1 Corinthians and Ephesians have together given us a powerful picture of the Holy Spirit at work guiding the new society whose creation we saw in Acts. 2 Corinthians and Romans showed us the work of the living ascended Lord, in which the Spirit transforms the lives of the believers as law and self mastery never could. Space permits only a brief review of how other epistles echo these same sentiments.
Paul's letter to the Galatians has much to say about the contrast between law and Spirit. Probably it is not usual to think of the contrast between law and Spirit as having any connection with the Biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. But in fact this contrast lies right at the heart of such a doctrine. For the work of the Spirit is the inworking of Christ in the believer. The legal approach to Christianity looks at him afar and seeks to make a code of behaviour out of what he said. The epistle to the Galatians shows us Paul opposing those who are overthrowing the gospel of redemption, by saying that it is essential to observe the external rite of circumcision. He insists:
The position of these Judaisers was in effect to say that the only way men could be justified was by sheer hard work. You had to toil at it. The work you had to do was the work of the law. It was essential to do everything that the law commanded and refrain from everything the law forbade. Keep all the commandments, observe all the ceremonies, read the Scripture, attend the services, fast, pray, give alms, 'and if you do all these things and do not fail in any particular you will make the grade and God will accept you'.
It is of course an absolute delusion to think this way because no man in fact does succeed in achieving this kind of obedience, and therefore no one would succeed in winning his own salvation. Nevertheless the appeal of the idea lingers on. Paul however goes on in the oft quoted passage to express the only way of salvation : --
As the Spirit and the indwelling Christ are interchangeable concepts, the work of the Spirit is implicit in this passage. Its basic idea is that the death and resurrection of Christ are not only historical events (he gave himself and now lives), but events in which, through faith -- union with him, his people have come to share (I have been crucified with Christ and now I live). Once we have been united to Christ in his death our old life is finished; it is ridiculous to suggest that we could ever go back to it.
In the third chapter Paul rebukes the stupid Galatians, as he calls them, for being deceived back into law keeping :
These verses take for granted that receiving the Spirit goes with conversion (as also does 2 Cor. 11: 4). The working of miracles is mentioned separately in verse 5. There is no question in Paul's mind whether they had received the Spirit, but whether the Spirit was received by works or by faith. He assumes that their Christian life began in the Spirit, not in their own self-determination.
Paul brings out the thought of the Spirit in connection with this theme to stress that salvation is not a human achievement but a divine gift.
Paul next looks at Abraham and the way in which his faith and not his obedience to any law brought him into God's fellowship. As the spiritual descendants of Abraham, Christians receive the promised Spirit through faith. The Spirit as God's gift is part of the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham:
Justification by faith and the gift of the Spirit -- these are the two great blessings for men of all nations concerning which Paul speaks. God justifies us by accepting us as righteous in his sight and then he puts his Spirit within us.
We get these gospel blessings, not by doing something, but by believing that they are offered and reaching forth our hands to receive them. This is the true gospel. 'It is the setting forth before men's eyes of Jesus Christ as crucified. It offers on this basis both justification and the gift of the Spirit. And its only demand is faith'.
Toward the end of chapter 3 Paul shows that law had its place in creating an awareness of need. We were prisoners, or schoolboys under the disciplinary tutor who kept us in order, and the national history of Israel is to some degree the personal history of every man. There is a tendency in our early years in Christ to think solely in terms of commandment keeping as the way of pleasing God. Little by little our self confidence is broken and we lean on Christ.
If we fail to make this transition, and remain occupied with Christianity as if it were a legal system, we shall not have learned Christ. The Old Testament concept of religion by law is an important preliminary- a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. But thereafter we must cease to live under law and live instead in Christ. One writer develops this point in an interesting, indeed challenging fashion:
We are staying in the Old Testament and in the law if we seek to determine our own salvation. We come to Christ and rejoice in the deliverance of the Spirit. Then notwithstanding our imperfection, life in Christ becomes sheer joy as we walk in daily fellowship with the one who was the friend of publicans and sinners; with the God whose inner heart was laid bare in the parable of the prodigal son. "To prove that you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:6).
Once we are walking in the Spirit, then "to us, our hope of attaining that righteousness which we eagerly await is the work of the Spirit through faith". (Gal. 5:5). The good things we do are not then our good deeds. "If you are guided by the Spirit you will not fulfil the desires of your lower nature. That nature sets its desires against the Spirit, while the Spirit fights against it. They are in conflict with one another so that what you will to do you cannot do. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law" (Gal. 5:16-18).
The Spirit at work within the believer lifts him out of the works of the flesh and causes the production of the fruit of the Spirit. Notice this is 'the fruit' -- - singular not plural -- of the Spirit and it is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self control" (v 22). "There is no law dealing with such things as these. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the lower nature with its passions and desires. If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course" (v 23-25). The reason Paul says there is no law dealing with these things is evident. You can't say to anybody: "be joyful or else..." The qualities which make up the fruit of the Spirit are a steady inward development which we cannot produce by our own willpower.
The last chapter of Galatians still continues with the theme of the Spirit. When anybody does something wrong, because the Galatians were endowed with the Spirit they were to "set him right again very gently" (6:1). This reference to the Spirit obviously does not mean "you who can work miracles set him right very gently". Finally in Galatians toward the very end of his letter Paul tells us that a man reaps what he sows. If he sows seed in the field of his lower nature, he will reap from it a harvest of corruption, but if he sows in the field of the Spirit, the Spirit will bring him a harvest of eternal life (6:8).
So there is effort, but not mere human effort. We must be receptive and responsive. We must have faith and we must reach forth our hand. The Spirit will carry us forward.
This treatment of the teaching of Paul to the Galatians about the Spirit does the topic much less than justice. However, the main theme is so similar to that of Romans that for our present purposes the brief reminder must suffice. To read Galatians at a sitting after considering Romans will make its purpose clear. It is written with a sense of urgency which underlines the importance of recognising that it is by grace we are saved initially through the redemptive work of Jesus: it is by grace we are continuously being saved by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. "If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course" (5:25).
We pass on to those early letters which Paul wrote from Athens in much anxiety to the new and much harassed church in Thessalonica, who had just been brought into existence by the Lord's ministry through him. There are a number of allusions to the Spirit's work in establishing and maintaining the Church and in working the ways of Christ into their experience.
Thus when a short while previously, he had brought the gospel to them, he brought it not in mere words, "but in the power of the Holy Spirit, and with strong conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5). Note his personal quality -- strong conviction -- is in tandem with the power of his Lord in the Holy Spirit: also the process of conversion involved something more than the appeal of mere words to the intellect. The consequence was a sense of joy and relief, but as it was not a merely humanly derived sense of well being, they are said to have rejoiced in the Holy Spirit (1:7). All through these early epistles, and indeed all others, there is a very real consciousness of the Lord's living presence -- an awareness we need to recapture. It is expressed in phrases like "the living God", "by the help of our God" (2:2), "God has approved us" (2:4), "Christ's own envoys" (2:6), "the God who calls you" (2:12), "the very word of God at work in you" (2:13), "standing firm in the Lord" (3:8), "may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, bring us direct to you; and may the Lord make your love mount and overflow towards one another and towards all" (3:11-12), "our fellowship with the Lord Jesus" (4:1).
Morally to flout God's rules for holy living was a serious matter because one was flouting not men, but "God who bestows upon you his Holy Spin" (4:7-8). Ethically they were "taught by God to love one another" (4:9-10) and the maintenance of holiness extended to every element of the human constitution: spirit, soul and body (5:23).
In the second epistle to the Thessalonians we read that "God chose them to find salvation in the Spirit that consecrated them" (2 Thess. 2:13). This was the source of their whole life as Christians. Paul adds: "may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has shown us such love, and in his grace has given us such unfailing encouragement and such bright hopes, still encourage you in every good deed and word!" (v 16-17). This relationship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit was very personal. Need it be any less personal and real now? Ought not such language to be looked upon as expressing the atmosphere of the individual and collective life of Christians today as vividly linked with the living Christ as it was 1900 years ago?
