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Definition

God’s spirituality refers not only to his immateriality and invisibility, but also to the fact that he works in the world with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Summary

Spirit in Scripture refers to God as the third person of the Trinity, and to an attribute that he displays in all his works. oly As spirit, God is immaterial and invisible, but also glorious and personally present, applying God’s salvation to people’s hearts and empowering God’s people to worship God in ways pleasing to him. To say that God is spirit is to say that he displays all the characteristics of the Holy Spirit as he dwells with his people and in our hearts.

Theologians use the term spirit both as a divine attribute and also to designate the third person of the Trinity.1 For spirituality as an attribute of God, the key text is John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Probably in this text the reference is to spirit as a divine attribute, not to the third person of the Trinity, but there is a close relationship between the two, as we shall see.

There is a connection in Scripture between spirituality and immateriality (including invisibility). See Isa 31:3 and Luke 24:36-43. I think it is fair, therefore, to say that God’s spirituality entails his immateriality and invisibility, although we should emphasize that God is free to reveal himself in material and visible forms. These include the OT theophanies such as the Angel of the Lord (Gen 16:7-11, 22:11-15, and many other texts) and particularly the greatest event of redemption, when God took to himself a body and lived visibly among human beings, physically dying and rising for their redemption. To say that God is immaterial and invisible is not to say that he is always immaterial and invisible. Rather, it means that because he is the lord of matter and vision he is able to take these forms or not to take them as he sovereignly chooses.

But God’s spirituality is more than his relationship to matter and visibility. Meredith G. Kline identifies the Spirit of God with the “Glory-cloud” of the OT:

There is indeed a considerable amount of biblical data that identify the Glory-cloud as particularly a manifestation of the Spirit God. Here we will cite only a few passages where the functions performed by the Glory-cloud are attributed to the Spirit—Nehemiah 9:19, 20; Isaiah 63:11-14; and Haggai 2:5—and mention the correspondence of the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to the function of the Glory-cloud at the exodus and at the erection of the tabernacle.2

The association of the Spirit with the Glory-cloud helps us to understand the broader dimensions of God’s spirituality. God’s glory is an “outshining” from him, not only of literal light, but also of creative power and ethical qualities. As the Glory-cloud rested upon the tabernacle and entered the temple, so the Spirit indwells believers who are temples of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19). As God’s presence in the cloud empowered his people, gave them direction, and accompanied them with blessing and judgment, so the Spirit acts throughout Scripture.

In general, then, God’s Spirit is his presence in the world, performing his work as Lord. The metaphors of wind and breath (implicit in the Greek and Hebrew terms for spirit) emphasize the power of God’s presence in the world. As wind blows invisibly and unpredictably, so the Spirit gives new birth (John 3:5-8). As words cannot be communicated without breath, so the Spirit regularly accompanies the word of God to its destination (2Sam. 23:2; Isa 59:21; John 6:63; 1Thes 1:5; 2Tim 3:16; 1Pet 1:12; 2Pet 1:21). This is true, not only of prophecy, but of creation as well (Psa 33:6).3

In many of these passages it is not easy to distinguish between God’s attribute of spirituality and the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. Indeed, to say that God is spiritual is to say that the character of the Holy Spirit is the character of God himself. So when Jesus says in John 4:24 that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” he is not saying merely that God is immaterial and invisible, though that is part of what he is saying. Nor is his point that in worship we should focus on immaterial things. Rather, Jesus is speaking of the great coming event (“a time is coming,” v. 23) when, at his behest, the Spirit comes with power upon the church. When the Spirit comes, worship, like evangelism, will be “in Spirit.” The great power of the Spirit will motivate the prayer and praise of God’s people.

That worship will also be “in truth.” In context, I think that this “truth” is not merely truth as opposed to falsehood. The worship of the old covenant, with which Jesus contrasts worship “in spirit,” was not false. Jesus here refers to the truth he came to bring, the truth of salvation through the blood of his cross, the gospel of grace. Therefore, worship in Spirit is Christ-centered. The Spirit bears witness to Christ, and he motivates God’s people to sing the praises of Jesus.

To say that “God is Spirit,” then, is to say that true worship of God is directed to the Son by the Spirit. God identifies himself with the Spirit and tells us here that the qualities and acts of the Spirit are indeed the qualities and acts of God. That the Spirit is fully God is an important aspect of the Doctrine of the Trinity. And God’s spirituality, then, means not only that God is invisible and immaterial, but that he bears all the characteristics of the Spirit who dwells with his people.

Footnotes

1This duality also pertains to God as father. As an attribute, father is a metaphor indicating God’s tender care for his people (Psa 103:13), but it is also the name for the first person of the Trinity who is, of course, the God and Father of Jesus Christ (as Matt 7:21). But these are connected: because God is the Father of Jesus Christ, he is also the Father of those who believe in Jesus (as Matt 6:9). The term Son is somewhat different: Scripture uses Son as a name for the second person of the Trinity, but it does not use Son as an attribute of God, for reasons that should not be difficult to discern. But it does refer to believers as “sons” of God (as Rom 8:14-17), because we are “in Christ.” So just as our lives are determined by the presence of the Father and the Spirit, so our existence is in fellowship with the Son. Son, then, like Father and Spirit, is a way of referring to the nature of God as he dwells with his people.
2Kline, Images of the Spirit, 15. He cites also his son Meredith M. Kline, “The Holy Spirit as Covenant Witness” (Th. M. thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1972), and his own Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).
3In my The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 597-99, I discuss in some detail the biblical correlation of “spirit” with the attributes of God that define his lordship—his power, authority, and presence.

Further Reading