Between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there exists a perfect coincidence of will and purpose. However distinct may be the works appropriate to each person of the holy Trinity, the love and mutual indwelling (John 14:10–11) that characterize the eternal communion between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are expressed in the intimate harmony of their respective works in the accomplishment of redemption.
The covenant of redemption, which is the foundation for the triune God’s gracious restoration of fallen sinners to life and communion with God, describes the respective roles that are “appropriate” to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption. Even though Christian theology affirms that all the works of the triune God are indivisibly the works of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa), each of the persons of the Trinity plays a unique role in the salvation of the elect. The Father elects to save His people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). The Son is appointed and willingly offers Himself as the Savior and Mediator (Luke 22:29; Heb. 10:5–7). The Holy Spirit furnishes Christ with the gifts necessary to accomplish His saving work (Luke 1:35; 3:21–22; 4:18), and also applies the benefits of Christ’s work to those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:38–39; 17:4). Thus, in a delightful harmony of mutual love and purpose, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally covenant to redeem an elect community.
The Holy Spirit’s peculiar work in the salvation of the elect reminds us that it is not enough to speak of God’s eternal purpose of election. God’s eternal purpose saves no one; it must still be put into effect. Nor is it sufficient to describe the redemptive accomplishments of Christ, the Mediator. The actual salvation of elect sinners only occurs by means of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).
The Principal Role of the Holy Spirit in Redemption
When we consider the role of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption, Abraham Kuyper’s apt description of the work of the Holy Spirit comes to mind. The Spirit, said Kuyper, leaves “no footprints in the sand.” By this language Kuyper did not mean to deny that the Spirit’s works are openly evident in the lives of God’s chosen people. Rather, he sought to call attention to something that especially characterizes the Spirit’s working in redemption. Unlike the Father and Son, whose persons and works are readily identifiable and openly manifest, the Spirit works on behalf and in the name of the Father and the Son. In bringing the elect to the Father through the Son, the Holy Spirit exhibits a readiness to work anonymously, with a kind of self-effacing modesty, in serving the Father’s purpose of election and the Son’s mediation of redemption. What the Father purposed and the Son accomplished for the redemption of the elect, the Holy Spirit is pleased to apply and communicate to them.
Accordingly, the principal role of the Holy Spirit in redemption is to be a “minister of Christ’s liberality,” to use a lovely phrase of Calvin. The Holy Spirit, who prepared the way under the old covenant for the coming of Christ in the fullness of time, and who supplied Christ with the gifts necessary to fulfill His office as Mediator, is Christ’s Gift to the church. In accordance with the Father’s promise, at Pentecost Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church (Acts 2:33). Thus, Christ, who was exalted to the Father’s right hand, is now present among His people by His indwelling Spirit who communicates all of His saving benefits to them. So intimate is the relation between the Spirit and the Son that the apostle Paul can say that the Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17), or that He has become a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). John Calvin taught that the Spirit is the “bond of communion” between Christ and His elect Bride, the One who communicates to believers their covenant inheritance in Christ. The work of Christ for His people becomes His work in them by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
The Benefits of the Spirit’s Work
To describe the fullness and richness of the Spirit’s application of the benefits of Christ’s saving work to the elect poses a difficult challenge. For our purpose, we may group these benefits into three broad areas. The Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s saving work by granting new life, status, and holiness to believers.
When we consider the Holy Spirit’s application of Christ’s saving work, we must begin with the Spirit’s powerful role in granting the new birth that is often called “regeneration.” Narrowly considered, regeneration refers to the Spirit’s work in granting the elect spiritual life from the dead. More broadly considered, regeneration may refer to all the fruits or consequences of this new life in the way of faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, preservation, and glorification. By the Spirit’s life-giving work, believers share in the benefits of Christ’s saving work, are renewed after the image of God, and experience the fullness of life in unbreakable communion with the living God (John 14:16).
Considered in its narrower sense, the Spirit’s work of regeneration is described in the remarkable words of Christ in John 3:5–8: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” According to our Lord, unless sinners are granted new life by a sovereign, ineffable and extraordinary working of the Spirit, they cannot enter or see the kingdom of God. This work of the Spirit is comparable to a new or second birth. In the nature of the case, this act of the Spirit is monergistic; it is the Spirit’s work alone, not the product of the flesh or a decision of the human will (John 1:13).
In the epistles of the apostle Paul, the work of the Spirit of Christ in granting new life to believers is frequently emphasized (Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:22). Christ indwells His people by the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). Just as the Spirit raised Christ from the dead, so He gives life to the mortal bodies of believers (Rom. 8:11). Whereas Christ’s discourse in John 3 compares the new life granted to believers by the Spirit to the new birth, Paul often compares it to a “new creation” or a “resurrection” from the dead (Rom. 6:4–5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Though the imagery differs, the fundamental idea is similar to that of new birth — unless Christ sovereignly and supernaturally grants His people life from the dead, they would remain dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).
Through faith in the Gospel promise, believers, who are granted new life by the Spirit, also receive the benefit of a new status before God (Rom. 5:1). They know the joy of sins forgiven and free acceptance with God. The Spirit ordinarily works in the lives of believers by means of the ministry of the Word within the fellowship of the church, which is the dwelling place of God by the Spirit (Eph 2:22). When sinners are called to faith and repentance, the Spirit of Christ illumines the mind and opens the heart of believers to the call of the Gospel (1 Cor. 2:12–13). Life in the Spirit, accordingly, is a life of peace with God and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is a life of delight in God’s favor, in the grace of free justification and reconciliation with God. The Spirit of Christ is also, therefore, the “Spirit of adoption,” by whom believers are able to address God as “Abba,” Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5–6). The Spirit, who indwells believers, assures them of eternal life and seals the promise of the Gospel to them (Eph. 4:30). No longer under the curse and burden of the Law’s condemnation, believers may live with confidence before God.
A third and final kind of blessing that the Spirit imparts to the elect is the blessing of a new holiness. The goal of the believer’s redemption is conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:29), and this conformity is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in uniting the believer to Christ. Life in union with Christ by faith is life in the Spirit. The apostle Paul describes this life in Romans 8:9–11: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (cf. Gal. 5:16–26). The Spirit energizes believers and enables them to live in accord with the “righteous requirement of the law” (Rom. 8:4).
Christians who confess that redemption is the work of the triune God from first to last, experience the reality of redemption in the power and presence of the Spirit of Christ. Where there are those who are born again from above, who know the joy of free acceptance and adoption into the household of God, and who “walk by the Spirit” — there you may be sure Christ is present, ministering His saving work in the lives of those whom the Father is pleased to give to Him (John 17:4–6).