What the Spirit Makes Happen
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 :
- gives life (John 7:38);
- gives gifts (1 Corinthians 12);
- counsels (John 14:26);
- encourages (Acts 9:31)
- steps in on our behalf (Romans 8:23);
- builds up (Romans 8:27);
- leads us to obedience (2 Corinthians 3:5);
- brings to mind (1 John 2:20, 27)
- energizes and makes effective (Acts 1:8).
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 Full Of the Spirit
Jesus is the ultimate example of being 'Spirit-filled'. The Spirit shows up in force in every part of Jesus' mission as Messiah :
The Spirit's Witness
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.
The Holy Spirit works in us to make clear to us what purpose God has in mind for us. The Spirit guides us:
- through Scripture. As we steep ourselves in it, the Spirit that moves it moves us more and more.
- through circumstances (Acts 16:10), bringing about endings and beginnings, opportunities and completions, opening and closing doors to the hallways of life.
- through other believers, as happened in choosing the first seven deacons (Acts 6), and with the church in Antioch in sending Paul and Barnabas out on their mission (Acts 13). (In no way is this a sure thing; everyone else can be very wrong. But it is one way the Spirit sometimes uses for showing us what to do.)
- through prayer. Paul speaks of the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts when we pray about our decisions. The Spirit may bring to us an inner peace about our course of action. This peace doesn't fill you with intellectual certainty, but with a confidence you can live by. (A feeling of peace, too, can be wrong. If so, the Spirit will use Scripture to eventually cause the peace to be disturbed.)
Pouring It In
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.
According to the book of Acts, the pouring out of the Spirit leads to becoming filled to an overflow with the Spirit of God. For example:
- In his first testimony before the Sanhedrin, the apostle Peter was filled with the Spirit when he spoke;
- After Peter and John were arrested, the believers prayed for them, and were all filled with the Spirit;
- When choosing the deacons, one of the qualifications that they were "full of the Spirit and of wisdom";
- the deacon Stephen, the church's first martyr, died filled with the Holy Spirit so he could bear that final witness;
- the Spirit was 'poured out' on Samaritans who were converted through Peter and John;
- the deacon Philip was led by the Spirit to bear witness of Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch;
- Paul's first teacher in the faith, Ananias, assured the soon-to-be-apostle that he would regain his sight and be filled with the Spirit;
- Paul's colleague Barnabas was described as being "full of the Holy Spirit and of faith";
- The new believers in Pisidian Antiochea were "filled with joy and the Holy Spirit".
It's not always clear exactly what 'pouring' and 'filling' meant, but it was given by God to followers of Christ so they could work an especially effective witness of Christ. It's a gift not of magic or energy, but of God's own powerful presence. And it is spoken of in terms of both amount and effect, as absent or full. With the Spirit came other gifts (like wisdom, joy, sight, and faith in the above examples).
The Spirit Works By Giving Gifts
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 Moves People
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.)
What Change Is the Spirit's Work?
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.
Blaspheming the Spirit?
After all the talk about how boundless and all-covering God's forgiving grace is, the Bible throws us a sharp curveball. In the Gospel of Matthew, 12:31,32 it names 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.
The Spirit's Work of Freedom
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.)