I wanted to use this last post in the Wisdom Wednesday series on the Holy Spirit as a further clarification, just in case you missed this point in my series. The Holy Spirit is God, and this brief post will begin to unpack that with the help of the Early Church Fathers (so enjoy the history lesson without the tuition!).
Next to the Beginning
What you need to know for this post is that the second and third century leaders helped shape the trajectory of Christianity. Before you skip over to the Da Vinci Code though, understand that Dan Brown is wrong when he suggested that these leaders somehow created a Jesus that was divine. Quite frankly, that’s a pile of garbage.
The earliest writer in the New Testament is Paul, and his letters seemed to convey the message that Jesus was more than a nice philosopher, as a previous post on Liberalism and Fundamentalism would unpack. The Early Church encountered something new in Jesus (scholar NT Wright is excellent on this point).
It is true that a lot of these early leaders were figuring out the place of the Spirit and there was a lot of debate on his place within this God revealed in Scripture. I try to cut the leaders slack because they did not have the luxury of 1900 years of scholarship on this topic. Early on though, Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the great Cappadocian fathers of the Early Church, argued vociferously that the Spirit belonged in the Trinity. Gregory wrote,
The OT preached the Father openly and the Son more obscurely, while the New revealed the Son and hinted at the deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit dwells in us and reveals himself more clearly to us.
Baptism and The Spirit
For Athanasius, a pivotal figure in the Council of Nicaea, the trinitarian baptismal formula was a huge point in demonstrating the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). After all, if the Spirit is not consubstantial (of the same essence) with the Father and the Son, the Spirit then cannot make us conform to the Son and therefore cannot save us. The Spirit is our helper, and he was sent after the ascension of Jesus on Pentecost (see Acts 2 and a previous post). Also another strong argument for the Trinity is in Acts, where two individuals were caught lying to the Spirit, which is interpreted as lying to God himself.
A Lived Reality
More can be said on this subject, in fact a lot has been said on it (a great introduction to this in NT Wright’s Simply Christian), but my purposes here is to point that the God who made the world is the same God who wants to begin the work of making the future Kingdom of God real in the present.
While the working out of whether or not there is a Triune God can be seen in the writings of the Early Church (which are heavily footnoted with Scripture), this concept is not meant to just be in a book– it is meant to be lived out.
We were meant to live this stuff out, because it’s not some theological game. As theologian NT Wright would state, “for Christians it’s always a love game: God’s love for the world calling out an answering love from us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us (as though this was simply one aspect of his character) but that he is love itself.”
We are invited into a story of love, one that was there even before the universe began. We are invited into new life and a new story than random present. For life in the Spirit is a life of love and hope.
To continue this series on who the Holy Spirit is, we will look at how he unifies and sanctifies.
Spirit as our Unifier
One of the strong characteristics of the work of the Holy Spirit is that he unifies followers of Jesus. Let me unpack that.
Theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen points out in his book on the Holy Spirit that the the Spirit is grounded in love. St. Augustine would similarly suggest that the primary presence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life is that he offers love over knowledge. Augustine got that through John’s description of the Spirit as love in I John 4:7-16. His logic runs like this:
If we love one another, then God abides in us (v12), and since God is love, and he abides in love, then God will abide in them (v16b). We then recognize that we abide in him and he in us, because God has give us his Spirit (v13).
Did you see how Augustine would have concluded that?
If we exhibit love (love, not merely being tolerant), then the Spirit dwells within the person. And it is because the Spirit dwells in the person that they then begin to exhibit love.
As I have mentioned previously, the Spirit acts as a unifying role in the Trinity and with humanity. He is not only the communio (sharing, mutual participation) between Father and Son, but he is also the unifier between Christians and God and also among Christians themselves. He brings peace and connects people to the source of life and also to real community.
Author of Sanctification
Scripture also tells us that he is the author of our sanctification (I Peter 1:2). Please don’t be afraid though at the use of sanctification, it simply means “to be set apart” or “to be made holy.” The Christ follower will be made holy through the redemptive work of Jesus and they are then called to grow in holiness through the Holy Spirit. Eventually, the sanctification will be complete when the woman or man will be made into the image of Christ. Believe me though, it’s a tough road, but the narrow gate will surely lead to life abundant.
