The Refreshing Sight of Christ: A Quote from John Owen

In Michael Reeve’s wonderful book, Rejoicing in Christ, he quotes Theologian John Owen, who speaks of the way Christians should be refreshed in their faith:

Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us; – deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us?… Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone, – namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Constant contemplation of Christ and his glory, putting forth its transforming power unto the revival of all grace, is the only relief in this case.

Quoted in Rejoicing in Christ, by Michael Reeves, 103-104.

I found this quote encouraging in several ways:

  • He acknowledges that faith involves struggle. We all have times of complacency, deadness, spiritual senselessness. But this is not the way it has to be.
  • The way out of Spiritual deadness is looking to Christ. We do this through the various means of grace that God gives us through the economy of his grace: worship, the read Word, the preached Word, the sacraments, prayer, spiritual reading, and study. In all of these means, we are seeking a fresh vision of Christ and his glory.
  • Christ’s glory, while sounding high and mighty, is his work of salvation for us. Christ was glorified both in his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection, which were all things done for the saving benefit of humanity. Catching a glimpse of the beauty and glory of Christ enlivens our hearts to his love, his generosity, his compassion, and his continual call to life in him.
  • The language of vision and contemplation are significant. There is a kind of blending of the senses in seeking after Christ. We seek to see him, a visual metaphor, we contemplate him, both a visual and intellectual action. Psalm 34:8 exhorts us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” All this together points us to an all-encompassing pursuit of Christ, with our hearts, minds, bodies, imaginations. As we are consumed by the vision, taste, thought of Christ we are revived and renewed in him.
  • Finally, the language of vision points us to our final end. The vision of God in Christ in the new creation. By God’s grace, i.e., through the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to enjoy this vision of Christ by faith now. The enjoyment of this vision involves both consolation and purification: as the Holy Spirit communicates the vision of Christ he makes us more like him by sanctifying us. Thus, the vision of Christ by faith enlivens us to his glory and purifies us to further reflect and enjoy him.

Quotes from The Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Gregory of Nazianzus On the Economy of Salvation

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When I started reading the church fathers, one of the most refreshing aspects of their writings was the way they talked about The scope and depth of Salvation. This quote is taken from an excellent resource, the Ancient Christian Doctrine series, and exemplifies the way Gregory summarize Scripture’s witness to the magnificent work of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection.

“He who gives riches becomes poor, for he assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the richness of his Godhead. He that is full empties himself for a short while, that I may have a share in his fullness. What is the riches of his goodness? What is this mystery that is around me? I had a share in the image; I did not keep it. He partakes of my flesh that he may both save the image and make the flesh immortal. He communicates a second communion far more marvelous than the first; in as much as then he imparted the better nature, whereas now he himself partakes of the worse. This is more Godlike than the former action, this is loftier in the eyes of all men of understanding.” Gregory of Nazianzus, ACD, 2.105.

This is a beautiful passage that exposes some of the most profound mysteries of our faith, in the context of Jesus Christ’s humility as the source of the salvation of the world. First, it is vital to see that Gregory reflection on Christ is an expansion of the magnificent Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This verse, for Gregory and many other church fathers, is a touchstone for reflecting on God’s work of salvation.  Christ who is equal to the Father, the same essence, became human to bring humanity into communion with God.
Significantly, Gregory does not speak of this salvation in abstract terms, he sees his own life wrapped up in this mystery: “What is the riches of his goodness? What is this mystery that is around me?” The life that Jesus lived is the life that he gives Gregory. He took Gregory’s sin and death and gave him his life and love.

To clarify the second half of the quote, let me explain what Gregory is saying. ‘The image’ which Gregory refers to is the image of God, that we read about in Genesis 1:26-28.  The salvation in Christ is much greater than when Adam and Eve were created (‘second communion far more marvelous than the first’) because in Jesus Christ humanity receives a more profound and greater union with God than Adam and Eve had. This is the mystery of the incarnation: Christ has taken our human body and life and made them his, forming what is sinful and dying into his body which is holy and immortal, through his infinite life.

