In the Psalms and Prophets we see, of course, the work of the Spirit through God’s prophets. And we see many powerful stories of how God’s Spirit led his prophets to confront kings, challenge the people to obedience, and even speak the word of the Lord to surrounding nations. For now, I want to focus on what activities the prophets attribute to the Spirit.
(Psa 143:10) Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
The Psalmist teaches us that one function of the Spirit is to lead the person filled with the Spirit. This, of course, parallels Romans 8, which speaks of being led by the Spirit.
(Isa 11:2) The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
Speaking of the Messiah, the Spirit is credited with giving a host of special gifts, including some gifts mentioned in the New Testament as given to some Christians.
Prophecies about the Spirit
By the time of Jesus, it was well understood that the coming of the Messiah would also bring an outpouring of the Spirit.
(Isa 32:14-17) The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks, 15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. 16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
Isaiah prophesies that the Spirit’s outpouring will produce peace, righteousness, quietness, and confidence forever.
(Isa 44:3-4) For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. 4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.
In similar language, Isaiah explains that the Spirit will bring renewed life.
(Isa 59:21) “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.
But the promise is not just for the generation that will see the Messiah. The Spirit will be for “this time on and forever.” This outpouring will never end. And the effect of the Spirit will to be put God’s word in the mouths of God’s people — forever.
The Spirit’s effect on the Christian’s heart (The Prophecies of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel)
The coming of the Spirit is a major theme of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was written at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. We begin in Deuteronomy —
(Deu 10:16-17) Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.
God, through Moses commanded the Israelites to “circumcise” their hearts. Mere outward obedience would not be enough. The Israelites must obey the Law from their hearts.
In chapter 28, God pronounces curses on Israel should they fail to obey the Law. In chapter 30, however, he says that even after the curses come true, God will gather a remnant through whom he’ll establish a radically different, new covenant —
(Deu 30:6) The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
In the new covenant, God himself will change the hearts of his people! Rather than the burden being entirely on the people, God will take on the task of changing hearts. You see, God’s written word — the Law — would prove not to be enough to change hearts as God wants them changed.
Many years later, Jeremiah wrote at the time of the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar — a time when the curses of the Law came true. He prophesied —
(Jer 31:31-34) “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah prophesies a covenant “not like the covenant I made with their forefathers.” This covenant will be that God himself will write his laws in the minds of his people and on their hearts. And this will allow for the provision of utter grace: “I … will remember their sins no more.”
Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel was written at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. He predicts that at the time of the Messiah —
(Ezek 11:18-20) “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. 19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”
(Ezek 36:26-28) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
Following the language of Deuteronomy, Ezekiel describes God’s work in circumcising hearts as transforming a “heart of stone” to a “heart of flesh.” The result will be accomplished by the Spirit that will “move” (KJV: “cause”) God’s people to obey his decrees and laws.
This builds up to the climactic language of chapter 37 —
(Ezek 37:1-14) The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'”
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.'”
Remember that “wind,” “breath,” and “Spirit” are the same words in Hebrew. Thus, in a powerful play on words, Ezekiel moves from a life-giving wind, to breath, to Spirit.
In the age brought by the Messiah, the way God will transform hearts of stone to hearts of flesh is through the Spirit. This Spirit will take those who are dead and make them alive; it will take those without hope and give them hope, and it will take dry bones and cover them in living flesh.
These promises were fulfilled with the coming of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit.
(Rom 2:29) No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
Paul tells us that God honored his promise in Deuteronomy 30:6 through the indwelling Spirit. One work of this Spirit is “circumcision of the heart.” The change isn’t that God now cares about the heart whereas he didn’t before. Clearly, that is not the point. Rather, the point is that God will take responsibility for changing our hearts! That’s what it says.
This allows Paul to urge his readers,
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul isn’t urging his readers to renew their own minds, but to allow God to renew their minds through the Spirit as prophesied in Jeremiah. The result will be that what pleases God also pleases us.
Indeed, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted in full by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 8, and this becomes the centerpiece of his exposition into chapter 10. He explains,
(Heb 10:13-16) Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
How are we “being made holy”? Plainly, by God’s own work in our hearts and minds. We are being changed by God!
But as is explained in the next few verses in Hebrews 10 (covered earlier) and in Philippians 2:12-13, we can lose our salvation and so we must work with God to bring it all to fruition. But it’s not really working with God so much as God working in us while we yield to his will.
(Phil 2:12-13) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
We can ignore neither verse 12 nor verse 13. Verse 12 commands us to work. Why? Because “God works” in us to “will” (desire) and act as God wishes. God himself changes our hearts and minds so that our desires conform to his desires and, as a result, our actions conform to his will!
Do we work with God for this to happen? Yes, of course. But we work because we know God works in us. We can’t do it ourselves. Only God can — and he will.