The ‘Holy’ Spirit of Christ

Designed by Wesley21 art.

Designed by Wesley21 art.

By Peter Bellini –

The Trinity is not an unsolvable riddle, a peripheral issue relegated to our theological appendix, or simply fuzzy math. No, the Trinity is the basic grammar and logic of our theology and practice. Three persons are interrelated in a community of holy love in one divine essence that births and grows all that we are and will be.

When understanding the Trinity, it is important to understand the one in terms of the three and understand the three in terms of the one. Karl Barth, in the first volume of his Church Dogmatics described it as oneness in threeness and a threeness in oneness. The doctrine of appropriation relates to the threeness, appropriating a particular work to one distinct person not to the exclusion but in the forefront and cooperation of the others. The doctrine of perichoresis understands that the three persons and their work mutually permeate each other in oneness.

How is God one and three? How is this possible? The key is to understand the Trinity in terms of relations. The real relations constitute the distinct persons and their divine unity. The Father is father because he is the eternal origin of the Trinitarian relations. He alone generates the Son and breathes the Spirit. The Word is eternally generated from the Father. He is the eternally begotten Son. His generation is not external to the divine being, i.e. Arianism, but as an imminent or internal procession, just as a word or thought emerges within ones self and not outside.

The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father of eternal origin through the eternal generation of the Son. The eternal procession of the Spirit is a spiration or breathing forth of the Father through the Son and not a begetting, less the Father have two sons. The Spirit as a person is one who proceeds from Father through the Son. Thus the three distinct persons consist and are one through their eternal relations in generation and procession. Each person also has corresponding functions that work in cooperation with the work of the other two, not in exclusion of the others but in preference and cooperation with the others. Yet though the persons and functions are distinct, they are consubstantial in being.

We must not separate pneumatology from Christology, the Holy Spirit from Christ. Instead, the Spirit should always be connected to Christ. The Holy Spirit will function in the believer as Christ had functioned when he was in the world, because the Spirit will not speak on his own. The Spirit is another of the same kind, like Christ. In John 16:13-15, he will only reveal what Christ has revealed. He will only speak what Christ is speaking. He will only do what Christ is doing. The Spirit’s primary function in the economic Trinity is to bear witness to the second person and the second and third person are consubstantial, one in being.

Let us teach and preach the Holy Spirit primarily in relationship to Christ. The Spirit reveals, convicts, justifies, regenerates, sanctifies, and empowers all in relation to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Granted, the Spirit can work through a myriad of cultures, forms, and situations in prevenient grace to lead persons to Christ. However, our preaching, teaching, and ministering of the Holy Spirit in the church among believers needs to be Christologically oriented. Beware of Holy Spirit encounters that are disconnected from Christ and connected solely to phenomenology, manifestations, the individual, the pastor, to a ministry office, the prophet, the apostle, or the church. When we peddle in a market of a Christless pneumatology, then we are buying and selling doves in the temple. Christ will soon come as a lion, not a lamb, and turn over some tables.

It is important also not to separate the Holy from the Holy Spirit or to separate holiness from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who is holy makes us holy. It is the Spirit’s primary job. The Spirit’s name is the Spirit’s job description. The Spirit makes us holy and holiness is defined Christologically, as Christ-likeness. Jesus as the way, the truth and life is the measure of holiness because he is God in the flesh. When we see him we see the Father. He is the fullness of the God’s holiness dwelling in a body.

As a charismatic United Methodist, I feel many Christian circles have little or no operating doctrine or even theology of sanctification, at least one that is scriptural. The Pentecostal revival at Azusa Street in 1906 did a lot of uniting, but it did some dividing. It drew from both Wesleyan Holiness circles and Baptistic circles. Both claimed a Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Wesleyan Holiness Christians believed in entire sanctification as a second definite instantaneous experience followed by a lifelong process of growth in grace. Baptistic Pentecostals did not hold to a second work of grace but viewed sanctification as a lifelong process.

Following Azusa Street, the former Wesleyan Holiness Christians focused more on the power dimension of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit than the holiness dimension. The holiness component became either a theological souvenir from their Wesleyan heritage with little practical bearing, or holiness became reduced to legalistic standards of dress and diversion, a “thou shall not” holiness codes with the form of godliness but no power to make one godly.

