Nature, Grace, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

 

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In a previous post, I argued that if we want to see the renewal of the church, it must be a renewal that takes the triune nature of God seriously. I quote at length Gordon Fee to that end. Fee argued that the Charismatic gifts are for the building up fo the church, and should not take pride of place or seen as the absolute end of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit makes us into the image of Jesus Christ to the Glory of the Father (as I said in this post).

One concern about the Spiritual gifts that I continually struggle with is the relation of humanity’s natural capacities, our ability to think, feel, reason, etc. and the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gifts of tounges and words of knowledge. When I’ve heard the gifts of prophecy taught, it is said that we need to discern the difference between our thoughts, the devil’s intrusions, and God’s words. The thing that bothers me about this is that it can end up neglecting or denigrating the goodness of human nature; as if the Holy Spirit fills us not to make us human, but to transcend our humanity.

To approach this question properly, we need to ask what humanity is, what we were created for and how we attain that end? In short, humanity is created by God out of his goodness as the image of God composed of both soul and body, we were created for life with God, and we attain that end through God’s grace and the economy of salvation (see Aquinas, Summa, 1.93, 103).

Two things are important to note here: 1) God’s goodness is the grounds of his grace; to say that God creates out of his goodness is to say that he creates freely and graciously (see Aquinas, Summa, 1.6). Therefore, 2) from the beginning, human nature is created by the free grace and goodness of God. This means that we are both natural creatures with specific aptitudes etc. and beings created for God. We were created with the need for God; a necessary openness to God’s work of creating and sustaining us towards being made into fullness of the image of God (Sin complicates things, because both the capacity for God and the natural gifts of human nature are both marred, but they are redeemed and renewed in Jesus Christ). Thus, while Aquinas affirms that grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it (Summa, 1.1.a8), this perfecting of nature is established in the reality that creation is already God’s goodness poured out as grace.  God created humanity for himself, which means we need him to achieve our end goal – life with God. The path to that end goal is Christ, and according to Scripture, it is the Holy Spirit and his manifold gifts that build us up to that end goal (see. 1 Cor. 12, Eph 4). To sum up, Humanity is created as a creature made for the creator and on their way to the creator (see Summa, 1.93; 1e11ae.1-5; and this post).

If this is true, then charismatic gifts could fall within the realm of grace perfecting nature. But what of our original concern: the overriding of natural capacities? While grace does not destroy nature, nature being what it is, a graced contingent reality opened to God, is dependent on the creator. Could it be that the gifts of tounges and prophecy are not a negation of nature, but God using our nature and infusing it with his grace to build the body of Christ up out of God’s goodness, and freedom? Is it possible that our minds and language are sanctified for use beyond our understanding or capacity, to God’s glory and praise? I propose that we can answer both of these questions on the affirmative.

If these thoughts are tenable for the Christian life, there is room for God to both use one’s ‘natural’ talents in a ‘supernatural’ way and to infuse us with his grace in a way that is beyond our apprehension. For example, God could direct one’s reason, submitted to God to draw a conclusion about another person’s life that is, in fact, a word of knowledge; or God could simply infuse into one’s mind a thought or word that is  ‘from the outside.’ Both of these are acts of God sanctifying human nature, the first within our capacity for a particular end and the other beyond our capacity and understanding.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, come from the outside and can seem to overwhelm our human nature; but the truth of the matter is that they are simply making us capable of what we were created for: communion with God. The gift of tounges draws our mouths, hearts, and mind into a space where we trust that God is at work in a way that we cannot understand (by the way, it is still your lips and mouth and tongue that move!). In the gift of prophesy we are encouraging and building the body of Christ up towards our mutual end goal: Life in God. Both of these gifts, along with the rest of them orient us towards becoming the unified body of Christ,  as we journey towards our end goal: fellowship and friendship with the triune God in Glory.

 

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