Good Morning, Holy Spirit!

Click here to listen to this 18-minute message.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the early church, 50 days after Easter. Holy Spirit is a person we talk about far too infrequently, so today I seize the opportunity to talk about him (or her) in greater detail. In this message, I answer two question: Who is Holy Spirit? and What does Holy Spirit do in our lives? I draw on three great readings about the Spirit, viz. John 15:26-16:15; Romans 8:9-11, 22-27; and Acts 2:1-21.

Regarding the first question, my answer is in three parts:

  1. Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity (or the triune God) – as much God as Jesus and the Father are God.
  2. Holy Spirit is a person (not a force, or presence, or love) – as much a person as Jesus and the Father are persons.
  3. Holy Spirit is active in numerous ways in our present lives and in the lived-experience of our faith, thus very much to be incorporated into our faith life.

Regarding the second question, I give two answers, briefly:

  1. Holy Spirit dwells within us, and is thus present in the body and heart of every believer, working to align our spirit with the risen Christ, and helping us in living out our faith.
  2. Holy Spirit empowers and equips Christians for living and speaking out our faith in the world, through equipping us with gifts and strengths, and growing our confidence.

I hope that you will find this an accessible explanation of Holy Spirit. It was preached at our family service – half of those present were children and youth.

May you experience a rising of the Holy Spirit in your heart this Pentecost.

Blessings
Adrian

Ministry in Partnership

Please click here to listen to this 19-minute message.

Yesterday (6 January) was the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, when we celebrate the Magi visiting the Christ Child. This festival is important for at least two reasons. First, the Magi recognise the infant Jesus to be the Son of God, the King of Kings, because Christ has been revealed to them as God incarnate. Second, the Magi, coming from the East, represent the Gentile, non-Jewish world, and thus the message of Jesus is seen as being relevant not only to the Jews but also to all of humanity. Thus Epiphany represents the Gospel of the Son of God, incarnate in Jesus, for the entire world.

Against this backdrop, I look at the recurring themes that emerge from the three passages set for today: Genesis 1:1-5 (the Creation), Mark 1:4-11 (the Baptism of Christ) and Acts 19:1-7 (Paul’s baptism of John’s disciples with the Holy Spirit). Two main themes arise from these readings.

First, they all speak to new beginnings: a new creation, recreation through baptism, Christ’s new ministry on earth and Paul’s new ministry building the gentile church. This is relevant to us, on this first Sunday of 2018, as we think about what we want to do and accomplish this year, and who we want to be as followers of Christ.

Second, they all speak to participative ministry. Creation takes place through the collaborative work of God the Father (Genesis 1), God the Son (John 1) and God the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1). Jesus’ baptism by John (and Paul’s baptism of John’s disciples) involves the Triune God. Jesus’ willingness to undergo a baptism of repentance (which he did not need, as he was sinless) is an indication of his desire to participate fully in humanity – he was not only the Son of God, but also a son of man – one of us. And Paul and John were invited to participate with God in their baptism of others.

In all these cases there is participation: God participating with godself within the Godhead; God inviting humans to participate in divine mission; humanity participating with God in ministry; and people participating with other people for ministry. In short, there is no ministry that we do alone. We are not alone. Never alone!

Harking back to the Epiphany, we are all invited to participate with God in his great plan to reconcile the whole world to himself – to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God to every person. We do this with whatever gifts and abilities God has given us, and also with our weaknesses and inadequacies. We do it by aligning our values with Christ’s values, through living out these values in our behaviour and relationships, and through sharing our faith with people around us. But we always do it with God, with each other in a community of faith. We are not alone in ministry. We minister in partnership.

In-Filling and Out-Pouring of the Holy Spirit

Click here to listen to this 17-minute sermon.

Today is Pentecost, the last day of the Easter season, on which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit among the new Christian Church in Acts 2. It is one of the high days in the Christian calendar. In today’s sermon, I draw on key themes that emerge from Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit in John 16, the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2 and the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Based on these passages, I suggest that the Spirit has two main ways of working: he in-fills us in quiet and individualised ways to develop faith, life and truth, and he out-pours in dramatic and public ways to demonstrate the love and power of God and to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

My thanks to Fiona Langham for sharing her Spirit Tapestry that was part of a Pentecost Art Festival I organised back in 2008. You can see more of our works at adrian.vanbreda.org.