Towards the end of his second letter to the Thessalonians (3:16) Paul echoes the Comforter discourse of the Lord and the real, living presence of the Lord: "May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with you all".
The confidence which the NT teaching about the work of the Spirit creates is engendered early in Paul's letter to the Philippians: "Of one thing I am certain; the one who started the good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ" (1:6). Their whole Christian life was God's good work -- yet theirs as well. This paradox, which has been with us throughout this study, is expressed later: "Work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility. For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose". (2:12-13, Phillips). Knowledge of the enabling power within creates the sense of awe and responsibility.
Everything that Paul talks about in this letter is deeply involved with the personal Jesus. He longs for them with the deep yearning of Christ Jesus himself (1:8). His longings are Christ's yearnings in him. The gospel he preaches is "Christ" (1:13, 15, 17-18). The Philippians pray for him in his imprisonment and he is given the support of the "Spirit of Jesus Christ" (1:19). He hopes that the greatness of Christ will shine out clearly in his person (v 20). For him to live means "Christ" (v 21). All these phrases are pregnant with meaning against the background of our study of Pentecost and the Comforter chapters in John as amplified in the rest of the New Testament and anticipated in the Old.
A sharing of the Spirit was part of the common life in Christ (2:1). Their bearing toward one another was to arise out of their life in Christ Jesus (2:5) and to result in each of them being more concerned about others than themselves. Paul counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (3:8). ("To know" means to be intimate with). All he wants is to "gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of his own, based on law, but that which is, through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that he may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible he may attain the resurrection from the dead" (3:8-11 RSV). The message of Romans and Galatians is here expressed in a few verses, as also is the idea of John 16:13-15, that the Spirit would make Christ's redemptive work part of the inner experience of the believer. Verse 12 beautifully expresses the relationship of the future fullness to the present indwelling of Christ: "Not that I have already obtained this (resurrection) or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own".
One of Paul's most encouraging descriptions of the inner effect of being in Christ is found in this epistle. "The Lord is near: have no anxiety, but in everything make your requests known to God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving. Then the peace of God, which is beyond our utmost understanding, will keep guard over your hearts and your thoughts, in Jesus Christ" (Phil. 4:6-7).
Paul rounds off his letter to the Philippians with appreciation for their help in his need, though he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (4:13). He assures them that God would supply all their wants out of the magnificence of his riches in Christ Jesus (4:19) and closes with the prayer that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ should be with their spirit (4:23).
Paul's words have much common ground here with the circular letter called the Ephesian epistle. It is rather more specific, being concerned with specific false teachings ranging from ritualism and asceticism to libertinism. To all of them the answer was the all sufficient Christ. The actual term 'Spirit' is not mentioned so frequently as in Ephesians but the notion of the presence of the living Christ is in almost every verse. The opening greetings reflect the living reality of Christ in the believers most vividly. Epaphras has told Paul of their love "in the Spirit" (v 8). He prays that they may be "strengthened with all might according to God's glorious power" (1:11). Their whole standing and power to live righteously springs from Christ "in whom all fullness dwells", and they are "reconciled in the body of his flesh through death to be presented to God as dedicated men, without blemish and innocent in his sight" (1: 21-22). This is the application of the cross to believers experience and conduct, which is elsewhere said to be the work of the Comforter.
Paul speaks of the mystery or secret he has been proclaiming to the Gentiles. It is "Christ in you -- the hope of glory" (1:27). To him this is the heart of the gospel. They receive Christ Jesus the Lord; are rooted and built in him, are complete in him, circumcised in him (2:6-12).
The risen Christ, ascended to the right hand of God, is the dynamic of their behaviour. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (3:1-3). Here are echoes again of John 14 "I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there ye may be also". Romans and Galatians are there as well: our sins are dead in Christ and Christian living is the open manifestation on earth of what is hid with Christ in God. Bad deeds are natural clothes to be removed and the new man is a clean, Christ-provided garment to be put on (3:5-10). Racial origin is irrelevant because "Christ is all and in all" (3:11). The believers by the Spirit are Christ's other self and the peace of God is to rule in their hearts (3:15).
Epaphras cooperates in their growth in the Spirit. He labours fervently that they may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God (4:12). Their perfection is not their own work but something which happens to them by the action of God in response to prayer.
Direct references to the Spirit are few in Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus. But the same awareness of the living Lord is there throughout, particularly in discussion of the organisation of the church.
According to the first letter to Timothy it was the Lord Jesus Christ who appointed him for the ministry (1:12); Jesus is the bridge or mediator between God and man (2:5); the church is the house of God; the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the Truth (3:15). Timothy is warned not to neglect the spiritual endowment he had received, in his case through the laying on of hands of the elders as a body (4:14). The gifts of the Spirit did not exempt him from energetic action.
The second letter is full of pathos as Paul's serenity in Christ contrasts with the sombre background of a condemned cell. Timothy must stir into flame the gift of God within him for it is not a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind (1:6-7). To stir it up he has to take action "to hold fast the form of sound teaching" he heard from Paul, living by the faith and love which were theirs (and ours) in Christ Jesus. He was to "guard the treasure put into our charge, with the help of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us" (1:13-14). "Take strength from the grace of God which is ours in Christ Jesus" (2:1); "the Lord give thee understanding in all things" (2:7). And Paul being dead yet speaketh.
The letter to Titus was to help him in his ministry to those happy-go-lucky islanders of Crete, whose pleasant climate, sailor frequented quays and plentiful vineyards made it a place of easy morals, drunkenness, and idleness. This background accounts for the particular problems which created a duty for Titus to teach the church "that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, stimulated by hope of the reappearance of the Lord and appreciation of the Lord's redemptive work, to purify a peculiar people zealous of good works" (2:12-14).
Paul's letter to Titus contains one of the classic passages on the Holy Spirit. "For at one time we ourselves in our folly and obstinacy were all astray. We were slaves to passions and pleasures of every kind. Our days were passed in malice and envy; we were odious ourselves and we hated one another. But when the kindness and generosity of God our Saviour dawned upon the world, then, not for any good deeds of our own, but because he was merciful, he saved us through the water of re-birth and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. For he sent down the Spirit upon us plentifully through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, justified by his grace, we might in hope become heirs to eternal life". And he adds "These are words you may trust". 3:3-8).
One could say that these words sum up the whole of this present publication.
Completeness is not something this book can hope to achieve. In any case the Spirit is not "a subject" -- to be written about, to debate, to have a theology of: the Spirit is to be experienced. However without a brief guide to references to the Spirit, by James, by Peter and by John this book would have failed to bring under review all the material out of which the experience can grow. Inevitably it will be but a sketch.
James has little direct reference to the Spirit, though a power larger than one's own willpower is implicit in his exhortation to good works.
A personal relationship with God of a very direct kind is suggested by this opening exhortation on prayer: "If any of you falls short in wisdom, he should ask God for it and it will be given him, for God is a generous giver who neither refuses nor reproaches anyone" (1:5). "All good giving, every perfect gift, comes from above, from the Father of the lights of heaven" (1:16-17).
The inward work of the Lord is described in the idea to "receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls" (1:21 KJV). This does not mean just "know your Bible well" -- though this will be an important aspect of the process. The NEB renders it: "quietly accept the message planted in your hearts, which can bring you salvation". This message or word gives us birth to be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (1:18 -- an echo of John 3 and of the new creation theme).
For James, action flows out of the acceptance of the gospel and what he, in complete harmony with Paul, calls "the perfect law, the law that makes us free". We look into it as in a mirror and it becomes the basis of action (1:22-25).
Throughout James is saying: there is one God,
therefore all your loyalty must be for him alone: there is one God for all nations, therefore he cares about you, whoever you are, for he alone made all of you and you must share his care: there is one God with all the attributes of goodness, you must reflect him with an integrated personality, where will and deeds are one. The theme of James is that the unity of God works through the believer to
unify his own personality and to unify him with his brethren.
