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Central UMC Blog

The Pastor's Corner: Matters of Creed: I Believe in the Holy Spirit

Posted by Dr. Steven K. Pulliam on

Thus far in this series of blogs Dr. Jan Davis and I have focused on God the Father and God the Son. Now, we come to the third person of the Holy Trinity: God the Holy Spirit. We must be careful to note that we do not worship three different gods. We worship the One Triune God who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in community. That our Creator exists in community informs our understanding of being made for community and relationships. It’s little wonder that there has been a rise of mental health struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the key contributing factors to this stems from human beings’ isolation from one another. As bearers of God’s image, we are not made to be isolated but to be in community with one another.

When focusing specifically on the person of the Holy Spirit, the church teaches that the Holy Spirit shares in the eternal nature of the Father and the Son. Sometimes, we hear the erroneous teaching that God the Father existed first, then God the Son when Jesus was born, and then the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This has never been the teaching of the church. The teaching of the church is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have forever been and forever will be. I like the way that retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon reminds us of this truth. Willimon writes, “The same Spirit who hovered over the dark waters at Creation got the story of Jesus started by descending upon Jesus at his baptism “like a dove,” saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”[1] Of course, by the “story of Jesus,” Willimon means the “ministry” of Jesus. The story of God taking on flesh started when Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit” and then “born of the Virgin Mary,” as the Apostle’s Creed affirms, but I digress.

In addition, the birth of the Church and the ministry of the Church begins through the activity and power of the Holy Spirit. Again, Willimon writes, “The Spirit (the “wind from God”) brooded over the waters at Creation, bringing forth life where there had been little but darkness and death (Gen 1:2), so the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost bringing forth a new people, the Church.”[2]  

According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit enables us to place our faith in Christ. In the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition, we call this “prevenient grace,” meaning the grace that “goes before.” In other words, God is at work in our lives through the activity of the Holy Spirit long before we are conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Through the Holy Spirit, God brings us to an awareness of sin and our recognition that we need to be set free from the guilt and power of sin and made alive in Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers us for confession, repentance, and being able to claim for ourselves that “Jesus is Lord” (see 1 Corinthians 12:3).

The Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives as we grow in Christ. One of the major roles of the Spirit in our lives is the assurance that we belong to God. The Apostle Paul writes about this in his letter to the church in Rome.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:14-16, NIV).

John Wesley (1703-1791) experienced this assurance on the evening of May 24, 1738 while attending a Bible study meeting at Aldersgate Street in London. Wesley said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”[3] The assurance John Wesley received was the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t merely lead us to proclaim Christ as Lord and assure us that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit continues to work within us throughout our lives making us more and more like Christ. We often refer to this as “sanctification” or going on to perfection. Simply, it means becoming more Christ-like.  And growing in Christlikeness is not just for those we might deem as “super disciples” but for all who claim Christ as Lord. In addition, Christlikeness is not something we produce. This is God’s gracious work through the power of the Holy Spirit. We know the Spirit is at work in our lives and in the lives of others when we witness the growing fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

I am convinced that a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit is needed among the people of God today. We live in a world overflowing with loneliness, anxiety, animosity, contention, demonizing, and violence. How refreshing might the people of God be if, with boldness, we lived against the grain and gave witness to Christ’s grace and goodness through the power of the Spirit?

 

[1] William H. Willimon. This We Believe: The Core of Wesleyan Faith and Practice. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2010), 45.

[2] Willimon, 44-45.

[3] John Wesley. The Heart of Journal of John Wesley. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 43.

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