The progress of the Kingdom (3)
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Not this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive… John 7.37-39
From His throne at the right hand of God, Jesus Christ is advancing His reign of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit on earth, as it is in heaven (Rom. 14.17, 18; Matt. 6.10). Those who have been born again into this unseen Kingdom are called to join the Lord in advancing His reign by seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness as their first priority in all things (Matt. 6.33). If we truly expect the Kingdom of God to advance, like a growing stone and increasing without end (Dan. 2.44, 45; Is. 9.6, 7), then we will gladly and eagerly devote ourselves, with all our souls and strength, to pursuing that glorious progress and outcome.
In His invitation at the Feast of Booths, Jesus provides two important qualifiers for those who, coming to Him, would enter and seek His Kingdom. The progress of the Kingdom is the work of the Spirit of God, and it begins in the inner person of the believer, from where it flows like a river glorious into every aspect of his life.
We need to understand the work of the Holy Spirit so that we might submit ourselves entirely to Him. If we do, He will become in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4.14), not only for our own lives, but for those to whom the Lord is pleased to send us as well.
In this installment in our series on the progress of the Kingdom I want to provide a brief overview of the work of the Holy Spirit, particularly as His work relates to the life of a believer in Jesus Christ.
The Spirit in the world
First, however, we should say a few words about the work of the Spirit of God in the world generally. Here three things are to be noted.
First, the Spirit is in some way involved with the Word of God in upholding and sustaining the world, especially the living creatures of the world (Ps. 104.27-30). The Spirit and the Word are life, as Jesus explained (Jn. 6.63), so it makes sense that these should together be involved in providing for the wellbeing of every living thing.
The processes of the created order, by which life flourishes, food is consumed, bodily health maintained, and new creatures come into being – all these are attended to and sustained by the Word and Spirit of God. So faithful and regular are the ministrations of these divine Shepherds that we are able to describe their workings as “laws” of physics, chemistry, electricity, and so forth.
But in fact, no such laws, operating independently of the Word and Spirit of God – as though matter had life-sustaining potency in and of itself – no such laws exist. As Jonathan Edwards explained, “It is by the immediate influence of God upon things according to those constant methods which we call the law of nature, that they are ever obedient to man’s will, or that he can use them at all” (An Humble Attempt).
Second, the Spirit of God is the Source of the divine inspiration of Scripture (2 Pet. 1.20, 21). The Father gave His Word as the Spirit worked in the minds and hands of the writers of Scripture, creating a product which, because it is inspired by God, is profitable above all other sources to equip us for every good work (1 Tim. 3.15-17). And because the Spirit gave us the Scriptures, it is impossible to understand them rightly apart from His work of comparing Scripture with Scripture to make the meaning of the Word plain (1 Cor. 2.12, 13), as I will shortly explain.
Finally, the Spirit of God strives with people to convict them of their need for God and to turn their hearts to seek Him (Gen. 6.3; Acts 17.26-28). The Spirit works to restrain people in their rebellion against God, and only reluctantly gives them up to greater depths of sin and judgment as they persist in hardening their hearts against His wooing and striving (2 Thess. 2.7; Rom. 1.22-32). In between His work of restraining and giving up the Spirit works through general revelation and the preaching of the Gospel to woo people to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Spirit of God is thus very much at work in the world generally. It is a measure of the grace of God that He sends His Word and Spirit upon the just and the unjust alike, bearing long with men, so that they might not perish but have everlasting life in Jesus Christ (Matt. 5.43-48; 2 Pet. 3.9; Jn. 3.16).
The Spirit in the believer
We are primarily concerned to understand how the Spirit works within believers – individually and as communities – to become that river of living water Jesus described. So let’s look first at the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. And here I intend to provide only a summary. In our next installment we will consider the duty of believers in seeking the “within Kingdom” of God, according to the inward work of God’s Spirit.
First, the Spirit gives eternal life to the believer (Jn. 6.63; Gal. 4.6). Because those who believe in Jesus are dead in their trespasses and sins, and enemies of God (Rom. 5.10), they must be made alive, by an external and spiritual operation, before they will be able to proclaim God as their Father and Jesus Christ as Lord (Eph. 2.1; 1 Cor. 12.3). As the Spirit gives life to a believer, He indwells that believer in a spiritual but true manner, so that He accomplishes from within His work of becoming that river of living water (Jn. 14.15-17).
