In this series of posts (more like chapters of an upcoming book, if we're honest...), we're taking a look at the various truths regarding the presence of God, including, briefly, His omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-10, Jer 23:24), His manifest presence as a cloud of light and pillar of fire during the exodus (Ex 13:21), His glory presence in Moses' tabernacle (Ex 40:34), and in Solomon's temple (2 Chr 5:14, 7:1), and His dwelling among and within followers of Jesus, who constitute the new Temple (1 Cor 3:16). This is by no means an exhaustive list of the forms God's presence has, can, or will take, but it outlines some of the more dominant and recurring manifestations. Though He is in some sense everywhere, He is also uniquely manifest in certain times and places. And while temple language helps us understand the presence of God in the ways that are most predictable and rhythmic, the book of Acts is replete with stories of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit that defy categorizations as "predictable" or "rhythmic." On the contrary, the HS throughout Acts, and to some extent the rest of the New Testament, seems almost random, or at least completely decentralized and, shockingly, almost on-demand. We will look at this decentralized presence of the Holy Spirit momentarily.
But first, let me return briefly to the joke that spurred this whole thing. Babylon Bee wrote a headline back in September that said "Power of God Waits in Church Foyer Until Chorus of 'Holy Spirit'." Besides demonstrating how ridiculously far my theological pontifications are lagging behind the quick wit of the Babylon Lee folks (it came out in September, and here we are in mid-February), and besides being hilarious, this headline is making fun of a very particular notion that exists within certain traditions of Christianity. Anyone who's ever heard the language of God "showing up" knows what Babylon Bee is lampooning here. Can God really "show up"? Is that a thing? If it's a thing, is it something we can demand or invite or somehow make happen, as the lyrics to the song "Holy Spirit" seem to suggest? Who do we think God is, that He should wait for an invitation before doing anything?
Hopefully my previous look at the manifest presence of God has at least opened up the possibility that God can indeed "show up," but in order to answer these other questions, let's tighten the focus on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. A look at the kinds of evidence that indicate his presence will hopefully provide a clearer picture of what the Holy Spirit showing up looks like. We'll begin there, before bringing it around to what role an invitation has on the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Work of the Spirit
Before jumping in with the evidences of the presence of the Spirit, a few qualifiers: 1) A full round-up of the work of the Spirit is WAY beyond the scope of this entry, but I'm gonna give it the ole college try. 2) Much of what we read in Acts can be taken as exceptional (inaugurating a new covenant and all), rather than normative. 3) Since everyone loves long comma-delineated lists of bible verse references, that is going to be my format for presenting this evidence. Bonus points if you find the references that I made up just to keep you on your toes.
That said, here is a roundup of the manifestations of the Spirit that are either amply evidenced, or clearly intended to be taken as normative for the church:
- Healing (Mt 8:5-17, 10:1, Lk 8:43-48, Lk 10:1, 9, Ac 2:43,3:16, 5:16, 6:8, 8:6-7, 9:10-19, 10:38, 1 Cor 12:9-10, 28-29, Gal 3:5, Jm 5:14-16) - a mix of healings by Jesus, by the Twelve Apostles, by the 72 (in Luke 10:1, 9), and by non-apostle, non-72 "Joe Schmoe" Christians such as Stephen in Acts 6, Philip in Acts 8, Ananias in Acts 9 and whoever it is that Paul is referring to in 1 Cor 12:9 and 28-29
- Freedom (Lk 4:18-19, Jn 8:36, 2 Cor 3:17, Gal 5:1, 2 Tim 1:7, Heb 2:14-15) - freedom from a variety of things, but all basically stemming from sin, the curse of sin, the enemy, and death. "The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" pretty much sums it up.
- Prophetic words (Acts 2:17, 11:28, 21:10-11, 19:6, 21:9, 1 Cor 11:4-5, 12:10, 28-29, 14:1-40, Eph 2:20, 3:5, 4:11 etc) - mostly non-apostles in this list, just to mess with my cessationist friends
- Visions/dreams - Joel 2:28-29 is the big one here. It's a prophecy from before Christ, predicting a day when the Spirit would be poured out on "all people," who would then "dream dreams" and "see visions," amongst other things. Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and proclaims that the prophecy was coming true before their very eyes. There is good reason to believe the prophecy was meant to extend far beyond a single day, to describe an entire new age. Paul's visions in Acts 16:9 and Acts 18:9, Ananias' vision in Acts 9:10-11, and whoever Paul's referring to in 2 Cor 12 support this idea.
- Tongues - much disputed, but one has a hard time explaining how 1 Cor 14 is anything other than a rock-solid case that tongues, while secondary to prophecy in value for the church, is a gift of the Spirit for Christians in all ages - dispute over "heavenly languages" vs. unlearned earthly languages notwithstanding. Paul says in v.5 "I would like every one of you to speak in tongues," for crying out loud! Numerous passages in Acts bear this out. I'll create a list of verses for those that beg me.
- Peace (Jn 14:27, Rom 5:1, 8:6, Phil 4:7) - though one of the "fruits of the Spirit" found below, peace is cited frequently enough to warrant its own listing here (peace between man and God, between Jews and Gentiles, and peace within the individuals' spirit).
