Book Review: Breath of Life
Author: Rabbi Rachel Timoner
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557257048
This is the third book I’ve read of the six that have been published by Paraclete Press in a series on the subject of the Holy Spirit in various faith traditions (see here and here for reviews on other titles I have read). I have intentions of reading and reviewing all of them eventually, but at this juncture, I can report that I am greatly impressed with the series thus far. Each of the three titles I have read are very scholarly, but not difficult to read and respectfully objective with regard to viewpoints outside the particular tradition they are written.
As the subtitle reads, Breath of Life is written from the Jewish perspective. My history and tradition is of the Christian persuasion, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began Breath of Life. What I did find, was not only refreshing, but in many ways revolutionary, even to the point that some of my theology concerning the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) has been changed. Perhaps it might be better stated instead of revolutionary, I rephrase my new awareness as evolutionary.
Why the change?
What was it that brought me new awareness that would change my thinking about the Holy Spirit? I think a general understanding of what is meant by “spirit” from the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) was very influential. Rabbi Timoner shares much in the introduction that helps to shed light on some of the translation issues we encounter; this was enlightening to me. Another influential point was the Rabbi’s writing in Part One – Creation: Breath of Life; specifically the chapters two through four were very poetic and extremely moving to me. My intellect, my emotion, and my spirit were all equally moved as I read and learned things I had not considered before about the movement and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Chapter Two, Spirit In Us, was a very moving essay uniting the creation of humankind with the Spirit of God. I think there was nothing revelatory here for me, but the way that Timoner expressed this “union with God” was especially moving for me and helped establish a foundation from which to build upon for the rest of the book.
“God creates our spirit within us, a spirit that sustains us with vigor and that can turn us toward God in steadfastness. When we pay attention to our spirit within us, we find ourselves yearning to be in God’s presence.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 37)
As I continued to enter into deeper trust with this writing, I realized that I was paying attention to the spirit within me…as I was attentive to this spirit, I noticed God the Spirit speaking wisdom to me through Rabbi Rachel’s words. I was enchanted by the aspects of community and relationship that she highlighted again and again as one of the trademarks of the movement of God’s Spirit.
“Jewish tradition claims that God is speaking to us all the time. According to Midrash, the moment at Sinai has never ended. God’s voice continues to echo through the world, and it is up to us to listen for how we should live.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 65)
Chapter Seven, Finding Purpose through the Spirit, was another very meaningful chapter to me. I think I would summarize it to say that Timoner teaches that we are all imbued with God’s Spirit. How we respond and interact with God’s Spirit determines the destiny we will live into. She closes the chapter with these words; “Our task is to use the measure of ruach we’ve been given to reach for understanding, to look for miracle, to listen for God, to discern beneath the surface of life our portion of God’s purpose. Some people have been given an extra measure of ruach, enabling them to do extraordinary things. All of us have been given enough to be able to understand God’s revelation—to align ourselves with God’s greater purpose, making ourselves instruments to do good.” (p. 93)
This is not a very long book, but it is one that has taken me a long time to read. I have wanted to savor it, not rushing through it, so I could start my next project. I’m glad that I have taken my time; being deliberate and allowing plenty of time for reflection has been rewarded (in my opinion) with a more robust and enriched understanding of how God’s Holy Spirit works in and among humankind. This is certainly a book that I highly recommend for those who are looking to deepen their relationship with God. In fact, I recommend the entire Holy Spirit series from Paraclete Press.
Unharden my heart, O Lord
I’m doing a lot of reading these days, even more than my normal heavy appetite. The net result of this is that I have a lot of influences and swirling thoughts. If my writing or thought processes seem disjointed, it might be because they are. Nonetheless, they are good and challenging thoughts—I am motivated and I am inspired.
“Solitude is one way we can imitate Jesus…” Emilie Griffith
As I consider this season of Lent and venturing into the “desert” to be alone with Jesus, there are a number of themes and postures that I intend to assume. One is an attitude of humility and another is repentance; both of these postures are necessary to keep my heart surrendered to the transformation of Christ in me. I’ve written several times in the past week or so about living noisy and distracted lives. This is the thorn in almost every American side. Our daily lives are often too busy with work and sleep getting most of our attention. How often do we make the space to get alone with God-Jesus? How long do we spend with him? Most importantly, what is Jesus telling or teaching me?
Everywhere is the evidence and handiwork of our God. Am I paying homage and tribute to the glory of God in my day? Is my professed relationship manifest in my daily travels?
“The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ… Those who are not prepared to take up the cross, those who are not prepared to give their life to suffering and rejection by others, lose community with Christ, and are not disciples. Discipleship is commitment to the suffering Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Discipleship and the Cross from Meditations on the Cross.
Bless YAHWEH, my soul. Never forget all his acts of kindness. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us as befits our offenses. AS the height of heaven above earth, so strong is his faithful love for those fear him. As the distance of east from west, so for from us does he put our faults. As tenderly as a father treats his children, so YAHWEH treats those who fear him.
O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.
O God, help me to never be that man. Help me to cling always to your holy garments. May my love for you always be pure and righteously motivated.
Grace in His Presence
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
Today was a day I spent basking in the graces of God’s Presence. In one sense there was nothing special about my day or my schedule, yet in another sense it was divinely special because of the sweet time reflecting on the marvelous, mysterious, bountiful, wonder, and grace of the God who is my Father and my Friend.
