Thursday, 28 September 2006

Theology for beginners (16): Spirit

Summary: The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, the third person of God’s triunity, is also the Spirit of the Christian community, gathering us together around the risen Lord and propelling us towards the future of God’s kingdom.

We have seen that Jesus is our salvation. The death of Jesus is God’s descent to us, and the resurrection of Jesus is our human ascent to God. Our salvation thus comes from God alone. But God also communicates this salvation to us, right here and now in our contemporary lives. When we speak of this “communication” of salvation, we are speaking of God the Holy Spirit. As the Son of God ascends in his resurrection, so the Spirit of God descends to us from the Father and the Son.

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead also opens our eyes – opens our very selves! – to the reality of Jesus’ risen life. Through the Spirit, we are thus awakened to faith in Jesus. Through the Spirit, we recognise the crucified Jesus as the risen and ascended Lord. Through the Spirit, we say “Yes” to Jesus from the depths of our hearts. Through the Spirit, we perceive the nearness of Jesus himself as the meaning and goal of our lives. To be more precise, the Spirit is the nearness – or rather the “hereness” – of Jesus. The crucified Jesus has been taken up into the life of the Spirit, and this same Spirit now moves and acts among us in the power of Jesus’ resurrected life.

The Spirit, then, is the power and reality of the risen Jesus right here and now in our midst. And as such, the Spirit is the power of God’s future, the power of resurrection, the life-giving power of the coming kingdom. Always and everywhere, the Spirit directs us towards the risen Jesus. Always and everywhere, the Spirit awakens us to the nearness of Jesus as the reality of our lives and our future. In this way, the Spirit demonstrates that he is in truth the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, and therefore the Spirit of God.

The work of the Spirit, then, is focused on the reality of the risen and ascended Jesus. The Spirit gathers us around the risen Lord. The Spirit draws us into community with Jesus, and so also into community with one another. Through the Spirit, we are united with Jesus, and we participate both collectively and individually in the life-giving power of his death and resurrection. In this way, the Spirit ushers us into the very life of the triune God, the life of God’s self-giving love. As the community of the risen Jesus, we are now animated by this life, ignited by this love, and we are set in motion towards the final completion that awaits us in the future.

The Spirit is thus the life which animates the community of the risen Jesus. The Spirit is the breath by which the community lives. The Spirit is the bond of loving fellowship between the community and the risen Lord himself. In all things the community therefore depends on the power of the Spirit.

But the Spirit’s power is not primarily a matter of ecstatic experiences or miraculous occurrences – rather, it is a transforming power, a power of new life and new creation. In a word, it is the power of resurrection: the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in us, transforming us and leading us towards the fullness of new life, the life of God’s coming kingdom. Indeed, through the Spirit the community is already placed under the kingly reign of God, so that the kingdom of God’s future makes its nearness felt even now in the world. And this is precisely the mission of the community: to allow God’s coming kingdom to make itself known in the world through the power of the Spirit.

Thus the work of the Spirit has a specific goal and direction. The Spirit does not merely edify or enrich the community. The Spirit directs the community, propelling it forwards into the life of God. By leading the community in this way, the Spirit also gives an anticipatory glimpse of the future towards which all created reality is heading. For the community is propelled forwards by that same Spirit who has always been at work in the created world. The same Spirit who gives life and breath to all things also animates the community with the life of the future – so that, in the community itself, there is an anticipation of the life that awaits the whole created world as its final destiny.

This also means that the work of the Spirit in the community and in the world will be completed only at the end of history, when all reality is gathered up at last into the life of the risen Jesus, the life of God’s kingdom. And this life which awaits the community and the world is none other than the Spirit himself. The Spirit is the life of the future. The Spirit is the power of resurrection and the animating breath of God’s coming kingdom. The Spirit is the life into which the crucified Jesus has been raised as the “first fruits” of all creation.

Thus the Spirit approaches us from his own future, gathering us together and empowering us to move together towards the fullness of his own life-giving power – towards the life of God, the life of love, which has appeared in the risen Jesus.

Further reading

  • Bloesch, Donald G. The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), pp. 268-341.
  • Congar, Yves. I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol. 2 (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1983), pp. 5-35.
  • Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 146-61.
  • Küng, Hans. The Church (London: Burns & Oates, 1967), pp. 162-79.
  • Moule, C. F. D. The Holy Spirit (London: Mowbrays, 1978).
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 1-20, 129-35.
  • Rogers, Eugene F. After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources outside the Modern West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
  • Taylor, John V. The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission (London: SCM, 1972).

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