[This was composed for and originally posted on my campus ministry’s website: http://xa-ncsu.com/blog/post/38 on August 26, 2009]
A few words are in order before I dive into the text. First, welcome! I’m hoping that this blog will be, among other things, a delightful record of our study of God. More than that, I’m hoping that it will be a challenging record of God’s study of us. As we gaze upon God, we are hopefully challenged, inspired, amazed, and humbled. We feel love and love; receive grace, and give it. What I hope to highlight in this post, primarily through the letter of Galatians, is the familial aspects of the Trinity. More specifically, I want to examine the role the Holy Spirit plays in God’s family. Hopefully this will help us as a group relate better to the person of the Holy Spirit, and better understand his role as a member of the Trinity.
Because I’m drawing mostly from Galatians, a little bit of context for the letter is due. This is one of Paul’s first letters, written to a young and budding group of believers in Galatia, a church which Paul himself had founded. The church was budding, but also had problems. While the church was predominately Gentile (non Jewish), a group of people, presumably Jews, were throwing young Christians into confusion. These people were insisting that faith in Jesus was not enough, that what truly marked God’s family was the Jewish law, especially circumcision. This was causing all sorts of dissension within the church, creating division rather than unity. Paul spent most of his effort addressing this problem.
Paul responds by first establishing his authority. Although he formerly persecuted the church, he had had an experience with the risen Jesus that was separate from those of the 12 apostles. He had received revelation directly from Jesus; he hadn’t made up the gospel or gotten it from someone else. Nevertheless, he was in agreement with the other apostles. He had stayed with them on several occasions.
In chapter 3, Paul launches into a detailed examination of the Old Testament. His goal here is to show that everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, is to be part of God’s family. Nothing more is required. In fact, by going further, one is in danger of separating what God intended to be joined. Paul goes back to Abraham, arguing that the promise given to Abraham is not set aside by the Mosaic law. Rather, the law was “put in charge to lead us to Christ.” His entire is argument is beyond the scope of this post, but I believe his goal in chapter 3 is to get to verse 26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” He wants the Galatians to realize that they are already members of God’s family. Because of Christ’s work, all of those with faith in Christ Jesus are part of the family. Faith becomes the determining marker of God’s family. It’s not circumcision, gender, or social status: only faith.
Chapter 4 begins by noting that, not only are we children, but we have received an inheritance. This inheritance is the “spirit of his son … by which we call out ‘Daddy! Father!'” By the time he returns to Old Testament discussion in verse 21, he continues to discuss family. This time, he uses the story of Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the fact that they are children of the promise, not the children born into slavery. This in turn launches into a discussion of Christian liberty in chapter 5. Finally, in chapter 6 he exhorts them to keep running the race, to focus on the cross of Christ, to not give up or give in.
And where is the Holy Spirit in this? His activity pervades throughout Paul’s thinking and writing. The aspect I wish to bring light to is the Spirit’s activity in the family of God. For Paul, the Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the becoming a Christian, with becoming part of the family. In chapter 4, he declares that, just as Isaac was born by the power of the Spirit, so were we. Also, the Spirit does what the law cannot, impart life. What strikes me is not only how personal the Holy Spirit is, but how active he is in the family of God. The Eastern Orthodox churches, which have historically had a much fuller view of the Holy Spirit than the West, have sometimes caricatured the Western view of God as “two guys and a bird.” But we see the Holy Spirit birthing us as sons and daughters, imparting our very life in God, our breath in God. We see him bearing witness to this with miracles. We see this all on the basis of faith in the Jesus, and not our background. As we try to walk by the Spirit, may we not view him as a mysterious force, or as somehow less a person that the Father and the Son. Instead, may we walk with him as he is, a vivacious, active God who births, marks, and testifies to our membership in the family of God, who empowers us to overcome the sinful nature, and in whom we eagerly await the judgment day, the day where God will put the whole world to rights and fulfill new creation.