The Francis Asbury Society

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Posted on | May 21, 2013 | 1 Response

By Dennis Kinlaw

Language is a great gift that God has given to us. The ability to converse or write is the particular mark of what it means to be a person. Animals neither write nor converse as such. The Bible seems to confine the power of language to God, angels and human beings. So, biblically, it is human beings and divine beings that enjoy the privileges of language. I have even come to believe that this is at the very heart of the Imago Dei that Genesis 1:25–28 tells us about. But language is complicated. There is an ambiguity about it that means we have to be very careful that we interpret it accurately. We can know the meaning of every word in a sentence and yet misunderstand the sentence because a common word may be used in such a way that the same expressions may yield opposite meanings.

Perhaps the expression that has brought this home most sharply to me is the one used in the New Testament when it speaks of “the love of God.” We all know what love is and we also know who God is. The little preposition ‘of’ is another matter. For years I understood that expression in Romans 5:5 to mean that the Holy Spirit would enable me to love God. When I read about the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, I was confident that it meant that the Holy Spirit could come into my heart and quicken and direct my natural power so that God became a special object of affection in my heart. Then I read Wesley and a completely new concept broke across my consciousness. According to the grammarians, the little preposition ‘of’’ can be used in two different ways. The word that is the object in this prepositional phrase can be either the object or the subject. I had understood the phrase “the love of God” in the former way, with “God” as the object of “love.” But if the preposition ‘of’ were functioning in the other way, God would be the source of love. What I mean is that the phrase “the love of God” may be speaking about divine love, love that originates in the heart of God, rather than love that originates from my quickened heart.

When I began to consider this possibility, I noticed that the NIV reads the phrase in this latter way: “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” So very possibly ‘the love of God’ here may be a divine love, a love that originates in God through the Holy Spirit, rather than one that originates in me. I immediately thought of the passages where Jesus commands us to love our enemies as ourselves. That does not come easily from a natural heart, but if God can put the very love in me that was in him when he gave us his Son to be crucified, the love that Jesus demonstrated in his passion, possibilities of grace open up that could never find their origin in me. As I read more carefully the Old and New Testament the conviction has deepened within me that this understanding is the correct one.

Since the recent Easter season with its report of the resurrection of Jesus, his last days with his disciples, and his ascension back to the Father, I have been wondering about another phrase: “the gift of the Spirit.” There has come to me in a fresh way the insistence of Jesus that his disciples must wait in Jerusalem until they receive the gift of the Spirit. But what exactly was he saying?

One of the characteristics of the evangelical Christian Church in my lifetime has been a deep interest in what it has spoken of as gifts of the Spirit. We went through a succession of them. They were presented as manifestations of the power of the Spirit, such things as the gift of healing, of miracle working, the gift of tongues, the power to slay in the Spirit. The drama of it all caught the attention of a great host of the American evangelical television audience. The biblical basis for all of this was sought in chapters 12 and 14 of I Corinthians and the opening chapters of Acts. There were some who picked one gift as the supreme evidence that one had received the gift of the Spirit, like glossolalia. There were others who were impressed by the fact that Paul in the first Corinthian letter insists that there is a diversity of gifts so each individual believer should seek the individual gift that God has for her or him so that each of us can use our special gift in service to God and the church. Many began to dream of the possibility of this being a means to revival and a great strengthening of the Christian witness in our world. The position of the Christian church in our present society as we move into the twenty-first century does not give a lot of confirmation of those dreams. All of this has made me wonder if we do not need to look at the biblical data more carefully.

As I have tried to do this, I have found myself thinking more seriously about the grammar of it all, particularly that phrase “gift of the Spirit.” A conviction has deepened with me that we have found in that phrase the meaning that we wanted or expected to be there much as many of us have done at one time or other with that phrase “the love of God.”

So, as I thought, the question came to me as to whether this ought to be seen as having two distinct meanings with a distinct theology resting on which way anyone goes with it.

Let me put it this way. When we speak of the gift of the Spirit, are we speaking about a gift that the Spirit gives to us for us to use or are we speaking about the gift by someone else of the Holy Spirit to us so that he, the Spirit, can use us. Or, as the grammarians say, is this an objective genitive or a subjective genitive? To use different language, what is the gift about which we are speaking? Is it a “thing” or is it a person, a divine Person, the third Person in the Triune Godhead, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father to the Son who promised the night before the cross that he would give the Spirit Himself to his disciples as a gift? This gift, of course, was fulfilled at Pentecost.

There is a difference between receiving a spiritual gift and receiving the third Person of the Triune Godhead. I suddenly realized that Jesus had given spiritual gifts to his disciples long before Pentecost, but the spiritual gifts never cleansed them of their self-centered concern for their own well-being. Matthew, in his 10th chapter, tells us in verse 8 that they were to go throughout Israel and heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out the demons. This is remarkably similar to the picture that Paul gives in I Cor. 12:27–211 of what we speak of as the charismatic gifts. Yet it was after this that the apostles all forsook Jesus, and the leader of the apostles, Peter, denied any association with Christ. The gifts never cure the self problem in the Christian. Only the Person of the Spirit can do that.

This all suggests that unless a person has received the Holy Spirit as a gift from the Father, one that has cleansed him or her of the all-pervasive self-problem, the gifts that the Spirit gives may well be tainted with self—and potentially as destructive as constructive. The example of the disciples above seems to indicate that such a thing is possible. This merits careful thought.


One Response to “The Gift of the Holy Spirit”

  1. The Gift of the Holy Spirit – The Francis Asbury Society – Charismatic Feeds
    May 25th, 2013 @ 1:41 am

    […] EXCERPTED FROM Charismatic Church source […]

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