Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Holy Spirit: The Seal of Our Redemption

There are many believers who are of the mind that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian, but only to the extent that the Word of God dwells within us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is not literally within the heart of the believer, but rather He works through the Word in order to guide us. I believe that this is an erroneous idea. I propose that the Spirit, literally, effectually dwells within the heart of the believer. To be sure, He works through the Word to guide and help the Christian. But I believe that the Scriptures witness to the fact that the Spirit does more than that.

In Galatians four, Paul discusses with the Galatians the benefits that the Christian has. In doing so, he tells his readers in verse six that “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying ‘Abba Father.’” I cannot see how this can be anything other than the indwelling of the Spirit. Examine the context and you will see why this has to be case. In verses one through five, Paul discusses how the Law served as a schoolmaster until Christ came. Remember that the primary purpose of the entire letter is to counteract and combat the false teaching of the Judaizers who insisted on keeping the Law in order to gain salvation. Paul emphasizes the fact that the Law was not the final program that God was to being about in order for man to be saved, but rather it was intended to show man’s sinfulness to show why the Christ was necessary. Those under the Law were children who were being kept until the redemption in Christ came. And so verse six serves as an encapsulation of the entire argument. We are now sons, Paul argues, and because we are sons God has sent His Spirit. Why then would we want to go back to the Law after we have received the Spirit? If we are not partaker of the Spirit, then Paul’s entire argument falls flat!

In Romans chapter eight, Paul, after telling his readers in chapter seven that there is a constant struggle between the flesh and the spirit, now encourages them by pointing to the fact that they are no longer condemned because they are in Christ. At the very beginning of the chapter he says, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” As he continues in the chapter, he reminds the Romans that the Spirit makes all the difference. In verse nine he concludes that if the Spirit of Christ is in them, then they indeed belong to Christ, but if the Spirit is not in them then they are none of His. Nothing could be clearer. At a time when the Word had yet to be enscripturated in its fullness, Paul tells his readers that, in order for them to belong to Christ they must have His Spirit. As he continues later in the chapter, he goes on to describe how the Spirit makes intercession for us when we pray. He, says Paul, intercedes for us with “unspoken groanings.” You’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but if the Spirit is not within the Christian, then Paul’s whole argument falls apart. The idea that this has reference to the Word abiding in the Christian, and that alone, makes little sense in the context in which Paul speaks. He goes on to lay out the famous golden chain of redemption where he explains that those who are Christ are called, justified, sanctified and glorified. You cannot make the context of this passage say anything other than the fact that the Spirit is within the Christian and is involved in every step that the believer takes in drawing near to God.

We move on to the letter to the Ephesians. In chapter one, Paul lays out the glorious destiny of the believer. Indeed, that destiny has already begun to be manifested in the Christian. In verse three he speaks of the blessings that are ours in the heavenly places through Christ. This reminds me of the letter to the Hebrews and how the author there lays out what the sacrifice of Christ has done for us. He describes how much better the blessings of the believer are because of the sacrifice of Christ. In the same way, Paul reminds us that because of that great sacrifice, we have inherited great and true promises. Moving on to verse 11, he tells his readers that we have been predestined according to the counsel of God’s own will to an inheritance reserved for us in heaven, in the words of Peter in 2 Peter 1. But the most important verse in this sequence for our purposes is verse 13. There, Paul reminds his readers that we have believed in Him and that we have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Again, to say that this has reference only to the Word makes little sense in the context in which the writer speaks. It is obvious that Paul is making the argument that the reason that we are believers is because we have the seal of the Spirit. Hearkening back to the previous argument in Romans, we have the Spirit of Christ and that is why we can be identified as believers. Although we certainly have the Word of God abiding in us, the writer makes it clear that it is the living, breathing person of the Holy Spirit that servers as the seal of our redemption. It is as though he were saying that God sees the Holy Spirit living in us and knows us as His own.

You may be wondering why it seems that the idea that the Holy Spirit is personally living within the Christian is so problematic to some. I can come up with no other reason than tradition. The traditions of men are strong and sometimes imposing. Regardless of how clear the Word of God may be on a particular subject, our traditions hold a strong grip on us. If we are taught a certain teaching, especially if it has been done since our childhood, it is very difficult to let that teaching go. That can be a good thing. We don’t want to be like the ones that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:14 that are tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. In other words, there are those who, though believing something today, they hear a powerful speaker who teaches something else tomorrow and they are immediately convinced that the opposite teaching to what they believed must be true. In order for us to not be of that kind, we need to be anchored in the Word and be mature in the faith. It does us little good to be moving from one doctrine to another and back again with seemingly little regard for what the truth actually is. That being said, we always need to be aware that our understanding is not, nor will it ever be, in this life, perfect. We will have ideas and beliefs that will not stand up to scrutiny in the light of the Word of God. And when we encounter such an idea, we need to have an open heart in order to receive it and apply it. If that is not the case, we run the risk of hardening ourselves to the point where we will miss all the glorious things that God has in store for us even while we’re in the flesh.

Are you a Christian even if you believe the Spirit does not dwell within you? Sure. I dare not say that because you may not have a complete understanding of this or any other doctrine, that your salvation is somehow suspect. But I do believe that not realizing the strong and powerful effect that the Spirit has in us as He dwells and works within us is shortchanging yourself and missing out on the glories of that doctrine. The knowledge that God, through His Spirit, is actively working within and for us is a powerful incentive to live the holy and righteous lives He wants us to live. And it goes without saying, that we cannot hope to be pleasing to God without that influence in the first place (Philippians 2:13). We have not been left orphans, as Jesus told the apostles. We have been given the most powerful tool that anyone could have: the Spirit living and abiding within our hearts. Let’s remember that and let’s commit ourselves to His Lordship, today and every day!




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