Herman Bavinck and Life in the Spirit


Beautiful Sunset taken by Hasan Djemal 28 08 2021

In Bavinck’s first book we looked at humanity before the Fall, after the fall with us being under the natural law of nature.  Now the master theologian moves on to look at the new life in Christ.  As a starter into this very important topic Bavinck says:

” Only the Triune God has life in himself; all creaturely life is derived from and dependent upon God. While the drive for self-preservation characterizes all vegetative and sentient life, the spiritual life is characterized by love for God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit Its fundamental principle is not found within the natural life but first arises through denial, self-crucifixion, renunciation, and loss of our soul. Love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and fruit of the Spirit, gives stature and form to the spiritual life.” (Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 239)

Obviously, people who read this blog in the public domain come from all sorts of religious traditions and none.  For Christians the life in the Trinity is real spiritual life in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  Some people would deny that there is a God, and they choose to live life their way.  For Christian believers there is a special walk with God.  Bavinck wants to explain all of the twists and turns in our walk with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  At the end of the day, we are all spiritual beings.  Even hardened atheists would agree with this.  There is something that animates all of us and is universal to human beings.  If we were not spiritual beings there would be no need for psychologists, mental hospitals, neural surgeons et al. Obviously the starting point for some is that human life was an ’accident’.  For Christians, Jews and Muslims God created us.  We are indebted to God for this life. However, I am speaking from a Christian exclusivist standpoint. This does not mean that I am any better than anyone else.  Perhaps the one reading this blog has an exclusivist standpoint that is not the same one as Bavinck.  From my reading we were all created in the image of God and hence we need to practice neighbourly love because of our exclusivist standpoints. I’m not so hot on liberal theology because it seems to want to melt the religions into some type of melting pot where we compromise.  For people of exclusivist stand points who believe God has spoken through whatever Scripture (Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Islamic), this is seen as a horrendous sacrilege.  

So, then the believing Christian is in a spiritual state in relation to Christ.  The New Testament uses a lot of terms for this spiritual state, and I am getting excited with the most beautiful and exquisite jewels that Bavinck our Master theologian has mined for us.  We don’t need crypto currency; we have something worth far more valuable; Our relationship with our Saviour the lord Jesus Christ.  We should get really excited with what the terms are in the New Testament for our walk with God.  Yes, the Scriptures were written over 2000 years ago but by the Holy Spirit time is but an illusion. As believers we belong to the one universal church of believers; those that have trodden the road of faith, we who are alive today and those who will come after us when we have gone to glory. Let us then look at these special references:

Before looking at the references though Bavinck gives us this sentence:

“The spiritual life is presented in Holy Scripture with a variety of terms and images.” (From; Reformed Ethics; Book 2 and chapter 7; page 242; By Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt)

Over the next few quotations Bavinck dives into the experiences of Saint Paul.  We need to remember that although Paul started hunting Christians, he was specifically chosen by our Lord to be an ambassador of Christ to the Gentiles.  Although he was at saint Stephen’s martyrdom; in the long run he was going to suffer more than what is naturally possible for a human being.  Paul having so much experience of the Christian walk, is a prime candidate to help us in our own walk with God. 

Paul speaks of himself as a man ‘in Christ’ (ἐν Χριστῷ 2 Corinthians 12:2):

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:2


In the next verse Paul is defending his Apostleship.  Some ‘Judaizers’ wanted to force Gentile Christians to get circumcised.   Paul won the debate on our Gospel freedoms.  In terms of our Christian walk with God Bavinck point out the phrase ‘to reveal his Son in me’:

16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, Galatians 1:16

The guiding principle in the next verse is that we live by faith in the Son of God.  More precisely on the verse below Bavinck quotes, ““been crucified with Christ,” so that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me””:

19 For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:19-20


As children of God, we are growing all the time or ought to be into full maturity as believers.  Bavinck shows us this with “Christ is formed in you”:

19 My children, with whom I am again in labour until Christ is formed in you— Galatians 4:19


Paul reminds the believers in Corinth where he stands in Christ in relation to them having faith in Christ Jesus:

15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 1 Corinthians 4:15


Paul goes even further as Bavinck points out that these believers are literally ‘new creations.’:

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17


The new life we have rotates around Christ not the big ‘I’:

11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:11


The believers at Corinth ‘are fleshly’ and have a lot of growing up to do:

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:1

All these reference Reformed Ethics; Book 2 and chapter 7; page 244; By Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt)



All these verses were taken from one paragraph.  As Bavinck points out we need to be aware of flesh and fleshly.  ‘In the flesh’ can mean living in this world as a human being.  ‘Fleshly’ is more about being immature believers who believe the Gospel but there is still room for them to grow up and they still do the worldly things they were supposed to have given up.  On the other hand, he also uses terminology such as ‘in Christ’, the true believer only stands by the Holy Spirit through what Christ has done for us.

For a 20th century theologian such as Karl Barth we find our election ‘in Christ’.  In Calvin we are the object of election. As such double predestination is a little harsh from my point of view.  Barth tried a work around in the Judge judged in our place. Jesus is the Judge who was judged in our place.  (From Church Dogmatics; Karl Barth; volume 4/1) Jesus is the subject and object of election.  We find our election in Christ.  It is an extra step for our election. 

Sometimes I think it is possible to over analyse situations.  We can rest in the fact that we live in Christ and by faith rest on him our Lord and Saviour. 

It is best to turn to the Bible to sort some of these issues out. I think it is great that Bavinck drew so much from the Corinthian letters.  These believers had some serious issues, but St Paul broke through to them and showed them the way of Christ.   We also in our own day have serious issues to deal with and we too like the Corinthian Christians at times can be very fleshly Christians.  If there was hope for the Corinthians, then there is hope for us. I actually wrote a mini commentary on Corinthians recently and you can follow it at:


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