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Completed by the Spirit Part 22: A Summary

Ed Trefzger : August 31, 2011 5:00 am : Ed Trefzger

This is the 22nd and final part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

The apostle Paul writes throughout his epistles that the law was given for a different covenant and that believers are not under its jurisdiction. He makes no qualifications in this: he does not separate the law into component parts – moral, civil and ceremonial – and he does not prescribe commands of the Torah for our Christian walk.

Paul warns us of the power of the law to promote sin in the flesh and implores us not to submit to its yoke of slavery.

While John is often referred to as the apostle of love, love is a major focus of Paul’s teaching. (A search for “love” in the Pauline epistles returns 115 results in the ESV.) It is love that fulfills the law in the Christian; it is a perfect love of God and of neighbor that is a reflection of the relationship among the Trinity and it is a perfect love of God and of neighbor that is the outworking of our completed Christ-likeness in glory.

Until then, an increasing reliance upon the love of Christ – given to us by His Spirit –molds us more and more into His image.

No law can produce the fruit of the Spirit. All that the law can do is produce sin, despair, self-condemnation and self-righteousness in our remaining imperfection.

It is our union with Christ through His Spirit that results in our sanctification.

“I have come to realize,” writes Jerry Bridges, “that the deep work of spiritual transformation of my soul has been what the Holy Spirit has done, not what I have done. I can to some degree change my conduct, but only He can change my heart.”[1]

Thus, while Paul gives us imperatives in his exposition of what it means to be a follower of Christ in our hearts and in our conduct, those imperatives have their basis only in the indicative of what Christ has done in us.

“[1] There is therefore now no condemnation,” self or otherwise, “for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1–2).

Next: Commentary on this series, the aftermath of the paper, and further thoughts on the Gospel vs. Law sanctification debate — perhaps several posts!

[1] Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 106.


Completed by the Spirit Part 21: Do Not Submit Again to a Yoke of Slavery

Ed Trefzger : August 25, 2011 5:00 am : Ed Trefzger

This is the 21st part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Given all that we’ve studied in this series, how do we apply what is shown to us about sanctification in Scripture?

How do we grow in holiness or counsel those who are combating sin by relying on the Holy Spirit and following imperatives grounded in the indicative of the gospel and the gift of the Spirit of Christ to dwell in us?

Our study has provided us two answers: one positive and one negative.

We do focus on the gospel.

We do not focus on the law.

When we set our eyes on Christ and look at His person and work, we behold more and more what it is that our union with Him has granted to us.

Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson write of the importance of more fully comprehending our union with Christ through His Spirit:

The gospel tells us that Jesus’ life has been given for us and to us. His holy desires have been planted in our hearts. We’re one with him through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Meditating on these truths will energize our pursuit of godliness because our belief that we are in union with Christ “is key to overcoming sin in our lives. … When any of us lose sight of our privileged position as a result of our union with Christ, we lose our ability to resist sin.”[1]

Our union with Christ should refresh our hearts with joy and strengthen our faith to enable us to fight for holiness. Realizing that he has loved us so much that he has made us one with himself should engender fervent love in our hearts, resulting in fervent obedience.[2]

Fitzpatrick and Johnson almost get it. But they do stop short of recognizing the effects of the mystic union we have with Christ’s Spirit and so they seem to frame it more as an intellectual or emotional response. It is more than that. The Puritan Thomas Watson once preached:

This union with Christ may well be called mystic. It is hard to describe the manner of it. It is hard to show how the soul is united to the body, and how Christ is united to the soul. But though this union is spiritual, it is real. Things in nature often work insensibly, yet really (Eccles. 11:5). We do not see the hand move on the dial, yet it moves. The sun exhales and draws up the vapours of the earth insensibly yet really. So the union between Christ and the soul, though it is imperceptible to the eye of reason, is still real (1 Cor. 6:17).[3]

Jerry Bridges also acknowledges our union with the Spirit of Christ while expressing wonder at its nature:

The way the Spirit operates in our lives to sanctify us is shrouded in mystery. Paul said He works in us “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13), but he never tells us just how the Holy Spirit interacts with, or works on, our human spirit. I like to know how things work, and I used to try to figure out how the Holy Spirit interacts with our spirit, but I finally realized it was a futile pursuit.[4]

We need constantly to be reminded of our union with Christ and constantly to be reinforced in our identity in Him. Thirdly, we need to understand our freedom in Him. Ultimately, our nature will be like His; our actions will be holy because our nature will be holy. We will not need laws and rules because our glorified selves will be by nature without sin and our actions will reflect that holy nature. We will be free. “[W]here the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).