The natural trend in man's inner spirit is envious desire (4:5 freely quoting Gen. 6:5 about man's basic inclinations) -- but the "grace God gives" is stronger and can master the wrong desires. "Humble yourselves before God and he will lift you high" (4:10).
James' recipe for meeting trouble, is prayer: for meeting joy, is praise (5:13-14). Cases of sickness were to be met by prayer; prayer meetings for those in serious sickness and other trouble are still appropriate, even if in our modern medical situation we don't administer the physical medicine at the meetings. Initially the idea of anointing with oil may have been nothing more than. to apply the appropriate ointment or medicine to his body, but do it in prayerful dependence on God for results (5:14-15).
Peter's first letter is written to people experiencing trouble through being Christians. He writes against the background of a living Lord deeply involved by the Spirit in the lives of the believers: "chosen of old in the purpose of God the Father, hallowed to his service, by the Spirit, and consecrated with the sprinkled blood of Jesus Christ". The Christian experience starts with a "new birth into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1:3). The resurrection of Jesus has led to his position at the right hand of God as living Lord. Hence the living Hope. The believers are under the protection of God's power, (v 5) loving Jesus without seeing him (v 8) and even now reaping the salvation of their souls (v 9).
The gospel they have received, is the revealing of what was a secret to the prophets and has been announced to them by preachers who brought the gospel "in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven" (v 12). All true gospel preaching derives its force from the same power. The believers have been born anew of immortal parentage through the living and enduring word of God (v 23), which word is "the word of the gospel preached to you" (v 25).
The believers have to let themselves be built as living stones into a spiritual temple; and become a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. The whole picture vibrates with the life of the Spirit in a people who proclaim the triumphs of him who has called them out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Pet. 2:1-10).
The effect of the cross was ministered by the Lord to the experience of the believer: "In his own person he carried our sins to the gibbet, so that we might cease to live for sin and begin to live for righteousness" (2:24-25).
The Christian conduct which flows from this "life" is not automatic. There are things to be done and there are things not to be done: all that should be done flows from "holding the Lord Christ in reverence in our hearts" (3:15). The rebirth associated with baptism brings salvation (present and future) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who entered heaven after receiving the submission of angelic authorities and powers, and is now at the right hand of God (3:21-22). (Note the work of the ascended Lord again).
The gospel is preached so that although men are still mortal yet in the Spirit they may be alive with the life of God (4:6).
Peter also speaks of gifts of the Spirit in terms reminiscent of Paul in Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians: -- "Whatever gift each of you may have received, use it in service to one another, like good stewards dispensing the grace of God in its varied forms. Are you a speaker? Speak as if you uttered oracles of God. Do you give service? Give it as in the strength which God supplies. In all things so act that the glory may be God's through Jesus Christ" (4:10-11). Likewise in verse 14 "if Christ's name is flung in your teeth as an insult, count yourselves happy, because then that glorious Spirit which is the Spirit of God is resting upon you". Nothing is their own action -- it is Christ within them. The very insults they receive are not directed at them but at the Spirit dwelling within them, without which they would not attract the insults. When they edify one another in the church it is out of the strength which God supplies. The concept of the Living Lord, continuing his ministry by the Spirit, quietly underlies all that Peter says.
The God of grace has called them into his eternal glory in Christ (5:10). He will see them through to the permanent and final expression of that glory. Their part is to stand fast in the true grace of God (5:12).
The second epistle from Peter opens with emphasis on the present power of the risen ascended Lord to equip Christians for holy living. This invisible power is based on the certain fact of the visible manifestation of the historical Jesus.
Grace and peace is invoked upon them in the fullest measure, through knowing (having personal involvement with) God and Jesus our Lord (1:2). "His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and true religion, enabling us to know the One who called us by his own splendour and might. Through this might and splendour he has given us his promises, great beyond all price, and through them you may escape the corruption with which lust has infected the world and come to share in the very being of God" (1:3-4).
This last phrase is more familiar as "partakers of the divine nature" which even an expositor like John Thomas, who tended to give emphasis to yet future interpretations of prophecy, regarded as describing the present life of the believer. No doubt it is a present experience to find completion in the future. There follows a series of exhortations to action and even exertion in the development of the divine qualities. Yet the fostering of them depends on "knowing our Lord Jesus Christ". He reminds them that he and two other apostles had seen the power of the Ascended Lord, even before he ascended, on the occasion when he was transfigured before them, when the Davidic song of victory had been pronounced over him. "This is my son" (Psa. 2) and the servant message applied to him "the beloved in whom I am well pleased" (Isa. 42). Thus the message of the prophets was confirmed and became a blazing light to illuminate their minds (1:19).
The epistle continues with warnings about false teachers, who had once escaped the corruption of the world through knowing "our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2:20). The last chapter speaks of the reader's time as belonging to the last days and of the certainty of the Day of the Lord to consummate the divine purpose. They were to keep their foothold and to "grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him to be glory now and for all eternity" (3:17-18).
Those are the two dimensions of Christian time: now and eternity. The age of the Spirit spans them both.
The opening words of John's first epistle vibrate with the feeling of a spiritual thriller:
And we are on the edge of our seats asking "of what?" The answer comes: "our theme is the Word of Life" -- God's very speaking to men made visible in Jesus. In him was the eternal life which dwelt with the Father who during his ministry was made visible to men. Eternal life means that life which belongs to God who is eternal; it refers to the divine quality rather than an unending quantity of years (see Barclay's New Testament Words).
The Apostle is telling the story of Jesus that his readers "may share in a common life, that life which we share with the Father and his son Jesus Christ". It is all in the present tense and speaks of a real supernatural life, yet within the believer giving a complete joy even now (1:4).
We cannot "share his life" and walk in darkness. The two are contradictory, "but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life". Here our action is not to create the light or the life -- not to perform our own righteousness but rather to walk in his -- to expose ourselves to the effect of the light divine. If we do this "we are being cleansed from every sin, by the blood of Jesus his son". Note the tense "are being cleansed" (v 7 NEB). The Comforter (paraclete) applying the redemptive work of the Lord to the believers' experience as foretold in John 16:12-15 is before us yet again.
Then follows a beautiful chain of paradoxes. We all sin and need forgiveness and cleansing (the twin blessings announced at Pentecost), yet he writes in order that we might not commit sin -- but if we do Jesus is our advocate (paraclete) in heaven. Here is the heavenward aspect of the work of the ascended Lord. Jesus Christ is himself the remedy for the defilement of our sins (2:1-2).
Next John introduces the other paradox of keeping "commandments" in a new covenant environment, "binding ourselves to live as Christ lived" (2:6). Yet the command-keeping is not human achievement but a sharing of what Christ has done. The commandment is called new in the sense that "the darkness is passing and real light already shines. Christ has made this true, and it is true in your own experience" (v 7-8). The age of the Spirit is dawning and Christ is working within the believer.
John then relates this to the love of the brethren which must flow from walking in the light. He probably does this because controversy about the Word (Logos), Jesus in the flesh, light and darkness and related topics was causing much unbrotherliness. In an old man's way he appeals to each age group to abide in the love of God: the sense of spiritual unity with Christ pervades his words -- they "know" the Father and the Son; God's word, the message of the gospel, is in them; and they are related to the abiding will of God, not the passing allurement of the world (2:9-17).
Then follows specific mention of the false teachers or antichrists. They claim to have special knowledge (gnosis -- whence the later description "gnostics") and had the superior air of the "initiated". So John says to those who remained true: "You, no less than they, are among the initiated; this is the gift of the Holy one and by it you have all knowledge" (2: 20). The word translated in the NEB "initiated" is literally in the Greek "you have an anointing": they had been "christed", as we might say. Christ in them gave them the knowing which was experience of him. Their part was to keep in their hearts the knowledge of Christ which had been given them from when they first heard the gospel. Then they would dwell in the Son and in the Father, (2:21-24) -- their new existence had its source in the person and work of the Lord: they were inserted into Christ -- in union with him -- which equally means he was in them. And the promise of the gospel was "eternal life" of which he has more to say as he proceeds.
