The Influence of the Spirit
Galatians 5:25 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Scripture is quite clear that as we look at our lives in light of a new year or just because we ponder our goals, ambitions and purpose in this world; His purpose for us is unmistakably spiritual, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” What God sees for us in our future is more tests, more trials, more stretching, more sanctification and therefore, more grace, more strength, more character, more hope, and more peace. The Spirit is crucial to that. He is crucial to our sanctification and maturity, our hope and our joy. Paul ties in the ministry of the Spirit in our sanctification this way:
Romans 5:1–5 1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Now notice that the Spirit is contained in this small, yet crucial, prepositional phrase, “through the Spirit,”- even the qualifying phrase is longer, “who was given to us.” And yet, it is often in these small instrumental statements about the Spirit where we find His work, and see His influence in our lives. What we should fear for 2018 as we look toward the horizon of a new year is that we live independently of the Spirit’s intended work in our lives and strive in an a-spiritual way so that we mistake our own human effort with the effectual work of the Spirit. Therein is the tension. We would not readily admit that we are seeking to live our Christian lives in our own strength according to our own ability or lack thereof; but how do we distinguish the Spirit’s work from our own ability to speak ‘Christianeese’, act out our spiritual habits, and blend in with the spiritual crowd.
This tension strikes at the very heart of at least two things, the authenticity of God’s promises in His word, and the authenticity of our holiness or our walk with Christ. Of course we want to lay the blame somewhere we would all be ready to blame ourselves rather than to cast doubt on the word of God. However right that would be we still need to understand God’s promises concerning His Spirit so that we can better assess our own lives in Christ. We need to explore some of these issues and focus on the theology of the Spirit and His influence in our lives so that we can understand what Paul is calling for when he says to “live by the Spirit.”
The Spirit Gives Us Life
We first should begin with simple orthodoxy. The Sprit is the third person of the Trinity. He was there at creation as the Spiritus-Creator (Gen. 1.2; Ps. 104.30), the Spirit has always been God’s redemptive Agent that brings conviction on the world of sinners as He strives with men in their sin and convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (Gen. 6.3; John 16.8). The Spirit is also the Paraclete of God’s people- He is God’s Spirit of comfort and grace (Ps. 51.11; John 14.16). The Spirit of God is also the Spirit of common grace gifting men with natural skill and universal wisdom (Ex. 31.3). The Spirit of God is also God’s redemptive-historical Agent that accompanies the mighty deeds of God and His terrible judgments (Neh. 9.20; Ps. 106.33; Is. 48.16; 63.10-14; Ezek. 11.5-12). He is the Spirit of Christ that anointed the Messiah for His redemptive mission (Is. 11.1; Lk. 4.18). From Genesis to Revelation, the Spirit is also the Revelator- prophesying, predicting and promising God’s salvation in Christ (2 Sam. 23.2; Neh. 9.30; 1 Pet. 1.10-11; Rev. 1.10).
The Spirit of God is also the Consummator-Spirit of God who closes the Cannon of Scripture with the final eschatological invitation for humanity to close with Christ (Rev. 22.17). This is God’s Spirit given to you at regeneration (Rom. 5.5; 1 John 3.24; 4.13). That is where His gracious influence begins to take shape in our lives. Just as the Spirit created life out of nothing, the Spirit begins His gracious influence in our lives with ‘nothing.’ He operates not on a paradisiacal man or women but on the chaos and dishonor of our black sin (cf. Eph. 5.8). He hovers over the face of the depths of our hearts and brings forth life and light to bear upon the elect who were once dead in their sin and blind to the glory of God:
2 Corinthians 4:6 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Of course, God does this through the new covenant work of the Spirit who transforms the heart from within not from without, in our hearts not on tablets of stone (cf. 2 Cor. 3.5ff.). But its not just the new covenant of course, the Spirit has always been connected with new life, which is another way to speak of regeneration:
Ezekiel 37:14 14 “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’ ”
Ezekiel, among other OT texts, are the foundation and basis of NT teaching on regeneration where God makes us alive because of our Spirit-wrought union with Christ (cf. Eph. 2.5; see also, 1.13-14). His quickening work vivifies us, renews us and re-creates us into Christ’s own glorious image (cf. 2 Cor. 3.17-18). Thus, ‘to live by the Spirit’ begins by acknowledging the Spirit’s indelible mark upon our lives when He transferred our ownership from the great tyrant of sin to the great grace of God (cf. Rom. 6). Paul reminds us that the Spirit’s work in regeneration is also rooted in the Spirit’s sovereign, monergestic grace which not only grants to us unmerited favor but actually serves to overcome our demerit and operates independently of our ‘good works.’