But submission to a yoke of slavery – the slavery of sin – is exactly what those would have us use the law as the yardstick – or more accurately as a nightstick – for our sanctification.

An emphasis on personal performance measured by and brow-beaten by the law brings on the despair of the man ofRomans 7, or the hideous and cruel self-condemnation advocated by others. That focus on the law produces what Fitzpatrick and Johnson call the “Sad Moralist:”

[T]he Sad Moralist really does see the law and says in response, “I can’t believe that God loves me like that; why would he?” He knows that God is transcendent, not to be trifled with. The Sad Moralist is a “serious” Christian. When he reads the commands inMatthew 22:37 and following[5] he doesn’t think for one moment he has fulfilled them. He knows his sin. But … he has a pride problem. He believes that he ought to do better, so he is harsh with himself, and he thrashes himself with condemnation, hoping that by so doing he will be able to obey and finally find rest.

He is trying to justify himself by his repentance. He is scrupulously religious and frequently outpaces other Christians around him. But sadly that is never enough to calm his conscience. He thinks that if he could just see his sin as it really is and be sorry enough for it, God would be pleased with him. When he reads about God’s love for us in Christ, he isn’t comforted or enthralled. He is terrified and condemned. He doesn’t know the peace that Christ promises or the joy that should infect his heart.

He … is trying to avoid the realities of the gospel. … [H]e is trying to prove that he is worthy, thereby removing the “stumbling block” of the cross (1 Cor. 1:23).[6]

Isn’t terrified condemnation the response we would expect from binding people under the law?

Isn’t that how we would expect people to behave when we focus them on self-improvement instead of focusing them on what God has done for us in Christ?

Isn’t that what we would expect to see when we focus believers on the law instead of on what God has done in giving His Holy Spirit to us?

Isn’t that exactly what we should expect when we focus believers on external laws that are derived from love instead of focusing them on what God has done in us by giving us the ability to love Him and to love our neighbor?

Paul’s antitheses between Spirit and law show the ineffectiveness of the law. To expect our own selves – or those we might counsel – to show the fruit of the Spirit through the use of the sin-promoting yoke of the law is like the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”[7]

Paul has condemned the use of law both in our justification and in our sanctification. Paul does not advocate Torah in any of his epistles.

To force external law upon believers because of doctrinal, confessional or systematic tradition is unbiblical and cruel. Paul tells us our walk should be one of freedom, joy and love.

Self-loathing, penitence and despair have no place in Paul’s theology, except as the sorry state of the pre-regenerate man. To advocate placing the binding yoke of the slavery that produces sin is nothing short of cruel spiritual abuse and egregious pastoral malfeasance.

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 22: A Summary

[1] The source quotes Bryan Chapell, Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 50–51.

[2] Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson, Counsel From The Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 115.

[3] Thomas Watson, “Mystic Union Between Christ and the Saints” (http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson3.htm), accessed July 25, 2010.

[4] Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), 107–8.

[5] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. [39] And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 23:37b-40a)

[6] Fitzpatrick and Johnson, 79.


Sowing the Seed

Ed Trefzger : August 22, 2011 11:33 am : Ed Trefzger

And no, I’m not talking about the sort of “seed” that “prosperity gospel” hucksters on TV try to connive you to send them.

Over at his blog today, Tim Brister reminds us about the parable of the sower, found in all three synoptic Gospels, includingMark 4:1–20.

The point of Jesus’ parable is that the seed, the gospel, is spread over all kinds of soil, but only takes root in good soil. Tim is right when he says that we’re too stingy in spreading the seed — only looking for a place where it can sprout — rather than trusting God to give the increase.

Tim’s full post is at his blog Provocations and Pantings.


Completed by the Spirit Part 20: A Pattern of Indicative-Powered Imperatives

Ed Trefzger : August 20, 2011 6:08 pm : Ed Trefzger

This is the 20th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

As we noted from the writings of Thomas Schreiner in our previous installment, Paul doesn’t give us commands, or imperatives, in the form of laws, but rather as based in the indicative — that is, in our position in Christ. Paul exhorts us to be who we now are.