"But as for you, the initiation (anointing) which you have received from him stays with you; you need no other teacher, but learn all you need to know from his initiation (anointing), which is real and no illusion. As he taught you, then, dwell in him" (2:26-27). The gospel preaching had been accompanied by an anointing of their minds direct from the Lord; it was no mystical illusion, but very real, but because of its invisibility -- it was an inward witness -- they needed reassuring of its reality, so that they might fulfil their own part. There is nothing peculiar to the first century about this; it is timeless Christian experience.
They were therefore to abide in Christ (KJV) and then they would meet him at his second coming in confidence and not in fear (2:28-29). There is no question of people only just attaining the Kingdom on the basis of a small credit account in their own attempts to be righteous. Whatever our weaknesses, we either abide in him or we do not. If we do, he will receive us and we can look forward to that day with gladness and assurance. "Beloved NOW are we the children of God" -- right now this is our privileged position, and there is more to come. And even that more to come depends on him and not on us: "when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". This means that whereas at present we reflect his glory as in a mirror with the distortions inevitable in a mirror reflection (2 Cor. 3:18): whereas we now see only puzzling reflections in a mirror (through a glass darkly), then shall we see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). We shall see him as he is, and the glory of the future age is that the saints will reflect a perfect image. However even in that day of perfection it is still a reflection of the divine and not a creation of their own. The present work of the invisible Lord is an advance on the local and limited work of his earthly ministry: but what lies ahead (when that which is perfect is come 1 Cor. 13) transcends even that: it is beyond us -- "it does not appear (is not disclosed) what we shall be". A comparison of these early verses of I John 3 with 1 Cor. 13 clinches our earlier exposition of the latter chapter. Note too that the future glory is not a reward for achievement, but a perfecting of the Lord's present work in us.
John continues to balance the paradox of Christian conduct which has been with us so much. Christ did away with sin in his own person ("in whose death our sins are dead"): "no man therefore who dwells in him is a sinner: the sinner has not seen him and does not know him" (3:4-6). This is the theme of Romans 6, that a man in Christ cannot sin -- it is a contradiction in terms. Yet because the Christian lives in two worlds at once -- he does sin, as John earlier has insisted, but it is not as a new creature that he sins -- it is not the real centre of his being and habit of his life: it is not the regenerate "me" that sins, as Paul insists in Romans 7. Both Paul and John present ideals as facts and suggest that the ideal only becomes fact insofar as we let Christ undertake the work within us.
So "a child of God does not commit sin, because the divine seed remains in him" (3:9a). This is the new life from God, the new birth; a person with this indwelling cannot be a sinner because he is God's child (3:9b). Even though we find these exalted ideas difficult at times to relate to our experience we should try to see our lives as God regards them in Christ.
With such new life within us hatred of brethren is ruled out. We have crossed over from death to life (echoes of Romans 6. 7, & 8 in those words). The evidence of Christ in us -- of life -- is in our loving of the brethren (3:13-14). Hate belongs to the realm of death and is in the same family as murder. It is incompatible with eternal life. No murderer has eternal life (i.e. the divine quality of life) dwelling in him (3:15). "Christ laid down his life for us. And we in our turn are bound to lay down our lives for our brothers" (3;16). In other words, the Lord's self sacrificing spirit is made part of the practical experience of the believer. (Cf John 16:13-15 again: everything that he makes known to you he will draw from what is mine). The divine love dwells in him (1 John 3:17).
The word "commandments" appears in this section of John's letter and could be interpreted as setting out a new covenant legalism, though this would contradict the idea that Christ within is the source of all righteousness. However, "this is the command: to give your allegiance to (believe on the name of) his son Jesus Christ and love one-another as he commanded". The action required of the believer is "to give his allegiance"; love will follow; and love means action (v 21-24). Command keeping of this character ensures that "we dwell in him and he dwells in us" (v 24). This is circular reasoning: a virtuous circle. We dwell in him and he in us, because we keep his command to give him our allegiance which command we keep because he dwells in us. No amount of writing will clarify a paradox like this but meditation and experience of life will.
And how do we know he dwells within us? John's answer is "we know it from the Spirit he has given us" (3:24). This takes us back to the idea of the inner witness -- the inner consciousness of Christ -- which makes us sure of Christ's presence and the truth of Christianity, where intellectual reasoning on its own could not. If we believe in our own day that the Father and the Son dwell within the believer, then we must also believe that the Spirit has been given to us. The ideas go together.
The fourth chapter of John's first epistle gives a yardstick for testing claims to be speaking by the Spirit in the particular controversy that faced them. If a teacher did not teach the reality of Christ's humanity, he was not from God. The idea is similar to Paul's: "Quench not the Spirit, prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" (I Thess. 5:19).
John then continues against the background of the unloving nature of controversy, to show that love -- and love for the undeserving at that -- is the very essence of God; God within, means love within. This love was shown by the giving of his Son "to bring us cleansing effect which must inevitably make us show love to one another". "Though God has never been seen by any man, God himself dwells in us if we love one another; his love is brought to perfection in us" (1 John 4:7-12). Other men will see God through the medium of Christians in whom he dwells: it is only thus that a picture of God approaching completeness (perfection) can be available within the human scene. Only thus can the invisible God be made visible to men.
Then John piles up emphasis on the life of the Spirit, which is love, which is God in us, which is us in God, which is eternal life. Chapter 4:13-14 repeats the idea that the imparting of the Spirit is proof of the divine indwelling. The acknowledgment of Jesus as Son of God leads to this indwelling (v I5-16 which echo John 16:13-15 again). This indwelling gives a sense of confidence for judgment day. We can have this love which casts out fear because "even in this world, we are as he is" (4:17). This is the idea of John 14 that Jesus ascended to heaven "that where I am ye may be also" and Eph. 2 which places the saints even now in "heavenly places in Christ Jesus", as they share the life of the ascended Lord.
The world tries to rob us of this relationship by making us hate our brethren -- but "the victory which defeats the world is our faith, for who is victor over the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (5:5). This faith links us with the divine and lifts us off the human plane of thought and action: it grants us access to vast resources of power which transcend all human counterparts.
And Jesus was manifested as the Christ not only by the water of John's baptism, but also by the blood of his own sacrifice and the Spirit which bare witness at his own baptism. These also bear witness of the divinity of Jesus to us now. This testimony reaches right into the Christian's heart and is there to produce conviction, (it can of course be refused). (5:6-10).
This inner witness is the eternal life that God has given us. This life is found in his Son and we possess it in so far as we possess him. We possess him in the sense that we have grasped hold of him as he has of us (v 12). The whole purpose of the letter says John, "is to assure you that you have eternal life".
It is addressed to those who "give their allegiance to the Son of God" (v 13). Eternal life belongs to the End and the Coming Kingdom and will be expressed in immortality. But Jesus is already endowed with it and has given it to us as a token -- even in our mortality -- of that life that is to come. The gift of life, like the gift of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of the harvest of life to be ours in the Kingdom to come.
Right to the end of the epistle John is concerned with the practical work of the Spirit. "We know that the Son of God has come and given us understanding to know him who is real, indeed we are in him who is real, since we are in his son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, this is eternal life" (5:20). We know God in Christ and he communicates to us the very life of God. The epistle vibrates with the reality of a personal living relationship between the Father and the ascended Lord in heaven on the one hand, and the believer on earth on the other. The Spirit is the connecting link.
The two shorter epistles of John are charming reflections of the life of the Spirit among brethren in whom love dwells. The salutation in 2 John v 3 carries the warmth of the life of the Spirit:
It is not a formal greeting but a rich exposition of the privilege of being a Christian, who living on earth is yet related to the things of heaven.
Before making a short study of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation, which both powerfully portray the work of the Lord, "seated at the right hand of God", we do well to consider the Psalm upon which this phrase is based, first seeing the "heavenly session", as it is often termed, in the context of the whole New Testament.