The personal appropriation of Christ’s objective work on the cross for all of humanity is what continues to capture my attention in Gregory and other Church Fathers. They knew and experienced the reality of Christ’s wonderful exchange in their lives. As an Anglican priest, I am reminded that when I serve the meals of Grace of word and sacrament to the church, I am offering my congregation nourishment to continue to grow in this mystery: the mystery of our justification and sanctification and glorification in Jesus Christ through the Power of the Holy Spirit. Every week, we are invited into this great mystery of Salvation – union with God in Christ, so that we can have the same mind and be the one body of Christ in the world.

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Thomas Aquinas On the Image of God in Humanity

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In Christian Theological Anthropology, a fundamental question arises: what does it mean to be made in the image of God? There have been many answers proposed to answer this question. Two of the most common responses to this question is that the image of God is primarily found in the reality that humans are intelligent and relational creatures because God is intelligent and relational. Another common appraisal of the image of God in humanity is that humanity is the representative of God in the created world. When Aquinas is brought up in this discussion he is often plastered with a simplistic negative assessment: he believed that the image of God resided in the intellectual faculties of humans, that is not what Genesis 1:27-28 meant by the image of God. Therefore his assessment is incorrect. While Aquinas does focus on the intellectual facilities of humans in a way that, perhaps, is not the original meaning of Genesis 1:27-28, his view is much more nuanced than and is investigating.

In this post I want to consider a few quotes from Aquinas’s articles on the Image of God to propose the following: 1) that Aquinas’s doctrine of the image of God is not static. Instead, it has three factors: creation, redemption, and glorification. 2) In these factors, it is Christo-centric. 3) And while he does focus on the human mind as the seat of the image of God, it is the human mind directed towards God, thus revealing the relational dynamic of the image of God in humanity.

From the beginning of Aquinas’s Summa, he establishes three essential principles: 1) that the human creature is made for a particular end: to know and love God, and the only way we can know God is through revelation (1.1.a1). 2) Theology proper is the study of God: God himself in his infinite life and that which comes from God, i.e., all that is not God. This is how Aquinas says it, “But in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God; either because they are God himself; or because they refer to God as their beginning and end” (1.1.a7). Theology proper, i.e., theology ordered towards who God is and what God does start and ends with God as the beginning and end of all that exists. 3) since theology studies derivatively all that comes from the Triune God in his creative activity, the study of theology traces God’s creation, redemption, glorification, and the return of the creature to God – i.e., the mission of the Son and the Spirit for the reconciliation and restoration of the world (see 1.43-44). Taking these points together, in relation to our topic, human nature and the image of God will have a particular direction, one that is grounded in God as humanity’s creator and God as humanity’s end.

Our quotes come from Aquinas’s 93rd question in the first part of the Summa. He introduces the question as follows: “We now treat of the end or term of man’s production inasmuch as he is said to be made to the image and likeness of God” (1.93.Pro). So in treating the end goal of humanity’s creation, Aquinas establishes what the image of God in humanity is; in do8ng si the end, i.e., the beatific vision of God, or communion with God, shapes the beginning.

In the first article, Aquinas established what the image of God is in man. He argues, that humanity is an imperfect likeness of God, not imperfect because of sin, but imperfect because humanity is a creature, not the creator. This imperfection is akin to a painting of a real thing (1.93.1a). Humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, but not perfectly so because they are creatures and because there is only one perfect image of God:

The First-Born of creatures is the perfect image of God, reflecting perfectly that of which He is the Image and so he is said to be the Image, and never to the image… The image of God exists in his first-born Son; as the image of the king is in his Son who is of the same nature as himself; whereas it exists in man as in an alien nature, as the image of the king is in a silver coin. (1.93.reply 2).

The image of God in humanity is from God and is directed towards humanity’s end: perfection and union with God in Christ Jesus who is the perfect image and likeness of God. Notice, that for Aquinas, in the scope of redemption Christ, not Adam, is the first born of creation. He is the perfect image of God in the creation, and he is the one in whom our imaging of God is made perfect.

