Jesus, God and Spirit

The Holy Spirit and God's self revelation

As the first Christian communities reflected on the Holy Spirit, they understood that it was a new revelation of God that was the gift of Jesus Christ. Until that time, the Spirit was known to the Hebrews as:

Spirit of God - Gen 1:2; Job 27:3
Spirit of Yahweh - Judges 6:34; Isa 61:1

The Spirit that empowered people for their ministry - Exodus 31:3; 1 Sam 10:6

It was only after the resurrection, as people began to gather to worship Jesus as their Risen Lord (Lord of the newly constituted Israel of faith) that they also came to understand the significance of the memories they had of Jesus.

This reflection and revelation was understood to be the action of the Spirit of the Lord (1 Cor 15:45) a Spirit who was intimately part of the ongoing actions of God in creation and in human history. This was, in other words, something God was doing.

A problem with western thinking in theology was that it was an either/or approach that they viewed God as either substance or as person instead of also viewing God in terms of relationships.

In Romans 8:9 Paul writes that it was the work of the Spirit of God though he also uses the expression Spirit of Christ as a way of expressing the work of the Spirit into which we are all taken up.

In the earliest of writings, the titles - Father, Son and Spirit were often interchangeable, a unified expression of the work of God among them, where all three share a common identity.

A good example of this is found in 1 Cor 12:4-6 where Paul writes on the diversity of spiritual gifts that are to be found in the community of faith. These gifts are held together by the same 2 Spirit...; the same Lord...; the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

So in those early communities, there was a verified and yet united tradition about God. In Ephesians we read:

there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (see also 1 Cor 6:11; Heb 9:14).

3rd and 4th century changes

It was in the 3rd and 4th centuries, as the influence of Greek philosophy was felt more and more in Church theology that the differentiation began to be made and Father, Son and Spirit were more clearly individualized. They became three distinct persons or three masks but were of the same substance or essence(homoousios). It became heretical to say that they were similar in essence (homoiousios) which is what the Arian controversy was all about.

At the end of the struggle with Arian the First Council of Nicea (325) declared that the language of same substance - homoousios was the orthodox way of speaking about God and the three persons.

What is not clear is that these debates ever solved more problems than they created:

Is God like matter: Solid, liquid and gas with each person moving from one to the other state?

Is God like an egg: yolk, shell and the white with each person having a specific and distinct role within the Godhead?

The NT in no way speaks of God as having three parts or of evolving from one form to another. In fact, at Nicea these views were specifically excluded.

The Trinity as God-­in-­relation

It helps if we can begin to move away from the idea of God in philosophical language (substance and person) and instead speak in terms of relationship, of God as a kind of community-of-being. We keep the traditional understanding of the Trinity

God, as revealed in Jesus, is fully personal within God's own mode of existence as Spirit (that is, relational and therefore necessarily plural), and God, as Creator, wills to give God's very self to the creatures of the world in loving relationship. What?

What is a relational understanding of the Trinity?

In a relational understanding of the Trinity, God makes space within the very self of God for the universe, as creation is launched, carrying forward God's desire for intimate relationship.

In a relational understanding of the Trinity, God makes space within the very self of God for the universe, as creation is launched, showing God's desire for intimate relationship. God relates to creation in different ways, helping it to understand both God and itself over time.

God as revealed by the Son shows God's desire to relate intimately to humanity.

God as revealed by the Spirit shows God being true to God's very character of breathing life into the world and moving all creation forward to its goal of Shalom (peace).

God as revealed by the Father shows God's parental desire to give God's very self for creation in loving relationship, so that ultimately it may recognize who it is, and who it is becoming.

****In this way the Trinity is changed from being a kind of metaphysical problem to becoming an invitation to live in the very life of God.*****

It is in this context that we read in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit being God's living presence among us. The Spirit moves about carrying out the mission of the Risen Christ to bring about a whole new creation and a new humanity. This Spirit makes known to us today the presence of God, through Jesus as our Messiah. In doing this the Spirit empowers us, drives us and moves us beyond our previous understandings and certainties.

The importance of Jesus:

Early Christian's experience of Jesus' powerful presence as they gathered in his name could only be accounted for if God were truly behind it. Thus, the monotheistic category of singleness mutated to one of relational unity.