Being God’s Beloved: Day 40: The Spirit in Action

And so we come to the end of this journey. Or, rather, we come to the end of this stage of the journey. Our daily reflections have run their course and we now continue to journey forward into the world. My hope and prayer is that you have cultivated a greater, deeper and more secure sense of yourself as being God’s beloved. And that this empowers and motivates you to not only be God’s beloved but to live as God’s beloved. Holy Spirit breathes into us the power and love of God, and that breathe stirs our spirits to be the presence of God in the world. Imagine a world in which every Christian consciously and deliberately worked to be the love of God, to be Spirit in action. What a world that would be!

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Asked what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus quotes the Great Commandment (which we discussed on Day 23). The second part of the Great Commandment is to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The man asks, “Who is my neighbour?” and Jesus proceeds to tell him story of the Good Samaritan.

A travelling man is assaulted and mugged by a band of robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and then a Levite, both people you’d think would be aligned with God’s values, pass by on the other side of the road, looking away. Then a Samaritan, who was not esteemed by Jewish people in those days, stops to help him, takes him to an inn on his own donkey and pays for him to stay there until he is well. Jesus implies that the Samaritan leaves before the man recovers, so there is no chance of being thanked.

Jesus asks, “Who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The man of course had to respond, “The one who had mercy on him” – he could not bring himself to say, “It was the Samaritan.” And Jesus says, “God and do likewise.”

Jesus spends much of his ministry, in continuity with God’s self-revelation throughout the Old Testament, demonstrating that humanity is much loved by God. There are no conditions to God’s love – God loves us because God loves us. It is God’s delight and pleasure to love us, because we are God’s creation, because we are created in God’s image.

But God also desires us to be loving. It is part of God’s vision for humanity, part of God’s original design – that we would love and care for each other in community. And so Jesus calls us to love all those whom we meet, even those we’d rather pass by. God wants us to be like the Good Samaritan. God does not want us to be like Jonah, who had no love for the Ninevites. Jonah, in fact, throws God’s loving nature in God’s face, as he says, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:2-3). Jonah correctly understood the nature of God’s heart – that God loved the people of Nineveh and desired their salvation. But Jonah’s heart was not aligned with God’s heart – he could not love them. God does not want us to be like Jonah – God desires for our hearts to be aligned with God’s heart.

When we are filled with the Spirit of Christ, filled with the Love of God, how can that love not overflow to those around us? In the same way that God’s superabundance of love spills out into the creation of the cosmos, the abundance of God’s love in us, as we are filled with Spirit, should pour into our relationships, our work, our play, our church, our world.

Jesus speaks about this in John 7:37-38, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Knowing that people might ask, “What is this water?” John explains in the next verse, “By this he meant the Spirit.” When we drink up God’s love, we are filled with Holy Spirit, and Spirit then flows out from within us like a stream of living water.

In this way, we are called to be God’s presence in the world. Holy Spirit dwells within us, so wherever we are, God is also. Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is no longer with us in the flesh, as he was some two thousand years ago. But wherever we are, God is, and God is there in our flesh. In effect, we are the body of Christ in that place. St Teresa of Avila, some 500 years ago, wrote about this in a beautiful prayer: [1]

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

On Day 16 we talked about what Christian love meant. Let me quote what I wrote then:

Christian love – that is, our love for others – is modelled on God’s love. Linda Woodhead has defined it as “an active desire for the well-being of the neighbour, and for communion with him or her, based on a recognition of the neighbour’s unique worth”.[2] Her definition is helpful, if challenging. Christian love is initiated by ourselves, and in this way unconditional – we choose to love because we choose to love, not because the person is love-worthy. We love because of the inherent worth of the other as one of God’s creatures, but we do not whitewash all people with the same inherent worth – a bland, faceless love for everyone. Rather, Christian love emphasises recognition of unique worth; that is, I extend myself to seek out particular aspects of that individual that are loveable and even likable. And it is two-way, seeking not only to express love at arm’s length, but also to establish relationship, communion, fellowship. And all of this is just the way God loves me and you and the other person.

