The Body Work of the Spirit
June 25, 2015 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Life In the Spirit, Part 7
Over the past month I have been reflecting on the various aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit seeks to sustain us “in Christ” through his ministries of regeneration, illumination, and sanctification. The work of the Spirit is not limited, though, to an individual experience. In fulfillment of his declaration in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” Jesus has poured out his Spirit on believers. It is through the work of the Spirit that Christ builds his church. We call this the body work of the Spirit and the gifting of the Spirit. Both are the work of Christ through the Spirit in order to build his church.
Paul speaks about the Spirit’s role in the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The key word here is the preposition “in”… “in one Spirit we were all baptized…” As we have seen before, Christ is the baptizer; the Spirit is the “element” Christ baptizes with (or in). Christ gives the Spirit to individual believers to unite them into one body.
Paul highlights this work of Christ, using different metaphors, in Ephesians 2. “For Christ himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two… In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:14, 15, & 22).
In both contexts, Paul speaks about the unity that breaks down both ethnic and socio-economic barriers. The church as the single body of Christ, the single dwelling place for God, is made of a vastly diverse people (cf. Rev. 5:9). This is the work of the Spirit, to unite all believers into one body. He does this in two ways. In fact, these are the same as the Spirit’s work in regeneration, illumination, and sanctification.
1. The Spirit convicts and humbles us in light of our sin, thus removing any and all reason to boast over others. Being united to Christ by the Spirit through the gospel inevitably brings us face to face with our humiliating weakness and insufficiency to do anything. Nothing unites people like pain and suffering (think of any national tragedy and people’s response). The Gospel is a declaration of crisis for each and every soul, thus leveling any sense of superiority over others. We need this continual work of the Spirit in order to unite us together in our need.
2. The Spirit magnifies Christ and so draws individuals (from many different places) closer together by drawing them closer to Christ. As the Spirit unites us in our need, he binds us together even more with the all-sufficient provision of Christ. The more we grow in our sanctification (becoming more like Christ) the closer we grow to one another.
Notice that the Spirit’s work always is centered on Christ. This is how Christ builds his church: the Spirit’s work of drawing individuals into faith-driven satisfaction in Christ and so building up the body. Later in Ephesians, Paul commands the church to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). The only way to maintain the unity of the Spirit is to center all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength on Jesus Christ.