One of the major contributions the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have made to the wider church has been to draw attention to the Holy Spirit as an active participant in the life of the Church and therefore in the life of believers. Among Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians, there is an expectation that the Spirit will be present, and that this presence will be demonstrated in manifestations of divine power.
Reading among pastoral theologians from the wider Christian Church, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is another area of the Spirit’s work on which it would be helpful to focus? My thinking was particularly stimulated by writers from among some of the Eastern Orthodox churches. These churches have a tradition of focusing on the work of the spirit and experiencing physical manifestations of his presence. In many ways, their emphases echo elements of Pentecostals and Charismatics. However, their emphasis lies more on the role of the Spirit in the transformation of believers.
A journey deeper with God is undertaken with a spiritual guide. The expected outcome of this journey is that the believer’s encounter with God’s holiness will lead to transformation in the life of the believer. Specifically, it will lead to a transformation whereby the believer becomes more like God.
We might reflect on passages like John 17 or Galatians 5 with this in mind. In John 17, Jesus is about to be betrayed and crucified. He takes time to pray for the disciples, and for those of us who will believe in future. An important part of this prayer is that he asks that we, his people, might demonstrate love and unity, as this will reflect the nature of God, as it will echo the unity of the relationship between the Son and the Father. In Galatians 5, Paul answers the question he raises earlier in his letter, asking the believers there, “What will you do with the freedom you have in Christ?” He presents two options; believers can choose to follow the ways of their fallen human natures (the flesh) or those of the Spirit. He describes the outworking of the choice of following the Spirit using the image of fruit in our lives. Many will recognise his “Fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
What might be the benefit of this additional focus on the work of the Holy Spirit? John 17 provides some very good reasons. The first relates to us as believers. In John 17:13 Jesus says that this is “so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (NIV). It’s one of the interesting reversals we find in Scripture. When we decide to be other-focused, to love others, to love our neighbour as ourselves, we benefit. I wouldn’t make this a reason for loving others, but it’s nice to know that this is a side-effect.
A second reason Jesus provides is found in verse 21, “that the world may believe that you have sent me”. When we reflect the nature of God, when we love others and display unity among ourselves, we will draw others toward God. This touches on the mission of God’s people. The Israelites were chosen as a people and given instructions on how to live so that they might display something of the nature of God to the people around them. Peter connects these ideas from Israel’s mission to the mission of the church when he quotes from Deuteronomy, and other passages, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet 2:9, NIV)
So let us continue to focus on the Holy Spirit. Let us expect God the Spirit to be intimately involved in our lives. However, let’s ensure that our focus is wide enough to include this helpful perspective from the Eastern Orthodox part of our Christian family. Let’s expand our focus to include the Spirit’s work in making us to be more like Christ. To paraphrase what Paul says, let us continue to be transformed into God’s image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)
About the author
Nigel is the Doctor Of Ministry Program Director at Alphacrucis College.