From The Giving Gift
Let us, therefore, start again from Thornton’s valid and helpful insight that both Christ and the Spirit indwell us but in quite different ways. Christ indwells us, in that we live our renewed life in a relationship with him that constitutes and controls all that as Christians we are and do. We live his life, we die his death, we share his suffering and his victory. We pursue his mission by participating in his risen and renewed humanity and all his authority and his love. All this happens in the sovereign dynamism and his initiating and self-giving grace.
To describe our union with him the New Testament uses language that stresses in the strongest possible way the organic oneness of Christ and Christians. We can exist apart from him no more than the branches can exist apart from the vine, (John 15), no more than the limbs and organs of the body can exist apart from the body, (1 Corinthians 12). As the branches are in the vine, as the organs are in the body, so are we in Christ. To be separated from him is disability, decay and death.
However, at the same time as they are insisting on our unity with him as emphatically as that, the New Testament writers know perfectly well that there is a vital difference between the relationship of branches to vine and member to body on the one hand and Christians to Christ on the other. Our closeness to and dependence upon him is as real and closeness and dependence between persons, because this is a union of persons.
Thus the unity and oneness do not abolish the fact that in this kind of personal union each party retains his own distinct personhood over against the other. It makes no sense to exhort a branch of a vine growing in a vineyard to abide in its unity with the whole vine: it has no say in the matter and can do nothing else. It does make sense to exhort Christians to abide in Christ, (John 15:4), and to promise them that Christ will abide in them. They and Christ do not have the enforced unity of impersonal components of a larger whole; but, the unity proper to persons who have knowingly and willingly given themselves to one another. They are one because that is what they have chosen to be, and their unity does not contradict but rather depends upon and issues from that mutual choice. Thus Paul can accuse the members of Christ’s body in Corinth of disrupting its unity and can commend to them the way of love, that is of willing personal self-giving, as the means of finding and maintaining that unity.
What it means to be one with Christ and yet for him and us to retain our personal distinctness over against each other comes out most clearly not when Paul speaks in terms of the body and its members, which have a set of impersonal relationships, but in terms of husband and wife who have a fully personal one. This he does in Ephesians 5, where he uses the marriage relationship to illustrate and describe the relation between Christ and the church. In marriage there is both a oneness and a “two-ness,” and Paul, in quoting Genesis emphasizes both. “The two will become one flesh,” (5:31), so that “he who loves his wife loves himself,” (5:28). Divorce is, therefore, a tearing apart of that unity, of that one life that marriage creates and expresses.
However, in order to be one in their love, husband and wife have to remain two distinct persons: it takes two to love. Their relationship is not one of impersonal amalgamation, their gluing a leg to a chair or dissolving powder in water. It is a unity that includes in itself one person who loves and is loved in return, and another person who is loved and loves in return. It is a unity that consists of two people who knowingly, willingly, and with feeling go on giving themselves to each other. It is what Martin Buber called an I-Thou relationship in which each partner affirms, respects, and indeed increases the distinct personhood of the other by the offering of his love.
A marriage in which one partner ceases to honor and respect the integrity of the other as a person distinct from himself is a marriage whose unity is under threat. A love that wants to possess and absorb the one it loves is a false self-love. C. S. Lewis somewhere wrote: “She lived only for others: you could tell who the others were by the haunted look on their faces.” When I love someone, she does not become me and I do not become her. That is indeed the last thing that either of us would want to happen. The personal otherness of the beloved is the thing that gives the self-giving of love its motivation and its meaning. In loving her I escape not myself, but is in the closest and most intimate union with me. This is a unity of persons and in this respect quite unlike any unity of impersonal things.
So it is with Christ and us. Our unity with him does not abolish either his personal distinctness or ours, but in fact presupposes both. Paul is so intent on affirming our oneness with Christ that he can occasionally seem to deny the continuing distinctness, but never for more than a moment. For example in the familiar verse in Galatians he can say: “I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20). Yet the next sentence in the same verse immediately makes it clear that what Christ abolishes is the old rebellious self of my sinful independence. My distinct personhood continues into my new life in Christ, for he at once goes on: “The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” The faith that I place in Christ is an attitude of trust by one person towards another, and the love that Christ shows me is the giving of one person to another. The unity is so real and great that it abolishes all independence of isolation from between the parties; however, it is from first to last a unity between two persons who willingly choose to give themselves to each other. Christ does not become me and I do not become Christ; we become one because of his love for me and my answering faith in him.
It is when we understand our unity with Christ in terms of this indescribably intimate personal relationship between him and us that we can begin to grasp the part of the Holy Spirit in it. The Holy Spirit is not the one to whom we relate but rather for one who makes the relating possible. It is Christ, and the Father through him, who relates himself to me and to whom I relate; it is the Holy Spirit who enables me to receive Christ and to give myself to him. The Holy Spirit is the bond of our union with Christ, the one who comes from his side of the relationship over to ours and enables us to receive and to respond.
It is Jesus who is confessed by Peter at Caesarea Philippi, (Matthew 16:15); yet it is the Spirit who is at work in Peter to open him up to make that confession. It is Jesus who is confessed as Kurios, Lord, in 1 Corinthians 12:3; it is “by the Holy Spirit” that our confession of him can be made. It is Jesus who is conceived in and born of Mary; it is through the action of the Spirit that he can be so conceived and received by her. The Spirit as the one who comes and acts on our side of our personal relationship with Christ and the Father is an almost literal translation of John’s favorite word for the Spirit, paraklétos, which means the one who is sent to stand with us, so that we can make a right answer and bear a right witness to Christ and his Father. We are united with Father and Son, as persons with persons, and it is Spirit who gives us the openness of mind, the motivation of will, and the responsiveness of heart that make that union possible from our side.
What we have been doing is taking Thornton’s valid but rather abstract and impersonal distinction between the Son as the content of the new life and the Spirit as its quickening agent, and translating it into more personal terms that keep us closer to the Biblical sources. The Son is the person who by his incarnation, death, and resurrection initiates our new relationship with God and fashions a new humanity in which we are to share. The Spirit, on the other hand, is the person who enables us to accept what Christ gives us, so that we can make our own what he has done for us and can respond to his, “Yes,” to us with our, “Yes,” to him. There is a great deal more than that to be said about the relationship of Son and Spirit, and we shall go on to say it; however, for the moment, it is good to reflect on this basic distinction between the person to whom we relate and the person who enables our relating. It will help us to understand more fully some important aspects of the Spirit’s work as the New Testament describes them.