What does the Holy Spirit really do in our lives?
Among some of the largest, most popular and youth-oriented churches today, it is popular to talk about the Holy Spirit as if He is God’s way of giving us lives of beauty and victory as much as possible. You know the Holy Spirit’s working in your life if you hear his voice all the time, and if you are pursuing your dreams and getting the life you really want. And so we have musicians, singers and artists, along with pastors and other preachers, talking endlessly about this life of awesomeness that you live when the Holy Spirit is really working in your life. Since they have successful careers, talk to large audiences, and produce really, really beautiful instagram feeds, it can be tempting to think–why don’t I have the Holy Spirit in my life like that? I mean, I want that!
But are these the kind of things the Holy Spirit really does?
Which brings me to some more gold from Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence. In this passage, discussing 2 Corinthians 5:5 (“Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. “) Now, Dr. Fee is a bona fide Pentecostal, and if you listen carefully, he’s directly addressing some of these teachings about the Holy Spirit, because they were exactly the sort of thing the Christians in Corinth were dealing with. About the verse, he notes:
[In 2 Corinthians 5:5,] as in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:44-45, the Spirit is…the affirmation of our present bodily existence. We may “groan” a bit in it; but it is not to be despised. As down payment [or “guarantee”], the Spirit in our present earthly existence also serves, as this passage makes abundantly clear, to verify that this is mortal body is going to be “overclothed” with another body, which in 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul called a “Spiritual” body and here images as a “heavenly dwelling, eternal, not made with hands.”
And here’s where Dr. Fee makes the really relevant connection between the Corinthian church and so much of our church in America [with my added emphasis]:
It is impossible to know how the Corinthians responded to 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. Very likely, they did so with less than enthusiasm.
For them the Spirit meant present ecstasy, life above and beyond mere bodily weakness, and thus evidence of being finally released from the bodily existence altogether; for Paul the Spirit meant present empowering for life in the midst of bodily weakness in a body obviously in process of decay.
But now he is reaffirming his position from 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, that the presence of the Spirit also means that these “decaying bodies” have also been stamped with eternity; they are destined for resurrection and thus transformation into the likeness of Christ’s now glorified body. God himself, Paul here argues, “has fashioned us for this”; and the Spirit, whom the Corinthians have come to understand in a triumphalistic way, is rather the guarantee, the down payment, from God that these bodies are also destined for a “Spiritual” (=glorified) future. (pp. 326-327)
And then Fee adds this observation about Paul’s list of “proofs” of his authority in 2 Corinthians 6:6-7:
What is striking in all of this is the inclusion of the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a list that fully affirms weakness, in the form of hardship and apparent defeat, as a part of his apostolic ministry. This theme receives a thoroughgoing workout in this letter and is brought to its climax in 12:6-10 and 12:6-10 and 13:1-10. As noted before, the Spirit for Paul leads not to triumphalism, but to triumph in Christ (= death in the arena, as it were), even in the midst of those things that others reject or avoid as signs of weakness and powerlessness.
For Paul the power lies elsewhere, not in deliverance from hardships, but in the powerful working of the Spirit that enables and empowers him for ministry even in the midst of such adversity. (p. 335)
Did we catch that? The power of the Holy Spirit does not give us deliverance from hardships, but instead powerfully enables us to serve God in and through hardships. And he makes the results of our service powerful in the lives of others. He does not necessarily grant us victory in a way the world can recognize (a way that looks like victory on social media, for instance), but enables a victory that matches the victory of Christ on the cross–no beauty that we should desire, often apparent death and defeat, but resurrection, leading to the saving of many from sin.
…all of which means that the power and beauty of the Spirit is not so much about experiencing outward power and beauty now, but about a down payment, a guarantee that the power we see now to bring people to the kingdom despite hardship is evidence that one day we will experience the full work of the Spirit–the glorification of our bodies, and the whole earth, and the final expression of victory for God and humanity in Christ. The victory of the Spirit today is perseverance in hardship. The victory of the Spirit tomorrow is full glory.