Holy Spirit – God’s Revelation in Progress
Holy Spirit – God’s Revelation in Progress
the law – the person – the spirit
Throughout history, humanity has been trying to figure out what God is like. In Greek mythology, Zeus is that supreme god where other lesser gods are subordinated. Chinese religions see god as the transcendent one called “tian gong” but no one has ever seen him. Jewish culture disallowed any kind of images to be made after God. Hence, it is universally accepted that God is transcendent and unknowable. However, humanity has never ceased to reach out to God hoping to catch a glimpse of His form and to encounter Him. In various cultures, man fantasise what god is like, and makes personal idols after him. They do that with the intent of making god more accessible and tangible. In general, humanity is reaching out to God so that they can be blessed. On the same note, God actively seeks out humanity to reconcile and fellowship with them and to bless them.
As God reveals Himself to men progressively, some having encountered Him respond by turning from their evil ways. As God reveals Himself progressively, humanity is forced to reckon with their sinfulness in response to God’s unchanging mercies. The result is a regenerated life undergirded by God’s laws and motivated by His love.
In Biblical history, we observe the principles that accompany God’s revelation of Himself. Understanding these principles will establish within us a right mind-set to know God and to connect with Him.
1. God’s revelation of Himself is PROGRESSIVE.
For God to build an enduring relationship with humanity, God reveals Himself progressively in distinct stages. The progressive nature of God’s revelation ensures that the foundations at each stage are adequately built before progressing onto more profound phases of revelation.
To illustrate this with human growth and maturity, Apostle Paul taught in Galatians 4:1-2 concerning the growth stages of a child towards adulthood. A child is initially placed under the authority of his parents until he matures to adulthood, after which he will be given due independence and access to his inheritance. Before that time comes, while still a child, he feeds on milk and learns elementary disciplines. Then he progresses onto solid food and more profound truths for life. Here, the child grows and assimilates wisdom in a progressive manner. Progressive learning ensures that more elementary foundations are properly established before moving onto more advanced foundations. The strength of these foundations will eventually determine the height of the child’s potential as the depth a building’s foundations determine its potential height.
The progressive nature of God’s revelation is also likened to the relationship between a man and a woman. They must go through distinct phases of friendship and courtship before they marry and become one flesh. Friendship, courtship and marriage are phases where foundations of trust, expectations and commitment are built.
FRIENDSHIP – COURTSHIP – MARRIAGE
A whirlwind relationship may progress quickly, but dies as soon as it forms. Couples in strong relationships tend to reveal themselves progressively and sturdily over a period of time. Similarly, God’s revelation of Himself to humanity is likened to the progression in human relationships. The progressive nature of God’s revelation has a purpose: it allows adequate time for the formation of firm foundations.
In the Old Testament, after God has given Moses the law, the people immerse themselves in the law for 1400 years. At the end of that period, God in His wisdom determined that it was the right time to progress to the next stage of revelation; Christ came as an ordinary man, born of a woman and lived among them. The apostle Paul in Galatians 4:4-5 used the phrase, “when the fullness of time came” to signify the right and appropriate time for Christ in the flesh to be revealed.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
The author of Hebrews said in the days of old, God spoke and revealed Himself to His people through the prophets in many “portions” or periods. But in these “last days”, which signal the end of the prevailing period (of the Law) and the beginning of the next period, God will speak to humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
2. God’s revelations are always built on the foundations of former revelations.
Latter revelations do not annul former ones. Instead, latter revelations are to be built upon former revelations. Unless former foundations are well built, latter foundations cannot stand. Figure 2.0 illustrates this very important principle. Upper storeys are built on the foundations of the lower storeys. No matter how well the upper storeys are built, if the lower storeys crumble, the whole building collapses.
This truth is also illustrated in the marriage relationship: Couples go through the stages of friendship, courtship and marriage. A healthy marriage is built on the foundations of friendship and courtship as illustrated in the first and second storey on the left tower (figure 2.0). A couple, having built a solid foundation of friendship can proceed to courtship. Without a strong foundation of friendship however, courtship will be rocky making marriage unsustainable. Good friends have a better chance of making good courting couples. And happily married couples often continue to do what they first start to do as friends. Like-mindedness, compatibility of personality traits, and common vision, values system, and mutual respect all contribute to the foundation of friendship.
As friendship progresses towards courtship, the couple do not annul the foundations of common values and mutual trust built during their friendship phase. Rather, the couple build on the foundation of friendship by sharing their emotions, weaknesses, and the secrets of their hearts while becoming vulnerable to each other. As the couple invest themselves in each other, they acquire capacity to bring greater joy and fulfilment into the relationship.