Our most quoted portion of the New Testament has been the Lord's last talk with the disciples recorded in the "Comforter" chapters (John 14-16). Their theme was that the Lord's departure to the heavenly realm would make him more powerful on earth in the lives of his followers. The book of Acts was examined as recording the life of the Christian community as the Lord Jesus guided it from his heavenly throne.
In fact the New Testament may be divided into three parts :
(a) The gospels:
(c) The epistles:
reflections on the living experience of the Spirit in the Christian community set down for guidance of future generations.
The gospels record the life Jesus lived in the limitations of the flesh in preparation for the day when his power would be unlimited by space, place and time. The remainder of the New Testament shows what happened when Jesus was made "perfect". The Jesus presented in both situations is the same Jesus, so that to know what he IS like, we have only to read the gospels in the light of the knowledge that "all power in heaven and earth" has "now" been given unto him.
Jesus is portrayed in two states:
(b) "To prove that you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:6).
Our theme has been Jesus in the second state, when having brought about the purgation of our sins, "he took his seat at the right hand of Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3) when having transcended the realm of the flesh he inaugurated the Age of the Spirit.
The concept of the Lord's activity at the right hand of the Majesty on High is the premise out of which so many of the major New Testament themes spring, that we might well have constructed this whole book around it, but we chose to work from the more familiar areas of Christian understanding, leaving to the end a brief study of the "Ascension" and "heavenly session" as giving perspective to what has gone before.
Thus we shall gather up the threads of what has been written as well as providing some new insights, which will underline the message of this book, that Jesus is not to be regarded as an absentee landlord between his first appearance and what we term his second coming: but rather that only as we know him as living now, shall we know the power which will at last take us fully out of the realm of flesh into the realm of Spirit.
The key passage for a consideration of the Lord at God's right hand is, of course, the Old Testament Psalm which originated the phrase -- Psalm 110. We have frequently met this psalm in our study and before seeing it in the Epistle to the Hebrews it will be helpful to gather together the bulk of the other references to Psalm 110 into one place, even though we have looked at most of them previously.
Psa. 110 is a poetic expression of David's gratitude for the kingly position God had granted him, with its unique opportunities for spiritual and military service. It is written in the light of the promise God had made to David (2 Samuel 7) and looks beyond the occupation of the throne by David and his immediate successors to the day when the seed of David (his Lord) should sit on the throne of the Lord at God's right hand until all his enemies were defeated. All this had its initial fulfilment in the rest and peace which David bequeathed to Solomon who sat on the throne of the Lord in Jerusalem and led the worship of Israel as a kind of non Levitical King-Priest. The fullness of the Psalm lay however in the future when the Messiah's triumph should be complete.
Yet Peter, as we have seen in Acts 2, says that Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, was already sitting on the throne of the Lord and fulfilling Psalm 110, gaining spiritual victories by sending forth the Spirit from on high. That throne of the Lord had once been David's in Jerusalem, was now Christ's in heaven. This is not to deny a future reappearance of Jesus as literal king reigning on earth, but it is an interpretation of the promises to David which relates them in part to the present work of Jesus. There are many references in the New Testament to the redemptive work of Christ as the beginning of the Age of Fulfilment: we have seen some of them.
Psalm 2 is similarly handled by the Apostles. In its original setting it presents a living situation with Jerusalem threatened by a rebellious confederacy. The King's confidence in victory is based on God's decree (v 6-7 i.e. the promises God had made to David) and the particular phrase of the promises which gives him greatest confidence is "I will be his Father and he shall be my Son" (2 Samuel 7:14) paraphrased in the Psalm as "Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee". Victories by members of the house of David, such as those by Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah would also be appropriate occasions for the singing of this hymn -- but the fulfilment (full-filment) lay in the final victory by the ultimate seed of whom God could very specially say "thou art my Son".
And in the eyes of the early church this final victory had been achieved and was being achieved. Acts 4 (v 24-30) records the way in which the early church sang the Psalm and expounded the words as referring to the conflict between Herod, the Jews and Pilate on the one hand and Jesus and the church on the other. Jesus had gained the victory over spiritual enemies which had for centuries defeated men.
In his speech at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul similarly handles Psalm 2 and declares that the promises to David concerning the one to whom God would be a Father had been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 13:33). It was a resurrection, too, with no danger of return to the dust and so the mercies of David (Isaiah 55:3) were sure (v 34).
So Jesus took his place on the throne of the Lord. He was victorious and sat down with his Father in his throne (Rev. 3:21) and from thence was very present in the church.
In Ephesians the Apostle made liberal use of the Ascension Psalm (110) whereby he saw the Lord's fulfilment of significant aspects of the Promises to David in their very experience. What is happening at the right hand of God is the basis of the inner life of the believer and the collective life of the church, through the resources of the Spirit sent forth from on high. It will help us to look again at passages like Ephesians chapter 1 :
From the Lord enthroned at God's right hand (Psalm 110) come vast resources of power open to those who trust in him. He is the source of their spiritual powers of wisdom and vision and of their inward illumination. How sad if through failure to grasp the Biblical doctrine of the ascension of Christ and the pouring forth of the Spirit we should fail to tap those vast resources of power. Verses 22 and 23 add:
The divine fullness in Jesus is shared through the Spirit with the church, At this stage we are concerned only with the fact of the Spirit's indwelling, not with the method. Whatever the media, it is all the work of the living Lord. "He who descended (Jesus in the days of his flesh) is no other than he who ascended far above all heavens so that he might fill the universe".
The lovely hymn of praise to Christ found in Philippians 2:5-11 also includes indirect reference to Psalm 110
Their life in Christ was to be the basis of their attitude to each other. His self abasement was followed by his being raised to the heights and he is now recognised as the Yahweh of Isaiah 45 by those who confess "Jesus Christ is Lord (Yahweh)". This they can only do by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3) and while its climax lies in the future, the Apostles are applying it to the work and worship of the church in their day (and ours).
Psalm 110 and the work of the ascended Lord come to the fore again in Colossians 3 -- this time with an ethical emphasis:
The life of the higher plane now derives its hidden source from Christ in heaven (this is dwelling in heavenly places in Christ Jesus -- Ephesians 2) and has the effects set out in the rest of the chapter and will find its culmination in being manifested with Jesus in glory.
Paul quotes Psalm 110 in I Cor. 15:27. The reign of Christ at the right hand of God started as we have seen at the Ascension. Since then by the Spirit he has battled with the enemies of light (Ephesians 6:12) and delivered captives from sin. This reign will go on till "he has put all enemies under his feet" (Psalm 110:1). It incorporates the period of the visible reign of Christ often described as the millennium, as well as the past 1970 years. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. This passage indicates that the enemies are not essentially military and political and links with the general theme that from the throne on High the Son sends forth the Spirit to the Church.
One of the most powerful references to Psalm 110 is found in that prince of chapters on the Spirit - Romans chapter 8. After showing how our inarticulate groanings are turned into prayers by the Spirit (v 26-27), Paul reaches his final cry of praise:
Then what can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or hardship? Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, peril or the sword?"
Having given his son, with this gift, God "lavishes all he has to give". Once again this gift of the Spirit is linked with the ascended Christ at the right hand of God (v 34). What indeed can separate us from the love of Christ -- nothing in all creation ! It was indeed expedient that he should go to the Father that he might be more fully present with the believer by the Spirit. It is for us to recognise and rejoice in the fact that we live in the Age of the Spirit which at the Lord's second coming will enter upon its final stage.
The epistle to the Hebrews is dominated for much of the time by Psalm 110. It starts with the Lord Jesus taking his seat at the right hand of God and it is from this glorified position that he is viewed throughout the Epistle. The Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned as frequently as in Paul's epistles but as the Lord ascended for the very purpose of sending the Comforter the theme of the Spirit is really central to the epistle which could be summed in the words of the hymn :
From his Father's throne, the Son
Rules and guides the saints he ransomed
Till the appointed work be done
Till he see, renewed and perfect,
All things gathered into one".