Prayerful recollection of the most recent years of my Jesus Journey were stirred today as I counted the many things I am thankful for and identified encounters and experiences that have enriched my soul and my humanity in general. It never ceases to amaze me how intricately involved God is in every area of our lives. I know He is near and I know His Spirit dwells within us and this awareness makes me hunger and strive to become even more aware and attentive to every “breath” of God in my life.
I am just incredibly grateful and overwhelmed with adoration for this omnipotent and transcendent God who cares so much to be imminent and intimate with me. Mind boggling it is.
A Prayer (from Henri Nouwen)
Dear Lord, show me your kindness and your gentleness, you who are meek and humble of heart. So often I say to myself, “The Lord loves me,” but very often this truth does not enter into the center of my heart. Let these weeks become an opportunity for me to let go of all my resistance to you love and an occasion for you to call me closer to you
Author: Fr John W. Oliver
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256751
I love this book. I must admit I was captured from the preface, technically, even before I started the book. It was the humility and profound wisdom of the following words, which grabbed my attention with such an unrelenting grip:
A man is lost in the woods. He’s been wandering there for many years, doing enough to survive but perpetually uncertain how exactly to find his way out. With each wrong turn, he learns a little more about both the forest and his lostness. Signs of life are everywhere. Even though he is lost, hiss internal compass grows gradually sharper over time, so he never panics. He just keeps moving.
One day, while walking down a path, he meets a group of people who are also lost, but they’ve only been lost for a few hours. The frightened group pleads with the man—please, can you tell us how to find our way out of this forest? No, the man replies, but I can tell you how not to get more lost.
That story is one of my favorite descriptions of the priest hood. My priesthood, at least. While I am an Orthodox priest, I stumble through the woods in my own way and cannot offer anything of lasting value about much, and especially not about so lofty and sacred a topic as the Holy Spirit in Orthodox tradition, a topic that require such precise reflection that a single wrong word could lead to the thicket of confusion or over the ledge of heresy. So, in this book I try to stay to the paths worn smooth by the reflections of the saints through the ages, those men and women who have found their way—or, more precisely, allowed themselves to be led—out of the woods.
Then, nearing the end of the preface, Fr John adds these words:
“…We need the Holy Spirit to understand the Holy Spirit.”
It was this preface that set the tone for me of the entire book. I looked forward to engaging the sacred mystery of the working of the Holy Spirit. I anticipated wrestling with the early church fathers as they discussed and debated the revelation and embodiment of the Holy Counselor who came to dwell in the hearts of men just as the Christ had promised. I was eager to learn about things much loftier than my capacity to learn—ideas and doctrine—that have been established as foundational faith-building blocks since the earliest days of the Church. Fr John Oliver delivered on all these and then some.
Using one of the most common prayers to the Holy Spirit from the Orthodox Church, Fr Oliver exposits rich doctrine and historical teaching about this Third Person of the Trinity. The prayer follows:
O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life; come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.
Each chapter takes a portion of this prayer as its title and Fr John follows with a wonderful commentary highlighting the history, tradition, and Orthodox teaching behind that particular portion of the prayer. The chapter titles are as follows: (1) O Heavenly King (2) The Comforter (3) The Spirit of Truth (4) Who Art Everywhere Present and Fillest All Things (5) Treasury of Good Things (6) Giver of Life (7) Come and Abide in Us (8) Cleanse Us from Every Impurity, and Save Our Souls (9) O Gracious Lord.
This is another book I have sticky-noted and highlighted into oblivion. There is so much of it that I have “favorited” that it is difficult to choose what impacted me most, although chapters five and six seem very heavily trafficked by my pen and book marks. Fr Oliver chooses to write in Treasury of Good Things a parallel with the “good things” and Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). His exposition on this equation of new creation and bearing fruit of the Spirit is one of the most insightful pieces written about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer I have read in a long time. Likewise, in his chapter six, Giver of Life, there is a poignant and beautiful discussion on the sacramental life that I will not soon forget. Chapter eight details the Wesleyan equivalent of sanctification in my estimation as Fr John writes; “The Holy Spirit cleanses, renews, transforms. He dwells within the human being, and we become something that we could never become without Him: pure.” (p.105)
In his endorsement of Giver of Life, Mark Galli writes; “As an evangelical, not surprisingly, I found things to disagree with. Then again, I also found myself writing on almost every page, ‘Amen’!” I think I might echo similar sentiments, but I would also add that I am eternally grateful for the deeply rich and wonderfully robust theology that is the Orthodox stream of the Christian faith. If you’ve never drank from this stream, Giver of Life, will certainly be living water for your soul.
Book Review: Consumed
Author: Mark Fuller
Publisher: Beacon Hill Press ISBN: 9780834127395
I had to keep reminding myself that the subtitle of this book was An Introduction to the Holy Spirit. It seemed my own knowledge and experience were pushed and pulled with affirmation and exasperation as I read my way through Consumed. I don’t know if this is an indicator that I liked or disliked the book…I do know my reactions to it weren’t lukewarm.
This is a short book (just under eighty pages of actual reading) and a very quick read at that. The information shared is not new and it is not exhaustive; it is as advertised, an introduction. Fuller has arranged Consumed in six chapters and follows a very normative and methodical approach in sharing his subject. The chapter titles are as follows: Who is the Holy Spirit?, What is the Work of the Holy Spirit?, How Can I Be Filled with the Holy Spirit?, What About the Gifts of the Spirit?, How Can I Bear Fruit of the Holy Spirit?, and What is the Impact of a Spirit-filled Life?