In addition to those previous examples, we can also look to Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians for imperatives grounded in the indicative.

Ephesians 4:1–3: [1] I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk,” (imperative), “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (indicative).

Similarly,Ephesians 5, which follows Paul’s indicative description of God’s forgiveness of us through Christ:

[1] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. [2] And walk in love, (imperatives) as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (indicative).

[3] But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, (imperative) as is proper among saints (indicative). [4] Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving (imperative). [5] For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (indicative). [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words (imperative), for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (indicative). [7] Therefore do not become partners with them (imperative); [8] for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord (indicative).

(Ephesians 5:1–8)

InColossians 2:8–15, Paul’s doxology establishes the indicative of Christ, while verses 16–23 (beginning with “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath,”) express the imperatives that flow from that. Then, chapter 3 begins with another indicative-driven imperative:

[1] If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2] Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. [3] For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)

Paul’s pattern of indicative-empowered imperatives – which really means Spirit of Christ-empowered imperatives – continues throughout his epistles. Lee Irons writes:

The real substantive difference in the ethic of the new covenant lies not in the area of the content of this ethic, but in the antithetical contrast between the Law as a covenant of works and the dynamic of grace, with its indicative-grounded imperatives. The Law says, “Do this and live! Sinner, be something you are not!” Grace says, “You have been made alive, therefore be what you are!” The imperatives of the NT are laced with indicatives. … There are no imperatives in the NT that come to us apart from the indicative of our union with Christ, apart from the reality of what we have first become by grace. In the NT we find no sheer commands direct out of heaven from the throne of God, much less the naked ten commandments as an eternally static “moral law” binding on all men. To the extent that the ten commandments contain a just requirement founded on the holiness of God, we find those commands coming to us not from the hands of Moses, but from the hands of Christ who first kept those commands in our place and who calls us to see ourselves as having kept them in him, and to express that vision concretely in our lives.[1]

How do we walk in light of the Gospel, in light of the indicatives? We’ll look at the application of these truths next time.

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 21: Do Not Submit Again to a Yoke of Slavery

[1] Lee Irons, “Not Under The Law But Under Grace,” (http://www.upper-register.com/papers/not_under_law.pdf, 2007), 11.

Completed by the Spirit Part 19: Imperatives Rooted in the Indicative

Ed Trefzger : August 16, 2011 6:37 pm : Ed Trefzger

This is the 19th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

We certainly are given imperatives — commands — in the New Testament. Indeed, many imperatives are included in Paul’s epistles.

But it is vitally important to understand that Paul’s imperatives are not in the form of laws, but are imperatives that are dependent upon the indicative of the gospel.

Professor and theologian Thomas Schreiner explains:

Paul’s exhortations do not fall prey to legalism, for they are rooted in his gospel and the promises of God. Another way of saying this is that the imperative (God’s command) is rooted in the indicative (what God has done for believers in Christ). Believers are saved, redeemed, reconciled, and justified even now, and yet we have seen that each of these blessings is fundamentally escahatological. Believers are already redeemed, and yet they await final redemption. Justification belongs to believers by faith, and yet they await the hope of righteousness on the last day (Gal. 5:5). Believers would not need any ethical exhortations if they were already perfected. But in the interval between the “already” and the “not yet,” ethical exhortation is needed. If the priority of the indicative is lost, then the grace of the Pauline gospel is undermined. The imperative must always flow from the indicative. On the other hand, the indicative must must not swallow up the imperative so that the latter disappears. The imperatives do not compromise Paul’s gospel. They should not be construed as law opposed to gospel. The imperatives are part and parcel of the gospel as long as they are woven into the story line of the Pauline gospel and flow from the indicative of what God has accomplished for us in Christ.[1]

Schreiner gives two examples of imperatives rooted in the indicative of the gospel. He points first to1 Corinthians 5 in which a man has been caught in sexual immorality with his father’s wife. Beginning in verse 6:

[6] Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? [7] Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. [8] Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6–8)

Schreiner notes that there is a coordination between the indicative and the imperative. Paul commands the Corinthians to remove the man from the church because toleration of sin corrupts the entire church. He exhorts the church to “clean out the old leaven,” but grounds it in the words, “as you are really unleavened.”

