The Holy Spirit, our Translator – 1 Corinthians 2:11-12

For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. – 1 Corinthians 2:11-12 NIV

The Holy Spirit is often the forgotten member of the Trinity, especially among the non-charismatic traditions of Christianity. Yet he plays a vital role in the life of the believer. In this passage we see one of the important activities he carries out. The Holy Spirit works to translate spiritual truths and realities in ways that I can understand.

I lived in Sicily for two and a half years while I was in the Navy. Communication was easy so long as I was on base, or hanging out with shipmates. But I ended up living out in one of the local towns and found myself needing to be able to talk to the people I rented and shopped from. They didn’t speak English. And I didn’t speak Italian, although I did eventually learn enough to get by. Communication was much more challenging. And adding to that was a culture that was foreign to me. I needed help to learn both the language and the culture.

The same thing applies to me spiritually. I am a finite human who cannot comprehend the infinite God. While he understands me, I am not capable of comprehending him; no matter how hard I might try. But the Holy Spirit comes to my rescue. He acts as my private interpreter, helping me to understand the things that come from God, as well as helping me to express myself to God (Rom. 8:26-27). To those without the Holy Spirit, God’s words to us are nothing more than gibberish. But with the Holy Spirit, they are precious and life giving.

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Dressed in Camel’s Hair – Matthew 3:4

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3:4-6 ESV

John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord, announcing the arrival of God’s anointed one. If I had been in John’s place, it is likely that I would have thought Jerusalem would be a better place to make the announcement. And I would probably have tried to make myself more presentable to the people I was trying to reach. But John did neither of those things. He setup out in the wilderness, and he dressed more like Elijah than a respectable preacher. And yet the crowds flocked to him from all over the region, and many confessed their sins and were baptized.

Today it is tempting to appeal to people using the latest in technology and the entertainment world, seeing ourselves as just one voice among many, and trying to out compete the others. But John’s example tells us that so long as the Holy Spirit is leading and working through us, and we are faithful to him, that we do not need to focus so hard on appealing to the crowds. There is nothing wrong with using technology, but the power of our message and appeal should be in the Holy Spirit, not in our professionalism or human appeal. It is the Holy Spirit who calls people to salvation, not our presentation.

The Advocate – John 16:7

“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.” – John 16:7 NIV

Jesus assures his disciples that it is to their benefit that he leave them, because when he does he will send the Advocate to them. We more commonly identify the Advocate as the Holy Spirit, but the title Advocate, or Comforter in many translations, is a very descriptive term. The word paraclete, translated here as advocate, means ‘called to one’s side’ and was used in court to refer to a counsel for the defense, an advocate. It is also used in the sense of a succorer or comforter.

I suspect that most believers would love to have Jesus physically present with us through the day. But Jesus tells us that it is better for us to have the Holy Spirit in our lives than to have his physical presence. The Holy Spirit within gives us assurance of salvation (Eph. 1:13-14), leads us into the truth (John 16:13), equips us to serve (1 Cor. 12:7-11), and enables us to live the life God has called us to (Rom. 8:9-11). Without the Holy Spirit we would be like Peter before Pentecost (John 18:17, 25-27). With the Holy Spirit we can be like Peter after Pentecost (Acts 4:13). Get to know your Paraclete/Advocate/Comforter and allow him to transform your life.

The Trinity

The Trinity is a uniquely Christian doctrine, teaching that there is only one God, but in three persons. The trinity is not explicitly taught in the Bible, but is implicitly proclaimed throughout the New Testament. This post will take a look at the scriptural evidence to support the concept of the trinity, how we came to our current understanding of the trinity, and some common analogies used to describe the trinity.

One God

The Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 begins with “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” When Jesus is asked for the greatest commandment, Mark 12:28-30, he replies by quoting the beginning of the Shema. This affirms that, at least for Israel, and Jesus, that there is only one God; they are monotheistic. James 2:19, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, and 1 Timothy 2:5-6 also affirm that there is only one God.

Three persons

Jesus talks about his Father often, and the other New Testament writers used this term for God as well. In Matthew 6:26 the Father feeds the birds of the air. In v.30 God clothes the grass of the field. In this passage Jesus is using God and Father interchangeably. The Father, distinct from the Son, is God.

In John 10:30 Jesus says that he and the Father are one. They are distinct, and yet is some fashion one. Philippians 2:5-9, in speaking of Jesus Paul says, “who being in very nature God….”, affirming that Jesus is God. John 1:1-3;14, Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4 all speak of Jesus as being God.

In John 14:16 Jesus tells his disciples that the Father would send to them another advocate, the Spirit of truth. The ‘another’ in this passages indicates one who is like Jesus; this Spirit of truth is also God. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 Paul tells us that we are God’s temple, while in 1 Corinthians 6:19 we are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God and the Holy Spirit are synonymous here.

Three in oneness

In the baptismal formula in Matthew 18:19-20, we are told to baptize believers in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Note the singular ‘name’ here rather than names. We are to baptize in the name of the one God in three persons.

In 2 Corinthians 13:14 Paul says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” All three parts of the trinity are included here without any indication of rank and in a different order than in the Matthew quotation. If they are all equal, then the order does not matter.

Formulation

The orthodox position of the trinity is that God is one being, of one substance, with three distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct, and yet of one substance. They are all three eternal and uncreated. Ontologically they are equal, even though functionally for the purpose of our redemption, the Son and The Holy Spirit are submissive to the Father.

This understanding of the trinity was slow in developing and resulted mostly to separate the orthodox position from heresies that were abounding in the early centuries of the church. The Council of Nicaea, in 325, produced the Nicene Creed which was modified in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople. This creed has been accepted as the orthodox by Catholics, Protestants, and by the Orthodox church.

Heresies

Modalism teaches that there is only one God who appears to us as either Father, Son or Holy Spirit. While they are all the one God, God is only one of them at any one time. For instance: the Father is active in creation; the Son in redemption; and the Spirit in our sanctification.

Tritheism teaches that the three persons of the trinity are actually distinct gods, although sharing the same substance. Mormons practice a form of tritheism, believing the the Father, the Son and the Spirit are distinct individuals.

Arianism teaches that Christ is the first and greatest of God’s creations, that he has a beginning and is not eternal. The Nicene Creed was developed primarily in response to Arianism. Jehovah’s Witnesses today proclaim a version of Arianism.

Analogies

As humans, we struggle with trying to understand the concept of the trinity. In an attempt to understand the trinity we have developed a number of analogies, but all of the analogies fall short and many of them are actually supportive of one of the heresies listed above.

The analogy of the egg postulates that the trinity is like an egg, which has three parts; the shell, the yoke and the white. This is actually a form of tritheism, since the three parts of the egg are of different substances, unlike the triune God whose persons are of one substance.

The analogy of water is another attempt to describe the trinity. Water can be a solid, a liquid or a gas; one substance in three different forms. Yet this is actually a form of modalism; the water can only be in one of these states at a time.

I am a father, a husband and a son; three distinct roles yet one person. The problem with this is that I function in a single role at a time; to no one am I more than one of these roles. That makes this a form of modalism.

Ultimately I know of no good analogies that adequately describe the trinity. It is not really understandable to us finite creatures and is simply a matter of faith. The Bible, while not explicitly teaching the doctrine, does affirm this doctrine, and so we accept it by faith. God is one in three persons.

Wesleyan Quadrilateral

I have recently been listening to a podcast while out walking, “Theology for the Rest of Us” by JR Forasteros, a pastor from a Nazarene church.  One of the things that he has mentioned repeatedly is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, an expression coined by Albert Outler, based on the teachings of John Wesley, now incorporated into the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline:  “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.”

So, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral identifies four sources for our personal beliefs: Scripture, tradition, personal experience and reason.  I do believe this a good way of looking at how we develop our personal theology, although I would also add the Holy Spirit into the mix.

If the Bible is not the backbone of our personal theology, then we are pretty much assured of going astray.  As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, the scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for our spiritual journey, bringing us to maturity.  If our personal theology is not well grounded in the scriptures, then we are adrift.  But the scriptures by themselves are not really enough.  In Luke 24:13-35 is told the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus resurrection.  Jesus meets up with them and begins to share with them what the scriptures had to say about himself.  Surely they knew these passages already.  But it is not until Jesus give them illumination that they understand them.  And that is what the Holy Spirit does for us today; taking the words on a page that anyone can read, and transforming them into the Word of God for us.  Apart from the Bible and the Holy Spirit’s instruction, we cannot know God.

But tradition, or the teachings of the church, also impact our own personal theology.  The doctrine of the trinity, for example, is not explicitly found in the Bible, although it is certainly implicitly found.  The doctrine as we know it today took over 300 years to come to the point where it is today.  Much of what we hold to be true concerning God and his workings in this world and our own lives has come from others who have faithfully studied God’s word, seeking a fuller understanding of God.  We are indebted to them and the work they have done.

