Enjoying the Spirit

What about the Spirit?  What should we make of his place in the Trinity, and in our lives?  Our response to that question, whatever it is, will say much about how we live out our faith.  With that in mind let me mention, very briefly, some common points of view, then offer my own.  And then I’d love to hear from any readers about your own insights, experience, and convictions about him.

At the outset let me note that the early ecumenical church councils—Nicaea and Chalcedon in particular—didn’t say much about the Spirit other than to affirm his place in the Godhead.  So without any major era of past debate to use as a reference point for claiming a commonly affirmed (i.e. “orthodox”) stance on the Spirit and his ministry we’ve sometimes found him to be at the center of some sharp contentions.  Or, more accurately, claims about him!  The reality of his ministry—his fruit in and among us—feature love, joy, peace, and so on; so any unseemly fights about “pneumatology” are certainly not of his doing.

One stance towards the Spirit is to treat him as the silent partner in the Godhead.  It developed as a reaction to a second stance—that of the Spirit radicals.  The 16th and 17th century English Puritans were early proponents of the former position.  They knew of the radical Spiritists of early German Protestantism—including the exotic claims and behaviors of the Munster rebellion—and took that episode as a warning against any overt displays or claims of the Spirit’s work.  There was, they believed, an unstable self-elevation inherent in having leaders claiming to be Spirit-led and Spirit-authorized while they behaved in ways that Scriptures would never endorse.  So the Puritans came up with the doctrine of “means”: that the Spirit only works through the means of grace that God has given the church.  These included preaching, praying, Bible reading and so on.  Any claims of the Spirit working outside these boundaries were confronted as heretical.

Yet the more overt versions of Spirituality didn’t disappear in the face of such Puritan resistance.  Groups known as the Familists continued to exist as underground churches in the 16th century and beyond, and later the Quakers—or, more properly, the Society of Friends—gave the Spirit primacy in their worship.  And in later periods of revivalism some claims and displays of the Spirit’s exotic presence and activity were not uncommon—with people overcome with fits of shaking, head-snapping, rolling on the ground, and more.

That’s just a snapshot, of course, but enough to alert us to the fact that none of the views I’ve summarized have disappeared.  Fights over the Spirit continue today.

So let me say that I’m a Spirit-moderate.  I haven’t ever experienced speaking in tongues, or any of the more spectacular gifts of healing and the like.  But I’m also not aligned with those who, even today, seek to suppress the place of the Spirit in the church by applying a contemporary Doctrine of Means.  The Spirit has always shown himself to be trustworthy and active among us.

So let me offer a sketch of my own views and experience, and then invite others to comment.

First, I’ve noticed with Jonathan Edwards, that the Spirit is always facilitating God’s love by sharing it within the Godhead and with believers.  But he himself is never said to love either the Father or the Son, nor is he ever said to be loved by the Father or the Son.  Instead he is the love of the Father and the Son, sent out as an emissary to share the heart of the divine dyad.  This doesn’t demean him or reduce his personhood—he is, after all able to be grieved and quenched; and he led Jesus to go into the wilderness; and much more in the book of Acts—but it does indicate his “economic role” as the self-effacing presence in the Trinity.  He magnifies the Son by bearing witness to him in our hearts (see John 15:26 & 16:14 on this).

Mainly I delight in his permanent and active presence in me.  He nudges me towards the Truth—the Truth named Jesus.  He regularly reminds me that I’m loved by the Father, especially as I respond to the Son and to his teachings; and he affirms the truths of Scripture in my heart when I read.  I’ve learned that I can ask a question “in the air” and be certain that he’s heard me.  I then wait for something to come to mind—taking something that I’ve read in my Bible reading in the recent past.  He loves to answer my questions that way.  My questions tend to be broad: as in, “How can I please you today, Lord?”  Or, “Would you mind showing me more of the Son’s attractiveness?”  He’s not my servant!  But he is my helper and companion.

So, in sum, I don’t overstate nor understate his presence and his activity in me.  I just enjoy the certainty that he—in offering the heart of Christ and the Father to me—is attending to me in very direct and personal ways.  And I’m enjoying him!

