A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)

Differentiating the Work of the Son and Spirit in Salvation


Over and over in our Christian experience we note the difference between the Son and the Spirit. There are many things we say about the Son of God that we would never say about the Spirit. We are to be conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29), not the Spirit. We are told to be like Christ, and even to imitate God the Father in a certain sense (Eph. 5:1), but never to imitate the Holy Spirit. Again, there is one mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), and that is the man Jesus Christ, not the Holy Spirit. It may be tempting to extend these terms (conformed, imitate, mediator) to the Holy Spirit, from a sense of wanting to defend the full equality of the Spirit or to make sure the third person has the same honor as the first and second. We might even be able to argue that there is some metaphorical sense in which we imitate the Spirit or to extend the word mediation to describe the way the Spirit brings us to God through Christ. But that would be to speak very loosely and to ignore the categories that Scripture establishes. We would be in danger of missing the Spirit’s distinctive work by confusing his work with Christ’s. The best way to keep them unified is to see their difference; we distinguish in order to unite.