This kind of love is transformative. It not the anaemic “I love everyone” that we sometimes say. This is a love, targeted not at the whole world, but at those in our immediate environment, which seeks to bring about authentic experience of human relationship. When we invest this kind of love in the way we do our work, the way we engage with those we encounter in our daily living, the way we relate to our families, and the way we relate to people at church then we will begin to see the Kingdom of God come. This is because the Kingdom of God is rooted in God’s most deeply cherished value, and that is Love.

We often pray the Lord’s Prayer, “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is God’s will? The centre of God’s will is that we love God, love each other, love the world and love ourselves. This is what relationship is all about and this is what God created us for – to be in loving relationship with God (spirituality), others (sociology), the world (ecology) and ourselves (psychology). As we begin to invest our love in these four sets of relationships we begin to answer the Lord’s Prayer – God’s Kingdom does indeed come, because God’s Will is indeed done!

This sounds rather idyllic. You and I know that this does not happen easily. Love in the abstract is simple and clear. But love in the real world, in real relationships, in real workplaces and families and communities is not so simple. If love were simple and easy, we’d all be doing it! But in fact, there is a dearth of love in the world.

We cannot love like God in our own strength. We have to rely on the Spirit of God, the Love of God, to enable us to love. It is as we allow Spirit to fill us with God’s love that we something to offer. And it is as we hear Spirit’s call, recognise Spirit’s equipping, respond to Spirit’s prompting that we actually begin to not only be God’s beloved, but to actually live as God’s beloved. And this is God’s ultimate goal. This is the good life.

Meditation for the Day

Reflect back over the past 40 days. Perhaps scan through the table of contents. Identify those points that have most struck you, that you hope to take forward with you beyond today. Make a commitment to continue to journey in the love of God, to be God’s beloved and live as God’s beloved.

Prayer for the Day

Spirit of Love, Son of God, Heavenly Father. Fill me today with an abundance of your divine love. Create opportunities for me to express your great love as I live my life today.

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[1] This is widely available on the internet. I got this from http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Teresa_Of_Avila_Christ_Has_No_Body.shtml. There is also a wonderful sung version of this prayer by John Michael Talbot, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH8R0mmuH9U

[2] Woodhead, p. 56.

Being God’s Beloved: Day 39: The Spirit of Community

The vision that John receives of heaven is of a new community, of a place of whole and reconciled relationships, in which God dwells among the people in intimate fellowship:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)

Notice how John uses social metaphors and words to describe what he sees: a city, which is a place where people live together; a bridal couple, which reminds us of Genesis 2:24’s the two “will become one flesh”; dwelling together, emphasising God’s presence in the intimate places where people live; the mutual belonging, which reminds us of chesed (covenant-based loving-kindness); and the passing away of suffering. John’s vision of heaven is a vision of a community!

Right near the end of Revelation we have the great invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). Spirit is present with the Father and the Son in inviting us to this great banquet, the heavenly wedding feast, where God sets all things right. This is the future glory that we mentioned yesterday, when we reflected on groaning and hoping in Romans 8.

Paul had a good sense of this Holy City. And he understood that living in the Kingdom of God today means that we should experience some of what was revealed to John. The Holy City has not yet come – we continue to hope and persist until that great and glorious day – but we can and should experience at least some of it today. An appetiser. A foretaste of what is yet to come.

Paul writes most clearly about this in 1 Corinthians, where he speaks into a Christian community that did not look much like a Christian community. The Corinthian church did not embody what John saw in the Holy City, and Paul writes to help them actualise that vision. 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 are particularly illuminating for us, because here Paul writes about Holy Spirit and about love – the two themes that are central to our last reflections in Being God’s Beloved.

1 Corinthians 12 opens with, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” Apparently, the Corinthians were, in fact, ignorant! Paul wants to set them right. The rest of chapter 12 speaks to the topic of spiritual gifts – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. This is one of the key lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament.

It is clear from reading 1 Corinthians that these gifts were being exercised by the Corinthian Christians. However, it seems that they had misunderstood the purpose of these gifts. They were using them as status symbols, to raise their own egos and to boast their spiritual greatness. Paul needs to set things right. He makes five important points.

