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Thoughts for Pentecost: The Holy Spirit, God’s empowering presence

Wednesday May 20 2015

Thoughts for Pentecost: The Holy Spirit, God’s empowering presence

“If there’s a God, then that God must have power. So I guess the idea of the Holy Spirit, a spirit related to God’s power, makes sense to me. Of course, I don’t believe in God. But if I did, there would be some kind of spirit of power.”

I heard those words from an acquaintance, and I thought it was interesting he equated the Holy Spirit with God’s power. I wonder if most Christians view the Holy Spirit that way. Christians celebrate Pentecost this month, on May 24, the day described in Acts chapter 2 when God sent the Holy Spirit upon the believers in Jesus.

One of my favorite books on the Holy Spirit is entitled God’s Empowering Presence. The author, Gordon D. Fee, has given a simple description of the Holy Spirit in his title. But what kind of empowering presence are we talking about? What kind of power?

I have noticed that the kind of power Christians expect from the Holy Spirit seems to be connected to their view of Jesus. This makes sense, because in John 14, Jesus talks to the disciples about going away and then coming back to be with them. Christians have long interpreted these words about Jesus’ presence with the disciples as referring to the Holy Spirit. This Jesus, present with us through the Holy Spirit, is fully God and fully human, so it’s not surprising that people view him in a variety of ways.

Some Christians see Jesus, first and foremost, as a wise and insightful teacher, and those Christians seem to view the Holy Spirit, first and foremost, as a supernatural source of wisdom, insight and guidance, giving them the power to live wisely. Other Christians see Jesus most clearly as a lover of all people, even the most marginalized and outcast, and those Christians seem to expect the Holy Spirit to give them power from God to love and care across boundaries and in difficult and challenging situations. Yet others, when they look at the way Jesus is described in the Gospels, first see a powerful healer, and they seem to expect the Holy Spirit to come into human life with abundant and dramatic power to heal.

In my experience, those three views of the Holy Spirit are the most common, but there are others. If one views Jesus primarily as a holy and pure man with exacting standards, then the Holy Spirit might be experienced mostly as one who rebukes and convicts of sin. The power to see our sin is important, but must be balanced by Jesus’ grace and mercy.

As the wider culture becomes more secular, an increasingly significant view of the Holy Spirit relates to Jesus as the one sent by God into the world to do God’s mission. In this view, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence with us to send us into the world with the power to engage in God’s priorities.

Surely all five of these views of Jesus and the Holy Spirit can be supported by the Bible: wise guide, lover, healer, one who convicts of sin, and sender into mission. I would argue that all five are relevant and helpful when thinking about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

When you think of Jesus, what characteristic comes to mind first and foremost? In what ways does your view of Jesus influence your view of the Holy Spirit?

(This post appeared on May 15, 2015 in the Otago Daily Times, my local newspaper. The newspaper has a "faith and reason" column every Friday, and recently my department was asked to provide one column per month. I was rostered on for May, to my delight. And I get December as well! I'll resume my series on Celtic Christianity next week. If you'd like to receive emails when I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "Subscribe.")



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