Christianity 201

April 27, 2015

Owning the Holy Spirit

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This week at church highlighted a truth about the Jesus telling his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The first thing Jesus said would happen is focused on the world; on the non-followers.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…  (NIV)

The phrase in verse 8 you are probably more accustomed to hearing is, “he will convict the world of sin…” (NASB & others). But familiar as this is, we tend to overlook that this is directed to those we could call today ‘outside the Church.’

Instead, we think of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.

We certainly get this a few verses later.

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

The difference between this and verse eight is that we often overlook the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world at large. We forget that God is, by His Spirit, already planting seeds in the hearts of people, already making a difference by His very presence. We look at the situation of the ‘lost’ as though their salvation all depends on human effort; as though it all depends on us.

We also do this in other areas:

  • A Christian pastor has a large church but also has a unique gift of defining the gospel without using the words and phrases to which some of us are emotionally attached. His ministry is condemned because seasoned Christians are judging it in terms of how it touches them instead of how it effective it is being in the lives of those unfamiliar with Christian doctrine. It’s simply easier to attack it than to understand and embrace the pastor’s philosophy of ministry.
  • A Christian author writes a book that also uses terminology and situations not generally associated with the proclamation of the Gospel, and the book is a huge hit with unbelievers and, over the passage of time, many see it as the thing that started them on the road to genuine faith. But conservative Christians find the imagery so different from that used in the Bible that they condemn the author as a false teacher, ignoring the potential that God can and is using it.
  • A member of my church has a great 1:1 evangelism ministry with people he knows from the shop floor of his workplace, and his weekend hobby as a biker. As a result, he often meets people to discuss spiritual interests in a local bar. He is roundly criticized by other people in the church for the inappropriateness of the context where his witness and discipleship conversations are taking place, who fail to see the fruit of the ministry.

You get the pattern. But if the Holy Spirit of God was first sent to the world to convict of sin, we have to realize that we, the religious set, don’t own the Holy Spirit.

Yes, He is a gift to the believer and to the Church, but the Holy Spirit is also a gift to the world.

 

 

 

March 23, 2015

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the First Testament

Haggai 2:5 NIV ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

This is part one of a four part series author Bren Hughes has been running on The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible. (Terms like Hebrew Bible, First Testament or First Covenant are to be preferred over the use of Old Testament.) At the bottom of the article you’ll see the links to the other parts.

The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible (1)

Although my book, Heaven’s Muscle, is structured around my own journey of spiritual discovery, the heart of the book is the biblical theology of the Holy Spirit.  This series of blog posts allows me to spend a bit more time looking at each of the biblical texts and topics that contribute to a complete biblical understanding of the behavior of the third person of the Trinity.

While I was a campus minister, I decided to study every verse in the Bible that could be understood as a reference to the Spirit.  I was completely shocked by the sheer quantity of biblical references to the Spirit — especially in the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament).  I’ve read other bloggers say that the Spirit is “largely absent” from the Old Testament, but this is demonstrably untrue.

And one of the most interesting things I noticed was how the Spirit passage in the Hebrew Bible almost perfectly foreshadow what the Spirit will do through Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament.  The key difference is that, while being filled with the Spirit is rare in the Old Testament, it is ubiquitous in the New Testament.

To better convey what I’d found in a digestible format, I organized the fruits of my study into a series of topics that focuses on the functions of the Spirit as described in the biblical texts.  My interest here is not on metaphysics, but on the Holy Spirit’s role in God’s story and his effects on the world and God’s people.  This is a practical study, not a philosophical one.

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisI hope this will be interesting and inspiring.

I believe the Bible should be the starting point for all discussions of the Spirit.  The Bible is a collection of texts spanning hundreds of years written by people with profound experiences of God’s Spirit.  I believe that God providentially through his people compiled and preserved this collection of books because of their lasting value and spiritual authority.  I therefore want to make sure that my views on the Holy Spirit conform to what the biblical writers tell us.

I also believe the Spirit is at work today, just as he was in biblical times, and that a thorough understanding of the bible’s spiritual teachings can inoculate God’s people against distorted expectations.

Let’s begin with a brief look at the word “spirit” itself.  The basic meaning of the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma — the words translated “spirit” in English Bibles —  is “air in motion.”  The NIV translates ruach as “spirit” 176 times, “wind” 79 times, and “breath” 31 times.  Ruach is also sometimes used metaphorically for the heart, the mind, and various emotional states.  I suggest the biblical writers seized this idea of air in motion to conveys the mysteriousness of God, of other supernatural beings, of the human intellect, and of the animating life force (the “breath of life”). Like the wind, these invisible forces that can be called “spirit” are immaterial, yet powerful.