This is made evident a few articles later, where Aquinas considers whether all of humanity has the image of God or not:

Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself. Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways. First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men. Second, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace. Third, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory. Wherefore on the words, The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us (Ps 4:7), the gloss distinguishes a threefold image of creation, of re-creation, and of likeness. The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed (1.93.a4).

Setting aside the definition of the image for a second, notice how Aquinas defines the image of God in humanity via the whole of the economy of God’s work in the world: Creation, re-creation, and glorification. Mankind was created to know and love God, after the fall humanity was re-created when the perfect image of God, the Son, came and saved humanity. The image is brought to completion and perfection when humanity knows and loves God as much as is humanly possible in the beatific vision. This threefold distinction not only shows how the image of God is related to the work of Christ in creating, saving, and glorifying humanity in his own body, it also demonstrates that the image of God is in all of humanity. However, because mankind was created to be in communion with God, there are different levels of image bearing correlated to where one is in relation to the true image: Jesus Christ. Thus, the image of God is both a given reality in creation, but because we were made for God, it must also be re-created and perfected through the mission of the Son and the Spirit so that humanity can delight in and know the one for whom we were created.

This final point helps us make sense of why Aquinas, following Augustine, sees the image of God as especially located in humanity’ intellectual nature. For Aquinas, the intellect is not mere rationality, it is the location of our knowledge and love; our knowledge of God and our desire for God. our ability to know and love is what sets humanity apart from other creatures (1.93.a6). But this knowing and loving are not a general knowing and loving, but knowing and loving God. Aquinas quotes Augustine who argues that the image of God in humanity is most reflective of God when it is knowing and loving God (1.93.a8). In other words, the fullness of the image of God in humanity is directly connected to individual humans united to God in Christ through the Spirit who builds up in us the mind of Christ and fills us with the love of God.

Thus the location of the image of God is connected to the intellect not because knowing is the most God-like feature of humans, but because we were created to know and love God. When humanity is united to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, actively pursuing him in love and knowledge, that is when we are most reflecting the image of God, at least while we are still on earth. In the new creation, the image will be made perfect, and we will be like the first-born of all creation, the perfect image of God without defect: Jesus Christ the Lord.

From this discussion, we can see that Aquinas’s understanding of the image of God is about reflecting and participating in the knowledge and love of God. That for which humanity was made is grounded in Christ who is the perfect image, and it is brought to completion through the economy of salvation.

When we talk about the image of God, Aquinas’s understanding gives significant direction: 1) we must affirm that everyone has the image of God, and thus has an intrinsic value and significance. 2) At the same time, because we were created to be in a relationship with God, those who are oriented towards God in Christ have the potential to reflect the image of God more faithfully, insofar as they are orienting their lives towards the knowledge and love of God; i.e., growing in sanctification. 3) Knowledge of who God is and what God does, combined with a desire and delight in God is the path of conforming to the image of God in Christ Jesus (see John 17:3). 4) The image of God is still being brought to completion through the invisible missions of the Son and Spirit in the lives of Christians. 5) The end for which we are created was revealed at the beginning: We were made in the image of God to enjoy him forever in Christ.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Augustine On the Love of God the Father

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I think one of the hardest things for people to get about Christianity is the love of God the Father. The images throughout history of a wrathful, angry, miserly, simply pissed off God the Father, are frequent enough that he ends up as a trope in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was perhaps wise of the Eastern Church to refuse to paint him, and the Reformation Church to cast aside all depiction to avoid misunderstanding (at the very least). This angry Zeus image is often countered by a placid, loving grampa or cosmic jolly Santa Claus.

I’ve struggled with seeing God the Father as loving; his love always felt conditional. The possibility of him blowing up at the slightest misstep always kept me on my toes, my knees, as I resented him for being so angry.

I tried to self-medicate the broken image of The Father by imagining him as my “Abba” my Dad, but it only worked in starts and fits. It always felt like that angry God was lurking behind ‘Abba.’ After a long time, however, I’ve slowly come to see God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ: The eternal Loving Father who love me, and the world, enough to deal with my sin and my shame.