The Epistle speaks throughout of Jesus as our advocate in heaven with the Father and present with us on earth, thus fulfilling Psalm 110 in an unexpected way: Jesus reigns now upon that throne of the Lord in heaven, which had once been David's on earth; he is a priest of the order of Melchizedek upon that throne and even now rules over the new Israel -- the house of Jacob -- the church, leading them along the road to triumph. This new age of the King-priest having dawned at Pentecost, and a transition period having been allowed, the call to the Hebrews was to break with Judaism, with its emphasis on race and place, ritual and things material. They were to be committed solely to the new covenant in Christ, where emphasis is on the universal and the spiritual, and where obedience was to be an inner force and not merely an outward code.
A sentence of two on each chapter of Hebrews will show how the invisible ministry of the ascended Lord of Psalm 110 is never far from the writer's thought.
Hebrews 1 -- The Lord Jesus at the right hand of God has powers superior to the angels who ministered the law, and his ministration is permanent and changeless. There is here an implicit contrast between the age of the Law and the age of the Spirit.
Hebrews 2 -- The message of salvation in Christ (superior to the earlier message through Moses) was "first announced through the lips of the Lord himself; those who heard him confirmed it to us, and God added his testimony by signs, by miracles, by manifold works of power, and by distributing the gifts of the Holy Spirit at his own will" (v 3-4). There is the idea we saw in our consideration of the day of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit provides inner and outer witness to the truth of the gospel. It is interesting to note that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are mentioned separately from signs, miracles and works of power. Notice also that the great fact of the Holy Spirit does not depend on the particular medium of working. God distributes the gifts of Holy Spirit at his own discretion, to whom and in what form he chooses. This chapter also describes Jesus sharing our sinful situation, tasting death for every man: having been through our experience he is a high priest who understands and is able to help those who are meeting their test now.
Hebrews 3 -- The idea that Psalm 95's warnings for its "today" can also be a warning for the first century "today", leads on to the thought that the Holy Spirit can still take hold of the past Word of God and relate it to the needs of our "today". Thus the Holy Spirit inspires the original word and then interprets it to the needs of each generation of believers, enabling them to see its relevance. Such interpretation may come through teachers and prophets, experience or insight.
Hebrews 4 -- closes with an exhortation "let us therefore boldly approach the throne of our gracious God, where we may receive mercy and in his grace find timely help". This is due to the presence of "A great high priest who has passed through the heavens". Psa. 110 and the Comforter being sent from the ascended Lord are again implicit.
Hebrews 5 -- presents Jesus as the begotten son of Psalm 2 and the Melchisedec priest of Psa. 110. It uses the words of the Psalms as the divine utterances at the Lord's heavenly coronation. His representation as a priest is a two way activity: in heaven to God for man: on earth to man for God. By this he becomes "the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him".
Hebrews 6 -- takes it for granted that when once men have been enlightened they have a taste of the heavenly gift and a share in the Holy Spirit: they experience the goodness of God's word (i.e. his fulfilment of his promises) and the spiritual energies of the age to come. The Christian experiences the spiritual blessings of the future age although he lives in the present one. To go back to Judaism is therefore to make mock of the Lord's work. By the certainty of God's promises, though on earth bodily, we are linked with heaven, in Christ, our kingly high priest.
Hebrews 7 -- expounds his unique high priesthood, which not being Levitical is based not on a system of earth bound rules, but on the power of indestructible life from God, Jesus is "always living" to plead on behalf of the believers. His one sacrifice and subsequent raising high above the heavens, of itself pleads their cause in heaven, and at the same time, begins to sanctify their present lives on earth.
Hebrews 8 -- The writer declares that the main point of his message was that in Jesus they had a high priest who had taken his seal at the right hand of Majesty in the heavens, and was ministering in the real sanctuary pitched by God. The saints are this sanctuary; they are in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and for them the tabernacle of God is already with men; by the Spirit he dwells with them. Where he is they are also (John 14). And the covenant upon which the Lord's ministry is based is the New Covenant which inscribes God's will on men's hearts as an inward power. This we have seen elsewhere is the ministration of the Spirit, which is superior to the ministration of condemnation by Law. The same idea is present here: the inner work of the new covenant is superior to the merely outward ministry of Law, with its absence of real forgiveness. The doctrine of the work of the living ascended Lord is fundamental to the apostolically enjoined rejection of legalism. (The themes we saw in 2 Cor. 3, Romans and Galatians are here again from a different starting point).
Hebrews 9 -- Christ's ministration as high priest is "out of this world" yet it affects his people in this world and the application of his blood (cf again John 16:13-15) cleanses their consciences from the deadness of their former ways and fits them for the service of the living God. The writer implies the folly of going back to the material; to animal blood and ceremonial. He again reminds them of Christ entering into heaven "for us", after abolishing sin "by the sacrifice of himself" at the climax of history (v 26).
Hebrews 10 -- again stresses the inadequacy of legalism and ritualism: they can never take away sin. "Christ offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat at the right hand of God, where he waits henceforth till his enemies are made his footstool". What is he doing? The writer goes on, yet again, to quote the key Old Testament passage on the spirit -- Jer. 31. Jesus is engaged in writing his law on their hearts and forgiving their sins, so that men are free to enter boldly into the sanctuary by a new and living way. In terms of relationships, heaven is opened to the believer: the believer dwells in heaven and heaven dwells in the believer. Bible students are used to the words -- but originally the ideas must have presented a shattering revolution to Jewish minds obsessed with their distance from heaven. To go back to the old covenant now was to "affront God's gracious spirit" (v 29): this is the most serious of all sins.
Hebrews 11 - Faith makes us certain of realities that are not visible (v 1). The honour roll of the faithful is given to show how the heroes of the faith, living in the midst of adversity, were sustained by a vision of the invisible.
Hebrews 12 -- We too can be sustained by "looking unto Jesus", keeping our "eyes fixed" on him who for the sake of the joy that lay ahead of him endured the cross, despising the shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God, from whence he sustains them in their tribulation. Our part is simply to keep our eyes fixed: he gives the strength. Verse 22 describes the heavenly links of the believers: they stand before Mount Zion and the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem (not mere geographical and material Jerusalem in bondage to law). They have the fellowship of all who walked by faith and of Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
Hebrews 13 -- This special relationship and deliverance from legalism does not lead to moral anarchy but has its fruits in righteous attitudes leading to righteous acts. The souls of the believers are strengthened by the grace of God from Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today and for ever -- his ministry has never ceased, and through him we offer up the true spiritual sacrifices. All we have written about Pentecost, about the Comforter chapters, about the Spirit in the church, and the contrast between law and Spirit is implied in the words of v 20-21:
It was only as I was writing this book that I became aware of the close association of thought between the epistle to the Hebrews and the book of Revelation. Both span the work of the heavenly King-priest from his Ascension to his second coming, Hebrews presents this work as the loving care for the church which needs his mediation, Revelation presents this loving care against the broader canvas of world history. Both reflect the Lord's words in Matthew 28: "All power in heaven and earth is given unto me... lo, I am with you to the end of the age".
All too often the book of Revelation is thought of as a history book where selected events are said to have been predicted in symbol, though diligent students disagree about which events are being spoken of and the basis of selection is often somewhat subjective. Nevertheless Jesus is presented as both the Lord and climax of history, for the encouragement of Christians enduring much tribulation.
Jesus addresses the seven representative churches as the first born from the dead and ruler of the Kings of the earth. He is associated with what he poetically calls the "seven spirits before the throne" (1:5). He then describes himself in vivid poetic imagery as an awe inspiring Kingly and priestly figure who holds the whole church in his hand (1:12-20). When reading the book we must approach it as the work of the divine poet and artist impressing dramatic images upon our imaginations in order to create the atmosphere of the Lord's work. It is not to be treated as the product of a divine mathematician where precise equations have to be found for each item of imagery. We must also be prepared to see a general picture of divine activity which can be repeatedly anchored to specific situations in the conflict of each generation, rather than each symbolism being a precise prediction of a specific event.