If anyone who reads this doesn’t have that enjoyment—the “joy” of “love, joy, peace, patience” in Galatians 5—just tell him you’d like to have him fill you with his presence.  But remember to come to him by way of the cross: by setting aside any of your shallow ambitions in favor of the deep ambition of knowing and pleasing the Son.

Any thoughts?


11 Responses to Enjoying the Spirit

  1. Alan October 4, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    thanks for your post Ron. Thought provoking. I have experienced several areas of the spirit, or of his working. I could ramble on about them but I believe it would just muddy the waters and I am not sure that some of them were real anyway…

    but I have come to the conclusion, as you have, that the Holy spirit is not just through means, but also not necessarily in the wild and wonderful, as some would have us believe.

    We are told in the bible that we should ‘walk in the spirit’ and this is spoken to Christians. The inference being that Christians can ‘not walk in the spirit’….but in the flesh…… our aim is to be full of the spirit and I have heard several arguments about this, the second (or third) blessing… baptism in the spirit, as well as you are full of the spirit as soon as you become a Christian, and how can you have part of a person. I hold to the view that as the Spirit tries to deal with your life and sin, and if we withhold that area from Him then we block His work in that area and in this way are not full of the spirit….. I also think that the bible teaches that we can spend our days walking in the flesh in that we never check in with the Spirit of God about our actions, thoughts, motives and plans and about what we are doing right here right now…. God wants us to constantly check in with him (the spirit) and be guided (nudged) in the right direction……

    “Lord, should I be writing this answer to Ron’s Blog. Is it helpful, uplifting and true? Is there something better I should be saying? Am I seeking glory for myself or for you?”

    something my wife read in my little boys book this weekend really spoke to me… speaking of David, it said he spoke with God lots every day… and I believe that is how we are meant to be, that God desires this, and that the Spirit is our guide, our comforter, part of our conscience, our seal, our interpreter our helper….

    it is an area of my Christian walk that still puzzles me at times and I still cannot explain. I am also not 100% clear of certain areas of Doctrine in this regard, so I too would value others views and thoughts and what they believe the bible has to say on the matter :-)

  2. Kathy October 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    I also have experienced several areas of the working of the Spirit. Mostly it’s a calling – or a yearning to spend time in the Word, or to spend time in prayer. I attempt to always listen and obey that calling – as my biggest fear is that if I stop paying attention to that calling – that it will be easy to no longer pay attention – or not hear that calling anymore.

    Additionally, I’ve sat in churches or Bible Studies where I’ve been taught I need to act a certain way – – To be more and more like Christ. To me, I’ve always failed gone down a hole of guilt and self deprecation. It’s taken a few times to go this route (so I’m a slow learner) to realize that this is something I cannot do on my own. I can only do it with the help of the Spirit- – which has led to freedom from that guilt.

    And yes, the Spirit reminds me that I am loved. That I am valued by God. I know that as I walk into situations or different locations I He walks with me. Knowing that He’s walking with me causes me to look at people and situations differently. Rather than judging a drunk man who has thrown up all over the MAX train – I look at him (from a drier distance) and wonder how a person – made in the image of God wound up this way. Then I look at him with new eyes – and offer up a prayer for him.

    As I have that awareness of His presence with me at all times – my life has changed.

  3. Tom Lyman: October 5, 2010 at 2:50 am #

    For me it all begins with relationship still. As the Holy Spirit works within the Trinity he also works within me. His role is to point me constantly to the Son and my relationship with him through the Cross. It is wonderful to sense his presence and work in my life. I have engaged in ministry and realized when it was complete that it was not just me, but the gracious work of the Holy Spirit to work through me. Like you, Ron, I have asked the questions and somehow in an off moment or first thing upon awakening have the answer and know with certainty that it was from the Lord. My problem is that I leak, so I have to constantly go before him asking for forgiveness and a fresh in filling. But the promise is in Luke 11 that the Lord gives the best gift there is “…how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”

  4. Bobby Grow October 5, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    My thoughts are simple: that this was very refreshing, thank you, Ron!

  5. Ron October 5, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    I hope some others will pitch in, too, Alan. Yet let me say that I’m with you on the importance of what Paul wrote about the Spirit in Romans 8, that you allude to in your comments. I link his call there to “set your mind on the Spirit rather than on the flesh” with the affirmation made earlier in Romans 5:5, that what we’ll hear from him is that we’re dearly loved by God!

