The Holy Spirit from the Teleological Perspective

As those of you who've been in my small groups, or classes, or even at lunch with me will no doubt know - I've gone to using the "teleological perspective" of Christianity as my interpretive grid for just about everything requiring any sort of interpretation in my world.

There's no way to summarize the teleological perspective in this article. For more information on this particular theological framework, feel free to browse the articles I've written here, or better yet read some material from brilliant Third Quest theologians like N.T. Wright or E.P. Sanders.

Anyhow, a reader asked a question on my article entitled "Is THAT the Holy Spirit?" about the exact nature of the "baptism in the Holy Spirit". That phenomenon is, of course, central to the expressed theology of the various Pentecostal and Charismatic churches that I have been a part of for most of my life.

Here are my thoughts...

As I said above, the teleological perspective is my chosen interpretive framework for the world of ideas and experience. Thus, I must ask the question, "According to the teleological perspective of Christianity - what is the purpose (telos) of the Holy Spirit's involvement in human lives?".

Standard practice among my teachers and I is to look first to those parts of the historical narrative that set expectation for the events of the first century, and in this case, Jesus' death, resurrection and the sending/arrival of the Holy Spirit recorded first in Acts and then illuminated throughout Romans and other epistles.

So let's start with Jeremiah 31:31-34:

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.

But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

and then look at Ezekiel 36:24-31:

"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices."

These passages join the chorus of many, many others in the prophetic books concerning the restoration of Israel, and ultimately, the restoration of the whole world.

Note the words I bolded. I submit to you that these passages tell us the purpose for the Spirit being placed within us.

Can you see it? It's to keep God's laws (to stay in covenant with him) so that we may be the people of God!

The strong message in the exile of Israel is that she just could not seem to keep God's laws. Any first-year Bible student knows you can't be in covenant with God if you break his laws! A covenant is an agreement, or contract - and as we all know, contracts can indeed be broken.

In fact the whole sacrificial system was a means by which Israelites could come back into covenant relationship with God if they broke his law.

But finally, Israel's repeated abuses, at both the personal and national levels - made those sacrifices stink to God! According to the narrative - God sent them into exile. No land, no kingdom, no temple. You know the story.

So what did God then do? With the New Covenant - he changed the equation. He made a way for humans to be changed "on their insides".

He placed his Spirit in us so that his laws would be "written on our hearts" - they'd be implanted in us rather than remaining as a mocking external reminder of our inherent weakness and inability to please God. See Romans 8 for Paul's take on this...

So with all that in mind - is the Spirit required for entrance into the Kingdom? In my view, yes - because the entirety of the Christian metanarrative plainly shows us that we cannot stay in covenant with God apart from something dramatic. That is - the Spirit's work in us.

The law must simply be placed inside of us in order for us to keep it - that's what God said through Jeremiah and Ezekiel as we saw.

Now, then... How and when exactly do we receive the Spirit? Or put another way, is the baptism in the Holy Spirit a "second work of grace"?

I urge you to think these questions through in light of what we said above, in light of the whole covenant/kingdom story and in light of evidence from the book of Acts. Stay tuned!

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