Fuller answers his question in chapter one, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” in a myth versus fact format. I didn’t really connect with this approach. While there might be some helpful points made in the way he presented the person of the Holy Spirit, it still seemed somewhat restrictive from my perspective. It seemed to me this method presents me with a “God is” and “God is not” encounter. I’m sure there is value in “debunking myths” and establishing truths about the Holy Spirit, but as I read the first chapter I was uncomfortable with how the Holy Spirit was characterized…not that I read anything that I was in disagreement with. I have found in my studies, there is a very rich history and theology about the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit, I would have liked to experience some of that richness as opposed to a “fact-finding mission.”
The tone of the first chapter more or less sets the tone for the rest of the chapters; everything presented seemed clinical and textbook flavored to me. I didn’t read anything that I overtly disagreed with or found fault with, but I felt as though I was reading a “sanitized” exploration of the working of the Holy Spirit (I remind myself that this is an introduction).
I think of all the chapters, I appreciated How Can I be Filled with the Spirit the most. The reason for my favor of this chapter is primarily related to my own bias and belief. Fuller teaches that being “filled” with the Spirit is a divine imperative and not a Christian option on the path of discipleship. Additionally, he teaches that dying to our self is a prerequisite requirement to becoming filled with the Spirit. I wholeheartedly agree with this position. I also liked chapter five, How Can I Bear the Fruit of the Holy Spirit? I found some points that I might “split hairs” over, but overall I was in solid agreement with the understanding that we, as believers following Christ, partner with the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in the character of Jesus Christ.
I think if there were any suggestions for improving this Introduction to the Holy Spirit, I would offer the following ideas: (1) provide a resource list and bibliography for further studies. (2) Broaden the spectrum of influence—provide some historical context from the early church’s experience with the Holy Spirit using writings from the church fathers. (3) Provide some practical explanation and teaching about living in partnership with the Holy Spirit; He counsels, but how? The Holy Spirit comforts us in our grief, but what does that comfort look like? He teaches and guides, is helpful, but what does this practically look like in my life?
In closing this review, I’d like to say again that I did not find anything that I overtly disagreed with. As an introduction, I think the book is fine, although I mention what I feel could bring improvement. I might recommend this book for someone, but would probably include others with hopes to provide a more robust explanation and introduction to the Holy Spirit.
Book Review: Fresh Air
Author: Jack Levision
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781612610689
This is probably the best book I have ever read on the subject of the Holy Spirit, especially with regard to “practical living” in relationship with the Holy Spirit. Many of the works I’ve read have been focused from a particular experience or denominational statement of faith. Fresh Air is a departure from this formula and is literally a breath of “fresh air” to me in those respects.
My Christian experience and studies have been “all over the map,” so to speak. I was born into the Southern Baptist Church and moved into the charismatic and Pentecostal movements through the seventies and eighties. I dabbled in Eastern religions as a young adult and questioned faith as an agnostic for a few years. At the turn of the millennia I returned to Christian faith in the Wesleyan-Holiness church and spent the past half-dozen years in guided studies of spiritual formation following ancient paths—reading the early church fathers, desert fathers, studying the monastic’s, and exploring classical spiritual disciplines. Based upon my experiences and what I read from Fresh Air, I wonder why there’s a shortage of real teaching about this Third Person of the Trinity. By comparison, there is quite a bit of teaching about God the Father and God the Son, Jesus…but rarely (in my experience) have I been exposed to teaching about the Holy Spirit and His role in the life of the believer. I think this is very odd, considering the prominent role Jesus said the Holy Spirit would have in the lives of His followers.
I remember a conversation I had with a leader in an evangelical movement. I asked him about doctrinal statements and beliefs about the working and ministry of the Holy Spirit and he answered; “We believe they are still active, but we do not actively teach about them.” The reasoning for this, I found out later, was specifically about control issues (this was documented in a book outlining the history of this particular movement).
I think the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit is one of the reasons we lack in teaching; another reason might be the nature of the unexpected and unexplained, which sometimes surrounds the working of the Holy Spirit. God makes people uncomfortable…especially when God is outside of our boxes and off our leashes; and, this is what I liked so much about Fresh Air. Jack dissolves a lot of the mystery that man has created surrounding the Holy Spirit. Taking a truly biblical approach to unraveling this mysterious person of God, he has collected narrative scenes, like acts in a play, where the Holy Spirit and humans have collaborated to reveal the manifest glory of the Godhead. This narrative approach to teaching is so much more gentle and reasoned than the dogmatic or sensationalistic styles I have been exposed to in the past. Levison takes his acts of instruction in Fresh Air from the lives of Job, Daniel, Simeon, Joel, Chloe, Ezekiel, Jesus, and Peter. Some of these acts and “figures” are more prominently known over the others, but each of them presents unique and (I believe) accurate attributes and perspective of the person of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
My copy of Fresh Air is marked up and bookmarked from cover to cover. While it would be difficult for me to choose a “favorite” chapter, there are several that I favored quite a bit. Daniel’s Discipline (ch. 2), Ezekiel’s Valley (ch. 6), and Jesus’ Test (ch. 7) all received a lot of attention from my highlighters and colored pens, while Job’s Pledge (ch. 1) seemed to serve as a foundational statement for every movement through the book—at least this is true for me. I have already shared a number of ideas and thoughts from this book with people and I’ve only had it in my possession for a short time. I know I will be returning to it again and again; I’ve already started thinking of ways to incorporate various things I’ve learned into my own teaching curriculums and retreat leading. I’m sure the same will be said of others who read this book.