The early Christian community did not simply make up their ideas about God. They broke away from the more rigid understanding that was to be found in their Jewish background because of their experience of Jesus as Lord. It was not about philosophical reflections but human experiences that led them to speak of God in the way they did. They also experienced the ongoing work of God in the work of the Spirit among them; in worship, discernment healing, guiding, etc. These things took place as they gathered together in the name of Jesus. What God wanted was for the people to have an experience of him just as they experienced life in Jesus Christ his Son. The real mystery of the Christian Trinity is not so much working out the mathematics of how one can be three but of how in divine terms, God's life can be given and then shared.

The mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of the life of God being given and shared in a never diminishing abundance of being (Jon M Isaak).

The New Testament on the Holy Spirit:

Scholars have noted at least 12 characteristics (activities) of the Holy Spirit in the NT:
  1. The Spirit is both preserver and initiator of God's living presence within creation, which is why the Spirit can be further characterized as "holy" (1 Cor 12:3; Rom 8:9).
  2. The outpouring of the Spirit is a sign that the end-time has begun (Acts 2:16-17; 10:44-48; John 20:22).
  3. Receiving the Spirit is simultaneously a call to ministry and an equipping for ministry (Acts 1:8).
  4. The Spirit is a sign of and the effective cause of humanity's participation in God's salvation - the deposit or first installment (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14) and the first fruits of the promised creation inheritance.
  5. The Spirit facilitates a range of experiences, both individual and collective, in which God's people share (Acts; Gal 3:5; Heb 2:4).
  6. The Spirit facilitates moral and ethical growth (Rom 5:5; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:22-26).
  7. The Spirit brings about a loving, trusting relationship with God (Rom 8:15-16; Gal 4:6).
  8. The Spirit is the source of the "overflowing life" that God gives the people of God (John 7:38; 1 John 3:24; 4:13).
  9. The Spirit is the mediator of the presence of the resurrected Jesus in the life of the believer and the Church (John 14:18-26; Rom 8:3,9-11; 1 Cor 15:45; Col 2:11).
  10. The Spirit who gathered the Church as the end-time expression of God's Kingdom is constantly about the task of preserving and renewing the Church in God's mission (1 John 4:1-6; 1 Cor 2:6-16).
  11. The Spirit speaks to the Church through Scripture (as it is interpreted in a discerning Christian community) in ways that invite the Church in every culture and time to ongoing transformation, and that animate its witness to the world (John 16:13; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 5:1, 13-14).
  12. The Spirit gives spiritual gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12-14).
Tim Geddert

As far as the life of our faith community goes, there are two characteristics that are worthy of special reflection:

The Spirit is known as the power of God's presence active within human beings.

The Spirit is the personal presence of God initiating conversion, transformation and discernment among God's people.

The Spirit as the life of the Church:

The experience of God being alive in our daily existence is brought about by the Holy Spirit, through the power of Jesus (who is the Risen Christ). This living God is what animates the life of the faith community with gifts of service and mutual love and encouragement. Tim Geddert once more offers us a list of observations on the spiritual gifts:

  1. The Church is the main context for the discovery and exercise of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7; 14:12,26).
  2. The Church is the body that discerns what gift is genuine and what gift is not genuine (1 Cor 14:29). The tests of authority remain the same as they always have been in the Church: the gift promises clear affirmation of Jesus as Lord; the gift is exercised in freedom from ulterior motivation or of personal gain and in coherence with the memory of Jesus' own life and ministry. Given these parameters, a wide variety of customs, explanations and practices is acceptable.
  3. Spiritual fruit is more critical than are the spiritual gifts, and fruit helps the Church make sure that the exercise of gifts is proper and helpful (1 Cor 12:3; Gal 5:22).
  4. Every member of the Body has at least one gift (1 Cor 12:7, 11, 18, 27; Eph 4:7).
  5. No member of the Body has all the gifts (1 Cor 12:11, 14, 18, 24, 28).
  6. Each member needs the gifts of others (1 Cor 12:8-10, 18-21).
  7. No gift is given to all members (1 Cor 12:8-10, 18-21).
  8. God decides who gets which spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:11, 18, 24, 28).
  9. Members of the Body are not ranked as important or not important according to which gifts they have (1 Cor 12:24-25).
  10. A person who has a spiritual gift is responsible before God to use that gift in ways that are helpful to the Church (1 Cor 14:26-28).
  11. Spiritual gifts were not meant just for the first century. There is no evidence for the cessation of gifts.

