Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Work of the Holy Spirit

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy, by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior...” (Titus 3:4-6).

What does it look like when the Holy Spirit gets to work on his mission? What does he do? I can sympathize with James Montgomery Boice when he said, “In asking what the Holy Spirit does we sense almost instinctively that our question is nearly unanswerable.”1 A thorough answer would be immense. The Holy Spirit does everything God does, and he plays unique and important roles in salvation and in the life and ministry of the church, so here we will look briefly at some of the works of the Spirit, many of which will be fleshed out in more detail later.

The work of the Spirit in the world
We already say that Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world of sin (John 16:8). The Spirit also restrains the evil in the world (2Thes 2:7). It’s terrifying to think that this world is not as bad as it could be, but apparently things would be much, much worse if the Spirit did not prevent it. One day, though, his restraining influence will be removed. “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2Thes 2:8). But that’s a topic for another time.

The work of the Spirit in salvation
The Spirit is responsible for the “washing of rebirth and renewal” (Titus 3:4-6). When people are “born again”, it is his power that effects the regeneration, and so he is called the “giver of life.” Those who are born again, who are justified, are also sanctified 
 that is, they are made progressively more Christ-like by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:1-17). “The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus by reproducing his character in believers.”1

The work of the Spirit in believers
We already saw that the Holy Spirit is our advocate and helper or counselor. Despite the term evangelicals use, it is the Spirit who comes to live in our hearts (Rom 8:9). He also intercedes for us: “[T]he Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:26).

The work of the Spirit in the Church
We saw last time that the Spirit teaches us. He also leads and directs the Church (both as a whole and individual communities) as seen in Acts 13:2-4.

Finally, the Spirit is responsible for giving to the Church the spiritual gifts he grants to individual believers. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1Cor 12:7, cf 1Pet 4:10). Spiritual gifts are assigned to believers “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13).

The apostles tell us that there are many different spiritual gifts. Some are showy and impress people, such as working miracles or speaking powerfully. Others are quiet and impress only God, such as having a special heart for charity or service. JD Greear says spiritual gifts are “really just a specialization in an assignment given to all Christians.”2 None are unimportant. Each gift — each believer — has a role to play in building the Lord’s Church into what he desires it to be.

The Holy Spirit helps us, indwells us, transforms us, and provides the power behind the work of the Church. There is no believer who doesn’t need more of him in their life. Francis Chan said, “seeking a ‘healthy balance’ of the Holy Spirit assumes that there are some who have too much Holy Spirit and others who have too little. I have yet to meet anyone with too much Holy Spirit.”3 So ask God to give you more of his Spirit. Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

For more on this, I suggest Francis Chan’s, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.

1 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith
2 JD Greear, Jesus Continued...
3 Francis Chan, Forgotten God

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Mission of the Holy Spirit

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

God works through the actions of the Holy Spirit. When God created, the Spirit descended to hover over the earth (Gen 1:2). When Jesus' ministry began, the Spirit descended upon him to empower his work (Mark 1:10). When the apostle’s ministry began, the Spirit descended upon them (Acts 2:1-4). So, as Tony Evans says, “The Holy Spirit is not merely an addendum to the Christian faith. He is at the heart and core of it. ... Therefore, if we are going to live the victorious Christian life, it is critical that we understand the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit.”1 So let’s look at what Jesus told us about the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said the Spirit would be “another Helper.” The word rendered “helper” here is also often translated counselor, advocate, or comforter. The “another” is important, too. Jesus was telling us that this new Helper would be like the old one — himself. He is given to believers to guide and defend and strengthen like Jesus did when he was on earth. But instead of being a single individual who could only be in one place at a time, the Spirit would “be in you” so that he is equally available to all believers everywhere. Evans says, “Jesus knew that after His resurrection, the disciples would need supernatural power to pull off what He wanted them to do. And He knew where they were going to get that power: from the enabling, internal presence of the Holy Spirit.”1

Jesus also said the Spirit would “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26) and “guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). This was spoken to the apostles, and it is an important part of the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture, that the Spirit helped the apostles remember what Jesus taught them. Bruce says we shouldn’t think that the Spirit was going to reveal new truth to the apostles. “They had already been introduced to the way of truth by Jesus, and the Spirit would guide them further along that way.”2

But this is for us, too. The Spirit will help us remember the scripture that we have stored in our hearts when we need it. “Jesus believed that the Holy Spirit would be a better teacher than even he was. That may sound hard to believe, but the Spirit, Jesus explained, could apply the Word more powerfully than he did, because he could speak it into the deep recesses of our heart at just the right moments.”3

