God’s Word, and Christ is indeed God’s Son.” If you are born again today, then thank the Lord for sending the Holy Spirit by whom your sinful, rebellious heart was convinced of the truth of the gospel, and by whom you were birthed into new life in Jesus Christ.
The result of these two truths is that we must receive the Bible as the very word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is our authority and guide, and the means by which we ought to judge ourselves so that we will not be judged. We also ought to embrace our calling to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to a sin-cursed world. Without the Holy Spirit, our testimony would be wasted because no man would turn to the Savior and live, but with the Holy Spirit of God, the preaching of the cross brings salvation to even the hardest heart. After all, he saved you!