Thursday, September 6, 2012

Our Forgotten God, The Holy Spirit: Part III

In our last two posts, we have seen that the Holy Spirit is truly God, and is in our hearts. We learned that He is the inspirer of Scripture and interpretation, as well as (more rarely) prophesy and visions; we learned that He serves as a witness to us and the world that Jesus established the New Covenant with us; and we learned that He is the conduit from which we receive God’s grace, gifts, and blessings—and through which we respond in prayer and service and worship.

Today, we get to the big question which divides so many Christians: what is our relationship with the Holy Spirit supposed to look like? Let us begin to answer this question by exploring how the relationship is initiated, and then we will conclude by determining how we should respond in this relationship.

Initiating the Relationship

The relationship with the Holy Spirit initiates when we are saved. We are told that our salvation bonds our spirit to God’s Spirit, and that this serves as our seal and guarantee of the New Covenant made with Jesus Christ. [1] Jesus told us explicitly that we must be born again of the water (baptism) and the Spirit in order to live eternally. [2] John the Baptist told us that this was Jesus’ form of baptism [3]. In fact, this is a common theme throughout the New Testament: our flesh is baptized through water, and our spirit is baptized through receipt of the “fire” of the Holy Spirit. [4]

Obviously, then, receipt of the Holy Spirit is the singular most critical part of the salvation experience: if we do not receive Him, then we are not really Christians, as shown in passages like Acts 19:1-7. So it is perhaps no surprise that so many people want to put a ritual or specific set of criteria in place which will determine whether or not one has received the Holy Spirit.

Generally, this involves taking a passage out of its context and assuming that because the Holy Spirit was received in a certain way in one or two passages, then this must be the correct or proper method of receiving the Holy Spirit. This of course is contradicted when other passages do not record the same events, though! For example, sometimes the Holy Spirit is received with the laying on of hands [5], but at other times they are saved either without or before having hands laid on them in prayer [6]. Sometimes the Spirit is received and the people begin speaking in tongues [7], but not at other times. [8] Sometimes the Spirit is received at the same time as water baptism [9], sometimes before. [10]

We, in our desires to have Law at the forefront of our lives, tend to be very uncomfortable with this. We prefer a checklist and set of rules—the messiness of sometimes receiving the Holy Spirit from laying on of hands, sometimes at baptism, sometimes demonstrated by spiritual gifts…this uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. So some elevate one over the others, saying that baptism is necessary to receive the Spirit, or that speaking in tongues is the normal evidence of receipt of the Spirit, or that we must have laying on of hands by those who had hands laid upon them in a long line back to the apostles. Some make it “all of the above”—baptism plus laying on of hands plus some form of spiritual evidence like speaking in tongues.

The reality is that this is just another example of our desire for legalism to separate us from the grace of God. It seems as though the Spirit sometimes comes with the laying on of hands, sometimes at baptism, sometimes at neither; it also appears that sometimes He comes showing amazing works, and other times not.

So how do we gain the Holy Spirit? There is one (and only one) consistent theme in every single Scripture about receiving the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit is received when we hear the word of God preached, believe in Jesus as our Savior, and repent of our sins, confessing Him as our Lord. [11] This act of spiritual baptism should also be accompanied with a water baptism of the flesh, thus completing Jesus’ command in John 3:5-8.

It is through these two signs, then, that we receive the Holy Spirit as the seal of our salvation and the guarantee of our future in heaven.

Our part of the relationship

So if the Spirit is a gift sent to us by God when we hear and believe in His word [12], then what is our part of the relationship? As we have already stated, sometimes this was associated with miracles (glossolalia, miraculous healing, prophesy, visions, etc.), but not always. Indeed, these miracles were seen as newsworthy enough to write down and distribute to other Christians, indicating by definition that it was not a commonplace occurrence. So how did most people respond?

