The Breath of God

Hymn #334 is our hymn of application this Sunday, and it is a prayer to the Holy Spirit for His influence in our lives. The word “Spirit” in Hebrew and Greek is the same word as “breath” or “wind”, leading to the hymn writer using this figure. The Scripture text in the Trinity is John 20:22, where Jesus breathes on the disciples, symbolizing the gift of the Spirit.

Frequently in the Old Testament, the promise is made that one day the Spirit of God would be poured out on God’s people and that the result would be that their sinful natures would be changed and they would truly come to love the law of God. This comes as a result of the one inviolable sacrifice of Christ that forever guarantees fellowship between God and His people, and guarantees the presence of the Spirit in our lives.

The hymn says, in line two of verse one, “…that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.” This is what sanctification is all about. It is not becoming so strong and stoic that we can deny ourselves what we love and can force ourselves to do unpleasant things because they will please God. Some of that is necessary along the way; we must learn self-denial and sacrifice for God’s service. But what we learn in the process is that when we deny ourselves our sinful lusts, we are actually denying ourselves deadly poison in favor of life-giving food. Real sanctification comes when we come to realize this, when our desires change, and we follow God’s law not out of external commandment and fear of punishment, but out of a recognition that God’s service and God’s law are extremely good and pleasant ways to live.

This means that our sanctification is just as much an act of God’s grace as our justification. Paul says in Galatians 3, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” They were trying to improve on the grace of Christ by adding to it the works of the law. But Paul shows them that the whole point of the Old Testament ceremonies was to show them their inability to overcome their own sinful natures on their own and point them to the grace of God.

As believers in Christ, we are just as dependent for our ongoing sanctification as we are for our initial faith. He that began a good work in us will finish it to the day of salvation, and the way that He does that is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The believer ought therefore to be faithful in prayer asking for the work of the Spirit, laying hold of the means of grace through which the Spirit has promised to work, and then patiently waiting on the Spirit to do His work.