God Pours the Spirit Without Measure

It has become common usage to speak of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but how to understand it does not enjoy a consensus. It would seem that part of the reason is that baptism is a ritual or a rite that consists of actions that are observable by those present, while the activity of the Holy Spirit is not visible to human eyes, even when people claim to have observed the results of the Spirit’s activity. In the gospel According to John, John the Baptist distinguishes his baptism from the baptism of Jesus. The Baptist says that, while he baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1: 33). This description leaves readers expecting to learn how Jesus went about baptizing with the Holy Spirit. The gospel, however, never satisfies this expectation. Instead, we learn that larger crowds than those who were going to be baptized by John came to be baptized by Jesus, and that made the disciples of John unhappy because Jesus had become an unfair competitor (Jn. 3: 22 – 25).

In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus does not refer to baptism but to birth. Here the contrast is not between two agents for baptism but between two eco systems in which life may begin: birth “of the flesh” and birth “of the Spirit.” The first, in the language of this gospel, is “from below,” the realm of the flesh, and the second is “from above,” the realm of the Spirit. Unlike baptism, birth is not a rite or a ritual. It is not an event that is controlled by humans who follow a traditional routine. Births take place on their own accord and may bring with them many surprises. Births are natural events. Human beings have been gaining more precise knowledge of the workings of nature and try, quite successfully at times, to control some aspects of them, but the forces of nature remain for the most part beyond human attempts to manage them and leave humans in awe and wonder. Contrasting the two births, Jesus does not describe the birth “of the flesh,” but says that those born in the realm “of the Spirit” are born “of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3: 5).

This description leaves us somewhat puzzled. Is Jesus connecting the birth from above to baptism with water? Since throughout the gospel running, living water serves as a symbol of the Spirit, it would seem that this is the case. The word “and” in Jesus’ description is epexegetical: the second word expands the first. In other words, Jesus’ baptism with water is a baptism with the Spirit. The gospel According to John leaves us still a bit confused because, while it reports that Jesus took away from John some of the crowds who came to be baptized with water, it does not report that John the Baptist actually baptized Jesus with water. John the Baptist only serves as a witness who declares, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him” (Jn. 1: 32). In this gospel, then, Jesus’ own baptism did not involve water and was not performed by John the Baptist. What the gospel emphasizes is that the Spirit that descended on him remained on him. This is the trademark of the baptism of the Spirit. It stays on the person who receives it. Here the baptism of Jesus is given a totally different significance to that found in the Synoptic gospels. The only thing all four gospels have in common is that the Spirit descended on him as a dove. Instead of telling us that John the Baptist baptized Jesus and a voice declared Jesus to be the Son with whom God is well pleased (Mk. 1: 10), this gospel tells us that John the Baptist testified that the Spirit not only descended but also “remained” on him. The “abiding” of the Spirit in Jesus and in the disciples is a central theme of According to John. The water of a baptism with water may be dried away, but the Spirit of Jesus’s baptism remains in those baptized with the Spirit.

As already noted, baptism is a ritual. In an effort to understand rituals, they have been divided into types. Baptism may be conceived as a rite of purification, a rite of initiation or a rite of passage. Rites of purification aim at the removal of uncleanness. In the O.T. uncleanness is attached to different agents. For example, the touching of blood, unclean foods or a dead person renders a person unclean. Lev. 14: 1 – 8 prescribes the washing, or the ablution (baptism?) required of those who become unclean on account of having leprosy. The baptism with water performed by John the Baptist was, no doubt, a ritual of purification. His baptism was for the washing away of sins (Mk. 1: 4). Sins were viewed as blots or spots that need to be washed or cleansed away.