  6. DUANE WATTS October 7, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    I agree with you-all. The Spirit does not testify of Himself, so by and large, grandstanding is not of the Spirit. It’s interesting, I don’t know that it is right, but since beginning to enjoy this Trinitarianism, I seem to be more inclined to speak to the Lord, where before, I doctrinarily prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus, knowing that it was the Spirit that is [transmitting?] that message. I still understand the Spirit as the go between, between us and the Father and the Son. I think I alternate between addressing the Father directly, and Jesus. I desire to speak with Him, to be spoken to by Him. When I sense the Lord speaking to me, I think of it as the Lord, or alternately as the Father, but not usually the Spirit. When I go to bed and feel alone there (wife asleep for hours), I seek my Lord’s comfort and companionship, as I do in the morning darkness, getting ready for work. I’m aware that the Spirit is always there with me in the background. He often leads me to recall Scripture at the time needed. He is often near to remind me that I am but dust. Yes mine conscience. But He joins the Father and the Son in witnessing to me that I am loved by God, and for the first time, I can really believe it, because that is who God is!
    Perhaps it is to His Glory that He is content to be invisible, almost undetectable. He does not desire “hosanna”s and “HalleluJah”s to go to Him, but to the Son and to the Father.
    Thanks Ron!

  7. marenda October 9, 2010 at 5:09 am #

    i don’t have much to say but i know God (the Holy Spirit) is healing me in my life as i obey God and drawing me closer to God and his will for my life and healing those around me. I am confident all the time that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants and i love that comfort and security.

  8. Jim October 24, 2010 at 11:50 pm #

    Hi Ron,
    This was very helpful.
    However I wonder if you could elaborate the point about The Holy Spirit not loving the Father or vice versa. Not mentioned in the Bible as you say. But again as you say, he does bring forth the Love of God. Also you say that he is God, and not a lesser person.

    How can we grapple that neither the Son or Father mention their love for the Spirit. Or the Spirits love for the Father and Son?

    I must admit I’ve never noticed that this love between them is not mentioned. Surely however, they must love each other?
    Thanks Ron.

  9. Ron Frost October 25, 2010 at 6:59 am #

    Thanks, Jim, for asking the question in a gentle fashion!
    The fact is that I had noticed the silence about the Spirit’s love in relation to the Father and the Son but it was only when I found that Jonathan Edwards raised the issue that I dared comment. It’s not something anyone can “explain”, needless to say, because it’s not really explained in the Scriptures. So what I wrote was an attempt, in very brief terms, to say as much as possible within the constraints of what the Bible says. I’ll certainly have more than a few questions to ask once I arrive in heaven and this will be one area to explore.
    Augustine’s effort to address the matter seems present in his identification of the Spirit himself as the one who is the Love between the Father and the Son.

  10. Jim October 25, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks Ron,
    Again that is very helpful. I would be in agreement that we must only speak as much on a quiet topic such as this within the barriers the Bible allows. I think a question for Heaven is a humble and reverent way of seeing this.
    I suppose we could add that both the Father and Son send the Spirit, and he is the Presence of God on Earth. So he brings the presence of the Father and Son to earth and to his people etc. Augustine’s effort I think is as Biblical as one could achieve, and I might add does not reduce his role as a Person of the Trinity.
    Our God is very great Ron, and his mystery of the Spirit is wonderful when we consider all the great gifts we receive from him.
    Thanks again Ron for your really encouraging blog post.

  11. KT November 7, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    Hi Ron,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. This is a topic that I personally have been wrestling with and out of fear and confusion have found myself as a self-appointed “theological sheriff.” I am in an environment where there is a lot of theological diversity (calvinism, arminianism, etc.) but a growing and vocal group of folks who talk a lot about heaven, angels and signs and wonders. My question is what is the proper balance between the centrality of the gospel and the authority of scripture and being open and eager for an experience with the living God?

    The language of heaven, angels and signs and wonders implies that the gospel is something that is very basic and understood almost as if, “hey, yeah we have the gospel, now let’s graduate to the miraculous.”

    Here is an interesting link from John Piper from 1990 that shows how he has wrestled with the same things: http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/are-signs-and-wonders-for-today

    So, should we pursue the miraculous and if so, what is the proper balance?

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