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Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God

Greetings All,

     This "thought" comes from a man to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude. He is one of my former professors at Gordon-Conwell and his "Life of Jesus" class still ranks as one of the best and most inspiring courses I've ever taken.
     To this day I still remember when he shared the anti-intellectual paradigm used in the Pentecostal church he was raised in: "I'd rather be a heart on fire (for God) than a mind on ice."  Yet as one who desired to pursue a PHd in biblical studies he had come to believe there was third alternative. That it was indeed possible to be, "A mind on fire for God," since we are called to love God "with all our mind."
     His booklet "The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel," (a mere 20-25 page booklet which critiques the obvious flaws of that movement) is well worth the read, and also had a formative effect on my theology.  Thus, this thought is in honor of him, Dr. Gordon Fee, and comes from his book, "Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God."  Enjoy!
     "Despite the affirmations in our creeds and hymns and the lip service paid to the Spirit in our occasional conversations, the Spirit has been marginalized both in the halls of learning and in the life of the church as a community of faith.
     I do not mean that the Holy Spirit is not present; he is indeed, or we are not of Christ at all. But the primary emphasis regarding the Spirit's activity has been on his quiescence [stillness, quietness], based largely on imagery drawn from Elijah's encounter with God on Sinai, where the Lord was not in the wind, earthquake, and fire, but came to Elijah "in a still small voice" (I Kings 19:11-13).  Support for this view is then found in the New Testament by emphasizing Paul's "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23), while suggesting that the "gifts of the Spirit" in I Corinthians 12-14 were for the apostolic period only.
     Quiescence, however, has sometimes fostered anemia, not only in the church corporately, but also at the individual level, evidenced in part by the myriad of ways individual believers have longed for a greater sense of God's presence in their lives.
     This common "missing out" on the Spirit as an experienced, empowering reality has frequently been "corrected" historically through a variety of Spirit movements -- most recently in this century in the form of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.  Emphasis there has been on the "wind, earthquake and fire," and the primary texts are from Acts and I Corinthians 12-14.
       These Spirit movements have also tended to emphasize individualistic spirituality, so that the reality of the Spirit is sometimes merely experienced in the experience. Such piety frequently lacked sound biblical and exegetical basis or betrayed inadequate theological reflection.
   The net result has tended toward a truncated view of the Spirit on both sides, accompanied by an inadequate view of the role of the Spirit in Paul's understanding of things Christian. For Paul life in the Spirit meant embracing both fruit and gifts simultaneously -- what I have come to call life in the radical middle. The Spirit as an experienced and empowering reality was for Paul and his churches the key player in all of Christian life, from beginning to end. The Spirit covered the whole waterfront: power for life, growth, fruit, gifts, prayer, witness, and everything else.
   But if the empowering, experienced dimension of life in the Spirit is often missed on the one side, too often missing on both sides are two further matters that, for Paul, lie at the very heart of faith.  First, the Spirit as person, the promised return of God's own personal presence with his people; and second, the Spirit as eschatological fulfillment, who both reconstitutes God's people anew and empowers us to live the life of the future in our between-the-times existence -- between the time of Christ's first and second coming.
     If the church is going to be effective in our postmodern world, we need to stop paying mere lip service to the Spirit and to recapture Paul's perspective: The Spirit as the experienced, empowering return of God's own personal presence in and among us, who enables us to live as a radically eschatological people in the present world while we await the consummation (of the Kingdom). All the rest, including the fruit and gifts (that is, ethical life and charismatic utterances in worship) serve to that end." 

     For those who do not know what the word "eschatological" means, it essentially means "having to do with time." As believers in Jesus we are experiencing in the PRESENT, a degree of the blessings we will experience in full in FUTURE, when Jesus returns to consummate the kingdom He inaugurated at His first coming.
     Through Jesus and the Gospel, God is giving us a "foretaste" of the some of the blessings of the eternal state. In Christ, and through the influences of the Holy Spirit, God has already brought some of those FUTURE blessings (justification, healing, pardon, joy, eternal life...) into the PRESENT.
        Picture God sending the Spirit into the future age, where he takes an "armful" of the blessings promised to the saved in eternity, and brings some of those blessings (not all) back into the now, and lets us experience a taste of them in the present.
     That (though inadequate to fully explain it!) gives you an idea of what the concept "eschatological" (having to do with time) means in relation to the kingdom, the Spirit, and the Christian faith.
     And obviously, if we are to walk in step with the Spirit and emphasize His part in God's glorious work of redemption, just as the apostles did, we need to do as Fee suggests and,  "recapture Paul's perspective: The Spirit as the experienced, empowering return of God's own personal presence in and among us, who enables us to live as a radically eschatological people in the present world while we await the consummation (of the Kingdom)."
Hoping this will simply perk your interest to look at the two books mentioned above!  Pastor Jeff