The indicative of the church as believers being free from evil demands the action to make it a reality in the here and now.[2]

Schreiner’s second example isPhilippians 2:12–13: “[12] Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

A quick read of verse 12 would suggest that we are to save ourselves, but Schreiner explains that while the passage reveals that obedience is necessary for salvation on the last day, “The imperative is grounded in the indicative. … All human obedience testifies to God’s power and grace in the lives of his people.”[3]

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 20: A Pattern of Indicative-Powered Imperatives

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 656.

[2] Ibid., 656–7.

[3] Ibid., 657.


First Item on my 2011 Christmas list

Ed Trefzger : August 15, 2011 1:28 am : Ed Trefzger

Thomas Schreiner calls Gregory K. Beale’s forthcoming book,  A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New his “magnum opus.”

Beale, author of two favorites of mine, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry and The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God – as well as co-editor with D. A. Carson of Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament — has this new work hitting on December 1.

In his endorsement, Schreiner writes, “Certainly Beale has written his magnum opus, in which he deftly integrates the Scriptures via the new creation theme. The use of the Old Testament in the New Testament forms the backbone of this work so that readers grasp how the storyline of Scripture coheres. We stand in debt to the author for his detailed and profound unfolding of New Testament theology.”

Douglas Moo’s endorsement: “The canonical scope and focus on the biblical story line give Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology a unique place among the many New Testament theologies now available. The book is vintage Beale, creatively making connections between Old Testament and New Testament and pursuing a definite vision of how the Bible hangs together.”

I can’t wait!


Completed by the Spirit Part 18: If We Have the Spirit, Why Do We Need Instruction?

Ed Trefzger : August 12, 2011 1:24 pm : Ed Trefzger

This is the 18th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Why?If sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us,  why do believers — who have received the Spirit — still need instruction and exhortation?

First, it is important to remember that believers are still imperfect this side of glory. As we have seen, the incarnate Christ as God-Man was the prototype of the believer given the Holy Spirit.

But unlike us, the incarnate Jesus’ communication with the Holy Spirit was perfect.

In Christ, the Spirit’s communication was complete.

Abraham Kuyper explains this relationship:

There are three differences between this communication of the Holy Spirit to the human nature of Jesus and that in us:

First, the Holy Spirit always meets with the resistance of evil in our hearts. Jesus’s heart was without sin and unrighteousness. Hence in His human nature the Holy Spirit met no resistance.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit’s operation, influence, support, and guidance in our human nature is always individual, i.e., in part, imperfect; in the human nature of Jesus it was central, perfect, leaving no void.

Thirdly, in our nature the Holy Spirit meets with an ego which in union with that nature opposes God; while the Person which He met in the human nature of Christ, partaking of the divine nature, was absolutely holy. For the Son having adopted the human nature in union with His Person, was cooperating with the Holy Spirit.[1]

We as believers fail to cooperate fully with the Holy Spirit. Immature believers, or those with certain weaknesses or besetting sins, need further instruction in ethics to aid their cooperation with the Spirit of Christ.

Paul tells the church at Corinth that its members are immature. “[1] But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. [2] I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, [3] for you are still of the flesh” (1 Cor 3:1–3).

Paul tells the Romans that some of their brothers are weak: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1). Indeed Paul explains that he has been sent as an apostle to bring encouragement: “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Cor 13:10).

Stephen Westerholm writes: “As long as believers remain ‘in the flesh,’ the risk of succumbing to temptation remains.[2] And as T. J. Deidun notes, those external imperatives are to be seen chiefly as a sign of “imperfect liberation.”[3]

Thomas Schreiner doesn’t root the need to provide exhortation or explanation of an ethic of love solely in the imperfection or immaturity of believers, but he does assert the need for it:

For Paul, love does not float free of ethical norms but rather is expressed by such norms. In some ways Paul’s ethic is rather general, for he does not give specific guidance for each situation. He realizes that in many situations wisdom is needed to determine the prudent and godly course of action (Eph. 5:10;Phil. 1:9–11;Col. 1:9–11). Paul does not have a casuistic ethic that prescribes the course of action for every conceivable situation, but neither does he simply appeal to the Spirit and freedom without describing how life in the Spirit expresses itself. The notion that Paul appeals to the Spirit for ethics without any ethical norms is contradicted by his parenesis. Nor should the Pauline theme of obedience be identified as legalism, for the new obedience is the work of the Spirit in those who are the new creation work of Christ. Nor does it diminish the work of the cross, for the cross is the basis and foundation for the transforming work of the Spirit in believers.[4]

Our sanctification is achieved by a union with Christ through His Spirit.

