The Spirit and Christian Formation

April 09, 2014Filed under Theology#m. div.#sebtsMarkdown source

The following was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Dr. Steve McKinion's Christian Theology II class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Topic: What role does the Holy Spirit play in Christian formation?

Discussions of the person of the Holy Spirit in modern Christianity tend to focus on the third person of the Trinity’s obviously miraculous activity in the world—the “gifts” that characterize the charismatic movement and the associated controversy. Though these gifts are certainly part of the recorded history of the Spirit’s work, the church’s focus thereupon (whether positive or negative) on the gifts has had the unfortunate side effect of hiding many of the other, arguably more central and essential actions of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Just as the Spirit is the person who mediates to us the work of Christ in our salvation and brings about our conversion, the Spirit is the one who leads us into greater participation in the renewed humanity the Son has accomplished in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Spirit is the one who progressively deepens our union with Christ and reshapes us to be like Him who saved us.

The Spirit accomplishes these ends in a variety of ways, all of which are themselves worthy of further reflection. First of all, it was the Spirit who superintended the writing of Scripture, the self-revelation of the Triune Godhead for our salvation and sanctification. If Christian formation is in no small measure a matter of growing to know our Creator—if we are being restored to active relationship with one who made us for that very relationship—then the ways in which our Creator has revealed himself are supremely important. Without Scripture, we would know little of God; through it we enter in the deep mysteries. The first part the Spirit plays in our formation, then, is in having guided every hand from Moses’ to John’s in the writing of the word of God. Upon this foundation comes the Spirit’s second work: opening our eyes to understand that Scripture. The things of God are foolishness to unregenerate people, but beautiful and savory to those who have been given spiritual life. The word of God can seem dense and opaque to those who do not believe, but every believer in Christ finds that more and more these mysteries unfold: this is the Spirit at work.

As we come to understand the person of God and the things he has commanded us in his word, we find that we are still weak and struggle to do them. Here, too, the Spirit is at work, for it is the Spirit who empowers our obedience. We know that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us—and this is the only hope we have of overcoming sin and growing in holiness. Part and parcel of this, the Spirit empowers us to endure the suffering that God uses to make us more dependent on him and more faithful to him. Likewise, when in the course of our lives we are tempted to fall away, it is the Spirit who helps us continue to hold fast to the faith. Moreover, the Spirit intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray ourselves. When we are beset by temptation, when tempted to fall away, when exhausted from the battle, when wearied of the pursuit of holiness, the Spirit prays for us. Nor is the Spirit’s work directed solely to individuals. All of these realities are corporate, and in all of them we grow in unity and kindness toward one another. The Spirit is our bond of peace.

In summary, then, we have both the Spirit and the Son praying for us to the Father who delights to answer those prayers, and the Spirit empowering us walk in the Son’s life with the Father—hallelujah!