The Hebrew Bible also describes the Holy Spirit as a divine presence to some degree distinguishable from YHWH (YHWH is the Hebrew Bible’s name for God, typically translated in English Bibles as “LORD”).  Generally, YHWH dwells in heaven, or in his temple, while the Spirit is poured into or on people.  The first category for this study is thus the Spirit as YHWH’s presence on earth.  Here are some key passages that convey this function of the Spirit, i.e., spreading or mediating the presence of the Creator:

  • Many readers notice that, at the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2).
  • Before the Flood, God says his Spirit will not contend with men forever, for they are mortal (Genesis 6:3).
  • Where can one hide from YHWH’s Spirit, the psalmist rhetorically asks (Psalm 139:7)?  The answer is nowhere.
  • YHWH’s Spirit will gather the animals that live in the ruins of Edom (Isaiah 34:16).
  • Isaiah observed that God’s Holy Spirit was set among the Israelites, yet they grieved the Holy Spirit in their rebellion (Isaiah 63:10-11).
  • “My Spirit remains among you,” YHWH says to the remnant of the Jewish exiles who are rebuilding the temple (Haggai 2:5).
Thus, while biblical authors often felt a physical distance between themselves and YHWH, the presence of YHWH’s Spirit (his breeze, his breath) meant that mankind had not been abandoned.  His Spirit was everywhere.  And yet, the Spirit also had its own personality.  It could be grieved.  It wrestled with humans.  Through his Spirit, YHWH (whom the Hebrew Bible typically depicted as an ancient near eastern monarch) moved over the earth and settled among his chosen ones.
Second, also from the beginning we see the Spirit’s Association with Water.  Here are some examples:
  • During the creation of the earth, the Spirit of God hovers over the primeval waters (Genesis 1:2).
  • In the future kingdom (or perhaps post-exile), Isaiah prophecies that the Spirit will be poured upon the people from on high, bringing fertility to the land (Isaiah 32:15).
  • Employing a parallelism between spirit and water, God says, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.  They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.” (Isaiah. 44:3).
  • For references to the Spirit being “poured out” on all Israel, see also Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; and perhaps Zechariah 12:10.
  • Ezekiel 36:25-27 also speaks of a cleansing water which precedes the reception of the Spirit.
Air and water are both liquid.  They move, they fill spaces, the can act unpredictably.  The Bible uses both metaphors to describe the Spirit’s behavior.

Third, in a related matter, we find the Spirit’s Association with the act of Creation.

  • The Spirit of God hovers over the primeval waters (Genesis 1:2).
  • A psalm observes that God’s creatures come into being when he sends his Spirit (Psalm 104:30).
  • Elihu remarks to Job that “The Spirit of God has made me” (Job 33:4).
Just like the Father and Son, the Spirit is depicted as a Creator.
Even with these first three observations, we can see how the Hebrew Bible’s Spirit texts prefigure what we find in the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit is God’s presence among his people, and where the Spirit is associated with water baptism and with creating new life, specifically God’s process of making Christ’s followers into new creations.
May the Spirit be profoundly present in your life.  May he cleanse you, quench your thirst, and continually make you a new person.
Click here for Part II
Click here for Part III
Click here for Part IV
 

Bren Hughes (M.A., M.Div., J.D.), is a lawyer and former minister who blogs at BrenHughes.com and recently authored Heaven’s Muscle: Unleashing the Power of the Spirit Within You.

 

January 25, 2013

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today

One of the joys of producing this rather unique approach to devotional reading is that we get to include material from a broad range of doctrinal viewpoints while at the same time insuring that our readers don’t get liberal theology mixed in Evangelical teaching.  Today is no exception.  The view expressed here on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit — the side to which I am somewhat inclined — stands in contrast to the cessationist view that says the supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased at the end of the apostolic age.

I encourage you to read this at source. You’re somewhat on your own today for scripture look-ups; I recommend Bible Gateway.  The post is from Scott at The Prodigal Thought and is titled Seven Reasons The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today.

I am one who unashamedly believes that God still speaks today. You can call me charismatic. Or you can identify me by the more politically-correct theological term known as continuationism. But I believe God still speaks-reveals-communicates today, as he always has done and will continue into the age to come.

