The Holy Spirit: The Gift and Gift-Giver
The Holy Spirit is sent, not to talk about himself, but to point us to Jesus.
At the end of Peter’s Pentecost day sermon, the hearers ask Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answers, “Repent and be baptized 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 2:37-38).
The promise of baptism is that those who are baptized will receive the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit brings more gifts with him. He is both a gift and a gift-giver. Here, we’ll look at three gifts the Holy Spirit gives every Christian in baptism, gifts in which every baptized Christian can find hope and rest.
1. One gift the Holy Spirit gives us in baptism is faith.
The Holy Spirit is the one who creates faith in us. Our sin makes us spiritually blind and dead. We can’t create faith ourselves any more than the dead can raise themselves to life. Instead, faith is worked in us by the Holy Spirit and delivered by means of God’s Word attached to water. Now, faith is not mere historical knowledge about Jesus. Faith believes and trusts in God’s promise: that on account of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins and justification are freely offered to us.
The Holy Spirit can create this faith in us because he is God. Scripture calls the Spirit by divine names (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17-18; 5:3-4; 1 Cor 3:16), describes him with divine attributes (Ps 139:7-10; 1 Cor 2:10; Heb 9:14), and details his action as divine work that only God can do (Gen 1:2; Acts 2:1-12; Titus 3:5). In Acts, Peter quotes from the Old Testament prophet Joel. “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17, emphasis added). The Holy Spirit is not some third party God hires to do his bidding. The Holy Spirit is God and both God the Father and God the Son send him (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7; Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6).
The faith the Holy Spirit creates in us is faith in Jesus’ work for us. Read that again. The faith the Holy Spirit creates in us is faith in Jesus’ work for us.
The Holy Spirit is sent, not to talk about himself, but to point us to Jesus. Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John testify to this. “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14-15). Herman Sasse put it this way, “The New Testament’s view of the Holy Spirit can be stated in one sentence: Where Christ is, there is the Holy Spirit; where the Holy Spirit is, there is Christ. Christ and the Holy Spirit belong together.”
The Father sent Jesus to show us, in the clearest possible way, his love for us. Jesus demonstrated that love most fully in his death. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus’ death on the cross. More specifically, he points us to Jesus’ death on the cross for us who are dead in our sin. This is the good news, the gospel by which the Spirit calls us and by which he creates faith in us.
Furthermore, the faith the Spirit creates in us is the gift by which we receive all the other gifts the Spirit gives us in baptism. By faith, we receive the benefits Christ won for us by his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit delivers those gifts to us in baptism.
2. Another gift the Holy Spirit gives us in baptism is the forgiveness of sins.
We are, by nature, sinful and unclean. This not only pits us against each other but against God as his enemy. Jesus’ death on the cross offers up the perfect price for our sin. One we can’t pay with our own power and strength. He bore the full wrath of God in place of all humanity; for the sin of every person—past, present, and future; for your sin, and my sin.
His death won for us more than forgiveness. My favorite sentence in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism says it this way: “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Jesus’ death brings about a great exchange. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus exchanges our unrighteousness for his righteousness. On the cross, he became the embodiment of our sin and mistakes. He took on himself all our acts of injustice; our taking advantage of others for our gain; our self-centered faithlessness. In return, though we don’t deserve it, he gives us his perfect, unending life and relationship with God.
3. The last gift is often the most overlooked. In baptism, the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of assurance.
We have assurance because the Holy Spirit who created our faith in baptism also sustains it. Faith does not depend on our ability to reason well enough or believe hard enough. God doesn’t rescue us from sin, death, and the devil only to leave us on our own. The Holy Spirit is there for us to help us when we struggle. He continually points us back to Christ and what he has done for us. Just as he did through Jesus’ followers in Acts, the Holy Spirit comes to us speaking of God’s saving acts in Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf. And he does so most assuredly in word and sacrament.
When we feel like God’s enemies, the Spirit reminds us we are God’s beloved and forgiven children. When we feel unworthy of God’s love, the Spirit reminds us Christ’s work on the cross made us worthy. When we feel dirty in our sins, the Spirit reminds us, “I have washed you in the waters of baptism and clothed you with Jesus’ righteousness.”
We have this assurance because baptism is more than water. It is water with God’s word attached to it. And it is God’s word that is at work in the water. In baptism, God attaches his name to us. Philip Melanchthon wrote, “For these words, ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ mean that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are baptizing you. The person who is baptized should understand that his sins are forgiven him by God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
We have this assurance because baptism connects us to an unalterable, verifiable historical event. In God’s word attached to water, the Holy Spirit unites us to the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and to the forgiveness, salvation, and life they bring. Paul says that all of us “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5).
In the same way, our baptisms happened in the unalterable past. God does not undo his work in baptism because of our failures and mistakes. Our sin doesn’t void God’s promise because God never bases his promise on our goodness. Rather, God founded his promise on his unfailing goodness.
When we doubt, when we question, when we wonder about our forgiveness and salvation, we can return to the tangible water that God attached his word to and used in each of our lives to mark the moment we were forgiven and saved. We can say to ourselves, “I am baptized. God promises that those who are baptized are forgiven and saved. Therefore, I am forgiven and saved.”