The Spiritual Gifts: Understanding the Spirit (Part 3)

When we talk about the “works of the Spirit” the church often struggles with an imbalance. On the one hand are those who seem to limit the work of the Spirit generally to that vague activity of “sanctification. The Spirit “sanctifies,” they say, but with little to no idea about what this means. In contrast, there are other Christians whose thinking about the activity of the Spirit is essentially reduced to the dramatic and extraordinary. These believers think only of the charismata. Both reduce the Spirit, however, and minimize the significance of His role and place in our world and lives. As we seek to explore uniquely one set of the Spirit’s work, the so-called spiritual gifts, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that the Spirit is actually involved in a broad array of activities. We will focus, then, on the Spirit in relation to six categories: (1) Creating the world, (2) Creating a People, (3) Enabling the Messiah, (4) Recreating a People, (5) Writing a book, and (6) Empowering a Church.

We must recall what we have said previously about the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit’s activity is aimed at manifesting the presence of God in the world and especially the church (see Grudem, Systematic Theology, 634). In each work the Spirit is revealing the God of the universe and pointing to His presence here and now. As we explore these six unique works, then, we want to keep this bigger picture in mind. This will serve us well as we shift to consider uniquely the Spiritual Gifts among the church.

Creating the World –> From the very beginnings of the Bible we see the Spirit at work (Gen. 1:2). The phrase “ruach elohim” has been hotly debated among scholars, theologians, and preachers. While some want to limit the language to “wind” or “storm,” in relation to the ancient creations narratives of pagan cultures, the text connects this “wind” to the divine. There are good textual reasons for believing this to be the activity of the Holy Spirit in creation. First, the verb translated as “hovering” is significant. Wind doesn’t hover; birds hover – which might make an interesting parallel to the Spirit’s manifestation as a dove in the New Testament (see also earlier comparisons in Deut. 32:10-11). Secondly, elsewhere the Scriptures clearly point to the Spirit’s role in creation, sometimes these texts use the same language of “breath” or “wind,” at other times they simply translated as Spirit (see Job 26:12-13; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30-32; Isa. 40:12-13). The Spirit is not the “creator” in the exact same sense that the Father, nor the Son. His role is more of perfecter than creator ex nihilo. “Once again our text appears most amenable to the idea of the Spirit as the perfecting cause rather than to the ideas of creation ex nihilo or continuata or conservatio,” says Graham Cole (He Who Gives Life, 104). Michael Horton clarifies the distinct role of the Spirit in creation, saying:

The Spirit is not the architect, nor is the framework of the cosmos or of the new creation “in Him” as is true of the Word in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17). But He is the builder, carrying with Him the plans of the Father and the materials purchased by the Son as He builds…according to all that He has received. (Rediscovering the Holy Spirit)

The Spirit manifests the presence of God in the order and organization He brings to the “void and emptiness” of creation. We may speak of the Spirit, then, as the “executive in ordering creation” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 21).

Creating a People –> The Spirit isn’t simply involved in the creation of mankind, He is uniquely involved in taking all of mankind and making a specific people of God. So, the Spirit’s activity continues in the establishment, governance, and empowerment of the people of Israel. Horton argues that “one way of summarizing the whole Bible is the preparation of a body – a human body, animated by the Spirit.” As he reads the narrative of Scripture he sees a “progression from Adam to Israel to Mary to Christ and then to His worldwide ecclesial body.” The Spirit’s has a special relationship to God’s covenant people. For example, He empowers Israel’s leaders (Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6, 19; 15:14-15; 1 Sam. 16:13). He guides them to the revelation of God and brings the divine word. So, the prophet Micah can say:

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. (3:8)

We see a similar connection among the other prophets between the Spirit and the Word (Ezek. 11:1, 15-14; Zech. 7:12). This same Spirit empowers the people for specific tasks and special callings, like Bezalele and Oholiab (Ex. 31:1-11; 35:30-35). The Spirit is manifesting God’s presence in the crafting of a people. Even His role in the creating of the Tabernacle reveals this, since it served, at that time, as the primary dwelling place of God among them. We might also point to the Spirit’s revelation of God in and through the Exodus, the wilderness wanderings, and the general establishment of this covenant community (Isa. 63). Uniquely this activity of the Spirit is manifesting the “power-presence” among God’s people. As Sinclair Ferguson writes:

The divine ruach is the mode of God’s power-presence among his people. Ezekiel suggests an intimate relationship between the Spirit of God and the face or presence of God: I will no longer hide my face from then, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord (Ezek. 39:29). (The Holy Spirit, 21)

In creating a people into which He will bring the Son, the Spirit is already manifesting the powerful presence of God.

Enabling the Messiah –> The Spirit’s work continues even when Christ comes on the scene. In fact, it is by the Spirit that Christ accomplishes His role as the Messiah. The Messiah is the “bearer of the Spirit.” From His conception (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:18-20), to His baptism (Matt. 3:16), to the specifics of His ministry. The Spirit empowers Jesus to fight temptation (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). His ministry is generally characterized as “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). He casts out demons by the power of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28). He even spoke by the power of the Spirit (John 6:63). Perhaps more surprisingly we note that it was the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). Jesus was uniquely filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. He had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34; Luke 4:1), and without temporal limitation (John 1:32-33). J. Rodman Williams has powerfully summarized this dynamic, saying:

The ministry of Jesus in word and deed was carried forward in the power of the Holy Spirit. In everything He did, Jesus knew in Himself a mighty force working that was beyond Himself…Jesus lived and moved in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. (Renewal Theology, vol. 2, 173).

Even as the Son revealed the presence of God to the world (John 1:18), He did so through the power of the Spirit. The Spirit reveals the active presence of God in the world.

Next week we will conclude this portion of our study by looking at the last three works of the Spirit.

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