Paul’s exhortations and exposition serve to encourage the cooperation of with the Holy Spirit in the believer.

Paul exhorts not by showing the believer’s shortcomings through a comparison to the law – an external code that engenders sin, and thus resistance to the Spirit – but by encouraging those a reliance on the Spirit that brings the fruit of the Spirit ofGalatians 5:22–23.

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 19: Imperatives Rooted in the Indicative 

[1] Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (London: Funk and Wagnall’s, 1900), 101.

[2] Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 214.

[3] T. J. Deidun, New Covenant Morality in Paul (Rome: Editrice Pontifico Istituto Biblico, 1981, 2006), 209.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 656.


Completed by the Spirit Part 17: The Gospel Brings About All Aspects of Our Salvation

Ed Trefzger : August 9, 2011 1:01 am : Ed Trefzger

This is the 17th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Discipline of Grace cover

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges

Paul’s repeated explanations of the gospel and his doxologies to Christ are not given because the people to whom he writes do not have Christ — or don’t know Him — but because they do know him. Paul writes to the Romans words that echo those we saw last time from1 Thess 4:9:

[14] I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. [15] But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God [16] to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:14–16)

Paul is bringing the words and truth of Christ to remembrance, because it is the gospel of Christ that brings about all aspects of salvation: justification, sanctification and glorification.

But that’s not new information to these saints.

Repeating the gospel does, however, continue to ground them in what is transforming them. Their knowledge of Christ brings them closer to Him, increasing the love of Christ in them. For indeed, we all, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

By beholding Him then, we will be transformed in an instant.

By beholding more of Him now, we are transformed bit by bit.

As Jerry Bridges writes:

Our specific responsibility in the pursuit of holiness as seen in2 Corinthians 3:18, then, is to behold the glory of the Lord as it is displayed in the gospel. The gospel is the “mirror” through which we now behold His beauty. One day we shall see Christ, not as in a mirror, but face to face. Then, “we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Until then, we behold Him in the gospel. Therefore, we must “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.“[1]

Why then, if sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, do believers, who have received the Spirit, still need instruction and exhortation? We’ll look at that next time.

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 18: If We Have the Spirit, Why Do We Need Instruction?

[1] Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006) 111–2.


Completed by the Spirit Part 16: Exhorted in our Union With Christ

Ed Trefzger : August 5, 2011 5:00 am : Ed Trefzger

This is the 16th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper

The Holy Spirit is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Paul wrote inColossians 1:27. It is, according to Abraham Kuyper, a “mystical union with Immanuel.”[1]

Our sanctification is achieved by God through our union with Christ. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:23–24).

The great existence-altering event that happens in our salvation is our union with Christ through His Spirit.

Paul writes inGalatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

To the Romans, he writes:

[3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Rom 6:3–5).

Union with Christ through His Spirit is the only way to combat sin in the flesh – to completely defeat it in the eternal and to battle it in the temporal. Sinclair Ferguson writes:

[T]hose who have been baptized into Christ are united to him in such a way that they share in his death, burial, resurrection, ascension and ultimate glorification. This new identity in union with Christ is the groundwork that the Spirit lays for adequately dealing with the continuing presence of sin. On the basis of it, believers are to put off the characteristics of the old man and but on the characteristics of the new, since they have already put on the new man who is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator.”[2]

That union will result in our glorification on the last day.

However, we’re still stuck in the tension of the now and not yet.

We have been given the Holy Spirit and we are now positionally sanctified and set apart by God as His chosen redeemed. Yet the holiness we are promised often can be elusive in the Christian walk.

What is Paul’s answer to this? Paul encourages us in two things: first, to remember the gospel of Jesus Christ and second, to rely on the Holy Spirit – to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Paul roots his exhortations to believers in the indicative, our position in Christ. Paul’s imperative, which can flow only from that indicative, is to walk as those called by Christ.