First, Paul emphasises the triunity of God, as the theological starting point for understanding gifts in the Christian community: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord [Christ]. There are different kinds of working, but the same God [Father] works all of them in all men” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). He writes this to emphasise at least three points:

  1. All spiritual gifts come from God, not from ourselves, as gifts of God. We must remember the origin of all things and the privilege of receiving them.
  2. All three persons of the trinity cooperate in the work of God. The triune God operates as a community – egalitarian, harmonious, in fellowship, sharing, as a partnership. So too should the church.
  3. The diversity of gifts come from the unity of the triune God. As much as there are many different kinds of gifts, they all come from the one God with one purpose.

Second, Paul reminds us of the purpose of the gifts: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Gifts are not for ourselves. They are for the community, and for the good of the community as a whole, as a collective. This is a sobering reminder that we, like Christ, are called to serve: gifted for others, not for ourselves.

Third, Paul emphasises that it is Spirit who distributes the gifts according to his own judgement of who needs what: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Gifts are not a free for all. Gifts are not given just because we want them. Rather, Holy Spirit assesses what gifts are required and who requires them, and dispenses them according to his own good judgement.

Fourth, Paul writes at length about the church as a body, having many parts, each with their own unique and invaluable functions, but operating as a unity with a common goal: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). This metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ is one of Paul’s great and profoundly insightful contributions to Christian faith and life. Every part of the body, even the “unpresentable” parts, has a vital role and place in the body. The body cannot operate without every part.

This is model of unity in diversity. It is a model of the trinity! As much as God is three-in-one, and as much as a married couple is two-in-one, the church is many-in-one. This theme echoes throughout the pages of scriptures. It is part of God’s eternal plan and vision that we should be diverse individuals united by a common purpose. And so Paul writes, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18). This is God’s vision because this is how God is: three-in-one.

Fifth, in the very next passage, we get the very well-known passage on love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4). We hear this so often at weddings that we often think that Paul is here writing about marriage. But while this certainly speaks meaningfully to marriages, in fact, Paul is here writing about the church!

He opens this chapter with the words, “And now I will show you the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). In a church where so many people are chasing after gifts, Paul seeks to remind the Corinthians that there is a much more important path to follow – the path of love. Half of chapter 13 says that gifts without love is worse than useless. The other half emphasises that gifts will pass away, but love never fails. Rather than chasing after gifts, we should chase after love. Rather than chasing after the gifts of the Spirit, we chase after Spirit himself. Rather than chasing after personal ambition, we should chase after loving relationships.

What we really need, says Paul, is the Spirit of Love. If we have him, then we have first prize. Second and third prizes go to faith and hope. But Love is the greatest prize. Love is the thing we should strive after more than anything else. Once we have Love, everything else will fall into place, including spiritual gifts.

Paul’s vision for the church is a community in which love is central, binding together diverse individuals into a united body, centred on Christ and enabled by Holy Spirit. This is also John’s vision of the Holy City. And this is also a vision of the triune God. This is what Spirit is so good at – bringing unity in diversity, cultivating loving fellowship, building communities. We really cannot do it in our own strength. But with Spirit, the Spirit of Love, it becomes possible.

Meditation for the Day

What are things like in your church or your home group? Is it a community that resembles the Trinity? If not, why not? What can you do to form the kind of Christian community that Paul and John write about?

Prayer for the Day

Spirit of Love, Spirit of Fellowship. Work among the members of my church to build us into a community that reflects the love and unity that we see in the triune God.

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Being God’s Beloved: Day 38: The Spirit of Persistence

If you are a Christian, Holy Spirit dwells in your heart.

Some Christians question and doubt this. But you need have no doubt about the persistence of Spirit in your life.

Jesus says to the disciples, before Pentecost, “You know him [Spirit], for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). The first part of this sentence is written in the present tense (you currently know him because he currently lives in you) to emphasise that Spirit is already dwelling in them. And the second part of the sentence is written in the future tense (he will be in you in the future) to emphasise that Spirit will persist in them – he will not leave. The same is true of all children of God today – if you are a Child of God, Spirit has already taken up residence in your heart, and will remain there forever.

As we journey through life, however, we may have fresh and new experiences of Holy Spirit – new outpourings of Spirit into our hearts. The disciples experienced this from Jesus after the resurrection. In John 20, Jesus appears first to Mary and then to the disciples. He greets them, “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). Just a few days earlier, Jesus had affirmed that Spirit was already living with them. So they are not now receiving Spirit for the first time. Rather, this is a new outpouring of Spirit into them.