- Illumination of the scriptures & truth (Lk 24:45, Jn 14:17, 1 Jn 2:27, 4:6, 2 Pet 1:20-21, 2 Tim 3:16) - Jesus' promise in Jn 16:13 that the coming Holy Spirit would guide Jesus' followers "into all the truth" sits at the top of the heap here. I grew up with an understanding of the Holy Spirit that was pretty much limited to this one. Very exciting to see now that the Holy Spirit does a heck of a lot more than just help us not fall asleep while reading our Bibles!
- Fruits of virtue - Galatians 5:22-23 describes the variety of virtues the Holy Spirit causes to grow in the life of the individual - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Decidedly less sensational than the manifestations above, but WAY more useful for building a kingdom of mini-Jesuses.
This just scratches the surface of manifestations of the Spirit either prophesied about, or described in actual events throughout the New Testament. Suffice to say, the Spirit doing what only He does looks a bit different than pillars of fire and clouds of light, though the tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost, like mini pillars of fire, are probably God's wink to continuity. Regardless of similarity or dissimilarity, manifestations of the Spirit are what we have to expect and look forward to as apprentices of Jesus. After all, he said it would be better that we have the Helper than that we have Christ himself in the flesh, so our hopes and expectations for what the Spirit brings for each and every one of us ought to be flippin' sky high!
Our Part - The Invitation
I begin this section with a curious little story from Mark 6:1-5. It's a story that could be taken perhaps as the antithesis to a corporate invitation to the Holy Spirit. In this scene Jesus, back in Nazareth, can only do just a small handful of healings, apparently only a small percentage of what he might have done if the people in his hometown hadn't been so strikingly lacking in faith. Healing a few sick people is WAY more than I've ever personally experienced in the way of the empowering presence of God (though I hope and expect to see much more), but the gospel writer here conveys that though he would have done much more, Jesus couldn't do more because of their lack of faith. He COULDN'T do more?
Really, this makes sense when seen in light of God's love. Insomuch as manifestations of God's power and presence, like healing and freedom, are ultimately applications of His love to His people, we shouldn't be surprised that God would refrain from forcing his love/power/presence upon people who are not welcoming it. There's a word for the forceful application of love/power/presence. It's called rape. It's not what God does. Instead, God condescends to apply his love/power/presence when He is invited in. It is here that the church as the bride is the most apt picture. God initiates because His love nature demands it, knowing that intimacy and glory are what the human soul most desire, but He leaves it to us to invite Him in, like a husband must await his bride's invitation. God honors the will and decision of His Bride. And I'm not talking about a one-time invitation at the point of conversion. I'm talking an ongoing process of invitation, response, openness and submission. It calls to mind these words from the late Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist:
“Man has a very powerful will—so powerful that even God Himself does not break it. And by this, [God] is actually showing that man is in the likeness of God.” (Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, p.126)
So just as Jesus couldn't do more in Nazareth because of the will of the people and their collective lack of faith, the work of the Spirit is limited if our wills oppose him, and if our faith is lacking. Their pooled unbelief acted like a big old wet blanket on the fire of the Holy Spirit, and the subsequent healing and freedom that would have ensued. Thus, Paul's command in 1 Thess 5 to not "quench the Spirit," and to "not treat prophecies with contempt." The people of Nazareth quenched the Spirit, and treated the prophecy and presence of Jesus with contempt. And thus, the Holy Spirit didn't show up, at least not nearly as powerfully as he might have. The people there were the opposite of inviting, and they missed out on a magnificent display of the glory of God because of it.
On the contrary, an invitation, which is essentially an active demonstration of faith, invites the glory and work of God to be on display. And if we are the Temple of God, we should expect that his presence can be displayed, that the opportunity is ripe. To a certain limited extent we can expect that God will still move in our midst even if our partnering will and collective faith is lacking (like Jesus doing a few healings in Nazareth), but why settle for anything less than the glory of God? "Eagerly desire the gifts of the Spirit," Paul says in 1 Cor 14. Our pooled, collective faith, demonstrated in an invitation to God, can cause Him to move in powerful ways He just won't/can't if we don't.
Driving this point home, James 4:8 instructs the reader to "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you", and a few verses later to "humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." If we draw near, he will respond. If we humble ourselves, he will lift us up. It's not that God is a helpless, subservient puppy, awaiting the order to "come." Instead, God stands at the door knocking, waiting for us to open the door (Rev. 3:20); God is a Lover awaiting the invitation of His Bride; He is a Doctor waiting for the patient to disrobe; He is an Emancipator awaiting the slaves to hold up their chains; He is a God awaiting His priests to invoke His Name in the holy Temple.
Let me tie off this hemorrhaging wound of a post with a metaphor. In classical court dance, the dude would initiate a couples dance with a bow to his would-be partner. The moment of truth was in the response. There would be no dance, no shared joy and revelry, no realized potential for all that could follow in the magic of shared movement and music (baroque dances were surely pure magic, right?), without an affirmative response. Without a reciprocated invitation, the would-be partner would never realize where the would-be leader would lead them. God is bowing to us with an invitation to dance. You can feel the scandal that God would open Himself up so vulnerably, can't you? We who have opted-in to following after Jesus have already given an initial reciprocating bow, but it is not once-for-all. TODAY, and with each passing moment, not least of all in our gathered times, it is on us to bow in return, to opt-in to today's dance.
And so it is that we, day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, Sunday-in and Sunday-out must join our voices with the great cloud of witnesses, not just in looking ahead to his coming on the distant horizon, but in eagerly anticipating what Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might do among us TODAY as we pray "Holy Spirit you are welcome here."