Knowing God the Spirit as Restorer, Part 1: A Biblical Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed

Steve —  May 21, 2021 — Leave a comment

Knowing God the Spirit as Restorer, Part 1

By Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers

In the Applied Theology series of courses, you’ll learn a Trinitarian theology of faith, hope, and love by understanding and applying to your life what the Bible teaches about: 1) Faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) Hope found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Love found in the Ten Commandments. You’ll learn from God’s Word that:

A mind that is renewed by faith and a heart that is aflame with hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.

In Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 5, you’ll learn how to know and worship God the Spirit as Restorer of all things lost in creation because of the fall of humanity in sin.

About the Applied Theology Project
The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry.

Read the transcript for Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 5 below!

Knowing God the Spirit as Restorer, Part 1

By John Frame and Steve Childers

To know God means to know who God is and what God does as Triune Lord – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[1] In the first part of the Creed, we learn the biblical teaching on the person and work of the Father as Creator. In the second part, we learn what the Bible teaches about the person and work of the Son as Redeemer. And in this third and final part, we learn the biblical teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit as Restorer:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,[2]
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Christian belief in the person of the Holy Spirit, who he is, is stated in one simple phrase, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”[3] Belief in the work of the Holy Spirit, what he does, affirms the Holy Spirit’s work as the Restorer who:

1) creates the Church as God’s new humanity,
2) applies forgiveness of sins to the Church, and
3) resurrects believers’ bodies and gives them life everlasting.[4]

The Spirit’s Person and Nature
The phrase, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”, is a profession of faith in the person of the Holy Spirit himself. To strengthen the biblical teaching on the deity of the person of the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed (381 AD) adds several phrases to this one phrase in the Apostles’ Creed,

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,[5]
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.

The eternal third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit.[6] The Creed’s description of the Holy Spirit as “the Lord,” refers to his fully divine nature as equal to the Father and the Son who are also called Lord. For the ancients, breath in the body (which is what “spirit” literally means) was seen as the sign and source of life.[7]

The work of the Spirit is giving and restoring life by imparting God’s transforming presence. Beginning with his work in creation when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2, Ps. 33:6). The Spirit is the source of all true life from God, both physical and spiritual.

The Creed’s statement that “He spoke through the prophets” reflects the Apostle Peter’s teaching that “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21)

The Spirit also acted as the divine agent in Jesus’ virgin birth (Luke 1:35), the one who descended on Jesus as a dove at his baptism (Matt. 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11), and the one Jesus referred to in his first sermon, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

Peter attributes the Holy Spirit as the divine source of the power that Jesus displayed in his ministry. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Just prior to his death, Jesus comforted his disciples saying, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18) by promising them that he would return to them soon through the ministry of his Holy Spirit whom the Father would send in his name. (John 14:25–26; 15:26–27; 16:7–15)

Following his resurrection, Jesus commands his followers to make disciples by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Then Jesus immediately reminds them of his promise: “I am with you always (by the Holy Spirit), to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

In the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36), Peter saw the fulfillment of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel – to give his people a new heart and a new spirit by putting his Spirit within them. (Acts 2:38, Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:26-27, Luke 22:17-20, 1 Cor. 11:25, Heb. 8:6-13)[8]

The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a person, not a mere force. He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), he can be quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), he has a will (1 Cor. 12:4-7), he uses his mind to search the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10), and he has fellowship with believers (2 Cor. 13:14).[9]

This strong testimony in Scripture about the person of the Holy Spirit as the divine “Lord and giver of life” is the reason the Nicene Creed affirms the biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit, “with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.”

After expounding the affirmation of faith in the person of the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed also expounds the Apostles’ Creed’s affirmation of faith in the work of the Holy Spirit.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and the life in the world to come. Amen.[10]

The Spirit’s Creation of the Church
Belief in “one” holy catholic and apostolic church affirms that God’s Church is made up of one worldwide fellowship of believers whose Lord and Head is Jesus Christ.[11] It’s “holy” because it’s set apart for God’s purposes in the world. It’s “catholic” because it includes all Christians. And it’s “apostolic” because it’s devoted to the sound doctrine in the Apostles’ teaching. (Acts 2:42)

Although God the Father chose his people in Christ before creation (Eph. 1:1-4), and God the Son redeemed his people in the first century, it is God the Holy Spirit who actually gives life to and empowers God’s people in both the Old and New Testament times.[12]

The Apostles’ Creed also affirms belief in “the communion of the saints” listed immediately after the affirmation of belief in “the holy catholic church.” The church is made up of believers who share a mystical union with Christ and each other. This “communion of the saints” includes a real union in Christ of both believers who are alive today on earth and those who have died but are alive with Christ in heaven.[13]

The Spirit’s Application of Forgiveness
Peter ended his preaching of the gospel at Pentecost by promising two things to all who would repent and be baptized: 1) the forgiveness of sins, and 2) the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Repent and be baptized[14] every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)[15]