Following Azusa Street, the Baptistic Pentecostals similarly came to focus more on the signs and phenomenology of the Spirit – tongues, healing, and the gifts of the Spirit – than the holiness dimension. The extreme focus on power over holiness left a void that was filled in part by some influential but pseudo theologies of sanctification and Christian growth that resemble more the gospel of the American Dream than they do the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

As a charismatic Christian, I believe and operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are for today, and mainline Protestantism desperately needs to be filled with the Spirit and to minister in the power of the Spirit. Personally, I believe most of our problems in United Methodism could be solved with more Holy Spirit and less denominational pragmatism. However, I believe that three popular syncretistic theologies of discipleship have become poor substitutes for an active theology of sanctification in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.

1. The Positive Confession movement is rooted in Norman Vincent Peale’s the Power of Positive Thinking, E.W. Kenyon’s mind-science, which is a late 19th century popular form of distilled Hegelian idealism, and Kenneth’s Hagin syncretistic adaptation of these two to his own “word of faith” theology. The Positive Confession movement sought to ignore the negative in life and even in scripture and focus only on the positive: thus no sin, no suffering, no sacrifice, no cross, and no sanctification.

Proponents of this theology rarely deal with sin issues, or issues of suffering, or why bad things happen to good people. Suffering is thought to be of the devil, and so when bad things happen to good people the Positive Gospel cannot account for the suffering let alone understand how God uses it, and as a result many people fall away in discouragement and defeat.

2. The Prosperity Gospel has no place for what it perceives as negative. In this movement, growth is not always in Christ but growth in human potential as informed by Western, capitalism, and the American Dream. Thus with its two or three offerings per worship service and continual pleas to feed charismatic pyramid schemes that promise infinite returns of heaven on earth, the Prosperity Gospel has commodified the Holy Spirit and Christianity. Many leave disillusioned when they discover that they cannot be as successful as the man at the top of the pyramid.

3. Gifts-based spirituality, especially the Apostolic/Prophetic movement, like the other two movements, has poorly filled a void within Spirit-filled Christianity where a robust theology of sanctification has been missing. Again, I believe all of the gifts of the Spirit, including the so-called five-fold offices of Ephesians 4:11, are for today and are needed desperately. We need gift-based ministry, but gift-based sanctification can be dangerous. Spiritual gifts do not make someone holy. They are gifts, not merit badges or spirituality trophies.

It is dangerous when we substitute charisma for character. Without a strong and robust theology of sin and evil, and an even more robust and greater theology of sanctification, we are pursuing the American dream as our model of Christian development. In this success and gift-based model of Christian development, growing in our faith means becoming richer, having more vehicles, more houses, more ministries, more books, more mail order degrees, more offices and titles, and more fans and followers.

There are nine gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, and nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – a needed balance. Charisma without character is a recipe for destruction. Power without maturity in a minister’s hand is like an AK-47 in the hands of a 5-year-old roaming up and down the aisles of your church.

The Spirit-filled movement needs a revival of non-legalistic, presence-based, and fruit-yielding holiness. Without a theology of the Holy Spirit that is informed ontologically by Christology and informed missiologically by holiness, we have no way of rightly or wrongly discerning the movements we attribute to the Holy Spirit.

Peter Bellini is Assistant Professor in the Practice of Missiology in the Vera Blinn Chair at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. 


  1. Dr.Bellini,

    Great article on the revelation of the Holy Spirit! I enjoyed your views on the baptism of the spirit, the holy trinity, word of faith and the prosperity gospel.

  2. Monique Tremaine says

    I truly enjoyed reading your article! This takes me back to Foundations for Church Renewal. I highly recommend this course for all seminary students or anyone in church leadership!

  3. kristina lewis says

    It is interesting to see how popular culture has spawned “theology” Norman Vincent Peale is an excellent example.

  4. This article is awesome, thank you dr bellini it helps alot to solve this equation which has been a very big challenge. It is good to know this.

  5. Janice T. Newell - Byrd says

    Dr. Peter Bellini,
    Absolutely fantastic!
    Thank you for this timely article about the Third Person of the Godhead. It was both spiritually professional and solidly practical.

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