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The Gospel of Transformation
Distinguishing the Discipleship & Ecclesiology Integral to Salvation
Section I God’s Relational Context and Process to Transformation
Chapter 6 The Irreplaceable Replacement Person
He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and share it with you.
From the beginning, God’s presence and involvement have been an open question—starting with “Did God really say that?”—that God’s people have dealt with in one way or another. This commonly-experienced struggle has been the fact despite the reality of the incarnation, in which God’s presence and involvement were whole-ly distinguished by the unmistakable Face of the irreducible Subject of the Word.
A major cause of the lack or absence of relational connection with the whole of God’s presence and involvement had to do with his followers’ theological anthropology. Jesus consistently addressed (and confronted) our reduced ontology and function; and then he ongoingly distinguished the whole ontology and function that are necessary for the outcome of reciprocal relationship together in wholeness, both with God and God’s family. As our theological anthropology is epistemologically clarified and hermeneutically corrected by the complete Christology embodying Jesus, we may also need further clarification and correction in our theology and practice so that they are whole-ly distinguished as trinitarian—that is, by no less than the whole of God.
When Jesus was close to his physical departure from the earth, he rightly assumed that his followers would not struggle with staying relationally connected with God’s presence and involvement, and thus not have to live as relational orphans. He based their reciprocal relational connection with the whole of God on the experiential truth and reality of the trinitarian person who was to continue, extend and bring to completion his relational work on earth (Jn 14:16-18).
After the incarnation, the experiential truth of God’s presence and involvement has been vested primarily (not solely) in the person of the Spirit. It is only the Spirit’s reciprocal relational work that fully unfolds the constituting relational work of Jesus as his relational replacement (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15). As Subject Jesus made unmistakable in relational terms, a complete Christology by necessity composes the primary presence and involvement of the Spirit, and together the trinitarian persons integrally constitute the whole of God for our theology and practice to be whole. The Father’s imperative to his Son’s followers once again urgently challenges, if not confronts, us to “Listen to him!” (Mt 17:5) in all his relational words, without being overly christocentric. Any imbalance in our perception and understanding of God actually fragments the presence and involvement of the whole of God, and thereby distorts the gospel and its relational outcome.
The Spirit is neither an option available to followers of Jesus nor a resource at our disposal as Christ’s body-family in the twenty-first century. Yet, if we acknowledge or pay attention to the Spirit at all, he is likely the least understood and most misappropriated of the persons of the Trinity. Throughout Jesus’ vulnerable presence and relational involvement, the Spirit dwelled (meno) with Jesus together (Jn 1:32; 3:34; Lk 4:1,14,18) to constitute the improbable relational context and process of the whole of God. On this relational basis, the relational work of the Spirit is irreplaceably the necessary relational means who constitutes theology beyond the referential terms of the probable in the relational epistemic process to the improbable. The Spirit provides the needed hermeneutic for the embodied Word’s whole theological trajectory and relational path (Jn 14:26; 15:26). This necessitates going beyond mere acknowledgement of the Spirit. For our theology to go further and deeper than self-referencing we need to honestly examine our theological assumptions of pneumatology. The gospel and its relational outcome that Jesus embodied in whole are contingent on who the Spirit is and what his function is.
Just as Jesus identified the Spirit as the integral key to what unfolds after his ascension (Jn 14:16-18,26; 15:26; 16:8-15; Acts 1:4-5, 7-8), Paul confirmed the Spirit as that key and affirmed his reciprocal relational work as the innermost of God’s presence and involvement (1 Cor 2:9-16; 12:3-13; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Rom 8:9-16; Eph 1:13-14; 2:22). The synthesis of Jesus into Paul and their gospel of wholeness and its relational outcome of the new creation family unfold only in our whole understanding of the Spirit. Accordingly, as we transition from ‘God’s relational context and process to transformation’ (Section I of this study) to ‘the relational outcome of wholeness’ (Section II), the composition of this outcome pivots on the Spirit—the irreplaceable replacement person.
The title of this chapter not only assumes the Spirit as person—not an it, for example, as a force or power—but demands both the perception of the Spirit as person and the understanding of the Spirit as person in order for the integrity of God to be distinguished whole. That is to say, the triune God from beyond the universe is revealed to us distinguished as trinitarian persons: Father, Son and, equally, the Spirit, distinguished from the limits of the human person yet nevertheless distinguished as persons who are present and involved as Subject in reciprocal relationship together. Anything less and any substitutes of their persons reduces the integrity of the Trinity to be whole, and fragments relationship together in wholeness, and thus what we can know and experience of God.
This perception and understanding of the Spirit’s person are indispensable both to know the whole of God as personal Subject (not an Object in referential terms), and to experience the Trinity’s presence and involvement that are distinguished vulnerably in the trinitarian persons only for intimate relationship together as God’s whole family (Jn 14:17,23; Eph 2:22). For the reality of this relational outcome, Paul makes it a relational imperative “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph 4:30). And Paul certainly was focused on grieving the person, not an it of whatever force or power.
As noted above, the Spirit’s presence and function dwelled (meno) with the embodied whole of Jesus together to constitute the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love in ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with the Father—an irreducible relational dynamic ongoingly integrated through post-resurrection and into post-ascension. While the Spirit is certainly an integral member of this triangulated context and process, his person and function in the Trinity tends to be minimalized and often functionally ignored. When given attention, what we tend to pay attention to are various functions related to the Spirit without the involvement of his person. This reduces both the Spirit as an integral person in the Trinity and consequently the Spirit’s involvement as person in relationship together with the Father and the Son. The functional repercussion, if not theological conclusion, from this is a binitarian view of God focused on the Son alone with the Father. When the Spirit is reduced from personhood, the Spirit’s person is lost in the whole of God, thereby relegating the Spirit at most to some dynamic between the Father and the Son—for example, a de-personized dynamic of “love.” Yet, the Spirit grieved like the other trinitarian persons, and this makes evident his involvement as a person (Isa 63:10, Eph 4:30).
Moreover, reduced from personhood, the Spirit only functions apart from the primacy of relationships; and without this primacy what the Spirit does no longer has the qualitative significance of relational work, thus only involves the quantitative aspects such as guiding in cognitive truth, providing spiritual gifts and empowering to do things. Whatever reduction or variation takes place, the relational consequence for the Spirit is to be the missed Person, the forgotten Person, or even the lost Person in the whole of God. This then puts God on a different theological trajectory and relational path.
It is critical to understand: when the Spirit is reduced from personhood, the Spirit’s function is without relational significance; and this condition implies a condition about Jesus. This is a condition in which the Spirit serves a Jesus who has been reduced to his teachings, principles and example in an incomplete Christology for a truncated soteriology with a fragmentary ecclesiology that is not whole. Essentially, however, the Spirit can be no less in substance and no more in significance than what, who and how Jesus is. Their theological integration composes the extent of our perception and depth of understanding of God. Pneumatology is conjoined to Christology and is contingent on it. In other words, as Jesus goes so goes the Spirit. When the whole of Jesus embodies the whole of God and vulnerably discloses the whole and holy God only for relationship together to be God’s whole, then the Spirit’s person, presence and function extend the relational Whole as the ontological One constituting the Trinity with the same qualitative substance and relational significance as the Son to complete our relationship together in God’s whole. This was the what, who and how of the Spirit that the whole of Jesus definitively disclosed.
In Jesus’ vulnerable interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in which he intimately disclosed God’s strategic shift, he offered her living water (Jn 4:10,14). While he continued on to disclose the Father’s intimate desires for communion in relationship together, we must not overlook the relational significance of the living water. Later, John’s Gospel informs us that the living water is the Spirit (Jn 7:38-39, cf. Rev 22:17). Jesus did not reduce the Spirit from personhood with the metaphor of living water; that would have reduced his own person since the Spirit dwelled with him in relationship together. Rather, Jesus disclosed to the Samaritan woman the strategic shift of God’s thematic relational action, in which the living water pointed to the Spirit’s person who together with Jesus constituted the trinitarian relational context of family and trinitarian relational process of family love. In conjoint involvement, they functionally and relationally embodied God’s strategic shift for intimate relationship together. Therefore, Jesus opened to her access to the whole of God for relationship together with all the trinitarian persons. Though the Father was highlighted in this interaction, all three trinitarian persons were extended to her. And in Jesus’ definitive disclosure, we must not overlook or reduce this reality:
This ongoing two-fold relational reality evidences the Spirit’s function as the irreplaceable person.
The increased relational significance of the Spirit’s person emerged as Jesus’ salvific work approached the critical steps to its climax. Jesus disclosed to his disciples in his so-called farewell discourse, not in referential terms but using relational language to communicate that his whole person embodied the Truth for relationship with the Father—relationship together as the whole of God’s family (Jn 14:6). After startling them with the intimate disclosure of the Father (14:9-11), he further disclosed in relational terms that the Spirit’s person will soon replace his person as this truth (14:17, later 15:26; 16:13). Jesus’ relational language is crucial to fully understand both what is replaced and who replaces. Without this understanding we are limited to assumptions from an incomplete Christology, which then re-forms the gospel from its transformation to wholeness.
Jesus as the Truth was always for the purpose of relationship and functioned only for relationship together to be the whole of God’s family (see Jn 8:32,35-36). As discussed previously, his well-known relational communication on the truth is usually taken out of its relational context of God’s family by reducing the truth to the cognitive aspects of propositional truths and referential doctrine. Additionally, Jesus’ own person tends to be separated functionally (not theologically) from his teachings, thereby reducing the qualitative whole of his person to such quantitative parts of him that disciples follow in a reductionist discipleship without relational significance to his whole person (contrary to what 8:31 makes definitive, and Jn 12:26 makes imperative). Jesus’ whole person embodied the Truth only for relationship together in God’s family; and this is what is replaced.
This is what Jesus focused on when he disclosed “I will ask the Father and he will give you another” (Jn 14:16). The term “another” (allos) means another of equal quality, not another of different quality (heteros). The Spirit then is defined by the Son as of the same qualitative substance and as equal to himself, that is, as whole person in full personhood; this is who replaces. The Spirit’s person as truth needs to be understood in function as the Son’s relational replacement whom the Father gave as “another” in lieu of the Son; Paul later described them in a relational sense as interchangeable (2 Co 3:17-18).
Therefore, ‘who replaces’ needs to be in conjoint function with ‘what is replaced’ to maintain compatibility and congruence with the whole of Jesus and to have continuity of his relational work. The Spirit’s whole person functioned in the trinitarian relational context and process as the Son’s relational replacement and as the relational extension of the Father only for relationship together as God’s family (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15). Therefore, as who replaces, the Spirit of truth must not be reduced from personhood to no longer be allos of the whole of Jesus. As who replaces what is replaced, the Spirit’s person as truth cannot reduce truth from the relational significance of Jesus as the Truth. Just as the Truth cannot be reduced to his teachings and referential knowledge, the Spirit’s function must not be reduced to merely a guide in referential truth, a helper, counselor, or empowerer for the individual. When the Spirit is utilized only for these ends, these become reductionist functions and a misuse of the Spirit’s person. Contrary to common practice, the Spirit is not a mere resource at our disposal. Jesus defined the Spirit as who replaces what is replaced: “the Holy Spirit…will remind you of all that I have said to you” (14:26), “the Spirit of truth …will testify on my behalf” (15:26), “he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears…take from what is mine…all that the Father has is mine…and declare it to you” (16:13-15). Therefore, Jesus conclusively disclosed the whole of the Spirit’s person with the same functional and relational significance as his person: the truth and self-revelation of the whole and holy God only for our relationship together to be whole as God’s new creation family in likeness of the Trinity.
The whole of the Spirit’s functional and relational significance emerges and converges with Jesus’ defining enactment of family love: “I will not leave you orphaned” (14:18). The Spirit’s person with full personhood in the relational ontology of the Trinity completes this family love to make functional our relationships together in likeness of the Trinity and on this basis to consummate Jesus’ formative family prayer. The whole functional and relational significance of the Spirit’s relational work integrally involves convicting of sin, redeeming and sanctifying for what Jesus saves us from; in the same process, by the nature of what is replaced, the Spirit’s work is further integrated with reconciling, transforming and perfecting what Jesus saves us to for our relationships together to be the whole of God’s family, and for us together to live God’s whole and to make God’s whole in the human condition throughout God’s eschatological plan. For church function to be in likeness of the Trinity, it must (dei) by its nature ongoingly practice in relational cooperation with the Spirit. Therefore, as allos for the Son, the Spirit of truth is and functions in the following:
Furthermore, as Jesus disclosed, “the Spirit of truth…will guide you into all the truth…and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Jn 16:13): “guide” (hodegeo, lead, explain, instruct) us in all the above truth for relationship together to be whole, and conjointly “declare” (anangello, declare freely, openly, eminently) to us the big picture “to come”; the verb erchomai (to go, to come) implies motion from the Spirit’s person to the person of the Son who is to come (cf. v.14), the relational process in which the Spirit is directly involved (as indicated by erchomai in Gk middle voice). Yet this language is not about informing us in referential terms, because God’s truth and self-revelation are communicated in relational language only for relationship. As the ‘who replaces’, the Spirit’s person is only involved in what is replaced. The Spirit’s disclosure is only about the unfolding, completing and concluding of the whole of God’s new family in God’s eschatological plan and final thematic relational action in response to the human condition to be whole. Eschatology (doctrine of last things) functionally emerges with the Spirit and involves the relational process of the Spirit’s reciprocating movement (erchomai) to the Son for only this eschatological relational conclusion, not a mere eschatological event. Hence, the Spirit of truth additionally functions as follows:
For church function to be in likeness of the Trinity both in its immediate life and practice ‘already’ and conjointly within God’s eschatological big picture ‘not yet’, it must ongoingly engage the whole of the Spirit of truth in reciprocal relationship and not assume the Spirit’s work in unilateral relationship.
If we reduce soteriology to only what Jesus saves us from, or we lack whole understanding of what Jesus saves us to, then we will not take seriously the relational significance of never being left as orphans. This would mean that we neither have adequately understood the truth of the Spirit nor have integrally experienced redemptive reconciliation with the embodied Truth in relational progression to the Father (as Jesus made imperative earlier, Jn 8:31-32, 35-36). Complete Christology involves Jesus’ full salvific work for adoption to relationally belong to the whole of God’s family as the Father’s very own daughters and sons in transformed relationships together. Adoption (however the term is perceived) is the trinitarian relational process of family love to be constituted together in the trinitarian relational context of family. The Father replaced the Son with the Spirit’s person to consummate his family so that we would not have to live in the relational condition as orphans. Jesus also disclosed that the Spirit’s definitive feedback (elencho, to expose, rebuke, refute, show fault, convince, convict, Jn 16:8-11) directly addresses the barriers to relationship together—namely our sin of reductionism, our difficulties in counting on God (for relational righteousness) in Jesus’ embodied absence, and our unawareness and susceptibility to reductionism’s counter-relational work promoted by Satan. Without the functional and relational significance of the Spirit’s person in our church life and practice, we have no other basis and means to be God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms. Moreover, without embracing the Spirit’s eschatological truth, a church struggles to find its place, purpose and function beyond itself locally to the whole of God’s family in the eschatological big picture.
The personhood of the Spirit signifies that the Spirit’s presence engages us in interpersonal relationship, and that the Spirit’s function is involvement with us in reciprocal interpersonal relationship. The relational work of the Spirit’s person is not unilateral but only in cooperative reciprocal involvement with Jesus’ followers as family together. Despite his embodied departure, Jesus conclusively declared the ongoing truth of his church family not having to experience the relational condition of orphans only because the Spirit would replace him to extend and complete the relationships together necessary to be the whole of God’s new creation family. Yet, the mere presence of the Spirit’s person engaging us in interpersonal relationship is not sufficient for this relational outcome and conclusion; it is necessary for this outcome but not sufficient for it. This is a critical distinction that the church must keep in focus about the Spirit’s involvement, both for its necessity and the nature of its sufficiency to be family together.
That is to say, the Spirit’s person is present to be involved in relationship that by nature must be reciprocal relationship together—not unilateral relationship, not optional or arbitrary relationship, nor relationship negotiable to our selective terms. Accordingly, Jesus’ intended relational outcome of the Spirit’s involvement extending his relational work is contingent on our compatible reciprocal involvement in the relationship; in this limited sense, whether the Spirit’s relational work is sufficient can be in part measured by the extent of our relational reciprocity. This is not to say that we are the significant cause of the outcome of the Spirit’s relational work, but only to indicate that the Spirit does not work unilaterally and impose any outcome or conclusion on us as in power relations. This cooperative-bilateral relational approach is evident in the metaphor of the Son knocking on church doors, not breaking through them to impose himself, for relationship together to be whole (just as he knocked on the church door in Laodicea, Rev 3:20)—which also needs to inform how church leadership is approached (cf. Mk 10:42-44). Consequently, though the Spirit’s person is always vulnerably present and ongoingly relationally involved intimately with us, the Spirit’s person can be missed, ignored or even forgotten specifically in functional and relational significance to render the Spirit’s presence and involvement without significance, and hereby causing the Spirit’s person to grieve.
To ignore the whole of the Spirit’s functional and relational significance, or even to inconsistently pay attention to the Spirit’s person—including misusing the Spirit’s person with selective reductionist functions—must be understood clearly as consequential for church life and practice. The main consequence is unavoidable. When our focus ignores or pays attention to the Spirit in this narrowed way, we are using the very lens from which orphans are the relational consequence and orphanage-gatherings emerge—however unintentional and despite good intentions—which nevertheless is contrary to the Son’s defining enactment of family love not to leave us in that relational condition. Such reduced ontology and function, both for the person and persons together as church, are unable to be whole with God, to live whole together in the world, and to make whole the human condition.
Christology is not complete without this integral pneumatology, nor can soteriology be full, ecclesiology be whole and eschatology be functionally clear without the Spirit of truth—the allos (‘who replaces’, ‘what is replaced’) person never forgotten by nor apart from the Father and the Son. This is the ontology of the whole of who, what and how God is: ongoingly vulnerably present and intimately involved with us only for whole relationship together. This is the ongoing involvement with us intimately in family love, by which the Trinity holds us ongoingly accountable to be in likeness, just as the Son clearly made evident for church practice to be whole (Rev 3:19). And Jesus, in post-ascension, ongoingly makes this reciprocal response the relational imperative for the new wine table fellowship of his church (Rev 3:20) because his relational replacement remains (meno) in the reciprocal relationship necessary to complete the new creation family.
The whole of Paul’s gospel and the whole in his theology integrally emerged from the embodied whole of Jesus. Furthermore, and equally significant, this distinguished wholeness of Paul unfolded only from the relational outcome of the Spirit’s reciprocal relational work. This relational process is critical to account for by Paul’s readers. We should not look for a unity in Paul’s thought and theology within his letters until we understand where Paul is coming from, that is, what primarily defines and determines his life and practice. Without this understanding of Paul, any apparent unity and coherence will either be imposed on Paul by his readers or remain elusive to them. The congruence in Paul’s life and practice to his purpose and thus his coherence were composed in cooperative relationship with the Spirit. This is the often missed-understood and forgotten trinitarian Person, whom Pauline scholarship has neglected or conveniently minimalized. Paul, however, depended on the Spirit to further unfold, develop and bring to completion the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition in the eschatological big picture—including the relational outcome ‘already’ of the new creation family constituted by the Spirit, that is at the heart of Paul and distinguished his ecclesiology to be whole.
Prior to the Damascus road Paul’s theology and practice were on a different theological trajectory and relational path than the triune God, which evidenced “a veil” hanging over his whole person that distorted his interpretive lens and prevented intimate relational connection with his God (as in 2 Cor 3:14-15). He received epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from his pivotal encounter with Jesus that removed the veil. This process of transformation from inner out removing the veil was composed by Jesus and ongoingly constituted by the Spirit to make whole Paul’s theology and practice (2 Cor 3:16-18; Rom 8:6-16). Therefore, the Spirit was irreplaceable for Paul, first in relational terms for his practice and then on this experiential basis in his theology.
Paul was focused on and
concerned for communicating theology that illuminates the good news and
constitutes the relational outcome of whole relationship
together—perhaps also articulating their doctrinal clarity but not
formulating a systematic theology. While these concerns involved the
historical Paul, they emerged from the relational Paul who constituted
the theological Paul in the relational epistemic process with the whole
of God, notably with the Spirit. This vulnerable involvement signified
the relational Paul without the veil qualitatively determining the
functional significance of the theological Paul without the veil;
therefore, to have whole understanding of Paul’s theology also implies a
contingency to understand this relational Paul. In this relational
epistemic process without the veil, what emerged was not his theological
speculation and theory from bottom-up but God’s vulnerable
self-disclosure from top-down in the whole of God’s relational context
and process, distinguished clearly from human contextualization and
terms. What unfolded in Paul’s theological systemic framework and
integrated his theological forest was the relational embodiment of the
pleroma (fullness, complete, i.e. whole) of God (Col 1:19;
2:9-10). In the relational epistemic process with the whole of God, the
theological Paul (unified with the relational Paul) was restored to
whole knowledge and understanding in the relational context and process
of God’s communicative action, specifically, as relationally embodied by
the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6) and relationally extended by the Spirit
(1 Cor 2:10-13). The relational outcome was the wholeness of Paul who
was taken from partial knowledge and understanding to whole knowledge
and understanding to compose the whole in his theology. This included
both understanding signified as the grasp of meaning (not its density
but its intensity, cf. Eph 3:18-19) and wisdom signified as the
understanding of the whole, God’s relational whole (cf. synesis,
Since Paul’s theology was first his experiential truth of this good news, theology for Paul was always inseparable from function and can never be reduced to conventional theological discourse (notably in referential terms). The relational discourse, jointly theological and functional, in Paul’s letters puts together (syniemi for synesis) the theological basis for the truth of the whole gospel (Eph 3:4-6; Col 2:2-3), by which he also engaged in the deconstruction of ontological simulations and epistemological illusions from reductionism (e.g. Gal 1:6-7, 11-12; 5:6; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; Col 2:4,8-10; 3:10-11) and, when possible, engaged in their reconstruction/transformation to be made whole (e.g. 1 Cor 3:21-22; Gal 2:11-14; Phlm; cf. Eph 2:14-18). The relational outcome of Paul’s theological engagement is the integrated dynamics of the theology of wholeness, relational belonging and ontological identity—the relational outcome ‘already’ and the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ in the whole of God’s relational context and process vulnerably embodied by the Son in pleroma Christology for pleroma soteriology, and ongoingly being completed by the Spirit.
Paul’s only concern, both theologically and functionally, is for the irreducible embodiment of the pleroma of God to be further relationally embodied and extended in nonnegotiable ontology and function for the inherent human need to be fulfilled and the human problem to be resolved. This further embodying vulnerably involves the whole ontology and function of those who relationally belong to Christ in reciprocal relationship without the veil. In the experiential truth of Paul’s theology, how does the relational progression of God’s relational dynamic of grace and agape involvement become embodied from the pleroma of God to the pleroma of Christ (his church, Eph 1:22-23) and continue in its eschatological trajectory for the relational conclusion of the gospel of wholeness? And according to the experiential truth of the whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology, how do persons belonging to Christ—by necessity both as individual persons and as persons together in God’s family—engage in this relational progression with God and accordingly participate in the whole of God’s life to the relational completion of whole relationship together? These questions require theological answers but more significantly involve the ongoing practice of whole ontology and practice, with nothing less and no substitutes.
This qualitative process of embodying and its relational process of participation deeply involve the theological dynamics that are whole-ly integrated in Paul’s theological forest to pleroo the communicative word of God—thereby illuminating the embodied pleroma of God who is relationally from God, and now in relational extension for God (cf. Col 1:25; 2:9-10). And for Paul, the Spirit is the key to the wholeness of this relational process.
A prevailing presence in the systemic framework of Paul’s theology that pervades his theological forest is pneuma (spirit). The presence of pneuma is in both ontology and function, both in God’s ontology and function (1 Cor 2:10-11; 3:16; 2 Cor 3:6,17; Rom 8:11; 1 Tim 3:16) and for human ontology and function (1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; 2 Cor 1:22; 3:6,18; 7:1; Rom 8:11; Eph 2:18,22). What is pneuma for God and what is pneuma for human person?
In terms of God’s ontology and function, pneuma is not what but who, though Paul does not specifically call the Spirit a person. Yet Paul implies personhood for the Spirit by identifying the Spirit as having a will to decide and using it (boulomai, 1 Cor 12:11), who also can be “grieved” (lypeo, afflicted with sorrow, distressed, mournful, Eph 4:30; cf. Heb 10:29), and, moreover, who bears witness to us of our family status (Rom 8:16). The Spirit’s grief, for example, is over not being engaged in reciprocal relationship together (cf. Eph 2:22), which is not an anthropomorphism but signifies the whole of God’s being and relational nature. This identification is the who of a person, the person of the Spirit, who is also vulnerably present and relationally involved. This does not imply, however, that Paul was a trinitarian in the later sense, though his theology certainly provides definitive basis for trinitarian theology.
As noted earlier about trinitarian theology, essentially from the fourth century into the twenty-first, we have observed one aspect of God emphasized over another (e.g. the oneness of God or the divine threeness), and some aspect of God reduced (e.g. God’s substance [ousia] or the persons/personhood [hypostasis] of God), as well as redefined or ignored (e.g. as “begotten” or the relationality of the Trinity). If not in the theology most certainly in function, these perceptions and interpretations critically affect how we define God’s ontology and function—notably in the relational nature of the whole of God. However, much of this theological difficulty can be resolved or prevented if trinitarian theology emerged first and foremost from complete Christology, not fragmentary aspects, and thereby better put together (syniemi) the whole in Paul’s theology needed for the whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) of any theology of the whole of God.
Since Paul was no trinitarian, his purpose and responsibility to pleroo the word of God was not to theologically clarify the Trinity or to develop theological concepts like homoousios, hypostasis and perichoresis. His purpose was more functional and distinctly relational in order to make definitive the gospel as whole without any reductionism. Within his purpose—which emerged from his own experience being clarified and corrected—Paul instead epistemologically clarified the whole of God and hermeneutically corrected human shaping and construction of theological cognition, challenging theological assumptions that were either limiting or reductionist. Therefore, Paul indeed took Judaism’s monotheism beyond its limited knowledge and understanding, and he extended the Jesus tradition into the depths of the whole of God. In making relationally functional the pleroma of God, Paul focused also in making relationally definitive the whole of God in the relational presence and relational work of the Spirit.
In pleroma Christology of Paul’s theological forest, salvation was constituted by Christ and completed in Christ for the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology. Pleroma soteriology is the relational act solely by Christ and the relational outcome is the function solely of relationship with Christ (Rom 6:5-11); and both of these are constituted in reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; 2 Cor 1:22; 3:6,17; Eph 1:13; 2:18,22; 1 Tim 3:16; cf. Jn 1:32-33; Lk 4:1). In the whole of God’s ontology and function, pneuma is person, the Holy Spirit, and not to be reduced to a power, also noted by Paul (1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:13,19). There is a dynamic interaction for Paul between the embodied pleroma of God and the person of the Spirit—that is, the Spirit as the functional cohort of Jesus who shares in, even constitutes, and now completes the relational work of the Son, whose embodiment (prior to and after the cross) fulfills the relational response of grace from the Father (Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:9b-11). This is the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma (body) of the pleroma of God, that is vital for integrally understanding the whole of God’s ontology in its depth, as Paul claimed for the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10-11) and Jesus promised about the Spirit (Jn 16:12-15). Paul understood that soma without pneuma can be confused with or reduced to sarx (“flesh,” cf. Paul’s polemic about the resurrection, 1 Cor 15:35-44). In this sense, pneuma is also a what—distinguished from who—that signifies the qualitative depth (the innermost) of God’s ontology which is irreducible for God to be God (cf. Phil 3:3 and Jn 4:23-24). God’s ontology is vulnerably disclosed to the innermost for us to intimately know God in whole, not a reduced or fragmented God.
Moreover, the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma is critical for putting together the whole of God’s function, as well as understanding God’s ontology, in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Pneuma will not allow for the embodied pleroma of God to be reduced or renegotiated to anything less than and any substitutes for whole ontology and function. There is indeed mystery involved in this interaction, but for Paul pneuma is unequivocally the person of the Spirit. Even though Paul had whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) from the Spirit, he did not claim to totally understand this dynamic (1 Tim 3:16).
This dynamic interaction with the Spirit likewise points to the embodiment of the pleroma of Christ, the church (Eph 1:23). Pneuma is the person who constitutes also those who belong to Christ (Rom 8:9). In cooperative reciprocal relationship as well with these human persons, the Spirit—who functions as the relational replacement of the Son, as Jesus promised (Jn 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; cf. Eph 1:13)—constitutes persons (both individually and together) in whole ontology and function, that is, the qualitative ontology and relational function from inner out in likeness of the pneuma of God’s whole ontology and function (2 Cor 3:17-18; Rom 8:11, 14-17). For Paul, in other words, the Spirit is not a mere Object of theological discourse but the experiential truth of Subject-theos, who is present in us and relationally involved with us for relationship together as God’s whole family (“dwells,” oikeo from oikos and its cognates in reference to family, Rom 8:11, 14-16; 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:22). Paul goes beyond merely the Spirit’s agency (e.g. power, instrumentality) to make definitive the depth of the Spirit as Subject’s agape relational involvement as the whole of God (Rom 5:5). Importantly, Paul understands that the person of the Spirit is Jesus’ relational replacement for the continued involvement necessary to complete the relational work Jesus constituted. When Paul speaks specifically of “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6; Phil 1:19; cf. Acts 16:7), this is Paul’s shorthand-relational language implying the Spirit’s relational replacement and extension of Jesus (‘who replaces’ and ‘what is replaced’). Critical for Paul, the Spirit’s further involvement is irreplaceable for extending the qualitative process of embodying the pleroma of Christ and making functional its relational process of participation in the whole of God’s life and family together (cf. 1 Cor 6:14-15a; Rom 8:11; Eph 1:23).
Paul first addresses what does not emerge when relationship with the Spirit becomes incompatible. The issue of incompatibility, incongruity or discontinuity with the Spirit (as with Jesus and with the whole of God) hinges on theological anthropology and our assumptions about the human person. This specifically involves defining the person by what one does/has and, on this basis, engaging in relationships with both God and each other, individually and together as church. What underlies this process is an ontological deficit and reduced function of the person. Paul exposed such reductionist assumptions of theological anthropology in the church at Corinth (1 Cor 3:1-4; 4:6-7). This reductionism directly fragments the person from the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma, thereby leaving soma without the quality of pneuma to then be confused with or reduced to sarx: “I could not speak to you as pneuma people [pneumatikos] but rather as people of sarx, as infants in Christ without identity formation as whole persons” (1 Cor 3:1). Sarx (and its cognates sarkikos and sarkinos) signifies reduced human ontology and function in Paul’s discourse, whereas pneuma is inseparable from soma in the whole ontology and function of the person.
This reduction of soma to sarx is the issue in Paul’s polemic (1Cor 6:14-20) when he made the ambiguous claim: “Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (6:18). Paul’s focus goes beyond sexual immorality and is not implying that all other sins are inconsequential for human ontology and function. He is focused on the sin of reductionism that fragments soma from pneuma to reduce a human person’s ontology and function to that signified by sarx (6:16-17). The consequence is reductionist embodiment diminishing the whole person, which further includes the relational consequence of fragmenting the embodiment of whole relationship together (6:14-15, 19-20). Essentially, Paul argues rather that every sin a person commits is the sin of reductionism, therefore against the embodiment of wholeness. Whole human ontology and function is the inseparable embodiment of both soma and pneuma by the Spirit (Rom 8:11), which is irreducibly and nonnegotiably embodied together by and with the Spirit in God’s whole family (1 Cor 12:13).
In Paul’s theological
systemic framework and theological forest, the Spirit functions to
bridge the quantitative of bios (including all creation) with the
qualitative of zoe. Even more than bridge, the Spirit integrates
the quantitative into the qualitative to embody irreducible wholeness
and the nonnegotiable embodiment of God’s whole (2 Cor 3:18; Col 1:20;
2:9-10; 3:10-11,15; Rom 8:18-
In Galatians, Paul extended
his polemic against these assumptions reducing theological anthropology
and their broader relational consequence for human persons. While the
situation in Galatians involved “false believers” (2:4) who were
teaching “a different gospel” (1:6) and “confusing you” (1:7), and had
“bewitched you” (3:1), the underlying dynamic involved assimilation in
human contextualization (3:2-5; 4:8-31)—an ongoing issue today needing
to be addressed with Paul. Paul challenged their theological
anthropology by framing the issue within the further and deeper
relational context and process embodied by Christ and extended by the
Spirit. Here again, the dynamic interaction between the soma of
the pleroma of God and the pneuma of the whole of God is
inseparable. If fragmented, soma becomes confused with or reduced
to definitions from human contextualization (“elemental spirits,”
stoicheion, basic principles, 4:9; cf. Col 2:8,20) and consequently
shaped by the reduced ontology and function of
The whole of the Spirit is received, experienced and ongoingly engaged in relationship together solely on the basis of our reciprocal relational response and involvement of trust, not on the basis of human effort shaped by human terms from human contextualization (Gal 3:5-14). The latter is consequential for the human person and persons together to be enslaved in a reductionist comparative system of human ontology and function based on quantitative human effort/possessions—the self-determination and self-justification to erase the ontological deficit—resulting in constructing false human distinctions that relegate persons to stratified relationships together in systems of inequality (3:28; 4:3, 8-9), which continues today even in churches and the academy.
This fragmentation can never be whole as long as the who of Pneuma as Subject is not engaged in relationship together within the whole of God’s relational context and process (5:16,25; Rom 8:5-6; cf. 1 Thes 4:7-8), and since the what of pneuma is divided from soma in dualistic ontology and function characteristic of shaping by sarx from human contextualization (cf. the wholeness in 1 Thes 5:23; 2 Cor 7:1). These are the consequences of assimilation in human contextualization and its defining and determining influence by reductionism. For Paul, the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma precludes this fragmentation and duality (cf. his claim in Phil 3:3). And although throughout his letters, Paul addressed various situations involving moral and ethical issues, Paul’s readers must understand what Paul is further speaking to and where he is speaking from. As Paul addresses these situations, he goes beyond moral and ethical behavior to speak directly to the underlying and more far-reaching issue in human contextualization: reductionism, exposing reductionism as sin and confronting the sin of reductionism, and its pervasive consequence on human ontology and function. Paul was definitive and decisive about this without being shaped, diminished or minimalized by human terms from human contextualization because with epistemic humility he spoke from God’s relational context in God’s relational process through reciprocal involvement with the Spirit, the integral Subject of the innermost of God (1 Cor 2:9-16, cf. Rom 8:27).
What clearly emerges from ongoing relationship together with the Spirit is the functional wholeness that is incompatible, incongruent and discontinuous with reductionism pervading human contextualization, as Paul clarified functionally and theologically (Gal 6:14-16; Rom 8:6). When Paul boasts of the cross of Christ through whom he has been crucified to human contextualization (“to the world,” Gal 6:14), the soma of the pleroma of God and the pneuma of the whole of God are integrated and resurrected for the whole embodying of the new creation. That is, this is the embodying in qualitative zoe (not quantitative bios) and wholeness (“life and peace,” Rom 8:6), in which the Pneuma inseparably dwells also in mortal soma for whole relationship together as God’s family (Rom 8:11, 14-16; cf. Eph 2:22). The theological dynamics Paul illuminates have only functional significance for this relationship together (Eph 2:18). Apart from the function of relationship and its relational embodiment Paul’s theological clarity has no significance, both to God and to human persons for the fulfillment of the inherent human relational need and the resolution of its relational problem (Eph 2:14-16). The Spirit is present and relationally involved for the whole ontology and function necessary for the ongoing relationship together to be God’s whole—the embodying as the pleroma of Christ ‘already’ in relational progression to its completion in the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Jn 7:37-39).
The Spirit’s relational involvement notably emerges in the resurrection, in which the Spirit’s dynamic interaction also involves us wholly (soma and pneuma) to be embodied in the new creation (new person, new life, new covenant, Rom 8:11). Involvement together in this relational process is also defined by Paul as being baptized in the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Mt 3:11; Acts 1:5; 11:16). The theological dynamic of baptism is complex and mysterious but the relational process involved is uncomplicated yet rigorous: death to the old and raising of the new (Rom 6:3-8). Being baptized with the Spirit makes functional the redemptive change from reduced ontology and function (consequential of the sin of reductionism) necessary for the emergence of whole ontology and function (cf. Ti 3:5). The relational outcome of this relational process is the redemptive reconciliation of whole persons embodied in relationship together as the new creation family of God (Col 1:19-22; Eph 2:14-22)—“baptized into one body” without false human distinctions from reductionism (1 Cor 12:13). This zoe, the embodying of the new creation, emerges specifically from the relational work of the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 2 Cor 3:6; cf. Jn 6:63; Rom 8:6)—“we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Jn 7:38-39). On this basis, Paul declares unequivocally: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom 8:9,14); furthermore, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Therefore, the experiential truth of the theological dynamics of wholeness, relational belonging, and ontological identity functionally emerge from reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit for their experiential reality.
The dynamic interaction of the Spirit and the pleroma of God always constitutes ontology and function in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Accordingly, the reciprocal relational involvement by the Spirit is neither with only the human pneuma nor with just the human soma. Such involvement would create a duality that fragments the person—which must be accounted for ongoingly to distinguish the Spirit’s engagement. Human soma without pneuma is a critical condition because it is a reductionism focused on the outer in that the person cannot distinguish unequivocally from sarx, consequently is rendered to the sin of reductionism notably in ontological simulation (as discussed earlier about Paul’s polemic beyond the situation to the underlying reductionism in 1 Cor 6:12-20). Likewise, human pneuma apart from involvement of soma becomes disembodied, which is also a reductionism focused on a subjective part of a person, not the whole person qualitatively integrated from inner out. The focus of such a person cannot distinguish from subjectivism, esoteric individualism or self-centered separatism—as often found in spiritualism, mysticism and asceticism—thus rendered to the sin of reductionism notably in epistemological illusion (cf. Paul’s polemic about reductionism in spiritual practice disembodied from the church in 1 Cor 14). This must also inform Pentecostal and charismatic theology and practice today. The Spirit is relationally involved only with the whole person (soma and pneuma inseparably) from inner out signified by the function of the heart and embodied in the primacy of relationship together (2 Cor 1:22; Gal 4:6; Rom 5:5; 8:16; Eph 1:17-18; 3:16-19). Additionally, the Spirit’s relational involvement with the whole person from inner out includes both the person’s mindset (phroneo, Rom 8:5) and its basis, the person’s perceptual-interpretive framework (phronema, 8:6). In this involvement, the Spirit transforms quantitative phroneo and reduced phronema and composes the qualitative phroneo (interpretive lens) in its whole phronema (interpretive framework). Both of these changes are necessary for the Spirit to embody persons in qualitative zoe and wholeness together (“life and peace”), and to function ongoingly in this new embodiment (1 Thes 5:19,23; 2 Thes 2:13; Rom 15:16).
Paul is clear about the experiential truth of the Spirit’s relational involvement. Yet, it is important for his readers to understand that by God’s relational nature the Spirit is involved in reciprocal relationship, not unilateral relationship. The Spirit’s reciprocal relational involvement implies a necessary compatible reciprocal relational response to and involvement with the Spirit—not as contingency limiting God’s relational nature but as the condition/terms for relationships together according to God’s relational nature (cf. Paul’s conditional sense in Phil 2:1; 2 Cor 13:13). Therefore, in relation to the Spirit, Paul always assumes the presence of the Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Gal 5:5), but he does not assume that the Spirit has the opportunity to engage in reciprocal relational involvement and work, as he implies in his ongoing relational imperative (not moral imperative) “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thes 5:19). Certainly, the Spirit can and does act unilaterally; yet his primary concern and function is in reciprocal relational involvement with persons who “belong to Christ” (Rom 8:9) to extend and complete the whole relationship together constituted by the embodied pleroma of God—all of whom the Spirit also raised up together in order to functionally embody the pleroma of Christ as Jesus’ relational replacement.
This is the depth and breadth of the Spirit’s relational involvement with persons belonging to Christ, and the likeness of involvement necessary from those persons to be compatible, congruent and continuous in reciprocal relationship together with the Spirit. The dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes constitutes the ontology and function of the Spirit and needs to constitute the ontology and function of those in whom the Spirit dwells. In Paul’s theological forest, anything less and any substitutes of the Spirit’s ontology and function are an immature pneumatology still undeveloped and needing to be whole; anything less and any substitutes of human ontology and function are a deficient theological anthropology, the assumptions of which for Paul always need to be challenged in order to be made whole. That wholeness, however, is made functional solely by the relational dynamic of pleroma pneumatology.
In the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, the relational involvement of the Spirit’s whole ontology and function makes functional the theological dynamics of wholeness integrated with relational belonging and ontological identity for the experiential truth of their embodiment in those belonging to Christ. The emergence of the new (wine) identity for these persons is functionally constituted only by the reciprocal relational work of the Spirit; human terms from human contextualization cannot establish the identity formation of who they are with Christ and whose they are in Christ (Rom 8:9-11). Paul is definitive that this identity is not formed by a social process but by the relational dynamic of the Spirit in reciprocal relationship together (Rom 8:12-17; Gal 5:16-26). The new creation identity constituted in this relationship together as family is neither a static condition nor a contextual characteristic, but a dynamic process of relationship together necessitating by its nature ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with each other without the veil. Paul also describes this reciprocal response as “we are debtors” (opheiletes from opheilo, Rom 8:12), that is, not in human terms and contextualization but to God’s favor (indebted to a benefactor). Yet, opheiletes in this context should not be reduced to an obligation (opheilo) to fulfill. Paul is not defining an ethical mandate but illuminating, by the nature (dei, not opheilo) of God’s relational response of grace, the reciprocal relational response necessary for whole relationship together. Moreover, when Paul further defines this reciprocal response by “Live by the Spirit” and “are led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16,18), he is also not defining a moral imperative for our conduct (outlined in 5:19-24). Rather this is another relational imperative by which he further illuminates the reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit necessary for functionally constituting the new identity distinguishing who we are with Christ and whose we are in Christ (5:25).
What this reciprocal involvement with the Spirit constitutes is the ontological identity and embodying of God’s new creation (Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:10-11; cf. 2 Cor 3:17-18). Just as pneuma and soma are inseparable for the whole ontology and function emerging from the Spirit’s involvement, ontological identity and embodying of the new creation are also inseparably integrated for the wholeness made functional by the Spirit (examine Paul’s relational connections: 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-28; 4:6-7; Rom 8:14; 12:5; Col 3:15; Eph 2:14,18,22). And this ontological identity and embodying of the new creation are integrally based on the functional reality of relational belonging to God’s family as definitive daughters and sons, the experiential truth of which only emerges from the reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit (Eph 1:13-14; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Rom 8:14-16; Gal 4:6-7). Without the Spirit’s reciprocal involvement and relational work, this identity and new creation are rendered, at best, to only ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of wholeness—simulation of whole relationship together with illusions of the whole of God (Gal 6:16; Col 3:15; cf. Rom 12:3-5; 1 Cor 3:21-22).
This relational dynamic of belonging or not belonging is either the relational outcome with the Spirit or the relational consequence without the Spirit, which Jesus made unmistakable in his promise “I will not leave you orphaned” (Jn 14:18). The term for “leave” (aphiemi) means to let go from oneself, essentially abandon to a condition deprived of their parents and family, which in the ancient Mediterranean world was an unprotected, helpless position. What Jesus defines here, however, is only that the significance of orphans is relational, not situational, which directly involves the condition of wholeness in relationship together constituted by the Spirit—the what and who, respectively, that Jesus did leave them (Jn 14:26-27; 16:33). Paul further illuminates the relational belonging emerging with the Spirit and its embodying by the Spirit, which includes the counter-relational issue of orphans, to be discussed in Paul’s ecclesiology (later in this study).
In Paul’s theological forest, along with God’s relational dynamic of grace, the Spirit’s reciprocal relational involvement is indispensable—and thus irreplaceable as with grace—for the experiential truth of the theological dynamics of wholeness, relational belonging and ontological identity. Clearly for Paul, those who are relationally involved with the Spirit in reciprocal relationship together—“who are led by the Spirit of God”—are the daughters and sons of God (Rom 8:14). Paul is not using family language merely for emphasis in a kinship-oriented context, perhaps as a hyperbole, for example, to evoke obligation in response to the Spirit. Rather Paul is illuminating the depth of the theological dynamics involved in the gospel of transformation to wholeness and clearly identifies the person who is necessary for its fulfillment and completion. In dynamic interaction with the embodied pleroma of God, the Spirit of the whole of God relationally extends pleroma Christology to make functional pleroma soteriology by the embodying of God’s new creation family. That is to say, the Spirit makes functional the experiential truth of the whole gospel in its relational outcome ‘already’ in whole relationship together, just as the Son prayed for the formation of God’s family (Jn 17:20-26).
As Jesus’ relational replacement, the Spirit both fulfills this relational outcome ‘already’ and completes what is necessary for its relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (2 Cor 1:21-22; 5:4-5; 1 Thes 5:19-23; Rom 8:23; Gal 5:5 Eph 1:13-14; Phil 3:21). In Paul’s theological forest, pneumatology is conjoined with eschatology. Paul adds theological and functional clarity to the relational outcome already of the embodying of God’s new creation family by engaging his family further and deeper into the big picture of God’s eschatological plan framing the trajectory of God’s thematic response to the human condition (Rom 8:18-23). Just as the Spirit is the functional bridge for the quantitative of bios with the qualitative of zoe, the Spirit functionally connects the whole embodying of God’s family with all of creation, with the cosmos and those in it in order to be involved as well with the world for the redemptive reconciliation necessary to be restored to God’s whole in the innermost—as Paul also made definitive (2 Cor 5:17-19; Col 1:20), and as Jesus constituted in prayer for the already (Jn 17:21-23).
The big picture Paul paints goes back to creation and the emergence of the human condition (cf. Gen 3:17-19 with Rom 8:20). Not only human persons were enslaved in the condition ‘to be apart’ from God’s whole but the rest of creation was also (Rom 8:20-22; cf. Gen 5:29). God’s whole also encompasses all of creation; and God’s relational response of grace to the human condition is the redemptive key for the rest of creation to “be set free from its bondage to decay” and restored to God’s whole—“obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21). God’s whole is what holds together the world and all in it in their innermost. Therefore, all of creation is dependent on the relational outcome and conclusion of the Spirit’s relational involvement to raise up and embody God’s whole new creation family: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (8:19). The timing of this revealing is ambiguous in this verse but the contingency is clearly eschatological. If our eschatology involves both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’, as Paul’s did, then that new creation family ‘already’ is revealed by the Spirit’s relational involvement in those who belong to Christ (8:9), in those whom the Spirit has whole-ly embodied along with Christ and already dwells in now (8:11), and thus in those “led by the Spirit” (8:14) and the Spirit relationally constitutes already and ongoingly as the whole daughters and sons of God’s family (8:15-16).
Paul further illuminates this already/not-yet eschatological picture to provide deeper clarity for God’s family. As all of creation waits eagerly for the embodying of God’s children together, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). Paul is not suggesting that the theological dynamics of redemption and adoption have not taken place, only that their functional significance is in the relational process and progression of being completed by the Spirit—who has already constituted the relational outcome for those belonging to Christ as God’s daughters and sons, and who continues to embody them for the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ in this eschatological process. Paul clarifies that the Spirit has not yet completed this relational progression, and the basis for this expectation (“hope”) is conclusive in the experiential truth already of having been both saved from and to (sozo, delivered and made whole in Gk aorist tense, 8:24). This hope for full completion “now” is always present and ongoing along with the already (“wait for it with patience,” v.25); yet this unequivocal hope should not be confused with ‘already’ (“hope…we do not see”), nor should it be perceived with a reductionist interpretive lens (“hope that is seen,” v.24).
As Paul clarifies the line between the already and the not yet, he understands that God’s children vacillate between them, even unintentionally or unknowingly. This happens notably when situations and circumstances are difficult. These tend to create various scenarios, drama and anxiety that can define and determine who we are and whose we are, thereby rattling our sense of belonging and straining our relational response of trust, just as Paul summarized (8:28-39). In such moments, God’s presence may seem distant and perhaps too transcendent to make relational connection with. Paul addresses the equivocation of relational connection and the ambiguity of relational involvement in those moments. With more than just his own empathy, Paul makes definitive God’s deep understanding and intimate involvement with us through the relational involvement of the Spirit (8:26-27). Especially in our deepest moments of weakness when “we do not know how to be relationally involved as is necessary” (Paul uses dei not opheilo, v. 26), the Spirit helps us be involved in God’s relational context and process—“that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words; and God who searches the heart, intimately knows what is the phronema of the Spirit because the Spirit is reciprocally relationally involved with and for the saints according to the whole ontology and function of God.” This further clarifies Paul’s relational experience with the whole of God while in his weakness, in which Christ’s power is the Spirit’s person (2 Cor 12:9, cf. Acts 1:8; Eph 3:20). Therefore, the Spirit ongoingly helps God’s children in the relational connection and involvement with God necessary for engagement in the process of reciprocating contextualization (dynamic interaction between God’s context and human context) in order not to be defined and determined by human contextualization, whether in difficult moments or not—just as Paul’s weakness did not define his ontology and determine his function.
The already-now embodying of God’s new creation family, ongoingly functioning in reciprocal whole relationship together, unequivocally in relational progression to ‘not yet’, is the integrated relational dynamic at the heart of Paul’s pneumatology. The presence of the person of the Spirit as Jesus’ relational replacement and the Spirit’s reciprocal relational involvement must be accounted for both theologically and functionally. Therefore, Paul’s pneumatology is a theological dynamic always in integral function with an eschatology that is not either-or but both-and, both already and not yet. The significance of Paul’s eschatological picture above is to further deepen theologically the experiential truth of the whole gospel for the definitive wholeness in both the theology and function of the church as God’s new creation family. Paul’s primary concern always focused on the present from which the future will emerge—necessarily because the depth of the gospel is the sole source for responding to and fulfilling the breadth of the human condition.
In the complex theological dynamics of Paul’s theological forest, the dynamic presence and involvement of the whole person of the Spirit functions while inseparably on an eschatological trajectory. Yet for Paul, this does not and must not take away from the primary focus on the Spirit’s presence and involvement for the present, just as Paul addressed the Thessalonians’ eschatological anxiety with the relational imperative not to quench the Spirit’s present relational involvement (1 Thes 5:19). The Spirit’s present concern and function is relational involvement for constituting whole ontology and function, for making functional wholeness together, and for the embodying of the whole of God’s new creation family in whole relationship together as the church, the pleroma of Christ—which is why the person of the Spirit is deeply affected, grieving over any reductionism in reciprocal relational involvement together.
In Paul’s theological forest, the theological dynamic of the Spirit in wholeness is pleroma pneumatology, which is integral for all theology and function, not only Paul’s. Anything less or any substitute for the Spirit is an immature pneumatology, both underdeveloped and stunted, the practice of which signifies the reduction of our reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit. In such reductionism, Paul rightly defines the Spirit’s grief (Eph 4:30) because it clearly diminishes the Spirit’s relational involvement for wholeness and being whole already (“blameless,” amemptos, as in tamiym, 1 Thes 5:19,23; cf. Gen 17:1). Even the historical theology of the church’s spirituality and spiritual formation often has diminished involvement in whole relationship together reciprocally with the Spirit’s person, ironically in efforts to participate in God’s life. Any such immature pneumatology is underdeveloped or stunted and continues to grieve the Spirit. Moreover, any fragmentary efforts, even with good intentions to know God, serve Christ and participate in God’s life, by its nature participate in reductionism with its counter-relational work, and essentially reflect, reinforce or sustain the human relational condition (cf. Mt 7:22-23; Lk 13:26-27).
If our gospel distinguishes the relational significance of God’s relational response to the human condition, it must be congruent with the whole of God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path. If this gospel has relational significance for the human condition, it must distinguish without ambiguity in function its relational outcome of transformation to wholeness. Only the irreplaceable presence and involvement of the Spirit provides the ongoing relational connection with God necessary for the gospel and its outcome to have this relational significance. Without this relational connection, our gospel and its outcome are rendered to human shaping and thus to the epistemological illusion and ontological simulation from reductionism. Such an outcome is on a different relational path than Jesus and thereby lacks relational significance for those filling our churches—rendering them to relational orphans contrary to Jesus’ promise and incongruent with the presence and involvement of the Spirit.
The primacy of whole relationship together is the theological trajectory and relational path that Jesus embodied in whole. As ‘who replaces’ and ‘what is replaced’, the Spirit’s presence and involvement function only in this primacy of relationship to complete the theological trajectory and relational path of the whole of God, whose relational response ‘already’ resolves the human relational condition and fulfills the human relational need (as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:21-23). The relational outcome of whole relationship together as God’s new family is contingent irreducibly and nonnegotiably on the Spirit’s reciprocal relational work (Jn 14:16-17; 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:22; Rom 8:9,15-16). Without the Spirit’s presence and involvement there is no relational belonging to God’s family, only a membership in referential terms (negating 1 Cor 12:13); and without the Spirit’s ongoing reciprocal relational work there is no intimate relational connection to participate in God’s life, only an association in referential terms (contra Rom 8:9, 26-27). The primacy of whole relationship together is the innermost of God’s desires, and the whole of God’s presence and involvement vulnerably constitute the heart of God’s family love to remove the veil for participation in relationship together Face to face to Face—relationship both improbable and intrusive. This was the experiential Truth and his relational replacement who transformed and extended into the whole of Paul.
For Paul, participating in God’s life is neither precluded by a somatic limitation nor limited to just a pneumatic experience, but rather involves the relational dynamic of whole human ontology and function with the whole of God’s ontology and function. In contrast, and at times in conflict, with how some of Paul’s readers (past and present) have interpreted him, this relational involvement was not defined or determined by mysticism, nor was its depth esoteric and thus limited to certain individuals (cf. 1 Cor 14:36; Col 2:8). In Paul’s theological forest, participating in God’s life is the relational outcome that emerges from ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit.
How does this relational outcome emerge? Related to this question, I think it is accurate to say that prior to the Damascus road Paul participated (however limited by reductionism) in the life of God’s people, and that after the Damascus road he began participating in the life of God. What is the difference, and how is this difference constituted and its dynamic significance experienced ongoingly?
Participating in God’s life necessitates by God’s qualitative being and relational nature the following: the relational involvement of whole persons (pneuma and soma) of whole ontology and function from inner out, who are vulnerably involved by the heart with the whole of God’s ontology and function, who initiates the relational process of vulnerable disclosure to them in direct Face-to-face, intimate heart-to-heart relationship together as family. As Paul indicated previously, Moses participated face to face in God’s life, but it was limited (2 Cor 3:7-13; cf. Num 12:6-8). By the nature of reciprocal relationship, God’s children can participate in God’s life only to the extent that God participates in theirs; however, participation in God’s life is never the result of unilateral human effort. In Paul’s theological forest, the whole of God’s thematic relational response and involvement is fulfilled by Christ and completed by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:14-18; 4:4-6). In other words, with the depth of God’s whole participation, it is now insufficient for God’s children to participate in the whole of God’s life with anything but face-to-Face involvement compatible with God’s qualitative being and congruent with God’s relational nature—that glory of God vulnerably disclosed in the distinguished face of Jesus Christ’s whole ontology and function (not just soma or pneuma, as some have interpreted the incarnation, but soma and pneuma together, inseparably without reduction). This is “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4), the meaning of which is rendered without relational significance by the lack of reciprocal relational involvement face to Face, thereby reducing the gospel of its experiential truth.
Paul focuses all participation in “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” first on Christ’s blood and body and participating in his death (1 Cor 10:16-17) in order to participate in his resurrection (Rom 8:11,17; Phil 3:10). This integral participation involves being baptized with Christ and the Spirit for the death of reduced ontology and function and the raising of whole ontology and function (Rom 6:3-5; 1 Cor 12:13). Relational involvement with Christ and the Spirit in these theological dynamics is critical for face-to-Face-to-face involvement compatible with God’s qualitative being (the whole and holy God) and thus congruent with God’s relational nature. To participate in the whole and holy God’s life begins with the necessary transformation of human persons integrally both to ontology in the image of God’s qualitative being vulnerably disclosed by Christ (“the image of God,” 2 Cor 4:4), and to function in the likeness of the whole of God’s relational nature together (2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29; Col 3:10). Paul defines this critical initial participation with the term koinonia (“sharing,” 1 Cor 10:16) and its cognate koinonos (“partners,” 10:18), from which our notions of fellowship and Communion come. Basically these koin terms define a common bond among its participants that is relational involvement definitive of having a share in something together—that is, the intimate involvement of the new wine table fellowship with the veil removed. This understanding of participation goes further and deeper than what our practices of fellowship and Communion tend to be; moreover, it goes beyond common efforts of spirituality to participate in God’s life.
For Paul, the definitive relational involvement of sharing together in Christ’s death is a complete participation in his sacrifice behind the curtain, which is irreducible and nonnegotiable to koinonia and koinonos in human contextualization (1 Cor 10:20-21). Accordingly, this undivided-complete participation is inseparable from sharing together also in Christ’s resurrection, by which the necessary transformation to whole ontology and function emerges without the veil (2 Cor 3:16-18) in order to whole-ly participate compatibly and congruently in God’s life as God’s whole family in relationship together (Rom 6:5; 8:11,15; Gal 4:5-6). This inner-out change from the process of redemptive reconciliation is an ongoing necessity for increasing and deepening participation in the whole of God’s life. The embodying of this new creation in koinonia with the whole of God is both of the whole person and of whole persons together (1 Cor 10:17) in reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:22; 4:3-4). Therefore, participating in the qualitative whole of God’s life is neither limited to the intimate involvement of the individual person, nor is individual involvement sufficient by itself to constitute participation in the relational whole of God’s life. Participation is complete with only whole persons together (Col 3:15; Eph 2:14-18); this challenges our theological assumptions about God, the human person, and the church. Paul makes these vital distinctions for the reciprocal relational involvement in whole relationship together both with God and with each other, which is integral to embody God’s new creation family—the intimate dwelling in relational terms (not referential) for the whole of God’s participation in whole relationship together (Eph 2:22; cf. Jn 14:23).
Through the relational involvement of the Spirit, participation in the whole of God’s life is unequivocal in its relational outcome ‘already’ (Eph 2:18,22; 3:12; Rom 5:5; cf. Jn 17:23). And by reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit, participation in God’s whole life in family is ongoing to its relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (Rom 8:14,17; Phil 2:1; 3:10)—just as Paul prayed for the church family (Eph 3:16-19) and Jesus vulnerably disclosed in his face and prayed for his family (Jn 17:26). The whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology fight for nothing less and no substitutes of this gospel of wholeness, and thereby nonnegotiably against any and all reductionism.
As those belonging to Christ through the Spirit gather for the koinonia at the Lord’s table to celebrate the Eucharist—that is, without reductionism to human terms shaping relationship together by human contextualization, as Paul’s polemic makes indisputable about incompatible and incongruent participation (1 Cor 10:21; 11:17-22, 27)—their whole persons together deeply participate in the embodied pleroma of God. This integral participation does not unfold in quantitative referential terms but only in qualitative relational terms. Conjointly, their intimate relational involvement with the whole of God in whole relationship together also embodies them together in the whole ontology and function of the church, the pleroma of Christ (1 Cor 10:17; Eph 1:23; 3:19; 4:13). This embodying is the relational outcome of only direct participation in God’s life without the veil, not from participation just in church life in front of the curtain (note Paul’s polemic, 1 Cor 11:20, 29).
Therefore, the church emerges as God’s new creation family only to the extent that its reciprocal relational involvement is compatible and congruent with the extent of God’s participation in its life, notably now by the Spirit. Given that God’s participation is solely by the relational response of grace with the theological dynamic of wholeness to remove the veil, the participation of God’s children likewise can be nothing less and no substitutes. Only this whole relationship together embodies the pleroma of Christ in Paul’s theological forest, which Paul makes theologically definitive in Ephesians for the functional clarity necessary for the whole ontology and function of the church in the relational belonging of family in contrast and conflict with a gathering of relational orphans. The latter is the distinct alternative commonly identifying churches today from the relational connection constituted by the Spirit to distinguish (beyond human comparisons) the church in whole relationship together.