Why would I believe such?

I list 7 reasons below:

1) God is an actual living, personal being

Almost every Christian would uphold this statement. And, so, one would only expect a living, personal being to be a communicator, a speaker. I am not sure I need to quote a lot of proof texts (though I could). But it is simply a theological deduction from reading the entirety of Scripture.

Living, personal beings are communicators in so many ways. And so, why would we expect anything less from the eternal personal being? Thus, he will continue to communicate, speak, reveal, unveil, illuminate, until all things are completed. Well, and then he will keep speaking even after all things have been renewed in Christ!

2) Christ is the charismatic prophet and his body is to follow

When I use the word charismatic, I mean it in the sense that Roger Stronstad defined it in his work, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke:

I use the term “charismatic” in a functional and dynamic sense. By “charismatic” I mean God’s gift of His Spirit to His servants, either individually or collectively, to anoint, empower, or inspire them for divine service. (p13)

And, as the living Word, Christ was the greatest prophet to ever exist. Yes, greater than Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah. There has been none like him who spoke and revealed the Father as he did.

Therefore, if Christ is the great charismatic prophet, then by nature, his body is to follow in those same footsteps. The body follows the head. It’s part and parcel to our calling in Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone is particularly marked out as a prophet today. Of course not. But, via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowering, Christ expects his body to get on with completing that which he initiated. Christ is still continuing that which he began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). Thus, we are now not only a priesthood of all believers, but also a prophethood of all believers.

3) The Spirit continues the same work of Christ

This really connects with the former point, but it’s the Spirit who continues the work of Christ. It is he that comes to empower the people of God, all that we might be vehicles by which Christ continues his work. I know this sounds like the A, B, C’s of pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit), but the charismatic Christ sent the charismatic Spirit to gift the charismatic ekklesia-church. One cannot get away from the reality that the work Christ began so long ago was to continue through the current age.

4) The positive affirmation in Scripture that such gifts would continue

I share much more here, but suffice it to say that there are actual Scripture passages that teach such works and gifts would continue. In the article I have linked to, I specifically take time to look at four positive Scriptural affirmations: John 14:12; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; and Ephesians 4:11-16. There are plenty more one could look at and consider, but those are a very solid starting point as to specific passages.

5) Inaccurate interpretation from cessationists

There are the ‘usual suspects’ passages brought up by cessationists. These passages become pointers as to why certain gifts (or ‘sign gifts’) would cease once the full testimony of Christ and the gospel was completed in the New Testament canon. But that’s just it – Scripture actually doesn’t tell us to expect some gifts to cease.

Four very often quoted passages are 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 1:1-2; and Hebrews 2:3-4. I have spent some time considering these passages in this article, which you can click to read more thoughts if you’d like.

As a side point, it is also quite interesting to note that phrases like ‘word of the Lord’‘word of God’, or ‘word’ do not usually refer to the graphe or written Scripture. It can refer to such, but not normally. God’s word – not just that in the text of Scripture – was always being spoken, even if it wasn’t recorded in the canon of Scripture (e.g., 1 Sam 10:10-13 and 1 Tim 1:18-19). Again, it’s part and parcel to be a living, personal being that desires to communicate. Here are some other examples below where the above phrases do not refer to the written Scripture:

  • Word of God – Luke 3:2
  • Word of God – Acts 4:31
  • Word of God – Acts 6:7
  • Word of God – Acts 12:24
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 13:44, 48-49
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 19:20
  • Word of the Lord – 1 Thess 1:8
  • The are countless times the word ‘word’ arises and does not refer to Scripture

6) God spoke through those who were not prophets or apostles

Even if one wants to argue that apostles and prophets do not exist today, there are still plenty of examples of others who were used to speak forth prophecy or used in other extraordinary gifts. Here is a smattering from the New Testament:

  • Stephen (Acts 6:8)
  • Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
  • Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
  • The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
  • Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
  • Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11) – he was not an apostle, but was a prophet
  • The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
  • The Galatian believers (Gal 3:5)
  • The Corinthian believers (1 Cor 14)

This should give courage to those of us who are not actually apostles or prophets (most of us!). God wants to utilise his people in such ‘charismatic’ activities since he has been doing such from the beginning.

7) The great testimony of the charismata in church history

I have already written on this topic before, which you can find here. But suffice it to say, there are plenty of examples of God, by his Spirit, speaking and acting out the charismata as found in 1 Corinthians 12.

