The Holy Spirit and Christ Essay

The Holy Spirit and Christ

Abstract:

This chapter deals specifically with the relation between the last two persons of the Trinity, the Son and the Spirit. The reality is that there is no knowledge or understanding of the Son except through the Spirit, and hence, to know one is to know the other.

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            The relation between the Holy Spirit and the mission, person and work of Christ is the subject of this chapter. However, the topic itself is so huge, so central to the Christian life that only a smattering of an outline can be presented here. The literature on this subject is vast, and again, only a small amount of this can be presented. Nevertheless, this chapter seeks at least to make some suggestive comments about the role of the Spirit in the life and work of Christ.

            One of the main areas of cooperation between the Spirit and the work of Christ is the act of baptism. The real purpose of baptism, according to writers like Alexander Campbell, is to bring the Christian to an experience of the Holy Spirit and his gifts (Campbell 1840, 267). But, like all acts of receiving the Spirit, the reception is mediated by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Hence, Christ is the cause of the Spirit resting upon the Christian after baptism, but is not the source of the Spirit. IN other words, the Father alone is the source of the Spirit, but Christ is the mediator of the Spirit’s action on earth, the Spirit could not act to sanctify the Christian without first having been sent by Christ (Campbell 1840, 267).

            The phrase “in Christ” is often used by Christians, but this makes no sense unless the cooperation of the Spirit with Christ is first understood. How can one be “in” Christ? This question animated some of the work of the first major Christian writer on the Spirit, St. Basil the Great (+379). In fact, it was St. Basil who settled the Christian controversy about the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and his works on this subject have been made available in a new translation. Nevertheless, the act of baptism is the death of the “old man,” the sinner, in the waters. The initial immersion is imitating the death of Christ. But, since it was the Spirit that raised Him again, the Spirit then also raises us out of the waters into new life (Basil 1980, 58-59). This understanding was central to the early Church and its approach to the Holy Spirit, and this approach made St. Basil globally famous for defeating the heresy that the Holy Spirit was somehow “subordinate” to the Son.

            Therefore, in raising man, as He raised Christ, the Holy Spirit then offers the Christian a new world, a regenerated world (Basil 1980, 60). In his definition of the divinity of the Holy Spirit against his detractor, Basil held that the scriptures maintain that sins against the Holy Spirit are sins against God. The Spirit does little less than reveal heaven to the humans who have come to be baptized and have faith in Christ. One who can reveal such mysteries can only be the author of the heavens Himself, the Spirit (Basil 1980, 64). In Acts 10:30, basil reminds us, God has “anointed” Christ with the Holy Spirit, manifesting the Trinitarian doctrine St. Basil was so central to defining. Even more, the Spirit will reign with Christ at the final judgement, and, in fact, is never separated from Him in essence or in activity.

            But even if the baptized Christian turns away from Christ, St. Basil says that the Spirit remains in him until the judgement, constantly reminding him of his vocation and urging him to convert to God. But ultimately, Basil grounded his defense of the divinity of the Spirit in the fact that it is the Spirit’s role to regenerate minds and all nature. Christ offered the ability for this to be done through his death on the cross and annulling the curse of Adam. Nevertheless, the purpose of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension is to bring Christ’s work to fruition among all Christians throughout the generations and finally, to all creation. Basil must be included in any work on Christ and the Holy Spirit given his fame defense of the Spirit’s divinity in an environment that had leaned toward “demoting” Him to the status of a creature.

            Writers such as Campbell hold similar opinions in terms of regeneration. There is no salvation by works in Basil–the Spirit, as Campbell holds, is the author of all of our good works (Campbell 1840, 269). What the Spirit does relative to the individual is to apply the merits of Christ’s sacrifice to the believer, cleansing him of sins in Christ’s name. Crist, in other words, has laid the groundwork, the Spirit brings it to fruition in the individual, regardless of time. In fact, all prayer to God derives from the action of the Spirit working in each man. Following Basil, as the Spirit raised Christ from the dead, the Spirit raises man from sin. It was the Spirit who created Christ in the womb of Mary and it was Christ who “breathed” upon the Apostles, bringing them to new life. In other words, Christ “breathed,”  that is, imparted the Holy Spirit, to the Apostles in the same way that the Father breathed on Adam, giving him the Spirit in his already crated Soul. But what Christ’s breathing on the Apostles implies is that Christ is God, first of all, equal to the father, and He brings about the indwelling of the Spirit, from the Father, to all who believe in the Son. The Spirit then provides His gifts according to God’s eternal plan for each person, hence creating the Church. The Spirit cooperated with Christ at his conception, birth, baptism, transfiguration, resurrection and final ascension. The Spirit will also cooperate with him at the final judgement (Campbell 1840 168).

            In another (1835) work of Campbell’s The Christian Baptist, more work on the Spirit is laid out. For him, the Spirit is the efficient cause of the joy and certainty of all Christian believers. If the Spirit is absent, then there is no joy. But this joy is not merely the work of Spirit by Himself (as no member of the Trinity works by Himself), but the Spirit is imparted through the Word of God (Campbell 1835, 618). Even more, the miracles of Christ, as well as the miracles performed by individual Christians that have that specific gift of the Spirit, are performed through that same Spirit. Christ did nothing on His own, but his miracles were authored through the Spirit working through Christ (Campbell 1835, 117 and 234).

