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” ().

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” (). 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” ().

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 (; ; ). 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 of .

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.

 


3:1 But I, broth­ers, could not address you as spir­i­tual peo­ple, but as peo­ple of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jeal­ousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behav­ing only in a human way? (ESV)


14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, wel­come him, but not to quar­rel over opin­ions. (ESV)


10 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. (ESV)


10 and try to dis­cern what is pleas­ing to the Lord. (ESV)


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowl­edge and all dis­cern­ment, 10 so that you may approve what is excel­lent, and so be pure and blame­less for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of right­eous­ness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (ESV)


And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, ask­ing that you may be filled with the knowl­edge of his will in all spir­i­tual wis­dom and under­stand­ing, 10 so as to walk in a man­ner wor­thy of the Lord, fully pleas­ing to him, bear­ing fruit in every good work and increas­ing in the knowl­edge of God. 11 May you be strength­ened with all power, accord­ing to his glo­ri­ous might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (ESV)


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. (ESV)