Next, Jesus said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The Spirit is our defender; he is the world’s prosecutor. “The aim of the Spirit’s work is not to produce a guilty verdict—that already stands (John 3:18, 36)—but to bring the defendant to see the perilous condition in which he stands. That may prompt him to enter a plea for mercy; for only mercy will save him.”4

Ultimately, though, the Spirit’s mission is really about one thing: “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). The Spirit’s goal is to glorify Christ. “So whenever you have anything that transcends the priority of Jesus Christ, it is not the Holy Spirit’s doing. Anytime there is an emphasis on the Spirit that supersedes the centrality and priority of Jesus Christ, it is not the Holy Spirit doing it.”1 JD Greear says, “There is a certain irony in how the Spirit operates; whenever he is really present, you are not thinking about him, you’re thinking about Jesus.”3

This glorifying Christ includes making what he taught clear as discussed above. Bruce says, “The Spirit glorifies the Son by unfolding clearly the meaning of his person and work.”2 That makes sense: We cannot glorify Christ if we misunderstand who he is and what he came to do.

Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). It is to our advantage that Christ’s presence was replaced by the Spirit’s. Our Helper is here, living inside us. He is the power of God at work in the Church and in God’s people, and we should be grateful for the gift we have been given.

For more on this topic, I recommend Jesus, Continued...: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better than Jesus Beside You by JD Greear.

1 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On
2 FF Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John
3 JD Greear, Jesus, Continued...
4 DA Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

Part of Christianity 101

Monday, January 18, 2021

Preparing Your Cubs for the World

Bear with cubs
Can your kids articulate why they're a Christian?

Mama Bear Apologetics
I have recommended the Mama Bear Apologetics podcast in the past. I finally got around to reading their book, also called Mama Bear Apologetics. The editor, Hillary Morgan Ferrer, says the idea for the book began when she realized that churches were doing a terrible job preparing our kids for a culture that is antagonistic toward Christianity. Churches need to do better, but the ultimate responsibility falls on the parents. We have to prepare our kids whether our churches help or not.

The authors tell us, "In a 2006 Barna study, 61% of twenty-somethings who had attended church as teens were no longer spiritually engaged. One study showed that 70% of teens who attended youth group stopped attending church within two years of their high school graduation!" And, no, most of them don't come back after college.

Surveys show that self-proclaimed Christian teens frequently doubt the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, doubt that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and don't know if they can trust the Bible. Surprisingly, "research revealed that Sunday school was actually detrimental to spiritual health! Kids who grew up in a Sunday school environment were more likely to have a secular worldview than those who didn’t." And it's not just college doing this to our kids: "[I]t turns out that only 11 percent of those who have left the Church did so during the college years. Almost 90 percent of them were lost in middle school and high school." The world is teaching our kids that Christianity is a myth right under our noses.

The world does not play fair. It misleads with lies that sound like truth. So we need to be able to help our kids learn to distinguish truth from falsehood and to answer the lies with truth. And this book can help you do that.

The book has two major sections. Part 1 introduces us to the task at hand and teaches some important skills. The first is "the refined art of 'chew and spit'", a name taken from the experience of eating a steak and finding a bit of gristle. We can't just shut out the world. If we try and cloister our kids in a Christian commune, they'll eventually meet the world and be totally unprepared for it. The thing to do is to teach our kids (and ourselves, for that matter), to take the good and leave the bad behind, whether it's in a movie or in a sermon (because Jesus was the only perfect preacher). This section made me realize that I should stop testing my 17yo daughter's music purchases and teach her to do it herself.

The second skill is the art of detecting "linguistic theft" — the practice of redefining words so that lies sound like truth. And example is the word "tolerance." Once defined as "the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behavior that one dislikes or disagrees with," it now means "accepting all beliefs as equally true." The world uses linguistic theft to stop discussion, vilify opposing views, and compel people to act without thinking things through.

In the second section the authors teach you to ROAR, an acronym for Recognize the message, Offer discernment, Argue for a healthier approach, and Reinforce through discussion, discipleship, and prayer. They apply this to eleven "lies you've probably heard but didn't now what they were called" including self-helpism, naturalism, emotionalism, and Marxism.

The information in this book is excellent. I'm not aware of anything quite like it. The discussions of the various "isms" plaguing our society are usually only found in much larger, more intimidating books, and the chapters on "chewing and spitting" (aka discernment) and linguistic theft are worth the purchase price alone.

