From: Come, Creator Spirit
Now all that the reading of certain texts of the New Testament will tell us about the Spirit “who gives life” will afford us a better understanding of what we have seen so far. Paul writes: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death,” (Romans 8:1-2).
Let us leave aside for the present the theme of the “new law,” as we will be considering it at another time. The principal point that we gather from the text is this: The Spirit is the Spirit of Life, and the life that the Spirit gives is none other than life in Christ, the life that flows from his paschal mystery. To live according to the Spirit therefore means to have a share in the very life of Christ, to share Christ’s own inward dispositions, to be “of one spirit” with him, (1 Corinthians 6:17). For all practical purposes, to be or to live “in the Spirit” is the same as to be or to live “in Christ.”
The same basic juxtaposition appears in another form in Paul, when he writes, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” (2 Corinthians 3:6). In this light the Holy Spirit stands out as the very principle of the new covenant, the Christian norm, and the power of Christian living, source of a new life and a new activity that derives directly from the work of Christ.
Turning to John we find the same link between the Spirit and life, and between the life of the Spirit and the work of Christ. For John, too, the “fountains of living water” of the Spirit spring forth from Christ’s glorified body. The paschal mystery and the Incarnation, however, are placed differently within the relationship to Christ which is common to both. The life that the Spirit confers is basically the life of the Father, the Trinitarian life, that in the Incarnation “was made visible,” (1 John 1:2). The entry of eternal life into the world was already accomplished in the coming of the Word “in whom was life,” (John 1:4). Jesus himself is “the life,” (John 14:6). Just as he lives by the Father, so those who depend for nourishment on him will live by him, (see John 6:57). For John the cross and the Passover are not so much the moment in which this new life first comes into being, but rather the moment in which sin, the obstacle preventing human beings from receiving this life, is removed. In this sense John could say that “there was no Spirit as yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified,” (John 7:39).
Although from different approaches with different emphases, John and Paul both present the life of the Spirit as one and the same with the divine life that, in Christ, is offered to humankind as a new possibility. New not only because it had not existed before, but also because it is of a totally different kind: divine, not human; eternal, not temporal.
Seen from the viewpoint of the one who receives it, the life of the Spirit is voluntary, received freely, and in this quite different from natural life, in receiving which the recipient has no option. No one can decide whether to be born or not. In fact, the new life presupposes the act of faith; one comes to the new life “through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth,” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). There is thus a sense in which faith makes us our own parent.
How does one actually enter into this new life? By two means: the Word and the sacraments. The words of Jesus are “Spirit and life,” (John 6:63). The Word is not only “inspired” by the Holy Spirit, it also “breathes” the Holy Spirit, inspires the Holy Spirit into those who receive it. Without the Holy Spirit it is a dead letter, but with the Holy Spirit it gives life, (see 2 Corinthians 3:6). It is a fact of experience: Read the scriptures “spiritually,” that is, in the light of the Holy Spirit and under the Spirit’s anointing, and you find them bursting with light and comfort and hope; in a word, with life.
And alongside the Word, the sacraments. In baptism we are reborn in the Spirit, (John 3:5); it is the moment when we begin to “live a new life,” (Romans 6:4). But baptism is not only the beginning of the new life; it is also its model, its form. In the very way in which the original and basic rite of baptism is carried out, that is, by immersing into and rising out of the water, baptism indicates a burial and resurrection, a dying and coming to life again. Saint Basil writes:
Regeneration, as the very word indicates, is the beginning of second life. But, to begin a second life, it is necessary to lay down the first. The Lord, in offering and giving us life, has entered with us into the covenant of baptism, figure of death and of life: the water provides the image of death, and the Spirit provides the input of life.
Cyril of Jerusalem says, in a poetical way, to the newly baptized: “The saving water was both tomb and mother to you.”
The life inaugurated in baptism is a life that nourishes itself on death. It is a dying in order to live: exactly the contrary of natural life, which is by definition, inescapably, living-for-death. On the natural level, every second of a lifetime is a second closer to death; it is space subtracted from life and added to death. On the supernatural level, every little mortification of the flesh is transformed into life according to the Spirit; it is space subtracted from death and added to life.