Titus 3:5–7 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Although when Paul speaks of “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” he is speaking of one reality. However he connects these two phrases because he wants to emphasize not only the Spirit’s work to cleanse us and wash us from sin, but also the Spirit’s transformative work by renewing us and conforming us to Christ. As mysterious as the phenomenon of regeneration may be, one thing is clear, regeneration is a work of the Spirit who is himself even more mysterious than the work that He does:
John 3:5–8 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Through the Spirit, God comes to dwell in us (1 Cor. 3.16), to fellowship among us (2 Cor. 13.14), and to empower us to advance the mission of Christ on earth (Acts 1.8). But none of this happens unless God first quickens us by His Spirit and brings us into His kingdom of glory and light (cf. Col. 1.13-14). Of course, that means that if we have not been regenerated by the Spirit of God, in the words of Paul, we do not “belong to Him” (Rom. 8.9). Everything that follows flows from the all-encompassing reality of regeneration.
The Spirit Gives Us Power
While the work of the Spirit may begin at regeneration, it does not end there and in fact, this initial work of God is just the beginning of the Spirit’s influence in our lives. We can see the ongoing totality of the Spirit’s impact upon our lives in Paul’s initial closing remarks to the Romans:
Romans 15:13 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Again, the small prepositional phrase is the key to everything, “by the power of the Holy Spirit.” These words remind us that these Christian graces, namely hope, joy, and peace are not mere abstract ideas or superficial sentimentalities or trite little greetings on a Christmas card; they flow to us from a personal God and through us by the personal Spirit of God abiding within us and working through us. Notice Paul’s emphasis here on the “power” of the Spirit. To understand this power we should notice that in v.19, the same power is attributed to the Spirit’s work to do miracles through apostles. The Spirit is not less active in producing hope in our hearts as He is in raising the dead; its all His work, His power, His activity and grace.
As we think about this power, our concern is also practical. How does the Spirit empower us daily to experience joy, peace, and hope which is to say, how does the Spirit work in our experience of God’s grace to empower us to live righteously and godly in the presence age, and to be built up and established in faith? How does the Spirit enable us to be holy? How does He sanctify us? Furthermore to deny this power is to run the risk of standing under the condemnation of unbelief (cf. 2 Tim. 3.5). First, we need to see the connection between the Spirit and faith:
2 Thessalonians 2:13–14 13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, in the same text, Paul connects the Spirit and faith to “the truth” (2 Th. 2.13). Of course the truth is the gospel as v.14 makes clear. The Spirit induces in us faith in the gospel which is to say that the Spirit produces an ongoing total dependence and trust in the work of Christ through the faith He has wrought in us. This emphasis on “truth” and “Spirit” is why Scripture calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth” (John 14.17). We also see the generosity of the Spirit of truth in that He not only knows the truth, possesses the truth, and is himself truth, but He also gives the truth, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things” (John 14.26). The beautiful thing for us is in Jesus’ promise that, “He may be with you forever” (John 14.16).
Just as the Spirit is the operative monergestic power to mortify our sins through repentance and faith, the Spirit can also be said to continually vivify us. Calvin used the term vivification as an expression of the Spirit’s ongoing work to produce in us continual communion and devotion to God. Calvin said:
“[vivification is] the desire to live in a holy and devoted manner, a desire arising from rebirth; as if it were said that man dies to himself that he may begin to live to God.”
This is in keeping with what Jesus said about the life-giving profit of the Spirit, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6.63a). And to show the inseparable connection between the Spirit and Christ, Jesus says, “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6.63b). I agree with Carson who says that when Jesus says His words are spirit, he means that they are “the product of the life-giving Spirit.” The Spirit is thus connect to word and life. He is a life-giver and Revealer. He continually vivifies us, gives us life and that life comes to us through the peace, joy, love and power that He imparts. To live by the Spirit means that we are continually being vivified by the power of the Spirit to be holy and devoted to God. Paul would echo that:
Galatians 5:22–23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
When we say that we cannot help but to stray away from the path, we lie about the Spirit’s life-giving power that produces holiness in us through His word and according to His power. We lie when we say, ‘godliness has no power!’ That is a powerful lie in the opposite direction. But this power is given to us in concert with our weakness. Here is where the confusion comes in. We focus on the Giver, the Spirit, and conclude that the power given is out of step with the recipient of that power since we are so often laden with persistent sin, failure and weakness. Paul however, addresses this. We should first point out that here the operative term is “weakness” (singular). In other words, it is not so much talking about the quantity of our weaknesses but to the quality of our state – that of weakness.
