Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change
Three excerpts at a time from the new book by Brian G. Hedges

Friday, August 26, 2011

Excerpt 4 of 22

The Gift of the Spirit

In his resurrection and exaltation Christ did far more than return to us our humanity. Even as the Son of Man departed from the earth, he sent us his Spirit. “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:32-33). This was a pivotal event, unprecedented in the history of God’s saving deeds. As Peter points out, it was also the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that God would pour his Spirit out in the “last days” (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21). 
True, the Spirit of God was active before the coming of Christ. Scripture speaks of the Spirit’s involvement in both creation (Gen. 1:2) and redemption (Isa. 63:7-14). From Peter and Paul, we know that the Spirit was also the agent of God’s self-revelation through Scripture (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:14-17). But it is especially in the life and ministry of Jesus that we make our acquaintance with the Holy Spirit. “In the coming of Jesus, the Day of the Spirit had finally dawned.” [i]

The Spirit of the Son 

The Holy Spirit was intimately connected with Jesus throughout his entire life. Prior to Jesus’ virginal conception an angel said to Mary, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35; cf. Matt. 1:18, 20). When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the Father anointed him with the Spirit (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). Then Jesus was immediately driven into the wilderness by the Spirit for a season of testing (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1). Luke says that Jesus was “full of the Spirit” when this happened; he afterward returned to Galilee in “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

In Jesus’ first sermon, he claimed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of a Spirit-anointed ministry of redemption and restoration to Israel (Luke 4:16-21). Peter’s summary of Christ’s ministry describes “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). When skeptical religious leaders accused him of casting out demons by satanic power, Jesus said, “if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).

In his death, Jesus offered himself as an atoning sacrifice through the Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14). Paul tells us that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). After Jesus’ resurrection he breathed on his disciples, saying “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Then followed Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on the church, as the Spirit of Christ.

The New Age of the Spirit  

The exaltation of Christ inaugurated the new age of the Spirit. Jesus, the quintessential Spirit-filled one, the Last Adam, has lived and died in our place. He is now exalted in glorified humanity. In this exalted position, the Spirit so identifies with the risen Lord Jesus that Paul speaks of Christ as “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45) and the “Lord of the Spirit” [ii] (2 Cor. 3:18).

As Sinclair Ferguson writes,

From womb to tomb to throne, the Spirit was the constant companion of the Son. As a result, when he comes to Christians to indwell them, he comes as the Spirit of Christ in such a way that to possess him is to possess Christ himself, just as to lack him is to lack Christ. [iii]

This is important for us to grasp because the Spirit, as given by our exalted Lord, is the agent who personally effects our transformation.

When we embrace Christ revealed in the gospel, he gives us his Spirit. The Holy Spirit remakes us after Christ’s likeness, changing us by the sight of his glory into his very image (2 Cor. 3:18). We are dependent on the Spirit for every inch of progress in our pursuit of holiness and transformation. As Calvin wrote,

It is the Spirit that inflames our hearts with the fire of ardent love for God and for our neighbor. Every day he mortifies and every day consumes more and more of the vices of our evil desire or greed, so that, if there are some good deeds in us, these are the fruits and the virtues of his grace; and without the Spirit there is in us nothing but darkness of understanding and perversity of heart. [iv]
This is the life-giving ministry of the Spirit in the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:4-4:6). Writing with rich biblical insight of how “the Spirit’s task is to restore glory to a fallen creation,” Ferguson continues:

As Calvin well says, this world was made a theatre for God’s glory. Throughout it he displays visibly the perfections of his invisible nature. Particularly in man and woman, his image, that glory was to be reflected. But they refused to “glorify God (Rom. 1:21); they defiled the reflector (Rom. 1:28) and fell short of his glory (Rom. 3:23). 

But now, in Christ who is “the radiance of God’s glory” (Heb. 1:2), that glory is restored. Having become flesh for us, he has now been exalted in our flesh yet in glory. The eschatological goal of creation has been consummated in him as its firstfruits. Now he sends his Spirit, the intimate companion of his entire incarnation, to recover glory in us. So it is that “we, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit [or, the Lord of the Spirit]” (2 Cor. 3:18).

The purpose for which the Spirit is given is, therefore, nothing less than the reproduction of the image of God, that is transformation into the likeness of Christ who is himself the image of God. To receive the Spirit is to be inaugurated into the effects of this ongoing ministry. [v]

[i] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996) 33.
[ii] As Ferguson explains, the last phrase of 2 Cor. 3:18, “‘from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ translates three Greek words: apo (from), kyrio (Lord, genitive case following the preposition apo) and pneumatos (Spirit, also in the genitive case). The statement is amendable to more than one interpretation: (1) ‘from the Spirit of the Lord’. (2) ‘from the Lord who is the Spirit’; (3) ‘from the Lord of the Spirit’. The third option may, at first glance, seem to be the least likely, but it is the most natural rendering and one that is highly illuminating theologically. Paul is then saying that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Spirit. There is no ontological confusion here, but an economic equivalence; nor is there an ontological subordinationism, but rather a complete intimacy of relationship between Jesus and the Spirit. In effect, Paul is teaching that through his life and ministry Jesus came into such complete possession of the Spirit, receiving and experiencing him ‘without limit’ (Jn. 3:34), that he is now ‘Lord’ of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). With respect to his economic ministry to us, the Spirit has been ‘imprinted’ with the character of Jesus.” Ibid., 55.
[iii] Ibid., 37.
[iv] John Calvin, Instruction in Faith (1537), Paul T. Fuhrmann, trans., (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1977) 52.
[v] Ferguson, 91-92.