Series on the Holy Spirit, part 7

In an essay entitled “Guidelines to an Understanding of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit,” Dr. Gary Deddo offers an incarnational, Trinitarian perspective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We are publishing his essay serially in seven parts. Here is the seventh and concluding part (to read other parts, click on a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Our response to the Spirit

It’s clear from the New Testament that the Holy Spirit works actively among us—both as a body and as individuals. Let me suggest that a primary aspect of this ministry of the Spirit among us is to enable us to make a full and proper response to the truth and reality of who God is and what he has done, is doing and will do in our church, our world and within us. Enabling us to make that response is the key.

The Holy Spirit unbinds our wills and unscrambles our minds and refashions our affections so we can more fully respond with all that we are to all that God is. The Spirit frees us to be receptive at every level of who we are. Sometimes it seems we think the Holy Spirit only enables us to respond emotionally. We’re human beings, and emotions are part of who we are, so the Spirit does enable us to respond emotionally to the truth and reality of who God is and who we are in him. That’s going to be a part of it. In worship the Spirit moves us to thanksgiving, praise, adoration, joy and even sorrow and repentance.

But we are also thinking beings, so the Holy Spirit also enables us to respond with our minds. The Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26). He is involved with our hearts and minds and so, for example, enables us to pray and praise not only with our spirits but also with our minds, that is, with understanding or intelligence (1 Corinthians 14:15). As Paul indicates in Romans 2:8, our minds are set free to be obedient to the truth. Throughout the New Testament, the heart and mind are not split but coordinated together when healthy. The Holy Spirit enables us to respond with all of what we are. There is no reason to think the working of God in and among us is divided, as if Jesus addresses our minds and the Holy Spirit addresses our emotions. We’re not compartmentalized like that. The whole of God interacts with the whole of our humanity.

Jesus assumed a whole human nature with all its aspects. Jesus is a full human being with body, mind and heart. In the Gospels we see him responding fully with all that he is to the truth and reality of his heavenly Father and his relationship to him and the Spirit. Jesus obeys in the Spirit and rejoices in the Spirit. He overcomes temptation by the Spirit. He overcomes evil by the Spirit and sets people free. He offers himself up on the cross to the Father through the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). Jesus lives his fully human life in and by the Spirit.

So, when the Spirit of Jesus comes upon us, he enables us to respond fully to the truth and reality of who God is and who we are in relationship to him with all we are and have. If there’s part of us not yet responding, whether the body, mind or heart, the Holy Spirit will work to bring us to the point that we do. The Holy Spirit doesn’t divide us, but heals and makes us whole, giving us human integrity before our Lord and God.

The objective work of the Holy Spirit in us

We should not align the Holy Spirit exclusively with what is subjective, internal, or affective in human experience. Yes, the Holy Spirit works in us, works in our subjectivity but not as our subjectivity (our subjective states). The Holy Spirit cannot be identified with our subjectivity—our feelings, emotions or even our consciences, as if they were identical. There is no denying that the Spirit works in our subjectivity. If not, we would remain in bondage to our fallen, rebellious wills and hard hearts and our self-justifying and rationalizing minds. He does work in our subjectivity, but does so objectively, so that we can respond with our whole being to the truth and reality of who God is and who we are in relationship to God.

The Holy Spirit objects to our false, resistant, self-justifying subjective orientations. The Holy Spirit is not the subjective aspect of human beings that can be shaped and formed anyway we like, made to say what we want, made to reflect our own preferences, prejudices, biases and desires. The Holy Spirit has a particular character, mind, will, purpose, desire and heart, which is identical to that of Jesus Christ. We have no power over the Holy Spirit to recreate him in our own image. The Holy Spirit has his own objective reality, which works within our subjectivity to open our eyes, minds and hearts to God.

The Holy Spirit, then, is a healer who brings the whole of human being together from the inside out. He does not split us up. He does not say to us, “I’m just in charge of your emotions, your imagination and your desires. What you think and believe and come to know, the rational part, well, Jesus takes care of that. I don’t know anything about that.” The Holy Spirit does not divide up human being into compartments, but harmonizes the internal with the external, sharing with us the reestablished integrity of Jesus’ sanctified humanity.

