Christian Spirituality > The Holy Spirit > the Work of the Spirit
When we speak of the gifts of God, we do so understanding that the first gift of God for us is God -- for the Trinity, this relationship stuff with us, each and all, is personal. It is through that relationship, however weak we may make it, which the Holy Spirit works.
Wherever the Holy Spirit is at work, so is self-surrender, and awareness of the mystery of just being. This tells us the Spirit's there. But there are other ways that the Spirit makes its presence known. Have you experienced them?
The Spirit :
If you can think of when such things happened in your life, think back on it. Maybe the Spirit was doing something then. Maybe now, too.
Jesus is the ultimate example of being 'Spirit-filled'. The Spirit shows up in force in every part of Jesus' mission as Messiah :
When Christ ascends, He sends the Holy Spirit in his place (John 16:7-8, 20:22; also Acts 1:5,8; Peter's own words in Acts 2:33; 1 Peter 1:12).
For some details on how the Spirit is sent by Christ to continue Christ's work, see John 14-16. Especially see John 3:34; 7:39; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7. The Spirit shows us what we can't otherwise know about Christ.
The Spirit is at work, showing us what Christ has done, and how that makes a difference in what's going on around us. The Spirit's witness to Christ doesn't function like a hypertext link. One doesn't click one's mouse or tap on the screen on the Spirit's doings and get taken to the front page of Jesus' Cyber-salvation Web Site. First of all, your mouse-clicking takes more initiative than you can take in restoring your relationship with God (or, in church-talk, it's God's grace in Christ's work on the cross that saves you, not anything you do). Second, the Spirit leads us into Christ's presence and Christ's character, two things that don't pop up on a screen and say 'I'm here'. Then, the Spirit works to get our own Web Site to take on the character that others would recognize as Christ's, for instance, by removing the annoying banner ads for the causes and ideas we're stuck on, or the irritating pop-up windows with our excuses, or the sneaky spy cookies that gather the information we might want to use against others. The Spirit is trying to push this Body of the Scared past their fears into full contact with the rest of reality, especially with other people who are not aware of Christ, or who hear the Name and yawn.
Spirit does his work by making Christ present among us,
and Christ can do his work on earth only by being present
in his Holy Spirit."
The Holy Spirit works in us to make clear to us what purpose God has in mind for us. The Spirit guides us:
The Spirit pours faith into us. The tactics will be different from one person to another. It may be through a sermon, a worship service, a youth event, a song, a
testimony, an act of kindness, a relationship of love, a struggle of conscience, a brush with disaster or insanity, a steady gradual series of changes, a blissful 'peak experience' moment, a shaken-up charismatic experience, or a whisper calling to you from inside. In that faith, we can be happy -- even daring -- in our relationships with other people, because the Spirit is working through us, and that will not come to naught.
The Spirit gives gifts which make the Body of Christ work effectively and powerfully. (For more on that, check out the page on
The Spirit is at work moving people to compassion for others. (For more on what that looks like, go to the pages on Reconciliation and Service.)
Change happens when God's purposes are revealed, and revealing is a work of the Spirit. The Spirit breaks down the old, brings in the new, and brings people together. But the key question is 'why?' Jesus didn't turn over every table He came across, just the money-changers' tables. There's much more to the Spirit's relationship to power and convention than shaking it up. Some people see change happening, and rush to say, 'It's the Spirit, it's the Spirit'. The Spirit brings in the new, yes, but does so for the Gospel and for the purpose of leading people to follow Christ. That is the purpose and the context for the Spirit's actions. Social barriers come down, but they come down as part of living a life rooted in God's Kingdom. True 'Justice' needs the Spirit's work in making inner change, creating a faith commitment to the God of Justice. Within this context, the Spirit breaks the old, builds the new, and smashes our walls. Outside of that context, what's happening is not Spirit but mere change: good, bad, indifferent, or complex.
The Spirit's like a special medical team for those who have especially deep wounds -- for example, those who have been raped, those who suffer from what's done by despotic governments, those who have to constantly face their society's racisms, those on the losing end of an economic system or a political power struggle, those who are enslaved by alcohol or drugs, or rendered slaves to fear. In Jesus' own ministry, inner healing was firmly connected to physical healing, both being a work of the Spirit. God is concerned about the whole of you, not just the inner self. We're all fractured beings that the Spirit is working to make complete.
The Spirit gives the gifts of wisdom, understanding, and insight, even that which can't be known in any other way. The Bible has even poetically described God as Wisdom, to highlight this gift. It is exactly that, though -- a poetic description, vastly powerful, faithful and truthful inside of its context. Outside of that narrow context, the use of the Greek word for wisdom ('Sophia') or its translations as a divine name becomes (ahem..) sophistry that puts forward a very flat image of God, far too easily shaped into the image of the foolishness that we humans have the unwarranted gall to call 'wisdom'. (Okay, okay. I'll come down off the apple crate....) Wisdom, as a gift, drives the process of discernment, by which we know what is and isn't of God.
