[Note: I am attempting to keep these SBD installments under 2000 words each, but that is–of course–quite inadequate for the topics covered. Consequently, these contributions are more programmatic than they are explanatory or defenses of the positions stated. You may access the whole series at my Serial page.]
The Holy Spirit, as the personal presence of God, is the active agent and earnest of our salvation.
The Spirit of God is present at the very beginning (Gen. 1:2), throughout the organic growth of the narrative, and in the climax, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” (Rev. 22:17).
The Spirit and Trinity
The Spirit is characterized by divine attributes: omniscience (1 Corinthians 2:10), omnipotence (Micah 3:8), and omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-10). The Spirit participates in divine works: creation (Psalm 104:30), regeneration (John 3:5), resurrection (Rom. 8:11), and miracles (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Just as the Father gives life (Romans 8:11), so the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6). The Spirit is specifically identified in New Testament triune sayings (e.g., Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6).
Relational Ontology. The Spirit is God’s Spirit, the Spirit of God. Paul, for example, thinks of the Spirit primarily in terms of the Spirit’s relationship to God the Father. God gives the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:8). But Paul also calls the Spirit the Spirit of Christ (Philippians 1:19; Romans 8:9). These genitives express relationship. Both the Father and Christ give identity to the Spirit–the Spirit is from the Father and the Spirit is how Christ is present to believers in their hearts. While the Spirit of God is identical with the Spirit of Christ (which reflects Paul’s high Christology), the Spirit is not equated with the risen Lord. The Spirit and the Lord are distinct from each other (e.g., both intercede for us in Romans 8:26-27, 34). The Spirit is personally distinct from Christ though their functions are linked. The Spirit is the means by which Christ lives in us.
Some question the personality of the Spirit. There is no metaphor for the Spirit analogous to “Father” and “Son” which projects personhood. “Spirit” sounds impersonal. But the Spirit (though pneuma is grammatically neuter) is referenced in a personal gender (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13, 14, “that person”). The Spirit is “another parakletos” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The absence of Jesus means the presence of another, one distinct from himself who has the same function. Thus, the disciples will not be left alone as if orphans. Rather, the Spirit is a personal representative of the Father and the Son.
Economic Trinity. The economic trinity is the role of the three persons in redemptive history. Each has a distinctive role: The Father elects, the Son is enfleshed, and the Spirit indwells. For example, in 1 Peter 1:2, the Father foreknows, the Son sheds blood and the Spirit sanctifies (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). The Father plans and elects, the Son accomplishes redemption within history, and the Spirit applies that redemption in the hearts of believers.
The Spirit calls people to faith and convicts them of sin. The Spirit applies the reality of salvation to people. The Spirit works within the individual to produce the effects of salvation in their lives (“fruit of the Spirit,” Galatians 5) but also in the community as a whole. The Spirit completes the goal of glorification through the resurrection. As Gordon Fee suggests, the Spirit is the “soteriological experience of God” (Empowering Presence, 843) or the redemptive presence of God.
We may summarize the economic work of the Trinity in two sentences. First, whatever the Father does in the accomplishment of redemption, the Father does through the Son (Eph. 1:4-14). The Incarnate Son works the work of the Father in fulfillment of the mission of God. Second, whatever the Son does in the application of redemption, the Son does through the Spirit (Eph. 2:18-22). The Spirit is the means by which believers experience and encounter the Father through the Son.
Redemptive-Historical Structure: Divine Presence
Act One: Creation–Garden Presence. After six days of creating, God rested on the seventh day. This divine rest is not simple passivity. Rather, the rest is a kind of “resting in” or enjoying the creation. God delights (“it is very good”) in and dwells (walks in the Garden) with humanity in the good cosmos. The rest of God is the mutual enjoyment of God, humanity and the cosmos.
