3. Living Within God's Story: The Missio Christianus (cont.)
Movement 1. Becoming the Spirit-People
To become a Christian is to become a Spirit-person. This is not to say that be become disembodied in any way, far from it. Being God’s Spirit-people means that those who are encountered by God, who proclaim the Lordship of Jesus, and who are part of the body of Christ (the communion of the Saints), are those who are filled with the eschatological Spirit of God. Possessing the Spirit of God allows believers to live the right sort of bodily existence. Thus, as Spirit-people, Christians are God’s eschatological people. Living within the overlap of the ages, they are a people in the process of becoming what they already are. As those who possess the Spirit, the first-fruits and down-payment of God’s in-breaking kingdom, God’s Spirit-people exist as an anticipatory sign to the world. But this is a sign that already embodies that for which creation longs. As Richard Hays says: “The Sprit-empowered church stands within the present age as a sign of what is to come, already prefiguring the redemption for which it [this age] waits.”
As God’s eschatological people, God’s Spirit-people are God’s out-of-exile people. They are adopted as God’s child-heirs and, therefore, are called to become a kingly and queenly people. They are forgiven and are, therefore, called to become a priestly people proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to others. They are given guidance and truth, and are, therefore, to be a prophetic people challenging the powers and providing direction. They are given comfort and are, therefore, to be loving and united people especially attended to those who have been abandoned by others. Finally, as mentioned above, they are given resurrection life and are, therefore, a powerful people. Indeed, God’s Spirit-people cannot be defeated, they are a triumphant and victorious people. Consequently, God’s Spirit-people are to be a joyful people. Therefore, in all of these ways, God’s Spirit-people participate in the Spirit’s mission of life, light, comfort, and transformation, and thereby act as agents of God’s new creation as the old age passes and the new age dawns.
However, the references to “power,” “victory” and “triumph” need to be developed. Too often the claims made in the previous paragraph have been used to justify a Christian empire on earth that (intentionally or unintentionally) forcefully dominates, exploits, abuses, and marginalizes others. To properly understand the way in which Christians triumph through the Spirit, one must first look back to Jesus the first person fully empowered by God’s Spirit of resurrection life. One must recall that the Spirit of resurrection was not something given to Jesus after the cross. The Spirit of resurrection life, the Spirit of victory and power, was poured out upon Jesus when he was baptized. This means that not only Jesus’ resurrection but his entire ministry, his crucifixion and his death are all a part of the manifestation of the victory won by an entire life lived through the power of the Spirit. This is precisely why the disciples are not able to share in Jesus’ Passion. Because they do not have the Spirit of power within them, they fall asleep in the garden while Jesus prays. Because they do not have the Spirit of victory within them, they flee when the soldiers come to take Jesus away. Because they do not have the Spirit of resurrection life within them, they can only watch from a distance as Jesus dies on a cross. It is only after Pentecost that the disciples receive the Spirit’s power – which is a power to suffer. It is only after they are empowered by the Holy Spirit that the disciples are able to drink from the same cup as Jesus, and they too go on to die the deaths of faithful witnesses – Stephen is stoned, Peter is crucified and Paul is beheaded.
This means that God’s Spirit-people today experience victory by sharing in the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering. As Moltmann so aptly puts it: “In the Spirit of the resurrection, eternal life is experienced here and now, in the midst of the life that leads to death,” therefore, “eternal life has been hidden beneath its opposite, under trial, suffering, [and] death.” Indeed, it is precisely this point that Paul spends so much time addressing in his letters, both in defense of his own apostleship and in his description of the vocation to which his churches are called. As Michael Gorman argues: Paul is not trying to discern whether or not the power of resurrection life is now available (Paul assumes that it is), rather, Paul is trying to explain how the power of the resurrection is present. Just like Moltmann, Gorman concludes that, for Paul, “present resurrection… is resurrection to ‘death,’” believers are raised but “the new life to which they are raised is a life of dying, of being co-crucified, of cruciformity.” Therefore, we are also in agreement with von Balthasar who writes: “ever anew the Spirit places the witness of the Church under the sign of Jesus Christ: humiliation, persecution, cross.”
Therefore, we can conclude that it is the resurrection Spirit that empowers believers to live lives that are strikingly similar to the life lived by Jesus. Exactly because they are powerful and triumphant, believers are able to move into places of humiliation, suffering, and death. The Spirit is the sign of our corporate adoption as God’s child-heir, and so we will now reflect the image of God’s firstborn Son, Jesus who was crucified. We receive the Spirit so that we can be empowered to become the cruciform Son.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, The von Balthasar Reader.
Michael Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.
Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink From Our Own Wells.
Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.
Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation, The Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, and Theology of Hope.
N. T. Wright, Simply Christian.