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The Self-Effacing Spirit

J. I. Packer in his classic book, Keep in Step with the Spirit, writes of “the self-effacing” nature of the Spirit’s “floodlight” ministry. A floodlight illuminates not itself but something other. Think of the theatre and the job the spotlights do. They illuminate the players on the stage. They are not to be the objects of attention. The Spirit as the Paraclete has come to floodlight or spotlight Christ as John 14-16 makes plain (e.g. John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-14). I myself prefer the metaphor of the spotlight because a floodlight, by definition, illuminates a very large space compared to a spotlight.  A spotlight targets more precisely.

The Spirit as the Paraclete has come to floodlight or spotlight Christ

How right Packer is can be seen if we ask the question, whom are we to imitate as far as Scripture is concerned? In the OT, Israel is to mirror God’s holiness (Leviticus 19:2). They are a people set apart: distinct just as the true God is distinct. Moreover, Israel is to walk in God’s ways (Deuteronomy 28:9-10). God’s OT people were meant to be a “display people” exhibiting God’s character in the world. Sadly too often they walked in the ways of the surrounding nations and were divinely judged for doing so. Idolatry is a case in point. They learnt the idolatrous ways of the nations (e.g. Jeremiah 10:2). The NT reaffirms the mirroring of God’s holiness when Leviticus 19:2 is quoted in 1 Peter 1:13-16. However, in the NT it is walking in the ways of Christ that dominates (1 John 2:6). He left us an example of service (John 13:13-17); an example of humility and other-person centeredness (Philippians 2:5-11); and an example of how to suffer injustice (1 Peter 2:18-25). As A. M. Ramsey argued in God there is no unChristlikeness at all. Christ is the image of the invisible God as Paul argued (Colossian 1:15-20), and as Jesus said himself to see him is to see the Father (John 14:8-10). Little wonder then that Christ’s people are called to be like him. C. S. Lewis insightfully argued in his famous book Mere Christianity that God want to fill his universe with “little Christs.” This is the divine intention.

God want to fill his universe with ‘little Christs.’ This is the divine intention.

This is no mere moralism as Paul’s discussion of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the believer makes clear (Galatians 5:16-25). In the Galatian text we are to walk by the Spirit (5:16), be led by the Spirit (v. 18), and to live by the Spirit (v.25). The imitation theme does not end there. Paul calls upon his readers to imitate his ways in Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:16-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). Importantly he does not leave Christology behind. The Corinthians are to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1).

What is striking is that no OT or NT text calls upon us to imitate the Holy Spirit’s ways. This is fact of the biblical text to be noted. Now as a general rule it is sound to argue that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Yet in some cases silence is pregnant with meaning as in the detective mystery short story Silver Blaze written by Arthur Conan Doyle. The story involves both theft and murder. Silver Blaze was a racehorse that had been stolen from its stall. Sherlock Holmes notes that there was a curious absence of barking by the dog on the night in question? Holmes concludes it was because the dog knew the culprit and that it was none other than Silver Blaze’s trainer, John Straker. Holmes was right. The silence was meaningful.

The Holy Spirit is self-effacing. Little wonder then that believers were known from NT times on as “Christians” and not as “Spiritians.”

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