More than piety: Everyday work and the Holy Spirit
Jesus said something quite puzzling: “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit,” (John 3:7-8).
It’s difficult to grasp this third person of God and there are many misconceptions regarding who the Holy Spirit is and how his work is manifested in and among us. Even the Nicene Creed — the document that expresses the time-consuming and hard work of theological debate and consensus on the nature of this Triune God — offers little to shape a theology of the Holy Spirit. And yet, it is the Holy Spirit who is the personal agent of the Triune God, responsible for bringing spiritual life to humans.
What I find puzzling about Jesus’ words to Nicodemus is not that we need the Spirit to bring life to our spirits. It’s the part about not being able to tell where the Spirit comes from or where it is going. Perhaps Jesus is reminding Nicodemus, and us, that we are not able to predict the work of the Spirit, but we are to observe and experience it.
The Holy Spirit is at work transforming people.
He empowers the innate image bearing that is the essence of being human. Image bearing is reflected through our reason, moral sense, and the abilities to be creative, to multiply, to be fruitful. Image bearing brings about the culture that forms raw creation into the more completed world that God ordained. The Spirit animates all this. He protects the common good by making us aware of the ongoing effects of the fall, using our conscience to convict us of our individual culpability in those destructive effects (Rom 2:14-15).
But God wants us to be a particular kind of image bearers. He desires us to be bearing the image of the likeness of Christ! So beyond general image bearing is the opportunity to reflect the amazing glory of Jesus. Think transfiguration glory. Think ascension glory. Paul told the Corinthians that they could expect to be transformed by the Holy Spirit in so great a degree that they would reflect God’s glory in ways that surpassed even the glory emitted from Moses’ face after he had Tabernacle encounters with Yahweh (2 Cor 3:12-18).
While the biblical themes of creation and the fall help us understand and envision universal image bearing, the themes of redemption and consummation help us understand what it means to be transformed into the very likeness of Christ. These themes help us see the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing us beyond our basic human nature. Consider the potential for “glory reflecting.” It must be amazing and infinite! It is no wonder that God himself, as the Holy Spirit, must be the agent for this process. Finite humans require the infinite God to bring them along toward the infinite. The redemption theme points us to the cross and the Spirit’s work in God’s salvation plan. The consummation theme helps us understand our role in the kingdom and how the Holy Spirit is at work bringing it about in and through us.
The redemption theme points us to how Jesus has restored our potentiality to continue the work God intended for us as co-creators. However, entering into that potentiality requires a participation of our will and a response in faith to who Jesus truly is as God and what he has done. From there, we can engage everyday work as service to Christ. Keep in mind that the Church was instituted by Christ, and birthed by the Spirit. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus foreshadowed Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit points us toward what is now, but not fully complete.
The consummation theme gives us a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work in God’s cosmic plan as God brings forth the completion of his reconciliation and restoration project. He will dwell again in his fullness on earth in the New Jerusalem, which is the coming together of heaven and earth seamlessly, and without barrier. And yet, Jesus declared, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matt 4:17). It is the Holy Spirit, at work in the world, who is allowing us to experience the now of the kingdom of God.
Paul’s letters are saturated with explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit is the life Christ followers. This is the work of sanctification — the Holy Spirit transforming people who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior into the likeness of Christ in increasing measure. Paul describes the internalizing of the Holy Spirit within us as having multiple facets. The indwelling the Holy Spirit is the means through which Christ dwells in us (Eph 3:16). Being filled by the Spirit is a spiritual phenomenon that is repeated continuously (Eph 5:18). The Spirit pours God’s love into us (Rom 5:5); and, redefines us as a living temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). The Spirit assists us by guarding the good teaching entrusted to us (2 Tim 1:14). The Spirit’s work renews our minds (Rom 12:2, the work of the Spirit is implied); and gives us an understanding of the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:11-15). He provides wisdom and revelation so that we may know Christ better (Eph 1:17). The Spirit assists in our prayer (Eph 6:18), empowers us with specific gifts (1 Cor 12:4-13); fills us to overflowing with hope, joy, peace, and trust (Rom 15:13-16); and helps us to bear fruit that advances well-being (Gal 5:22-23).
For your consideration
Consider the implications of being transformed by the Holy Spirit for our impact through everyday life. Everywhere we go, we are bringing Christ with us through the indwelling of the Spirit. Our ability to love and care for others is magnified by the Spirit’s power, allowing those we encounter to experience a measure of Christ’s sacrificing love. We are carriers of good teaching, those sound moral principles that resonate with the consciences of others. Through these principles we can guide others toward behavior that advances the common good. Our minds are being renewed, enabling us to think differently than what is offered through worldly knowledge and wisdom, alone. We are tapped into the deep things of God. And in the moment, the Spirit can quietly whisper insights into our minds, allowing us to offer suggestions to others that support God’s will. What might this empowerment mean for parents, neighbors, educators, government employees, policy makers, healthcare professionals, business people, laborers, plumbers, electricians, the list goes on and on. As followers of Christ, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the work of our everyday lives. And our everyday lives are the context through which the Holy Spirit does much of his formative work.
This is the work of spiritual formation. However, often we are urged to conduct our spiritual disciplines in retreat from the world. But God has called us to Christ-representing vocation that requires active participation in everyday life. It is in the hard soil, thorns, and thistles of work life where we experience the deep needs of others. There our personal competencies and capabilities are put to task to meet those needs. We are being transformed by the Holy Spirit, not in retreat from everyday life, but in the engagement of life. The voice of the Spirit and his empowerment is fully present even in the midst of noisy, demanding, chaotic, everyday settings. An important area for the development of whole-life discipleship is in helping believers experience the transformative power of the Holy Spirit within the context of everyday life and through its many hardships, difficult relationships, challenging ethical temptations, and unsatisfying tasks.
When we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, transforming us into the likeness of Christ, we are experiencing that the kingdom of God is now. Our work, transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, gives others a foretaste of the kingdom to come. Our work advances the common good, bringing a measure of the full restoration to come. Our work represents Jesus, allowing others to get glimpses of his glory through the persons we are becoming.Topics: Christian Life, Spiritual Formation Practices