Initiation rituals aim at installing a person as an official member of a group. At the time of Jesus and Paul the mystery cults had quite elaborate initiation rituals. Going through the initiation process qualified the person to enter into the mystery that gave “salvation” to the initiates. In Judaism, circumcision integrated the newly born baby to the people with whom God had made a covenant at Sinai. A rite of passage, on the other hand, is an event in a person’s life marking a transition from one stage in life to a more important one. In Judaism once one is circumcised he is in, and that is all he needs. In the mystery cults of antiquity there were higher stages that the initiate could attain to by going through specific procedures. Mithraism, for example, had seven stages (Raven, Bridesman, Soldier, Lion, Persian, Sun-bearer and Father). Devotees were encouraged to reach the higher tiers by means of ascetic exercises. As they ascended through the tiers they gained access to deeper secrets of the mystery, but reaching higher stages was dependent of the attainment of certain conditions. The final stage allowed the devotee to participate in a sacred meal with the god Mithra. Central to Mithraism was Mithra’s slaying of the bull to dispense his blood as the ultimate cleansing of the initiate who had reached the rank of Father. Some rituals of the masonic lodges and of some forms of Christian mysticism have some things in common with the traditions of the mystery cults. The famous mystical book of Santa Teresa de Avila, Las Moradas (The Interior Castle, in English) , for example, has the Christian passing from one room of the house to the next. Ultimately the person reaches the innermost chamber where the mystical marriage is consecrated. Passage from one to another morada is possible only when specific spiritual and moral goals have been achieved.

What kind of a rite is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Are those baptized expected to ascend to higher levels with more Spirit? From According to John, the only place in which reference to it is made, since it is equated with the birth from above, or from the Spirit, it seem that it does not fit comfortably in any of the three types described above. It would seem that it comes closer to being an initiation rite. But it is not quite such because there is no official reception by a group for those born from above. The baptism of water and the Spirit does not accomplish the integration into a group, but the reception of power for the abundant life. This means that there are no further rites of passage for those who have been born of the Spirit. According to this gospel, once born from above with water and the Spirit that remains on them, Jesus’ disciples have eternal life. To be anxiously waiting and praying to be baptized with the Spirit as if it were a baptism separate from water baptism, or to struggle to attain the condition necessary to pass to a higher form of life, is not within the horizon of According to John. The abundant life offered by Jesus in this gospel (Jn. 10: 10) is already full with the Spirit.

The apostle Paul understands that Christian are “baptized into Christ Jesus.” Baptism is participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Rom 6: 3 -4). In as much as death and burial are normal human events, their symbolic re-enactment in baptism is an observable fact. There is no doubt that the person has come to the water willingly and has decided to die to his former way of life. Whether he has actually died to his past is to be seen. The re-enactment of the resurrection as the one being baptized is lifted out of the water requires faith. According to Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is not the resuscitation of Jesus. The Risen Christ does not have the body of Jesus. The body of the Risen Christ, and the body that the believers will receive at the resurrection of the dead, is a glorious, Spirit body (1 Cor. 15: 42 – 52; Phil. 3:21). For Paul the resurrection of Christ is a New Creation (2 Cor. 5: 17). It inaugurates the dispensation [economy] of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3: 8). As a human being born of a woman (Gal. 4: 4), Jesus was a son of Adam; as the Risen Lord he is the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15: 45). It is on account of God’s raising him from the dead that he is the Son of God (Rom. 1:5). Just as the Spirit of God that moved over the primordial waters was the facilitating agent for the creation of the original cosmos (Gen. 1: 1), so also the Spirit was the agent of the New Creation in the Risen Christ. This means that for Paul, baptized Christian are a New Creation. Having been crucified and buried with Christ, they rise from the watery grave to life in the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. The Spirit remains in them and brings in them a steady display of the glory that emanates from the Risen Christ and is a guarantee of their ultimate glorification in a Spirit body (2 Cor. 5: 5).

As a metaphor, a creation is not the same as a birth. A birth reproduces what already is, while a creation brings about something new. Even though he works with a different metaphor, Paul agrees with the Gospel of John that Christians live “in the Spirit” rather than “in the flesh.” Unlike the Gospel of John, however, Paul is an apocalypticist. He has a vision of the Fall as the cosmic intrusion of evil that makes humans to sin on account of the weakness of the flesh. Sin is not a blemish, a spot that needs to be washed away, but a cosmic power that enslaves humans in sin. This necessitates a cosmic new creation. Moreover, Paul is a realist who knows that while those who are baptized are made participants in the life of the Risen Christ by the power of the Spirit, after their baptism they still live in bodies of flesh with propensities for sin. This means that he envisions that Christians are empowered by the Spirit to steadily disentangle themselves from life in the flesh, so that they are transformed from one degree of glory to another by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3: 17 – 18). For Paul, the resurrection of Christ is the ultimate manifestation of the righteousness and the glory of God. Thus life in the creation of the Risen Christ is characterized by glory. It is a shining life. Those baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ will be fully energized and “glorified” with the Spirit when they receive a Spirit body like that of the Risen Christ, and no longer have a body of flesh, at their resurrection.