Our church today is in sore need of this Fresh Air, I’m prayerfully hopeful that many will find this teaching as helpful as I have.
Holy Spirit—Union With God
I steep and soak in my reflections on what it means to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” I have been reading, studying, asking questions, and organizing my thoughts in a non-stop immersion since just after Easter of this year. I have, of course, studied this aspect of Christian faith before now, but I have followed a hunger to really pull out all stops and dig deeply into a myriad of unsettled questions I have had and see where my studies and God’s Spirit leads me.
Most recently, after reading a few books and reflecting in Scripture, an analogy I have pondered previously began to clarify and take on deeper meaning to me. I should probably do a little context work before I proceed further.
One of the questions I have been asking lately is in response to my personal witness of the Christian journey; that is, the daily life lived out in the pursuit of becoming perfected in the likeness of Jesus Christ. I have written out many of my thoughts on this subject over the course of the past decade, but consolidated some of those ideas in a recent series here (see link). Essentially, I am wondering aloud, if we are able to complete the Christian journey intact (aka eternally perfected—saved) without the “full in-filling” or baptism of the Holy Spirit as it is spoken about in Scripture. I realize there are many thoughts and doctrine about this teaching with a great deal of diversity and disparity of interpretation therein, but the role and work of the Holy Spirit, as mysterious as it may be, is very prominent in the Scriptures from beginning to end. Considering this prominence, I cannot help but be very drawn to trying to understand what my response should be to the influence of the Holy Spirit.
There are a few assumed conclusions I have settled upon at this juncture of my studies (always subject to change as I continue to study and learn) and subsequent understanding; they are as follows:
- We are incapable of living out the life of holiness God commands us to live without the work of the Holy Spirit within us. In other words, we cannot become what God wants of us without God within us.
- Christian perfection (becoming like Christ in every way) is part of the plan of God from before the beginning of time.
- Not becoming perfected (especially willful refusal to grow in the ways of spiritual maturity) in the Way of Christ can influence our eternal future.
- Visible manifestations and measurable evidences (spiritual fruit) are part of the Christian journey and useful in the grading (aka judging) one another’s progression and course of discipleship.
I might share a few more questions floating around my head before describing my analogy. I wonder at what point a person is filled with or baptized with the Holy Spirit. Is it something that happens at the moment of spiritual rebirth/regeneration? Is it a specific second work of grace that takes place subsequent to regenerative conversion? If being “born again” and “filled with the Spirit” are a singular event, how do we explain the discrepancies for singularity we read about in the Bible (the original followers of Jesus, the household of Cornelius, and the believers at Ephesus are a few examples). Is the total surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer an optional path of discipleship? There are other questions influencing my study, but I consider these sufficient to provide a backdrop for my analogy.
Union with God ◊ Marriage Metaphors
All throughout Scripture, God employs the use of marriage and sexual intimacy as strong metaphors to describe the relationship between man and the Triune Godhead. God calls the people of Israel “adulterers and adulteresses” for forsaking their primacy of relationship with Him for other gods. He also gives Hosea specific instructions to marry a prostitute in order to construct a visual aid for all to see how He perceives His relationship with the chosen people of Israel. Likewise, the beauty of intimacy is described in vivid detail with the Song of Solomon, and is believed to be a metaphor for the bond of love between Christ and the Church. The Church is mentioned as the “Bride” of Christ, and the “Marriage Feast of the Lamb” is a prominent event mentioned in Scripture, especially in the Book of the Revelation. The description of a man and woman becoming “one flesh” and the “oneness” described by Jesus in his Priestly Prayer (John 17) cannot be ignored as we consider all these descriptions, metaphors, and analogies. What is it that God is portraying for us in them? How are we to interpret what God is speaking through these descriptions? Why is it that these particular and strong word pictures are featured so predominately?
One last disclaimer and qualifier: Every metaphor limps—because no metaphor is perfect. This is why we use metaphors, because the “perfect explanation” is out of our reach and our closest approximation is to say, “Blank is like blank.” Remember; like is not is.
I think the Christian journey as the baptism of the Holy Spirit relates to it is like the courtship to marriage relationship.
- I think many persons will make their first steps toward Christian rebirth under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches the Holy Spirit is involved with drawing fallen humans to God. I see similarity between the “wooing” of the Spirit and how the courtship of a man and woman might progress. Whereas the spiritual journey might see the respondent opening to their awareness to God, the physical relationship between a man and a woman might similarly see them opening to one another (becoming more agreeable to conversations and the depth of information each other are willing to disclose). I might liken these first steps to an introductory or initial dating phase.
- As dating and courtship continue between human relationships, so does the relationship between man and God. As the man’s curiosity and awareness to the presence and activity of God is heightened, he is driven and drawn to learn more about this God who “woos” him. Similarly, we see the same behavior exhibited between a man and woman as they learn the dance of romance as well as determine their compatibility and need for one another.
