For me, the Holy Spirit is the central character and protagonist of the New Testament, especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection. As John the Baptist was the forerunner—one who goes or is sent in advance to announce the coming of another—of Jesus, I see Jesus as the forerunner of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who introduces his disciples and us to the divine presence who is accessible to us all.
In my last article, I wrote about how John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Messiah the same way in all four gospels: “He is the one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
When Jesus appeared to his disciples for the last time after his resurrection, he reminded them of this in Acts 1:4-9: “Gathering them together, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but told them to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ he said, ‘you heard of from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.’ After he had said these things, he was lifted up.”
This is the last thing Jesus said to his disciples before departing our planet. Jesus seemed to be telling his disciples, “Spirit baptism is what this has all been about, this is what you have been waiting for. My mission is now fulfilled. My work is finally finished.”
The contagious vitality of the early church flowed from their interconnectedness with the Holy Spirit. It was after Pentecost—not Easter—that the disciples were transformed and finally understood who Jesus was, grasping the profound truth of his message about the kingdom of God on earth. Whenever the early church ceased to walk in the Spirit, it resulted in fighting, backbiting, misogyny, abuse of power, false teaching, legalism, elitism, racism and worse.
This is why Jesus told his disciples to wait until they were filled with the Spirit before doing anything. “Don’t do anything. Don’t serve, don’t start a church, don’t initiate any ministries or outreach programs. Just wait until you are filled with the Holy Spirit.”
It is essential that the ministry of the church flows from Spirit consciousness, the state of being filled with the Spirit, or it will inevitably be ego-driven, resulting in “good things” being done that in the end do no real good.
At their worst, ego-driven ministries and programs have a destructive impact on people and communities, but even at their best they are not truly transformative. The ultimate aim of Christian ministry is to live and move attuned to the Divine Spirit. The Spirit must be the source of all of our activity if we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In Genesis 1, we read that God’s breath, or Spirit, was the life source of humanity. Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1 that God’s Spirit will be the life source of the church. The Apostle Paul understood this. He recognized that the life force of the church and the gospel was the Holy Spirit, writing in I Thessalonians 1:5, “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.”
Perhaps the Christian faith is no longer compelling to the majority of Canadians today, including many of our own children and grandchildren, because they have received a gospel in word only. A gospel based on words—Scripture, doctrine, creeds—is not the gospel of Jesus or the early church. Even a gospel of words supported by good deeds—working for peace and justice—may be admirable, but it is not transformative. It is only the Holy Spirit who awakens the inner light of God’s presence within us and reanimates our true essence, the image of God within.
In my next two articles I will be exploring what being filled with the Spirit might mean, but this is only my perspective. What the church needs is not another pastor, theologian or columnist to tell us how to walk in the Spirit. What is needed is for church communities to make the practice of attuning themselves to the Holy Spirit their primary priority.
To be continued.
Troy Watson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is spiritual life director and pastor of Quest Christian Community, St. Catharines, Ont.