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The Holy Spirit: Floodlight To Christ


John 16:14


Few people are more obnoxious than those who keep talking about themselves. Regardless of what is being discussed, the self-advertising “blowers” insert themselves. They have out-travelled even the tour-guide, out-achieved the genuinely accomplished, out-lived the most vivacious. Their attraction-grabbing neuroticism is as incessant as it is offensive.

Not so the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is that person of the Trinity who is the opposite of all this. Jesus maintained that the Spirit would glorify him. (John 16:14) Scripture insists that the Father sends the Spirit in the name of the Son, never in the Spirit’s own name. In other words, the Spirit is a floodlight. Floodlights are positioned in such a way that one does not see the floodlight itself, only that which it lights up and to which it therefore directs attention. The Holy Spirit is the power of God within us and among us, turning our attention to Jesus Christ at the same time as it binds our hearts to his. (Any “spirit” which draws attention to itself is plainly not the Holy Spirit.)

Early-day Christians knew that the Spirit cemented their relationship with their Lord and invigorated them for a discipleship which was always rigorous and frequently dangerous. They could continue in their crossbearing — never mind thrive in it — only as the Spirit in them proved stronger than the pressure of the forces arrayed against them.

And whereas the world always thinks that effectiveness is the result of strong-arm coercion, Christians know that effectiveness in matters of the kingdom occurs as the Spirit honours the self-forgetful servanthood found first in the Vulnerable One himself. When even the religious world is shouting or suggesting that God’s strength is made perfect in the strength of his people, Christians know that God’s strength is made perfect in their weakness.(2 Corinthians 12:9) For this reason the apostle glories in his weakness (the world always boasts of its strength), for it is weakness only which God can use. (What, after all, is weaker than a humiliated representative of that people which the world has always despised dying the death of a felon, abandoned together with the city’s refuse?)

Whenever the church has forgotten the unique ministry of the Spirit, the church has ceased to serve and begun to tyrannize, even persecute. The church’s responsibility is always and only, in word and deed, to bear witness to Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility (i.e., God’s responsibility) to honour and empower such testimony in bringing people to faith in and obedience to the Incarnate One himself. In a word, witness is the church’s responsibility while conversion is the Spirit’s. Whenever the church loses sight of this and thinks that it is the church’s responsibility to convert, the church advertises its unbelief as it loses patience with God and bludgeons those who resist its message. To believe in the Spirit is to believe that God keeps the promises he makes concerning the effectiveness he will ultimately lend our witness.

Since Christians inhabit the same world that proved hostile to their Lord, it is the Spirit — and only the Spirit — who can render Christians joyful in the midst of circumstances which foster misery. “You received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit”, says the apostle to those whose joy in the midst of distress was the Spirit’s “secret”.(1 Thessalonians 1:6) But of course in the midst of the “brainwashing” of a pagan environment the Christians in Thessalonica had found the gospel credible — even self-authenticating as the truth — only because the Spirit had surged over them and disarmed the rebel citadel of their Christless hearts. “For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”(1 Thessalonians 1:5)

Those who become sons and daughters of God by adoption (only Jesus is son by nature) are granted access to all the resources of their new parent. One of the ever-needed riches is assurance that they are a child of God whom the Father will cherish eternally. And just as a happy person can’t help smiling nor a perplexed person frowning nor an excited person trembling, so the new heir to the Father’s riches can’t help crying out, “Abba! Father!” Assurance is pressed upon her that she is now and will ever be that daughter whose place in the family of God is secured. The cry welling up out of her heart, says Paul, is “the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”.(Romans 8:15)

Everywhere in scripture the Holy Spirit is evidently associated with Christian experience. Early-day Christians knew that life in the company of the living, ascended One was more than intellectual apprehension (the onesidedness of those who magnify doctrine above all else), and more than lifeless legalism (the pitfall of those who magnify duty above all else). It was “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”(Romans 14:17) There was a stomach-grabbing immediacy to their life in Christ which is the common experience of those who cling to the same Lord. When the Christians in Galatia were in danger of giving up a discipleship which was gospel-fired and Spirit- infused for a dreary, self-justifying moralism, Paul needed to put but one question to them: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”(Galatians 3:2) His reference to the Spirit called their attention to an aspect of their experience so vivid, so horizon-filling, so unmistakable as to be undeniable. It’s as though he had said, “That raging headache you have: Did you get it through too much coffee or through a blow to the head?” No one with a raging headache can pretend — or wants to pretend — that he doesn’t have a headache. No one possessed of the Spirit can pretend — or wants to pretend — that she isn’t possessed of a throbbing reality which became hers (she knows) only as she heard the gospel with faith.

Needless to say, it is the Holy Spirit’s penetration of us now which quickens our hunger for the final, full flowering of God’s work in us on the Great Day. Since the primary fruit of the Spirit is love, the Spirit-birthed love which seeps out of us now longs for that Day when love and nothing but love will pour out of us in self-forgetful self-giving. Since the same Spirit which floodlights Jesus Christ also floodlights our adoration of him, we find ourselves longing for that Day when we are finally and fully “lost in wonder, love and praise.” Since the Spirit is so intimately associated with gifts for ministry, we eagerly anticipate the day when the church, that “royal priesthood”, will serve God without self-consideration.

The New Testament speaks of the Spirit as an “arrabon”, a pledge. In modern Greek “arrabon” is a woman’s engagement ring. Delighted as she is now, she knows that something better, something to be consummated, awaits her. The Christian, moved by God’s Spirit now, knows that the Spirit is but the promise and pledge of something so grand as to leave God’s people filled so as never more to hunger.

O “floodlight” the Lord with me,

and let us exalt his name together.

Psalm 34:3

Victor Shepherd