- Counting the cost of relationship is wise advice according to the words of Jesus. I believe this applies to temporal relationships between men and women as much as it applies to the temporal-eternal relationship between man and God. A woman might consider how a man will treat her, provide for her materially and emotionally… what kind of father he might be to her children, and etc. Likewise, Jesus advises the potential follower-disciple to evaluate the cost involved in following or “being married to” Him.
- Eventually there comes a nexus where betrothal, engagement, or the promise to marry becomes the primary question. In this moment, a commitment takes place between the parties consigning devotion to one another. I think this same process occurs in the spiritual relationship with Christ. The speed and the means by which the process unfolds might look differently from person to person, but the realization of the question, answer, and ultimate decision is probably very similar.
- Marriage. The Covenant agreement. In both cases there seems intellectual and soulful agreement to belong to one another. Jesus’ promise to all who would follow Him devotedly is that He would never leave or forsake them. Similarly, the covenant agreement in marriage vows echoes a “forever” commitment, “…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” I don’t know the ritual covenantal vows for all cultures and Christian denominations, but would imagine they might be very common to those I mention. Jesus, on many occasions, uses the marriage metaphor to describe the relationship between his followers and himself (Matt 9:15; 25:1-10; John 3:29). I completed a study and wrote an essay on the parallels of marriage as a divine institution some years ago that has more information on these thoughts (see link).
- Consummation. I believe the in-filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit might be likened to the consummation of a marriage. I realize how stark and intimate this metaphor seems, but it is the analogy that God uses throughout the Holy Scriptures to describe the relationship between Himself and mankind. As I mentioned in point number five, I believe that becoming “born again” may happen at the time of intellectual and soulful agreement to the person of Jesus Christ and the affirmation of the atoning sacrifice of his life for our sin. I believe in accordance to the teaching of Scripture that this is a justifying act of grace declared by the voice and hand of God who declares that soul as “saved.” This declaration is a divinely valid agreement and the person over whom it is declared is as eternally secure and “saved” as they can or ever will be. I think the same can be said for the person who is married… they are never any more legally married or bound to their respective spouse on the first day of marriage than they are on their fiftieth year of marriage. Can a person be legally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically married without the act of conjugal consummation? I believe the answer is yes, but in many cultures, the lack of consummation can be grounds for annulment of the marriage…not divorce, but annulment. Annulment states specific grounds for which the marriage is declared void—as if it never took place—and was never actualized as a real marriage. Jesus declares the baptism of the Holy Spirit a divine imperative; consummation of the divine relationship is a mandate and expectation. Jesus speaks very explicitly about this union with his followers in his teaching about abiding in him (John 15) and in the prayer for unity and oneness found in John chapter seventeen. The parallel is also seen when Jesus reminds the teachers of the Law that it was God’s divine planning for a man to leave his family to be “joined as one flesh” with his wife. It is the joining of the Holy Spirit with the believer that makes him or her more than they were as their former self. Jesus said believers would receive “power from on high” when the Holy Spirit came to take up residence within them. This is the ultimate form of love in union. It requires absolute trust and absolute surrender. We are taught by Jesus that he “chose us as his own” for the purpose of bearing fruit for His Father, God, and His Kingdom. Christian fruit (john 15) can only come from “consummation” of the relationship (infilling/baptism of the Holy Spirit) just the same as children from a couple can only come through consummation of marital relationship. The reciprocity of surrender and giving of selves to one another naturally produce godly “fruit”—this might be manifest in the most basic of levels, with children…and in other manifestations deeper intimacy of relationship and “knowing” one another. Perhaps… this might help us to understand why it is that Jesus speaks so forthrightly about men and women who professed their “marriage” to Christ on the Day of Judgment. Jesus speaks the following words from the Gospel of Matthew chapter seven:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
It is interesting to me the word Jesus uses “knew” is the same word, and I believe the same contextual meaning, as his mother, Mary, used when she answered to the angel Gabriel for example in Luke 1:34, “And Mary [a virgin] said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I do not know (Strongs-1097 /ginṓskō = sexual intimacy) a man.
It may be that without the active infilling and baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jesus does not know us in the strictest and most important way we are to be known.
I think ultimately we also need to realize that living in union and communion with God is not about being perfect or achieving some level of Christian perfection. I definitively believe and understand the process of Christian formation or entire sanctification is not measured by perfection, but is measured by the level of our surrender to the process and to the Holy Spirit who guides it.
During the past month, I have been involved with an extended study and meditation over the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and followers of Jesus Christ. I first started writing about these stirrings around May 17th on the blog. This is part four of a multi-part essay sharing an ongoing reflection I continue processing. I do not profess this work as academically complete, so feel free to join in the conversation if you are so inclined. See the entire series of The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit here.
[18JUNE2012] Begin Part Four — Pentecost: The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit
From “The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit” Part Three
As I have said (to my understanding), “Love God and Love People,” is the prerequisite and contingent command for walking in the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. However, as indicated in my sphere diagram above, “Love God and Love People” is much more than a mental assent and verbal affirmation. While “Love God and Love People” is more than… it most often, is not, perfection; even a quick read through the Acts of the Apostles or the Pauline Epistles will reveal many imperfect people being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. What then is the purpose of this round and round talk? I think basic misunderstanding and poor teaching about the Holy Spirit lays at the root of why so many people are attempting to live the “Jesus Life” are doing so without the indwelling Holy Spirit. I also believe that a second reason, closely related to the first, is selfish rebellion against the commands to “Love God and Love People,” but I will share more on this thought in a follow-up installment to our series.