Act Two: Israel–Temple Presence. This is the place God chose to dwell in the Hebrew Scriptures. God dwells in the temple; God’s feet rest on the footstool of the Ark of the Covenant. This is a special presence which communes with Israel in relationship. Israel experienced this presence at the temple; there they entered the earthly sanctuary (dwelling-place) which was typological of the heavenly sanctuary. This is what I see in 2 Chronicles 6-7 and Leviticus 26:11-12, for example; or alluded to so often in the Psalms such as 63 or 132. This is a form of redemptive presence as God meets Israel at the temple for the sake of grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Act Three: Incarnational Presence (Logos in the flesh). This is the presence of God walking upon the earth. God dwelt among with humanity in the flesh rather than in a temple. This is what I see in Matthew 1–“God with us” (Immanuel) or in John 1 (“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”). This is the climactic moment in that God becomes human. It is an eschatological moment in that it anticipates the future when God will fully dwell with humanity on a renewed earth (“new heavens and new earth”).
Act Four: Pneumatological Presence (Holy Spirit dwells in Christians). The Spirit dwells in the bodies of individual Christians and in the body of Christ as a community. This is another form of redemptive presence—it is the sanctifying presence of God who transforms us by divine presence. This is the presence of the Spirit on earth; our bodies are a divine sanctuary and the church community is the sanctuary of God upon the earth. Through the presence of the Spirit we commune with the Father and Son in our daily walk. Through the Spirit, Christ dwells in our hearts by faith and is always present with us. This is what I see in Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 3 & 6. We are the temple of God through the Holy Spirit as God has come to dwell among us in fulfillment of the ancient promises (2 Corinthians 6:16 quoting Leviticus 26:11-12).
Act Five: Eschatological Presence (God dwells with Redeemed Humanity). This is when the new Jerusalem descends to the new earth. God–the Triune God–fully dwells with humanity upon the earth. There is no temple; there is no sanctuary. The whole earth is the dwelling-place of God. This is what I see in Rev. 21-22. The presence of the Triune God is restored to the earth but it is not merely a restoration. It is a glorification since what is mortal has now been transformed into immortality (resurrection). Act One is not repeated but consummated and a new phase of the same journey begins–a journey into the depth and riches of communion with God, with each other, and with the creation.
Ascension, Pentecost and the Pouring Out of the Spirit
The Promise. A redemptive-historical distinction is made in Luke 3:15-18 between the work of John the Baptist (baptism in water) and the work of Christ (baptism in the Spirit). The baptism of John was for the remission of sins, but it did not entail the full soteriological reality, that is, the presence of the Spirit.
The promise of the Spirit is part of the reality of the eschaton. It is the “already” of what we have “not yet” received. We receive it as partial down payment of the full eschatological reality. We participate in that reality through one baptism: water and Spirit are united to mediate that reality to us. It is the corporate experience of the people of God–we are a baptized people, in water and Spirit.
The Fulfillment. Pentecost is part the Christ Event—his ascension and reign (Acts 2:1-39). The Death-Resurrection-Ascension-Exaltation-Pouring are a single event, a whole tapestry. It is the resurrected, crucified one who ascended to the right hand of God and poured out the Spirit. The giving of the Spirit at Pentecost is the “first fruits” of the harvest.
This “pouring out” is broader than the miraculous empowerment of the apostles (cf. Titus 3:5-6). The Spirit is poured out and promised to all those who are immersed (Acts 2:38). Just as Jesus was given the Spirit as foundational to his ministry, so believers are given the Spirit as empowerment for ministry. Jesus poured out the Spirit upon all believers as part of the body of Christ. Baptism in the Spirit does not refer only to individualistic experiences of the Spirit, but to the once-for-all outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost for the church. We share in this reality when we are baptized into Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
The Principle. The exalted Lord is the life-giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 3:17). There is a functional identification because Christ and the Spirit who applies the accomplished work of Christ. Christ is present through the Spirit in the lives of believers. As resurrected and ascended into heaven, he has become, in effect, “the Spirit” or “Life-giving Spirit.”
