In the modern Church it is easy to see that confusion abounds regarding the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. This confusion is most easily seen in the three groups most of us fit into.
First, we have the Christians who seem consumed with the Holy Spirit. They interpret all of life through communing with the Holy Spirit, they make bold and confident assertions about what Spirit is leading them to do with their lives, and in their worship services it is commonplace to see various displays of the Spirit, such as being slain in the Spirit or speaking in tongues.
Second, we have the Christians who seem devoid of all Spirit-filled activity. They are exceedingly academic and logical in their Christian experience, their worship services seem rigid or heavily structured, and in any discussion of the Spirit’s work is looked on with suspicion rather than a deep affection or gratefulness.
Third, we have a group that has largely been a reaction to both of previous two positions. This is a sort of middle ground position which affirms the continuing presence of charismatic gifts today while at the same time denying their relevance or usefulness in public use. This position is sometimes referred to as ‘cautious continuationism.’
All three of these groups usually claim to believe in the Trinity, but in practice the first group appears to view the Spirit as supreme, the second group appears to ignore the Spirit entirely, while the third group appears to be afraid of the Spirit causing some type of public embarrassment or spectacle. Of course a question rises to the surface after seeing such a separation within the Church: ‘Who is right?’ Or maybe I should ask it like this: ‘Which group has a more Biblical Christianity?’ ‘Who has a sounder theological understanding of the Spirit?’ These are great questions indeed. Questions that must be not only asked, but answered as well. The only frustrating thing about answering such questions is that each group claims to be correct. Though this may be the case we must try to remove ourselves from our current cultural relativism which believes that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, it only matters that you’re sincere in those beliefs. To which I say, ‘Really?’ We’re fools to believe such things. Truth by definition is exclusive and cannot contradict itself. Two people cannot give different answers and both be correct at the same time. Either one of them is right or both of them are wrong.
So what then is the answer? To be fair, let me lay my cards on the table.
The historic Reformed faith, of which I am a part, has largely been perceived as academic, cold, heady, or overly intellectual in regard to the things of God. Some have described our church services as too liturgical or structured. Someone once told me there is so much order in our worship that the Spirit of God is prohibited from doing what He wants to do. Is that true? I certainly don’t think so, but clearly the person who told me this does. I hear comments like these frequently, and I often wonder at them because it is the exact opposite of what I see in Scripture and what I’ve encountered in my own Christian experience. You see, I believe the modern Church has an unhealthy desire for the extraordinary. We desire power, we desire signs, we desire wonders and miracles and mountain top experiences with God. Now, don’t misunderstand me. The extraordinary is not bad at all. But it’s not where we spend 98% of our Christian experience. Most of our experience will overwhelmingly be ordinary, and you know what? I think that’s how God intends it to be.
This desire for the extraordinary is not new with our generation, it was fully present with the disciples too. Philip said to Jesus in John 14:8, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ After all that Jesus had done and taught, Philip thought it just wasn’t enough and sought after something extraordinary so he asked Jesus to show them the Father and said that if Jesus did this that it would be enough for them. Then (and only then!) they would truly know that Jesus was God. How did Jesus respond to him? In John 14:9-11 He said, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.’ Jesus points out that Philip doesn’t properly understand the incarnation, and that Philip can find the extraordinary God he’s looking for in the ordinary looking Person of Jesus Christ.
This is what I see today. The modern Church has embraced a Philip type mindset in the Christian life and we need to be called back to the ordinary. Even as I type out those words it sounds wrong doesn’t it? I mean, when did being elected before the foundation of the world by the Father, saved by the penal substitutionary atonement of the Son, and indwelt by the Spirit become something that we see as ordinary? Are these things not the epitome of extraordinary?! Shame on us for looking for something greater.
