I remember reading a book that said, “It could be argued that the Spirit lies at the center of Reformed faith.” I wrote in the margin, “You’d have to argue pretty hard.”
I wasn’t kidding. I was aware of churches in which the Holy Spirit played a prominent role in people’s lives, and they weren’t Christian Reformed.
Then I began to discover that in Reformed faith, the work of the Spirit is closely intertwined with that of God the Father and Jesus. It isn’t the case that the Spirit is a new revelation of what God is like in our lives; rather, the Spirit enables and continues the work that began in creation and was carried forward by Jesus.
That sounds good and solid and Reformed, and, well, just a little boring, doesn’t it? Almost as if we’re trying to leash the more unpredictable aspects of the Spirit. But is that the case? Let’s look at the Bible for some help, some examples from the Old Testament, from the gospels, and from Pentecost itself.
The Creating and Renewing Spirit
I’ll highlight only three of the many ways the Spirit works in the Old Testament.
First, the Spirit is given to help people fulfill their vocational calling: the Spirit is given to the artisans who used their skill to shape the tabernacle in the wilderness, to prophets, to those who rule Israel.
Second, the Spirit upholds all of the created order. Psalm 104 outlines in detail God’s care for the skies, the earth, and the animals on the earth. It’s God’s Spirit that created and sustains all these living things, and it’s God’s Spirit that renews the earth.
Third, God’s Spirit is the agent of renewal for the world. This renewal happens when the Spirit brings life to the dead, as in the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. It happens when a new ruler, anointed with the Spirit of the Lord, brings justice, righteousness, and peace to renew the nation (Isa. 11). It happens when the Spirit is poured out on the wilderness, renewing creation so that it, too, becomes a place of justice, righteousness, and peace (Isa. 35). Renewal happens when the people of God are given new hearts and a new Spirit, so that their sins are forgiven once and for all (Ezek. 36).
The Spirit of Justice
Jesus picks up on Isaiah’s vision of the Spirit when he preaches at Nazareth (Luke 4:18). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he begins. What does that Spirit bring? Good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. When God’s Spirit comes to life in God’s anointed, ancient promises of justice are fulfilled. When God’s Spirit is present, hearts and minds are renewed and social structures begin to shift.
The Spirit of Pentecost
But is that what Pentecost is about? When the Spirit came, Jews from other countries heard the gospel in their own languages (Acts 2:3-11). Immigrants and refugees, scorned because of their accents, were suddenly welcomed by the words of the gospel. In a culture where your race could result in injustice and oppression, preaching the gospel in other languages is a message itself: this gospel breaks down the barriers that destroy peace. It is a gospel of justice.
The Spirit renewed the hearts of the earliest Christian community in this way: those who believed sold their possessions, distributing the proceeds to those in need; they ate together; they prayed together (Acts 2:44-47). Good news to the poor, indeed.
A renewal of creation, a renewal of our hearts, a renewal of society to bring justice, righteousness, and peace. That certainly isn’t boring. And in our culture, it certainly isn’t predictable.
- What is your understanding of the Holy Spirit in the Reformed tradition?
- Discuss the examples that the author gives to highlight the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament, the gospels, and Pentecost itself. What do you notice as you reflect on these examples? What questions come to mind?
- Can the Spirit accomplish good without human consent and cooperation? Give examples to back up your thoughts.
- How is the Holy Spirit renewing the heart of your faith community? What is the evidence of this?