The Goal of the Holy Spirit in Spiritual Formation


While visiting his grandparents, a little boy decided to entertain himself by drawing.   His grandfather in passing asked, “What are you drawing?” to which he replied, “A picture of God.”  Amused, his grandfather said, “You can’t do that because nobody knows what God looks like.” To which the little boy responded, “They will when I get through!”

Imagine with me that you are on your knees praying, and you ask the Holy Spirit, “Why are you so busy in my life?  What are You up to?” And He replies, “I am transforming your inner person – renovating your whole character into the image of Christ.”  “Why?” you respond, “Nobody knows what He looks like!”  To which He replies, “They will when I am done with you.”

No serious Christian can escape the question: Is there a single divine strategy that unites all of the many-sided works of the Holy Spirit as a means to one end? Is there a goal to which His work of empowering, enabling, purifying and transforming is ultimately directed?  The Holy Spirit clearly mediates the presence of Jesus to us so that we may know and experience personal intimate fellowship with Jesus.  He constantly seeks to assure us of the certainty of being loved, and accepted as “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).  But His one single objective in all of this is to transform our personal character into the likeness of Christ – that is to make us holy!

Why Holiness?

I believe the aim of God in human history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at the very center of this community as its prime Sustainer and most glorious Inhabitant. [1]. This is what God had with Adam and Eve before the fall. It is what He will have in the New Heaven and Earth; and it is what He is working toward right now in the whole scheme of redemption through the Church.  Holiness then is both God’s gift as well as His command. It the goal of all his providential dealings with us (Ephesians 1:4; 5:25-26; 2:10; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:1). The Holy Spirit is the chief agent in implanting a passion for holiness in our hearts at the moment of our new birth and in making it a reality through the whole process of His sanctifying work in our hearts and lives.

Holiness is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What is this holiness?

Holiness is a thoroughly Biblical concept that is divinely revealed through the Biblical writers.  Any adequate definition of holiness is based on God’s holiness and His call to us that we “be holy” (I Peter 1:15; Matt. 5:48). We know the character of God only through God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ and through the Bible’s witness to Him. And we know the holy life to which we are called as Christians only because God has revealed it to us through the life of Christ and through the Scriptures. [2] Therefore, in a word, holiness is God-taught, Spirit-wrought Christlikeness. [3] The very first words Jesus spoke to His disciples, “follow me”, had not only directional implications but replicational implications. If we claim to be followers of Christ, then we must be like Christ.  In the very last sermon John R. W. Stott ever preached, he states that Christlikeness was God’s eternal purpose (Rom. 8:29); is presently His historical purpose (II Cor. 3:18); and will be His final eschatological purpose (1 John 3:2). [4]

What does holiness look like as it is formed in us?

If holiness looks like the restoration of the image of God in us, then holiness also looks like Christlikeness, for Jesus Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and the “exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). It is in Christ that we have the best, most practical, most human example of what it means to be holy. He is our model for love (John 13:34; Ephesians 5:2); He is our model for easy, relaxed obedience (John 6:38; 14:31); He is our model for humility (Phillippians 2:5-8); He is our model for virtue or moral blamelessness (John 8:46; Titus 2:11-12; Romans 6:12-14);  He is our model for steadfastness (1 Peter 4:1-2); He is our model for complete dependence on and total cooperation with the Holy Spirit ( John 5:30; John 15:5; Galatians 5:25).

It is in Christ that we have the best, most practical, most human example of what it means to be holy.

Is it really possible?

Union with Christ (Romans 6:5-6), putting on Christ (Romans 13:14), identifying with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6-8), following after Him in obedient love (John 14:15), and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5) all have serious behavioral ramifications that clearly impact the way we live and conduct our lives.  So yes, it is possible to live a Christlike life. However, it is not possible in our own strength.  It is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we experience both the instantaneous workings of the Holy Spirit and the incremental progressive workings of the Holy Spirit, our outer conduct can and should become a natural expression or outflow of the character and teaching of Jesus. [5]  This is the primary goal of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the chief end to all spiritual formation.

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  1. Gary Moon, Eternal Living, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. Quote by Dallas Willard.
  2. Diane LeClerc, Discovering Christian Holiness, Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, KS.
  3. J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.
  4. John Stott, The Radical Disciple, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
  5. Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO.
Michael Avery
Michael Avery
Dr. Michael R. Avery is the President of Deeper Life Ministries and was named Chancellor of God’s Bible School & College in 2017 after serving as its President for 22 years.