My own personal experience in the world and with God also shapes how I view the scripture and understand God and his activity in the world.  It is important that I understand my experience in light of the scripture, rather than the other way around.  If I allow my experience to shape how I view scripture it is likely that I will develop an incorrect view.  But if I understand my experience in light of God’s word, then I can find that my experience confirms what the scriptures have to say about me, this world and God’s activity in both.

We are often afraid of reason, concerned that reason and faith don’t mix.  And yet in the passage that Jesus used to identify the greatest commandment, Mark 12:30, he tell us to love God with all our minds.  God wants me to think and grapple with those parts of the Bible, and theology in general, that are confusing to me.  Reason is an important tool that God has given to us.  But just like tradition and experience are subservient to the scriptures, so is reason.  Use reason to ensure that your theology is consistent and coherent.  Do not use reason to eliminate from the Bible the passages that do not fit into your theology.

Church tradition, personal experience and reason can be useful tools in the development of your personal theology.  Use them wisely and they will enhance your understanding of God.  Use them incorrectly and you will likely find that you have drifted from the true faith.  Keep God’s word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, at the heart of your theology and you will find yourself as a well approved workman.

 

Why the Christian God?

While there is no foolproof physical or logical proof that can be given for the existence of a supernatural deity, there are sufficient grounds for a rational acceptance of a creator.  But that is still a big step away from accepting the God of Christianity, of Islam, of Hinduism, or of any of the other thousands of religions that have existed throughout history.  How, as a Christian, can I rationally claim that only Christianity can lead to knowledge of God, and that all other religions are dead ends?

Cultural
The most common method of choosing a God is to choose, or adopt, the God that you grew up around.  This has the advantage of being easy, requiring little if any effort or thought.  Nearly every cultural group has their own concept of God and indoctrination into that concept happens early in life.  Included with that indoctrination is the belief that they have found the correct path to God, and all others are mistaken.  Yet, how valid is that approach?  Pretty much all religions make that claim, and they can’t all be correct in their assessment.  It would seem, since at most one of these religions, that teach the correct way to God, can be correct, that the odds of being born into the correct one would be pretty slim and this method of choosing the correct God would have a pretty high failure rate.

Comparing Attributes
Another way to know would be to make a comparison of the attributes of a logically derived creator of the universe with the attributes of the God of the Bible.  But even if these attributes line up, it at most will serve to not eliminate the Christian God.  There may be more than one logical set of attributes for a creator God, and there may be more than one religion that successfully maps to one of these attributes sets.  Also, it is generally beyond most people to logically derive the attributes of a creator God and to compare that attribute set with every religion that has ever existed.

Holy Writings
A third way to determine the correct God would be to compare the holy writings of a religion with the way the world is observed to be.  If these writings provide a valid explanation for the condition of the world, including the interaction of the creator and his creation, then the likelihood of this God being the correct one is greater than if that explanation does not bear any resemblance to reality.

So what explanation does the Bible offer for the condition of our world today and for God’s activity in it?  The Bible claims that God spoke the whole universe into existence and that he did so for a purpose; the purpose of producing ‘sons of God’.  The Bible claims that the general movement of people is away from God and toward satisfaction of self interest.  The Bible also claims that God is seeking people who will turn away from their own self interest and serve him via faith rather than through ritual.  The Bible also claims that all who come to God in faith will become new creatures and that he will take up his abode within them.

The creation accounts in Genesis are frequently used to discredit the God of the Bible because of the time frames used and the order of events.  But the most significant aspect of these accounts, and what sets them apart from other creation myths, is that God speaks into existence the universe and all that is in it, rather than forming it out something that already existed.  Hebrews 11:3 confirms this for the New Testament; that at God’s command the universe was formed out of what did not previously exist.  And the general consensus of the scientific community supports this, that what we see around us is not just a general reordering of something that has been in existence forever.  At the very least, there has been a dramatic reconstruction of the elements of the universe, and one that allows for no glimpse of what may have previously existed.

The thought that people will, in general, move away from God seems at first a little strange, since so much of the world seems somehow to claim to know him.  But if there is a God who created us with a purpose, it is hard to imagine that that purpose was for us just to enjoy life in the here and now, and/or, to worship God as creator.  It seems much preferable, at least to me, to picture God’s purpose as reaching beyond this short life and into eternity.  If that is the case, then when I focus on this short life, and what I can get out of it, then I am ignoring God’s greater purpose in creation.  And it is easy to see that most people, including the religious, very much live their lives as though this was all there is.  The Bible talks about sin and claims that all sin, that all have fallen short of God’s purpose.  We generally think of sin as doing something bad.  But sin is simply falling short of God’s purpose for us.  And that is something that we all do.