So what do we do about this? With all these things and more seemingly up for grabs in the modern Church when it comes to the Holy Spirit, the only thing we can do is return to Scripture. With God’s help we must examine the teachings of the Word of God. While I’ll do this in this tonight let me go ahead and disappoint some of you. If you are here tonight and are looking for a solution to the charismatic gifts in the church today, you’ll be unfulfilled and I’m afraid you’ll find this a rather ordinary message (remember what I said 2 paragraphs ago?). There are much more pressing matters I want to cover. I want delve deeply into the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, trace how it develops throughout Scripture with an aim to see what the work, the goal, and the priorities of the Holy Spirit are. Once we see the big picture redemptive work of the Spirit, it is my view that these side matters (which we have wrongly made central matters) will fade in their significance.
DELIGHTED: The Spirit Among the Trinity
As theologians wrote on the Trinity throughout Church history the centrality of the Trinity has become clearer and clearer. One such model, called the psychological model came to the surface. Joe Rigney does a wonderful job of explaining this view of the Trinity stating that “in the Godhead, there is God in His direct existence (Father), God’s self reflection or contemplation of Himself (Son), and God’s love and delight for Himself (Holy Spirit)…there is God, God’s idea of God, and God’s love for His idea of Himself.” Before you write this view of the Trinity off as crazy, too perplexing, or even a kind of teaching taken from the psychologist Freud (which it’s not!), take note of the following passages. Colossians 1:15 says Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God’ and Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus is the exact imprint (or representation) of God’s nature. This is why Jesus says when you’ve seen Him you really have seen the Father (John 14:7-11). Taking these passages together we understand that for all eternity God has had an image of Himself. This image is the exact imprint or representation of His nature. Because this image of God is the exact imprint of God it has pleased God to make known the glories and beauty of His own character to the world through this image, which is His Son.
What then do we make of the Holy Spirit in this description of the Trinity? The Spirit, in the above paragraph is described as ‘God’s love for His idea of Himself.’ Or to say it another way the Spirit is the very love and delight which the Father and the Son have in each other. This love that flows between the Father and the Son is deep and infinite and wonderful and exuberant. Jesus Himself speaks of this love when He mentions the ‘glory’ the Father gave Him because He loved Him before the foundation of the world in John 17:24. This love, flowing back and forth between Father and Son, is so substantial that it stands out on its own as the third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. That love then bursts out of the fellowship of the Father and Son and pours over onto us at the moment of conversion. We see this in Romans 5:5 when it says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is the Spirit who is the very love of God which, from being poured into us, brings all of God’s delight in God into the soul of man.
Many theologians through history have described the Spirit like this.
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis expressed it like this, “The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person. I know this is almost inconceivable, but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk about the ‘spirit’ of that family, club, or trade union. They talk about its ‘spirit’ because the individual members, when they are together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they would not have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course, it is not a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that is just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and the Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God. This Third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ‘spirit’ of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him) rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two. I think there is a reason that must be so. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him. He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as something ‘out there’, in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you…God is love, and that love works through men-especially through the whole community of Christians. But this spirit of love is, from all eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son.”
Jonathan Edwards said it like this years before Lewis did in his own Puritan manner. “The Godhead being thus begotten by God’s loving an idea of Himself and shewing forth in a distinct subsistence or person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and an infinitely holy and sacred energy arises between the Father and Son in mutually loving and delighting in each other, for their love and joy is mutual, Proverbs 8:30 – “I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.” This is the eternal and most perfect and essential act of the divine nature, wherein the Godhead acts to an infinite degree and in the most perfect manner possible. The Deity becomes all act, the Divine essence itself flows out and is, as it were, breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, viz. the deity in act, for there is no other act but the act of the will.” Edwards went on to conclude the following about the Trinity as a whole, “The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are distinct persons.”
Since the Holy Spirit is the love which flows out from and breathes forth between the Father and the Son, see the beauty in Jesus’ words in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” In context ‘these things’ refers to all Jesus taught in 15:1-10, but the substance of Edwards and Lewis and all we’ve mentioned before fits within this statement as well. The reason our joy is full is because the joy Jesus gives to and places within us, is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself.
So be encouraged, and behold our God. Look at the Father: infinite in His wisdom, wondrous in His majesty, and perfect in His purpose. Look at the Son: humble in His incarnation and death, exalted in His resurrection and ascension, and ever faithful in His intercession for us. And look at the Spirit enlightening in His illumination, consoling in His comfort, strengthening in His sanctifying support.