The Spirit reveals, first and foremost through Scripture. Without the Spirit's work, the Bible is just dead ink and paper. Without the Spirit's wisdom and insight, science is mere trickery, psychology is just self-obsession, sociology is just the barkings of the rabble, math is a mere preoccupation done to avoid those living in the street, language becomes just a tool for manipulation, and religion actually becomes the opiate of the masses that Marx thought it was.
After all the talk about how boundless and all-covering God's forgiving grace is, the Bible throws us a curveball. Matthew 12:31,32 speaks of one sin that will not be forgiven, the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Yet, the verse in Matthew does not say that God cannot forgive it; it says that God will not forgive it. One can sense that there's more to it than just the bare fact. Let's start by asking ourselves how it could possibly be that this sin and only this sin will not be forgiven. (The following is, of course, merely informed guesswork about a true mystery.) The Spirit brings us Christ and shapes our lives into His. If I were to choose to oppose the Holy Spirit in this work, or urge others to oppose the Spirit, I'd be working against God's work on earth, against the reign of God as it is unfolding right now, and against the Spirit's bringing Christ into me. That's worse than merely denying that God is at work among people (mere disbelief). Since the Spirit could only enter my life by way of force, and the Spirit doesn't work that way, that means the faith would not be created in me, and the saving grace that goes with it could not come in.
Acting and speaking against the Holy Spirit is like the lost son deciding that he loves being a swine, and thus he doesn't go home. If he does not go home, his father never rushes to greet him, he never gets to taste the fatted calf, and he never gets to have a restart in life with someone who loves him. Though it is entirely available, forgiveness would never come, because that which makes forgiveness come about does not take place. In that same way, the one sin of evil against the Holy Spirit remains unforgiven.
Where the Spirit is, there is freedom. We are all destined, designed, created to be free. But we forge chains for ourselves and each other, corrupting our freedom till it isn't freedom anymore. Only someone who isn't bound by the mess can free us from it. That's where Christ comes in. And, after Christ arose, it's where the Spirit comes in. The Spirit's sent from Christ to humanity, blown on us by Jesus. The Spirit makes us able to take part in God's work in the world. And makes it personal. The Gospel becomes mine to spread. The Kingdom becomes my vision for living. God's hope for all becomes my hope for all. God's sorrow over peoples' situations and deeds becomes mine, too. If the Spirit has me, God is not distant but up-close and real. This new freedom isn't something we 'have' or possess; it's something that has us just as the Spirit does. The human spirit soars because of the Spirit; otherwise it is still bound to the ground.
(If you want a good description of the Spirit's work by a classic mainline Protestant theologian, look up Paul Tillich's book *The Eternal Now* (Scribners), on pages 85-86.)
"Grace is power as well as pardon."
----- Gabriel Fackre
"Even while we wait for the full enjoyment of the good things in store for us, by the Holy Spirit we are able to rejoice through faith in the promise of the graces to come. If the promise itself is so glorious, what must its fulfillment be like?"
----- Basil, *On the Holy Spirit* (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press), p.39
"It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world: it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church."
----- Jürgen Moltmann
"The Holy Spirit establishes the righteousness of heaven in the midst of the unrighteousness of earth, and will not stop or stay until all that is dead has been brought back to life and a new world has come into being."
----- Karl Barth, *The Word of God and The Word of Man*, p. 50
Holy Spirit, wind and flame,
Move within my mortal frame.
Make our hearts an altar pyre;
Kindle them with your own fire.
Breathe and blow upon that blaze
till our lives, our deeds, and ways
speak that tongue which every land
by your grace shall understand.
"Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow", v. 3, by Thomas Troeger.
O Holy Spirit, precious gift,
Thou Comforter unfailing,
Do thou our troubled souls uplift
against the foe prevailing.
Since Christ for us His blood hath shed
avert our woes and calm our dread;
Do thou in faith sustain us.
"All Glory Be To God On High" by Nicolaus Decius, 1526.
Spirit divine, attend our prayers.
And make this house thy home;
Descend with all thy gracious powers;
O come, great spirit, come!
Come as the light; to us reveal
Our emptiness and woe;
And lead us in the paths of life
Where all the righteous go.
Come as the wind: sweep clean away
What dead within us lies,
And search and freshen all our souls
With living energies.
Come as the fire: and purge our hearts
Like sacrificial flame;
Let our whole soul as offering be
To our redeemer's name.
Spirit divine, attend our prayers,
Make a lost world thy home;
Descend with all thy gracious powers:
O come, great Spirit, come!
"Spirit Divine", by Andrew Reed
Holy Spirit, ever working
through the church's ministry;
quick'ning, strength'ning, and absolving,
setting captive sinners free.
Holy Spirit, ever binding
Age to age and soul to soul,
in communion never-ending
you we worship and extol.
"Holy Spirit, Ever Dwelling", by Timothy Rees
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ver.: 16 August 2010.
The Work Of the Holy Spirit. Copyright © 1999-2010 by Robert Longman.