Today we celebrate the giving of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. As we consider this great event, we have to remember that the Holy Spirit is aPerson, not an impersonal force. He was given to the Church at Pentecost so that He might glorify Jesus Christ, who in turn brings us to the Father. Our salvation involves every person of the Trinity, and it is important for us to know how they work together in a divine conspiracy—to liberate us from the chains of our own selfish hearts.
“To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7).
Summary of the Text
This salutation at the beginning of Romans has something in common with the salutations at the beginning of most of the epistles of the New Testament. It is virtually verbatim in many other letters (1 Cor. 1:3, 2 Cor. 1:2, Gal. 1:3, Eph. 1:2, Phil. 1:2 Col. 1:2, 1 Thess. 1:1, 2 Thess. 1:2, Phile. 1:3). In the pastorals Paul adds the word mercy (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4). Peter does the same thing (2 Pet. 1:2), and in his first epistle he mentions grace and peace, but without mention of the Father and the Son (1 Pet. 1:2). The apostle John does it once, with the addition of the word mercy (2 Jn. 1:3).
What does it all mean? In order to answer that question we have to consider some other aspects of biblical teaching, and we also have to bring in a bit of church history.
How We Come to God
“For through him [Jesus] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). The Bible teaches that we cannot come to God unless God has first come to us. We cannot come to the Father, except by Jesus, and we cannot come to Jesus unless it is by the Spirit. And we cannot have the Spirit unless the Spirit has been poured out. And this is what we find.
If you will permit a homely little analogy, the text above shows us how we come to God. The Father is the destination we are traveling to. The Son is the road, the way we must travel. The Holy Spirit is the car. For by this road we have access to our destination by means of this car. The triune God comes to us so that we might come to Him.
A Bit of Church History
Our church has, as one of its foundational creeds, the Nicene Creed. In the original form of the creed, it said that the Holy Spirit proceeded “from the Father.” For the Eastern Orthodox, it remains that way. In the Western Church, which includes both Roman Catholics and Protestants, one word was added, which in English is rendered with three words. That one word is filioque, which means “and the Son.” This means that we confess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son.”
Fruit and Gifts
The Holy Spirit gives gifts, and the Holy Spirit also bears fruit. Another thing He does is teach us to prioritize these things rightly. He is the one who works in our hearts so that we might understand the relationship of gifts and fruit.
We have a tendency to focus on those things God gives which flash and pop. We are attracted to shiny objects. Miracles are always impressive, and the prophets get to speak up front, and so on. But notice how the Bible ranks these things. Paul says that the church at Corinth was a very giftedchurch (1 Cor. 1:7). They were not lacking in any spiritual gift. But just a page or so later, he is saying that he could not address them as spiritual men, but rather as carnal men (1 Cor. 3:1). Please let this sink in. Having spiritual gifts does not make one a spiritual man. Later in the same book, he prioritizes everything wonderfully. The gifts are marvelous, but he still shows the Corinthians a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). The gifts include some that are reckoned as the “best,” but Paul goes on to argue for something better even than that.
And what he argues for is love (1 Cor. 13:1ff). In effect, he says that the fruit of the Spirit is far more evidence of His active presence than the gifts of the Spirit are. No one wants to be gifted like Balaam was, and yet devoid of integrity like he was. Jesus said that everyone would know that we were His disciples by our love for one another. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Just Be Nice?
Now “love one another” sounds kind of Sunday Schooly, doesn’t it? But love in a fallen world is hard as nails. Loving is tough, an arduous business. In order to make it possible, God had to pour Himself out upon the Church on the day of Pentecost, and He did so in the person of His Holy Spirit.
So Why is the Spirit Absent?
Back to our texts. It may have struck some as odd that the text for this sermon on Pentecost was a text that did not mention the Spirit at all. But the oddity goes beyond that. In all these passages, in all these salutations, the Holy Spirit is not named specifically at all, and the Father and the Sonare mentioned. The formulae is basically this: grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. If we were prone to take offense on behalf of others, we might wonder why the Spirit is being so consistently slighted.
But the Spirit is not absent here. Jonathan Edwards, the great Reformed theologian argues, I believe compellingly, that the Holy Spirit is the grace and peace. Given the nature of the case, the Holy Spirit draws attention away from Himself, and He goes under various names. For example, He is called the seven Spirits of God (Rev. 1:4). For another, He is called the finger of God (Luke 11:20; Matt. 12:28). He is called the river of living water (John 7:38-39). The Spirit loves to go incognito.
And in virtually every epistle in the New Testament, the saints of God are reminded of their daily and ongoing dependence upon Him. Grace and peace be upon you. This is the gift of the Father and the Son, giving themselves to you, in the person of their Spirit. Grace and peace be with you, both now and forever.