I was recently having a conversation with someone when the topic turned toward the Holy Spirit. This person was asking if I knew of any good resources or teaching on the Holy Spirit and other “spiritual” stuff like spiritual gifts. I couldn’t really think of anything off the top of my head and I realized that I haven’t probably spent enough time myself really studying the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying there isn’t good material out there about the Holy Spirit, i know Gordon Fee has written a few books on the topic and I have great respect for him, it’s just that I haven’t really spent a lot of time on the subject, which is an indictment against myself.
I think one problem that I have often found when hearing people talk about the Spirit is that we often want to jump right to some of the more flashy parts of the work of the Spirit, like speaking in tongues, without first really understanding the significance of Jesus sending the Holy Spirit. This is not a problem that is unique to us, the church in Corinth and Colossae both had to be corrected by Paul because of this issue. So then why did God send us his Spirit?
While there are a number of reason why God sends his Spirit I want to just look at one reason which I think acts as the foundation for the work of the Spirit in the life of God’s people. For us to understand this foundation we have to go, like most things, into the Old Testament and build from there. In Deuteronomy 28-29 God tells Israel that if they obey him and keep his commandments then blessings will be given to them. However, if they ignore him and don’t keep his commandments then curses will come upon them. Then in chapter 30 God says that after they have experienced both the blessings and the curses they will reflect upon everything and come back to God. When they do this God will restore them and bless them more than before. These chapters will become the main teaching of a lot of the prophets. The prophets will foretell judgment and exile for Israel because they have abandoned God and they will keep referring back to these chapters. The prophets will also promise a restoration and which also points back to Deuteronomy.
So what does this have to do with the Holy Spirit? Well, as we move to the prophets we can see a bigger picture of what these restoration promises look like. There are a number of places in the prophets that we could turn to but I think one of the main ones is in Ezekiel 37. This story is one that may be familiar to many but I don’t know how much we have flushed out the implications that this chapter has for us. Ezekiel 37 is the chapter about Ezekiel of the valley of dry bones. In the story God takes Ezekiel out to a valley that is filled with bones that have all been dried out. God then tells Ezekiel to speak over the bones and he commands them to come to life which they do. However it says that although their bodies are formed back together there is no breath in them. In both Hebrew and in Greek the word for breath is also the same word for spirit. So these bones although physically put back together they have no breath or spirit within them. God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy for breath to come into them which he does and then the bodies become alive as the breath or spirit enters them.
God then goes on in verse 11 saying that these bones are the whole house of Israel. God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy that God will raise them up from their graves, bring them back to the land and that God will put his Spirit in them so that they will become alive. Out of this promise to Israel came the expectation for Israel that there will be a new age where God will once again reign over all the earth, when the curse of Genesis 3 will be finally dealt with and the evidence of this will be resurrection and the giving of God’s Spirit to his people.
Now with this understanding we come to the New Testament and what do we find. We find Jesus being resurrected and then in Acts 2 the coming of God’s Spirit on his people. So what does this mean? Remember that resurrection and the sending of the Spirit are a sign of the new age of God. They represent that God’s kingdom has been established on earth and that the curse has been dealt with. So what we have in Jesus’ death is that the curses of Deuteronomy 28-29 have now been finally dealt with. Jesus has paid the price of those curses so that the promises of restoration in Deuteronomy 30 can finally begin. Now the promises haven’t been fully realized, that will be seen when everyone has been fully resurrected, but with Jesus’ resurrection we now have the establishment and the beginning of God’s kingdom on earth.
So if this is the case what then is the purpose of the Spirit? The Holy Spirit now dwells in God’s people so that we can begin to live as God’s people in this current age. We can begin to live our future lives in the present. We can now begin to live as God has always intended us to live because his Spirit lives in us leading us in the ways of God. Romans 8 is all about this. The Spirit now dwells in us so we are no longer to follow the desires that flow from our flesh but follow the leading of the Spirit who will lead us into the ways of God and the ways of life. This also becomes the foundation for Spiritual Gifts. They are gifts that flow from the Holy Spirit to help us establish and live out the future kingdom of God in the present.
One final important thing to remember about all this is that as God establishes his people it is not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of drawing people to him. Isaiah 66:18ff talks about how God will gather people from all nations and he will do this by setting a sign before them. That sign is his people declaring his glory and as they do this throughout the world people will come to God. God’s kingdom isn’t about living as rich kings and queens, rather it is about seeing all things reconciled with God (Colossians 1:20).