Part Four — Pentecost: The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit
Selfish rebellion may sound harsh, but I do not mean “clenched fist and teeth” rebellion. More often than not, our rebellion toward God resembles passive aggressive rebellion. What I mean is this; the more conversations I have on this subject with “Christians” the more I hear people confessing they really do not believe we (particularly they) can live as Jesus lived. Most arguments against living as Jesus lived fall under common themes (eg., Jesus was perfect and I am not, Romans 7 argument, “we” can never be perfect, etc.). While there are partial truths within the scopes of these arguments, they still result in false teaching when compared to Jesus’ words and the overall teaching found in the New Testament Scriptures.
If Jesus has called us to follow Him and He promises that He has made a way for each of us to succeed in this call to follow, but we profess that it is impossible to follow Him… we make Him out to be a liar. Jesus is not the liar. If we say we cannot follow Him, we are the liar…and we stand in direct rebellion toward Him as enemies of God. While our fists may not be raised toward Him, we are no less in rebellion against Him than all the demons of hell. Passive rebellion—unbelieving rebellion—no matter the name it goes by, is still rebellion.
The “selfish rebellion” we exhibit against God is because of so many “believers’” failure to understand what it means to be a regenerated disciple of Jesus. A great number of religious people assume their moment of regeneration hinges on a confession or profession of faith alone; however, anyone can say “I believe in Jesus” as James reminds us (James 2:19). Therefore, simply confessing that Jesus is God, does not equal regenerative salvation. Denial of self—dying to self is a prerequisite requirement to becoming regenerated disciples of Jesus Christ (Luke 14:25-33; John 12:24-26; John 3:3-6). Becoming a Disciple: Believing, Obeying, and Following seem to be implied prerequisites for receiving and maintaining the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39; John 8:12; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19-20).
“We who have once for all cloned ourselves in Christ, and been made worthy to have him dwelling within us, may show everyone, if we choose, simply by the strict discipline of our life and without saying a word, the power of him who dwells in us.” John Chrysostom
I am convinced by what I have read, through both the Old and New Testament Scriptures that the Holy Spirit of God upon you or within you is an extraordinary thing. Ordinary men and women, prophets, kings, warriors, and more were motivated and empowered to act in incredible ways…performing astoundingly supernatural acts. The most incredible act of all, to my understanding, is the promise of walking in daily relationship with the Triune Godhead as Jesus modeled for us while he walked amongst humanity. It makes absolutely no sense to me why any true believer would not want to receive this gift and walk with this level of intimacy and relationship with Jesus…with God.
It also seems odd to me when people profess being filled with the Holy Spirit and do not walk surrendered to the Spirit’s leadership. Jesus says that when the Spirit comes and we are filled with the Spirit, He will lead us in all Truth. Being led in and to the Truth assumes (to me) that we are growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, ably reflecting His image to the world in which we live. I know that I am not all that God has destined me to be, yet. I know that I sense His Spirit within me, calling me closer to Himself and transforming me as I surrender to His Spirit within me. I know we have been given the opportunity to be reconciled to God fully through the atonement of Christ Jesus. I know this atonement includes the gift of Holy Spirit baptism which fully empowers every true believer to live the life of Jesus today—in this body—on this side of eternity. For any believer to profess Christ as their Savior and live less than the life He promised, is blasphemous. Make your mind up today to live all for Jesus. Roll up your sleeves and partner with the Holy Spirit. If you are unsure of whether or not you have this infilling gift, or if you are need of renewal and infilling, turn back to God now. Pray to Jesus, confess and repent of your lack of giving your all and divided heart. Ask God to give you purity of heart and to fill-refill you with His Holy Spirit. Receive God’s gift and walk with Him. Words from Oswald Chambers press us and inspire us as follows:
Think of the things that take you out of the position of abiding in Christ. You say, “Yes, Lord, just a minute— I still have this to do. Yes, I will abide as soon as this is finished, or as soon as this week is over. It will be all right, Lord. I will abide then.” Get moving— begin to abide now. In the initial stages it will be a continual effort to abide, but as you continue, it will become so much a part of your life that you will abide in Him without any conscious effort. Make the determination to abide in Jesus wherever you are now or wherever you may be placed in the future. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest—Get Moving
Download the whole series in a printable pdf file here.
During the past month, I have been involved with an extended study and meditation over the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and followers of Jesus Christ. I first started writing about these stirrings around May 17th on the blog. This begins a multi-part essay sharing an ongoing reflection I continue processing. I don’t profess this work as academically complete, so feel free to join in the conversation if you are so inclined. See Part One of The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit here and see Part Two of the series here.
Pentecost: In-Dwelling Holy Spirit [Part Three]
I left off with the last installment of this series with the question, “What is/are the commandment(s) of Jesus?” The reason, again, that I believe this particular question is so important with regard to receiving and living with the indwelling Holy Spirit is because of Jesus’ words as spoken to His disciples in the Gospel of John (John 14:15-17).