Humanizes us

A final aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit correlates with his ministry to make us whole in body, soul and spirit. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to make us more fully human, like Jesus, the one in whose image we were created and are being renewed or transformed (Colossians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18). The Holy Spirit shares with us the sanctified humanity of Jesus, which makes us fully human, more completely human, more personal, filling us up with the fruit of the Spirit. True spirituality is mature humanity in full and right relationship with God.

So we can say the Holy Spirit humanizes us by making us share in the glorified humanity of Christ. In the process, he brings us to have humility before God. The transformation he brings will involve our confession that God is God and we are not; that we are entirely dependent upon God; that we need the grace of God and that we must hand over to him all our sin in repentance and our whole selves in faith. But in doing so, the Spirit will not submit us to humiliation. He will not make us feel less than human or cause us to regret we were ever human or to think that God despises our humanity and creaturely limits.

There is a huge difference between humility and humiliation. Putting it this way may be surprising since some people teach that humility in the Spirit comes by way of our humiliation. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes taught that the ministry of the Holy Spirit not only focuses exclusively on the subjective side of human being, but requires that we set aside our rationality or intelligence and act in less than human ways, perhaps like an animal or a person who has lost self-control (like a drunk person). It would be strange indeed for the Spirit to lead persons to lose self-control and act in ways beneath human being, since part of the fruit of the Spirit is precisely self-control (Galatians 5:23). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, who came to bring us into conformity with himself. He was indeed humble before the Father and the Spirit. But he was never treated in a way that denigrated his humanity. Nor did he respond to God in ways that denied a healthy and whole humanity. Rather Jesus’ humanity came to be glorified. He fulfilled human nature and showed us what it really means to be a human being.

Given who the Spirit is and what we know of his ministry, we can affirm that the Spirit does not dehumanize or depersonalize us. Yes, we will be led into humility before God. But humility is a deeply personal and human thing. It’s not alien to humanity, but a fruit of human maturity in relationship to God. In contrast, being humiliated involves being treated as less than a person, less than fully human, and that kind of relationship is really the opposite of the kind of ministry Jesus performed in the power of the Spirit. Abject humiliation does not represent the kind of relationship Jesus had with his heavenly Father. Even though his enemies, especially at the end, attempted to humiliate him to the fullest extent they could, the end result was not his humiliation in the sense of him collapsing into a dehumanized heap of regret and shame for taking on humanity. Rather, Jesus was “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus was exalted in his bodily (human) resurrection and ascension. He calls us his brothers and sisters and is not ashamed of us (Hebrews 2:11). Jesus shares with us his glorified and perfected humanity by the Spirit.

Rather than denigrating us, the Holy Spirit humanizes us. To be fully spiritual is not, on the one hand, to become non-human, or on the other, to become super-spiritual disembodied ghosts, vapors or ethereal gasses distributed throughout the universe. We should get our idea of spirituality in and through the life of Jesus lived out in the Holy Spirit. True spirituality is a human being fully responding to the truth of who God is, firing on every cylinder, responding totally to who God is and who we are in relationship to him. True spirituality means responding in praise and prayer and in every other way of service and love. The Holy Spirit is the humanizing Spirit, sharing with us the perfect humanity of Jesus. His presence and working in our lives demonstrates just that kind of spirituality and not another.

What about the Spirit in those not yet repenting and believing?

So far we’ve addressed the Spirit’s ministry to people who are responsive to his work in their lives. But what about nonbelievers? Does the Spirit work with those who are not Christians? The answer must be yes. No one becomes a believing person except in response to the Spirit’s ministry. Without contact with the Spirit there is no conversion to Christ. If no one comes to the Father except by the Son who sends the Spirit and it is the Spirit who opens eyes, convicts of the need for forgiveness and life in Christ, then no one becomes a conscious member of the Body of Christ except the Spirit draws them. The Spirit must work on those not yet believing and responding or no one would ever become Christian, no one could enter into their salvation. The Spirit goes out after people to bring them to Christ and so to the Father. That is essential to the Spirit’s mission in the world. We can see this in the conversion of Saul/Paul in the book of Acts in a dramatic way. The Spirit has a ministry to those not yet believing as well as a ministry to those who are believing.