My journey through this will take too long to account in this post, but I think that this quote from Augustine summarizes how I’ve come to see my eternal, loving, heavenly Father.

The love, therefore, wherewith God loveth, is incomprehensible and immutable. For it was not from the time that we were reconciled unto Him by the blood of His Son that He began to love us; but He did so before the foundation of the world, that we also might be His sons along with His Only-begotten, before as yet we had any existence of our own.

Let not the fact, then, of our having been reconciled unto God through the death of His Son be so listened to or so understood, as if the Son reconciled us to Him in this respect, that He now began to love those whom He formerly hated, in the same way as enemy is reconciled to enemy, so that thereafter they become friends, and mutual love takes the place of their mutual hatred, but we were reconciled unto Him who already loved us, but with whom we were at enmity because of our sin. Whether I say the truth on this, let the apostle testify, when he says: “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

He, therefore, had love toward us even when we were practicing enmity against Him and working iniquity; and yet to Him it is said with perfect truth, “Thou hatest, O Lord, all workers of iniquity.” Accordingly, in a wonderful and divine manner, even when He hated us, He loved us; for He hated us, in so far as we were not what He Himself had made; and because our own iniquity had not in every part consumed His work, He knew at once both how, in each of us, to hate what we had done, and to love what He had done. Tractates on John cx.6. 

 

There are a few things that this passage hits just right on the head:

  1. The Father’s love is not dependent on the Son’s work of reconciliation. He loved us from before the creation of the world. In fact, his love, as Augustine says is ‘immutable’ unchanging. That is indeed good news.
  2. The Son’s work of reconciliation was not because the Father hated us. Instead, it is because the Father loved us in our sin and estrangement. We were dead in our iniquity, and in his love, God the Faher sent his only beloved Son to rescue us. We were created good, and God the Father with his Son and Spirit, saved us from the deformity of sin, not to make us loveable but because he loved us, and wanted to make us lovely once more.
  3. Because God is our creator and Savior, because he knows what we were created for, he can hate the sin in us, while loving the one he created to be with him and without sin. He hates the deformity in us, with the goal of saving and healing it, and he loves us who have been deformed, again in order to make us new.

While Augustine does not hit on wrath in this quote, I think it is worth saying something about that in conclusion. There are a few misconceptions about wrath, first that it is somehow a particular feature of the Father – that caricature again. It is more appropriate to attribute wrath to the Father, Son, and Spirit together. The Triune God is wrathful against sin, not just the Father. Further, Wrath is perhaps better understood as a sub-attribute of God’s love, rather than an eternal attribute. God is eternally existing in the abundance and plentitude of his Triune life. God freely creates out of this life, and in that creation, sin comes about in creaturely rebellion against God. God’s eternal attitude towards his creation is love and grace, presented in the fact that he sustains creatures existence. Wrath is God’s love turned against the rebellion and destruction of his good creation. Thus, wrath is an attribute of his love that arises in the external works of God in his creation. God hates the sin, has wrath against it, while loving the creature he created – to the point of destroying sin in us. Finally, the triune God’s wrath against sin is poured out in Jesus Christ on the cross against our sin and death. The work of Christ death was a Triune action to deal with sin and death in the context of the Trinity’s own eternal and abundant life.

(I submit these thoughts without an expectation that I am right in all cases. I share these thoughts in submission to the Lord of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to his Scriptures, and for the edification of the Church).

Desiring the Renewal of the Church? Look to the Trinity

 

222c640e641f279fafa30226a67e6f26.jpgIn my reading this week I skimmed Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence to see how he frames and articulates the person and work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s writing. In his conclusion, Fee argues that the path for the church’s renewal is the living experience of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, including, but not focused on the gifts of the Spirit. Here is an extended quote:

A genuine recapturing of the Pauline perspective will not isolate the Spirit in such a way that “Spiritual gifts” and “spirit phenomena’ take pride of place in the church, resulting in churches which are either ‘charismatic’ or otherwise. Rather, a genuine recapturing of the Pauline perspective will cause the church to be more vitally Trinitarian, not only in its theology, but in its life and Spirituality as well. This will mean not the exaltation of the Spirit as such, but the exaltation of God; and it will mean not focus on the Spirit as such, but on the Son, crucified and risen, savior and Lord of all. Ethical life will be neither narrowly, individualistically conceived nor legalistically expressed, but will be joyously communal and decidedly over against the world’s present trinity of relativism, secularism and materialism, with their thoroughly dehumanizing affects. And the proper Trinitarian aim of such ethics will be the Pauline one – to the glory of God, through being conformed to the image of the Son by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. 

