Spirit of Light, Life, Love and Truth

Blooming_FlowerIn the beginning … there was the Spirit. Not quite the opening words of the Book of Beginnings we commonly refer to as Genesis; nevertheless, this is what we are told in the second verse of chapter one. “And the Spirit of God[1] was hovering,” or brooding,[2] “over the face of the waters.”[3] One may note that God is first mentioned, but in the Christian schema of understanding, God refers to the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ever one God – although it has been common to specifically associate references to God with the Father. Though, as I have stated before, I am not an expert theologian (or Bible scholar), I will say here that I don’t know that this exclusive association is warranted; after all, we read in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John that the Word, directly associated with Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was both “in the beginning” and fully divine. Obviously, the language used is picked up directly from Genesis, so St. John the Beloved associates the Second Person of the Holy Trinity with the God mentioned in the first verse in Genesis. He did not, however, deny the identity of that same God as the Father God of Israel.[4]

In the beginning, then, we have recorded in Genesis reference to the Holy Trinity, according to Christian understanding and interpretation, then direct reference to one Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is specified at the very outset, then, and this is an important point to realize as all-too-often, especially in the Western Church, the third Person of the Holy Trinity has been obscured or relegated to a position of almost impersonal subservience to the Father and the Son. This is practical blasphemy; it most assuredly is offensive to God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No less than the Lord Jesus himself emphasized the importance of the Spirit of God when he said, “It is the Spirit who makes alive; the flesh profits nothing,”[5] and “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”[6]

The early Church Fathers, especially in the East, understood very well the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. For example, Didymus of Alexandria (313 – 398) taught:

The Holy Spirit renews us in baptism through his godhead, which he shares with the Father and the Son. Finding us in a state of deformity, the Spirit restores our original beauty and fills us with his grace, leaving no room for anything unworthy of our love. The Spirit frees us from sin and death, and changes us from the earthly humans we were, men of dust and ashes, into spiritual humans, sharers in the divine glory, sons and heirs of God the Father who bear a likeness to the Son and are his co-heirs and brothers and sisters, destined to reign with him and to share his glory. In place of earth the Spirit reopens heaven to us and gladly admits us into paradise, giving us even now greater honor than the angels, and by the holy waters of baptism extinguishing the unquenchable fires of hell.[7]

St. Basil the Great (330 – 379) was especially rapturous in praise of the Holy Spirit when he wrote:

The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realize that they speak of nothing less than the Supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, and the guiding Spirit?  But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit…

The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith…

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.[8]

Nevertheless, in Western society for hundreds of years and no less in our culture today, ideas and feelings about the Holy Spirit are oftentimes quite vague and ill-defined, but he (or she) is personal, not simply some force or emanation – not an “it,” in other words – the Spirit is fully divine, and s/he is fundamentally essential in our own redemption, remediation, and intimate communion with God and one another. Without the personal, ongoing, animating work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot possibly live the blessed life of love, joy, peace and fulfillment God intends us to live, not only as individuals, but as the Church – that divinely human community God intended from the beginning, that intimate, sacred fellowship he restored in and through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

It was the Holy Spirit who conceived the eternally-begotten Son of God in the womb of the most Blessed Virgin Mary,[9] and it was the Spirit who anointed Jesus for ministry.[10] It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tried and tempted by Satan,[11] and it was the Spirit who raised him from the dead on the third day.[12] It is the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised his followers, who now “proves the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment,”[13] and the Spirit who brought to completion the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, not by correcting anything the Lord said, but by expounding what he had already taught.[14] Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who leads us into an interpersonal union within an “intimate, transforming, personal relationship with the triune God,” in the words of theologian and Bible scholar, Clark Pinnock.[15] It is the Spirit who, far from sacrificing our unique identity as individuals, unites us into the One divinely human community in which we genuinely find our unique individuality, the one Church of which we are individually members one of another.[16]

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, long-time pastor at Westminster Chapel in London, rightly observed:

The low spiritual life of the Church, today or at any time, is largely due to the fact that so many fail to realise the truth concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit.[17]

Touché! And we certainly have reached an all-time low ebb in the life of the Church in our corner of the world. The response to this infirmity – and make no mistake, it is an illness – have been varied and sometimes quite interesting, but hardly ever helpful. A return to balanced, Trinitarian worship is surely the right and necessary first step back to good health in the Church in America. (There are other steps, to be sure, but this must necessarily be the first step.)

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[1] For the translation of “rûach” as “Spirit” rather than “wind,” cf. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible for Genesis 1.2. John Wesley aptly points out in his Notes, “The Spirit of God was the first Mover; He moved upon the face of the waters – He moved upon the face of the deep, as the hen gathereth her chicken under her wings, and hovers over them, to warm and cherish them, Mat_23:37 as the eagle stirs up her nest, and fluttereth over her young, (’tis the same word that is here used) Deu_32:11.” Cf. also Johann Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament for same verse.

[2] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, H7362

[3] Gen. 1. 2b ESV

[4] Cf. for example Psalm 68. 5 and 89. 26. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was quite obviously unique, even divine, but this would never, and never did, set aside the fatherhood of God for the first Christians, especially the believing Jewish community.

[5] John 6. 63a EMTV

[6] Mark 3. 29 NRSV

[7] Didymus of Alexandria, “The Holy Spirit Perfects and Renews Us,” as quoted at www.swordofthespirit.net accessed on May 4, 2015

[8] Basil the Great, “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” as quoted at www.swordofthespirit.net accessed on May 4, 2015

[9] Cf. Luke 1. 15

[10] Cf. Matthew 3. 16; Luke 3. 22; 4. 1, 18-21

[11] Cf. Mark 1. 12; Matthew 4. 1; Luke 4. 1

[12] Cf. John 6. 63; Romans 1. 4; 8. 11; I Timothy 3. 16; Abraham Kuyper, Concise Works of the Holy Spirit, 30-32 passim

[13] John 6. 8 NRSV

[14] Cf. John 16. 13-15; II Timothy 3. 16; Tasker, John, 180; J. Michael Ramsey, NIBC/NT, vol. 4, John, 284

[15] C. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, 149

[16] Cf. Romans 12. 5

[17] M. Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible, vol. 2, God the Holy Spirit, 6

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2 thoughts on “Spirit of Light, Life, Love and Truth

  1. Very nice article, friend. It is interesting, as you know, to also consider that the plural noun form of “God” is used with singular verbs beginning in Genesis 1:1. And as someone else has written, it is not out of bounds to suggest that ‘plurality coexists with unity’ in the bible. (The example being the two became one as in husband and wife.)

    Here is something that can surely be dismissed as pure speculation (though I hope it is not blasphemous speculation), which just this instant comes to mind as I think about your article. Peter was asked by the resurrected Lord three times if he loved the Lord, ostensibly since he denied Him on three occasions prior to the crucifixion. I wonder if it is possible that each question related to a specific part of the Trinity?

    1. Thank you, Old Friend! And, wow, I’d never thought about Jesus’ inquiry as being Trinitarian, but that sounds plausible even if not certain. You could very well be right on target with that thought. Thank you again for replying and sharing your thoughts. God bless!

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