By Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
Author of Sculptor Spirit: Models of Sanctification from Spirit Christology
How often have you prayed to the Holy Spirit? How regularly do you ask the Holy Spirit to come down, do his works in you, or fill you with his gifts?
We are more used to addressing Jesus and his Father in prayer, with good biblical precedent. From the earliest days of the church, prayers to the Lord Jesus and God the Father have been common in Christian devotion.
Often remembered as the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen prays to Jesus as he is being stoned by an enraged crowd: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit…. Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). Here Stephen embodies his Lord Jesus’ own prayers to the Father on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do…. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:34, 46).
Stephen’s prayer reflects or images the prayer of Jesus.
Jesus himself teaches us how to pray: “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come….’” (Luke 11:2). In the Lord’s Prayer, also known as the “Our Father,” Jesus invites us to pray to his Father, who answers the prayers of his children:
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Luke 11:9–10 (ESV)
What we often miss about Luke’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer is what—or more precisely, whom—we are supposed to be asking, seeking, and knocking for! The answer: The Holy Spirit!
Jesus compares earthly fathers to his heavenly Father. If earthly fathers, who are not that great when compared to God the Father, give their children “good gifts” when they ask, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (11:13).
Jesus teaches us to ask the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit!
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther picked up on this truth in his explanation of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray, Thy kingdom come, how exactly does God answer this prayer?
Luther responds that God’s kingdom comes to us “whenever our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through his grace we believe his Holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity” (The Lord’s Prayer, The Second Petition, KW 8).
God’s kingdom comes when we pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit!
God’s kingdom or ruling in our midst happens in our lives when we ask his Holy Spirit to lead us to believe his Word and live holy lives. Here faith and life go together: To live godly lives is to live by faith in Christ.
This is all the work of the Holy Spirit for us and in us. As Luther puts it, to confess “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” means that “I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlighten me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…” (The Creed, The Third Article, KW 6).
Knowing that our Father has promised to give all good gifts to his children, let us gladly take to heart Jesus’ invitation and ask God to send us his Holy Spirit each and every day! Come, Holy Spirit!
The songs of the Church contain a long tradition of prayers to and for the Holy Spirit.
One famous medieval hymn comes to mind: Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit). The first stanza in The Lutheran Service Book reads:
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And make our hearts Your place of rest;
Come with Your grace and heav’nly aid,
And fill the hearts which You have made.
The same Spirit who created and sustains the big wide world also comes to dwell in our little hearts, to fill with his grace what he has made!
Yet we must not think of the Spirit as our possession, but rather as “the Lord and Giver of life” (Nicene Creed). The Holy Spirit is God; we are not. Yes, the Spirit of God freely and graciously dwells, rests in us. Yet we call upon the Spirit at all times on account of our need. We always need the Spirit to work in and through us.
Another special medieval hymn is Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit). One of the stanzas reads:
Cleanse that which is unclean,
Water that which is dry,
Heal that which is wounded.
These are images of renewal, of the Spirit as the water of life. They remind us to call upon the Spirit to cleanse us from sin, refresh us with his presence in our spiritual thirst, and heal our broken hearts. Then there is this stanza:
Bend that which is inflexible,
Fire that which is chilled,
Correct what goes astray.
Here the Spirit is pictured as a burning fire that bends, warms up, and straightens. We can easily think of a sculptor who molds and shapes metal with the fire of his love.
And then, there is Luther’s “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord.” The third stanza (LSB 497) follows up on the language of the Spirit as a fire that molds:
Come, holy Fire, comfort true,
Grant us the will Your work to do
And in Your service to abide;
Let trials turn us not aside.
Lord, by Your pow’r prepare each heart,
And to our weakness strength impart
That bravely here we may contend,
Through life and death to You, our Lord, ascend.
The Spirit is the fire from above that makes us holy, granting us the will to work and serve, shaping us to be a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. The Spirit makes us brave by giving us his power and strength to stand firm through the trials of life, so that we might be faithful to God in life and death. When we sing, “Come, Holy Ghost,” we are calling upon the same Spirit who sustained Stephen in his trials as he served God, even unto death.
Seeing how Jesus, Luther, and the Church’s song throughout time all teach us to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes from the Father, we boldly and joyfully claim this gift in our lives today. Come, Holy Spirit!
Finally, let us remember that when we pray, Come, Holy Spirit, we are also asking the Sculptor Spirit to shape or conform us to be like Jesus.
Paul says that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). At Creation, the first humans were shaped “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). That image, though defaced by sin, was restored in Jesus, the New Adam, who is also “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Since the Spirit joins us to Jesus in baptism, we also begin to be restored to the image of God in Jesus: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
Of course, the final restoration of that divine image awaits the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. But already now, ahead of time, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is shaping that resurrection, New Creation life in us. We are already now “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This is the sanctifying work of the Spirit among us. The image of God, which was given at Creation and restored in Jesus will again be fully ours in the New Creation. By the power of the Spirit, that New Creation life begins already now. And when the Spirit shapes New Creation life in us, the Spirit is conforming us to the image of Christ, making us look more and more like Jesus.
- By leading us to die to sin and raising us to new life, the Spirit forms us to be like Jesus in a death and resurrection like his.
- By sustaining us in the trials of life, the Spirit conforms us to be like Jesus, who was led by the Spirit into the desert to stand firm against the attacks of the evil one.
- By giving us the will to serve others in God’s name, the Spirit conforms us to be like Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
We speak of Christlikeness, not Christ-sameness. We are not the same as Christ. There is only one Jesus. But by God’s grace, Jesus has sent the same Spirit who rests on him to rest and dwell in us, his disciples. And that Spirit continually molds us to be like Jesus as we grow in him through the Word.
To guide and equip you in the lifelong journey of Christlike discipleship, I commend the work of my friend and colleague Justin Rossow. Through his rich and insightful devotional writing, he will strengthen your knowledge of and trust in the Sculptor Spirit’s formative work in your life.
As you begin this journey, let us pray:
Come, Holy Spirit, and do your sculpting work
in our hearts, minds, and lives.
Shape and mold us to be like Jesus. Amen.
Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., PhD
Professor of Systematic Theology
St. Louis, Missouri
Editor’s Note: This article from Professor Leo Sánchez of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is the foreword to Come, Holy Spirit: A Daily Discipleship Travel Log for Easter to Pentecost by Justin Rossow, available from Next Step Press.