The New Testament contains several lists of spiritual gifts, most authored by St Paul. While each list is unique, there is overlap.

Romans 12:6-8

  • Prophecy
  • Serving
  • Teaching
  • Exhortation
  • Giving
  • Leadership
  • Mercy

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

  • Word of wisdom
  • Word of knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of healings
  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Distinguishing between spirits
  • Tongues
  • Interpretation of tongues

1 Corinthians 12:28

  • Apostle
  • Prophet
  • Teacher
  • Miracles
  • Kinds of healings
  • Helps
  • Administration
  • Tongues


  • Apostle 
  • Prophet 
  • Evangelist
  • Pastor-teacher

1 Peter 4:11 

  • Whoever speaks 
  • Whoever renders service
The Spirit's primary role is to bring glory to God - to help acknowledge God's presence, power, and claim on human beings. As believers exercise spiritual gifts within the faith community, they grow in recognition of their partnership with God in the mission of God. Mark 2:12; Rom 1:21; 1 Pet 2:12; 

How the Church uses these spiritual gifts:

  1. No gift should be pushed onto a Church that is not open to it. This would not build up the Church.
  2. Spiritual gifts can be exercised in home fellowship groups, even if the whole Church is not present to benefit. 
  3. There are genuine spiritual gifts that may not be mentioned in the Bible. The New Testament does not present a complete list of gifts.
  4. There is no clear division between spiritual gifts and human capabilities or talents.
  5. Spiritual gifts are not permanent or personal possessions but empower God's people for specific ministries in specific contexts within the mission of the Church.

St Paul:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us with unveiled faces, gazing on the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17-18).

Commentary: We could translate this in the following way: Now when I say "Lord" I mean the Spirit...". It is the Spirit of the Lord who "unveils the human heart" and opens it up to receive the truth and to gaze intently on the face of Christ. The word "gaze" can mean "reflect in a mirror". The point Paul is making is that all who believe are transformed into the likeness of Christ by their "gazing on him", and through this gazing are called upon to reflect his image in the world. The disciple of Jesus is a mirror of Christ in the world!

For reflection:

Acts 2:1-21

When the Church gathers for the feast of Pentecost, it is celebrating the event which proclaims the origin and aims of the Church. It serves as a reminder that our Church today continues to share in those same aims and objectives. In that account, wind, flame and other signs were indications of the Spirit's presence and the power that is associated with his coming. God gave the commandments to Moses amidst smoke and fire and God spoke to Job out of a whirlwind. This same God (of the Old Testament) who once spoke through the prophets fills the apostles with the power to speak in other languages. Why? For one simple reason: to make known to all peoples God's promise of salvation. 

Theology of the Spirit as Mission Theology: The anointing of Jesus


One of the most popular "church" groups in Sydney today would be Hillsong. It's message is one of prosperity. It's theology is partly based on the teachings of the positive confessional movement which holds that the words you speak in faith (or without faith) have the power to bring about what they say. Here is a letter from one of the proponents of such a theology, Kenneth Copeland (of Kenneth Copeland Ministries) that was written to someone making enquiries about the Church:

The anointing that saved you is the same anointing that will heal you and bring you financial provision beyond all you could ask or think. Gloria (his wife) and I and our staff have joined ourselves together in faith that you would prosper in every area of life. Romans 1:16 says the gospel of Christ (the gospel of the Anointed One and His anointing) is "the power of God". You have been empowered to be free of sin, sickness and lack.... 

My own personal experience of a life of faith and life in the Spirit would be very different from that teaching. For Copeland, the gift of the Spirit means a life without suffering and so a life without the cross. We have to ask: is this "Copeland" spirit the same Spirit with whom the Father anointed the Son to undergo a sacrificial death on the cross as his Suffering Servant? I do not see the Spirit of Stephen the martyr reflected in this kind of theology. 

Most Christians would also miss out if this was the measure of faithful discipleship, for most people suffer in various ways with problems of health, family, finances, mental struggles and the like. How would Copeland's spirit offer encouragement to them? This Copeland spirit shuts up the Spirit that we find in the Gospel. The Spirit spoken about there is more likely to be a Spirit who kills in order to bring someone to life. Not much prosperity there! 

