Immanuel literally means “God with us.” What a word! What a concept! Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would give birth to a child who would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). According to Matthew, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He came to earth (Matthew 1:23). In Christ all the fullness of God dwelt bodily (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). Jesus was God incarnate (John 1:1, 14), physically with us here on earth! The transcendent God became so immanent that Jesus told His disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Sometimes we envy those first disciples who knew Jesus in the flesh. We imagine having God physically with us as the best possible scenario. As Jesus prepared to leave His disciples, He anticipated this desire and insisted there was something even better than God being with us in the form of one human being. He said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (16:7).
Jesus’ teaching about the Spirit in John 14-16 envisions a world in which God is with us — not in the form of one human being but through His Spirit living within all His followers. In this way, Jesus returns to His disciples, not leaving them as orphans. The world is convicted of sin and righteousness and judgment. Jesus’ disciples are led into all truth and are empowered to do greater things than Jesus did. Through sending the Spirit, Jesus brings God’s presence to live within His followers, abiding in them and allowing them to abide in Him. Through the Spirit, God is with us in ways those who first knew Jesus in the flesh could only imagine. Immanuel — God is with us through His Spirit!
We are thus a people of the Spirit. As our Vision of a Vibrant 21st Century Church phrases it, we are “Spirit-formed.” A Spirit-formed church is a body of Spirit-formed people living in the community of the Spirit. We are enlivened by the Spirit and are formed by the life of the Spirit into the image of Christ. The Spirit forms the church in various ways that are fully integrated and work in concert. The Spirit-formed church is identified, sanctified, taught, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Spirit-identified. By identification, we mean that believers are born again by the Spirit (John 3:1-8; Romans 8:11) and are baptized by the Spirit into Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13). Were it not for the Spirit convicting and drawing us to God, we could not have been reconciled to Him. But through the work of the Spirit, we are brought to God and given a new life. The Spirit seals us and unites us as one (Ephesians 1:13, 14). This identifying work of the Spirit gives life to the church, gives her members genuine spiritual unity with one another, and assures them of final redemption after death. Immanuel — God is with us through His Spirit to identify us with Himself!
Spirit-sanctified. By sanctification, we mean the ongoing process of the Spirit conveying the holiness of Christ into the lives of believers, enabling them to overcome sin (Romans 8:13) and walk in true righteousness (Galatians 5:16-25). Were it not for the Holy Spirit sanctifying us, we would be left in the sinful condition we were found in. But just as we were saved by grace through faith, so we are sanctified by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). Thus the Spirit-formed church is growing in righteousness, being transformed into the moral character of Christ by the Spirit. Immanuel — God is with us through His Spirit to make us like Him!
Spirit-taught. When we speak of the Spirit’s teaching, we mean the Spirit’s ability to convict (John 16:8-11), lead into truth (v. 13), call to remembrance Jesus’ teaching (14:26), and facilitate meaningful communication with God (Romans 8:23-27). Were it not for the Spirit, we would not be able to understand the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 3:14-18) or know the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Through the Spirit our minds are renewed, enlightened, and enabled to think the very thoughts of God! The Spirit-formed church has the eyes of her understanding enlightened by the revelation of God so that she grows in wisdom and the knowledge of the love of God. Immanuel — God is with us through His Spirit to teach us all we need to know to love and glorify Him!
Spirit-empowered. By empowerment, we mean the supernatural strength and gifts of the Spirit that allow the Spirit-formed church to serve and thereby edify one another, bearing conclusive witness to the loving power of God in the world (1 Corinthians 12). Were it not for the Spirit, we would be left to join in the mission of God with our own wisdom and resources. But by God’s Spirit, we are no longer merely human. We are vessels of God’s power and grace to one another and to the world. The Spirit-formed church is one in which all the gifts of the Spirit function in harmony and order to the glory of God at the Spirit’s discretion (Acts 11:12; 13:2; 15:28). Immanuel — God is with us through His Spirit to empower us to join His mission!
Through His Spirit
These various activities of the Spirit work in concert with one another. The same Spirit that convicts unbelievers regarding righteousness also empowers believers to live in righteousness. Often this convicting and empowering ministry of the Spirit is facilitated through a fellow believer who manifests a spiritual gift. This ministry both edifies believers and affirms their sure salvation as people sealed by the Spirit and commissioned to work with Christ. Thus each of the Spirit’s various activities works together. If any is missing, then the work of the Spirit is incomplete. The church that does not experience the work of the Spirit in one or more of these areas is likely quenching, grieving, or resisting the Spirit in some way.
Therefore, as a Spirit-formed church, we are committed to submitting to and cooperating with the entire work of the Spirit. We recognize the Spirit as our paraklete, receive Him as the promised gift and Helper, and honor Him as God’s Spirit within us. We respond to His conviction, walk in His holiness, listen to His teaching, and manifest His power in the church and the world. We recognize that when we speak of the Spirit, we are speaking of Christ in us, for “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17). God, the Holy Spirit, is present and active in and through His Spirit-formed church.
Immanuel — God is with us through His Spirit!
Israel Steinmetz, dean of Academic Affairs for LifeSpring School of Ministry, lives with his wife, Anna, and their seven children in San Antonio, TX. Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.
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