The Bible actually tells us several times how we are to act in response to the Holy Spirit. We are to try and avoid sin in our flesh, since our bodies are now temples holding God’s Spirit. [13] We are to live lives which demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, being the “letter” from God to the world. [14] We are to listen to His guidance, rather than quenching His spirit inside of us, and do not return to the way we used to live and believe. [15] We are to retain our unity with other believers [16], rather than grieving the Holy Spirit through living lives of anger, bitterness, or drunkenness. [17] We do not seek these things through the Law, but through the freedom given to us by the Holy Spirit. [18]

How not to respond

As we consider how to respond to the Spirit’s presence within us, however, it is absolutely critical that we discuss two ways in which we should not respond: blaspheming the Spirit and worshipping the creation rather than the creator.

Don’t blaspheme the Spirit

One thing which we are absolutely, 100%, forbidden to do is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. [19] This is called the one “unforgivable sin” in all of Scripture, the only thing about which God will not look the other way. As we read the passages in which this occurs, it becomes clear that the unforgivable sin is to attribute the works of the Holy Spirit to the works of Satan—that is, it is essentially the act of calling God and His miracles evil, or Satanic.

It is for this reason that I am very cautious when I speak of spiritual gifts. I have often been asked if I think that glossolalia continues today, or if it ceased with the apostles. I have never experienced it myself, and to be honest I am highly skeptical when I hear others tell their stories about it. But I will never say that they are not of God: such is not my place. I can never know with certainty whether someone speaking in tongues is showing a gift of the Spirit or merely a mental disorder or following a form of peer pressure: and if I cannot know, I am certainly not going to say that it cannot be a gift of the Spirit. I think that saying so is going too far…and in a very dangerous way, since—if such gifts are from the Spirit—you are calling the miracles of God lies and treachery. Such a judgmental approach is not too far a cry from stepping off the cliff by calling such displays evil and Satanic.

So when people ask me if glossolalia or other similar spiritual gifts continue today, I generally respond with an honest, “I don’t know. I certainly have never experienced God this way, nor has anyone whom I see as an exemplary model of faith. But I will never say it is impossible, and God has certainly spoken in that way in past times.”

The fact is that God is far greater than us, and often works in mysterious ways. Do not presume to tell others that they are not being used by Him. Give wise counsel as you see fit, using Scripture whenever possible. But ultimately you are not qualified to judge whether the Spirit is or is not working through a certain act.

Don’t worship the creation rather than the creator

In Romans 1:25, Paul talks about the folly of worshipping a creature or creation, rather than the One who created it. I often think of this principle when discussing the Holy Spirit. For often as I look around Christianity, I see people worshipping the gifts of the Spirit rather than the Spirit Himself.

I know some Protestants who worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures rather than the Holy Spirit.

I know some Catholics and Orthodox who worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Saints rather than the Holy Spirit.

I know some Charismatics who worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spiritual Gifts rather than the Holy Spirit.

You see, we are often tangible thinkers. We can picture how to relate to God the Father because we all know fathers. We can picture how to relate to God the Son, our Savior, because we all know what it is to be in debt and bondage to someone or something. But with the Holy Spirit, we are asked to have an ongoing relationship with an incorporeal spirit—an abstract concept for which there is no easy analogue in our daily lives.

Thus I think it is easy and tempting to reduce the Holy Spirit into a concrete, tangible thing that He does rather than worship Him as He is. So we often narrow our concept of the Holy Spirit until He is not a person of the Trinity, who should be worshipped and glorified, but rather so that He is just a work that was completed. For some, this results in seeing the Spirit only as the inspirer of the Bible, and worshipping the text of Scripture as though it were God. For some, this results in seeing the saints—sanctified by the working of the Spirit, not of themselves!—as objects of worship and the providers of protection, peace, and prayer. For some, this means seeing some spiritual gift—speaking in tongues or preaching or prophesy or visions or miraculous healing—as the only proper way of engaging the Spirit.

