Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Spirit's Humility toward Sinners

Not only is the Holy Spirit humble toward the Father and the Son, He is humble toward sinners. This humility is not easy for us to see because of our sin.

Polluted Temples

The Holy Spirit dwells in temples. From Scripture, we know of four temples where He dwells. The first is the true tabernacle made without hands in heaven.[1] The second were the tabernacle and temples of Israel.[2] They were earthly shadows and copies of the true tabernacle in heaven, to give us some idea of heavenly realities. The third is the body of Christ.[3] The fourth is the bodies of believers.[4] The first and third are pure. The second and fourth are polluted. They need cleansing.

The tabernacle had a court called the Holy Place, but the priest had to “make atonement for the Holy Place.”[5] It had an altar, but the priest had to “go out to the altar that is before the Lord, and make atonement for it.”[6]

In the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.[7]

Insensitivity to Sin and Humility

It takes a holy person to feel sin. Sinners cannot feel sin. Our consciences are seared.

Who could see sin in the Holy Place? The Holy Spirit saw it, and commanded that atonement be made for it. Who could see sin in the altar that is before the Lord? The Holy Spirit saw it.

We do not see the pollution of ourselves as a temple unfit for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sees it, and yet He comes to dwell within us. Sin makes us insensitive to the humility it takes for that Spirit whose name is Holy to come low and dwell in us.

The Sinfulness of Sin

It is hard for us to see sin for its sinfulness. We see sin as mistakes or weaknesses. We see sin in examples, symptoms, or consequences. It is hard for us to see sin in its essence, to see it straight on as sin rather than sins, as a lack of love toward God, a hatred of him,[8] an enmity against him.[9]

Paul says,[10] “Sin, that it may appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good.” (NKJV) Or, “It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin.” (ESV) Sin is sin, but it does not appear to us as itself. It does not appear as sin. God, by his law, must unmask sin so that it will appear as it is, as sin.

To us, sin is not a terror. Sin is not a horror. We do not feel that sin makes our lives a living nightmare. We do not see sin as the cause of death. We do not grieve as for a dead person over our sin and the sinfulness of it. 

The Worst of Evils

It is hard for us to see that sin is worse than temptation, death, the Devil, and hell.

Sin is worse than hell. Hell is only the punishment. Sin is the crime. Sin is what makes hell hellish. Hell is being confined in my sin with no way out. Hell is my self, alone, forever, the way I am. Sin is what makes hell hellish.

Sin is worse than the Devil. Sin made the Devil what he is. What is devilish but sin?  Not all men are possessed by a devil, but all men are possessed by sin.  The devil gives up for a season, but sin scarcely ever does. When Jesus endured the Devil for 40 days in a wilderness, the Devil left him until a more opportune time, but in us sinful desires are incessant.

Sin is worse than temptation. Temptation only acts on and appeals to sin that already lies within us. Were there no sin, temptation never would have a payday for its labor.

Sin is worse than death, for sin is the sting of it.[11] How is it that we do not feel the sting? The sting itself, sin itself, makes us unfeeling.

A Temple Worse than Hell

Insensitivity to sin is a not a problem for the Holy Spirit. He sees sin for what it is. As bad as death, the Devil, and hell are, He ranks sin worse.

Would we think that the Holy Spirit should dwell in Hell? But He does dwell in a worse place, in us. Though He is holy, He dwells in sinners, to save us.

For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.[12]

By the indwelling Holy Spirit we may experience grief over our sin and joy over God’s holiness. When the Spirit comes, He gives us the gifts of contrition and a humble heart. He comes to us in humility, and He gives us his humility. We have none of our own.

The humility of Christ in voluntarily humiliating himself to work atonement for our sin is matched by the humility of the Spirit in voluntarily entering sinners to apply the atonement to us. God saves us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”[13] The Spirit enters, regenerates, and sanctifies sinners.

