One of the many joys of pastoring is seeing Christians grow in their love for one another and in their unity of fellowship, despite various church backgrounds. What becomes apparent when Christians from different backgrounds get together is that depending on what kind of a church experience you come from, you may have a radically different understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work than some of your friends and fellow church-members.
Objective or Subjective Work?
Some of us tend to conceive of his ministry as more objective: his work is done to us. He regenerates, he gives faith, he seals, he protects until the end. That is glorious!
But for others of us, there is a tendency to conceive of the Spirit’s ministry in more subjective categories: his work is done in us. We feel his assurance, we’re equipped with gifts, we are prompted by his leading. And that is glorious too!
The reality is that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is dynamic. He is the Spirit of truth who opens our eyes and affects our hearts. He is the one who gives us life and sustains it. He brings our salvation and completes it. He is intimately involved in us because of what he has done to us.
To the Word
So, in Ephesians 1, Paul glories in the objective work of the Spirit:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit , who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
He is a seal objectively placed on us; that is our new reality and the certainty that we have of our salvation. Praise God!
But the Psalmist, in Psalm 35 reflects on the present subjective work of the Spirit, assuring him that God is for him: “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation!'” Or, as Augustine personalized the prayer,
Whisper in my heart, ‘I am here to save you’
In Our Worship
I love the way Wesley captures that balance of the objective and subjective work of the Spirit in these two verses of ‘And Can It Be?’:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Saviour in my heart.
So does the Spirit work in objective ways or subjective ways? The answer, of course, is ‘Yes!’ and ‘Amen!’
I’m so thankful to the Triune God for the way he has orchestrated our salvation to display the glories of his grace. He has determined that he would save us in such a way as to show off the glorious ministry of his dynamic Holy Spirit.