Let’s think a bit more about the Spirit’s ministry in salvation.
Here are some basics. Paul wrote of our “having begun by the Spirit” as we meet God in faith (Galatians 3:3). The need for this ministry began with Adam’s death—a death that left him still walking and talking. Paul said more about this in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked [while following the devil]”.
So a key but surprising feature of God’s warning in Genesis 2:17—“for in the day you eat [the forbidden fruit] you shall surely die”—is that death is something other than flat brain waves and meeting a mortician. Adam ate and he died, but his physical life still continued for many more years.
God confronted this side of Adam’s existence by cursing the physical creation with death; and by disallowing Adam’s access to the Tree of Life. So the condition of physical death still hovers over all of human history and is only resolved in Revelation 22:2-3 when the Tree is once again available and the Curse ends.
In John 3 Jesus took up the seeming paradox of being alive-but-dead when he told Nicodemus that life in the “flesh” differs from having life “of the Spirit.” His point was that real life—speaking of eternal life—comes by our union with God’s Spirit.
Adam, by implication, had despised that union in Eden; and now the Spirit’s absence is a continuing void for all Adam’s offspring. So after the Fall God is external to human souls at birth, awaiting a possible return by his mercies. It was this reality that Nicodemus had missed: though he was walking and talking, he was dead.
Another basic truth that helps explain this is that the Spirit is fully God along with the Father and the Son. So to know one is to know all; and to despise one is to despise all because this one God always exists as the Father-Son-and-Spirit God. And each Person of the Godhead has a unique role in the divine economy as he reveals himself to the world.
The Spirit supports the communion of the Godhead as he fills the relational space between the Father and the Son—carrying the Father’s heart to the Son and vice versa. We catch a glimpse of this in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.
What invites special attention is how the Spirit shares this divine relationship with the creation. I’ll return to this below.
Another basic is an oft-ignored distinction between the Father and the Son. The Father is the “unseen” God; so that the visible God is always the Son. We first find this in Exodus, comparing 24:10 and 33:20, and have it affirmed in John 1:18—“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” So in looking back to the Old Testament we realize that the pre-incarnate Son is the God who walks in Eden in Genesis 3; and who meets and speaks with Abram in Genesis 18; and who is seen in all the other Theophanies.
In the New Testament we learn more: the Son always reveals the Father’s heart, as in John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Later, in John 12:10, Jesus pressed his full identity and union with the Father: “The word that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
Now let’s turn to the Spirit’s role in sharing God’s communion with God’s people. Jesus promised his disciples that the “Helper” who, in the Triune oneness is God, “dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). And his role is Christ-centered—sent in Christ’s “name” (15:26)—so that “he will bear witness about me.” Furthermore, “whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:13-15).
What do we make of this? This much is clear: after Jesus lived out his life on earth God, the Spirit, took up a new job. While he has always communicated God’s life to saints in the Old Testament—with his focus on the “gospel” or “promise” offered in Genesis (see Psalm 51 and Galatians 3 on this)—we discover that after Christ’s ascension the Spirit is at work in making the now-invisible Jesus visible.
This follows from the text we just noted in John 16:15. The Spirit extends the Son’s revealing ministry to a new stage. While Jesus made the Father visible during his earthly ministry, the Spirit now makes the Son visible by his Church ministry: revealing the Son through his activities in Christ’s Spirit-guided followers. Where Jesus was a perfect communicator, we in our flawed churches need to “mature” into the job!
It’s important to understand, then, that the Spirit has always been the agent of eternal life. But his new role—after the Son’s incarnation and ascension—is to communicate Christ’s life to the world. So that when Jesus told Philip, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” he set up a pathway to Paul’s insight that, by the Spirit, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
So with the Spirit’s “new job” we learn that the era of the New Testament is continuous with his Old Testament work of sharing God’s Life; and that his New Testament role is to focus on the Son just as the Son’s role was to focus on the Father.
So let’s enjoy what—or, better, who—he offers as we now walk and talk by the Spirit!