Holy Spirit

The best kept secret in the Jesus movement now called "Christianity" is that Jesus is still present among his followers. His presence is no longer in his earthly body; it is rather in his Spirit abiding in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus and of his Father. A recurring theme of the New Testament is that Jesus would baptize his followers with the very Spirit of God (see Mk. 1:8; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:4-5). In Acts 2, the apostle Peter cites a prophecy of Joel 2:28 : "... I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." Peter finds this prophecy fulfilled in the Pentecost experience of Acts 2, and he credits Jesus as the source of the fulfillment: "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33, NIV). Jesus thus has the authority to give people the very Spirit of God.

The apostle Paul uses the following language interchangeably: "the Spirit of God," "the Spirit of Christ," and "Christ." Thus: "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you" (Rom. 8:9-11). In keeping with this usage, Paul thinks of Jesus as having become, at his resurrection, a "life-giving Spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45).

John's Gospel, like Paul's letters, represents the coming of God's Spirit as the coming of Jesus himself. It also represents Jesus as being in a position to arrange for the sending of God's Spirit. Thus: "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (Jn. 14:15-18, NIV). In the coming of God's Spirit to people, Jesus himself comes. The Holy Spirit, according to John and Paul, is as much the Spirit of Jesus as the Spirit of his Father. This means that the power of God's Spirit is inherently the power of self-giving love as embodied in the obedient crucified Jesus. It means, furthermore, that we cannot separate the Holy Spirit from the cross of Jesus, in particular, from the crucified Jesus (see Gal. 3:1-5).

The power of self-giving love in a follower of Jesus is explained best by the Good News that God’s Spirit has truly intervened in human lives under the authority of Jesus, the giver of God’s Spirit. This power yields a salient kind of evidence for the reality of God. Our recognition of such power and evidence depends on our willingness to acknowledge these as not of our own making. They are received as a gift from God or not at all. The human reception of God’s Spirit is thus no merely subjective matter. It yields one’s becoming loving and forgiving (to some discernible degree) as God is loving and forgiving. It yields salient fruit of God’s Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control (see Gal. 5:22-23). These are not merely subjective phenomena. On the contrary, they are discernible by anyone attentive to them. These phenomena emerge, as gifts from God, in the lives of people in ways that are readily identifiable.

1 John 4:1 advises us to “test the spirits to see whether they are of God” rather than to believe every spirit. Otherwise, we may be led away from truth and into serious error by false teachers. Jesus offers similar advice: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.... Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:15-18). We can know the reality of the presence of God’s Spirit by means of the fruits yielded by His Spirit. God's Spirit makes one loving (to some discernible degree) as Jesus is loving. This is the primary fruit of the Spirit, and it is identifiable and testable in a person’s life. The presence of God’s Spirit thus comes with salient evidence observable by any suitably attentive person.

Another widely kept secret among Christians is that the Spirit of God is the cognitive anchor of firsthand knowledge of God. Paul writes:

... those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom. 8:14-17, NIV).

God's Spirit testifies directly to us that we are children of the living God. Paul puts this lesson in other words: "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God in order that we may understand what God has freely given us" (1 Cor. 2:12). We need the Spirit of God to apprehend the things of God.

According to the New Testament, the needed Spirit of God is the Spirit of Jesus and thus is seen most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We will apprehend this Spirit’s reality only if we are willing to have “eyes to see and ears to hear” what God intends for us. We must open ourselves to be attuned to receive God’s Spirit. Even in the case of our knowing God, God seeks to move our wills toward obedience to His perfect will, just as Jesus obeyed in Gethsemane. The true God, being perfectly loving, seeks to have us learn to love and to obey as Jesus loves and obeys. In learning thus, we enter in to friendship with God through His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. This friendship is the only antidote to the destructive power of our idols. Will we receive it? Our lives depend on it.


Romans 8

Nothing can keep me apart from the Love
that He has for me deep in my heart.
Not death and not life; not cruel accusation.
Nothing at all, not in all of creation.

This Love is not mine to abolish or seize.
It is of the Spirit. It is life and peace.
The pains that life brings will continue to torment.
But in Him we hope, yes, we wait and are patient.

Sometimes it still seems that the darkness pervades.
We hurt and we fight, as the light starts to fade.
We must not forget that the Spirit groans with us,
and sighs for our hearts when our words leave us helpless.

This life of the Spirit gives birth from above.
It flies on the wings of a heavenly dove.
For now in His light there is nothing to fear.
In Jesus there's freedom, and Abba is near.