Fruit of the Spirit
To wrap this up, Paul reminded the church in Galatia to walk by the Spirit. He warns them that people who live contrary to the Kingdom of God are in fact not in the Kingdom of God. Jealousy, strife, sexual immorality, drunkenness, divisions, envy, fits of anger, and rivalries are only a handful of examples that Paul uses in Galatians 5, but suffice it to say that the follower of Jesus should be different from that list. Those who have the Spirit within them will exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you are in Christ, then these fruits will begin to grow.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25)
How have you encountered the Spirit as a unifier or sanctifier?
The Wisdom Wednesday last post hinted that the Holy Spirit invites people into a dance full of grace. He doesn’t just stop at that though, he also confirms that we are a child of God, even when we don’t feel like a daughter or son of the Creator.
Deep Seated Reality
To pull from Henri Nouwen again, it is important to see that when we call God “Abba, Father” it means more than calling God by a close name. It’s a cry of the soul, surfacing from a deep seated reality– it is claiming God as the very source of who we are. For those who are in Christ, they have the incredible honor of being called a daughter or son of God.
In Romans 8, Paul writes that the Spirit of God (read: the Holy Spirit) cries out within us. It is he who helps us in our prayers when we don’t quite know what to pray for. It is he who helps us speak, even when we don’t know what to say at times.
Nouwen would say that it’s through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we have the same “intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had.” Paul would put it even clearer, writing that if the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead also dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead would also give life to your mortal body. How incredible is that? It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Holy Spirit As Our Down Payment
While, the Spirit makes it possible for us to know and recognize Jesus, he also can be seen as a down payment of sorts. Theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen wrote that since the Kingdom of God has broken into the world, the Holy Spirit acts as an initial offering of the glory to come (see I Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14) and as the first installment of the believer’s inheritance in the Kingdom (Rom 8:15-17; 14:17; I Cor 6:9-11; 15:42-50; Gal 4:6-7). Or as the second century Church Father Tertullian would write, “By whom has Christ ever been explored without the Holy Spirit? By whom has the Holy Spirit ever been attained without the mysterious gift of faith?” It is the Holy Spirit that connects us to God and empowers us.
He will not only be an initial down payment for us, he will also make us become more like Jesus. But more on that next week.
One of the things that I have learned at seminary is that Christianity has a core. Eastern and Western Christianity share a common core centered on the Nicene Creed; however, within these two large branches of the Christian faith there are some differences.
There is a heavy emphasis on Jesus (Christology) in Evangelicalism specifically and Western Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant) broadly. The Eastern Orthodox believers, on the other hand, place a large emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Recently in the West, the Pentecostal movement has brought about a renewed interest in the third person of the Trinity and I believe that this shift is a great thing.
Believe me though, it is very important to emphasize the person of Jesus and his role in the restoration of humanity to right relationship with God. Humanity is only able to relate to God through the God-Man Jesus (I’m thinking that I might have to use another series to unpack that statement. But for now, I mean that Jesus is fully God and fully man). However, Jesus himself said that he needed to leave them so that the Holy Spirit could come and bring power. In fact, Jesus said to his disciples in John 16 that it was good for him to go, that way the Helper could arrive and point others to this work of restoration.
Holy Spirit as a Helper
Did you catch that last thought? It was good for Jesus to leave. Think about that for a second.
Jesus (the one who conquered death, the one who spoke everything into existence a gazillion years ago, the one who bore the sins of the world) wanted to send someone else who could help humanity even more, someone who would bring power and new life.
It is he, the Holy Spirit, that would bring clarity about Jesus and about the Father. He would point others to this redeeming work and would also bring strength. As Karl Barth would reflectively write, “Everything that one believes, reflects and says about God the Father and God the Son… would be demonstrated and clarified basically through God the Holy Spirit, the vinculum pacis (unifying bond of peace, see Eph 4:3) between Father and Son.”
Holy Spirit, the Shy One
I heard a sermon on the Holy Spirit and the pastor described him as shy. What do you think about that?
