Round 1: Why Does God’s Indwelling Presence Matter?

I have spent the last two months posting on the grace of God provided to us through indwelling. Indwelling being that merciful commitment of the Father and Son to send the Holy Spirit to take up residence within those who trust the gospel. Indwelling is the stunning reality that God the Trinity lives within us and refuses to ever leave us. We have explored a number of texts in the New and Old Testaments that communicate this peculiar doctrine.

In this final post on the theme I want to draw together various strands and explore the important implications of this biblical truth. I want to answer the question, “so what?” What does it matter? How does it impact us? As we grasp what this truth really means for us we will find that God is communicating rich things to us and providing a wealth of spiritual resource. Since there is so much here I will break the implications into two posts.

I have chosen the language of “must” because I believe that the grace of God in such a doctrine is capturing and compelling. When we are moved we move.

  • Our understanding of the presence of God must be impacted. God’s immediate presence throughout the biblical storyline was connected to the garden, tabernacle, temple, Christ, the church, and individual believers. The new covenant signals a shift in experiencing the immediate presence of God, from external to internal, temporary to permanent. The incarnation was God’s strong way of saying, “I am with you.” Indwelling is his affirmation, “I am in you.” Could God get closer? God’s nearness is now a static reality, the Spirit is no renter. He is here to stay. We have been purchased and our name now serves a divine address. His presence is a reality from morning to night, in all our conversations, while we work, when we play, in our sin, in our joy, in our faith, in our doubt, he is always with and in us. When we grapple with the question that we all do, “where are you God?” the doctrine of indwelling needs a voice.
  • Our appreciation of the cross and resurrection must grow. The coming of the Holy Spirit was inseparable from the new covenant. The new covenant was God’s promise of transformation, forgiveness, and his permanent presence. This covenant was enacted through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gift of indwelling was purchased by the blood of Christ. Without the cross indwelling would not and could not happen. Indwelling then is another wonderful dimension of God’s love and kindness flowing from his cross. The empty tomb is no different. Only a victorious, reigning King could commission the Spirit to complete the work he began on the earth. When we worship God for the kindness of residing in us we must never forget that the cross and resurrection made this promise a reality.
  • Our worship of the Triune God must be heightened. Indwelling is not solely the work of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament indicates that he takes the lead in this work, but he is not alone. God the Father and God the Son are said to join the spirit in this new residential endeavor. This makes sense theologically when we consider the absolute unity of the Trinity while holding in tension the distinction of persons. Consider the tremendous humility of God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Not only does God humbly create us and graciously redeem us, he comes to live within us! Leaving the throne room of heaven he makes a residence of us. Consider the tremendous passion of God in his love for us, his commitment to change us, his willingness to be present with us! The doctrine of indwelling is fuel on the fire of intelligent and passionate worship. How could it be any other way?

In our next post we will conclude our focus on the indwelling of the Spirit as we explore some further implications. Let me know your thoughts….are there other important implications of this truth that you would suggest?

The Majesty of Divine Selflessness

Sometimes, outrageous biblical truths become commonplace to us. God is constant in his kindness to bring these familiar truths alive to us again and again as we read the sacred script. Old truth becomes fresh truth as the he opens our eyes “to behold wonderful things from the word” (Ps. 119:18).

These are things that have always been there, things we have read many times. He awakens us to truth we know, but don’t know. This has been my experience this last month with one particular truth: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

There is a strange glory that surrounds the person of the Holy Spirit, a humble splendor. Graham Cole has said that the person and work of the Spirit is a window into “the majesty of divine selflessness.”

His posture is one of tireless condescension and self-effacing service all to the glory of Father and Son. The paradox of his glory is that you can’t really see it. He is not interested in drawing attention to himself. He always works behind the scenes.

This paradox is evident in his work of breathing life into creation through the Son’s speech. The wind blows where God wills but we do not know where it comes from or what it is doing.

We see this principle at work in his empowerment of prophets, priests, and kings. It is unclear to most where Samson gets his strength, where prophets get their words, and where kings get their wisdom.

The paradox is strong in the Spirit’s role as the helper of Christ. He miraculously brings about the birth of the God-man. He fills, empowers, and guides the Son throughout his life and ministry. He upholds the Son on the cross enabling him to offer a perfect sacrifice to the Father. He raises Jesus from the grave and secures his victory over death.