Marriage is the ultimate union of mind, heart and body. Here, they commit themselves to a common fate, tying their destiny together as “till death do us part.” Self-interest has no place as each put the other’s wellbeing before his/her own.
While the left tower (figure 2.0) illustrates the relational foundations between a man and a woman, the tower on the right represents the relational foundations between God and man. The first storey represents the revelation of the law where God interacts with humanity through a set of common values or laws. Here, the foundation of friendship is strengthened as man learns to understand God’s values and revere Him. Here, the mind is the main faculty that is used to connect with God. Like-minded people usually make better friends. However, at this stage God does not make Himself accessible and vulnerable to humanity. Instead, He communicates with them through the offices of prophets and priests.
The second storey represents the revelation of Jesus, which is the sacrificial love of God built upon the foundation of the law. In other words, unless the people receive the law with the fear of God, they will not be able to know Jesus and develop a meaningful relationship with Him or courtship with God. In other words, all who are bent on their own ways will certainly not encounter God or experience His love in deeper ways. John 1:5 says,
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. (John 1:5)
The apostle Paul taught that the Old Testament laws and the prophets have laid important foundations for the revelation of Jesus Christ – It is through Christ that believers receive righteousness by faith (Romans 3:21-22), where they become members of God’s family.
21 The righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe. (Romans 3:21-22)
As expressed in verse 22, the righteousness of God is imputed to all who have faith in Jesus Christ. However, the revelation of Jesus Christ is build on the foundation of the law; as written in verse 21, “… Being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets”. And again in Galatians 4:4-5, Paul wrote, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, under the Law”; “under the Law” means undergirded by the foundation of the law. Without the foundation of the law, Jesus’s incarnation cannot stand. Hence, Jesus’s incarnation begins God’s courtship with humanity where Jesus incarnates Himself as an ordinary man and becomes vulnerable. It is through Jesus that intimate and passionate connection between God and man becomes possible. God is in love with humanity so much so He cares not for Himself but gives His life for them.
The third storey represents a complete union between God and man. Here, God becomes one with humanity, their destiny forever tied; a oneness demonstrated on that fateful day when God died with humanity and humanity was resurrected with Him. This union was actualized on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit of Christ was sent to dwell inside of man. This is a beautiful picture of a marriage where Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride. Subsequently, God and man begin to desire and to move as one.
3. God’s revelation gradually engages all dimensions of man.
As man is made in the image of Jesus, God’s self-revelation engages the whole person. The four dimensions are mind, heart, body and spirit (heart and mind are jointly considered as the soul.) When the law is given to Moses, God engages man through his mind. Using the faculty of the mind, man meditates on the law in order to know God. Jesus as an ordinary man engages humanity face-to-face through human emotions and physical senses. When the Holy Spirit is sent, God enters and unites Himself with man’s spirit. Here, man begins to exercise God’s power and wisdom as he yields himself to God.
Knowing the four dimensions of man will help us understand how God reaches out to man. All four dimensions (the spirit, the mind, the heart, and the body) can be sensitized over time so that believers will enjoy full intimacy with God. Each of these faculties plays a unique role in relating to God. Jesus says,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27)
The soul and the spirit are often used interchangeably in the Bible. Understanding the four dimensions and its operations will help us to develop them, resulting in a more profound relationship with God.
The Four Dimensions of Man
Man is made up of Soul (spirit), Heart, Mind, and Body. The purpose of this section is not to explore the doctrinal aspects of man and his essential faculties but simply to help us identify the four dimensions and their capabilities, through which man can connect with God and grow in His likeness (see figure 2.1). Let us begin with the dimension of the Soul.
The Soul is the highest faculty of the human being. Because the Soul is spirit, it is the part that joins with the Lord and become one spirit with Him (see 1 Corinthians 6:17). The Soul is also the receptacle of God’s life, without which nothing can live. It is through the Soul that God imbues man with His divine essence: enlightenment and goodness. Faith (obedience) opens the Soul to receive divine enlightenment and goodness while achieving oneness with Him. In the absence of faith, the opposite happens: the Soul is estranged from the Lord and is drawn towards falsehood, and evil.
The Mind is the receptacle of divine enlightenment and the Word. The Mind, under divine enlightenment of the Spirit grows in truth and wisdom as he meditates on the Word. As man continues to study the Word under the Spirit’s illumination, the Mind becomes elevated and approaches the truth of the Lord. The function of the Mind is to discern and inform the heart of what is the truth, thus holding him accountable for his every action.