A related issue is whether we can say that the Spirit is “in” everyone. While there is not a lot about this in Scripture, there is enough for us to address this issue. If by “in” everyone we mean in the deepest most personal and intensive way that the Spirit ministers, I think we have to say no. Jesus told some of those following him that the Spirit was “with” them, but soon would be “in” them (John 14:17). At one point in the upper room, Jesus breathes on the disciples the Holy Spirit, leading to their having the Spirit in a way they didn’t previously. But Jesus also tells them to wait for the coming of the Spirit in Jerusalem, indicating that there is more yet to come involving the Spirit. The Spirit became present at Pentecost in a new and different way. So the Spirit can be present in a variety of ways, with a range of intensities, and we could say at a number of different levels of depth.

Inhabiting, or dwelling in

One of the ways of speaking of the Spirit’s presence in the New Testament is through use of the word that can be translated “dwelling in” or “inhabiting.” This coming and indwelling of the Spirit in persons is viewed as the fulfillment of the promise God made through the prophets Joel (Joel 2:28) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26) as indicated by Peter in Acts 2:17. The biblical notion of the Spirit’s “dwelling in” or “inhabiting” is exclusively applied to those who are believing, receptive and responsive to the leading and working of the Spirit (Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16). The idea of this indwelling has to do with the most intense, personal and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in persons individually and in the community of believers collectively.

But this special presence of the Spirit does not mean that the Spirit is absent from everyone else. Clearly the Spirit was with those in ancient Israel, and sometimes in special ways upon the prophets and even some of the skilled craftsmen who worked on the Tabernacle and Temple. But that kind of presence of the Spirit did not represent God’s ultimate promise of the Spirit’s indwelling. That only occurred at Pentecost in the lives of those who were receptive to the gospel and the presence and working of the Spirit. Further, we can see that the dynamic nature of relationship to the Spirit continues even at the deepest level of indwelling. In that regard, note the teaching that those who are part of the believing body are not to quench or grieve the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30) but rather are to be continually filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Clearly, we can say the Holy Spirit can be present to anyone and everyone. He is God’s presence throughout the creation. We also can say that the Spirit can work in anyone and everyone. His ministry is to open people’s minds, soften their hearts, open their eyes to truth, unbind their resistant wills and convict them of the need for forgiveness and the life of salvation that only comes from God by grace. The Spirit delivers to unbelieving people the gift of repentance and faith, hope and love. Doing so requires working within them, within their persons, in their subjectivity. So we can say that the Spirit works in them and so is present to them in that way. However, that kind of inner working does not represent the promised indwelling that comes only through receiving Christ in faith in response to the promptings of the Spirit.

In Christ, united to Christ by the Spirit

This seems to explain why in the New Testament only those who are receptive to the Spirit, not resistant, and those who respond with repentance, faith, hope and love to the gospel of Jesus Christ are said to be “in” Christ, or to dwell “in the Lord.” They alone are said to be united to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17). This relationship of Christ with his people is compared to marital unity (Ephesians 5:23; Revelation 19:7; 21:9; 22:17). The most intense, intimate, deep and personal unity described in the New Testament is reserved for those who as believers are said to be members of the Body of Christ, united to Jesus as the head, just as the body of a living being is united to its head.

So, by means of the use of certain words and images, the New Testament makes a distinction between the Spirit’s relationship with those who are receptive and open to the ministry of the Spirit (believers) and those who are not yet responsive (non-believers). How the Spirit is present (whether or not he is indwelling or inhabiting a person), will involve whether or not that person is receptive to the gospel and the ministry of the Spirit to receive it and welcome it. How one responds to the ministry of the Holy Spirit does make a difference in the kind or quality of relationship they have with the Spirit and thus with the Father and the Son.

But such a distinction should not be construed as meaning that the Holy Spirit is not for all persons, is not capable of ministering in and to all persons at the deepest level, speaking to their individual human spirits. The Holy Spirit is “for all” in just the same way that Jesus Christ is for everyone who was created through him. The Father sends the Spirit for the same purpose as he sent the Son. But the Spirit is able to be present in a range of ways. This fact is represented in biblical understanding and so we have to account for it in our understanding as well.[1]

What about the Spirit in other religions?