Each of the churches then receives a message from the living Lord and one gets the flavour of his care which continues down the ages. From the right hand of God he knows their works and apportions blame and praise, threats and promises, related to their response. To those who are victorious he will grant a place on his throne, as he himself was victorious and sat down with his Father on his throne. This is certainly a promise of future glory and could also be parallel to the references in Ephesians about saints already being elevated "to heavenly places in Christ Jesus"; it is linked with the call that has enheartened the saints of all ages: "Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sit down to supper with him and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-22).
This call expresses in simple words what we have been saying throughout this book.
Revelation chapter 4 is a vivid word painting to allow the reader metaphorically to witness heavenly decisions taken in relation to the earth and man's salvation. This is the heaven -- the divine presence whence the Lord rules. From thence go forth the seven spirits (representing the fullness of the Holy Spirit) to the believers. With the ascended Lord are the angelic representatives of the saints -- present as the twenty four elders and four living creatures in the heavenly places. Chapter 5 gives us the Davidic Lion-King and suffering Lamb-Servant unloosing the scroll as he shares the Father's throne and from it controls the affairs of earth as unfolded in subsequent chapters. This leads ultimately to the exaltation of redeemed mankind to heavenly places in Christ Jesus "standing before the throne of God and ministering before him day and night in his temple" -- in that sense only they will "go to heaven". On the other hand he who sits on the throne will dwell with them: he will "come to earth". The present day experiences of the saints of the Lord's presence will then be extended in perfection to all mankind (Ch. 7).
The lamb upon the throne is in the background or foreground of the Apocalyptic drama throughout (e.g. 11:16; 14:1-5; 15:5-8; 19:1-10; 20:11-15; 21, 22). Read with a sense of poetry without initially trying to pinpoint specific events, the mood of the vision captivates one as it portrays the interplay of heaven and earth. Earth's affairs -- both of church and of nations are controlled from the one at God's right hand: believers become involved in his heavenly status and he becomes involved with men. The object of the book is to give suffering believers the sense of present interpenetration of the divine and the human, which will culminate when the climax of history is reached and God is "all in all", all enemies having been defeated. Then the new age of the Spirit, which we have been studying will have reached its fullness. "God will dwell with men and they shall be his people and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes: there shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain; for the old order has passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4)
I have called this book an "exploratory survey": it does not profess to have a definitive answer to every problem raised by a study of Scripture teaching on the Holy Spirit. It has aimed simply to stir believers to a greater awareness of the work in their lives, both as individuals and as a community, of the living God and the risen Jesus, which work is said consistently in the New Testament to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. I submit that the evidence is beyond contradiction and that the work of the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the gospel. So it is no mere striving about words to no profit to urge that the New Testament expressions about "Christ in you" and "God at work in you" which we accept as applicable today, are equivalent to the New Testament descriptions of the individual Christian or the Christian church being a temple of the Holy Spirit. Indeed if we deny this we shall finish up with gravely depleted New Testament and a corresponding depletion of spiritual strength.
To sum up in a concluding chapter, what in any event has been but a "survey" and an "exploratory" one at that, is no easy matter. The more particularly is this so when the subject is the "surpassing grace of God" in the believer, concerning which Paul says: "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" (2 Cor. 9:14-15). How can we hope to express the inexpressible. I shall therefore attempt to draw but a few threads together, leaving the reader to continue in the diligent and reflective consideration of Scripture. In this he can be aided by unceasing prayer, by the warmth of Christian fellowship and by giving free course to Jesus as the Lord of every day's living.
None will deny that the wealth of evidence submitted in previous chapters establishes conclusively that the life of the church and of the Christians who constituted it was permeated by the Holy Spirit, by virtue of which the foundation confession was made that "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor. 12:3). The church was the temple of the Spirit and the individual Christian provided a habitation for the same Spirit, God's power working in both to prepare for the returning Lord, a people, who meanwhile walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Nowhere does the New Testament conceive of the possibility that one day the church or the constituent members should be bereft of the Spirit. The Spirit, as we have seen, belongs to the age to come and this -- the New Testament affirmed -- had commenced. Indeed the presence of the Spirit is an earnest (guarantee, deposit or down payment) of the harvest of that age (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13-14). No one can give a deposit to guarantee good faith of full performance in due time and then withdraw it -- least of all God.
The Spirit's presence in Christ's church was therefore meant to stay so long as the church remained Christ's. To speak of its withdrawal in any part of that church or to assert that it is no longer present in that church or any part of it is to deny that in either part or whole it belongs to Christ.
In New Testament times the Spirit was widely operative in the church which was the fellowship of the Spirit and shared in the Spirit (blending the two interpretations of 1 Cor. 13, 14). Furthermore the Lord who said he would be with the disciples always to the end of the age, meant it and achieved that presence through the Spirit -- an abiding presence, which throughout the New Testament was assumed to continue unto the coming of the Lord.
In that event it seems inevitable that we must look for the Spirit to be at work among us today and the purpose of my numerous asides as we have considered the text of Scripture in this book, has been to invite the reader all the time to consider its twentieth century application.
Of course, as soon as we postulate the view that the Spirit is still at work amongst us we are challenged by a number of questions and consequences. An attempt has been made to answer them as we have proceeded with the exposition, but one or two call for further comment as we round off the survey.
First there is the question of error in the church. Yet the Spirit was to guide Christ's disciples into all truth. Should we infer that where error is present, the Spirit is absent? That would be a powerful argument but for the fact that where the Spirit was most evident (e.g. in the Corinthian and Galatian churches) many of the brethren were immature, bewitched, perverse and even in conflict with fundamental doctrine and practice. Moreover if when Jesus was visibly present, his disciples were prevented by hardness of heart from absorbing his teaching and example, then we must not expect the Spirit in mediating his invisible presence to override all wrongheadedness.
It is certainly true that the understanding of the early Christians was greatly enlarged because the Spirit had been given and where the Spirit was allowed its full work there truth was wholly revealed. In another context the Scripture says that the Spirit of (or in) the prophets was subject to the prophets. And again, the flesh lusted against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh: "for these are contrary the one to the other". The "control" of the prophets and the "lusting" of the flesh may prevent God having his perfect work in us; but that in no way warrants our saying that because of our imperfection neither he nor his Spirit work in us at all.
We have seen the interplay of the human and the divine in the church. There were the moments of irresistible authority in the work of the Holy Spirit as when holy men of God spoke as they were borne along by the rushing torrent of the Spirit. Elsewhere there was partnership, as we have seen so often in the Acts of the Apostles .(e.g. "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us"), with the Spirit as the senior partner. Then there are cases of men possessed by the Spirit who forsook the work (e.g. Mark -- who returned -- and Demas -- of whose end we are uninformed), but their vacillations do not warrant our saying the Spirit never possessed them, any more than in our own experience the ebb and flow of faith -- which faith is God's gift -- suggests that we are outside the pale of His care. "He yearns jealously over the Spirit which he has made to dwell in us" (Jas. 4:5 RSV) and invites us, when we fall, to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him and will sup with him and he with me" (Rev 3:20). Because we are weak and sinful we must not refuse to believe in the Spirit's work -- for then it is most needed.
The difficulty may still persist in another form. How do we know when the Spirit is guiding us and when we are disregarding the Spirit? We are probably falling victim to the search for certainty. All of us indulge a desire for black and white answers in situations where we should venture forth in faith. But we know that God has said that he will "never leave us nor forsake us", and we should believe that he is at work in us to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). Instead then of introspective enquiries we should concentrate on our part of the partnership, working out our own salvation in fear and trembling, that is to say "with a proper sense of awe and responsibility" as Phillips renders "fear and trembling". Awe and responsibility "for God is at work in you". Our task is to work to let him work and it is indeed an awesome privilege.