That indicative and imperative are treated as inseparable by Paul: because of Christ, this is who you now are and this is how you walk as one called. Paul uses exhortation, encouragement, and parenesis – Paul implores us to be who we now are because of the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us.

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 17: The Gospel Brings About All Aspects of Our Salvation

[1] Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (London: Funk and Wagnall’s, 1900), 333.

[2] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: 1996), 152.


Completed by the Spirit Part 15: Producing Fruit, Not Inspecting Fruit

Ed Trefzger : August 3, 2011 5:00 am : Ed Trefzger

This is the 15th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

While we have seen that the law is ineffectual against sin, and (as Paul argues) that the law promotes sin in sinful flesh, and while we have just seen that it is love that fulfills the two tables of the law, we then must ask, “What, according to Paul, produces growth in holiness?” And that brings us to the great antithesis between the Spirit and the flesh that Paul expounds inGalatians 5. Let’s emphasize once again that Paul is writing to the church. He is not writing a treatise solely on justification by faith. He reminds the Galatians, as we noted above, “You were running well!” These are believers that Paul is cautioning against turning from the Spirit.

[16] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. [17] For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16–17)

While the struggling man ofRomans 7 may or may not be a representative of the unregenerate man facing despair in trying to obey the law, the man addressed by Paul is one who fights the Christian fight, the war between the flesh and the Spirit. 

[18] But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. [19] Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:18–21)

There is a connection between living under the influence of the law and living in the flesh. Paul has already explained to us that the law promotes sin in man’s flesh, and Schreiner explains Paul’s argument:

Those who “are led by the Spirit … are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18). Those who yield to the Spirit are free from the law. For Paul, being under law is the equivalent to being under the power of sin (cf.Rom. 6:14–15). His point is not that those who live in the Spirit are free from all moral norms or moral constraints, as if those who live in the Spirit enjoy unbridled freedom. Instead, those who yield to the Spirit conquer sin and live in love. Those who are still subject to the law end up producing the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19–21). Those who are led by and walk by the Spirit produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).[1]

And what is the fruit of the Spirit? The fruit of the Spirit is not created by inspecting fruit. The perpetually penitent believer (see Completed by the Spirit Part 4) who “repeatedly condemns himself, deplores his wretchedness and despairs over his lack of sanctification” is working against the Spirit and trying to fix himself in the flesh. It is the one who relies on the Spirit who obtains the joy that Paul describes; not the one in bondage to self-condemnation:

[22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. [24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

[25] If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:22–25)

That walk by the Spirit finds its prototype in Jesus Himself declares Sinclair Ferguson, who writes:

The fact that Jesus was the Man of the Spirit is, therefore, not merely a theological categorization; it was flesh-and-blood reality. What was produced in him was fully realized human holiness. He was the incarnation of the blessed life of the covenant and of the kingdom-beatitudes which are its fruit.[2]

Meyer makes a connection between the call inRomans 7 to “serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code,” and the fruit of the Spirit:

Bearing fruit for God means serving in the newness of the Spirit. That is, the Spirit gives birth to newness and fuels “new life” further. … The comparison between “fruit” and “newness” is enlightening for the whole discussion. Fruit grows on a tree because of the root system that causes its growth. The root system accounts for the origin of the fruit (i.e., gives birth to the fruit) and acts as the catalyst that causes further growth (i.e., providing the water and nutrients that are necessary for growth). In the same way, the Spirit accounts for the origin of new life (Spirit creates new life) and acts as the catalyst for future life (Spirit produces new life). … “In newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” ofRom 7:6 is comparable to the phrase “ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” in2 Cor 3:6.[3]

The Holy Spirit working in the God-Man Jesus Christ produced the prototype for our glorified selves. That which we will one day be in glory has been given to us now in the Spirit within us.

We strive to be that which we already are by walking in the Spirit until the time when Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).

We do not do it by becoming slaves to sin, we do not do it by becoming adulterers now that the King has come for His betrothed, and we do not do it through anguished, externally-driven, dismal self-righteousness produced by the dangerous doctrine of the third use of the law.

Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 16: Exhorted in our Union With Christ

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 484.

[2] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: 1996), 52.

[3] Jason C. Meyer, The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 47–8.

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