Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Difference (and Cooperation) Between Christ and the Holy Spirit

Guest post by Rev. Paolo Castellina, translated from Italian

Question 58: How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ has procured?

Answer: We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ has procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost. [The Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/A 58].
A doctrine of particular importance is the one that addresses the role played in the dynamics of salvation by the Holy Spirit of God. 

The role of the Holy Spirit is to apply personally to the elect what Christ has achieved for them through His life, death and resurrection.

Although any comparison always has its limits, we could say that Christ has achieved on the Cross is similar to "a medicine". 
The effectiveness of a medicine occurs when it is taken by the patient. The effective medicine of Christ has been procured, prepared, for those to whom God has given the grace of salvation. But in what way can it work, however, since we are sick and too weak to procure and take it? 

The answer is "Through the work of the Holy Spirit", about whom Jesus said: "He shall glorify me: for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 14:16). Just like Jesus, during His earthly life, actively went to collect his disciples "Ye have not chosen me, but I who chose you" (John 15:16)].  He also said, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold: them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one flock, one shepherd "(John 10:16).  

But how was He going to bring them in? Not Himself in person, but through the vicarious work, which continues to this day, of the Holy Spirit. He sends to His elect in different ways, for example, through their preaching and Christian literature which are "heralds" of the Gospel. Through this message He calls them personally and through the regenerating, activating, vivifying Holy Spirit, he puts them in a position to respond positively, leading them effectively to repentance and faith in Him.

That is the case, for example, when deacon Philip was sent by the Holy Spirit to bring the gospel personally to the minister of Queen Candace along a deserted road. "The Spirit said to Philip," Come and join thyself to this chariot '"(Acts 8:29).  

Through the words of Philip, the Holy Spirit worked in the heart of man leading him to his faith in Christ and to baptism. You might also remember what happens in the conversion of Lydia: "A woman of the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple, named Lydia, who feared God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to make it sensitive to things said by Paul "(Acts 16:14). The same Spirit who led Paul was in the woman working to "open her heart" and be converted to Christ.

This is the message of Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John, where Jesus received the visit of Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews and expert on religion. Nicodemus would have liked to know more about Jesus and His teaching, first-hand, from Jesus Himself. The first thing that Jesus taught him, though, was about the need of the new birth, spiritual regeneration by the Holy Spirit. That is a prerequisite in order to truly understand Jesus and live in communion with Him.

In this episode, twice Jesus says to Nicodemus: "You must be born again". This iss not a command but a statement of fact. No one, in fact, can give birth to himself, even if he wanted to.  

In fact, to be "born of the Spirit" means to be involved by the action of a "wind" which is  sovereign and "blows where it wills" (it is not manipulated and in the control of Man).  We do not know where the wind comes from or where it goes ... Only those who are led by this "wind" are moving in the right direction, through faith in Christ. "... In fact all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14).

Reconciliation with God is not something that we can produce by our own resources: it is caused by God himself. We can only pray to God to grant us this faith. The Evangelist John says that "all who have received him he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name", but then adds: "... which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God "(John 1:12-13).

So there is a difference in the respective roles of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Christ has received, obtained, procured for us the redemption. The Holy Spirit is the One who applies it personally so that in fact the elect should experience its benefits.  

It is necessary for the Holy Spirit to apply the redemption of Christ personally, because if left to ourselves, we would be too weak to receive the benefits of Christ's work. The work of the Holy Spirit is to sovereignly regenerate us, spiritually transforming our heart and leading us to repentance and faith in Christ.

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