“Spiritual” refers to Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:3). By virtue of his exaltation, as last Adam, the exalted Jesus has come into such permanent and complete possession of the Spirit that the two are equated in their activity. They are one in the eschatological work of giving life to the church. This work of the Spirit (the Lord as Life-giving Spirit) is done presently through inner renewal, but will ultimately glorify us through resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:14-5:10). Thus, the presence of the Spirit is the presence of Christ (cf. John 14:12-23). The presence of the Spirit is what renders us “spiritual,” that is, guided, oriented by, and living in the Spirit. The life we live is the life of the resurrected Christ through the Spirit.
The giving of the Spirit hinges on the work of Christ (John 7:39). It is a redemptive-historical event—something previously not done. It is a watershed event in the history of redemption. It is the source of life in the believer. Our life is the life of the Spirit who mediates to us the power of the resurrected and exalted life of Christ. (In the above section I am indebted to my former professor Richard Gaffin for his insights.)
The Function of the Spirit
The Spirit as Indwelling Presence. The Spirit is the one by whom we commune with God. God dwells among us through the Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the witness to our redemption and we find this redemption in the community of God where God dwells through the Spirit. We are not destitute of the personal presence of God. Just as God was personally present in the incarnation through Jesus, so God is personally present in the church through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Consequently, we are the temple of God. The Holy One dwells in our midst as an earnest of our future dwelling with God in the new heaven and the new earth.
The Spirit as Transforming Empowerment. There are three levels at which we may speak of this transformation: (1) Regeneration; (2) Sanctification; and (3) Glorification.
Regeneration is the work of the Spirit that inaugurates our salvation. It is a rebirth of our fallen nature out of the Spirit of God. Human nature is newly created—a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:7) and Spiritual power is introduced into our lives. This principle of life engages the flesh in a power struggle. Regeneration is human nature reborn according to the power of the Spirit rather than human nature born in the flesh (sarx).
Sanctification is the progressive work of the Spirit in the life of the believer (1 Peter 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). It is a process of renewal and metamorphosis. The inner person is daily renewed (2 Corinthians 4:15-16) and the Spirit strengthens the inner person (Ephesians 3:17-18) as we more and more approximate the image of Christ. The fruits of the Spirit are movements toward the image of Christ in sanctification (Galatians 5).
Glorification completes our salvation as we are resurrected by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:11). The final glory is the resurrection (redemption) of the body. This resurrection is Christological in nature as we are conformed to the image of Christ, even in his body. This is the final transformation (Philippians 3:21). We are conformed to that image by the power of the Spirit. The Spirit will animate our resurrected bodies (1 Corinthians 15).
The Spirit as Gifter. The Spirit distributes the gifts of God. Everyone is given a “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). God gives gifts “through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:6). These gifts range from gifts of mercy, teaching, leadership, generosity (Romans 12:3-8) to wisdom, knowledge, healings, miracles, prophecy and tongues (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). Neither of these lists are exhaustive but illustrative of God’s work within the community of faith for the sake of the body and the world. The same Spirit disperses a diversity of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:11).
The Spirit of God is the presence of God throughout creation. God has not abandoned the cosmos. The Spirit who was present at creation is present in all corners of the earth even now. The Spirit—the presence in which humans live, move and their being—is working common grace throughout the creation and within history.
The Spirit of God is also a redemptive presence among the people of God through whom they commune with and experience the personal reality of God. The Spirit is the personal, existential connection between God and humanity. The personal indwelling of the Spirit is the experience of God in our hearts whereby we cry “Abba, Father.” The Father and Son come to dwell us through the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the power of our transformation into the image of Christ. The Spirit is present to empower, strengthen, and sanctify. The Spirit bears the fruit of love, peace and joy in our lives. The Spirit comforts us in our inner persons. The Spirit empowers forgiveness and release from resentment. The Spirit is an enabling presence for our transformation.
The Holy Spirit empowers our ministry as the Spirit gifts each of us for service in our faith communities as well as in the world. The Spirit equips for the “common good”—for communities of faith, for human society and for creation. We seek these gifts through prayer, discipleship and mentoring relationships.