The Sole Power of Temple Cleansing

We are helpless without the Spirit.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.[14]

The temple polluted, defaced and destroyed, the Divine Resident has gone, and the heart, once so sweet a home of Deity, is now the dwelling-place of all sin. … But it was God’s eternal and gracious purpose to restore this temple. … In the restoration of this temple, man was not auxiliary. He could be none. His destruction was his own, his recovery was God’s. He ruined himself; that ruin he could not himself repair. The work of restoration is a greater achievement of Divine power than was the work of creation.[15]

“But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”[16] “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”[17]


1.  Heb 8:2, 5, 9:11, 23-24.
2.  Ex 25:8, 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11.
3.  Mk 14:58.
4.  Ezek 36:27, 37:14; John 14:16-17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:22.
5.  Lev 16:16.
6.  Lev 16:17.
7.  Heb 9:21-22.
8.  Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9.
9.  Rom 8:7.
10.  Rom 7:13.
11.  1 Cor 15:56.
12.  Is 57:15.
13.  Titus 3:5.
14.  Martin Luther, The Small Catechism, explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.
15.  Octavius Winslow, The Work of the Holy Spirit, pp. 90-91 (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972 reprint, first published 1840).
16. 1 Cor 6:11.
17.  Rom 15:13.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Humility of the Spirit within the Trinity

We have been considering humility in the Triune God.

The Persons of the Trinity are humble. Each Person prefers the Others before himself. The Trinity shows their humility, and their humility shows the Trinity.

Previously we considered the humility of the Father and the Son. The last posting was a Prelude to the Spirit’s Humility. In this posting, we advance from prelude to the Spirit’s humility within the Trinity.

Whose Brand?

Tom Peters wrote:

Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. Here's what it takes to be the CEO of Me Inc.[1]

Such is the world.

The Holy Spirit is not of the world. Although the Spirit is a person, that is not the same thing as an individual.[2] The Spirit is not of this Age of the Individual. He is not the CEO of Me Inc. or Spirit Inc. He promotes a brand, so to speak, but not his own.

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.[3]

We recognize the Spirit by seeing where the brand of Jesus is recognized. Here is Jesus’ brand: the man Jesus is God come in the flesh. Wherever we see Jesus recognized as God incarnate, there is the Spirit. The Spirit promotes the brand of Jesus.

The Spirit Glorifies the Son

The Spirit does not even decide for himself what to say. Although the Spirit is equally God with the Father and the Son, although He is free and not subordinate to either the Father or the Son, by character, he lets the Father decide for him the topic of his testimony. “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.”[4] The Father speaks. The Spirit hears the Father speaking. The Spirit says what hears.

Following the Father, the Spirit’s topic is the Son. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”[5]

The Spirit glorifies the Son.  “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”[6]

In those verses, we hear Jesus say what the Spirit would do after Christ’s ascension. Then in Acts and the Epistles, we see the Spirit do it. “We are His witnesses to these things [concerning Christ], and so also is the Holy Spirit”[7] “No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”[8]

Jesus Marked by the Dove

When Jesus submitted to the baptism of John, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and alighted on Jesus.[9] Here is why.

John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”[10]

The Spirit marked Jesus for John as the Christ. The Spirit became a sign pointing to Christ.

Jesus Conceived and Resurrected

Christmas and Easter are the two most noted events in the life of Christ. Both were done for Jesus by the Spirit.

Jesus was conceived in the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.[11]

Jesus was resurrected by the Holy Spirit.[12]

Sent by the Father and the Son

Who among us likes to be told what to do or where to go?

My father told me which school to attend and what to study. UND and accounting. It didn’t end there. I’ll spare you the rest. Decades later, I am still in a vocation designated for me by my father.[13] Outside my own family, the reaction to this has been unanimous: which century are you from? Hardly anyone accepts such direction of one individual by another. But the Spirit gladly goes where the Father sends him.

I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth …  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.[14]

The Spirit is sent also by the Son. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”[15]

About Who’s Business?

Having been sent here by the Father and the Son, what is the Spirit doing? He has been sent here, but not on his own business. When Joseph and Mary lost track of Jesus and later found him in the temple, Jesus spoke of being about his Father’s business. In a similar way, the Spirit is about the business of the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he saw Christ.[16] When Jesus’ parents brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon “came by the Spirit into the temple.”[17] Simeon said, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”[18] The Spirit brought Simeon to Jesus and salvation.