And some weeks later, at Pentecost, they receive another outpouring of Spirit – this time with “a violent wind from heaven” and “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” and with the ability to speak in different languages (Acts 2:2-4). Again, this is a new experience of Spirit, but that does not mean they did not previously have Spirit in them. This time, however, we see radical transformation in their faith and witness, and an explosive growth of the church. Clearly, the outpouring of Spirit is a vital part of our spiritual growth. We should eagerly desire to know Spirit like this!

‘Baptism in the Spirit’ or being ‘filled with the Spirit’, which are sometimes accompanied by supernatural gifts such as tongues, does not mean receiving Holy Spirit for the first time. Spirit is intimately involved in our salvation, so if you are saved then Spirit is with you. We cannot be saved without Spirit’s participation. But, baptism and filling will provide you with ‘more’of Spirit, though I don’t like how ‘more’ suggests that Spirit is something that can be quantified and dispensed, like water or power. Remember that Spirit is a person. It is more helpful to think of baptism and filling as the removal of chains that constrain Spirit within you, so that you give Spirit space to work within you. Baptism and filling free Spirit up to do what he does best – to work in and through us for the glory of God. And this is something we should all pray for.

Yesterday we reflected that when Spirit saves us and dwells in us, we become children of God (Romans 8:15-17). This too sounds wonderful, does it not? Not only can we be filled with Spirit, but we can also become children of God and coheirs with Christ! This would suggest that once we are saved, we can expect to live the good life!

Of course, we all know that this is not true. Being a Christian does not secure the good life. Sometimes, being a Christian actually seems to work against us – we choose to give up activities or friends we enjoyed before, we feel obliged to be honest in our work and our tax returns, we feel persuaded to forgive someone who has harmed us, we grapple with guilt because we repeatedly fail to live up to God’s standards. This does not feel like the good life.

Paul recognises this, and so in Romans, immediately after several verses about how wonderful it is to live in step with Spirit, he begins to write about suffering and about the hope for a future glory – the good life that we will experience sometime in the future, if not now. He uses words like (Romans 8:18-27): sufferings, eager expectation, frustration, subjected, liberated, bondage, decay, groaning, the pains of childbirth, groan, eagerly wait, hope, patiently, weakness, groans.

Why does Paul write like this?

It is because the Christian path is not an easy one. It is because there are many times that we will feel like giving up, we may question if all this is worth it. It is because there are times when we will feel that God has abandoned us.

It is significant that Paul uses ‘groans’ three times and ‘hope’ five times in these 10 verses. This combination of groaning and hoping is often the experience of being a child of God. We groan because things are not how we want them to be. And we hope because we look forward to a better time. Hope helps us tolerate groaning. Hope helps us to persist through the groans.

And then Paul offers us two promises – promises that serve to give us courage and hope in the face of adversity, promises that remind us that the heart of God is filled with love towards us, promises that assure us that Spirit persists with us.

The first promise is this: that God is always working to transform bad experiences into good opportunities for us. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Bad things do happen. They happen to us. They happen to the people we love. And they happen to people throughout the world. Bad things do happen. We can write many books to explain suffering. But the bottom line is that we do suffer. It is a fact of living in a fallen world. God does not protect us from suffering.

But what we can trust God for, is that God will work with us, in all things, to transform bad into good. The thing that happened remains a bad thing. But God works to change the effects of that bad thing into something good. This is something God does in partnership with us – God partners with us to transform bad into good. God did this with the Cross: the Cross is a bad thing; but God transformed the effects of the Cross into something good for us.

For example, someone may experience a violent crime – that is a bad thing. God will work to transform that bad experience into something valuable – for example, the person may discover a fire in their belly to start a programme for people who commit violent crimes. The violent crime has not become good, just because it lead to something good. The crime itself is still a bad thing. But God has “worked together with those who love him to bring about what is good” (an alternative translation of Romans 8:28).

We can always trust God to help us transform bad things into good results.