Second, the Spirit instructs the believer in the Law and Word of God (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Jn. 14.26). The Spirit thus works with the Word of God to bring us into the presence of God and expose us to His glory (2 Cor. 3.12-18), especially in conjunction with the reading and study of the Word of God. As He does, comparing Scripture with Scripture (1 Cor. 2.12, 13), He convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16.8-11) so that we might see where we are in need of amendment, understand the direction God intends for us, and be made aware of the judgment and discipline which God can bring against those who refuse to obey Him. The Spirit continues His teaching work within us at all times, but especially as we take to the Scriptures and other forms of deliberate study, so that we might grow in understanding, desiring, preferring, and obeying the deep things of the Lord (1 Cor. 2.9-12).
Third, the Spirit transforms the believer into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18). The prayer of John the Baptist, that Jesus must increase and we must decrease, provides the best way of thinking about the goal of the Spirit’s teaching in our lives (Jn. 3.30). The Spirit intends to transform our way of thinking, as well as all the thoughts contained in our minds, so that we might increase in the mind of Christ which we possess by virtue of His dwelling in us (2 Cor. 10.3-5; 1 Cor. 2.16).
The Spirit also works to transform our hearts, giving us new affections and teaching us to love and desire God and His Kingdom above all else (Ezek. 36.26, 27).
The Spirit renews and refurbishes our consciences, enabling us to know and embrace the priorities and will of God (Heb. 9.14).
As a result of this internal makeover, the believer increasingly lays aside the things of his old life and is clothed with Jesus Christ and His righteousness, being made anew in His image in all the outward manifestations of word and deed (Eph. 4.17-24; 2 Cor. 3.18).
As part of this work of transformation, the Spirit brings forth in believers divine and abiding fruit (Gal. 5.22, 23; Jn. 15.16); He endows them with gifts for loving ministry (1 Cor. 12.7-11); and the Spirit empowers believers for daily and effective witness for our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1.8).
Finally, the Spirit of God, Who is the power of God at work within believers (Acts 1.8; Eph. 3.20), keeps believers in the faith unto the full and final revelation of their salvation at the last day (1 Pet. 1.5). Believers will fall into sin, shun their duty, fail in their confession from time to time, and in many other ways disappoint themselves and fall short of the Father’s will. But as they walk in the Spirit, and as He searches their souls and lives (Gal. 5.16-23; Ps. 139.23, 24), true believers will be convicted of sin and will confess and repent, finding renewal in God’s Spirit as they turn from their sinful ways to be filled anew with Him (Eph. 5.15-21).
Thus the Spirit of God comes in the name of Jesus to make all things new in our lives and to cause that newness to flow by our words and deeds into the world around us day by day (2 Cor. 5.17-21).
The Spirit in the Church
The Spirit of God is also at work in believers corporately, as the Body of Christ. In the most general sense, He is using them as the agents for building the Church, which is the agenda of Christ for advancing His reign unto the day of His return (Matt. 16.18; Eph. 4.11, 12).
This He does by equipping believers for works of ministry (Eph. 4.11, 12). As believers grow by the Spirit’s work in their lives, they engage the gifts of the Spirit in particular callings from the Spirit to minister the grace and truth of the Lord to others. As they do, the local church grows in unity and maturity and makes increase of itself in love (Eph. 4.11-16).
The Church thus becomes the Body of Christ incarnate in the world, the living, breathing, serving, witnessing reality of the resurrected Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12). In the oneness of Christ’s Body, which the Spirit sustains (Eph. 4.3), the reality of Christ’s mission is urged on the world in convincing manner, so that many believe in Jesus because of what they see of the reality of His incarnation in His Body (cf. Acts 6.1-7).
Further, as the Spirit works to make the Church one Body in Jesus, it also raises the Church to be a temple of the Lord, His holy dwelling-place and the focus of worship and glory in the world (Eph. 2.19-22). As members grow in holiness (2 Cor. 7.1) and local churches give evidence of the indwelling presence of God, the Church becomes the beauty and joy of the earth, a terror to her enemies, a joy to her members, a source of praise to God throughout the world, and magnet for those seeking salvation in the Lord, and the very embodiment of the City of the living God (Ps. 48; Mic. 4.1-5).
There is a River, the streams whereof make glad the City of God (Ps. 46.6). The Spirit of God is the River of revival, renewal, and awakening in the world; and believers are the streams and rivulets which He fills and causes to swell into one great and glorious River of Living Waters, a tsunami of grace and truth to wash over the ruined and corrupted world, bringing the newness of life and hope in Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God makes increase because of the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit works to advance that Kingdom from within the life of each believer.