Monday, June 15, 2015

The Coming of the Spirit: Content & Consequence, pt. 2


This post, and the previous post, is the text of a presentation I made recently at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Big Sandy, Texas. Written in non-technical language, this two-part series may serve as an introduction to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To read the material in its entirety (with pictures!) click here.

In the previous post, we saw that the content of the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost is Jesus! In this post, we examine the consequence of the Spirit’s coming.
Communion:  Consequence of the Spirit’s Coming

As we have seen, the content of the Spirit’s message is “Jesus.” The consequence of the Spirit’s coming, however, is “communion.” The Spirit’s primary work is the creation of “fellowship.” Paul writes:

2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

In this passage, “grace” is attributed to Jesus and “love” is attributed to God the Father. Fellowship, however, is attributed specifically to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the mediator of communion (fellowship).[1] The Holy Spirit mediates, or “creates,” communion in two directions: 1) vertical and 2) horizontal.
Vertical Direction of Communion

Before the Spirit relates us to one another in love and sends us out into the world in missionary outreach, the Spirit first relates us to God the Father and God the Son in worshipping acknowledgement of who they are for us. The Holy Spirit brings us into a vertical relationship, where we know God the Father as “Abba” and Jesus as “Lord.” This is the “vertical” direction of communion.

“Knowing,” as enabled by the Spirit, however, is not merely intellectual knowledge “about” God. “Knowing” involves the whole person―mind, heart and will. “Knowing” is participation in the eternal communion of love shared by the Father, Son and Spirit. Thus, “knowing” God includes the “acts” of devotion, worship and commitment. “Knowledge” of God and “love” of God cannot be separated or divided. To “know” God is to enter communion, fellowship and relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Horizontal Direction of Communion

Believers are the people who know God the Father as “Abba” and Jesus as “Lord.” When the Spirit reveals the truth about our relationship to the Father and Son, the Spirit also unites us in communion or fellowship with other believers. This is the “horizontal” direction of communion. Returning to the Book of Acts, Chapter 2, notice what happened after Peter preached his sermon about Jesus on the day of Pentecost:

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The consequence of the Spirit’s coming upon the assembly at Pentecost was “fellowship” (or, “communion”). The people devoted themselves to “fellowship,” expressed in communal prayer and eating (“table fellowship”). We should not be surprised that the Spirit joins believers together in love and fellowship, for the Spirit is the eternal “bond of love” between the Father and the Son. Likewise, the Spirit is the “bond of love” among believers.[2]

When the Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, and through Jesus to the Father, we become members who “belong to all the others.” That is, the Holy Spirit unites believers in a communion or fellowship of love. Paul writes:

Rom 12:5  [S]o in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

As a fellowship or communion of believers who “belong” to one another, we find our identities in relationship. To be a “person” is to have our “being-in-relationship.” The Christian is not an isolated “individual.” He or she is a member of a community.

As theologian George Hunsinger notes, “Between the first and second coming of Christ, the principal work of the Spirit is to form the community of Christ.” The Holy Spirit gathers the community in faith, builds it up in love and sends it out into the world in hope.
A Community of Faith

Believers come together to form a community of faith. By faith, we know God as “Abba” and Jesus as “Lord.”[3] Unbelievers, on the other hand, do not have this knowledge―yet! The difference between believers and unbelievers is a matter of “knowing.” We cannot say that believers are “in Christ” and unbelievers are “not in Christ.” God has reconciled “all things” to himself in Jesus. All humanity is included in the reconciliation accomplished in the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ―yet, not all know it! As Christians, we do not stand against the world; we stand for the world. We are “for” the world because God is “for” the world (see John 3:16).  God sent his beloved Son to save this world. We are sanctified (“set apart”) by the Holy Spirit as a community of faith in order to bear witness to the love with which God loves this world.
A Community of Love

The Holy Spirit brings together a variety of people in order to unite them in a “community” or “fellowship.” The members of the community of faith come from all nations, tribes and ethnic groups. They come from different socio-economic, vocational and educational backgrounds. The task of the Holy Spirit is to unite these different elements into a communion of love. In holding together those who are different, the Spirit fulfils his eternal role as the “bond of peace.”

As the “bond of love,” the Holy Spirit brings together the various elements of the community in order to create a fellowship of love. The task of the community of faith is to bear witness to one another that we are a fellowship of love.

After he had washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus said:

John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As theologian Karl Barth argues, Christian “love” begins at the point where our fellow man becomes our “neighbour,” thereby causing us [at least sometimes!] a “mortal headache,” because we cannot withdraw from them, when, in fact, that is exactly what we would like to do! The community of faith is a community of “sinners.” Therefore, it must be a community of forgiveness. In the community united in love by the Spirit, one sinner may love and forgive another, despite their mutual sin. The one who is “filled with the Spirit” is the one who is richest in love.
A Community of Hope

The Spirit does not unite the individual members of the Church into a communion as an end (“goal”) in itself. The Church is called to witness; its service is the “service of testimony.”

As he was about to return to the Father from whom he came, Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world as his witnesses:

Matthew 28:18 [Jesus said] . . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Acts 1:8 [Jesus said] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Christians are called out of the world (in terms of conformity to it) even as we are called into the world (in terms of solidarity with it). Our distinction in relation to the world is a preparation for our work in the world. God calls us “out” of the world in order to call us “into” the world. God sends us into the world to bear witness to the love with which God has loved the world.

The mutual testifying of love and forgiveness to one another is the Christian community’s “basic equipment” for witness to the world. The community of faith is not an end to itself; rather, we are the community for the world. The Spirit sends us into the world because God loves the world, and he has reconciled it to himself in Jesus. God’s love for the world is the basis of our commitment to the world.

If we turn inward upon ourselves merely to protect and preserve our religious institutions, then we have nothing to offer the world, for we have become a reflection of the world―not a light to the world.[4] The world is full of institutions, cliques, parties, sects and special interest groups who exist solely to serve their own interests. Jesus calls us to move beyond self-interest, even our own “communal” interest, in order to take the Gospel into all the world.

SUMMARY

The content of the Spirit’s coming is Jesus. Jesus said, “When the Spirit comes, he will testify about me.” When Peter preached his great sermon on Pentecost, he preached Jesus! The Spirit frees our sinful minds, so that we may know God the Father as “Abba” and Jesus as “Lord.” The knowledge of who we are in relation to the Father and Son is the great gift of the Holy Spirit.

As the consequence of the Spirit’s coming, the disciples were united in communion and fellowship. They expressed their fellowship in communal prayer and eating. The Holy Spirit is the mediator of communion. The Spirit lifts us up into communion with God, where we participate in the Father-Son relationship by the power of the Spirit. The Spirit unites believers into a fellowship of love and sends us into the world to bear witness to the love God has for the world. The Spirit gathers the community in faith, builds it up in love and sends it out into the world in hope.

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[1] A “mediator” is one who brings people together in fellowship or communion.  The Spirit creates fellowship or communion among believers. In addition, the Spirit creates fellowship between believers and God.
[2] When we think of the Spirit as the “bond of love,” we must remember that the Holy Spirt is a divine Person, not a “thing.” The Holy Spirit is fully God. He is the “Third Person” of the Holy Trinity.
[3] “Faith” is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). “Faith” is specifically the work of the Holy Spirit.
[4] Critics say that evangelical Christians have a “fortress mentality.” That is, they “hide” from the world behind the walls of their churches. They appear to be so “heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” In other words, they seem so concerned with “going to heaven” when they die, that they have little energy left to serve the world that God loves.

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T.F. Torrance: Union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit

T.F. Torrance: Union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit