I read this passage this morning from N.T. Wright’s “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vison“, on page 164. I thought it worth putting up the whole paragraph for your consideration.
When, by clear implication, I am charged with encouraging believers to put their trust in someone or something ‘other than the crucified and resurrected Savior’, I want to plead guilty – to this extent and to this extent only: that I also say, every time I repeat one of the great historic creeds, that I trust in the holy spirit.
Of course, within Trinitarian theology one is quick to say that this is not something other than trusting in Jesus the Messiah, since it is his own spirit; the Father who sent Jesus is now sending ‘the Spirit of the Son’ (Galatians 4.4-7). But the point about the holy spirit, at least within Paul’s theology, is that when the spirit comes the result is human freedom rather than human slavery. When God works within a community, or an individual, the result is that they ‘will and work for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13). The pastoral theology which comes from reflecting on the work of the spirit is the glorious paradox that the more the spirit is at work the more the human will is stirred up to think things through to take free decisions, to develop chosen and hard-woon habits of life and to put to death the sinful, and often apparently not freely chosen, habits of death. Sin is what bubbles up unbidden from the depths of the human heart, so that all one has to do is go with the flow. That has the appearance of freedom, but is in fact slavery, as Jesus himself declared. True freedom is the gift of the spirit, the result of grace; but, precisely because it is freedom for as well as freedom from [this emphasis, BTW, has always been a central emphasis in Ratzinger], it isn’t simply a matter of being forced now to be good, against our wills and without our co-operation (what damage to a genuine pastoral theology has been done by making a bogey-word out of the Pauline term synergism, ‘working together with God’), but a matter of being released from slavery precisely into responsibility, into being able at last to choose, to exercise moral muscle, knowing both that one is doing it oneself and that the spirit is at work within, that God himself is doing that which I too am doing. If we don’t believe that, we don’t believe in the spirit, and we don’t believe Paul’s teaching. Virtue is what happens – I know many in the Reformation tradition shudder at the thought of the very word ‘virtue’, but there is no help for it if we are to be true to scripture and to Trinitarian theology – when the spirit enables the Christian freely to choose, freely to develop, freely to be shaped by, freely to become that which is pleasing to God.