Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Knowing the Holy Spirit, Part II: What does the Spirit do?

In Part I, we talked a bit about who and what the Holy Spirit is - a taxonomy of the Spirit to help us understand who it is we speak of a little better. Now we are going to look a little bit at what the Spirit does. Since everything we read about the Holy Spirit is a couple of thousand years old, I think it important to go back and look at what would be expected of the Spirit's actions in a person's life to a first century denizen.

Most of what we know of the Spirit's actions in our lives in found in the New Testament, which was written to a society that was either Hellenistic or heavily influenced by Hellenistic thoughts. (Indeed, our own society, today, is still heavily influenced by and permeated with the ideas and beliefs of the ancient Greeks.) And the Greeks had some definite ideas about spirit, divided into two basic groups. The Socratic and Platonic camps generally held to the ideas that Socrates and Plato espoused on spirit. In their minds they saw the spirit as that part of us which comprised our emotional motivation for actions. The spirited person would be driven to great acts of bravery and glory. However, these great actions were counterbalanced by hubris; inevitably, those who had great spirit and did great things were destined to fall victim to their own pride. Consider what you know of Greek drama - they loved a good story where the hero came out ruined at the end because of hubris.

The second camp was centered on Aristotle, who saw the spirit not so much as a motivator as it was the simple essence of something. To Aristotelian thought, the spirit was the nature or utility of any object, animate or inanimate. The spirit or nature of an axe was to cut. The spirit of a pen to write. For a person, the spirit of that person would be the basic idea of who he was.

So, how do these ideas of Socratic and Aristotelian spirit jibe with what Jehovah taught of His Spirit through Jesus and the apostles? Well, it seems that the Hellenistic society was onto something, but still had much to learn. Take the Socratic belief: when Jesus preached of a life that must be immersed in Spirit and water (
John 3) they would have likely taken this to mean that you would then be empowered to do great things, with a good chance of ending up in tragedy because of overconfidence and arrogance. But then, they could look at Jesus, whose immersion in Spirit was seen and recorded, and instead of hubris they would see humility. His death was not in pride but in sacrifice. Rather than a spirit which is of ourselves and which focuses on what can be done for ourselves, the Holy Spirit is of God and focuses us on what we can do for others.

To the Aristotelian, immersion in the Holy Spirit would be something very profound. To their thoughts, immersion in the Spirit would be no less than a total redefinition of one's life. You would no longer have the same purpose as before, but would be a new creature with a new mission.

Do these sound familiar (new life and power when filled with the Spirit of God)? They should. The Holy Spirit is that with which God changes our lives, taking us from base, unclean flesh to holiness and righteousness. The Greeks had a basic idea that was not far off the mark; but have we considered what role the Spirit has in molding and defining our lives today? We, too, must delve into the actions of the Spirit as we seek to know God.

But what does the Spirit do? How does being imbued with the Breath of Life change us? These are aspects of the Spirit which I will talk about in more detail later, but for now a brief discussion is important. One of the things which is most readily identified as an action of the Spirit are spiritual gifts, talked about in detail by Paul in
1 Corinthians 12 and in other places. We know that the Spirit gives us these gifts to enable us to do that for which we were created. The Spirit is our promised helper, sent to be with us after Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension (John 15:26). Jesus tells us that the Spirit also works in us to convict us of sin (John 16:7-8), which echoes the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10. We also know the Spirit as Life Giver (2 Corinthians 3:6). Salvation comes to us through Christ's blood and the Spirit (Titus3:5-6) and sanctification is found in His Spirit and in faith (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

But these give only the briefest of glimpses at how the Spirit is acting in our lives. The recognition here is that when we enter into Christ and accept His Spirit, then we will be changed, and that the Spirit will always be there for us to guide, strengthen, and keep us close to the heart of Jehovah as we serve Him in life. Next, we will look at what a Spirit-filled life looks like and just why it is we have been given this gift from Jehovah.

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