Don’t picture him though as the painfully awkward individual who won’t say a word to anybody. Picture him instead a someone who likes to work behind the scenes as a support to the Father and Son, as an excellent servant like Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey or perhaps as a solid, right-hand man. Theologian Veli-Matti Karkkainen would suggest that the Spirit hides himself in a lot of ways, he retreats into the periphery instead of standing out in the forefront of the stage. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox thinker J. Meyendorff wrote that the Spirit does not call people to himself, instead he points them to the Son.
He does not want to show himself, rather he reveals the face of the Father to us in the face of the Son. When people look to him, he steps back and pushes forward Jesus. He doesn’t seek the limelight, instead you could say that he is the limelight. The power that many find in the Spirit comes when we seek Jesus, for the Holy Spirit wants to point others to Jesus.
Mind blown yet?
Trinity as a Dance
Another way of picturing this relationship within the Trinity (remember, the God revealed in the Bible is three in one and one in three) is like a dance. The Trinitiarian Dance is a deep bond of love, where there is give and take. The Trinitarian God now invites us (you and me!) to come be reconciled, and it is through the Holy Spirit that humanity can now be called a child of God.
You might be thinking, how can this be? Stay tuned next week, but for now soak in the beauty that the Spirit will confirm within you that you are a dearly loved child of God.
Since I was unable to complete the Henri Nouwen series last month, I am going to use this final post on Nouwen as a transition to July’s Wisdom Wednesdays series: the elusive Holy Spirit. Personally, the question of who/what is the Holy Spirit is something that has unnerved me in the past, since I come from a background that was not centered on that. For the next few weeks, I will work through who the Holy Spirit is and why he’s so important to the spiritual life of a Christian. It is my hope that this series will help bring a little more clarity to the often forgotten third person of the Trinity (or Forgotten God, as Francis Chan would say). As always, push back or questions are appreciated!
Holy Spirit as oxygen for the spiritual life
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Doxology is a beautiful declaration of the Christian faith and it helps differentiate the faith from the other religions of the world. It’s pretty easy to relate to the Father and Son in the song and Scripture, because we conceptually understand those two roles. It’s the third person that is a little trickier though. Let’s be honest, what is this Holy Ghost?
Something that helps me understand the Holy Spirit is by thinking of him as the wind or oxygen for the spiritual life.
It is important to realize that when I speak about the spiritual life here though, it does not mean that it is cut off from every other part of our lives. Instead, it means that we are breathing fresh air, the type you get at the ocean or in the mountains. It means that we have (re)claimed a new identity, an identity that is planted in becoming a child of God. A spiritual life deals with the whole of who you and I are, it’s not just one part of a multi-faceted you. Just as taking a huge breath of air helps the various systems within the human body, so does drawing in the Spirit of God into our “lungs” help clarify our lives.
Let me adjust my nerd glasses here and remind you that spirit in the ancient languages means “breath.” Interestingly, Henri Nouwen draws the connection between this Holy Spirit (breath of God) with our breathing patterns. While athletes regulate their breath in training and singers are conscious of it when performing on the stage, most of the time, we are completely unaware of our lungs expanding and contracting. It’s so integral to our life that we only think about it only when something goes wrong with it.
Holy Spirit as the breath of life
The Spirit of God is a lot like that.
Often we don’t notice that it’s moving in us, but without this breath it would be impossible to live a “spiritual life.” Nouwen would write that it is the Holy Spirit who will “pray in us, offer gifts of love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy.” And ultimately, “it is the Holy Spirit who offers us the life that death cannot destroy.” There is a beautiful passage in Romans that comfortingly states that it is the Holy Spirit that will speak on our behalf when we don’t quite know what or how to pray. He will intercede for us, even when all we can do is groan in anguish.
Recall that a trapeze artist needs to throw her hands up and rely on their partner to catch them mid-flight. Her life is dependent on the sure hands of a partner. Similarly for someone who have trouble breathing, they need to have fresh air pushed into their lungs. They need an intercession by another to help restore the flow of oxygen into their system and ensure life.
I think this is one of the great challenges of accepting the Gospel. For at its core, we have to accept a gift and cannot give anything in return. We receive the breath of the living God through this good news. The gift that Nouwen describes is this breath of life. And it is in a place of prayerfulness that followers of Jesus receive the breath of God and let their lives be renewed and expanded.
What are some other ways to capture who the Holy Spirit is?