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”
Maybe I am making too much of the sentence structure and words used here, but it seems that the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit is contingent upon obedience to Jesus’ commandments. I think this idea is also supported with other teachings from the New Testament. When Peter preached to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost, he told them; “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). While the exact words, “Obey my commandments” are not in Peter’s instructions, “repent” “and turn to God” “and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” strongly infer and rightly assume obedience to Jesus’ commandments. Following these imperative statements seems conditional to receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit, not just a “down payment,” but full-on, over-flowing, in-filling, and indwelling baptism of the Holy Spirit. (“Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”) It is for this reason I believe close attention should be paid to the commandments of Jesus as we are dependent upon the infilling Holy Spirit.
When I consider what the commandments of Jesus are, I imagine them a single commandment comprised of many layers rather than considering them as a list of separate and specific commands. I imagine something like this…
The “sphere” of Jesus’ commandments is to Love God and Love People. I think this is best interpreted through the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and Jesus’ definition of the “Greatest Commandment” (Mark 12:28-31). Likewise, I believe these primary instructions are found embodied in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). While I think the commandments of God truly are as simple as Love God and Love People, I also think these commandments are much deeper than their simplicity may imply.
When I consider the commandments of Jesus, I recall a number of proclamations he made regarding himself. These proclamations shed light and provide substance to his teaching, subsequent instructions, and commandments. The following is a list of Jesus’ “self-identifiers.”
- He is the “Fulfillment” of the Law. Early in his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed that he “came to fulfill the Law.” See Matthew 5:17-20 for full context.
- God the Father sends Jesus… (John 8:42) Jesus’ teaching was not his own, but teaching from God the Father (John 7:16). What he taught was gleaned in the presence of God the Father (John 8:38).
- Claimed unity with God (John 14:10-11; John 17:21), and claimed equality with God (John 14:9).
- Proclaimed that he alone was the Way of Eternal Life (John 14:6). Referred to himself as the gate and the narrow-way supporting his claim from John 14:6 (Matthew 7:13-27; John 10:1-18).
- Professed immutability or an unchanging, always existent nature (John 8:58; Rev. 1:8; Rev. 22:13)…supported also by the writer of Hebrews 13:8.
These aforementioned “self” proclamations of Jesus provide context and authority for all of his teaching. It is because of this context that my understanding of the Bible, from beginning to end, is a connected whole for Jesus’ instructions and commandments. What I mean to say by this is reflected in the image diagram above. Consequently, with this in mind, I do not believe that receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit just occurs, nor I do not believe the event takes place just by asking. I think the Holy Spirit baptism comes resultant of, or subsequent to, changes that take place in the heart. I have already presented a case for this earlier (repent, turn to God, be baptized in the Name of Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit), but evidence for not receiving the Spirit baptism might be agreed to from the account of Simon the Sorcerer and his request for filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24). In any case, I wish to further explain what I believe is meant by “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”
Love God and Love People IS the commandment Jesus has given to us; however, wrapped in that command is the fulfillment of the Law, the spiritual expression of the Law, and the practical outworking of the Law and Love (agape). Too often, we make pithy and cliché what God has intended for us to deeply express in every way of life…that is to Love God and Love People. When Jesus told the disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34), he wasn’t talking about “fist bumps” and “bro hugs.” He was talking about sacrificing your life for one another (John 15:13; 1 John 3:15; Phil. 2:5-7). Wrapped up inside of Loving God and Loving People are the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ teaching about Kingdom loving and living as found in the Sermons on the Mount and the Plain…these, I believe, are the “high ideal” for which we strive…every day. How we strive for this kingdom living is explained in practical fashion throughout the apostolic epistles from the New Testament. For instance, Paul rebutts and rebukes Romans 7 living with a Romans 8 counter argument. He teaches us about God-love (agape) in his Letter to Corinthians (chapter 13), and he teaches us about living as “children of Light” in his Ephesians discourse and Spirit Fruit in his Letter to Galatians… these are just a few examples from the Apostle Paul. James teaches about practical outworking of faith to deeds from a heart converted to Jesus Way living in his letter. Peter teaches about selfless, servant love empowered through the divine nature in his letters, and John teaches his readers about divine love embodied by true followers of Jesus. It’s all there for us; deep and abiding instructions for the sojourning member of the divine Body of Christ. We are called to “walk as Jesus walked…” (1 John 2:6) in such a way that we are uniquely distinguished from people who do not follow the Way of Jesus. We can only successfully accomplish this mandate and our mission, if we are empowered and in-filled with the Divine Presence of God’ indwelling Holy Spirit.
As I have said (to my understanding), “Love God and Love People,” is the prerequisite and contingent command for walking in the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. However, as indicated in my sphere diagram above, “Love God and Love People” is much more than a mental assent and verbal affirmation. While “Love God and Love People” is more than… it most often, is not perfection; even a quick read through the Acts of the Apostles or the Pauline Epistles will reveal many imperfect people being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. What then is the purpose of this round and round talk? I think basic misunderstanding and poor teaching about the Holy Spirit lays at the root of why so many people are attempting to live the “Jesus Life” are doing so without the indwelling Holy Spirit. I also believe that a second reason, closely related to the first, is selfish rebellion against the commands to “Love God and Love People,” but I will share more on this thought in a follow-up installment to our series.
During the past month, I have been involved with an extended study and meditation over the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and followers of Jesus Christ. I first started writing about these stirrings around May 17th on the blog. This begins a two part (at least) essay sharing an ongoing reflection I continue processing. I don’t profess this work as academically complete, so feel free to join in the conversation if you are so inclined. See Part One of The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit here.