Did Jesus need to be baptized?

The real question is: did Jesus need to be baptized in order to receive the Spirit? The answers to this are numerous with the main ones: 

Jesus was baptized in order to give to others a public declaration of his prior identity as God from eternity and as God-man from his birth. 

It is also presented as being a statement about the future baptism in which all who seek to follow him will need to undergo.

It was not a defining event for Jesus. The Church has also stressed the "anointing" of Jesus at Bethlehem rather than at the Jordan, 2 that his humanity was glorified by his divinity when he became man. 

St Augustine: 

And Christ was certainly not then anointed with the Holy Spirit, when He, as a dove, descended upon Him at His baptism For at that time He deigned to prefigure His body, ie His Church, in which especially the baptized received the Holy Spirit. But He is understood to have been then anointed with that mystical and invisible unction, when the Word of God was made flesh, ie. when human nature, without any precedent merits and good works, was joined to God the Sword in the womb of the Virgin, so that with it 

Back to the question: Did the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan merely say something about Jesus for the sake of others, or was it a key moment in his mission and ministry? 

The anointing of Jesus at the Jordan is not just a symbolic action directed to others, but it was a genuine self-identification with sinners. 

John's Gospel: In the fourth gospel, John baptizes so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel and John witnesses to his identity as the Son of God who ranks above him and who came before him. Christ already had the Spirit from his conception. He is the 
Holy one, the fruit of Mary's womb sanctified by the Spirit. 
The One in whom the Spirit dwells in all his fullness (Lk 1:35). 

How do men and women come to share in the indwelling Spirit of Christ? 

John the Baptist tells us: the one on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit ( Jn 1:33; mark 1:8; Matt 3:11; Lk 3:16; Acts 1:5). The one who bears the Spirit, confers the Spirit. Bears the Spirit as a consequence of the Spirit coming down at his baptism and not at his conception and birth. 

It is a moment of new birth and an entrance into the Kingdom of God (by water and Spirit). It is seen as the promise of Jesus of the gift of God, of living water gushing up to eternal life

Luke's account of Pentecost is a call for people to repent and receive the baptism for the forgiveness of sins. It is the time when they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. What that means is that every baptism becomes a kind of "little Pentecost", a liturgical reenactment of Christ's continuous outpouring of the Spirit from the Father to the ends of the earth.

The Spirit whom the incarnate Son has for himself from conception, the Son also truly has for us in a special way in his humanity from his anointing onwards so that we too may receive the same spirit in and through our baptism. 

Irenaeus (202? AD) 

The Sprit of God becomes accustomed in fellowship with him to dwell in the human race working the will of the Father in them, and renewing them from their old habits into the newness of Christ. He speaks of Jesus as the Second Adam through whom the Spirit lost by the first Adam is restored once more to all humanity. This does not just happen through the incarnation (Jesus taking on our humanity). Jesus was "anointed" at the Jordan in order that he might give the Spirit to us: (Irenaeus again) 

Therefore did the Spirit of God descend upon him so that we, receiving from the abundance of his unction might be saved. 

Gregory Nazianzen (died 390 AD) 

Gregory speaks of the washing of Jesus at the Jordan as a mystery of salvation that takes place for my purification, or rather, sanctifying the waters by his purification so that he could bring about my perfection and return to the first condition of Adam. 

Athanasius: ( died 373) 

Athanasius tells us that the Son's baptism did not take place for promotion of the Word as God, but again for our sanctification, that we might share in his anointing. 

The mandate of Jesus in Matthew: 

The command to baptize is generally taken back to the mandate of Jesus in chapter 28. However, this text does not stand on its own. The Church has a clear calling to baptize but there is more to this text. The reason we baptize is that the Father anointed Jesus with his Spirit in view of our own anointing. Luke/Acts and John help clarify this point. Baptism is the means through which the Father's gift of the Spirit is handed down from Christ to others, from the Anointed one to those anointed. At the heart of the Church's ministry of baptism is the anointing/baptism of Jesus. The Church baptizes so that all people may receive he gift of the Spirit who once descended upon Jesus at the Jordan. Therefore, in order that it may be a "little Pentecost" baptism must first of all be a "little Jordan". At baptism, those receiving the sacrament go down into the water (as Jesus did), the Holy Spirit descends upon them (as the Spirit did with Jesus at the Jordan) and the Father calls them his sons and daughters (just as he declared Jesus to be his beloved Son). 

