The ONLY way we know about God is that God CHOOSES out of love to reveal Himself. Jesus followers believe that God has revealed Himself in history, in creation, in real lives, IN and through Jesus (who is the face or snapshot of God, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father”); we also believe that God used and uses the Written Word (contrasted with the living Word – John’s gospel uses the word, “logos,” Ultimate reality) which is God’s revelation. The “written Word” is God’s words and actions that we can see, ingest and experience. A guy in history by the name of Martin Luther said the bible was the “cradle of Christ.” Even more so, the “contemporary” incarnation (or revelation in tangible manners) can be experienced through God’s Spirit, referred to historically and Biblically as the Holy Spirit (the third “revelation” of the character and nature of God as well as the “in the moment” incarnation of God in and through human life).
If you are curious about the Spirit, here are some sections of the Bible that are helpful in order to get a handle on this “Spirit” thing:
1 – Jesus said to “receive the Spirit” (John 20:22 – a POST-resurrection encouragement of Jesus to anticipate his Spirit’s life within the believer)
2 – Jesus said we, “can’t control the Spirit” (John 3:8 which denotes the transcendence of God’s action independent from human constructions and definitions) – if you think you are confused, Jesus said this originally to one of the learned scholars of HIS day, Nicodemus.
3 – In one of the longest recorded discourses of Jesus with his disciples, Jesus said the Holy Spirit was going to be a healer, helper, and advocate. Holy Spirit was that aspect of God that moves us to worship, that draws us together into relationship, that makes us HOLY (we’ll get back to that in a minute), that sustains us when we are at the end of our rope (something that happens to me, I’m sure it does to you too) and that gives us something we so desperately need in order to do the things that God wants us to do in the world – eyes to see, ears to hear and the POWER to do something about it (you can read this in John 13-16).
4 – Jesus said and the Book of Acts demonstrates that WE NEED THE HOLY SPIRIT to live and be faithful and to continue to show how we have embraced God’s incredible gifts of love and grace. It is curious to me (and I still have NO definitive explanation on this biblical phenomenon) why there seems to be a separation of people’s experience of “receiving Jesus” but “NOT” receiving the Spirit. In Paul’s journeys, some “didn’t hear about the Spirit” (see Acts 19). Paul’s action in that regard demonstrates the importance of our need for God’s Spirit. In other words, there is something strangely missing without an awareness of God’s presence through the Spirit in a Jesus follower’s life.
Let me put it this way – for some reason, many in the Jesus movement believed in the past that they were just fine when they had the Holy Spirit marginalized as some sort of ghost or bird…in fact, even using big words like, “Sanctifier or Sanctification” (which is part of the Holy Spirit’s action/work in you and me) in many respects has kept the Spirit of God at arm’s length. But the power and story of the Spirit is that we need to let the Spirit loose, come face to face with a heap of stuff that we cannot control while remembering the entire time that THAT’S the POINT and THAT’S exactly what God wants.
- Holy Spirit reminds us that GOD CANNOT BE CONTROLLED
- Holy Spirit reminds that God cannot fit in an intellectual box
- Holy Spirit reminds us that there is MORE to God and God’s gift of grace and love than JUST eternal life – you see, God wants us to experience life NOW
- God says to you and me right now, right here – “I want to empower you…I want to sustain you…I want to inspire you…I want to transform you…I want to “en-fruit” you” (you can read about the fruit of God’s Spirit in Galatians 5). You see, Holy Spirit is all about eternal life NOW and that means…it means CHANGE!
Let me try this on you for size – most of us who have grown up in denominations that have a great theological history. That experience of theology and teaching is not only astute but a great vocalization of what it means to live in and with God through Jesus. Even so, one of the things about some Euro-Central Reformation based “tribes” bristle against is something called, “revivalism” or the “holiness” movements in more recent Christian history. Those movements tend to bring the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to bear in the Christian experience and journey. Personally, I believe that the reality of the Holy Spirit was not the primary focus of the early Reformation. There was too much work that had to be done to – a biblical understanding of grace and re-right a “ship” that had drifted off course. Yet, God is faithful and more recent experiences in the body of Christ in history where the Spirit of God and the work of Sanctification have been “highlighted” have served as a vital reminder of something that every Jesus follower needs – an experience of the indwelling Spirit. In other words, that power of God that constantly calls us back to the good news (Jesus), transforms, motivates to worship and releases us to be the people of God we were designed to be.
Here’s my important “hat tip” to my denominational heritage regarding God’s Spirit. It’s more than an acknowledgment but a reminder to me about how the Lord shared His truth in my life:
- I confess – God’s grace draws us to Jesus – God was and is and is always acting outside of our volition. For example, I pray daily that I can see God (the Spirit) at work in the world and then JOIN THE SPIRIT OF JESUS THERE in those moments).
