Worship the Spirit

Scott Aniol


Lots of confusion reigns today regarding how we ought to expect the Holy Spirit to work, but it does not have to be this way. Careful reading of Scripture gives us a robust picture of what should be our expectation for how the Holy Spirit works today.

The Spirit Brings Order

First, the Holy Spirit’s purpose in all he does is to bring order, to both individual Christians and to the Body as a whole. The descriptions in Scripture of the Holy Spirit’s activity overwhelmingly attest to this purpose. The Spirit brought order to the material God created at the beginning of time, and he brings order to time itself in unfolding God’s plan in history. He worked to bring peace and blessing to Israel as he dwelt among them in the Old Testament temple, and he does the same as he dwells within the New Testament temple. This was his purpose in special empowerment given to Israel’s kings and prophets and his purpose in the foundational gifts he gave to the apostles and prophets during the formation of the church.

The Holy Spirit’s purpose in all he does is to bring order, to both individual Christians and to the Body as a whole. The descriptions in Scripture of the Holy Spirit’s activity overwhelmingly attest to this purpose.

And that purpose remains the same today. The Spirit brings order to the disordered minds and hearts of his elect when he convicts them of their sin and gives them new life, when he unites them into the triune communion and particularly to Christ himself in his Body. He continues to order the lives of his people in empowering them to submit to his Word and be sanctified by it, conforming them to the image of Christ and producing fruit consistent with the harmony and beauty of God’s character. And he builds up the unity of Christ’s body through providentially gifting his people with abilities to use in service of God and one another in the church, particularly in corporate worship, where he forms his people through filling them with his Word read, preached, prayed, and sung.

The Spirit Works Through His Word

Second, one of the most influential and long-lasting works of the Holy Spirit to bring order to his people was the inspiration of his Word; this is why the most frequently described act of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is the giving of revelation, and why his work of “filling” a believer (Eph 5:19) is paralleled in Paul’s writings with the Word of Christ “richly dwelling” within a Christian (Col 3:16). Thus, believers should expect that the Holy Spirit will work today primarily through his Word, and he will never act contrary to his Word.

For this reason, we must never conceive of any work of the Spirit today apart from his Word. If we expect the Spirit to do something apart from Scripture, we will inevitably subordinate Scripture itself to a subjective experience. We may say we believe Scripture to be sufficient, but ultimately we will ignore the objective Word, always seeking for subjective experiences, feelings, “inner voices,” or impressions that we assume to be the Spirit’s illuminating work. Likewise, we will also find ourselves frustrated when we don’t experience some sort of feeling that we assume to be the Spirit’s work. We will wonder why he isn’t “speaking” to us.

We must never conceive of any work of the Spirit today apart from his Word.

Rather, we must recognize that he has already spoken to us through his sufficient Word—we ought not expect any further revelation. We must simply pray that he gives us wisdom to appropriate his Word and then actively apply and submit ourselves to what he has already spoken.

Further, if we don’t properly understand how the Spirit works through his Word, when we come across a difficult passage of Scripture, instead of studying diligently and seeking the teachers God has gifted to his church, we will become frustrated. Why isn’t the Spirit helping me understand this text?

Even Peter acknowledged that some passages of Scripture are “hard to understand” (2 Pt 3:16). The Spirit is not going to somehow make them less difficult, but he will give us such a love for Scripture that we want to be taught and to engage in our own diligent study so that we may understand. Through illumination, the Spirit has already removed what is the most significant impediment to spiritual understanding—a heart veiled by depravity.

The Spirit Works through Ordinary Means of Grace

Third, the sufficiency of the Spirit-inspired Word of God leads also to the conviction that he has given the church in that Word all the revelation necessary concerning the means by which the Spirit will work:

The Spirit commands us, in the context of teaching him how to behave in the house of God, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tm 4:13). He repeats similar commands in Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27.

The Spirit also commands pastors to “devote yourself . . . to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tm 4:13) and “preach the Word;  be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tm 4:2).

The Spirit commands that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and for all who are in high positions (1 Tm 2:1). He commands the Colossians to “continue steadfastly in prayer (4:2), and to the Ephesians he admonishes, “praying at all time in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication . . . making supplication for all the saints” (6:18).

In both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, the Spirit commands gathered believers to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, thereby “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:19) and “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col 3:16).

The Spirit recorded Christ’s command in his Great Commission to the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And finally, Paul told the Corinthian church that he passed on “the Lord’s Supper” to the church, having received it from the Lord himself (1 Cor 11:20, 23).

In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired the sufficient revelation concerning the elements of gathered worship, and so we should expect that he would naturally work through those elements—reading the Word, preaching the Word, praying the Word, singing the Word, and visualizing the Word through baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

This is why Christians have traditionally called these prescribed elements the “ordinary means of grace”—these are the primary means Christians should expect the Holy Spirit to ordinarily work his grace into our lives. Thus, Charles Spurgeon’s catechism reads, “The outward and ordinary means whereby the Holy Spirit communicates to us the benefits of Christ’s redemption, are the Word, by which souls are begotten to spiritual life; baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and meditation, by all which believers are further edified in their most holy faith (Acts 2:41-42; Jas 1:18).”1Question 71 (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Catechism, 1855).

We should expect the Holy Spirit’s ordinary work to be that of sanctifying us through the effectual means of grace that he has prescribed in his Word.

And so, we should expect the Holy Spirit’s ordinary work to be that of sanctifying us through the effectual means of grace that he has prescribed in his Word. The regular, disciplined use of these means of grace progressively forms us into the image of Jesus Christ; these Spirit-ordained elements, what Robert Letham calls “God’s prescribed vehicles through which he communicates his mercies to us by the Holy Spirit,”2Robert Letham, Union with Christ (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2011), 139. are the means through which Christians “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [them], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12–13).

If we fail to trust the Spirit to work through the ordinary means he prescribes, we will fall into methods of sanctification and worship that actually hinder the Spirit’s work of sanctification and building up of the body. This is evident with those who are otherwise committed to the sufficiency of Scripture, but nevertheless expect the Spirit to work in extraordinary ways. Inevitably they tend toward manipulative methods, especially worship music, that they assume is necessary for the Spirit to work, but in reality encourage immaturity and disorder among God’s people.

Worship the Spirit

While the Holy Spirit of God, who with the Father and the Son should be worshiped and glorified, may certainly do whatever he pleases in the world, he is not a God of disorder, but a God of peace. The testimony of Scripture concerning the ordinary ways he works and a careful study of the New Testament’s explicit treatment of his ordinary work in worship should lead Christians to expect, not extraordinary experience when the Holy Spirit works, but harmony, peace, and order.

Let us worship God the Holy Spirit, who shapes, guides, and fills us with his Word, by which he brings our lives into order and harmony with the good purposes and will of God.

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1 Question 71 (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Catechism, 1855).
2 Robert Letham, Union with Christ (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2011), 139.
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Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at www.scottaniol.com. Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.