The Holy Spirit and Human Flourishing

by Drake Burrows June 16, 2022

As human beings, we are most fully embodied and in our proper place when we are in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit. Thus, there is no path toward true and lasting human flourishing apart from God’s indwelling Spirit.

The Bad News: Let’s Rehearse!
Our sin, being the beast that it is (Gen 4:7), has corrupted our bodies and left deep wounds on our souls. “Claiming to be wise, [we] became fools” and severed the relationship between ourselves and the true Source of human flourishing – God (Rom 1:22). Moreover, just as Israel wandered aimlessly throughout the wilderness for forty years, so we wander through the desert of our lives and foolishly attempt to fill our hearts with all that is not God.

In Jeremiah 2:13, God describes our tragedy: “My people have committed a double evil: they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves – cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” Unless our thirst for God is filled, we are destined to die both physically and spiritually, with mouths full of sand.

At this point, someone might think, When will you stop being so negative? Why can’t you see the good in people? To which I joyfully respond, Oh, friend, have you never tasted the goodness of God? Have you never truly lived? Let me explain: it is only because I have tasted the bitterness of sin and felt the weight of sin’s consequences that I have been able to give myself over to an eternal binge on the never-ending, all-satisfying feast that is God himself.

Such is the joy of every Christian, a joy which becomes all the more sweeter when we set our minds on the fact that God has decided to take up his residence in our weak, dust-fashioned bodies.

The Good News: The Spirit as Signal of New Creation
In Galatians 4:6, the Apostle Paul says that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” So, not only is God with us—He is in us! More specifically, He is in “our hearts.” Here are a few other texts which demonstrate this awesome reality:

  • “On that day you will know that I am in the Father, you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)
  • “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” (Rom 8:9)
  • “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:4)

You see, we humans were designed to be in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, which is to say that we were designed to be God-in-dwelt creatures. This is what God intended from the very beginning when he breathed his “breath” – the same Hebrew word for ‘Spirit’ – into Adam, causing Adam to become “a living being” (1 Cor 15:45; cf Gen 2:7). Moreover, through Christ’s sin-atoning death, sinful humanity has been re-positioned to receive God’s life-giving breath, “the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:13-14). In Christ, rebellious sinners are transformed into holy saints and thereby crafted into a fit dwelling place for God’s Spirit (Eph 2:22).

This is why Jesus, after his resurrection, breathed on the disciples. This is strange, is it not? To be breathed on by the Son of God? With the biblical narrative in mind, particularly the opening chapters of Genesis, this was a perfectly fitting thing for Christ to enact upon the disciples. As God breathed his Spirit into Adam at the beginning of the old creation, so Christ, the Word made flesh, breathed his Spirit into the new humanity at the beginning of God’s new creation. Thus, Paul explains, “If anyone is in Christ–new creation! The old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17).

The Holy Spirit: Our Proper Place
Consider how one ancient theologian and church father, St. Basil the Great, describes God’s indwelling Spirit: “The Spirit is truly the place of the saints, and the saint is the proper place for the Holy Spirit, as he offers himself for indwelling with God and is called a temple of God” (On the Holy Spirit, 101). In other words, to be truly human, to inhabit our true and “proper place,” we must be indwelt by God’s Spirit.

Apart from the indwelling of the Spirit, we humans are like empty tombs, wandering to and fro. We are, in the words of Augustine, “restless until we find our rest in Him.” On the other hand, when we receive the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, we are brought from death to life and set back in our proper place — the place of God’s dwelling! By the Spirit, therefore, Christians are able to enter the fullness of God’s design for humanity. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” wrote Paul (Gal 5:22-23). And if that’s not true human flourishing, then I don’t know what is!

There’s a lot of talk of human “place” and “embodiment” these days. As I hope to have made clear, Christians would be gravely remiss to leave God’s indwelling Spirit out of that conversation. After all, God himself, by the Spirit, is our true and proper place and therefore the only place wherein human beings truly flourish.