Monday, June 15, 2015

The Coming of the Spirit: Content & Consequence, pt. 1

This post, and the one to follow, is the text of a presentation I made recently at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Big Sandy, Texas. Written in non-technical language, this two-part series may serve as an introduction to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To read the material in its entirety (with pictures!) click here.

 THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

What happens when the Holy Spirit comes? We can answer this question by considering the coming of the Spirit in terms of content and consequence. “Content” refers to the “message” or “teaching” the Spirit brings. “Consequence” refers to the “result” of the Spirit’s coming. When the Spirit comes, the “content” is Jesus; the “consequence” is communion (fellowship, relationship).

Content: The Spirit Testifies About Jesus

The Spirit has one message; that message is Jesus! On the night before his death, Jesus taught his disciples important truths about the Holy Spirit and his relation to Jesus:          

John 15:26  [Jesus said] “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.

John 16:12 [Jesus said] “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

These verses show that the Spirit will “testify” about Jesus; the Spirit will “glorify” Jesus. Jesus even says that the Spirit will guide us “into all the truth.” Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6). Therefore, the Spirit will guide us to Jesus!

Pentecost

We can learn much about the Spirit’s message (“content”) by examining what happened on the day of Pentecost. Ten days after our Risen Lord ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came upon the gathered assembly in dramatic fashion. In the Book of Acts, Luke writes:

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

In regard to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, many in the charismatic tradition focus primarily on the issue of “tongues.” For them, the most important work of the Spirit is to impart the gift of “tongues.” As we will see, however, the greatest gifts the Spirit imparts have nothing to do with “tongues.”

When the Spirit came upon the assembly, Peter explained what was happening:

Acts 2:16 [T]his is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. . .

When the Spirit came at Pentecost after Jesus had ascended to heaven, something new and important happened. For the first time in human history, the Holy Spirit was “poured out on all people.” Before the coming of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was given only to prophets and leaders like Moses and Elijah, men of God who were given a particular mission at a certain time in history. With the “incarnation” of Jesus Christ, however, sinful humanity’s relationship to God was forever changed.[1] In the person of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man, God and humanity are reconciled; that is, the relationship between God and man that was broken by human sin is now healed and restored (see 2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:20). Humanity no longer stands condemned under the “old Adam; instead, humanity now stands forgiven and reconciled to God in the “second Adam,” Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:12-19). Therefore, man is no longer “separated” from God because of human sin; rather, God and humanity are now forever united in a fellowship of love, joy and peace in Jesus. It was not possible for the Holy Spirit to be “poured out on all people” until sinful humanity was healed, cleansed and forgiven in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

After Peter explained to his hearers what was happening when the Spirit came in power on the day of Pentecost, he continued his message. It is important to notice the “content” or main message of Peter’s sermon:

22 [Peter said] “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. . .

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 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.

When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, Peter preached Jesus! The content of his sermon was Jesus Christ. Peter did not speak about the gifts of tongues, prophesy or healing; he spoke about Jesus. Jesus said that when the Spirit comes, he will “testify about me.” This is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit inspired Peter to preach about Jesus![2]

The Church has no other message for the world than Jesus. To be sure, the Gospel is Jesus! In the opening verse of his “Gospel,” Mark writes:

Mark 1:1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God . . .

From the very beginning of his “Gospel,” Mark makes it clear that his message is Jesus. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Mark wrote his “Gospel” to bring us the “good news about Jesus.”[3]

Perhaps we can better understand the Spirit’s work in relation to Jesus by using an analogy (or, “comparison”). Imagine that you are on a journey to a distant city. Night comes and you find yourself traveling in the darkness. Suddenly, you see the lights of a distant city. In the middle of the city is a magnificent church sitting on a hill, so that it is visible for miles in every direction. The beauty of the brightly lit church delights you, as it shines in the darkness. Notice, however, that you do not pay attention to the lights that make the church visible in the darkness; rather, you are consumed with the beauty of the building itself.

The Holy Spirit is like the light on the beautiful building. The light does not call attention to itself; rather, the light allows us to see the building. In the same way, the Holy Spirit does not call attention to himself, but rather points us to Jesus. The Holy Spirit opens our minds so that we can know Jesus as our Saviour.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are “awakened” to faith in Jesus. The Spirit makes “real” in us what Jesus has done for us in his sacrificial life and death. In other words, the Spirit “illumines” (“brings light to”) our minds, so that we are led to the conviction that what Christ completed in his life and death “there and then” is real for us “here and now.” By the “awakening” power of the Spirit, we know that we belong to Jesus.[4]

The Holy Spirit Sets Us Free for Revelation

In terms of “content,” the Spirit reveals two basic truths about God and our relationship to God. First, the Holy Spirit reveals that we are “children of God.” The apostle Paul writes:

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

The Spirit sets us free to know God as “Father.” At the same time, the Spirit guides us into deeper truth about our heavenly Father. Paul writes:

Galatians 4:6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Not only does the Spirit reveal that we are God’s children; the Spirit also reveals that God is “Abba, Father.” That is, God is the tender, loving Father, who welcomes sinners home with arms open wide with accepting love (see Luke 15:11-24).

The second great truth that the Spirit reveals about our relationship with God is “Jesus is Lord.” Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit sets us free to know Jesus as “Lord.” We cannot know Jesus as “Lord” apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. We do not “make Jesus Lord” by a personal decision of faith. Rather, the Spirit sets our fallen minds free for revelation. The Spirit sets us free for God, free to know Jesus as “Lord.”

To be “charismatic” is much more than merely speaking in “tongues.” It is to know Jesus as “Lord” and God as “Abba, Father.”  These are the great gifts of the Spirit!
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[1][1] Incarnation means “in flesh.” The eternal “Word” or Son of God became a human being (“flesh”) and lived among us (John 1:1-3, 14). Jesus is the “fully divine” Son of God; he is also the “fully human” son of Mary. In the historical man, Jesus of Nazareth, God and humanity are reconciled (joined together in love, joy and peace; see 2 Corinthians 5:19).
[2] As we saw above, the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus (John 15:26). Perhaps this is why the doctrine of the Holy Spirit has been problematic in Church history. The Holy Spirit does not call attention to himself; rather, the Spirit directs our attention to Jesus.
[3] The word, “Gospel,” means “good news.”
[4] In theological language, the “new thing” the Spirit brings to us is the subjective awareness of the objective salvation already completed for us in Jesus.

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