Forming Faith Blog

Live by the Spirit (May 23, 2021)

A young girl blowing dandelion seeds.
Acts of the Holy Spirit

This week is the final reading of the main Narrative Lectionary year. Unlike the year-round Revised Common Lectionary, the Narrative Lectionary only goes from September (the first Sunday after Labor Day (US) actually) to Pentecost Sunday. So, we always begin with a story of creation and end with the story of the Spirit.

While God’s Spirit is never absent from the story of Israel, it is really at this point in Luke’s narrative (Gospel of Luke, Part 2: Acts) that the Spirit takes center stage, even if she remains invisible. As I’ve mentioned before, this book is indeed the Acts of the Apostles (as the official long name states), but it is more so the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, there are no apostles and no Church.

The Spirit Is a Gift

The Book of Acts begins with Luke’s recounting of Jesus’ ascension with the promise of the Holy Spirit. There is a bit of housekeeping taken care of (the election of Matthias as the twelfth apostle, never to be heard from again), but then the book really starts. Jesus’ promise is fulfilled on the Jewish Festival of Shavuot, which takes place 50 days after Passover, thus the Greek name Pentecost. [Note: As a favor to me, please point out to your faith formation participants (worshippers, etc.) that Pentecost is not originally a Christian festival, but a Jewish one.]

Here—and in every other mention of the appearance of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit is a gift. She is a gift from God, specifically. People or actions may be the conduits for this gift, but they do not make the Spirit ours to give or take away. Thank God, too, because if the very power of God is ours to control…well, a quick look at Christian history makes it clear that would be bad.

A Gift of Life (and Love)

It’s a bit hard to see the connection in English, but in Hebrew (Ruach), Greek (Pneuma), and even Latin (Spiritus), the word we read as Spirit also means breath and wind. These are beautiful metaphors. Jesus speaks of the Spirit as wind in John 3. The Spirit is given with a sound like a rush of a violent wind here in Acts 2. Wind is a powerful, invisible force that is only seen based on its effects on the world around it.

Breath is a quieter thing, though. For us, breath is life. Most (all?) multicellular life requires air and taking in this air is respiration (notice the “-spir-” there?). The Spirit of God is the Breath of God, the Life of God. So, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of God’s Life.

Children of God

God gives us (regular) life and God gives us (divine) Life. Not that we become gods, but that God dwells within us. This gift gives us many things, including occasionally miraculous things (Acts 2:4). But most importantly of all is that God gives us the Spirit of adoption. The Spirit makes us children of God (Galatians 4:5-7). We are made children of God through an undeserved, unconditional, unending gift, a gift of grace.

Live by the Spirit

But the Spirit doesn’t control us like a hand within a sock puppet. Instead, it gives us the choice to live contrary to the Spirit or to live by the Spirit. This is what our optional reading explains for us (Galatians 5:16-26). Simply put, living contrary to the Spirit is to serve yourself and your desires. Living by the Spirit is to serve others (God and your neighbor).

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:14-15
Free Activity

Each week I offer a free activity for congregations to use for faith formation. This week’s activity is “News Reviews,” an opportunity for groups (or families) to review the events of this Easter season as reporters would. This activity is from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (NL) curriculum, but it can be adapted to many settings including families at home.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

2021-2022 Faith Formation Resources

Our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary products for the upcoming 2021-2022 program year are now available for download. Find out more!

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