In recapturing the dynamic life of the Spirit there will also be the renewal of the charismata, not for the sake of being charismatic, but for the building up of the people of God for their life together and in the world. What must not happen in such a renewal is what has so often happened in the past: holding the extraordinary charismata in such awe that they are allowed to exist untested and undiscerned (Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 902). 

Having spent a lot of time wrestling with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the renewal of the church, etc., I found this turn to the Christian life as a life in relation to the Trinity as very refreshing to the extreme. Further, because Fee contextualizes the gifts of the Spirit in the Trinity, and opposes isolation or emphasis of the gifts for their own sake, the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is ordered to the end goal of transformation into the image of Christ to the Glory of God the Father. Thus, charismatic gifts are for the good of the church and should be desired because they have a particular purpose: to make us like Christ to the glory of God the Father.  This means that we must be free to question and test the extraordinary charismata, to see if they are fulfilling their Trinitarian end goal.

Do you want to renew the church? Seeking the happy land of the Trinity in prayer, worship, and study are where it begins. Because in seeking it, you’ll find, if you are a Christian, it is the happy land you’ve always been in ever since you said: “Jesus is Lord.”

 

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Athanasius

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In this series, I will share significant quotes from pastors and theologians throughout church history in an attempt to present the riches of The Christian tradition for the Church today.

In his famous book, On The Incarnation, St. Athanasius – an important pastor and theologian from the fourth century who defended the full divinity of Jesus Christ –  presents a moving picture of the Triune God’s work of salvation. Specifically, Athanasius shows us the care and love of God the Father and Son for their wayward creation.  Athanasius argues that God created humanity for communion with him, but when he fell into sin, humankind lost their knowledge of God and their life with God. God in his goodness could not allow the corruption of his creatures. So in order to save humans and restore communion Jesus had to overcome death in humanity. This is how St. Athanasius describes this work of Salvation:

“For this purpose then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes into our realm, although he was not formerly distant. For no part of creation is left void of him; while abiding with his own Father, he had filled all things in every place. But now he comes condescending towards us in his love for human beings and his manifestation. For seeing the rational race perishing, and death reigning over them through corruption, and seeing also the threat of transgression giving firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was absurd for the law to be dissolved before being fulfilled, and seeing the impropriety in what had happened, that the very things of which he himself was the Creator were disappearing, and seeing the excessive wickedness of human beings, that they gradually increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves, and seeing the liability of all human beings to death – having mercy upon our race, and having pity upon our weakness, and condescending to our corruption, and not enduring the dominion of death, lest what had been created should perish and the work of the Father himself for human beings should be in vain, he takes for himself a body and that not foreign to our own… He takes that which is ours… And thus taking from our that which is like, since all were liable to the corruption of death, delivering it over to death on behalf of all, he offered it to the Father, doing this in his love for human beings so that, on the one hand, with all dying in him the law concerning corruption in human beings might be undone (its power being fully expended in the lordly body and no longer have any ground against similar human beings), and, on the other hand that as human beings had turned toward corruption he might turn them again to incorruptibility and give them life from death, by making the body his own and by the grace of the resurrection banishing death from them as straw from fire. (On the Incarnation, sec. 8). 

There is so much in this passage, and it is only the tip of the iceberg of Athanasius’s genius. Let us note a few things:

First, Athanasius is basically telling the story of the Gospel: God created and loved humanity, they fell into death and chaos through sin, and God in his great love sent God the Son to save humanity by becoming human and dying and rising for us so that we can have the life we were created to have.

Second, notice how Athanasius articulates God’s love for humanity. God pities and has mercy on humanity for their plight. He emphasizes that God wants to save humanity, it isn’t like he begrudges them. This reminds me of Psalm 103:13: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Athanasius sees the love of God most vividly expressed when the Son of God became human. Really, this passage is an extended meditation on John 1:1-18 and John 3:16.

Third, notice that in expressing the entirely free and holy love of God, he does not shy away from calling humanity what it is: “Excessively wicked.” The love of God reveals the depths of human depravity, not to condemn us to death, though we condemn ourselves in rejecting him, but to show us our need for the Savior.

Finally, notice the manner of salvation: God the Son becomes who we are, fully human, in order to die for us and destroy the death and alienation that our excessive wickedness brought into the world. At the same time, Jesus must be fully God, God the creator, through whom all things were made, in order to bring such a magnificent salvation to completion. If Jesus is not the Creator God, one with God the Father, then his death has no power to save and recreate humanity and the world. Jesus is God and human, and he unites humanity to God the Father through his death and resurrection. Note that the Father accepts the Son’s death because he loves humanity and wants to see them freed from death and slavery to sin.

In this passage, Athanasius presents a summary of the order and economy of salvation. But what is the end goal of Salvation, according to Athanasius? Towards the end of his book, he gives a short and famous summary of why the Son became incarnate, died, and was rose again for humanity.

“For he was incarnate that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body that we might receive an idea of the invisible Father; and he endured the insults of human beings, that we might inherit incorruptibility” (On the Incarnation, sec 54).

God became human that we might be made God; not identical with God, but that we might be united to God in Christ Jesus. The end goal of salvation is Communion with God. The content of this communion is knowing God and receiving eternal life. Or as Jesus said in John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus saved humanity from death and ignorance give them what they were created for: Life with God.

When it comes to sharing and living the gospel in the 21st century, not many people feel the guilt of sin; but we all feel the weight of death and meaninglessness. Athanasius’s emphasis on the infinite love of the triune God, salvation from death in Christ, and the revelation of who God is, who we are, and what we were made for, answers this weight by showing us that we are saved from death for a loving relationship with our creator and savior. We were created for intimate friendship with the God of the universe, and this God made the way for us to have that friendship: Jesus Christ.

John Calvin on Union with Christ

 
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As I continue to research the doctrine of Union with Christ and other topics, I want to post significant or insightful quotes and offer some reflection on them.

Have you ever struggled with the feeling that all that stuff that Jesus did in his life is great, and sometimes you can sense that it means something to you, but it feels kind of cold and distance? Growing up in the Church I thought that a lot. Jesus died for me, 2000 years ago, but it didn’t get into my inner life, it didn’t sink down into my mind and heart and bring real change. So I was surprised when I found that this is actually a real problem and one that the doctrine of Union with Christ, rooted in the Inseparable and joyous life of the Triune God answers. Calvin sums it up the problem and solution splendidly in the following quote.

After presenting his doctrine of the knowledge of God, creation, and redemption in Books 1-2 of Institutes of Christian Religion, Calvin turned to the Christian life in Book 3. This is how he opens this book:

“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separate from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore to share with us what he has received from the Father he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called “our head” [Eph 4:15], and ‘the first-born among many brethren” [Rom 8:29]. We also, in turn, are said to be ‘engrafted into him” [Rom 11:17] and to ‘put on Christ [Gal 3:27]; for as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. It is true that we obtain this by faith. Yes since we see that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ which is offered through the gospel, reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine into the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.” The Institutes of Christian Religion III.1.1.

This is a crucial passage on union with Christ in Calvin’s writing, and we can observe several essential things about union with Christ in it.

First, there is a Trinitarian pattern to Union with Christ. To receive the love of the Father and the salvation the Son achieved on humanity’s behalf, we must be united to Jesus Christ. For this to happen, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, must dwell in us. Salvation is accomplished in Christ, and applied to the Christian, in faith, through the Holy Spirit.

Second, Union with Christ puts us back on the right track towards humanity’s end goal. The end goal of union with Christ is humanity’s incorporation into fellowship and communion with the Triune God; so that we can be friends with God as we were created to be.

Third, note that salvation is only attainable in union with Christ. There are only two positions humanity can have in relation to Christ; outside, where there is no salvation, and inside Christ through the Holy Spirit, where salvation, life, and all goodness is.

Fourth, it is through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity that we enjoy Christ and his benefits. The Holy Spirit is how Jesus Christ dwells in us and we in him. No Holy Spirit, no Union with Christ. In my growing up imagination, this was the link that was missing. I needed to see that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in me and brings me into communion with The whole Trinity. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ in my life, personally.

Finally, the benefits that the Spirit applies – often summed up with words like justification, sanctification – are all found in personal union with Christ. That is not to say that justification and sanctification are the same things, rather, these are the double grace of union with Christ. We are declared in right standing with God because we have died with Christ and risen with him – passing through the judgment of our sin in Jesus – and we are continually being made new in the image of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit – who gives us the character, virtue, and life of the perfect human: Jesus Christ.

Union with Christ is the heart of the Christian life, it is how we are made right with God, brought into communion with God, and renewed in his image.

*Forgive the irony of using an Icon of Christ while quoting John Calvin. I appreciate a lot of his theology, but I disagree with his rejection of Icons, though I respect his concern about Idolatry.

The Cruciform Mission of the Holy Spirit

It is tempting, in a world silently influenced by the philosophical idealism of Hegel, to disconnect the person and work of the Holy Spirit from the economy of salvation and from Jesus Christ himself. The idea of the Holy Spirit as the World Spirit, or the Spirit in every person, is distinctly unchristian. Often it is less noticeable than this kind of language, and used to justify progressive theological moves, “God is doing a new thing.” Though ironically, I’ve heard the same passage used in charismatic contexts in reaction to progressive movements. A natural reaction could be to order our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit to conversion and illumination of the Scriptures, two things the Spirit definitely does; avoiding all talk of prophetic gifts or otherwise. However, this would be an overreaction. The real issues at hand is an unbalanced theological apprehension of the connection between the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. I propose that the work of the Holy Spirit must be understood as making Christ’s person, life, and redemption present in us, which includes the whole spectrum of gifts expressed in the Scriptures. In other words, the Spirit blows as wind, but the wind is Christ-formed. To see this, I want to briefly examine several scripture passages that specifically use the image of wind for the Spirit, to show how the Holy Spirit’s work is intrinsically connected to Christ. In what follows I will make a few exegetical observations that suggest the warrant of my thesis, consider what the gift of the Holy Spirit means in light of its Christo-formic structure, and then consider the objection that this leads to a diminishment of the Holy Spirit’s person and work.

 

Let’s first turn to Genesis 1:1-3 where we see the Spirit, of God, or the wind/breath of God hovering over the chaotic waters. The triune God creates the world and orders it in goodness. John 1:1-3, which draws its logic from Genesis 1:1-3 says that the Word of God was with God and was God and all things were made through him. These passages read together help us see that The Spirit of God orders creation Christologically. If all things are made through him and for him and all things together in him, then the Creator Spirit does not just give new life willy-nilly, he gives it in the form and shape of the Son of God, the Word of God.

Passing over the creation of humanity, another place where we see divine wind at work is in Ezekiel 37:9-14: the valley of dry bones. In this vision, Ezekiel prophesizes to the four winds, and the breath enters an army of dry bounds resituating them. The Spirit (vs. 14) brings these bones to life, reviving the dead. This vision of the resuscitation of dead Israel turns our theological imaginations to the second Adam, Jesus Christ. He is Israel, and all of humanity, recapitulated, who the Spirit of God raised from the dead (Rom. 8:11). The resuscitation of Ezekiel 37 is fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is raised by the Spirit of Life, who is the Holy Spirit.

Our theme continues in John 3:8. This verse, I would suggest, does not imply a flighty, or unknown movement, but instead, the movement of the Spirit with a most definite telos: communion with God, which can only come about by being born again in the death and resurrection of Christ through the Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Still, the focus of life in the Spirit is its Christo-formed means and goal.

The mighty rushing wind of the Spirit at Pentecost surprised the early church, not because it was a new thing, but because of their slowness of heart and insensitivity to what the Spirit spoke of through the prophets. It took Peter proclaiming the word of Scripture to open the eyes of the Jewish people present in Jerusalem to see what the filling of the Holy Spirit meant. It was not some new thing unexpected, it was simply not seen; for it was expected by the prophet Joel and promised by Jesus. And significantly, the focus of Peter’s sermon is not the speaking in tongues or the experience of the Holy Spirit, but the fact that Jesus Christ w sent the Holy Spirit after his ascension so that his church could proclaim the gospel in word and in deed. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The receiving of the Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of salvation in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:13-14), and the way of new life in the new creation, the life in Christ (Romans 8:1-2).

Thus, the blowing of the wind metaphor must be read in light of the work of Jesus and the fulfillment of the vision of the new creation. It should not be used to justify the subjective feelings of or directions of a body of people, conservative, or liberal.

What of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are they not a new thing, something that brings new revelation and power? Perhaps it is better to speak of the Gift of the Holy Spirit; the gift of himself, which is also the gift of Christ in us. This is not to exclude the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but to properly order it to the primacy of Jesus Christ. In John, the gift of the Holy Spirit is not spoken of in terms of charismatic experience, but rather of indwelling, abiding, and sanctifying (see John 14-16). Further, the fruit of the Spirit are fruit of Christ’s life (Galatians 5:22-24) given to us in through the Spirit. Living in the Spirit means belonging to Christ in the form of his crucifixion and resurrection. In other words, the gift of the Holy Spirit is Christ whole life, and what follows is the sanctifying work of making us like Christ. The Holy Spirit is, after all, the Giver of Life, and who is life but Jesus Christ?

 

But, some may object that I am simply conflating the Holy Spirit with Jesus. Doesn’t the Holy Spirit need his own person and personality? Simply put, no, he doesn’t. This is a gross anthropomorphism and projection of human personality into the triune God. In saying this, I do not deny the unique personhood, properly understood as subsisting relation, of the third person of the Trinity. Instead, I am arguing that the Spirit’s mission is intrinsically related to the Son’s. The Spirit is sent to form the body of Christ and sanctify believers.

Will we not simply forget the Holy Spirit again if we don’t articulate particular roles for him? No, again. I would propose that church ignores the Spirit, not because he doesn’t have enough to do, but because we don’t like the nitty-gritty work he does: repentance, obedience, and profound transformation into the image of Christ. Again, conforming us to the image of Christ.

Finally, someone might ask, what about the prophetic gifts of the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t the Spirit speak to us for the upbuilding of the church, and doesn’t this entail “a new thing”? Here I say yes and no. First, The freedom of the Spirit is the freedom of cruciformity. It is true that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17), but the Lord in this sentence is Jesus Christ! (Note that the Spirit is also called Lord in this verse, affirming his distinct divinity as well). Freedom in the Spirit looks like Jesus in the Garden saying, “Not my will but yours be done” (Mar 14:36). The freedom of the Spirit is freedom from Sin, not freedom from inhibitions. Second, if you express your gift in a way that rebels against the Scriptures and the authorities over you, check yourself. All prophetic gifts must be practiced with a holy hesitancy only proper to the gift given. Further, the gift of prophecy must be submitted to a life of continual conversion and discipline. The Spirit is the Lord and giver of Life, and the life he gives is Jesus’s life, so we should practice this gift with discipline and rigor, perhaps with the same rigor of the Old Testament prophets (look at Ezekiel 1-6). Prophetic ministry is not a gift for hippy Christianity.

There are many other aspects of the Holy Spirit that I have not touched on, especially healing, and the illumination of Scripture for believers. But I will leave it there for now. In summary: The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus’s life to conform us to his image to the glory of the Father.