The ultimate significance of living in “the dispensation of the Spirit” inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ is freedom. As Paul explains it, those baptized and living in Christ no longer live in “the dispensation of condemnation” ruled by the law. Living in that dispensation people are bound to the flesh, and have a veil in their faces. They cannot see the glory in the face of the Risen Christ. They cannot even read the Scriptures, because they lack the Spirit. Living by the power of the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead gives freedom, in the first place, to read the Scriptures correctly, see the glory of the Risen Christ, and thereby be transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3). In the second place, the freedom that characterizes life in the Spirit is the result of a renovation of the mind that empowers Christians to live determining [dokimazein = discern and approve] “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12: 2).

Unlike what the authors of the lesson in the SS quarterly teach, neither Paul nor the gospel According to John teach that Christians should strive to be baptized with the Spirit, or to receive a greater measure of the Spirit. In fact, both teach that God is not stingy, or in need of demonstrable worthiness before giving out the Spirit. Unlike the mystery cults of antiquity, they do not propose “conditions” for the reception of the Spirit. According to John uses a most telling metaphor: “it is not by measure that he [God] gives the Spirit” (Jn. 3: 34). Paul says the same from the opposite angle: “Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Rom. 5: 5). God does not dispense the Holy Spirit with a drop- counter, or a measuring spoon. God pours love and the Spirit prodigally on all. It is because God has given us the Holy Spirit to start with that he pours his love on us. God does not react to our effort by dispensing a bit more of the Spirit if we meet certain conditions. Rather, it is because God has poured the Spirit on us that we are transformed by the Spirit from one degree of glory to another. Paul does not teach that Christians must show themselves worthy before God would give them more of the Spirit. He writes, “it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ: (1 Cor. 4: 6). The glory of God that shines in the face of the Risen Christ also shines in the hearts of all Christians giving them the power and the guidance of the Spirit that causes this glory to increase in brightness. Ultimately, the glory of God that shines in the face of the Risen Christ will not just be in the heart of believers but in their whole Spirit bodies at their resurrection. Thus, while recognizing that Christians go through a trajectory of ascending glory, Paul does not teach that Christians are the ones who must prove worthy to receive the fullness of the Spirit. The trajectory of Christians who go from glory to glory until their final glorification in Spirit bodies is the result of the pouring of the Spirit and love by a God who demonstrates His righteousness by giving life to those who live in obedience to His call. Summarizing the fact that Christians do not live in a “dispensation of death” but in the “dispensation of the Spirit,” Paul says, “All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to himself ” (2 Cor. 5: 18).

Herold Weiss is professor emeritus of Religious Studies at Saint Mary's College, University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7863
3 Likes

What a pleasure to read Herold’s presentation after trying to come to terms with the current SS lesson.

To spend two days delving into the conditions that we must meet to receive the Holy Spirit is a denial of the gospel of grace as I understand it. It’s a denial of the reality of the Christ lifted up on the cross.

Christ could not make it plainer to Nicodemus and so to us. We MUST be born again otherwise we will never see the kingdom of heaven. The mystery is how the Holy Spirit accomplishes this new birth. That’s not the issue and it’s not for us to understand. The reality is that it happens and it’s what God does in us that is so critical. It’s not how many conditions we can meet to receive the Holy Spirit. We are not here to earn favour with God so He can redeem us and/or live in us.

Our natural birth, to be born of the flesh, is a water birth. The parallelism in these verses is very convincing. The new birth which is through the divine power of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual birth, just as real as our natural birth but critical to our salvation.

What we so often fail to see is that Nicodemus asked a leading question. “How can this be?” Christ’s answer says it all. Our new birth is a direct result of Christ being lifted up on the cross. It is His shed blood, the new covenant in His blood that makes our new birth the all-important reality of our Christian life. God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son - for us.

