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Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ Category

Ethics for Paul, therefore, is ultimately a theological issue pure and simple- that is, an issue related to the known character of God.  Everything has to do with God, and what God is about in Christ and the Spirit.  Thus: (1) the purpose (or basis) of Christian ethics is the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31); (2) the pattern for such ethics is the Son of God, Christ himself (1 Cor 4:16-17; 11:1; Eph 4:20), into whose likeness we were predestined to be transformed (Rom 8:29); (3) the principle is love, precisely because love is at the essence of who God is; (4) and the power is the Spirit, the Spirit of God.

Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, p106

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It is certainly no accident that with his [the Holy Spirit] entry, there is no further talk of defeat.  In Romans 7:14-25, a rough count that I made indicates that the words “I,” “me” and “my” (in the RSV anyway) were used over 40 times. In that context there was no reference to the Holy Spirit, and thus, defeat.  In chapter 8 where the Holy Spirit’s presence is all pervasive, confidence and assurance are set forth.  The warfare between the two natures goes on, but where the Holy Spirit is in control, the old nature is compelled to give way.  And as long as Christians seek to carry on the warfare at their own charges, they fight a losing battle.  But when the avail themselves of the resources of life and power that are their’s in Christ Jesus, they are more than conquerers. 

From Peter O’Brien, Freedom from Death Talk 1 (on Romans 8:1-4)

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Joel Willits over at Euangelion had an interesting post yesterday regarding the presence of God and charismatic theology.  I was simply going to leave a comment, but it was going to be too long, hence this post.  He starts by asking the question: “How much of the modern charismatic movement’s stress on the ‘tangible presence’ of God in the form of signs, wonders and individual manifestations is the result of a non-sacramental theology?”

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “sacramental theology,” Dr Willits is referring to those Christian traditions who believe that Christ is, in some sense, present in the sacraments (Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox, and Anglican- though they all nuance it differently).  There should probably be more to this definition, but for the sake of this discussion we’ll start with that.  He observes that charismatic churches tend not to emphasize the sacraments in terms of Christ’s presence, and I think he’s probably right. Most charismatic/pentecostal churches tend to be “non-sacramental,” along with Baptists and a few other groups (Nazarenes?, Congregationalists?, not sure).

He also relays a conversation he had with a friend who is part of a “supernatural boot camp” (Willits’ term).  This friend expressed a desire to feel the presence of God and experience intimacy with God,  giving a couple examples of this happening, such as feeling a warm sensation in his hands.

I encourage you to read Willits’ entire post, because he discusses a couple other things that provoke good thought, but I wanted to focus on his original question: is the desire to experience the presence of God a result of a non-sacramental theology?

There are probably a number of factors that are at work in the desire for the tangible presence of God, some good and some bad.  Some have a desire for something new or cool.  Some have seen the faithful lives of those who seek after these things and want whatever it is that those people have experienced.  And, as Willits suggests, they may be seeking the tangible presence of God because they don’t have any other room in their theology to have that experience (that is, being non-sacramental).

But I think there is something more crucial here that Willits does not mention, and does not crop up in the comments (at least not yet).  Once again, I appeal to what Gordon Fee has emphasized on many occasions: in the earliest churches, the Holy Spirit was an experienced reality.  Many of us charismatics read 1 Corinthians 12-14, Galatians 3 and the entire book of Acts and note there was something about the presence of the Spirit that manifested itself in the community, and, with maybe a couple exceptions (Acts 2:42?), those passages are not connected with sacraments (or ordinances, as my inner Baptist prefers to call them).  That, of course, doesn’t mean that those holding to a more sacramental theology are wrong to do so (they do have biblical justification in the gospels); it simply means that the presence of God can be manifested apart from them.

To be sure, charismatics hardly have the monopoly on experiencing the presence of God.  I’ve written a bit about this before.  Needless to say, a warm feeling in the hands may indeed be from God, but it most certainly does not exhaust what the NT has to say about God’s presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  In fact, I’d say it barely touches on the amazing things we see in Scripture.  My point here, though, is simply to note that there is a biblical and theological justification for the charismatic’s desire to “feel the presence of God,” even if that can be awfully hard to define.

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Knowing God: He Shall Testify

Knowing GodAh, the Holy Spirit.  It’s amazing to me how little knowledge there is of the Holy Spirit.  You’d think there would be more emphasis and biblical teaching on him, being part of the Trinity (i.e., God) and all.  Yet, most churches and Christians know very little of what the Bible teaches on the Holy Spirit (I’m not pointing fingers outward, by the way, the circles I run in are just as guilty, more on that to come).  In the words of J I Packer, in chapter 6 of Knowing God, the Holy Spirit is “divine yet ignored.”

Christian people are not in doubt as to the work that Christ did, they know that he redeemed us by his atoning death, even if they differ among themselves as to what exactly this involved.  But the average Christian, deep down, is in a complete fog as to what work the Holy Spirit does. (p68)

Packer focuses on two main reasons to see the Holy Spirit as important: (1) the inspiration of Scripture and (2) regeneration.  If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t have the Bible itself, because he inspired the authors to write it.  Nor would we have Christians, because the Holy Spirit is the one who convincts sinners and brings new life to their heart.  Packer is, of course, absolutely correct in making both points.

But part of me can’t help but note that there’s so much more than that.  This is the difficulty of a book like this, that Packer cannot dive deeper into what the Scripture teaches on a topic as broad (and crucial) as the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  If I could have placed a bet on what Packer would write about the Spirit, well, I’d be a rich man.  It’s a shame, however, because the predictability is disheartening: a charismatic would write about manifestations of the Spirit, a Reformed theologian would focus on inspiration and regeneration, many Baptists would focus on the fruit of the Spirit, and so on.  Each group is woefully partial in their emphases.

And this is part of the problem Packer decries here in this chapter.  I could ask Packer: what about the spiritual gifts?  What does Paul mean when he calls the Spirit “a deposit” (Eph 1:14) or refers to the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom 8:23)?  What does it mean to live/walk by/in the Spirit?  What does it mean to be filled by the Spirit?  Let me be clear- what Packer says about the Spirit is spot on and to be appreciated.  But I finish the chapter with more questions than answers, and can’t get away from what Gordon Fee always says about the Holy Spirit- that in the New Testament church, the Holy Spirit was an “experienced reality.”

I guess it’s unfair to knock Packer on this point, since he’s trying to keep everything short and sweet (though a couple more pages wouldn’t kill the reader).  I want to close by repeating his application points, which are excellent (71-72).

  • Do we honor the Holy Spirit in our faith, acknowledging the authory of the Bible?
  • Do we honor the Holy Spirit in our life, by seeking to apply the Bible he has inspired?
  • Do we honor the Holy Spirit in our witness, realizing that he alone does the convincted and saving?

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