What can we say about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in other religions? As an extension of what we have just covered, we can say that no religion itself can keep the Holy Spirit out or away from people. The Holy Spirit is God’s sovereign grace at work. He can be present to anyone, anywhere without becoming polluted, just as we see take place in Jesus presence among sinners. The Spirit is present to bring to bear all the fruits of reconciliation, accomplished for all humanity in Christ. So in those situations where the official religion being practiced is hostile to the gospel and unreceptive to Christ, the Spirit will nevertheless be present and working within against those points of resistance. The non-Christian religion itself will not be responsible or earn any credit for the presence and working of the Spirit. If hostile, the religion is actually an impediment to the Spirit’s working, an obstacle to receptivity to the ministry of the Spirit of Jesus. However, that does not stop the Holy Spirit. He will work to bring individuals and groups out of bondage to false ideas about God and about their relationship to God. The Spirit will work to open people’s minds and hearts to be receptive to God’s grace, love, faith and hope. He will work to draw people to a humble repentance and a dependence upon some kind of grace.

Individuals and groups can be drawn by the Spirit even while remaining outwardly a part of their non- or anti-Christian religious community. In that case, the Spirit will be making “heretics” within that religion. He will be leading individuals or sub-groups within such groups to take exception to at least some of what they have been taught by their religion. These persons may not know that they have become willing to follow the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit may be anonymous to them, especially at first. But they, in their spirits, will have become responsive and receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit of Jesus.

People in this state can be said to have implicit faith, not explicit faith. There can be made an analogy between these people and those of faith in the Old Testament, whose faith in Jesus was not explicit. Although they did not know Jesus by name, nor of the nature of his future work, they nevertheless lived by faith and repentance and trusted in the covenant love and free grace of God to renew it when they broke it. They didn’t know exactly how God’s covenant was going to be fulfilled, but they knew and trusted and hoped it would somehow be fulfilled. That’s how the New Testament depicts these Old Testament persons of faith. And on the other side of their death, they will see how the promises they had hoped in were explicitly fulfilled. These persons are not excluded from God’s salvation. So too, if through no fault of their own, persons responsive to the even anonymous ministry of the Holy Spirit do not come to have explicit faith, there is no reason to believe that they will not be included in God’s ultimate salvation. Such persons have not committed the absolute and complete repudiation (blasphemy) of the Spirit, but have been welcoming and receptive. Their implicit faith will become explicit as soon as it is made possible.[2]

It is normally God’s will for all who have implicit faith to come to have explicit faith in this life. After all, is it not true that everyone who comes to have explicit faith, first had, at least for a moment, implicit faith? But faith becomes explicit, it seems, only if and when there is a conscious and explicit proclamation of the gospel so that in the hearing of it, it is welcomed and received. And where there is implicit faith, the gospel is always welcomed and received, since there has already been a responsiveness to the Spirit that is working even as these individuals hear an explicit announcement of the gospel. There are numerous missionary stories that corroborate this kind of scenario. People have somehow become ready to receive the proclamation of the gospel before any missionary arrived. So when the explicit gospel is proclaimed, it is recognized as fulfilling what they have been waiting for. Well, we know how this comes about—by the Spirit. That’s how they were prepared.[3]

But it may be the case that in not every instance where there is implicit faith engendered by the Holy Spirit that God brings about an opportunity for that faith to become explicit in this life. It could be that God sees to it that this never comes about. It could be that in every case where there is genuine implicit faith, God may send dreams or angels or miraculously appearing evangelists, like Philip with the Ethiopian, so that their implicit faith can become explicit through a conscious testimony to Christ.[4] But we cannot know about these situations. Knowing how God works in every case does not practically concern us. We do not need to know about situations in which we have no part to play. We do not need a final theory as to how things will necessarily play out in situations in which we have no part. Rather, our ministry is to serve in ways that count on the working of the Holy Spirit within people so that implicit faith can become joyfully explicit. In that way, our and their joy and thanksgiving will be increased. They will become members of the Body of Christ (Christians) and be able to join in explicit worship and consciously bear witness to God so that others can also come to have explicit faith as well. But in every case, we can rest assured that God will, one way or another, take care of all those situations where faith is implicit because he is merciful and faithful. He always acts on the basis of his sovereign grace, operating through the faithful working of the Holy Spirit.

We now come to the end of this series on the Holy Spirit. Not all questions have been answered. Not all the explanations given have been complete. But hopefully, additional understanding has been gained of some of the fundamental concerns we have regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit.