This is why Romans 6 is so important in understanding John 3. To be baptised into Christ is to be baptised into His death. We know this that our old self was crucified with Him. This new birth starts with our baptism into Christ’s death. Our old selfish sinful nature is ripped out. Whether we understand it or not, the reality is that it was crucified with Christ and God removes it from us when we are born again.

But we are also united with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection. For me, this crowning miracle of the new birth is the most important revelation of my 77 years of Christian living. To walk in newness of life means we have a new spiritual nature. It is a resurrected nture in Christ. My old sinful nature is dead, buried, gone, crucified with Christ. The miracle is that my old sinful nature has been completely replaced with a new spiritual nature. This is a new, finished creation, not a gradual improvement of the old nature. The old has gone, the new has come.

I will take it further. This new spiritual nature is the new core of our being. It is a spiritual nature created in the likeness of God. It is in God’s image which takes us back to God’s creation of Adam and Eve in the garden.

When God creates, it is perfect. And it is in this new heart, this new spiritual nature where the Holy Spirit dwells. The Holy Spirit cannot live in a sinful, rebellious heart that He tries to improve bit by bit over a lifetime.

I know that this understanding of the new birth does not come easily, especially after a lifetime of believing in sanctification being the work of a lifetime (that never reaches perfection).

The question always arises at this point, why then do I keep on sinning? Again Paul has the answer. We still have the flesh where sin, as a foreign virus lurks. We still have our old habits, our emotions our worldly coping mechanisms, our old mindsets. Yes, we sin, we stumble and fall, but because of Calvary sin is never held against us. We hate the sin that besets us because it is contrary to our new spiritual nature. It’s not who we now are.We are new creations at the very core of our being. Sin is the enemy that lurks in our flesh and we do battle with it in the power of the Holy Spirit working through our new nature.

There are so many passages of scripture we need to come to grips with in this context. Herold, to his great credit, has pointed us to the truths of 2 Corinthians 3. While we cling to living by the law, we will concentrate on improving our old sinful nature. The problem is we try to do it through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not the gospel of grace.

I react when I see the SS lesson reference 1 Timothy 1:8 in the context of obedience to the law as a condition for receiving the Holy Spirit. We cannot build a concept on one verse, let alone half a sentence. What about verse 9? We surely must accept that the law is not made for a righteous person. The law is for those who are lawless, rebellious, ungodly, sinners, unholy, profane and so the list goes on. That’s what the old nature was like but it’s gone, crucified with Christ, dead and buried.

Praise God through the new birth we have a new spiritual nature that rests in Jesus and all that He has accomplished for us through His death, burial, resurrection and intercession. All this is made a reality in our lives by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We live by the Spirit. The Spirit pours the love of God into our new spirit, our new hearts. We are a new creation, longing for the final glorious renewal of these old worn out fleshly bodies when Christ returns to claim His own.

I realise that I have only scratched the surface of this topic and that it may well challenge the thinking of some. I only get one shot in this thread but I am convinced that an understanding of the reality of the new birth experience is one of the most important challenges facing the Christian church today. Maybe it is even the most important because it is all about Jesus and what the Holy Spirit actually does in our innermost being. It all revolves around Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and how it impacts every one of us at a personal level. It’s about our entry into His kingdom.

6 Likes

I do not understand the nature or form of what is usually held out by learned theologians , and/or trance prophets, to be the HOLY SPIRIT. I surmise this entity may have something to do with an energetic spiritual entity and so to delve further would mean becoming involved in research in these matters. What I do believe in and practice is the reality of the telepathy of prayer . Despite my ignorance of these esoteric spiritual matters I find that prayer is a gift from an entity I join with others of my SDA faith in calling GOD, and is most effective in guiding my life in living a life guided by the principles of “doing unto others…”, as best I can. I have met people who dabble in spiritual research who then find themselves walking on/or rising upwards on/in thin air ; or seeing energetic entities commonly called ghosts ; or being attached to “spirits” from which they could only separate themselves by laying of hands by an Adventist Pastor or exorcism by a Roman Catholic priest .However I have no time to delve into these matters while I am concluding another Book. .I prefer praying alone, and I do hope to investigate matters related to death before I myself am subject to that phenomenon.

