Coop's Column - Spirit at Work: Power to Make Our Lives Anew
When, as part of their Sunday worship, Jesus' followers join to declare, "I believe in the Holy Spirit," they’re saying a mouthful - a large mouthful.
When, as part of their Sunday worship, Jesus’ followers join to declare, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” they’re saying a mouthful—a large mouthful. They’re making confession about who the Spirit is: third person of the Trinity, co-equal with the Father and the Son. But they’re saying even more too: they’re affirming that the Spirit is ceaselessly active, carrying on the Trinity’s work.
In the next several columns, under the heading “Spirit at Work,” we shall focus attention on the several activities of the Holy Spirit. We begin by highlighting one of the Spirit’s central workings: his making Jesus’ resurrection energy present to us, supplying us with “power to make our lives anew,” as hymn writer Margaret Clarkson put it.
Let’s be clear: On Easter morning history made a dramatic turnaround. God the Father pronounced, once and for all, his “Well done!” upon the mission of his Son. As a result, the entire universe—heaven and earth—became recreated, made new, set in a different—and right—direction. Jesus Christ had the final word—he was the final Word!
Let’s be equally clear: The application of that astonishing change to people’s lives—to Peter at Cornelius’ house, to Paul on the Damascus road, to a Philippian jailer, and to countless millions since who have believed that Jesus is risen—is ongoing work. Old habits die hard. Says John Calvin, “This restoration [to new life as God intends] does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself as temples, renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance throughout their lives” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. I, chpt. III).
If they are ever to be changed, fully and forever; if, as he calls them to do, they are to turn their lives into fitting sacrifices of thanks and praise (Rom. 12:1-2); if they are to live out their Lord’s promises and commands amid the concrete and fine-print circumstances of their lives (Col. 3:1ff.)—then Jesus’ followers shall surely need a fresh and inexhaustible supply of his resurrection presence and strength. Jesus Christ’s Spirit is the pipeline for that supply.
In a recent interview with Bob Abernethy, former NBC News reporter, Rev. Eugene Peterson (translator of The Message and author of some 30 books) offered trenchant comment on the sad state of religion in the western world and, more particularly, of Christianity in America. His words:
A lot of the language in the church—well, not just the church, in religion itself, has to do with trying to figure out the truth of things. What’s true? What’s true? And I’m not really interested in what’s true. I want to know if I can live it. I want to test it out…. A pastor in personal relationship is not just trying to find ways to make people feel good, loved, whatever. This is a kingdom life we are living. It has to do with salvation. It has to do with justice. It has to do with compassion…. We [pastors] are called to have people follow Jesus. We’re called to have people learn how to forgive their enemies. We’re called to show people that there is a way of life which has meaning beyond their salary or beyond how good they look.
The challenge facing American pastors is immense:
American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we’ve ever had because it is so materialistic and it’s so full of lies. The whole advertising world is just, it’s just intertwined with lies, appealing to the worst of the instincts we have. The problem is people have been treated as consumers for so long they don’t know any other way to live.
Thus Peterson pleads with pastors:
Introduce them to a living Christ, a Christ who makes life livable in the terms in which you are living—that everything in the gospel is livable, not just true.
Who can make the gospel not just worthy of being believed, but also capable of being lived? No one other than the Holy Spirit himself, the resurrected Presence of Jesus among us, Jesus’ vast resurrected Power now made available to us.
And thus every Sunday morning, in a declaration so counter-cultural to the independent spirit of the society in which they dwell, Christian worshipers say together: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” In doing so, together they are expressing their dependence upon him. They are claiming that God’s Spirit abides in them, and that he’s there to help them go at life as God intends.
O Holy Spirit of God, abide with us; inspire all our thoughts; pervade our imaginations; suggest all our decisions; order all our doings. Be with us in our silence and in our speech, in our haste and in our leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening; and give us grace at all times humbly to rejoice in Thy mysterious companionship.
(John Baillie, minister in the Church of Scotland)