            Since man is deprived of all goodness, the Spirit acts within each person, bringing him to new life. Goodness is the function of the Spirit in the life of the individual Christian. Man is incapable of goodness in himself, and hence, any act of genuine goodness must be referred to the Spirit working through him. Christ gave us an example of the same. Not that Christ was sinful, but rather than Christ, in taking human nature, sought to create the precedent of the Spirit working though that same regenerated, human nature, authoring goodness, miracles and perseverance even unto death. Human beings, when coming to Christ, imitate Him in this respect.

            John McGarvey’s work is important in this respect, in that while Christ’s word is the cause of our salvation, our certainty of this salvation (and hence our earthly joy) derives from the Spirit (McGarvey 1868). In fact, McGarvey will go so far as to say that any doubt n the mind of the believer of his salvation is proof of the absence of the Holy Spirit. Even more, whatever information the Christian needs in terms of this certainty, the knowledge of God, and His work, is imparted as necessary through the Spirit. Putting this differently, there is only “one witness of Christ” and this is the Spirit. Hence, our love of Him and knowledge of His works can only have one source, that same Spirit.

            Another important approach to the Spirit is the congregationalist movement. Not specifically the denomination, but the idea, found more or less in nearly all non-Catholic churches, that the local congregation, through the guidance of the Spirit, is to be self-governing. But if the above statements are all true about the relation of the Spirit to the individual, why would this not also be applicable to the congregation? In other words, if the Spirit is imparting the necessary information among Christians to persevere in faith, then there seems to be no reason for a centralized church administration (Wallace/Guthrie 1978, 279).

            In terms of our Christian life, this is the final important sense of the eternal cooperation between the Son and the Spirit. The Son has given the Word, but the Spirit gives it its force and power to convince (Hafley 1978, 56). Hence, no bishop can provide this kind of force, no elder in the congregation can do this, but only those who have been given the gift of the Spirit of preaching. But this specific gift is little less than the ability of the Spirit, working through the elder or bishop, to convince the hearer that the word of God is true. The “word” here is being used in two senses: first, the word as Logos, the image of the Father, and the “word” as the literal word, or the scriptural testimony of God.

            In terms of the life of Christ, Hafley points out that, regardless if His hearers accepted or rejected him, no one took him lightly (Hafley, 1978, 57).  People either accepted Him or sought to attack Him, either way His words were considered of immense power. But this effectively is the work of the Spirit, both in Christ’s own life and the life of the preacher. Christ provides the information, the grounding, while the Spirit provides both its application as well as its manifestation. Even more, the Spirit gives the Word of God its power and force in the mind of the person. In other words, what Hafley seems to be claiming is that the mind, of itself, cannot accept Christ without the intervention of the Holy Spirit. This is moderately troubling, since it seems to imply that there is no correspondence between God’s creation (in fact, his highest creation the human mind) and the work of Christ. Putting this differently, Hafley’s idea seems to suggest that Christ is not fulfilling the potential of the human mind, imparting it with its ultimate terminus, but rather, adds something radically different to the mind through the action of the Spirit.

            Hence, the ideas of Wallace and Hafley converge on the idea that the Sprit is absolutely central to the life of the Christian, and, therefore, the words of Christ, to the fallen mind, are hopelessly alien. The mind, unilluminated by the Spirit, sees Christ as a bizarre ranter, when in fact, this reaction comes from the fallen nature of the human person, and the fallen mind can see only material gain and seek after glory, as the pagans did. Only a special grace of the Spirit in Christ’s time, as well as the act of baptism in our own, can the mind be brought, in spite of itself, to a knowledge and further, a love of Christ and His words.

            To conclude this chapter, it is not a stretch that to love Christ is to be possessed by the Holy Spirit. This possession takes over the otherwise fallen mind that can see nothing but the gains of the flesh, and gives new vistas for the mind to contemplate. Hence, both Basil and Campbell hold that heaven and the world of spirit is revealed to man through the indwelling of the Spirit given at baptism. Hence, only baptized Christians can have any knowledge of the Spirit and the world of Spirits that are the heavens. Such a world is radically alien to the fallen nature of man, seeing only the world of physical cause and effect, the fallen world of material power and wealth.

            The Spirit, more to the point, never ceased to cooperate with Christ. The Spirit is the motive power of Christ’s birth and death, as well as his resurrection and ascension. The Spirit rescued Christ from the mobs and performed his miracles. But from our point of view, the most important act was to fill human nature, taken from the womb of Mary and grafted by the Holy Spirit, with the divine light. This radically altered human nature and human history, since now man was given knowledge (according to his purpose in the Church) of the spirit, heaven and God, a knowledge that is not available to man outside of the action of the Church, that is, the community created by the Spirit upon the foundation of Christ’s resurrection. Hence, as the Spirit was never absent from Christ’s work on earth, he is not absent in the time after His ascension, as he still imparts His gifts to all who consent to be baptized.

Bibliography:

Basil of Caesarea. On the Holy Spirit. Translated by D. Anderson. St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1980

Campbell, Alexander. The Christian System. Forrester and Campbell, 1840

_____. The Christian Baptist. D.S. Burnet, 1835

Mcgarvey, John William. “The Wittness of the Holy Spirit.” In the Living Pulpit of the Christian Church: A Series of Discourses. Cinnati, Ohio. R. W. Carroll & Co., 1868                    Wallace, Foy, quoted in Guthrie Dean. “Cooperation in Evangelism.” Truth Magazine, 22, 1978, 279-280

Hafley, Larry Ray. “Jesus: Man of Action.” Truth Magazine, 23, 1978, 56-7