Endnotes

[1] Sometimes it is said that by virtue of the Incarnation, all humanity is “united” to (or “in union with”) Christ. While true in a certain way, this can be misunderstood. It must be noted that the different kinds of relationships described in Scripture involve different kinds of unity/union that should not be confused. First, there is the unity between the eternal divine Persons, the Trinitarian unity. Second, there is the unity of the Son of God with all human nature forged by the grace of God in the Incarnation, called in formal theology the hypostatic union. This unity is a completed, once-and-for-all connection between Christ’s human nature and the human nature of all persons. That is why Jesus is identified as the new Adam. Third, there is the unity of human persons with Christ brought about by the Spirit but fulfilled only as human persons are receptive to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and respond to the promptings of the Spirit to welcome his grace and repent and share in the faith, hope and love of Christ.

The important point to remember here is that the incarnational union does not automatically or mechanically or causally guarantee everyone’s personal and spiritual union with Christ by the Spirit. The incarnational union is the basis (or call it the platform), the foundational reality for the spiritual union that comes as people receive the gift of the Spirit and share in the glorified human nature of Christ and so become more and more like him. So there could be no personal, spiritual union were there not the union of Christ with human nature forged in the Incarnation. But the one doesn’t cause or absolutely guarantee the other—they are distinct kinds of union.

[2] On this topic there is controversy that can get rather heated. There are churches and teachers who insist that faith must be explicit in this life for anyone to enter into eternal life. But on the other side, there are those who affirm that there is no significance to the difference between implicit and explicit faith and that the Holy Spirit works positively in many religions with no interest in bringing persons to explicit faith in Jesus, either now or in eternity. This later view has little to no support in orthodox Christian teaching grounded in Scripture and held down through history. The view expressed in this article is different from both of these views.

[3] However, it should be noted that the position expounded here does not mean that every claim and practice in every non-Christian religion is evil or entirely wrong. There may be partial reflections of truth that do coincide with the revelation in Jesus Christ according to Scripture. This coincidence too, may be a product of the working of the Spirit. But note, it is on the basis of the biblical revelation that we can discern what will need to be set aside and what preserved and seen as fulfilled in Christ. Without that normative revelation, it is impossible for anyone to authoritatively discriminate between what is true and what is false and misleading. However, as noted above, the Holy Spirit can lead persons to be discriminating anyway, although their sense of judgment will likely seem to them to be personal, esoteric and perhaps simply subjective since they won’t have access, at that point, to the explicit, objective revelation in Christ according to Scripture to ground and validate their moral/spiritual discernment.

[4] This must be the case if explicit faith in this life is an absolute requirement for receiving salvation, as some believe. Otherwise, creaturely limitations limit God’s grace and mercy. God could not, then, be more faithful than we are! If that is the case, then there is no such thing as grace and God cannot exercise sovereign grace, cannot be faithful in every situation. God is, in that view, dependent upon and limited to creaturely limits and obstacles, since there would be people he would want to receive eternal life, but creaturely obstacles got in the way that he was unable to work around to bring them to explicit faith in this life and make their salvation possible. But since there are exceptions to the need for explicit faith recounted in Scripture, we do not necessarily have to affirm such a theory that God always makes implicit faith explicit—nor do we need, necessarily, to deny it. One way or another, God will be faithful! That we can affirm with no reservation.

3 thoughts on “Series on the Holy Spirit, part 7”

  1. Fantastically awesome and beneficial! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! I’m still laughing with delight and glee all the way through to this last section of the series, even as I praise and Thank Him! Please keep doing your part in the Spirit and write up some more good stuff about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! In fact, if you’ll do some articles on the Father and The Son in a similar way as this, we can have some fun, challenging and educational times in learning and sharing the Gospel in and through the local Church even more! Pleeeeeeease??? Lol!

    Sincerely and Joyfully,

    Timothy

  2. Thanks so much, Gary, for a great series of articles on the Holy Spirit, unquestionably the deepest, most-insightful teaching about the Holy Spirit I’ve ever read. I appreciate that this teaching is firmly based on scripture and your responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.

  3. Hi Gary,

    Thanks so much for writing this seven part series. This will be very helpful for our local church here in Quezon City Philippines. I just would like to comment on your point about the Holy Spirit not causing people to lose control. I agree with your premise but not with the conclusion. I think that both the biblical record OT prophets, first NT Pentecost) and the experience of some Christians today witness to a sometime ecstatic experience of the Holy Spirit that others would miscontrue. I also doubt the phenomenon of people barking and slithering like snakes on the ground as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. To me, they seem rather the work of a different, unholy spirit. On the other hand, however, there may also be authentic ecstatic experiences with the Holy Spirit.

Comments are closed.