Last week I mentioned how the Lord provides us his Spirit as confirmation of who we are and whose we are. I want to take it a step further and relay that he not only gives us his Spirit to confirm that we are in fact sons and daughters of the King, but also so we can know God.
Paul reminded the church at Corinth that the Holy Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. This same Spirit that searches the very mind of God is also promised to those who are in Christ. Incredibly enough, this Spirit helps us understand the things of God. (stay with me here)
As a Christian, I believe that the God of all things (the one who created the cosmos so long ago) was revealed to us through creation. But he didn’t stop there! Instead, he revealed himself to us through his Word.
Through the long and winding narrative recorded in Scripture, we see who God is a bit more clearly. And in these last days, as the writer to the Hebrews would pen, he revealed himself through Jesus. In short, if we want to know who God is, we need to look to Jesus.
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (I Corinthians 2:12)
If we have placed our trust in the completed work and words of Jesus, we too can grab onto the promise relayed by Paul. You and I both can be assured not only of our own standing before a holy God, but also that we can begin to understand the gifts he has given to us.
What other things does God promise?
Take it away, Jon!
Hi Everyone. This is Jon again. I’m assuming at this point Jeremy and Kristen have welcomed their daughter into the world. That is an assumption on my part because I am writing this before her due date but this will post at least a week later. You see good bloggers, like Jeremy, work on posts in advance. I on the other hand like to write stuff and post immediately. I’m kind of a slacker in that way. So Jeremy is forcing me out of my procrastination comfort zone.
In my previous post I discussed with you the concept of Perichoresis. Today we are going to look at similar topic, one that Jeremy has been covering the past few weeks. Today we’re going to take a brief look at an important idea regarding the Holy Spirit. If you want to read the other ones you can find them here.
Let’s be frank here. If I was the Holy Spirit I would be a little bummed out. I would be thinking to myself “Guys like Jeremy are always calling me shy and everyone always seems to forget about me. Often they even think the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible. And then the people who really like me do super crazy stuff. Like wave flags around, push people over, and talk in a language that only I understand all the while looking weird. Having fans like these don’t add much to your street cred.” But alas I am not the Holy Spirit and that is a good thing.
The Person of the Holy Spirit
However, I do share one important similarity with the Holy Spirit that is often neglected when discussing him. The similarity is that we both exist as persons. It seems that people regularly forget that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person. If you notice in all of Jeremy’s posts about the Holy Spirit he has used the masculine pronoun to describe said person. This is a tradition that has good standing. In John 14:26 Jesus states “he will teach you.” You see Jesus didn’t say it. He gave credence to the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
So if he is a “he” and not an “it” why do we so often view him otherwise? I think it is because we don’t clearly understand him so it is easier to think of him as an “it.” There may be other various reasons but that is one in particular and unfortunately we don’t have the space to dive deeper into this idea.
This also means we need to be willing to change our thinking. No person likes to be objectified; so we shouldn’t objectify him. We need to alter our thinking. Often this is best done by our actions. To begin to change this idea I’d like to encourage you to begin interacting with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. In your mind pray to him specifically and refer to him as a him instead of it.
This is a complex thought that I think is best changed through simple actions over a period of time. Don’t expect immediate change. But strive to change you thought process by your actions. Be ok to take it slow. If you give it enough time you might just wake up and notice that you’re automatically thinking of him as a him.
Now may you this week be aware of the dynamic present person, known as the Holy Spirit, in your lives.
Jon Varner is a graduate of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, the longest seminary name in the world. Like me (Jeremy) he is about to have his first child or has had it depending on when you read this. Unlike me he is going to have a boy. For him that is a good thing because the thought of a daughter scares the you know what out of him. He is passionate about people consistently pursuing God and this includes better understanding him. In the next few years he hopes to plant a church in California. He tweets @jcvarner and be sure to check out Jon’s blog!
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?