The humble work of the Spirit continues on in his work in our lives…the mind boggling reality of his gracious indwelling. In the next few posts we will explore this great theme.

The Holy Spirit’s Role at the Cross

Atonement theology largely centers on God the Father and God the Son. When we talk about the cross we are most often discussing the roles of Father and Son in that great work. But what about the Holy Spirit? Where was he on that fateful day? Did he play a role in the sacrifice of Christ?

There is one explicit text in the New Testament that touches this question. It comes from Hebrews 9:14. I have quoted this verse in its larger context (Hebrews 9:11-14).

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit (δια πνεύματος αιωνίου) offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

The Son offers himself as a sacrifice to the Father through the Spirit. In other words, the Spirit played a vital role in the cross-work of the Son. He empowered, enabled, and upheld the Son on the tree in order to accomplish redemption. The following quotations are taken from a number of commentaries on the this verse from Hebrews.

P.T. O’Brien

“The precise meaning of the unusual phrase through the eternal Spirit, by which Jesus offered himself to God, is difficult to determine. It has been taken to refer to: a) Jesus’ own spirit, as designating his inner disposition in offering himself for sinners, b) the divinity of Christ; and c) the Holy Spirit. On balance, we prefer (c), a reference to the Holy Spirit. Apart from 4:12, the preceding references in Hebrews to ‘spirit’ in the singular have been to the ‘Holy Spirit.’ The listeners, then, could be expected to identify the eternal Spirit with the Holy Spirit (3:7; 6:4; 9:8; see 10:15, 29). The adjective eternal suggests an eschatological dimension to the Spirit’s activity, linking the expression with the eternal redemption he has obtained for us (v.12)…The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus as high priest for every aspect of his ministry, including his sacrificial death.”

 John Johnson

“Here the Holy Spirit is seen as continuing His empowering work that had been carried out throughout Jesus‘ ministry, even up to Christ‘s death. This must be seen as a mission of the Holy Spirit, that is, to empower Christ, as He does all believers, yet on the scale of par excellence.”

“Jüngel sees the Holy Spirit at the Cross as the bond of love that holds the Trinity together. At such a crucial time, when the unity of the Godhead is most at jeopardy because of the necessary abandonment, the Spirit becomes the link, the glue that preserves the blessed unity of the Trinity. With Moltmann, one finds that the Spirit is the link, but he gives more focus to the communion of the wills as pointing to the Divine Unity at the Cross. Also, the Spirit for Moltmann plays a vital role in the action of bringing all Godforsakenness into the divine being and transforming it.”

“If Jesus was empowered throughout His ministry from baptism through the healings, teaching, andraising others from the dead, then surely the Holy Spirit contributed more in the ministry of the Cross than simply being glue. Rather, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit living within Jesus, and in complete unity, perhaps Christ would have succumbed to pushing the cup aside. In all Three Persons, the total self-giving is so evident that, in this case, the Holy Spirit gives of himself fully to the Son in order to strengthen Him for what lays ahead—the Cross. Thus, while the Spirit may be the bond of love between the Father, Son, and Spirit at the Cross, He also became the empowering Presence within Jesus that enables His humanity to endure the cup of suffering and triumph faithfully.”

D.A. Carson

“How different the sacrifice of Jesus Christ! He ‘through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God’—that is, not ‘by the Holy Spirit,’ but “through [his own] eternal Spirit,’ an act of will, a supreme act of voluntary sacrifice, the Son acquiescing to the Father’s plan.

“More persuasive is the suggestion that πνεύματος αιωνίου reflects an allusion to the Isaianic servant; Christ, when empowered by the (eternal) spirit, is able to complete his work sacrificial work effectively…Likewise, the Spirit that made the Christ sacrifice efficacious once for all is the same spirit that makes the new covenant evidential and efficacious for its recipients.”

David Allen

“He now clearly shows how Christ’s death is to be estimated, not by the external act, but by the power of the Spirit. For Christ suffered as man; but that death becomes saving to us through the efficacious power of the Spirit; for a sacrifice, which was to be an eternal expiation, was a work more than human. And he calls the Spirit eternal for this reason, that we may know that the reconciliation, of which he is the worker or effecter, is eternal.”

