The Essence and Core of the Spiritual Life. Part 1 (Reflection on Herman Bavincks teachings)


In dogmatics it is God’s love for us but in ethics it is our love for God.  There is a reciprocity of love on the vertical planes and on the horizontal planes.  It is no surprise that in the essence of the spiritual life he writes:

“Because love for God is its foundation, spiritual life itself consists of fellowship with God, with Christ, and with fellow believers. Love strives after and is fellowship, a fellowship that is only possible through and in love. Hatred separates; love binds.” (From Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; page 248; edited by John Bolt; Translator John Vriend; Baker Academic)

A flower from the garden


We have already seen in past discussions the importance of love.  It is also interesting that when we looked at the fruit of the spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 NASB”

These things build us up individually and socially, so Bavinck has interpreted love correctly.  He has also interpreted hatred correctly:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NASB”


Yes, Bavinck is correct in saying that hatred separates.  Enmity breaks up relationships.  If you were to look at the abuse of alcohol statistics nationally one would see this to be true.

Very simple words but powerful action either to build or to tear down.  This Christian fellowship with God and with our neighbour.  For Bavinck the spiritual life revolves around the Trinity (page 249).

Namely as, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  In one single page Herman Bavinck packs the page with a lot of Scriptural proofs. 

Before I go into this fellowship let us think about the Trinitarian God.  Within the Trinity itself there is a relationship.   God in his eternal relations of Father Son and Holy Spirit out of love created a beautiful world.  God created humanity in his image and likeness and as a wage got evil for doing good.  From the Garden of Eden many sins were committed in rebellion against God.  God did not give up on the human race, but he sent his only Son into the world to bring salvation to the human race.

The amazing thing is that in Christ we are brought into the Divine life of God by the Holy Spirit.  We are not cast away like rotten apples (which we became because of the Fall!). God never gave up on us!  I think 1 john helps us in this mystery:

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. 1 John 1:1-4”

I am not willing to drill down any deeper than what Scripture allows us to say.  We are privileged and blessed that although Jesus was God, he took on real humanity and became a real human being and because of what the Trinity did for us we are able to share fully in God’s love.  My friends I do not understand this, it is a mystery but by God’s grace we have an unshakable God given confidence and a slew of witnesses (Hebrews 11).

Our Fellowship with the Father

Bavinck quotes 1 John 3:

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3

So, then we have fellowship with the Father and the Son and Bavinck goes into the High Priestly prayer of Jesus:

In the verse below he talks about the purpose of this fellowship.  That we will be ‘one’

“that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.“17:21

Then Bavinck goes into the rationale of Christian ethics, and this is very important to quote as Bavinck says:

“Godliness flows forth of itself from the exercise of this fellowship and the desire to strengthen it. This fellowship is no empty sound or form but the highest reality: concrete fellowship between people on earth. It consists in the knowledge, the firm consciousness we possess, that God knows us personally, in Christ has shown us grace, and now as Father fulfils all the good pleasure of his goodness for us (2 Thess. 1:11), loves us, leads us, and so forth. Furthermore, because God’s Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16), we believe and feel all of this in our heart.”

Bavinck sums up fellowship with the Father:

(a) God’s love, grace, etc.

(b) God giving himself to us, and us, from our side, taking God into our heart, mind, will, feeling, imagination.

(c) giving ourselves completely to God with our mind, soul, and all our strength; and

(d) God, from his side, accepting us in love.



God’s love for us is really deep.  God loves his creation and through his Son we can have eternal life.  Ethics flows out from this reciprocal relationship by the Holy Spirit.  God has showered His grace out into our lives, but we reciprocate this by faith ‘taking God into our heart, mind will, feeling and imagination’.

Next time we are going to look at our Fellowship in the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As a believer perhaps you haven’t thought about these issues too much.  When we start to dive into Holy Scripture, we start to see more clearly God’s love for us.  Herman Bavinck the Master theologian has opened our eyes to some of the blessing that we find.  It is a mystery how we are brought into this beautiful divine life, but it is real.  Let us continue to trust God with our futures.  Let us keep on being neighbourly and show our love to the world.  This could be with the simple act of wearing a face mask and to have our vaccines. 

If you are not a Christian, you are no less important to God.  God loves you because he created you and He wants to bring you into this eternal fellowship.  Even if you do not cross the line and become a Christian remember that God is love and He always reaches out to you.  This blog is not just for Christians, it is a blog for everyone.   In this world we need to combat prejudice and make the attempt to show God’s love to every human being. 


(Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 249)

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