The Spirit does this not just for Simeon.  “Through Him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”[19] The Spirit serves as access through Christ to the Father. The Spirit is about the Son’s and the Father’s business.

This is so not only in the application of the atonement to sinners, but in the working of atonement itself. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”[20] There is Christ working atonement by his blood. There is the Father to whom Christ makes the offering of himself. There is the Spirit, between the Father and the Son. Christ offered himself to the Father through the Spirit. No Trinity, no Atonement. No Spirit, no Atonement. No humility in the Spirit, no Atonement.

Having seen the indispensability of the humility of the Spirit in the atonement, we can anticipate the next posting on the humility of the Spirit toward sinners.

1.  Tom Peters, “The Brand Called You,” Fast Company, August 31, 1997.
2.  “Why, then, believe in God as Trinity? ... First, a ‘person’ is not at all the same as an ‘individual’. Isolated, self-dependent, none of us is an authentic person but merely an individual, a bare unit as recorded in the census. Egocentricity is the death of true personhood. Each becomes a real person only through entering into relation with other persons, through living for them and in them. There can be no man, so it has been rightly said, until there are at least two men in communication. The same is true, secondly, of love. Love cannot exist in isolation, but presupposes the other. Self-love is the negation of love. As Charles Williams shows to such devastating effect in his novel Descent into Hell, self-love is hell; for, carried to its ultimate conclusion, self-love signifies the end of all joy and all meaning. Hell is not other people; hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.” Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p.28, (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995).
3.  1 John 4:2-3.
4.  Jn 16:13.
5.  John 15:26.
6.  Jn 16:14-15.
7.  Acts 4:32.
8.  1 Cor 12:3.
9.  Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22.
10. Jn 1:32-33.
11. Mt 1:18-20; Lk 1:35.
12. 1 Pet 3:18.
13. That’s only half of the truth, of course. In my case, the vocation of God, that is, God’s calling me into a work, was mediated by the voice of my earthly father. That’s a topic for another time.
14. Jn 14:16-17, 26.
15. Jn 15:26.
16. Lk 2:25-26.
17. Lk 2:27.
18. Lk 2:30.
19. Eph 2:18.
20. Heb 9:14.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Prelude To the Spirit's Humility

We have been considering humility in the Triune God.

The Persons of the Trinity are humble. Each Person prefers the Others before himself. The Trinity shows their humility, and their humility shows the Trinity. Humility is divine because God is humble. It is not just something that God commands in others. It is something God is and does. No god but the Trinity can be humble, because only the Trinity has Persons.

All by itself, this is reason enough to convert from the gods and self-esteem to the Trinity. Every god other than the Trinity is vainglorious and unworthy of worship. No one-person god can be humble.[1]  One-person gods can only be self-willed, self-loving, and self-esteeming. All one-person gods are sinners, just like us.

Offense of Humility

The Trinity is revealed only by Christ, the Cross, and Scripture. The world never could have thought of it. On hearing of the Trinity, the world is offended. The Trinity is part of the offense of the Cross. The Trinity shows that Christ humbled himself to the Father to the point of death, even the death of the Cross.[2]  It is offensive to sinners that Jesus is humble and suffered crucifixion because of our vainglory before entering into his glory.[3] 

The Trinity is offensive also to the gods. It is offensive to them that only the Father, Son, and Spirit can be divine. Only the Father, Son, and Spirit can be divine because only They are humble.[4] Three gods perhaps could form a triad, but a triad is not the Trinity. The gods are only demons.[5]

Humility of Father and Son

Previously we saw the humility of the Father.[6] The Father glorifies Jesus. He directs our attention, obedience, and worship to the Son. He gives the Kingdom to the Son.

We saw the humility of the Son.[7] He voluntarily entered a state of humiliation: birth in poverty, born under the law, life of suffering, crucifixion, and burial. On the cross, Jesus’ shame and dishonor were total. He caused his glory to vanish. Not only did He not look like God, He did not even look like a man. He was a King who set aside his glory. His humility was toward both his Father and us. He looked not to his own interests, but to ours.