The Heart is the receptacle of divine goodness. For the sake of clarity, “good” means to walk in the truth because of love, not for self preservation or gain. Here, the heart functions as man’s volition where a man’s actions and decisions answer to his heart. Within man’s heart resides his ruling desire: to love the truth (which is to love God and others), or to love falsehood (which is put self above all else). In other words, to love the truth is to put the will of God and the benefit of others above self. To love falsehood is the opposite: it is to put personal benefit above the will of God or the benefit of others.
The Body is the natural part of man that allows him to function in the natural world. The Body comprises sensing organs that feeds the Mind with information concerning the world and the circumstances around him. The physical body also enables man to interact with other people and carry out God’s salvation plans in the natural world. In the case when a man overcomes temptations and walks in God’s will, the volition (of his heart) and the truth (of his mind) move in unison.
Now, we will illustrate how these four dimensions work together (see figure 2.2). Man is born into the world of sin, devoid of the divine design and image that he is called to be. God begins to regenerate man so that he may be elevated towards the likeness of the Lord. God makes His home within the Soul of man through the Holy Spirit (1). It is here that the Holy Spirit continually imbues man’s Heart with His goodness (2a) and enlightens man’s Mind with divine light (2b). However, in order for God’s goodness and light to bear fruit of love and truth, the seed of the Word must be sown into the Mind. Without the Word of wisdom, man becomes unstable and double-minded in all his ways because there is no foundation of the Word (see James 1:8). As man meditates on the Word (3), the Spirit enlightens, producing truths that convict his Heart continually (4). It is important to understand that a man’s every action and decision answer to the Heart (5). Many a times, a man does contrary to what he knows (in his Mind), because he acts out of the affections of his heart. Hypocrites strive to appear righteous on the outside, in order to veil what is inside. However, Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16). In other words, it is by careful observation of their motives and behaviour that you know what is in their heart.
In the parable of the two sons as told by Jesus (Matthew 21:28-31), the actions of both sons contradicted their initial responses to the father’s request to work in the vineyard. The first son said, “I will not” but afterwards he regretted it and went. And the second son answered, “I will sir”, but he did not go. Jesus commended the first son because he acted according to the goodness of his heart by repentance (he regretted) even though his initial response was negative. As for the second son, although he knew what was right (as evident by his verbal response), the selfishness of his heart hindered him.
In another passage, Jesus spoke about the importance of transforming one’s heart, which is the ultimate purpose in the practice of faith: “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Luke 6:45.
Thus, having acquired a basic understanding of the four dimensions of man and their functions, let us move on to discuss the three stages in the biblical history of which God reveals Himself to humanity.
The Revelations of God and their foundations – The Law, the Person, the Spirit
We could see God’s progressive revelations of Himself through Biblical history. God first revealed Himself to Moses through the law in the Old Testament. 1400 years later, God revealed Himself through Jesus as an ordinary person. 33 years later, following Jesus’s ascension to the Father, God sent the Holy Spirit and revealed Himself through the Holy Spirit that indwells man. In figure 2.2, we see the progress of revelation from the time when Moses’s Law was given in the Old Testament, to the time of the Gospels where Jesus comes in the flesh, and finally to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2.
Observe that whenever a latter revelation is given, it must stand on the foundations of former revelations. The latter revelations do not annul the former but instead give it new depth, greater clarity and fuller perspective.
When God revealed Himself as an ordinary man, Jesus said the purpose of His coming is not to absolve man of his responsibility to walk in the law, for God will not allow evil; but rather to enable humanity to walk in accordance with the law. Jesus said whoever keeps the law and teaches it will be called great in God’s Kingdom. Jesus taught in Matthew 5:17-19,
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
Hence, following the coming of Jesus, man must continue to meditate on the law and to walk in it. Jesus also came to reveal another dimension of God – His love and humility. Through Jesus, humanity can now interact with God in person, up-close and personal. Without the foundation of the law however, no one who comes face to face with God will recognise Him!
After the ascension of Jesus, the Son of God, having being appointed as King over creation proceeded to rule by sending the Holy Spirit into the world. Here, God transcended the physical form by which Jesus was embodied. The Holy Spirit is able to do what Jesus in His physical body cannot; to permeate all created things and to unite with man’s spirit and dwell within him forever. Yet, many cannot move in unison with the Spirit, because they do not know the law nor acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour.