And, a great resource to look at would be The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal by Vinson Synan. He takes time to chronicle what has happened over the past 100 years or so with the rise of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. In today’s world, it is estimated that there are some 500 million believers associating themselves within the Pentecostal, charismatic or neo-charismatic branches of the church. And the accounts of God’s activity by his Spirit continue on into the 21st century.

Also, another book I have been made aware of, but have not yet been able to read, is Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church by Ronald Kydd.

So, suffice it to say, I find it extremely hard to argue for the cessation, or ceasing, of certain gifts of the Spirit. For me, there is an overwhelming biblical, theological and historical positive case for the continuation of such.

~Scott Lencke

August 5, 2012

The Holy Spirit Prays for Us

I found this article through Dwight at the blog Strengthened By Grace.  I’ll let him introduce it:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26)

That verse should bring much comfort to every Christian heart. We have a Helper in our prayers!  Why is that so important. As this verse points out we are weak and we are ignorant.  And from other Scripture we know the Spirit is powerful and knows all things.

Paul Tautages expands on the above thoughts in “The Spirit’s Silent Prayer Ministry.”

 

Here is the article:

The Spirit’s Silent Prayer Ministry

by Paul Tautges

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Just as creation groans, waiting for the fullness of redemption; and as believers groan, waiting for redemption from their earthly bodies; so the Holy Spirit groans in prayer.

The Holy Spirit prays for us because we are weak.
The Spirit who resides within us as believers in Christ “helps” us, that is, He comes to our aid, rescues us, and helps to carry our heavy burden. This is the ongoing ministry of the Spirit in our “weaknesses,” our human frailty. It is significant for us to realize that physical, emotional, and spiritual weakness reveal human frailty, but are not necessarily the result of sin. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, experienced human frailty, which is partially what qualifies him to be our High Priest who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” yet he never sinned (Hebrews 4:14–15). The omniscient Holy Spirit knows our weaknesses as well and it this same “Spirit of adoption,” whom we have received from God, “by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).

The Holy Spirit prays for us because we are ignorant.
Often we “do not know what to pray for” (v. 26). Sometimes we are aware of our ignorance¸ like the disciples who said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). And sometimes we are blind to our ignorance. For example, when the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with their mother to demand a position of leadership, Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).

The Spirit prays for us because our knowledge is incomplete. Matthew Henry writes, “We are short-sighted…like foolish children, that are ready to cry for fruit before it is ripe and fit for them.” One of my young daughters loves to eat pears, but she does not know how to tell when they are ripe. As a result, she will often grab a hard, green pear off the kitchen counter, take one bite, and leave the rest behind, claiming “it is too hard.” We often do the same. We want the “fruit” that God is preparing for our future, but we want it now, before it is ripe. We do this because we are ignorant of what is best for us and, therefore, don’t know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit is not ignorant—and He prays according to perfect knowledge. He prays with “groanings too deep for words.” The Spirit pleads on our behalf in longings that are verbally inexpressible. This is his silent prayer ministry.

The Holy Spirit prays for us because God’s knowledge is perfect.
The passage continues, “he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit” (v. 27). The omniscient Father already knows what the Spirit is thinking. That explains why there is no need for the Spirit’s groaning to be verbalized. The Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and the Father knows the thoughts of the Spirit. The two are always in full agreement. Since the thoughts of God are revealed by the Spirit in words (1 Corinthians 2:13), his prayers never contradict the written Word, the Bible, which he inspired (2 Peter 1:21). This is crucial for us to understand since we can be guilty of fleshly prayer that is not always in sync with the will of God. R. C. Sproul writes,

Professing Christians often ask God to bless or sanction their sin. They are even capable of telling their friends they have prayed about a certain matter and God has given them peace despite what they prayed for was contrary to His will. Such prayers are thinly veiled acts of blasphemy, and we add insult to God when we dare to announce that His Spirit has sanctioned our sin by giving us peace in our souls. Such a peace is a carnal peace and has nothing to do with the peace that passes understanding, the peace that the Spirit is pleased to grant to those who love God and love His law.

Here is where the Spirit helps us immensely. We often fail to pray according to God’s perfect will. We may pray with our mouths, “Thy will be done,” but mean in our hearts, “My will be done.” The Holy Spirit does not possess the same inconsistency. He always intercedes according to the will of God!