The Holy Spirit
I am aware of only a single religion today that teaches that God lives within the life of those who have committed themselves to him.  This unique teaching of Christianity, should it be possible to verify, would offer a much higher level of proof for the God of Christianity than anything else mentioned.  But the challenge here is to provide proof that the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God, does indeed exist and is a part of the life of those God has chosen.  Because God is not detectable using our most sensitive scientific instruments, there is no way to conduct an experiment to determine his presence.  Instead we need to use other methods to evaluate the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In proving the presence of the Holy Spirit, first of all it must be pointed out that the whole concept of the Holy Spirit will appear as foolishness to the person who does not already have his presence within.  The unbeliever may be able to detect a difference in the life of the believer, but the cause of that difference will remain a mystery.  Apart from the Holy Spirit’s help, the presence of the spiritual, or supernatural, realm will be nothing more than a silly concept.  The Holy Spirit opens up a new sense within the believer that allows them to experience the spiritual.  Just like a blind man cannot understand red, or the person with no sense of taste understand sweet, so the man without the Holy Spirit cannot understand the spiritual.

Christianity has become quite a diverse umbrella of various beliefs and practices.  But according to Romans 10:9-10 only those who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in his resurrection will be saved.  And according to Matthew 7:21, many will claim him to be Lord that he will disown, because they did not do the will of God.  The experience of the indwelling presence of God is limited to those who have confessed Jesus as Lord, believe in his resurrection and do the will of God.  To others, the ability to understand the spiritual is the same as it is for the unbeliever; it is a foreign concept.  They may accept that there is such a thing, but there is no evidence of it in their lives.

But for the one who has confessed the Lordship of Jesus and lives in obedience to God, the indwelling presence of God is a reality.  To the believer, this is evident in the ability to communicate with God and to know his response, not generally with audible words, but within the awakened spiritual component of our lives.  The one without the Holy Spirit labels this as foolishness or imagination; but to the one who experiences it, there is no doubt about the reality of it, or its source.  But there is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believers that should be evident to others around them.  Galatians 5:22-23 identifies the fruit of the Spirit, or the result of his presence within as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  While these attributes are certainly found in unbelievers, they should always be found, in increasing measure, in the lives of those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

There is little proof that can be offered to the skeptic that Christianity alone, among all religions in existence today, or in the past, is the only way to God.  I do believe it paints a logical and rational picture of a purposeful creator and that its writings do explain the condition of the world today.  But the best that can really do is to not eliminate Christianity as a valid pointer to God.  It is really only in the claimed presence of God within the lives of those who are his that we can have any assurance that we are on the right path.  While that offers little in the way of proof to the skeptic, it does offer assurance to the believer that they do indeed have a relationship with God and are on the correct path.

Sealed by the Spirit – Ephesians 1:13-14

I am sure that you have seen a TV show or movie where a person writes a letter, folds it up, drips melted wax on the page overlap and then presses a stamp or signet ring into the wax leaving an impression on the cooled wax.  This was a form of security used on important documents through most of history.  This seal provided two distinct but related services.

The first thing the seal does is provide authenticity for the letters sender.  Each important person or official would have their own engraved picture or emblem on the stamp or ring.  So to get a letter with that impression in the sealing wax would provide proof that the letter was indeed from the person claiming to send it and not a forgery.  Of course that does assume that the person receiving the letter recognized the senders seal, otherwise it meant nothing.

The second service provided by the seal was a guarantee that the letter had not been tampered with.  If someone opened and read the letter while in transit the seal would be broken and the recipient would then know that someone else had read the letter and knew of its contents, as well as potentially tampering with the message of the letter.

Paul uses this image of the seal in Ephesians to describe a part of what the Holy Spirit does in the life of a believer

When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13b-14 NIV

In this passage the Holy Spirit is the seal of God stamped onto all those who have believed.  The Holy Spirit within is proof to me that I belong to God.  And his presence should be a demonstration to other believers as well that I am God’s.  But for those who are not themselves sealed by the Holy Spirit, the seal on our lives, like the unknown wax seal, has no value; to them there is no possible proof of God’s ownership.

In the Ephesian passage the seal is not so much a guarantee that the contents have not been tampered with as it is a promise guaranteeing the inheritance of those who are sealed.  If I know the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life, I can rest assured that my future with God is secure.  The Holy Spirit’s presence is the first deposit on that life, with the remainder coming at my redemption.

This sealing by the Holy Spirit is one of the spiritual blessings that Paul has been sharing, and one that I am very grateful for.  With the Holy Spirit sealing my life, I do not have to live in doubt concerning my eternity.  Instead, I can rest assured that God will provide, and I praise him for that.

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