Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Before we begin to probe more deeply our response to God’s grace as disciples, I want to touch on two other aspects of God’s grace that relate to our identity as children of God: the gift of the Holy Spirit and the bestowal of spiritual gifts. In some ways these gifts are integral to the discovery of our new identity as children of God, and in other ways they are connected to the response we begin to make to God’s grace as disciples. Let’s focus today on God’s giving to us the Holy Spirit (in essence the gift of God’s very presence with us).

In the “Making Disciples” Chart I have called the Holy Spirit the Paraclete. The English word “Paraclete” is derived from a compound Greek word that literally means “one who is called along side another” for the particular purpose of providing aid. Interestingly, the word has two applications, one focused on the person needing aid (where the emphasis is on inviting, summoning, calling for, requesting, imploring, or appealing for aid) and the other focused on the agent who provides aid (who urges, exhorts, encourages, comforts, cheers up, or consoles). Since I have placed the Paraclete under God’s initiative of grace, I am emphasizing the giving of aid at this point; but obviously one fundamental aspect of our human needs (column 1 in the chart) is a recognition that we need aid and assistance from beyond ourselves.

A major portion of evangelical Christianity puts the primary focus on the Holy Spirit’s role in convicting us of sin. For some reason, many Christians seem to feel that we must convince people that they are lost sinners before we can invite them to grace. The Holy Spirit’s initial role is to get inside us and show us what dirty, rotten scoundrels we really are. The Holy Spirit is an external “Convicter” rather than an internal Conscience.

I have been giving a different take on this issue. I believe we all begin with uncertainty about who we are. I believe we all have deep uncertainties about whether we are lovable in any way. We have deep longings to be loved and accepted, and much of the angst we feel (particularly in adolescence) is focused on a low level of self-esteem and a high level of despair that we really may not be lovable at all. I don’t think people need to be convinced of the bad news that they are out of sorts with life. I think they need to hear that they are unique individuals created in the image of God, called by God into the family of faith, and loved so deeply by a gracious God that they can be God’s children. Salvation is more a sense of being flooded with the overwhelming awareness of a gracious love than being convinced that I am a poor, unworthy sinner desperately in need of some Greater Power in my life.

God’s very presence with us is the ultimate expression of grace. The very presence actually became flesh in Jesus, but the very presence is still available to us in the form of the Paraclete. The Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter is God’s present Gift that reminds us of and keeps us connected to the Ultimate Gift in the incarnation. The Paraclete is the evidence that God’s love and grace are present with us and that we not only are part of a family of beloved ones, each of us is a son or daughter of a gracious and loving God.

God’s initiative toward us comes through grace, love, and presence. Judgment comes, not because of who or what we are, but because of the grace, love, and presence we refuse to accept. The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, is the gift of grace in this very moment and in each moment of each day of each year of our lives. The Paraclete is the constant reminder that I am a beloved child of God, a joint-heir with Christ, and a recipient of a grace that compels a response.

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