The Fruit of the Spirit in the World

Who is the Holy Spirit? I tried to answer this question in my credo by stating that “the Holy Spirit is God: the absolutely unique Trinitarian person who exists as God in eternal, mutual relations with God the Parent and God the Child.” The Spirit is not a possession of God, nor a “part” of God – the Spirit is the one true God. The Spirit’s ousia, or ontological substance, is the same divine ousia shared by God the Parent and God the Child so that the Spirit is equally God. At the same time, the Spirit is a divine hypostasis, or absolutely unique person, whose shared life of communion together with the Parent and the Child is the Triune God. As a Trinitarian person, the Spirit is eternally distinguished from yet related to the Parent and the Child. While my credo highlights the essential Trinitarian foundation of the Spirit’s identity, more needs to be said in order to define the Spirit’s relation to the Parent and the Child.

In 381 CE, the First Council of Constantinople identified the Spirit’s unique Trinitarian relation in an expanded statement of the Nicene Creed by naming the Spirit as the “Lifegiver, who proceeds from the Father [sic].”[1] While much debate has occurred over the origin of the Spirit’s procession, I believe the Creed’s naming of the Spirit as the Lifegiver succinctly identifies the Spirit’s Trinitarian relations. The Spirit is the Lifegiver because the Spirit is the One who invites and receives the Parent and the Child and therefore acts as the keeper of the divine “event of communion” which is the life of Trinity.[2] The Spirit is not simply the “bond of love” between the Parent and the Child, but a fully equal participant in the divine communion. The Spirit is one who “personalizes” the Parent and the Child by affirming their unique, particular identities.[3] The Parent and Child freely respond to the Spirit who calls them by name. As the Spirit freely receives them, the Spirit’s own identity is “personalized.” This reciprocal affirmation of unique identity hosted by the Spirit is the essential ground of otherness which is “constitutive” of the Trinity’s life of communion among the equal, mutual, relational persons of the Parent, Child and Spirit.[4] The Spirit, therefore, is correctly identified as the one who is uniquely related to the Parent and Child as the Lifegiver.

However, the Spirit’s identity is not confined to the inner life of Trinitarian relations. As I stated in my credo, “the Spirit is the power of God at work in the world bringing about the new creation.” This statement broadly encapsulates one dimension of the Spirit’s outward mission in human history, but it needs further clarification. How is creation made new? What is the connection between the Spirit’s new creation work and the work of Christ?

Just as the Spirit calls forth the life of Trinity, so the Spirit invites and empowers “all creation to join in the dance that characterizes God’s life.”[5] Molly Marshall describes this dance as perichoresis: “a relationship of mutuality in which persons draw their identity from being related to others… [which] calls forth reciprocal sharing of life.”[6] All creation is made new by the Spirit as its true purpose and identity is found through its participation in and imitation of the perichoretic life of the Triune God.

The work of the Spirit invites all creation to complete renewal by its participation in the Triune life of God. This invitation is made possible through the incarnation of the Divine Child, Jesus Christ, who is the true, inaugural embodiment of the Spirit’s new creation work. The incarnation of Christ was itself a work of the Spirit and Jesus begins his ministry by affirming the presence and power of the Spirit on his life.[7] Since the Spirit is an active, essential participant in the incarnation of Jesus, the Spirit’s new creation work is neither subordinated to nor subsumed by the work of Christ. Yet, Jesus is the one through whom the Spirit’s power gives birth to a new community “in which faith, love, and hope are alive… [as] justice, the protection of the weak, and the knowledge of God and of truth are forever sought anew.”[8] All creation is restored as its participation in the life of God through the presence and power of the Spirit incarnates the life of Jesus to particular people and places.

In my credo, I explicitly identified this Jesus-centered, Spirit-empowered community as the church; the body of Christ to which the Spirit gives gifts of grace for its good. While the Spirit does have a unique work within the church, I also stated that “the Spirit is comforter, guide, and advocate for those who seek the salvation of God.” The established church is not the sole repository or mediator of the divine Lifegiver. Rather, the Spirit’s presence is empowering all people “who seek the salvation of God” – regardless of whether this divine purpose is explicitly confessed. With Craig Nessan, I agree that “the Spirit of God is alive in history today to accomplish freedom.”[9] The Spirit works in all things which lead “to genuine human self-realization of all persons and peoples,” but is opposed to that which “insults, degrades, dehumanizes, and discriminates against any portion of humanity.”[10] The church empowered by the Spirit should be a willing, gracious partner in this liberative, life-giving work of new creation, but the Spirit’s mission continues even in spite of the church’s ignorance, apathy, and, in some cases, its opposition.

However, in focusing on the role of the Spirit in bringing about the “new” creation, my credo ignored the Spirit’s role in the basis for this work: creation itself. The entirety of God’s creation at all times and in all places owes its past, present, and future being to the divine Lifegiver. In Hebrew scripture, the Spirit is the ruach: the divine “wind” hovering over the formless waters before creation came to be and the divine “breath” that breathed life into the dust.[11] As the Psalmist sings, creation breathes the Spirit, the ruach of God, or it does not breathe at all.[12] The work of the Spirit is the caring work of nurture that sustains the membership of infinite diversity in the creation community which is the image of the Triune God. Creation is alive with the Spirit who is opposed to all relational patterns that destroy the image of God by bringing death to creation.

As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, the Spirit is like the wind: “the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”[13] Like Nicodemus, I often question the work of the Spirit because I am used to being in control; at best, I am curiously apathetic, and, at worst, I am arrogantly dismissive. The first step for me in joining the Spirit’s work will be one of humility as I learn to surrender my false sense of control over where the Spirit blows its breath of life. This step of humility calls me to follow the Spirit’s direction towards the places of suffering and death where God’s image is being destroyed. As the Apostle Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, it is the Spirit who gives sight for God’s vision of the future which leads creation to its salvation in the life of the Triune God.[14] In submitting my power and control to the life-giving work of the Spirit in the dying, forgotten places, I open myself to rebirth, to being “born from above” by the Spirit so that I might “see the Kingdom of God.”[15] I pray to no longer be apathetic or dismissive of the Spirit’s work. I pray that as the Spirit gives me “visions of the end for which [creation] has been made” that I would be “restless of anything short of that destination.”[16]

[1] William G. Rusch, ed., The Trinitarian Controversy  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980),  49.

[2] John Zizioulas, “Communion and Otherness,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quaterly 38, no. 4 (1994): 354.

[3] Ibid., 354.

[4] Zizioulas, 353.

[5] Molly T. Marshall, “Participating in the Life of the God: A Trinitarian Pneumatology,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 30, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 150.

[6] Marshall, 145.

[7] Lk. 1:35, 4:18, NRSV.

[8] Michael Welker, “Holy Spirit and the Holy Communion,” Word and World 23, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 155.

[9] Craig L. Nessan, “Allergic to the Spirit No More: Rethinking Pneumatology,” Currents in Theology and Mission 21 (June 1994) 3: 192.

[10] Ibid., 203-204.

[11] Nessan, 184.

[12] Ps. 104:29-30.

[13] Jn 3:8.

[14] Acts 2:17.

[15] Jn 3:3.

[16] Gabriel Fackre, The Christian Story: A Narrative Interpretation of Basic Christian Doctrine, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 154.


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