There is still much more to the humility of the Father and the Son. We might look more into their humility at other times. For now, let’s prepare ourselves for an opening view of the humility of the Holy Spirit. His humility, too, is enormous.

The Spirit’s Rightful Glory

Many texts of Scripture show the glory due to the Spirit.

Since this posting is a prelude, we can summarize the Spirit’s rightful glory in the words of the Ecumenical Creeds.[8] The Athanasian Creed summarizes from Scripture that the Spirit is uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, God, and Lord. It says, “In this Trinity none is before the other or after another; none is greater or less than another.” The Nicene Creed says the Spirit “with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”

If summaries of Scripture in the Three Ecumenical Creeds are inadmissible, in a prelude we have space to consider two texts of Scripture. In one, Christ says that there is only one unforgivable sin, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Every other sin and blasphemy can be forgiven; but not that one, not in this world or the next.[9]  In another, Luke reports that for lying to the Holy Spirit, two people fell dead.[10]  Who could this Spirit be if sin and blasphemy against the Father and the Son could be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot? Who could this Spirit be if people who lie to him fall dead?

There are more pleasant revelations of the glory of the Spirit in Scripture. The dreadfulness of the two texts used here does show, however, the majesty of the Spirit. His glory is equal to the glory of the Father and the Son.

The Spirit and the Kingdom

The Spirit is glorious, but He makes little of himself. Like the Father, He glorifies Christ.[11] He witnesses to Christ12 and with Christ brings sinners to the Father.[13] With the Father, He gives the Kingdom to the Son.[14] At the consummation of the age, the Spirit, with the Son, will return the Kingdom to the Father.[15]

The Spirit invites many to the marriage of Christ and his Bride, the Church. The Father will make quite a production of his Son’s marriage, and the Spirit will draw multitudes to the glory of the Bridegroom and Bride on that day.[16]

Meanwhile, the Spirit brings the Kingdom to us and us into the Kingdom.[17] At different times, the Father and the Son have the Kingdom, but the Spirit never does. The Spirit is always building a Kingdom for Others. Humility.

The Spirit is humble toward the Father, humble toward the Son, and humble toward sinners. The Spirit — think of it — is humble toward you and me. Faith sees the glory of the Spirit’s humility, and worships him.

In the next posts, we will look at the humility of the Spirit within the Trinity, and then the humility of the Spirit toward sinners.


1.  For example, though the word Islam means “submission,” Allah never submits to anyone. He does not submit to angels, man, or beast. Because Allah is only one person, there is no one in god besides himself, and therefore no one in god to whom he can submit. The Trinity alone makes humility in God possible.
2.  Phil 2:8.
3.  Gal 5:15, 3:10-15, 6:14; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Lk 24:26.
4.  Psalm 138:2 says, “You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” God humbles himself to keep his word. He humbles himself by directing us to know him by the weak and foolish means of his Word rather than through self-glorious manifestations of his majesty. God absconds; he hides in the weakness and foolishness of his word, and let’s himself appear weak and foolish. See Lk 10:21.
5.  1 Cor 10:20-21; Rev 9:20; 1 Tim 4:1; Lev 17:7; Dt 32:17; Ps 106:37.
6.  See the Recap page for summaries and links to the postings.
7.  See the Recap page for summaries and links to the postings.
8.  See The Three Ecumenical or Universal Creeds in the Book of Concord.
9.  Matt 12:31-32.
10.  Acts 5:1-11.
11.  Jn 16:14.
12.  Jn 15:26; Matt 10:19-20; Mk 13:11; Acts 2:33, 5:32; 1 Cor 12:3.
13.  Eph 2:18.
14.  Lk 22:29.
15.  1 Cor 15:24; Matt 26:29; Lk 11:2.
16. Rev 20:7-9, 21:2, 9; Matt 22:2-14.
17.  Lk 2:27, 12:32; Matt 12:28; Jn 3:5; Rom 14:7.