And the second promise is this: that we will never be separated from God’s love. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Whenever I read this passage out loud, I find myself emphasising that “No!” in verse 37. It is one of Paul’s emphatic No’s, as if he had been sitting down and now stands up to emphasise this word. And then I find that I get louder and slower and more emphatic as I move through the last two verses, “For I am convinced…”

Nothing, absolutely nothing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! Nothing!!

God’s love does not give up on us. God’s love is not thwarted. God’s love is not contingent on whether we feel God’s love. God’s love does not get turned away by things that happen to us. God’s love is not doused by our own faithlessness. There is nothing in the universe that can separate us from God’s love.

Yesterday we reflected on the idea that Spirit is the love of God. Paul in Romans 8 has been writing extensively about Spirit in the lead up to these verses. So it is not too great a stretch to conclude that we can never be separated from God’s love because we can never be separated from Spirit. Spirit, who is the love of God, dwells in us – we are Holy Spirit’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19) – and so God’s love dwells in us.

No matter what happens, no matter what we go through, Spirit remains with us, God’s love remains with us. Spirit will never leave us nor forsake us, so we need never fear nor be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:6-8). We can have confidence that “if God is for us, who can be against us. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

And no matter what we ourselves do, no matter what we say, Spirit remains with us, God’s love remains with us. We are incapable of escaping Spirit, as the psalmist has written, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 137:7-10). God remains with us, because God knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 137:13). God knows everything there is to know about us – all the wonderful and all the terrible things about us – and still loves us, is not ashamed of or repulsed by us.

Today we give thanks for Holy Spirit, for the Love of God, who dwells in us, in the innermost place in our hearts, who works continuously for our good, who is present with us in suffering and hardship, and who loves us to the ends of time.

Meditation for the Day

Consider the presence of God’s Spirit in your heart right now. Even if you do not sense his presence, affirm and meditate on the truth that he is there and that he will persist in you.

Prayer for the Day

Spirit of Christ, Spirit of Love. Thank you that you reside in me and that you have promised to never leave nor forsake me. Open my heart to your presence and stir up in me faith and hope. Give me courage and ability to do your work in the world.

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Being God’s Beloved: Day 37: The Spirit of Love

According to John’s Gospel, on the Thursday evening before Good Friday, Jesus spoke at some length about the Holy Spirit, something he had not done before. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor [other translations have Comforter, Advocate or Helper] to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:15-18).

I always appreciate that Jesus refers to the Spirit as “another counsellor”. It suggests that Jesus see himself as a ‘counsellor’ and as he prepares to leave this earth he asks the Father to send us a replacement counsellor, who will continue the work he started. And having said that, he is able to say, “I will not leave you as orphans” – we will have the Spirit, and that is as good as having Jesus. They are both God.

Jesus continues, “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:26-27). Here we hear Jesus’ concern for the well-being of his disciples. He really does not want to leave them. (Saying goodbye is hard, even for the Son of God!) But he clearly sees the Spirit as being in continuity with him – Holy Spirit will teach the same message that I have taught, and with the Spirit, you have no need to be troubled or afraid. Indeed, be at peace.

In chapter 16, Jesus continues to teach about the Spirit. He says, “I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Here there is a development in Jesus’ message. The Spirit will not be simply a substitute for Jesus. Jesus sees the Spirit as someone who is to be much desired – it is good that I go away so that you can receive the Spirit!

St Augustine, writing about 350 years later, grappled with the theology of the Holy Spirit. In the early years of the church, theologians had given most of their attention to Jesus and the Trinity. The Spirit was somewhat peripheral by comparison. But any talk of the Trinity inevitably required talk about the Spirit. Augustine tended towards psychological metaphors for the Trinity (rather than the social metaphors that I have used in these reflections).

In one of them he thinks of the Spirit as the love between Father and Son.[1] He draws for this on John 4:24, “God is Spirit” and 1 John 4:16, “God is love”, concluding that therefore the Spirit is love. In the love between two people, says Augustine, you have the lover, the beloved and the love between them. The Father loves the Son, and this love that binds them together is the Spirit. Augustine writes, “The Holy Spirit is something common to Father and Son, whatever it is, or is their very commonness or communion, consubstantial and coeternal. Call this friendship, if it helps, but a better word for it is charity [which in modern English is love]. And this too is substance because God is substance, and God is charity (1 John 4:8, 16), as it is written.”