The Spirit and the Word: 

John helps us to understand why the Spirit is present in the incarnate Son: He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he (ie. God) gives the Spirit (to the Son) without measure (Jn 3:34). The Son receives the Spirit in all fullness, without measure, in an inexhaustible way, precisely to communicate the words of God to others. 

The Word who comes from above, the only-begotten Son of the Father, has always known the Father's will and therefore the Father's word: He (ie the Son) testifies to what he has seen and heard" (Jn 3:32).

The words God speaks to us through his Son are words inspired by and with the life giving Spirit. 

Note: In this context the Son's inspiration should not be understood as if to make him merely a man or the greatest of prophets, but rather in a broader sense in which the Son, as the bearer of the Spirit, alone reveals the Father's will to us and love for us. 

John: Those who believe the Son's empowering words, his Spirit-breathed words, have Eternal life (Jn 3:36a). For John, the gift of eternal life is linked to the words proclaimed by Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit: 

The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life (Jn 6:63). 

Through the words that are spoken by Jesus - the incarnate Word who has been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit - this Spirit is given to others that they may receive eternal life. What is this "eternal life" that is given through the Word? It is:

  • Receiving the Holy Spirit who leads to faith in the Son whom the Father sent
  • and to a faith in the resurrection of Jesus. 

This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day (Jn 6:40). 

When Peter heard this he asked: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God (Jn 6:68-69). 

Note: The Spirit in whom Christ speaks words of eternal life points people back to him. 

At the end of John's Gospel, the Spirit, 

in whom the Son, the one sent from above, speaks inspired 
and life-giving words (Jn 3 and 6) 

becomes the Spirit whom the Son breathes on his disciples with the words receive the Holy Spirit 

so that they too might proclaim words of eternal life. 

The sent one becomes the sender, the bearer of the Spirit becomes the giver of the Spirit

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you". When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. 

Living in the Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Christ

It is always easy to speak of the Spirit in the good times of life and the Church, when we are very aware of our "spiritual successes". When our prayers are answered in the way we like, when we experience healing in our lives or in the lives of others, our Church is growing or we see acts of love and holiness. At those times we are apt to give credit to the working of the Holy Spirit. 

However, where is the Spirit in times when there is no healing, no growth in the parish; when there are spiritual struggles and we lose fellow pilgrims from the Church? We are not usually so quick to acknowledge the Spirit at work when these times of darkness descend.

And yet... 

This is the life Jesus lived. 
  • He carried out his ministry under the shadow of the cross.
  • At the opening of his ministry he was led into the wilderness to do battle with Satan. 
  • His own disciples turned their backs on him, even though Peter had declared that he had the words of eternal life. 
  • In Gethsemane he struggled to come to grips with obeying his own father and his approaching death on the cross. 
  • There on the cross the people taunted him: "come down from the cross" a temptation he resisted, remaining there to suffer terribly and to die. 

The reality for Jesus was that his was not a life that could be seen as a fine example of the "prosperity Gospel", a life that included a command that was at the same time an invitation: anyone who wants to be a disciple of mine, must take up their cross and follow after me

Life in the Spirit is cruciform and eschatological. It looks from the cross to the hope of the coming resurrection. It is the cross in which we too share as disciples and the same hope that is given to us through baptism.

His was a life shaped by a cruel death but it was a life that flowed from his anointing by his Father at his baptism by John. It was for this he was anointed. Having the Spirit present and at work in Jesus did not mean that he was immune to suffering and could avoid pain or even death. He too, empowered with the Spirit, had to battle against conflict, temptation, rejection, persecution and at the end, with the grave itself. The baptism and anointing by John was the beginning of his journey to his being anointed by the shedding of blood at Golgotha. It is from the cross that Jesus "hands over" the Spirit. There is no breathing of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples to proclaim forgiveness of sins (Jn 20) until the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is glorified. Death, resurrection and the gift of the Spirit are dimensions of the one paschal mystery.