My only ... complaint? regret? is that the book is marketed toward and speaks directly to mothers, "mama bears", and it teaches you to "ROAR like a mother." Because of that a lot of men who could learn a great deal from this book will never pick it up. Don't be like them. Read this book. Teach it to your kids, the younger the better.

Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2Cor 13:14).

Is the Holy Spirit a he, she, or it? It’s all too common today for people to think of the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force rather than as a person of the Godhead. The scriptures, however, insist that the Holy Spirit is a he, not an it. Even though the Greek term for “spirit” has a neuter gender, the NT authors always use masculine pronouns when speaking of the Spirit. For example, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (John 15:26).

The personality of the Spirit is also demonstrated by the things he does. He advocates (as above). He speaks (eg, Acts 10:19-20, 13:2). He intercedes (Rom 8:26-27). We have fellowship with the Spirit (2Cor 13:14).

Also, he is described in Romans 8:27 as having a mind: “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Rick Cornish points out Acts 10:38 (“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power”) saying, “If the Holy Spirit is only God’s impersonal power, Peter is speaking nonsense by repeating himself: ‘God anointed Jesus with power and with power.’”1

Most who think of the Spirit in impersonal terms do so out of ignorance, perhaps because of the pervasive influence of New Age thought in our culture. There are modern day Arians who deny the deity of Christ and the personality of the Spirit, though, and they must maintain a willful misunderstanding of the scriptures.

But saying the Holy Spirit is a person doesn’t make him God. Is he?

When the Nicene and post-Nicene era Christians debated the deity of the Holy Spirit, the go-to passage for the pro side seems to have been the baptismal formula given by Christ: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” (Matt 28:19). Just as it boggles the mind to think that Jesus would tell us to baptize in the name (again, singular) of God, his created Son, and a force, it’s incredibly unlikely (once we’re convinced of the deity of Christ) that he told us to baptize in the name (singular!) of God, the divine Son, and some other non-divine being or impersonal force. This formula strongly implies, if not requires, a trinitarian view of God.

There are other trinitarian formulas in scripture. For example, in 2Cor 13:14 (“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”), the Spirit is treated the same way as the Father and the Son. (See also, 1Pet 1:1-2, Heb 9:14, Acts 20:28, Jude 1:20-21). These passages link the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit in a way that only makes sense if the Spirit is also divine.

The scriptures also speak of the Spirit as God. Lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God (Acts 5:3-4). The Holy Spirit can be “blasphemed” (Mark 3:28-29), a term that is only applicable to God. The Spirit is called “eternal” in Heb 9:14, and only God is eternal. The Holy Spirit has a “temple” in the Church (1Cor 6:19), something only God may have. The inspiration of scriptures is said to be both the work of God (2Tim 3:16) and the work of the Spirit (Mark 12:36, 2Pet 1:21). The Holy Spirit is said to be omniscient (1Cor 2:11) and omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10). He was part of the work of creation (Gen 1:2). It should be clear that the prophets and apostles believed in the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Why does this matter? Boice tells us:

If we think of the Holy Spirit as a mysterious power, our thoughts will be, “How can I get more of the Holy Spirit?” If we think of the Holy Spirit as a person, we will ask, “How can the Holy Spirit have more of me?” The first is nonbiblical, pagan. The second is New Testament Christinianity.2

“The Holy Spirit is the point at which the Trinity becomes personal to the believer.”3 The Spirit is not a force to be employed. He is the God who lives in us and among us (more on that later). He loves you and wants to see you be all you can be. And he looks forward to the day when you will finally be fully conformed to the image of Christ. Love him and worship him as part of our triune God.

The classic defense of this doctrine is On the Holy Spirit by Basil the Great.

1 Rick Cornish, 5 Minute Theologian
2 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith
3 Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine

Part of Christianity 101

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Introduction to Pneumatology

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen 1:2).

Holy Spirit dove

The Holy Spirit appears on the first and last pages of the Bible and very frequently in between, yet he has been called the forgotten God because non-charismatic evangelicals tend to overlook him. This is inappropriate not only because he is part of our triune God but also because he is a fundamental part of the Christian life.

When God acts, he acts through the working of the Holy Spirit. When he wants people to do something for him, he sends his Spirit. The Spirit is the power for the Christian life and the work of the Church. “Without Him, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results. ... But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”1

When we think about the Spirit, we need to keep in mind that everything we know about YHWH, the triune God, applies to him just as it applies to the Father and the Son. But he has roles that he alone plays, just like the Father and the Son. So we will look at those roles and see why the Nicene Creed calls the Spirit “the Lord, the giver of life.”

1 Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

Image credit: M W via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 101