Jonathan Edwards, a fiery preacher in New England who was born in the same year as John Wesley, took up Augustine’s ideas, as have many others. He describes the Spirit as “God the Father’s and God the Son’s infinite love and joy in each other”.[2] Edwards writes about the “Divine disposition or nature”, which is perhaps similar to what I have described as the heart of God or the centre of God, and says that the Divine disposition is love. Because the Spirit is love, when we commune with the Spirit, we are communing with the very heart (the Divine Disposition) of God. And then he goes even further by arguing that since Divine disposition, which is love, is the centre of God, God is ruled by the Spirit, since the Spirit if love: The Holy Spirit “as it were reigns over the Godhead and governs his heart, and wholly influences both the Father and the Son in all they do”. Edwards bases this on his conviction that the Spirit is, in fact, the Love that is at the heart of God. And since Love is so central – it is the organising principle of the triune God – it in effect governs God, and thus we can say that the Spirit governs the Godhead.

For us, living in the twenty-first century, this is meaningful, because we live in the age of the Spirit. Jesus has returned to the Father, and has sent us the Spirit. And so our primary and closest engagement with God today is with the Spirit. If the Spirit is the love that binds Father and Son in One, then we are indeed blessed to have the Spirit in our hearts. It means that Divine Love is in our hearts. And as much as the Spirit of Love binds Father and Son together, the Spirit of Love binds us and God together. The Spirit is the ultimate reconciler.

But let me sound a caution here in how we think and speak about the Spirit. The problem with Augustine’s metaphor of the Spirit as the love that binds the Father and Son, is that it makes the Spirit something much less personal that the Father and the Son. We know God the Father through the Old Testament as a personal God. And we know the Son through the Gospels as a personal man. But thinking of the Spirit as the love between them makes the Spirit something not personal. But, in fact, the Spirit is as much a person as the Father is a person and the Son is a person.

We live in an era of intangible powers – microwaves spring to mind. Many of us have, “The force be with you”, etched into our minds from Star Wars. An emphasis on the Spirit as love or on the Spirit as power tends to depersonalise our understanding and experience of the Spirit. This is aggravated by our tendency to use phrases like, “The Spirit which came at Pentecost” and, “It manifested in tongues of fire.” We would never say, “Jesus, which was crucified”, but we easily say, “The Spirit, which was poured out”. We must change our language! Go back and reread how Jesus uses personal pronouns when speaking about Holy Spirit.

To help with this, I have tried to make it a habit to drop the definite article “the” and rather talk about “Spirit” or “Holy Spirit”, as a name, rather than a descriptor. From here on, I will try to do that. I encourage you to try it too – to make Holy Spirit a person, as much as Father and Son are persons, with whom we can have a loving relationship.

In Romans 8, Paul writes about Holy Spirit, picking up on some of what Jesus said in John. He explains what it means to be filled with Spirit and to walk in step with Spirit. One of the first things he says is that when we are full of Holy Spirit, we share in the mind of God, because Spirit is God: “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires… The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. You… are controlled… by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (Romans 8:6-9). Since Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, having Holy Spirit dwell in us is the same as having God dwell in us – Spirit is as much God as Jesus or Father are God. So, when Holy Spirit dwells in us, we have the mind and the heart of God right inside us – close and intimate. This is the immanence of God – God is near!

The second important thing that Paul says about Holy Spirit is that when Spirit lives in us, we are made sons and daughters of God, and we experience an intimate and loving relationship with God, like a good parent and their child. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:15-17). Spirit, being the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Love, binds us to the triune God so intimately that we really do become adopted children, much beloved.

Let us then, in these last few reflections, engage with Holy Spirit, as God-with-us.

Meditation for the Day

Listen to how you think and speak about Holy Spirit. Is Spirit an important person in your life? How would your faith grow if you engaged more with Holy Spirit?

Prayer for the Day

Holy Spirit of God, Spirit of Love and Life. I ask you to fill me up today. Remove the chains that bind you in me. Do God’s work in me and through me today. Let me be God’s Love in the world today.

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[1] Shults, F. L., & Hollingsworth, A. (2008). The Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, p. 34.

[2] Shults, p. 61.