As a result of sin, all people stand before God with a two-fold problem: 1) a bad standing as guilty and condemned, and 2) a bad heart that is corrupt with an inward moral disease. But the good news is that God promises all who believe in Christ not only God’s forgiveness (a new standing before God), but also God’s Holy Spirit (a new heart from God).[16]

The way we actually receive God’s forgiveness is by God’s Holy Spirit mysteriously applying it to us when we believe in Christ. The forgiveness that Jesus accomplished for us on the cross in the first century, is applied to us at the moment we believe.[17]

The meaning of forgiveness in the Bible is rich and multifaceted. There are several biblical words and images used in the New Testament to help us deepen our understanding of God’s forgiveness in Christ.[18]

The Apostles John and Paul sometimes use the word “propitiation” to describe God’s forgiveness in Christ. John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).[19] No matter how great our sins may be, we can be forgiven because Jesus’ shed blood propitiates all of God’s just wrath against us for our sins.[20]

One of the most significant words Paul uses to describe God’s forgiveness is “justification”. Whereas forgiveness through propitiation cancels our liability to punishment; justification is the positive counterpart. Justification bestows on believers in Christ a righteous standing before God. Paul teaches that when we believe in Christ, a great exchange of records takes place in the heavenly court.

For our sake he (Father) made him (Son) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).[21]

The Father considers the sinful, guilty record we earned by our disobedience to God’s law to be the record of his Son, and he considers the righteous record Jesus earned by his perfect obedience to God’s law to be our record in the heavenly courts. Therefore, the Father now accepts us as righteous in his sight, not because of anything we do for him, and not even because of anything he has done in us, but only because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.[22]

Christians believe in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ shed blood (propitiation) and Jesus’ perfect righteousness (justification) received by faith alone. When we believe in Jesus we are forgiven by God through Jesus’ blood and righteousness. 

[1] The biblical concept of “knowing God” is holistic, including the understanding of our minds, the affections of our hearts, and the behaviors of our lives.

[2] The word catholic used in the Creed is derived from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “on the whole”, “in general”, or “universal”. The earliest use of the term “catholic” referring to the Christian church was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch (circa 110 AD). The creedal words “catholic church” (lower case “c”) in English refer to the universal, historic Church regardless of denominational affiliation. Many Christians use the words “Catholic church” more narrowly (upper case “C”) in reference to the Roman Catholic Church from which the Protestant Church emerged in the 16th century.

[3] Whereas the Father is the Creator and the Son is the Redeemer, the Spirit is the Restorer who sets apart God’s people to be holy. Throughout the Old and New Testaments God commands his people, “Be holy because I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44, 1 Pet. 1:16) Paul tells us the reason God the Father chose us before the foundation of the world is so that we would “be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:3-4). To make us holy, the Holy Spirit applies to us the benefits that Jesus Christ accomplished for us in his redemption. So the benefits he brings to us are in accord with his name, the Holy Spirit.

[4] We should not understand the third and final section of the Creed as merely giving us a list of remaining doctrinal topics, among which our belief in the Holy Spirit is simply the first of several others –  including the church, salvation, the resurrection, and the life everlasting. Instead, we must see this entire last section of the Creed as one section presenting the biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit’s person and work as Restorer of all things lost in humanity and creation because of the Fall.

[5] This translation of the Nicene Creed is the one used in the Western church. The Eastern church version does not include the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son” – the so-called “filioque.” The Eastern Orthodox Church still contests this phrase as an unwarranted addition to Nicene theology. The Western church added this phrase to affirm that the Spirit was one with Father and Son against the Arians who continued to maintain earlier heretical beliefs that the Spirit was subordinate to Father and Son – teaching that the Spirit was the greatest of the angels. This controversy caused the Great Schism in the 11th century. The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one ‘spiration’ … And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”

[6] The Greek term for holy (Ἁγίου) signifies being set apart. There are many kinds of spirits mentioned in the Bible, including heavenly spirits, evil spirits, and human spirits. But only the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit. The Bible calls the third person of the Trinity several names, including the “Spirit”, “Spirit of God”, “Spirit of Jesus”, “Spirit of Christ”, “Holy Spirit”, “Spirit of Adoption”, “gift” of God, and the “comforter”. (John 14:18-26, Acts 16:7, Gal 4:6, Rom. 8:9,15, Phil. 1:19, 1 Pet 1:11)

[7] Certain symbols are associated with the Holy Spirit in Scripture. At his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. (Matt. 3:16) The Spirit is also associated with wind, fire, and prophecy. (John 3:5-8, Acts 2:1-3)

[8] When God announced, through the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, that he was making a New Covenant with Israel, God promised to give his people a new heart and a new spirit by putting his Spirit within them. (Ezek. 36:26-27). “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek 36:26-27). See also the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of God’s Spirit, including Isaiah’s “last days” (Isaiah 2:2) and Joel’s promise that the Lord will “pour out his Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28-32).