Romans 8:26–27 26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
When the Spirit of God moves on us, in us and through us with His power and presence in our communion and devotion and living before God; God cannot but accept the work of the Spirit because, the Spirit empowers us and vivifies us “according to the will of God.” The same thing could be said of studying God’s word, resisting temptation, pressing into worship, meditating on God’s word, serving the Lord in the strength that the Spirit supplies. These are all different works in the life of the believer but the same Spirit stands behind every work just the same and to the degree that we are genuinely presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, God accepts our worship, communion and service to Him because His Spirit is working in us to will and to do for God’s good pleasure (cf. Phil. 2.12-13).
Living by the Spirit begins through the mortification of our sin through repentance and faith at conversion (using the term as Calvin did) but continues as the Spirit vivifies us to think and to do what is acceptable in God’s sight resulting in the blessed assurance that grants us peace and liberty:
Romans 8:5–6 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
Again notice anther all-important prepositional phrase, “according to the Spirit” which, despite the absence of coverage in the commentaries, this critical phrase is instrumental and again suggests that the Spirit is the divine Enabler, this time, of our epistemic condition and what conditions and governs our worldview i.e. either the flesh leading to death or the Spirit leading to life and peace. Paul knew the effectiveness of the Spirit and His operation and cooperation with our personal obedience. For Paul the provision of the Spirit was all-sufficient to meet his needs:
Philippians 1:19 19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
The Spirit enables us to live godly in the present evil age (cf. Tit. 2.12), He empowers us to pray according to God’s will (cf. Phil. 1.19), He comforts God’s people and grants us encouragement (John 14.16, 26; 15.26), He continually imparts life and peace to us both positionally and experientially (Rom. 8.6), and He also works assurance into our hearts as we feast upon His word by faith (2 Thess. 2.13). This is the power of Holy Spirit at work in us. That is to say nothing of the Spirit’s mobilization of the Church for world missions (Acts 1.8ff.), the gifting of the church for service (cf. Rom. 12.6-8; 1 Cor. 12-14), the empowering of the church for preaching (1 Pet. 4.10-11).
The Spirit Gives Us Hope
If we return to the text in 2 Thessalonians we find a third connection. The purpose of the Spirit coming to us, calling us, producing faith in us followed by good works, is ultimately eschatological, “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 2.14). The Spirit conditions us, prepares us, fits us and makes us ready for the eschaton. The Spirit is thus given to give us hope, to prepare us for our heavenly reward in a new creation in the age to come. Long ago did Isaiah speak of this:
Isaiah 32:15–18 15 Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fertile field, And the fertile field is considered as a forest. 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness And righteousness will abide in the fertile field. 17 And the work of righteousness will be peace, And the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever. 18 Then my people will live in a peaceful habitation, And in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places;
Isaiah foresaw the time with the Spirit would be poured out in unique way, as did Joel (cf. Joel 2.28ff.), when there would be as a result of the Spirit’s endowment both a commencement and consummation of the new creation resulting in security, abundance and blessing in permanent dwelling places “my people will live in a peaceful habitation, And in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places” (Is. 32.18; also 44.3). Jesus is merely echoing and crystalizing this promise when He says, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places.” (John 14.2a). Hebrews reminds us that in this world we have no “lasting city” (Heb. 13.14). The Spirit reminds us that He himself is the pledge of permanence and heavenly paradise in the city of God.
The peace and security that comes from the Spirit as we consider our eschatological lives is ultimately rooted in the Spirit’s power to overcome death— a true comfort for every believer (cf. 1 Cor. 15.54-57). The Spirit is an essential part of God’s redemptive work in our lives not only to deliver us from sin but also to give us victory over sin and death:
Romans 8:11 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
There is an eschatological tension here as well. The Spirit that will one day give our spirit’s life and indeed one day give us resurrection life, is now present with us as a promise of those future blessings to make our hope sure and steadfast:
2 Corinthians 1:21–22 21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.
The Spirit is a pledge of our future, eschatological redemption (cf. Eph. 1.13-14) and all of creation testifies to the Spirit’s re-creative power seen in us and ultimately fulfilled in a new creation. All of creation is yearning for what the Spirit has begun in us. The final practical byproduct of the Spirit’s influence in our lives for our future hope is endurance for those who live between the ages who are called to wait for their hope to be realized:
Romans 8:18–25 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
The more and more we see the earth travail with pain of labor the more and more we should be eager in our waiting. The more trouble we see the more trust we should exude, the more depravity seems to rise the more dependence and devotion we should render to God. Likewise, the more aware we become of our own lack of power the more we should rely the Spirit’s power, the more we are influenced by our culture or the condemnation of our own hearts the more we should seek the gracious influence of God’s Spirit in our lives. There is no other way that we will go from fearful to fearless, from anxious to worry free, from despondency to delight and from weakness to power.