How the Spirit Gives – An Excerpt from Rediscovering the Holy Spirit
In today’s excerpt from Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, author, pastor, and theologian Michael Horton reveals that the work of God’s Spirit is far more ordinary and common than we realize. Horton argues that we need to take a step back every now and again to focus on the Spirit himself—his person and work—so that we can gain a fresh dependence on the Holy Spirit in every area of our lives.
Along with exploring the distinctness of the Spirit’s person and operations in the external works of the Trinity, my goal in this study has been to highlight the ways in which the Holy Spirit is identified in Scripture with not only—or even primarily—that which is extraordinary, spontaneous, and chaotic, but with creating faith, beautiful order, knowledge and wisdom, and love with its fruits even through ordinary creaturely means. Taking up the relationship of the Spirit to the means of grace, this chapter is an important link between the gifts that the Spirit gives to us as individual believers by uniting us to Christ and his role in simultaneously uniting us to his body, the church.
On no other point, in my view, is the Spirit’s work more misunderstood than with regard to the manner of his operation in the life of believers. Anything can happen when the Spirit shows up according to common perception, and we may especially expect the Spirit to throw the institutional church into disarray with his extraordinary and spontaneous activity. Restricting the Spirit’s agency, power, and presence to the “fireworks,” however, deprives us of the joy of recognizing his role in our everyday lives. As we have seen, God sometimes works directly and immediately, as in the fiat command, “Let there be light!” but he also is at work within creation to bring about its appropriate response to his declaration, “Let the earth bring forth. . . .” The Spirit is at work within creation in both ways, by commanding life out of death in regeneration but also by empowering us daily to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. And as in all of his works, the Spirit ordinarily uses creaturely means to accomplish both types of operations.
We have seen recurrently how the Spirit’s work is associated with ordering, structuring, building, growing, and maturing. Far from being the antithesis to order, discipline, and institutional structure, it is the Spirit who indwells creation and turns a chaos into a cosmos. It is the Spirit alone who makes these weak creaturely vessels his means of reordering human existence. They are his beachhead for the ground campaign—or, to use a more domestic analogy, it is through them that the Spirit turns a condemned building into a lavishly furnished home.
His renovating work is often disruptive but always ultimately constructive. He divides and separates, cutting us away from this dying age, but only to unite us to Christ and his body. The Spirit is at work in these last days not to stir people to ecstasy and spontaneous convulsions but to put things right in a world of violently competing wills and aversion to the good, the true, and the beautiful. He reorders our loves, so that we will set our hearts on the Giver rather than his gifts. He gives wisdom and understanding, illuminating our hearts to receive, proclaim, and obey his word.
The Spirit apportions the spiritual gifts won by Christ according to the Father’s map, just as he apportioned the inheritance of Canaan according to each tribe—indeed, as even he divided creation into ordered realms and placed each under its own creature-king, with Adam as his viceroy over all. Rule, subdue, bring order, defend, guard, and keep the sanctuary: these recurring job descriptions given to Adam and Eve and to the priests of Israel are now perfectly fulfilled in Christ, and we share in his royal and priestly anointing by the Spirit who empowered Christ in his vocation. It is not a top-down ordering, like the despotic or bureaucratic powers of our age, but inside out. Curved in on ourselves “in Adam,” we are made by the Spirit ecstatic in the proper sense “in Christ,” filled with awe and delight and the power to truly live in and as part of his new creation.
Chaos is not a sign of the Spirit’s presence and blessing. The Spirit establishes order and unity, building the church up into Christ through preaching and teaching, baptism and the Supper, and he gives a diversity of gifts for the church’s common life, discipline, worship, prayer, and witness. It is the Holy Spirit who appoints elders in the church (Acts 20:28). He authorizes specific elements of public worship through inspired apostolic injunctions. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints,” Paul reminded the chaotic and immature Corinthians (1 Cor 14:33 KJV). The Spirit delivers Christ to us not just anywhere and in any way but where and how he has promised. Although he is free to work outside of his covenanted mercies, we are assured of his saving blessings and presence only where he has been promised to us. If we identify the Spirit only with the unexpected and irregular, we will miss most of the times and places where he actually meets us.