“In any event, 9:14 is remarkable, because it is the only verse in the NT that affirms the Spirit’s involvement in the atonement. Some scholars who read δια πνεύματος αιωνίου as a reference to the Holy Spirit have seen an allusion to the Isaianic servant of Yahweh theme in the language of 9:14.”

“Bruce affords the most eloquent defense of this view: Behind our author’s thinking lies the portrayal of the Isaianic Servant of the Lord, who yields up his life to God as a guilt offering for many, bearing their sin and procuring their justification. When this Servant is introduced for the first time, God says: ‘I have put my Spirit upon him’ (Isa 42:1).29 It is in the power of the Divine Spirit, accordingly, that the Servant… accepts death for the transgression of his people, filling the twofold role of priest and victim, as Christ does in this epistle.”

“Once we acknowledge ‘through eternal Spirit’ to be a reference to the Spirit of God, it is difficult to deny our text’s conveying some no­tion of a divine empowerment for Christ’s critical self-sacrifice…the three passages that mention the Spirit in connection with the Servant (Isa 11:2; 42:1; 61:1) do in fact affirm that the Spirit functions as a source of empowerment for the Servant.”

“Both in Isa 11:1-5 and in 42:1-4 the prophet develops an imagery of a coming savior figure that will inaugurate an era of blessing. Again, both texts affirm that he will establish peace and justice in the land/earth, that he will (successfully) plead the case of the under­ privileged of the people and judge the ‘wicked’ (see 11:3-4; 42:3-4). In regard to the man’s equipment for this lofty task, both passages foretell his being aided by the Spirit (11:2; 42:1, 4).”

“Δια πνεύματος αιωνίου thus indicates the Holy Spirit sustained the high priest (here: Christ entering εις τα άγια, 9:12) in the execution of his most critical cultic appointment. The Spirit is called ‘eternal Spirit’ to bring out the (extraordinary) eschatological significance of the Spirit’s assis­tance in Christ’s once-for-all priestly action επί συντέλεια των αιώνων.”

John Piper

“Verse 14 says that the whole Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—were involved. ‘Through the eternal Spirit [the Holy Spirit] he offered himself [the Son] without blemish to God [the Father].’ The result is that all the sins of his people in the Old Covenant were covered by the blood of Jesus. The animal sacrifices foreshadowed the final sacrifice of God’s Son, and the death of the Son reaches back to cover all the sins of God’s people in the old time period, and forward to cover all the sins of God’s people in the new time period.”

The Father’s Humility at the Cross

The cross is the pinnacle of humility (Phil 2:5-11). We know that event displays the heart and character of Christ, but what about the Father? Is there humility displayed in his role in Calvary? I believe so.

The Father’s Humility at the Cross

When we discuss the Trinity and the cross we must tread lightly. All too often the three persons are polarized and misrepresented. Caricatures of a stern distant father and an unwilling Son abound. The truth, the Triune God suffers at the cross. All three persons experience suffering. All three persons demonstrate sacrifice and humility.

Jurgen Moltmann captures the unique suffering and humility of the Father in the cross of his Son.

“The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of his Son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. The Fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the Sonlessness of the Father, and if God has constituted himself as the Father of Jesus Christ, then he also suffers the death of his Fatherhood in the death of the Son.”

A rarely explored dimension of the cross, this perspective opens a window into the humility of God the Father. In the giving of his beloved Son the Father is saying, “I am meek and humble in heart.” Humility is outward looking self-sacrificial love. If the Father’s gift of Christ is not an expression of humility, I don’t know what is.

I will end this post with a great quote by Jurgen Schulz. I believe he is correct in his assessment of the centrality of the cross in displaying the heart of God. Though he doesn’t use the language of humility he is touching the concept.

“The Triune God who lives in the Eternal Dance of glory, goodness and grace. The God of Calvary love. The God Christ came to reveal.There is one way of knowing what He is really like—look at Jesus. Look at the cross. Only the Son knows the Father, and those to whom the Son makes Him known.He is a God who lays down his life for others. That is what actually goes on inside the Trinity! Self-sacrificing love. One author described Him as a Supreme Being of ‘fathomless unselfishness.’ The cross was not an accident. It is what this Triune Community is all about. It is what the Bible means when it says, “God is love.” What an amazing Deity He turns out to be!”