- Third article of the Apostle’s creed was “explained” by Martin Luther this ways, “the Holy Spirit calls me through the Gospel.” In other words, we cannot “work our way” or say the right type of prayer that initiates God’s action because He’s already acted.
So, now that we have that out-of-the-way – let me suggest this:
The Holy Spirit is the ONLY ASPECT OF GOD that you and me DO NEED to respond to and cooperate with…again we don’t need to respond to grace for it to be grace. But the Bible does say things like, “fan the flame,” “don’t quench the Spirit,” “be continually filled with the Spirit” implying an ongoing “receiving” of the gift of God’s presence in our life. God doesn’t force His way into your life as you begin your walk with Jesus NOR WILL HE FORCE YOU INTO ANY OF THE REALITIES of the Spirit’s transformational power.
Yet I have to tell you, God cannot and will not do what God wants to do in the world without US, you and me, cooperating with Holy Spirit, listening to the Spirit, yielding to the Spirit, and watching and joining the Spirit’s actions around us.
That’s one of the reasons why, I think, in the book of Acts there is such a BIG deal about whether or not new followers actually had heard about or received the Spirit – it is not that they hadn’t experienced the presence and power of the Spirit that drew them to Jesus and His gift of love/grace…but there was something more…they needed to see, realize that God’s gift wasn’t just for personal consumption but for Kingdom releasing. In other words, God’s gift of grace wasn’t just for them NOR it is just for us to say “thanks” to but to submit our lives, our wills, and our actions to as we join God in HIS mission with HIS power to do what He wants to do in HIS and OUR world. So, the Spirit wants to:
- Sanctify – make holy
- Sustain – patience and ability to hold the course
- Empower – Kingdom power (just as Jesus exhibited it)
- Transform – metamorphosis
- Unify – a oneness and connection that transcends tribal lines
- Glorify – worship and lead our prayer life (when we don’t know how or what)
The Holy Spirit is THAT part of God that makes US whole. It is that “non-dualistic” aspect of God that refuses to be compartmentalized. We cannot talk any longer about our “spiritual” life and “regular life.” The Spirit of God BINDS both together into one whole. The Holy Spirit is that which brings us together and moves us with compassion. When you feel the tug at your heart (love, peace, patience, etc.), ask yourself the question, “where did those things come from?” You know where? The Spirit of God – and you would be right in saying to yourself that you can’t produce those things on your own – you see, when you see that fruit, you are seeing God…you are seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in you and you are hearing the CALL of God to join Him where He is already at work.
Do you know what the Big Question of Pentecost is? What does it mean for YOU to take the Holy Spirit seriously? Go ahead…ask it!
Extra Credit – Here are some thoughts by one of my favorite spiritual mentors, Father Richard Rohr regarding the Holy Spirit. This challenges all of us:
“A lot of mainstream evangelicals (traditionalists and contemporary) may ignore or diminish the Holy Spirit because of the exaggerated, sometimes dangerous (heretical) emphasis by the Pentecostals and some brands of Charismatic movements. So we go in the other direction.
Are we sure that we take the Holy Spirit seriously by focusing on the Holy Spirit? Or is it the Holy Spirit’s role to be the intracommunication, the life Spirit, of Father to Son and of Jesus Followers to the Godhead? We are brought into relationship with God THROUGH the Holy Spirit — not so much brought into a relationship WITH the HS. . . That is, may he not supposed to be the more hidden “member” of the Triune God as his/her/its role is to direct us Jesus & his father?
The most frequent imagery and metaphor for the “Spirit”, for ruach and pneuma, is (literally) breath, wind & fire. Very illusive indeed. The Holy Spirit conveys the mystery of God as well as the essential “spiritual”=nonmaterial nature of God.
I think we take the HS seriously by following Jesus, by worshiping (because he inspires and extends God’s grace in our worship), by growing up (transformation/metamorphosis), by everything we do. I don’t sense from the glimpses of the “Spirit of God” (OT) and the HS (NT) that we have in the Bible that he/she/it demands our direct attention but rather IS that new, resurrected, eternal Life of God that moves within us and toward God as Father & Son.
Could it be that we are BOTH human and divine now that we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit?” Rohr writes, “there is a part of me that wants to love, heal and renew and would never want to hurt anybody. It’s just, where does this come from? I know I didn’t develop it or work for it; it’s my soul. We would say that this is the divine indwelling of the Holy Spirit – that part of me that has always said, “yes” to love, God and others. I don’t know where that radical “yes” comes from. That’s my divine part that is in communion with God.”