This advent season, should Christians focus less on Jesus and more on the Holy Spirit? Do we emphasize Jesus so much that we sometimes neglect the Holy Spirit? After all, we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christ-mas and the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. We refer to the gospel of our salvation as the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we refer to our Bible and our sermons from the Bible as Christocentric. Even the name of this website is “Christ Over All.”
Too Christocentric? What About the Spirit?
According to one common narrative, Western Christianity has seen a revival of pneumatology in the last century. The Holy Spirit, so the narrative goes, was neglected in Christian worship and theology from the days of the early church until the Pentecostal renewal movements of the early twentieth century. Since that time, however, the Holy Spirit seems to be center stage in much contemporary Christian worship and theological reflection. It is common to see this historical narrative framed by the metaphor of the classic fairytale of Cinderella. Overlooked, neglected, and long uninvited, Cinderella finally showed up to the ball and stole the show. A well-worn explanation for this so-called neglect of the Cinderella Spirit is the church’s overemphasis on the person of Christ.
A survey of this so-called revival of pneumatology will reveal that the new emphasis on the Holy Spirit has often resulted in new theological commitments. These commitments are not fresh articulations of the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) but departures from it. Pneumatology has been the doorway for declaring that people of non-Christian faith traditions can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Others have posited pneumatology as the way to know the feminine side of God, a kind of balance to the masculine names of the Father and the Son. Still others have seen the ongoing work of the Spirit to be a kind of liberating of the people of God from the strictures of the cultural ethos that dominated the human authors of Scripture.
1. Amos Yong argues for this kind of inclusivism in The Spirit Poured Out One All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005). For a critique of this view, see Todd Miles, A God of Many Understandings? The Gospel and Theology of Religions (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010) and Keith Johnson, Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).
2. Sarah Coakley explores major theological themes from an openly feminist perspective through the lens of pneumatology in God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “on the Trinity” (Cambridge University Press, 2013).
3. For an example of this kind of theology at work, see Samuel Kader, The Holy Spirit and the Gay Community: The Early Years: God’s Love Reconciling the Gay Community (SK Ministries, INC, 2022). Kader likens the development of pro-LGBTQ theology, the affirmation of gay sexual relationships among progressive Christians, and the emerging acceptance of gay clergy in recent years to the hovering of the Holy Spirit over the darkness of the chaotic waters of darkness in Genesis 1:2.
Thus, for some, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, emphasis on holy, bears unholy fruit (see Gal. 5:22–23). Rather, such pneumatology becomes the theological justification for a sexual ethic that celebrates gay, lesbian, transgender, and polyamorous sexual expression. If a tree is known by its fruit, the tree on which much contemporary pneumatology grows has a bad root—Satan masquerading as an angel of light rather than the Holy Spirit manifesting his presence and power (2 Cor. 11:14).
So, I ask again, do we run the risk of neglecting the Holy Spirit because of our worshipful obsession with the person of Christ? To borrow the Apostle Paul’s favorite negation, “May it never be!” The problem in our lives, our churches, and our society is not that we focus on the Lord Jesus too much but that we focus on him too little. In fact, if our doctrine of the Holy Spirit is regulated by holy Scripture (which the Holy Spirit inspired) rather than by the imaginations of men, we will see that the individuals, churches, and traditions most in step with the Holy Spirit are those who emphasize Christ most! The reason for this is straightforward. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes… he will glorify me” (John 16:13).
From the Father and the Son: Why the Spirit Glorifies the Son
Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as the divine person who is sent by the Father and the Son into the world to bring to completion the eternal plan of the Triune God to save his people from their sins. The Father sends the Son to assume a human nature and accomplish atonement for those who believe (John 3:16, Gal. 4:4). The Father and the Son send the Spirit to bring the work of redemption to completion (see esp. the upper room discourse of John 14–16). Since the earliest of days of Christian reflection on the New Testament, Christians have understood that these “sendings” of the Son and the Spirit (often called missions from the Latin word missio) reveal an eternal relation between the divine persons. Because the Father sends the Son into the world to become flesh, we know that the Son is eternally from the Father, the “only begotten God” (John 1:18). Furthermore, because the Father and the Son send the Spirit into the world, we know that the Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, the Spirit of God and of Christ.
It is precisely in the context of speaking about sending the Spirit into the world that Jesus says of the Spirit, “He will glorify me.” As the one who is sent from the Father and the Son into the world, the Spirit causes the indivisible works of the Triune God to redound back to him for his glory because all things are “from him, through him, and to him … to him be the glory forever” (Rom 11:36). Every work of the Triune God is accomplished from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. Therefore, every work of the Triune God redounds back for his glory by the Spirit, through the Son, and to the Father.
Many Ways: How the Spirit Glorifies the Son in Scripture
While John 16:13 is a simple verse, it reveals of manifold truth. Namely, that there are many ways Scripture presents the Spirit as glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider a few. The Holy Spirit . . .
- Inspires the Scriptures, which focus on the person of Christ (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20–21, John 5:39);
- Anoints Jesus at his baptism (Matt 3:16, Luke 3:22);
- Fills Jesus, empowering his work and directing his steps throughout his life as a man (Acts 10:38);
- Raises Jesus from the dead, just as he will one day raise believers in him (Rom 8:11);
- Applies the benefits of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice to those who believe (John 3:5–8, 6:63, 16:9–11);
- Indwells believers and conforms them to the image of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:16);
- Empowers Christians to be witnesses for Christ to their neighbors and to the nations (Acts 1:8).
The list could go on. How rich and beautiful are those words of Jesus spoken the night before he was crucified: “He will glorify me!”
The Holy Spirit and the Incarnation
Because the Advent season is upon us, it is particularly fitting to focus on the fact that the Holy Spirit glorified Christ by bringing to completion the miracle of the incarnation. When the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is going to conceive in her womb and bear the promised Messiah, she wonders how this can possibly come about since she is a virgin (Luke 1:34). The angel tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
The power of God by which this miracle occurs is identified directly with the Holy Spirit, the perfecter of every divine work. The verb translated “overshadow” (episkiazo) is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to describe the cloud of God’s glory that overshadowed the tabernacle when it was constructed in the midst of the camp of Israel (Exod. 40:35). The same glorious presence and power of God that made the tabernacle holy as the focal point of God’s covenant mediation under the Law is now settling over the womb of the virgin Mary to bring forth from her the new covenant mediator, the only true mediator between God and men, the Lord Jesus Christ.
At Christmas, Let Us Glorify Christ
Do you want to give proper attention to the Holy Spirit this Advent season and always? You can do so by focusing your attention, affection, festivities, and worship on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world. As a spotlight shines on the main event, so the Spirit glorifies Jesus. And we should not be ashamed to say this or be tempted to believe the Spirit is lacking when we glorify the Son. After all, such Christ-centered worship is led by the Spirit himself.
Jesus is the one whose birth was brought about by the Holy Spirit and whose atoning sacrifice brings you to the Father as his redeemed children. This is what we celebrate at Christmas—just as the triune God intended. Amen.