The Apostle John's answer to the question how do we know when the Spirit is at work in us is both a circular one and an ethical one, It is as if he were discouraging theory and encouraging practice. The gnostics who "knew" and despised the simple Christians had nothing on the believers who could say we "know Christ if we keep his commandments" (2:3); "we know we are in him" (2:5); "we know we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (3:14). This theme of "knowing" reaches its climax in chapter 3:22-24 and 4:7-13, where we are told in effect that God's abiding in us enables us to love our brethren, and we thereby know whether he abides in us because of the Spirit he has given us, which enables us to love our brethren. No cut and dried answers there, but a wealth of exhortation and encouragement.
The Lord himself discouraged any academic attempt to pin down the work of the Spirit when he told Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind -- you can't see it, but you can see its effects. "You know not whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one born of the Spirit".
And these effects of the Spirit do not have to be what we would call "miraculous". This is a problem for some and we have sought to answer it in the exposition. Where God's Spirit is at work he is giving -- thus it is incorrect even to say that the gifts of the Spirit have been withdrawn. Because he is the giver, he has sovereign right to give us as he will and if at one time and to some people he gives power to speak in tongues and heal the sick, and not at another, that is his privilege. If over the centuries he changes the form of his gift to suit the requirements of the time, that too is his privilege.
But if one thing was clear as we studied Corinthians, Ephesians and Romans 12 together, it was that the greatest gifts of the Spirit were those which contributed to the growth of the church collectively and individually. Paul very severely puts the more sensational gifts into perspective, gifts which although of the Spirit were the subject of unspiritual wrangling. On the other hand he extols such gifts as teaching and wisdom, administration, leadership and counselling, for the presence of which in our own age we are profoundly thankful -- and often in our public prayers we give expression to that thankfulness. In doing so we show that whatever intellectual difficulties we may encounter, in our hearts we believe that God's Spirit still girds men and women for the work to be wrought.
Another question asked is "how does the Spirit work?" Even more the answer of Jesus to Nicodemus applies here. What makes one man believe and not another? What is responsible for some people congregating into a church and not others? What makes some men and women radiate the love of Christ and not others. The New Testament says it is the work of the Spirit partnered by the response of faith, which in turn is the gift of God! All we can do is believe it and in the believing we shall find strength. We may not know how electricity works but we don't hesitate to use the switch. Similarly we should not hesitate, because we haven't all the answers, to tap those vast resources of the Spirit which are mediated through the reading of Scripture, through prayer, through Christian fellowship, through active love of our neighbour, through the communion of the body and blood of the Lord, through alertness to the lessons of life and through other channels as God and the Lord Jesus may determine.
But are there dangers in stressing the work of the Spirit? True! But then discipleship is a dangerous business and always the most wonderful of truths carry with them the possibilities of misuse.
There is the danger of placing emphasis on subjective experience to the point where the Bible loses its paramount position as the source of divine information. The present writer or any who feel his exposition is broadly sound can hardly be accused of that, in view of the way in which the Bible has been our only guide throughout this book. In fact it is those who tell us that the Spirit is not at work in this age who are in danger of belittling Scripture, for if all references to the Spirit are treated as not currently applicable, they will be for all practical purposes be left with a gravely impaired Bible.
There is of course the fear that stress on the work of the Spirit might lead to the emotional, individualistic and extravagant behaviour often associated with Pentecostalism. A close attention to Scripture is the proper counterbalance and a recognition that the Pentecostal movement tends to assume that they must reproduce the outward form, as they understand it, of the Spirit's first century work. As one has put it: "a new well always begins with a vehement spouting up of water; after that it creates a more steady and quiet stream". Pentecostals often want to retain the vehement spouting, which they tend to exaggerate anyway. There is in the opposite direction the danger of thinking the well has stopped (but see John chapter 4 and 7), but Pentecostals would do well to heed the restraining advice of Paul and the authority he gives to the Scripture.
Another danger illustrated in some Pentecostal groups is to give priority of emphasis to the Spirit over Jesus. They would deny this and would not perhaps intend it, but that is how it works out in practice. The exposition in earlier chapters of John 14-17 is the true safeguard here. The object of the work of the Holy Spirit is to draw attention to Jesus not to the Spirit. The Spirit makes the work of Jesus part of the personal life of the believer, who lives, dies, rises and ascends to heavenly places with and in Christ Jesus. There is indeed almost an interchangeability between the exalted Jesus and the Holy Spirit e.g. "The Lord is that Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17) -- the Spirit is the divine power by which the exalted Lord is present and active in the Church. Through his resurrection Jesus became the life giving Spirit (I Cor. 15:45 cf John 7:39); until his glorification Christ could not by the Spirit minister to others the fullness of his victory.
A further concern to some will be the tension in some parts of my exposition between the present and future work of the Lord Jesus. I have followed the New Testament teaching that the age to come has in fact invaded the age of sin, this "present evil world". As a result, in what the writer to the Hebrews calls "these last days", we live at the intersection of the ages. The age to come -- the age of the Spirit started in the glorification of Jesus. Great are the blessings now of belonging to that age, and we need to believe in them and cherish them. This is in no way to belittle the future consummation at the coming of the Lord just because we stress the undoubted present blessings. If we understand Paul's teaching about the Spirit as the deposit or down payment on future blessings we will avoid this danger. In fact the more we experience and rejoice in the beginning of the future, the more we shall long for its completion -- for the full payment. "We who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23 RSV) We groan not in spite of the first-fruits of the Spirit, but because of them. What we already have makes us long passionately for the more that is to come. The joy and peace granted by the Holy Spirit makes us abound in hope (Rom. 15:13).
A balanced understanding of the work of the Spirit will avoid treating it as a private luxury or esoteric mystery. All the Biblical material I have offered could be gathered together under four headings which are impossible to place in a true order because each impacts on the other. Perhaps the New Testament order is best reflected by recognising the work of the Spirit as having priority in its collective activity in the church as the means of effecting individual renewal. The Holy Spirit is given:
2. To feed and edify the church. We have seen how particularly I Cor. 12:14 and Ephesians emphasise the way in which the Spirit is given to bring the body of Christ to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:1-16). The Church is the fellowship of the Spirit in which people who may have nothing to share in the flesh, yet are drawn together by the Spirit to a participation in Christ. And even this collective work of the Spirit is not selfish, but outgoing in its concern for others. As has been said of the church:
"Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion is to look out to the World. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now".
3. To awaken faith in Jesus. The church is made up of individuals who have heard the witness of the Spirit through the church. Each of these has been born of the Spirit, begotten of incorruptible seed. Each has been called by the Spirit, to receive with meekness the engrafted Word, to be buried with Christ in baptism, to be crucified with him in a life of service, to rise with him to newness of life and share his ascended life even now in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Previously dead, they have been quickened by the Spirit which causes them, in Christ, to become a new creation. By the Spirit they are brought to the confession that 'Jesus is Lord' (1 Cor. 12:3).
4. To sustain and develop the individual in Christ. "And we all with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another: for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit". Sanctification is in the Spirit. We are each, as well as all, the subject of "the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Titus 3:5-7). It is all of grace and not of the flesh. We cannot attain to salvation by our own deeds, but by appropriating his deeds in the Spirit.
Thus the Spirit witnesses in the church and builds up the church, working through the Word in all its forms, written, spoken and made flesh. Equally and as part of the same process the Spirit quickens individuals and develops them in holiness, so that each may bring his quota into the whole, in each generation, that at length all generations of the sanctified may bring their quota into the eternal whole, that God may be all in all.
The object of this book has been to expound Scripture that our individual and collective life in Christ may respond to his living touch. A church that knows that Jesus is alive and acts as if it did, will find rich experience in him now, and a sure hope for the future. Such a community will be given power to do what it could not do in its own strength. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control". Where that fruit is being produced this publication will be assured of a fair and thoughtful hearing, for the writer's aim is not to stir up controversy, but to serve the cause of that love which binds the true Christian community together -- that love which outstrips and yet encompasses every other gift of the Spirit past, present and future -- the love which abides, and by comparison with which all else is but a partial expression of the Spirit. May those who have followed this course of study be knit together in love so that they may, like the first century church, breathe continually the atmosphere of the Spirit, so that the world may not seem a strange place to them when it becomes totally the abode of the Spirit in the final consummation.