[9] When Ananias lied to the church about the price of a piece of property, Peter said that Satan had filled Ananias’s heart to “lie to the Holy Spirit” and concluded by saying that Ananias had “lied to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Peter referred to the Holy Spirit and God as one and the same.

[10] The words in italics were added to the Apostles’ Creed by the Nicene Creed. The statement “[I believe in] the resurrection of the “body” was changed to “We ‘look forward to’ the resurrection of the ‘dead.’”

[11] When God determined to save his people, he determined to create a new humanity. Paul teaches that God in Christ takes off our old man (our old humanity in Adam under the old age of sin, death, and judgment) from his people and puts on our new man (our new humanity in Christ with the blessings of righteousness, life, and salvation). Paul teaches this new humanity transcends all distinctions between humans (e.g. between Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free, etc.) without obliterating them. (Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:15, 4:22-24, Col. 3:9-11) Because of Paul’s corporate use of these terms, we should be careful not to interpret them as individualistic terms that only refer to a believer’s “sinful nature” and “fallen human flesh”. (Rom. 7:18) Likewise, we must also be careful not to divorce the corporate nature of these terms from their individualistic application to our “sinful nature” e.g., the crucifixion of our “old man” refers to our definitive, corporate break with our past in Adam – that we are to “consider (reckon)” as true of us in order to be free from sin’s enslaving power in our lives. (Rom. 6) There is an “already” and “not yet” eschatological tension in these terms communicating that: 1) we’ve already been decisively and completely brought into this new humanity in Christ, but 2) we’re also continually striving to escape the old humanity in Adam until Jesus returns.

[12] Just as the Holy Spirit empowered Christ to be God’s True Israel on earth, the Holy Spirit is now creating and empowering Christ’s Church from all nations to be God’s New Israel on earth by uniting his Church to the True Israel – Jesus Christ. (Exod. 19:6, Gal. 6:16, James 1:1, 1 Pet 2:9)

[13] Theologians refer to believers who are alive today on earth as the “church militant” and those who have died but are alive with Christ in heaven as the “church triumphant”. In Hebrews, the writer refers to “the church (assembly) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). “Communion of the saints” may also refer to believers’ communion in holy (set apart) means of grace like worship that includes the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer.

[14] The affirmation of “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” does not mean that Christian water baptism saves us, but that it is the outward sign required by God that represents the inner reality of Holy Spirit baptism that alone can save us. Peter uses this same language at Pentecost. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter writes, “Baptism … now saves you,” but then he clarifies that the saving power of Christian baptism is not in the outward sign, but in the inward reality. “Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body (not water baptism), but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). When Paul teaches that in one Spirit we are all baptized (by Christ) into his one body, he also presents water baptism and the gift of the Spirit as two complementary aspects of Christ’s one single act of incorporating and engrafting us into one vital union with himself by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 6:1-3, 1 Cor. 12:13, Rom 11:17-24) In Scripture, water baptism and Spirit baptism are joined. So converts who’ve received Spirit baptism should always seek water baptism, and all those who’ve received water baptism (e.g. infants of believers) must always be converted to receive Spirit baptism.

[15] Peter’s message reflects God’s New Covenant promises to Israel to forgive them and give them new hearts by putting his Spirit in them. (Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:26-27, Joel 2:28-32)

[16] The New Testament refers to believers in Christ and their benefits in several ways, including: “new creation”, “new heart”, and “new birth.”

[17] See John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

[18] Some of the biblical words and images include propitiation (temple shrine), justification (law court), regeneration (washing/birth), and redemption (battlefield/marketplace). See Leon Morris’ The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross and John Stott’s The Cross.

[19] The Apostle Paul uses this same word when he writes that Jesus is the one “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Rom 3:25). The English word “propitiation” is from the Greek word ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) that is translated “sacrifice of atonement.” Propitiation is a personal word. To propitiate a person is to placate, pacify, appease, conciliate, and satisfy a person.

[20] John Stott extolls the riches of God’s propitiation, “It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.” The Cross of Christ, 1986:175

[21] God treated Jesus like a sinner so he could treat us like Jesus. Paul also writes, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known . . . which comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. . . . ” (Rom 3:21-25), and “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16). See the broader contextual meaning of justification in Romans chapters 3-5.

[22] Justification must be understood as a legal declaration, not a moral transformation. Righteousness is imputed to believing sinners, not infused or imparted. Believing sinners are to put on the alien righteousness of Christ like a robe, which conceals their continuing sinfulness. Every justified Christian is simul justus et peccator – at one and the same time righteous and a sinner. The Father treated Jesus like a sinner so that he could treat us like Jesus.

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