Pentecost: In-Dwelling Holy Spirit [Part Two]
These aforementioned first steps (see part one of this essay) of understanding the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit lead me to subsequent thinking…ideas and understanding, which seems implied outworkings from those foundational teachings about the Holy Spirit. We believe the Godhead acts as (and is) one God; this is how unified these Trinitarian Persons are—Three in One. Therefore, it seems to me, with this same Spirit of God, Holy Spirit, living in me… shouldn’t I be drawn to unity with the Godhead by virtue of following the leading of the Holy Spirit in me? Is this not what Jesus’ prayer (John 17:11, 21-23) was about? I believe it is. The resultant line of thinking leads me to believe in the work of progressive and entire sanctification—transformational holiness—which is being conformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ who is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). This is nervous territory of which I speak now. I do not think many of us who profess ourselves believing-followers of Jesus like to consider where these thoughts lead us. I do not wish to belabor a point, but the end result is this: If we surrender to the leading and the authority of the Holy Spirit living in us, we become living, breathing, replications of Jesus—we become free of the sinful nature, our desire is strictly and only to glorify the Godhead and advance the Kingdom purposes of God Almighty. Pettiness, fleshly desire, self-centered gratification and ambition are destroyed with the old self. The new self, the God re-born self, is the new creation that replaces the old self and purposes to live out the remainder of this physical life through the Holy Spirit as a Kingdom citizen. Sadly, it sounds better in theory than it looks in reality. While it would seem the majority of Christians would testify to this experience, the truth is nearly the opposite. It seems the testimony to living a life as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6) is the rare exception, at least most of my conversations and surveys with other Christians have revealed this trend to me. I think the fault is not a failure from God’s Word and promise; I can only believe that most Christians are not living a life as Spirit-filled Jesus-following-believers. The question remains; “Why not?”
As Jesus was the Word made flesh, He sent us, His followers, in like manner saying; “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21). He then breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). If we will only surrender wholly to the transforming work of God through the Holy Spirit in us, we too will be Word made flesh. God desires to make his plea through each of us as new creations, so others might be reconciled to Himself through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever]. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People, page 66.
The more I study and search for understanding about the working of the Holy Spirit, the more I find it (the act of Holy Spirit baptism and in-filling) is contingent upon our devotion and obedience to Jesus and his commandments. I consider the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospel of John, chapters thirteen through seventeen particularly important among the Gospel accounts with regard to the function of the Holy Spirit and how believing followers receive the baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit. This leads to an important question; “What is/are the commandment(s) of Jesus?” but I will get to that question in a moment. First, I need to qualify and clarify that I do not think receiving the Holy Spirit baptism (infilling-indwelling) is a formulaic experience. I don’t think it is a one, two, three… step process. I believe God can and God will, fill people by His choosing however and whenever He wills. Now, having made this qualifying statement, I still think there are general prerequisite “attitudes of the heart,” if you will, that serve us as a contingent whole when we seek the Holy Spirit baptism. These attitudes follow: a repentant heart and mind turned toward the Way of Jesus; a hunger for and attitude of seeking God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Jeremiah 29:13); a heart’s desire of surrender and obedience to God…something described like the life of Cornelius. “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (Acts 10:2).” I don’t think these are sequential or specific conditions for receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but I do think they give a picture for the overall attitude of someone prepared for the infilling of God. Second, I think maintaining this attitude is the open portal to keep the Holy Spirit infilling perpetually flowing and homesteading within us. Perhaps we get an idea that once the Spirit takes up residence in us, it is a done deal. I have not read where Scripture teaches this. If the timeline is correct, we see multiple “fillings and/or refilling” over a span of 40-60 days (counting from the Gospel of John 20:21 through Acts 4:31) indicating the need for continuous filling of God’s Spirit in the life believers. Additionally, we know that we can “grieve” God’s Spirit and that the Spirit can be taken or can depart from us (Eph. 4:30; Psalm 51:11). The final thing I feel needs clarification is when the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs and whether or not it is separate work of regeneration (salvation).
There are as many different views on when the believer is “filled” or baptized with the Holy Spirit as there are denominations and statements of doctrine. This is sad, but it is true. In most cases, there is some understanding and position that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate work from the act of believing salvation or regeneration. The Orthodox Church believes the Holy Spirit is bequeathed sacramentally, through an anointing following baptism. The Roman Catholic Church believes receiving the Holy Spirit is a specific sacramental act conferred through confirmation. Although their specific processes may differ, the Wesleyan Holiness Churches, Pentecostal, and Charismatic Churches also believe that receiving the Holy Spirit (infilling baptism) is a second and separate work from regeneration. The Reformed Church is different from the other positions that it believes the filling of the Holy Spirit comes at the time of regeneration. Personally, my opinion is that while the two events need not be mutually exclusive, in many (perhaps most) cases they are.
Now, clarifications and qualifications aside, I mentioned earlier the more I study and search for understanding about the working of the Holy Spirit, the more I find it (the act of Holy Spirit baptism and in-filling) is contingent upon our devotion and obedience to Jesus and his commandments. So then, “What is/are the commandment(s) of Jesus?” I’ll pick up answering this question with my next installment of The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit.