Spirit, Old and New

Spirit, Old and New April 16, 2018

Proper time moves through redemptive history: The Father sends the Son to be incarnate at Advent and Christmas; the Son lives, dies, rises again, and ascends; and He gives the Spirit at Pentecost. The Church calendar climaxes with Pentecost, before moving into the “off-season” of Trinity.

The church calendar is theologically instructive, showing that our salvation is completed only when the Spirit is sent from the Son who was sent by the Father.

What if we concluded proper time with Good Friday? There would be no resurrection, and we would still be in our sins. What if we ended it with Easter? Jesus would not be exalted as King. What if we ended with Ascension? Jesus would have accomplished everything, but He would not have delivered it to us. Pentecost is absolutely necessary, as necessary to our salvation as the Cross and Resurrection of the Son.

Pentecost means the coming of the Spirit and the Spirit is the connection we have with Jesus. If He had accomplished everything the Father gave Him to do, but not delivered the Spirit, we would have no share in it. If the Spirit is not given, we are still in our sins. If the Spirit is not given, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Our coming to share in Christ is as much God’s work as the work of Christ. From beginning to end, salvation is His work and not ours. The Father sends the Son, who lives and dies and rises again; and this all becomes ours because the Spirit becomes ours.

God doesn’t leave the messy business of dying and rising to a lesser figure; and He doesn’t leave the messy business of incorporating us into the death and resurrection of his Son to a subordinate either. He does the work Himself. God the Spirit gets into the grit of saving a fallen world just as much as God the Son.

In the Nicene Creed, we confess that the Spirit is fully and equally God with the Father and Son. This is already evident in the first statement about the Spirit, that He is the “Lord and Giver of life.” God is the God of life, and the Spirit is specifically said to be the agent of life.

The Spirit gives life in every sense. Physical life exists because the Spirit-breath of the Creator breathed on dust. We are Spirit-animated dirt. The new life we have in the law Adam is the gift of the Spirit. The life of the resurrection will be life in Spiritual bodies, bodies conformed to and filled to the brim with the Spirit.

Theologians sometime contrast the work of the Spirit in the old and new covenants. We should rather stress the continuity of the Spirit’s work. It’s not that the Spirit’s work was physical-political and is now spiritual-religious. The discontinuity is that the Spirit comes now as the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, but He comes to accomplish the same work.

Work like the work of creation. The Spirit’s first appearance is in Genesis 1:2, where He hovers over the formless and void and before long transforms the formless and void earth into a formed and filled heaven-and-earth. The Spirit fills a world of darkness to light, brings a formless world to perfected form, fills an empty world with myriads of creatures. The Spirit brings the world to maturity and order.

The Spirit does just this in the new covenant. The Spirit work to bring us and the creation back into order, and to propel us on to maturity, to final perfected glory. The Spirit is the Alpha Spirit, also the Spirit who bears the creation to Omega.

In Isaiah 32 and Ezekiel 36, the Spirit restores a disordered and infertile creation. The Spirit turns the desert into a garden. He is the water that flows from the Father and Son to renew the land. This is part of the background for Paul’s description of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Saying that the Spirit produces “fruit” reaches back to creation and Eden; because she is filled with the Spirit, the church is the new Eden, full of the fruit produced by the Spirit.

Creativity is also the theme in Exodus 28:3 and 31:3. The Spirit who created and ordered the world gives Bezalel and Oholiab skill to make furnishings for the tabernacle. Creativity in the Creator Spirit doesn’t mean wrenching creation to a new path, but bringing the creation to its destined glory. Through the Spirit, we become new Adams in the Last Adam, creative agents of new creation.

In the Old Testament, the Spirit is the militant Spirit. Judges and kings were equipped by the Spirit to make war (Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6, 19; 15:14). The Spirit incites a holy battle-rage in the saints. Likewise, Jesus receives the Spirit and immediately goes to battle Satan in the wilderness. The apostles receive the Spirit and become militant preachers of the gospel. We are all equipped by the Spirit with spiritual gifts (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12) for the edification of the church, and that too is a form of warfare: We edify the church in order to battle principalities and powers, spiritual powers of wickedness in heavenly places.

Our pneumatology as much as our Christology has to take account of the whole of Scripture. Our pneumatology, like our Christology, has to be typological.


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