The God Who Gives
Day 2: The Gift of the Spirit
1 Corinthians 2:12
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
They were spent. The disciples had followed Jesus the Messiah, putting their hope in him, only to see him die a bloody death. Then, in just a matter of days, as they faced the darkness of disillusionment, they encountered the resurrected Jesus, alive! Touch, see, and believe. Jesus was now recognized as the crucified and resurrected Lord, the Son given from the Father for the sake of the world. But what does this mean? Surely now Jesus will stay with them!
With the resurrection the disciples, though tired and confused, have Jesus with them again. A new age was dawning when the risen Messiah would, by his glorious presence, change the world. This must be the end.
But before long the resurrected Jesus tells the disciples it is time for him to go. He will now return to his Father. Can you imagine the disciples looking at one another, wondering what this all means? Doesn’t it seem like God gives a gift, only to take it away the moment people begin to realize its value and significance? How can Jesus’ ascension be good for the disciples? How can his “departing” be good for the world?
Jesus anticipated just how difficult his departure would be for the disciples and tried to prepare them for it. This is why he spent so much time during the Last Supper focusing on the future. In a room full of people who had sacrificed much to follow him, Jesus reveals that he will be going away, but he gives them this encouragement: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).
During the Last Supper Jesus tells the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). When children lose both parents, they lose the comfort of belonging and are left vulnerable and alone. Knowing that the disciples have this growing fear of abandonment, Jesus promises not to desert them. Paradoxically, he will continue to give even as he is taken away. Unimaginable as it may seem, Jesus tells the disciples that it is to their “advantage” for him to go away: “For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Who is this Helper? How can it be to our advantage for Jesus to leave?
When God gives, he gives nothing short of himself. As the one who alone is called the “gift of God” (John 4:10; Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17; Eph. 4:7; Heb. 6:4), the Spirit is given by all three persons of the Trinity, not only proceeding to us from the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7), but also freely giving himself and distributing his gifts as he wills (Heb. 2:4).1
When the Father gave the Son, this was not his final gift. In his triune generosity, God continues to give in ways that his disciples could not have asked or imagined. Encountering the resurrected Jesus confirmed the reality of God’s presence with the disciples through the Son. Receiving the “gift of God” meant the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the triune God—now abides within all who believe.2 By the Spirit, God gives himself in such a way that he is not only with us, but in us.
As Jesus ascends, the Spirit descends; the Spirit of God is the presence of God. Without reservation the New Testament assumes that where the Spirit is, there is Christ, and encounter with the Spirit of God is encounter with Yahweh. There is one true God, who in his mysterious reality is three persons, each distinct from the other and yet existing in unbreakable unity and perfect oneness.
Truly Christian generosity is Trinitarian: it flows from and reflects the triune life of God. This theme takes us to the heart of biblical generosity, since every act of true Christian charity is ultimately an overflow of God’s life and love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
The disciples thought that the coming of the Messiah was the final act of God’s giving himself and ushering in his kingdom on earth. While Christ is certainly the central point and person of all history, the coming of the Spirit is another instance where God defies our expectations and overwhelms us with his generosity.
- What did you learn about the gift of the Holy Spirit? How is God helping you grow in awareness of and appreciation for the gift of the Holy Spirit?
- Jesus says we are not orphans. We are not alone and abandoned. Rather, we are adopted and loved. What parts of your life do you need the Spirit to help you overcome an orphan mentality?
O Holy Spirit, I bless you for being the Helper Christ promised. I pray you would fill me and help me to experience the same power that raised Christ from the dead. When I fail to see and acknowledge my sin, convict me of unrighteousness. When I think about my sin, assure me that I am God’s child on account of Christ. When I suffer, groan with me and give me the hope of the future Christ has secured for me. Amen.
- Throughout the history of the church there is a long debate about what is called the filioque clause (“and the Son”) that was added to the early creed. This debate was whether the Spirit came from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. We cannot get into this debate here, but for those interested, see the relevant sections in Gary D. Badcock, Light of Truth and Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); Donald G. Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Catholic Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1997); Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, Life in the Spirit (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992); T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988); Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004).
- Raymond Brown similarly notes the potential triadic pattern in the Last Supper, or certainly the “three types of divine indwelling” that are promised in John 14:15–24: the Spirit will dwell in the disciples (vv. 15–17), Jesus will dwell in them (vv. 18–21), and the Father with Jesus makes his abode in the disciples (vv. 23–24). Brown concludes, “All these indwellings were thought to be accomplished through and in the Paraclete. The Paraclete is the presence of Jesus while Jesus is absent. . . . And since the Father and Jesus are one, the presence of the Father and Jesus (23) is not really different from the presence of Jesus in the Paraclete.” See Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John, Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 642–43.