Luther: Meditating on the Cross

Luther loved to preach on the benefits of the sacrifice of Christ. If you read through his sermons you will quickly find that he consistently pressed the gospel into the hearts of his hearers. In a sermon on the cross he states this about the value of meditating on the work of Christ.

“Whoever meditates thus upon God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yea, for a quarter of an hour, we wish to say freely and publicly, that it is better than if he fasts a whole year, prays the Psalter every day, yea, than if he hears a hundred masses. For such a meditation changes a man’s character and almost as in baptism he is born again, anew. Then Christ’s suffering accomplishes its true, natural and noble work, it slays the old Adam, banishes all lust, pleasure and security that one may obtain from God’s creatures; just like Christ was forsaken by all, even by God.”

Luther goes on to explain that the act of meditating and grasping the implications of the cross are divine gifts. It is by grace that we understand grace, according to Luther.

“It is impossible for us profoundly to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ of ourselves, unless God sink them into our hearts. Further, neither this meditation nor any other doctrine is given to you to the end that you should fall fresh upon it of yourself, to accomplish the same; but you are first to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God’s grace and not through your own power.”

In Luther’s view, meditation must lead to application. We must take the truths of Christ’s cross and impress them into our souls. We must rest our faith upon the promises of God. In this sermon, Luther calls his listeners to connect their faith to the explicit promises of forgiveness and justification.

“Cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Isaiah 53:6 says: ‘the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;’ and St. Peter in his first Epistle (1 Peter 2:24): ‘He bore our sins in his body upon the tree’ of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21: ‘Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’ Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight.”

The more I read Luther the more I appreciate his ability to probe the depths of the cross-work of God and bring his hearers along with him.

Augustine on the Humility of God

Of the early fathers, Augustine was the premier theologian of humility. Deborah Ruddy wrote a great article on Saint Augustine’s understanding of The Humble God.

She says this about Augustine and humility: “While many of the early Church Fathers spoke of humility as the Christian virtue, no one was more insistent about its primacy in the Christian life than St. Augustine, whose views bear directly on the needs of the American Church at this time. By relating humility to almost every aspect of his theology, Augustine deeply influenced the understanding of Christian humility in the Western Church.”

The following are some helpful excerpts from this article that capture some of the key components of humility in the theology of Augustine. All of the quotations are directly from Augustine.

What is so singular about Augustine’s teaching on humility is that he so clearly views Christ’s humility as more than a moral example to be imitated; it is the central way that our reconciliation with God occurs. Christ’s humility is both salvific and exemplary. It is the way and the truth. Augustine’s distinctive contribution to the topic of humility, then, is his direct linking of humility to soteriology…

On every side the humility of the good master is being assiduously impressed upon us, seeing that our very salvation in Christ consists in the humility of Christ. There would have been no salvation for us, after all, if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes…Christ’s humility is a “saving humility.”

Without losing what God is, God becomes what God is not. In Jesus Christ, a new kind of sublimity is introduced, a new way of seeing is discovered—lowliness is inseparable from grandeur; humility is inextricably tied to exaltation…

The humbling of the Word simultaneously reveals the desperate state of humanity and the immense worth of humanity. God’s extravagant self-emptying love revealed in the Incarnation highlights, by contrast, the possessiveness of human love…

In describing Christ’s redemptive work as more curative than juridical, Augustine draws on medical images of “cleansing,” “purifying,” and “healing.” As the medicus humilis, Christ heals our particular infirmity and makes possible our return to God. If human beings had suffered from a different ailment, a different medicine would have been prescribed to counteract the symptoms; humility is the remedy because pride is the sickness…

At the heart of Augustine’s understanding of Christ’s mediation is the joining of humanity to the divinity in Christ’s person: “He has appeared as Mediator between God and men, in such ways as to join both natures in the unity of one Person, and has both raised the commonplace to the heights of the uncommon and brought down the uncommon to the commonplace…”

Augustine describes the wood of the cross as the culmination of the humble pathway to God. The humility of the cross is that which actually moves one to God. In joining their suffering to his, the humble find a direct route to communion with God: “But what good does it do a man who is so proud that he is ashamed to climb aboard the wood, what good does it do him to gaze from afar on the home country across the sea? And what harm does it do a humble man if he cannot see it from such a distance, but is coming to it nonetheless on the wood the other disdains to be carried by.

