Week 5, Day 1: The Holy Spirit
I didn’t grow up hearing a lot about the Holy Spirit. God the Father, yes; Jesus, yes; the third member of the Trinity? Not so much. I’ve heard it joked that in the Southern Baptist tradition in which I grew up the Trinity was Father, Son, and Holy Bible.
But when I was in college in London, having spent several years drifting from faith and finding myself at a juncture of discerning whether or not it ought to play a part of my life, I found myself visiting a church that shoved me out of my comfort zone.
As people sang songs, as they prayed, as they preached, as they interacted in small group, it seemed as though they were always relating to an actual person — and that person was God. There was a vibrancy of relationship, a vitality of spirituality, a reliance on the Spirit, that I had never experienced before, and it was that dynamic that moved the decision to recommit my life to God from a merely intellectual one to an undeniable, unavoidable, inevitable assent to something true and real, something I had experienced for myself, something that sustains me even in the darkest days.
Churches that emphasize the Spirit in this way are often referred to as ‘charismatic’ churches or in the ‘charismatic’ stream, and while that identity remains a core part of my own Christian faith, I believe that it is an experience of the Spirit, though it may look different for each of us, that is key for our faith to be more than just another mode of ethics or an intellectual exercise. Karl Rahner, a German Jesuit and mystic, prophesied, “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”
READ: JOHN 16:7-15
Sometimes the journey toward wholeness can seem impossible. Perhaps, as you were reading and reflecting last week on the journey ahead, you felt a little overwhelmed. Perhaps, as we learned about how we are called to be like Jesus, to be free, to live by grace, to love, and to experience every moment of life in the presence of God, you were daunted by the challenge of narrowing the gap between who you are and who God has called you to be. Perhaps it all seems a little too far out of reach.
The good news is that our maturity and our growth, which Paul describes as “being transformed into Christ’s image with ever-increasing glory,” is not solely dependent on our efforts. God does not expect us, upon receiving the gift of grace and hearing the call to a fuller life, to simply grit our teeth and self-help our way to a more God-centered existence — we could try, but we wouldn’t get very far. Instead, God promises his Holy Spirit to those who follow him and all transformation is a work of the Spirit. It is, in fact, impossible to live the life God created us for without the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the Scriptures, and even in the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is present, the third person of the Trinity. Right at the beginning, we’re told in Genesis 1:2 (NIV):
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The Spirit of God was with Samson, one of the heroes of the Old Testament; David, one of the first kings of Israel; and Isaiah, one of Israel’s greatest prophets; to name but a few. Most importantly, though, the Holy Spirit was with Jesus.
Immediately after Jesus was baptized, “While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21-22). After he was baptized, it was the Spirit that took Jesus into the wilderness to prepare him for what was to come; it was the Spirit that strengthened him in his trials; and it was upon Jesus’ return from the desert, “full of the Spirit,” that he began his public ministry of healing and casting out demons and preaching the kingdom of God. The very first words of his very first sermon are “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …” (Luke 4:18). From that point on, Jesus is filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. Everything Jesus does is in the power of the Spirit.
It is not because Jesus was divine that he was able to do the things he was able to do, to live as full a life as he did, to show God to creation in the ways he did; but rather because he was filled with the Spirit of God. Indeed, it was not Jesus who raised himself from the dead, but God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The even more incredible truth is that when we choose to accept Jesus as our Savior and to follow him as our Lord and King, this same Holy Spirit comes upon us as well, transforming us so that we might be as we were made to be. It is a promise of Jesus:
I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you. (John 14:16-17)
Moreover, as Paul writes:
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you. (Romans 8:11)
When we commit our lives to Jesus, he promises to give us his Spirit. Indeed, God, who is eager for us to live a full life, is just as eager to give us the Spirit who will make that life possible; we need only ask. As Jesus said, “Don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” (Luke 11:13, The Message).
The Spirit is the very One who created us and creates us anew through baptism and resurrection. The Spirit knows all things, teaches all things,
moves where and when and as strongly as he wills. He leads, speaks, sends, and separates those who are vexed and tempted. He reveals, illumines, gives life, or better said, he is himself light and life. He makes us his temple, he sanctifies, he makes us complete. He both goes before baptism and follows after it. All that the Godhead actively performs, the Spirit performs.
- Gregory of Nazianzus
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: What difference does it make that Jesus lived the life he did not because he was divine but because he was filled with the same Holy Spirit that is available to us?
Heart: How does it make you feel to learn that spiritual transformation is not solely dependent on your own efforts?
Hands: Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to where he is at work today. Pay attention to what you see and experience.
Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy. Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy. Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.
- Augustine of Hippo
"In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic or nothing at all."
- Karl Rahner