When we do such things, we pack the Spirit down into a very small box: we change Him from a God to be worshipped into an event to be experienced or a passage to study. We cease to treat Him as God—and in so doing, we forget that He is the part of the Trinity who is inside us, serving as our conduit to the Father. We forget that He is not supposed to be an afterthought, but is in fact the lifeline connecting us, through the work of the Son, to the Father who created us!

Be very, very wary of making either of these opposite but equally-grave mistakes: either of blaspheming the Spirit by naming His works the works of the devil, or by worshipping His works rather than worshipping Him.

Conclusion to the Series

In Part I of this series, we saw that the Holy Spirit was truly God, worthy of (as the ancient creeds say) being worshipped and glorified. He is one with God and one with the Son. Denying the Spirit as being worthy of worship is akin to blasphemy, and changes the Godhead from a Trinity to a Duality. We also learned that the Spirit is here with us now to serve as the source of divine inspiration, a witness of the New Covenant (along with baptism and communion), and as the conduit through which we have contact to God.

In Part II we saw that the Spirit’s normal mode of inspiration is through the Scriptures (both in the past writing and the present interpretation of them), though He occasionally works in more miraculous ways like prophesy and visions. We saw that the Spirit serves as a witness of the New Covenant by sealing our fate, delivering our salvation, and giving us confidence in Christ the Savior. We also saw that the Spirit is the conduit by which we receive all blessings from God, and through which we return worship and praise and prayer.

In Part III, we saw that the Spirit initiates a relationship with us when we hear the word of God and respond to the Gospel message. As a result, He comes into our hearts—sometimes at the same time as baptism, sometimes with the laying on of hands, sometimes associated with neither. We learned that our proper response to the Spirit is—in a spirit of grace rather than out of legal obligation—to try to make a home for Him in our bodies which will not grieve Him, but which instead listens to His guidance and allows Him to make us fruitful, loving, kind, patient, peaceful people. Finally, we learned how not to respond to the Spirit, either by blaspheming His works, or by worshipping them.

The “big idea” of the series, as it were, is that we seem to forget that the Holy Spirit is actually really God. We certainly do not treat Him as though He is. We treat the Father and the Son as God, but with the Spirit we seem to see Him as there to enable us, as a kind of “grace pump” that we go to when we need to refill our tanks. Instead, we should be worshipping this part of God that indwells our spirit just as much as the Father or the Son, for He is equal and consubstantial with the Father and Son.

Stop ignoring Him. Stop blaspheming Him. And stop reducing Him down until He is no more than a gift or work which He did.

He is a Person of the Godhead, and we should treat Him as such—no more, no less.

[1] 1Cor 6:17-19; 2Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:13, 4:30; Rom 8:10; 1Jo 3:24, 4:13, 5:6-8; Hbr 2:4, 10:15
[2] John 3:5-8
[3] Luke 3:16-22
[4] Luke 3:16-22; John 3:5-8, 14:16-26; Acts 1:2-5, 2:38, 9:17, 10:44-47, 11:15-16, 19:2-6; Tts 3:5
[5] Acts 19:2-6, 8:15-19, 9:17
[6] Acts 2:38, 10:44-47
[7] Acts 10:44-47, 19:2-6
[8] Dozens of times, basically every time except in [7], for example see Acts 2:38-43, where only the apostles are doing miraculous things
[9] Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38
[10] Acts 9:17, 10:44-47
[11] Luke 11:13; Acts 2:38, 8:15-19, 10:44-47, 19:2-6; Gal 3:2-14, 5:5; many others
[12] 1Thess 4:8, Gal 3:2-5
[13] 1Cor 3:16, 6:17-19
[14] Col 1:8, Gal 5:16-25, 6:8, 2Cor 3:3
[15] Acts 7:51; Rom 7:6-8:2, Hbr 10:29; 1Thess 5:19, 2Tim 1:14
[16] Eph 4:3-4
[17] Eph 4:30, 5:18
[18] Gal 3:2-5
[19] Matt 12:31-32; Mark 3:29-30; Luke 12:10

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