“To cling to the wood of the cross is to surrender to the movement of God, to travel willingly the road of humiliation prefigured for us in the violent rejection of Christ.” Drawing from St. Paul, Augustine preaches, “Let your faith board the wood of the cross. You won’t be drowned, but borne up by the wood instead. That, yes, that is the way in which the multitudinous seas of this world were navigated by the one who said, But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Through his likeness to humanity, Christ joins his humanity to ours, and in this similarity and solidarity “the dissimilarity of our iniquity” is overcome: “The sinner did not match the just, but man did match man. So he applied to us the similarity of his humanity to take away the dissimilarity of our iniquity, and becoming a partaker of our mortality he made us partakers of his divinity.” In this description of an exchange Christology, the humility of Christ carries the promise of our redemption, for through it, the eternal God descends to our mortality in order to invite our ascent to immortality…

The cross, then, is not merely an instrument to salvation; it is the precise way God chose to reveal himself and establish our own return to God…

The foundation of this salvific pattern is humility: “For from death comes resurrection, from resurrection ascension, from ascension the sitting at the Father’s right hand; therefore the whole process began in death, and the glorious splendor had its source in humility…”

I encourage you to click the article link at the top and read the entire thing. I found it helpful and challenging. I believe that a robust view of humility as it relates to the character of God is much needed in our theology. What are your thoughts? Where does humility fit into your view of God?

The Gospel and Humor

What does the gospel have to do with humor. Tim Keller gives an insightful answer to this question in an article titled: The Gospel and Humor. Here is a portion of this article.

“Does the gospel have an effect on our sense of humor?” The answer has to be yes—but why and how? Your humor has a lot to do with how you regard yourself. Many people use humor to put down others, keep themselves in the driver’s seat in a conversation and setting, and remind the listeners of their superior vantage point. They use humor not to defuse tension and put people at ease, but to deliberately belittle the opposing view. Rather than showing respect and doing the hard work of true disagreement, they mock others’ points of view and dismiss them without actually engaging the argument.

Ultimately, sarcastic put-down humor is self-righteous —a form of self-justification— and that is what the gospel demolishes. When we grasp that we are un- worthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others. This is also true of self-directed ridicule. Some people constantly and bitterly mock themselves. At first it looks like a form of humility, or realism, but really it is just as self-absorbed as the other version. It is a sign of an inner discomfort with one’s self, a profound spiritual restlessness.

There is another kind of self-righteousness, however, that produces a person with little or no sense of humor. Moralistic persons often have no sense of irony, be- cause they take themselves too seriously or because they are too self-conscious and self-absorbed in their own struggles to be habitually joyful.

The gospel, however, creates a gentle sense of irony. Our doctrine of sin keeps us from being over-awed by anyone (especially ourselves) or shocked by any behavior. We find a lot to laugh at, starting with our own weaknesses. They don’t threaten us anymore, because our ultimate worth is not based on our record or performance. Our doctrine of grace and redemption also keeps us from seeing any situation as hopeless. This “ground note” of joy and peace makes humor spontaneous and natural.

In gospel-shaped humor, we don’t only poke fun at ourselves. We also can gently poke fun at others, espe- cially our friends, but it is always humor that takes the other seriously and ultimately builds them up as a show of affection. We are not to be “perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously— no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

So how do we get such a sense of humor? That’s the wrong question. The gospel doesn’t change us in a mechanical way. To give the gospel primacy in our lives is not always to logically infer a series of principles from it that we then “apply” to our lives. Recently I heard a sociologist say that, for the most part, the frameworks of meaning by which we navigate our lives are so deeply embedded in us that they operate “pre-reflectively.” They don’t exist only as a list of propositions and formulations, but also as themes, motives, attitudes, and values that are as affective and emotional as they are cognitive and intellectual. When we listen to the gospel preached, or meditate on it in the Scripture, we are driving it so deeply into our hearts, imaginations, and thinking that we begin to “live out” the gospel instinctively.