We can see the distinct order: the foundation of God’s revelations, through Jesus’s instruction on baptism. Now Jesus, before His ascension to the Father, instructs His disciples saying,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus specifically instructed His disciples to baptise new believers in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Why is there need to invoke the three names of God when they are all One in unity? This is to show the underlying foundations leading to the baptism of the Spirit! One cannot be baptised in the Spirit unless he is first baptised in the name of the Father and the Son. What does it mean to be baptised in the name of the Father? Baptism in the name of the Father represents the believer’s commitment to walk in God’s laws and fear Him. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:2 that, “and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Here, baptism represents the people’s resolve during Moses’s time to submit themselves under God’s rule while entering the Promised Land. The Law of Moses prescribed rituals of water baptism for the purpose of cleansing: “he shall bathe all his body in water and be unclean until evening” (Leviticus 15:16). Baptism in the name of the Father is expressed in the believer’s commitment to live by the law in the fear of God.
What about baptism in Jesus’s name? This represents the believer’s decision to live like Christ and let their affections towards sin die. Romans 6:3,7 says, “all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus have been baptized in His death so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” The people in the Old Testament knew God’s laws cognitively, but their hearts were far from God. They appeared to comply with God’s laws through their ceremonial rituals, and appearance, but their affections towards sin remained. Baptism in the name of the Son is expressed in the believer when he turns his desires away from sin and towards Christ-likeness. Here, the believer (through baptism) regenerates and progresses from ceremonial compliance to true repentance of the heart in Christ-likeness.
What about baptism in the name of the Holy Spirit? This expresses the ultimate union between God and the believer. As the believer yields his spirit, mind, heart and body as a living sacrifice, God fills him with His Spirit and restores him to the likeness of Christ in His wisdom, love and power resulting in the ability to do God’s works. This is very much like a marriage union with God, where he lives with God and for God forever.
Therefore, we see the progressive revelations of God namely the Father, the Son and the Spirit in their respective order.
At a glance…
As God reveals Himself to humanity in progressive stages, man begins to respond to Him and turn from his evil ways. As God reveals His laws and His love, humanity is forced to reckon with their sinfulness and respond to God’s unchanging mercies. The result is a regenerated life undergirded by God’s laws and motivated by His love.
In order for God to build an enduring relationship with man, God’s revelation of Himself must be progressive. The progressive nature of God’s revelation is to ensure that the foundation at each stage is adequately built before progressing onto more profound stages of revelation. The progressive nature of God’s revelation is similar to the relationship between a man and a woman. They must go through distinct phases of friendship and courtship before they enter into marriage and become one flesh. Latter revelations of God do not annul former revelations and their foundations. Instead, latter revelations are to stand on the foundations of former revelations. As man is made in God’s image, God’s revelation of Himself gradually engages all faculties and dimensions of man namely his mind, heart, body and spirit.
Man is made up of spirit, heart, mind, and body. Understanding these four dimensions and their operations will help us to develop them, resulting in a more profound union with God. The mind (the cognition) is the part that enables man to analyse facts and principles and to interpret them. The heart (the volition) is the part that gives man the ability to understand the emotional state of others thus enabling them to interact meaningfully. The spirit of man when united with God’s Spirit carries the imprint of God’s image that identifies him as God’s son.
God first revealed Himself to Moses through the law in the Old Testament. 1400 years later, God revealed Himself through Jesus as an ordinary. 33 years later, after Jesus ascended to the Father, the Son sent the Holy Spirit and revealed Himself through the Spirit who indwells man.
Understanding the various stages of God’s revelations and the importance of their foundations will enable us to identify and strengthen the foundations in our life. Many cannot hear God or flow with the guidance of the Spirit, because they do not know the law nor feel the love of Christ.
A glance at the next chapter…
Let us look at the purposes in which God’s laws are given to humanity. Why are God’s laws given as the first foundation towards a relationship with God? Why do some sense God’s love more intimately but not others? What does God’s law say regarding prosperity?
Issues to ponder…
1. In your walk with God, can you identify the major influences (events, people and notions) that shape and make the person you are today? Who are the people who lay those foundations?
2. Regarding the foundations of wisdom, love and confidence, which is the strongest and which is the weakest? How do you intend to strengthen them?
3. King Saul was anointed with the Spirit and 1 Samuel 10:6 said he was changed into another man. In the perspective of foundations, explain why Saul is later rejected by God (see 1 Samuel 10:8, 13:8-14).
4. The nation of Israel received the revelation of the law but rejects the revelation of Christ and the Holy Spirit. In spite of this, they continue to prosper as a nation. What do you think contributed to their nation’s prosperity?