The teachable moment is when the self is ready and meets a new idea. The Cross makes that happen. Grace is the the motive force to walk humbly with God. The Spirit is that constant Mentor. With Christ as the perfect example. So the Christain life is a laboratory course–withe best of examples and the best of teachers. TZ

8 Likes

Because it was not explicitly stated?

Who is confused?

2 Likes

At the risk of further muddying already turbid waters I want to share what I think is a fascinating view of the Holy Spirit’s role in our new creation.

My understanding is that the Greek word translated as ‘born’ is used when relating to the female role in new life while the same word can also be translated as ‘begotten’ when speaking of the male function, i.e., men beget and women bear. God is said to be Our Heavenly Father and His Spirit is the agency enabling new, spiritual life, so I believe the word begotten is appropriate (and I hope adds clarity) in what follows.

Concerning the order of things Paul said, ‘So also it is written, “The first man Adam became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural [lit. ‘soulish’, i.e. physical or carnal]; then the spiritual.’(1Cor 15:45-46).

In the Most Holy Place in the OT tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant. Within the Ark were kept the two tablets of the law, Aaron’s budding almond rod and a pot of coriander seed or manna (Heb 9:4). Thus, in the most sacred place on earth God had placed two stones and a rod (the male part) and a pot of seed (the female part). The first application one thinks of is physical - we see that God was blessing the human act of procreation that He had originated in Eden (Gen 1:28), the so called fruitfulness mandate.

But recall that spiritual follows physical.
I think God was also foreshadowing the conception of Christ in Mary by the Holy Spirit.

Let’s go a step further. In Col 1:26-27, Paul states that there has been a mystery hidden by God but now revealed to believers, i.e., that Christ in you is the hope of glory. How can this be? Much as with Christ’s incarnation, the Holy Spirit begets or implants His seed within each believer. Jesus told Nicodemus you must be begotten from above (John 3:3). Paul said that he had spiritually begotten believers by sharing the gospel (1Cor 4:15). Peter explained to believers that ‘…you have been begotten again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is through the living and enduring word of God.’ (1Peter 1:23). John understood this as well because he wrote that even though there is still some sin remaining in our lives (from the old, carnal self who is legally dead but not yet physically dead) and God will forgive us (1John 1:7-10), the divine, begotten seed growing within us cannot sin (1John 3:9).

Paul says we are a new creation (Gal 6:15) and that all nature is groaning, awaiting the time when it will be set free from its slavery to corruption at the end of this age when these children of God maturing within will finally be birthed at their time of glorification (Rom 8:18-23).

I can imagine how carefully Mary cared for the seed growing within her. Each believer should also contemplate this in her/his own life. How are you nurturing this seed of Christ implanted within? (Matt 4:4, John 4:32, 34).

One could say that this role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is part of the mystical element of Christianity. Any reality not readily apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence is one definition of mystical. Some through history have been given insight into these matters but I don’t believe anyone can say they really understand the workings of the Spirit. I think it especially challenging for Adventists because they have been taught to be wary of the mystical. Unfortunately this makes it difficult to embrace Christianity at any level apart from the rational and doctrinal.

3 Likes

Yes.

The Holy Spirit, named as such, shows up in the NT; and we would say, through Greek influence on the Hebrew Scripture. It almost seems that the Gospel could not be explained, in human terms, exclusively through the Hebrew mind. The Hebrew God was understood through His actions on behalf the Hebrews. The Greek GODS lived on Olympus and impacted mankind through abstract concepts.

Because Adventist doctrine relies heavily on the Hebrew understanding, it has a hard time warming up to many of the NT concepts. “New birth” in Adventist terms, involves a change in life style - behaviour, first, and foremost. This is why we have the extensive library of “behaviour modification” which is ultimately going to qualify us for eternal life (“these are they…”)- which itself is going to involve literal streets of gold, mansions, and bodies of some kind. The internal life that includes motives - feelings - intuitions, are to be controlled through willpower. A redemptive life is a life that is controlled by our frontal lobes. Anything that mystifies is suspect; and, this is why Adventism has an answer for everything. The Holy Spirit doesn’t quite fit into our “understanding”.

3 Likes