Sunday, June 15, 2008

Things worth dying for 6: The Spirit has come and lives within us

Christians agree that the Spirit is the third person of the trinity and that the Spirit indwells believers. However, they differ on their view of the Spirit. The common ground is that the one God is expressed in three eternal persons including the Spirit. They believe that the Spirit was active in creation, and that the Spirit is involved in the animation of all natural life, sustaining creation and providence. They believe that the Spirit is at work in conversion, convicting of sin (Jn 16:8-11). They differ on the role of the Spirit in conversion. Some believe that the Spirit causes a person to be saved through irresistable grace. Some believe that this is God's sovereign choice alone and human response is not a factor in conversion. Some believe the Spirit works in the sense of 'prevenient grace' causing all to have the opportunity to be saved. However, human freedom or volition means that some resist the Spirit and salvation and are not reconciled to God.


Some believe the Spirit is received at conversion and that is it. Some believe that the Spirit is received at conversion but there is a subsequent second experience evidenced by the speaking of tongues. Without the speaking of tongues, there is no evidence of the Spirit. Some go as far as saying that without speaking in tongues, one is not a Christian and does not have the Spirit. Some believe in receiving the Spirit at conversion and that the Spirit will indwell the believer and walk in relationship with them. Consequently, believers will have ongoing experiences of the Spirt in many and different ways.


Another issue Christians have divided over is the filioque clause which states that God and Jesus send the Spirit, rather than just God himself. This split the Catholic and Eastern churches at the end of the first millenium.


Another debated area is the nature of inspiration and illumination of Scripture. Some believe the Spirit dictated the Scriptures to the writers and the very words are inspired revelation. Others believe in a less direct process, whereby the Spirit overshadowed the human authors in more general sense as they communicated within their world. Some believe that the Spirit connects with the words of the bible as read and preached and it is at this point that the word becomes dynamically the Word of God.

So how do we work this through?


For me, what is worth dying for is that the Spirit is a part of the Godhead, the essence of God himself in his creation. Similarly, that we receive the Spirit at conversion is worth standing for. This is clear in Paul's writings where he speaks of the Spirit being received at conversion, the Spirit a gift of God sealing us for salvation i.e. God's presence in us. In other words, eternal relationship has begun and will go on eternally. Check out 2 Cor 1:21, 22; Eph 1:13-14; 1 Cor 12:13. Essential to Christian belief too is that in some way the Scriptures are God-spirited, inspired and so authoritative and reliable.


So what is going on in Acts when there are seemingly second blessing experiences? Read carefully what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2); in Samaria (Acts 8); in Paul's conversion (Acts 9); in Cornelius' conversion (Acts 10); in Ephesus (Acts 19). The order varies in each, in some they speak in tongues; in others they praise God; prophesy; see a healing; go out into mission etc. In other words, the situation varies. Hence there is not complete pattern.


I think what is clear is that when we come to believe, God enters our being by his Holy Spirit and is with us in relationship. He transforms our being giving us the fruit of the Spirit. He empowers us for mission. He gives us gifts to share, new abilities. He makes our 'natural' gifts 'supernatural' enhancing them for his use. He gives us a passion for his Word, for prayer, for love for others. When we read the written word of God, the Spirit speaks through it and makes God known to us.


To me it is clear that as this is a relationship, there will be subsequent experiences of this God who is powerfully living within us. He will give us fresh experiences of his presence, new gifts as he sees fit, make changes to our character, guide us in our life and mission.

The argument over who sends the Spirit, the Father alone, or the Father and the Son in some sense, to me is crazy. There are texts pointing both ways and the debate is Christians at their most pedantic.

So what is worth dying for? Not that all Christians must speak in tongues, that is for sure. The Scriptures indicate that not all will (cf. 1 Cor 12:28-29). Not that we all should have the same experiences. Not that the inspiration of Scriptures have to be defined in a particular way; better to stick with what is affirmed, the Scriptures are God-breathed and the sword of the Spirit, whereby God reveals himself through them as they are read and heard. Not that the Spirit was sent by the Father and not the Son, this is getting way too deep. Not that we need a second experience to receive the Spirit; it is clear from Paul's writings that we receive the Spirit at conversion as a seal guaranteeing our experience of eternal life (some would say if we remain in that relationship; others would say, period!). Not that the work of the Spirit ended in some way at the close of the apostolic period so that the gifts we see in the NT are only for that time (this has no support in the NT except a misreading of 1 Cor 13:8-13 as a distinction between the age of the apostles and church and not this age and the age to come).

It is interesting to note in the Scriptures that speaking in tongues is not the mark of the Spirit for Paul. For him, love is the supreme evidence and way (1 Cor 13). For him, the ability to confess Jesus as Lord is indicative that a person has received the Spirit; similarly, a Spirit-filled person will not curse Christ in anyway (1 Cor 12:3). For Paul, the Spirit testifies inwardly if we have received him into our life; that is, how do we know we have the Spirit? We know, because we know! For Luke the mark of the Spirit is mission; the Spirit empowering the person for witness (Acts 1:8). Certainly the mark of the Spirit is not any one gift whether it be miracles (cf. Mat 7:21-23), tongues or whatever.

I should add the reason for this last comment. In 1 Cor 12:29-30 Paul asks a set of rhetorical question beginning with the Greek mē. This construction expects the answer 'no'. So Paul is really saying this: 'Not all are apostles are they? Not all are prophets are they? Not all are teacher are they? Not all are workers of miracles are they? Not all have the gifts of healing do they? Not all speak in tongues do they? Not all interpret do they?' It is plain as day here that Paul did not think all had the gift anymore than all were apostles or prophets! Why people persist with the view that all should speak in tongues is beyond me. Paul did want everyone to speak in tongues, but that is not saying that they would or could!

Anyway, despite this, it is time for Christians to stop allowing the disputed matters around the Spirit divide us. Let's discuss and debate them for sure. But lets stand on the big things:

1. The Spirit is the third person of the trinity that makes up the triune God living in eternal relationship with God the Father and Jesus.

2. The Spirit is involved in creation and the world.

3. The Spirit is at work in conversion convicting and in other unspecified was drawing people to faith and enabling their response.

4. The Spirit indwells the believer at the moment of conversion and faith; the believer is the temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).

5. The Spirit gives various and different gifts as the Spirit determines to believers (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; 1 Cor 13; Eph 4).

6. The Spirit indwells, animates, leads and unifies the church as the temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16).

7. The Spirit works inward transformation in the believer granting fruit, supremely love (Gal 5:22-24).

8. The Spirit can be grieved and quenched through our sin and resistance (Eph 4:30).

9. The Spirit inspires people for mission (Acts 1:8).

10. The Spirit inspires the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16) and empowers proclamation and makes it effective (Eph 6:17).

11. The Spirit is free and cannot be contained in our systems and perspectives except that we can completely trust the Spirit to move in love and goodness and in accordance with God's purposes (cf. Jn 3:8).

Now that's a Spirit worth dying for!

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