From Steven Paulson’s mighty recent work on the Lutheran tradition, Chapter 9, “Freedom from Death” looks into the Lutheran doctrine of Spiritus Exstinctor et Creator–the simultaneous killing and reviving power of the Holy Spirit.
How does Christ free us from death? The same way he was freed–by the Holy Spirit. When and enemy ensnares us, that enemy must be put to death in order for us to be freed, and so the Holy Spirit must kill death. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Of course, the death of death sounds mythical or excruciatingly obscure, especially to descendants of Greeks who think of death as fate. yet, the death of death is exactly how Paul’s great argument (The One who by faith is righteous shall live) concludes with a sermon of unparalleled power: “There is no more death sentence!…Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God’s who justifies” (Romans 8:1, 33-4 translation altered). Paul’s purpose in writing his letter was to deliver this sermon. What happened to Christ–put to death and raised from the dead–is exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing with you in order to bring the rule of death to an end.
The evangelical discovery in the teaching of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit has two works: killing (an alien work), and creating anew, which is the proper work of Spirit–Exstinctor et Creator. Only this distinction takes the Holy Spirit out from the legal scheme and makes him a free person–which he truly is. Paul says this directly in 2 Corinthians 3:6: “who has made us proficient to administer the office of the New Testament, not of letter, but of Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (translation altered). These two works are accomplished in the two words that make the distinction of law and gospel. It was the confusion of law and gospel that led to a misapprehension of the Spirit in the world and theology. Death is not defeated by having you avert it, but to undergo it in the flesh, and then the Spirit raises our dead bodies–because when he sees the baptized dead, he sees only Christ and cannot resist raising him.