Paul was reciprocally involved with the Spirit embodying the theology and hermeneutic of the whole gospel that constituted the integral extension of Jesus into Paul. The theological dynamics deeply involved in this qualitative process of embodying and its relational process of reciprocal participation not only have converged and are integrated in Paul’s theological forest. These dynamics, both theological and functional, are also relationally extending ‘already’ “by the power of the Spirit’s person at work within us” to go beyond what Paul can only rightly describe as “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church” (Eph 3:20-21).
At the same time, the Spirit does not function in unilateral relationship but vulnerably involved with us in reciprocal relationship together for this relational outcome. As the Spirit faithfully fulfills his relational work in righteousness for irreplaceable connection with God in life together, we are accountable to fulfill our part of the relational work in righteousness—that is, in reciprocal response with the whole of who, what and how we are in his image and likeness (as in 2 Cor 3:18).
Our reciprocal relational response with the Spirit to distinguish the gospel of transformation and its relational outcome of wholeness is under ongoing pressure to be re-formed by anything less and any substitutes from reductionism. Accordingly, we are challenged in the most basic aspects of Christian belief in both our theology and practice—perhaps challenged uniquely today in a modern surrounding context more complex than in any other period of history. Yet, any fog of modernity should not obscure our perception of the human condition shared by all of us, a condition whose essential nature as a relational condition has not changed since the primordial garden. The whole of God created the human person to be in the image of the qualitative innermost of God and created the relational design of human persons together to be whole in likeness of the Trinity; both are necessary to constitute imago Dei. The embodied Word as Creator fulfilled the function of this human ontology by redemptively reconciling us back to the whole of God’s creation as constituted in the Trinity functioning as family.
The embodied Word didn’t leave us in the dark about the Trinity’s likeness. As the Light, he embodied the full significance of both the created human ontology as the whole person and the created relational ontology of persons together. As the Truth of God’s vulnerable self-disclosure, he constituted his followers in relationship together as his new creation family. The whole of God’s new family is signified by his church in likeness of the Trinity. Extended conjointly by the Spirit of truth, his church in likeness of the Trinity is the only church Jesus constituted, and thus the only church that has functional and relational compatibility to and congruence with the Son, the Spirit, the Father, and thus the Trinity. Anything less and any substitutes have no functional and relational significance to God and for the human condition.
We need more vulnerably to engage this whole Truth as Subject in relationship without the veil—not merely the propositional truths and doctrines of our beliefs—and start responding to the relational reality that his church in likeness of the Trinity is neither optional nor negotiable to our variations. If we hold to the truth and authority of the Word, necessarily both embodied and written, then we have to embrace the whole of Jesus in sanctified life and practice distinguished beyond human contextualization, which includes his truth about his family (implied in his discourse on his kingdom-family, Lk 11:23): Any practice less than whole conjointly of the human person and persons together as church is only an ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism. We have yet to meet this challenge from reductionism.
This points to a similarity in the condition of Western churches and Eastern orthodox churches despite their different emphases and practices. Whereas Western churches tend to focus on Christ and the cross for an individual faith in church practice, Eastern churches look to the Trinity and the church as community, thus a communion with God, for example, through icons and the corporate context of church liturgy. Their focus and practice essentially represent two ends of a spectrum, yet both similarly suffer from an incomplete Christology and an ecclesiology needing to be made whole. Generally speaking, the West focuses on the work and teachings of Christ apart from the whole of Jesus’ person, thus using this reductionist ontology for person and church and tending toward epistemological illusion embedded in individualism. The East sees Christ in the Trinity and thus in the church, yet their working ontology lacks the involvement of the whole person necessary for their relationships together to be whole, consequently tending toward ontological simulation embedded in their traditions of church practice. Beyond these examples, the influence of reductionism common in many church practices—including in the global South—ongoingly challenges the integrity of the whole of God’s family and the relational significance of his church in likeness of the Trinity.
In this twenty-first-century world, his church is further challenged today, and the issue is who and what will significantly meet this challenge and how. All the global changes and instability experienced since the latter third of the twentieth century have created much more uncertainty in our lives, collectively and even individually—with 9/11 and the so-called war on terrorism in this century, and recently extended against Islamic State, only adding to this uncertainty. With the extent of the changes taking place around us—including repercussions from climate changes—relational changes are the most critical. Globalization has been forcing us to think more about the interrelationships beyond our provincial boundaries and comfort zones. For example, the West is faced with the increasing shift of global economic power emerging in this century to Asia (namely China and India) and needing humbly not only to acknowledge this shift but also to change for harmony with it. Additionally, emigration (voluntary and involuntary) has affected all our lives in one way or another, even in our neighborhoods and perhaps our churches. At no other time in history have groupings of persons “faced” so many other persons different from themselves than exists today; and the global projections indicate only furthering this trend. This has created a relational ambiguity between, on the one hand, the spreading phenomenon of globalization and, on the other, the increasing fragmentation of relationships in the midst of this diversity—the relational ambiguity of which is compounded by the virtual simulation and illusion of communication generated by electronic technology.
The church lives within this world today whether it chooses to function in it or not. Aside from physical attributes (viz. skin color, sex), human diversity is the product of human constructions (including race, ethnicity) making distinctions between persons/peoples, which, intentionally or unintentionally, effectively cause some degree of separation in relationships. What a church does with all these human differences depends on how it lives. Churches are influenced by and participate in the human construction of distinction making. When roles, functions and spiritual gifts in church operation do not serve for relationship together to be whole but rather serve to define persons in a church, they become practices inadvertently reinforcing the counter-relational work of reductionism. The reality is that such reductionist distinctions common within church life and practice only amplify human differences making relationship together difficult and stratified.
Though the trinitarian persons fulfill different roles and functions to love us downward for relationship together to be whole, they cannot fulfill their relational purpose and have this joint relational outcome unless they function whole (heis eimi) in the primacy of their relationships together (en eimi) for the relational Whole as the ontological One—not by giving primacy to their different roles and functions. Likewise, though there are different roles, functions and spiritual gifts in the church body, we cannot use these to draw distinctions between us to define who and what we are, just as we cannot for the trinitarian persons. To define human or trinitarian persons based on distinctions of role and function would reduce their persons and create barriers to the intimacy in their relationships together necessary to be whole. For us as church, we cannot function whole (heis eimi) in our relationships together (en eimi) unless we are redemptively reconciled to transformed relationships both equalized and intimate, just as constituted in the Trinity. Having a different role, function or spiritual gift only provides us in a church family with a uniqueness (primarily quantitative) in what we do and have but they do not define the specialness (qualitative) in who, what and how we are. Christian function in Christ’s church body is unique to individual persons but not special to those persons. Full Christian identity, on the other hand, which defines us as the whole of his church family is special but cannot be unique to individual persons.
This is his church in equalized relationships necessary for the intimacy together to be whole as his new creation family in likeness of the Trinity. Whether in the first century or the twenty-first, his church is called to come together in the transformed relationships to be whole, and conjointly is sent to live whole so that the globalizing world may know the relational truth of God’s whole (Jn 17:23), and further sent to make whole so that this world will respond back for the experiential truth of belonging in God’s whole (Jn 17:21). Therefore, his church is about the whole of Jesus in complete (neither fragmentary nor selective) Christology. His church’s function is only about the ongoing fulfillment of Jesus’ formative family prayer, in which the Trinity and ecclesiology converge, cohere and relationally progress to the eschatological relational conclusion—most notably but not exclusively by the Spirit.
Jesus has definitively defined and determined who and what will be significant in meeting the challenge of his church to fulfill his prayer, and how. As clearly as churches today are challenged both within its life and practice and in the world, we must make no assumptions for churches, and thus must openly consider how much churches may likely be threatened by the whole of Jesus in complete (without negotiation) Christology and Jesus’ prayer, and subtly be resistant to redemptive change, while relationally uninvolved with the Spirit. Jesus in post-ascension keeps knocking on church doors, along with the irreplaceable Person, for the gospel of transformation’s relational outcome to wholeness (Rev 3:20,22).
Unmistakably, then, all who profess belief in Jesus and claim to be his followers are both challenged by and accountable for the gospel of transformation and its distinguished relational outcome of wholeness. Nothing less and no substitutes! Equally important, for those who have, or at least claim to have, good news today for new life, the human condition demands for us to demonstrate the full relational significance of integrally being whole persons and living in whole relationships together that will make whole the fragmented and broken human condition. Anything less and any substitutes will be neither significant nor whole—a pervasive reality existing in churches that causes the Spirit to grieve. Furthermore, given the irreplaceable vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement of the Spirit’s person, if we do not or cannot demonstrate being and living whole in our ontology and function, in our theology and practice, then by default we reflect, reinforce or even sustain the human condition.
Indeed, just as Jesus clarified and corrected the theology and practice of churches in his post-ascension discourse for ecclesiology to be whole, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 2:8,11, 17,29; 3:6,13,22).
 As one exception to this urgent discussion on pneumatology, see the exegetical study by Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994). See also Anthony C. Thiselton, The Holy Spirit—in Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 70-130.
©2015 T. Dave Matsuo