I was recently discussing (debating, really) the Spirit in an Internet chat room. These thoughts came tumbling out. I apologize for the long words. I don’t usually speak this way, but it was one of those kinds of discussions.
PS — it really helps to take the time to read the passages referred to.
How the Spirit changes and empowers us
We are weak-willed, flawed humans who sin. Once we are saved, we receive the Spirit which imparts the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). This is an ontological change (we are different in our most essential being, our very nature changes) from before. The Spirit also strengthens us to better obey.
It’s not that we utterly cannot obey without the Spirit. The apostles were good men, followers of Jesus who left everything for him, long before they received the Spirit. It’s that we obey better with the Spirit–more so than we often realize.
The Spirit helps us. God wants us to make it to the end and he helps us with every tool at his disposal.
Anyone who truly comes to Jesus comes to him as Christ, Savior, and Lord. When we repent, we accede to his Lordship. We want to obey. The Spirit builds on this willingness and helps us better obey.
How our very nature is changed by the Spirit
Sometimes you have to have a little poetry in your soul to discuss these things. That is to say, words often fail and so the scripture writers resort to figures of speech to say things too deep for words (a contradiction in terms, of course). It’s hard to explain.
(John 3:6-8) Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Spirit gives birth to spirit? Seems to mean that when we are saved, we somehow become Spirit-ual beings — or Spiritualized beings. We are no longer merely flesh, blood, and soul. We become flesh, blood, soul, and Spirit. There’s quite literally a piece of God implanted within us.
However, v. 8 suggests that this piece of God himself is beyond the perception of flesh and blood. We can’t see it. We can only see what it does.
(Rom. 8:5-6,9) For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. … But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
Not only is the Spirit in us, we are “in” the Spirit. And we are “after” (or “according to”) the Spirit. Paul throws prepositions around like crazy trying to explain himself. We are intimately connected to the Spirit in a way that affects how we think and live.
It’s easy to be hyper-literal and say that people without the Spirit cannot do good things and that those with the Spirit can only do good things, but we’ve all seen non-Christians do good things–and we’ve seen Christians do bad things.
But the good done by those without the Spirit does not please God. No one is good enough.
The good done by those with the Spirit is a product of God’s indwelling through the Spirit (with whom we must cooperate) and thus is pleasing to God. It’s not that the good is necessarily better, rather the good is from a better, more pleasing source — God himself, faith in Jesus, love prompted by the Spirit. And we are better than we would have been but for the Spirit.
Now, other passages describe our bodies as a “temple” of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), a place where the Spirit has a special presence and is worshiped. However, deity does not live in unholy dwellings. Rather, the Spirit changes the mortal to immortal, the profane to holy, making us a suitable place for God to live through his Spirit.
Just so, a local congregation is also referred to as a temple in which the Lord dwells through the Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21-22). Flawed, sinful people who live in a far-from-perfect community become a holy, sacred place of God’s presence.
In part, this is because we stand forgiven. But it’s also, I believe, preparation for what’s to come. To live in heaven we must become of-a-type with heavenly beings. We must acquire the nature of spirit.
As Jesus told the woman at the well, God is spirit (this is what he’s made of) (John 4:24). Those who worship him must worship in spirit. We have to have a nature that suits the Almighty. We must be heavenly beings remade with the same substance as God.
This is, after all, the only way the church can be the body and bride of Christ. Just as Eve was made flesh of Adam’s flesh to be his perfect bride, we must be remade Spirit of Jesus’ Spirit for the church to be his perfect bride, even his body. (Being bride and body are to a very large extent the same metaphor when read in light of the unity of husband and wife described in Gen.2!)
And this makes real the claims of Paul in Ephesians about where we live right now —
(Eph. 1:19b-21) That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Right now, even today, Jesus sits in heaven on a Godly throne, ruling the universe.
(Eph. 1:22-23) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
The church is the body of Christ — for whom Jesus rules (not “over whom”). And he mystically fills the church fully in every way. We are joined just as God and Jesus are joined (or as Adam and Eve were of the same flesh) (consider John 17:20-23).
(Eph. 2:6-7) And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Thus, because we are a part of Jesus himself, through the Spirit, we have already been seated with him in heaven. We sit on the throne with Jesus right now. Of course, this is true. We are his body! Not only his body on earth, but also his body in heaven.
By becoming beings of Spirit, by being remade from the same stuff as God, we already in a real sense live with God in heaven.
Our dual existence
Of course, this means we presently live a dual existence, somewhat here and somewhat there. Our senses are fleshly and so they don’t perceive the “somewhat there” part, but it’s even more real than the somewhat-here part.
Now, to the literal mind, this is nonsense. We treat this merely as metaphor. Pretty words for a legal transaction by which we’ve been forgiven. But that ignores too much of the Bible to be true. It’s that — and much more.
God lives outside space-time. We can’t perceive the larger, spiritual universe of which our tiny fleshly universe is a part. We can’t see how close heaven is to us or how much of us is already there. But we are — somewhat. By the power of his Spirit, God has changed our nature and given us an existence in heaven that lives alongside our existence on earth.
And this builds a bridge between this existence and the next that sometimes lets power and joy and holiness into our earthly existence, which can be so surprising that we sometimes fail to even see it.
The Spirit’s work within our hearts
In Hebrews 8, the author quotes Jeremiah’s prophecy of the Messianic Age–
(Heb. 8:10-12) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
The Spirit changes our hearts by, well, changing our hearts (Heb. 8:10; Phil. 2:12-13) — not just through human perception and response but by helping us know an unknowable love (Eph. 3:16-19) and understand a peace beyond understanding (Phil. 4:7). He supernaturally empowers us (how else could we do the impossible?) We also gain knowledge of God supernaturally through the work of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14-16; Eph 3:16-19; 1 John 2:20-27).
While we work to become more holy out of gratitude and love resulting from Jesus’ sacrifice and our salvation, it’s also true that the Spirit himself sanctifies us (makes us more holy) (Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:2). We are empowered by far, far more than just our relationship with God. We are empowered by power.
(2 Cor. 4:6-7) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Let me now tell you what I didn’t say! I didn’t say that the Spirit takes away our free will. Rather, the Spirit reinforces and strengthens our free will when we will as God would have us will.
I didn’t say that the Spirit gives propositional revelation contradictory to the Bible or that there are modern-day prophets with power to add to the Bible. The Spirit empowers us to obey — and that means the power to love in action and deed. The person filled with the Spirit is filled with the love of God (Rom. 5:5), the greatest of all miracles (1 Cor. 13).
Moreover, the purpose of the Spirit is to teach the truth (1 John 2:20-21; 5:6), “truth” meaning the truth about Jesus, the gospel.
But neither have I said the Spirit only works through the pages of the Bible. This would be to treat the Bible as a holy relic in which the Spirit is somehow trapped! Rather, the Spirit works where it lives — in its temples.
Well, that’s about as deep as I can get.