spirit

What does it mean to believe in the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to believe in the Holy Spirit?

The role of the Spirit has long puzzled the evangelical mind. For some, being “led by the Spirit means being led by some inner impulse rather than by the Spirit’s testimony to the written Word of God.” After all, who is going to argue when someone says, “The Spirit spoke to me?” This generally becomes a cheap way of substituting the careful study of the Word for a quick last minute decision baptized in spirit language. To be Spirit-led is not some impulse, nor should we dare assume our feelings are automatically Spirit-inspired. I have seen this mindset create all sorts of schizophrenic reactions in people’s lives.

On the other hand, some substitute intimacy with the Spirit for a skeptical approach to the Third Person of the Godhead: “Yes, we have the Spirit, but we don’t want to allow room for our passions and emotions. Our emotions and passions are irreparably damaged by sin. We affirm the Spirit’s work but cautiously, so we are not confused with the Charismatics.”

We need a theology that is Spirit-led: not frightened by the Spirit’s manifestation in the lives of broken people, not agnostic about radical transformation in the lives of sinners, praying that the Spirit will crush our pride and self-reliance, rejoicing passionately in the Spirit’s indwelling presence, praying in the Triune Name a lot more so we acknowledge his intercession (Rom. 8:26), speaking words of benediction often (“May God’s Spirit be with you”), filling our lives with spiritual songs in the Psalter, asking God each Sunday for a Spirit-filled worship, and desiring the Holy Spirit to interrupt our lives continually to express gratitude (I Thes. 5:18) and trusting in the Spirit-inspired Word of God to guide our lives. We are a people of the Spirit.

Counseling and the Spirit

Counseling and the Spirit

Theology is intensely intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God.” We have deeply engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a particular type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has mostly become a rarely pursued journey by the typical parishioner, has fallen into the hands of armchair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be used at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not bear fruit unless applied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God.

Counseling is necessary for theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Trinitarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter and our advocate. When others drive us to madness, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above, and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

To a great measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to enter the process. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have to be transformed from glory to glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit. It is there we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)
In the “cool” of the day…

In the “cool” of the day…

Genesis 3 indicates that the voice of Yahweh Elohim walked in the cool of the day. This post-fall image has been improperly understood. The image the author  conveys is not that there was a cool breeze in the garden. What would be the purpose of mentioning such a point? Rather, the word “cool” in the Hebrew is רוּחַ, transliterated ruwach. This is the familiar Hebrew word for “Spirit.” We are not simply dealing with a breeze here, this is the Spirit of God who shows up as the judgment of Yahweh upon Elohim. It is important to note that the Triune God is coming as witnesses against our first parents.

Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Theology is deeply intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God. We are intimately engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a certain type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has largely become a rarely pursued journey by the common parishioner, has fallen into the hands of arm-chair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be exercised at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not  bear fruit unapplied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God. Jesus’ works on earth were all practically aimed at restoring flesh-beings to a more fulfilling humanity, even to the point of restoring a man to life (Jn. 11).

Counseling is necessary in theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Triniarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter, and our advocate. When others abuse us, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

In large measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have in order to be transformed from glory into glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit, for in it we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)
The False Promises of the Early Church

The False Promises of the Early Church

Make no mistake: the early church was glorious! She was glorious like a child is glorious. She was but a babe. She breathed, moved, and had her being in God. She was a nursing infant. She had to trust in God from the beginning. But it has become almost a common practice to look to the early church as some paragon of perfection. “If only we could go back!’ The nostalgic sentiments echo through the corridors of sentimentalists. The truth is the early church was a relatively unstable body. Paul strives to offer detailed instructions. Sometimes these instructions are simple: love one another. Sometimes Paul bombards them with rebuke, as in I Corinthians. But if the early church was such a model, why then did Paul chastise and treat them as little children again and again? The answer couldn’t be simpler: because the early church was never meant to be an example to be followed in all ages. She was meant to be a foundational model. She was meant to give us the essential ingredients of life together (Acts 2:42), but not a detailed account for how the 21st century church ought to function.

James Montgomery Boice summarized well this sentiment:

Whole denominations are founded upon the idea that the prime duty of contemporary Christians is to be as much like those who lived in the age of the apostles as possible. But this is a false idealization; it is an attempt to make the early church into something it never was. It is an attempt to escape the problems of our day by looking back to something that exists only in the Christian imagination. a

This prevailing idea opposes strongly the maturational intention of biblical revelation. We were not meant to remain infants, but to grow into mature men, as Paul says. To be sure, Acts provides helpful themes of charity, mercy, communion, and more, but she was a seed, not the tree itself. The tree itself is what God is accomplishing through all ages: to form one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The Spirit of God, who has hovered over the church throughout the ages, continues to hover even today bringing the Church to greater glory and might; strengthening and building her to be that indestructible rock that will shatter the heads of the enemies.

We are not called to put faith in the Church of the past, but in the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, who reigns over his Church now, world without end, Amen.

  1. An Expositional Commentary, Boice, 56  (back)

Authorship Thoughts

Over the years both in undergraduate and graduate studies I have been exposed to a host of New Testament authorship issues. I have been bombarded with alternative authorship theories on every New Testament book. From Mark to Paul, everything has been questioned. Yet the more I ponder this issue the more confidence I have in the historical designation of these books. It may perhaps be my naive trust in the labors of our forefathers, but when I consider the 18th and 19th century motives of scholars on books like Philippians, it seems clear that their motives are not shaped by divine authorship as much as the latest critical consensus.

My thoughts on Hebrews are pretty clear, and I am willing to concede some healthy debate on the matter, but to begin to deny the authorship of Paul on what has long been considered Pauline authorship books is rather futile.

Beyond that, we believe that the Spirit of God inspired these men to write. Though their humanity is not absent in their writings, though their personalities show forth, yet they are being led by the Third Person of the Trinity. The Spirit of God can re-direct certain authors to alter their style of writing to fit particular circumstances and to minister to particular groups of people.

It also appears that in order to maintain so called objectivity and scholarship, some thinkers direct their attention away from the obvious author in order to scrutinize the book through the lens of critical scholarship. This tactic seems unhelpful and only adds confusion to the authorship question. Questions like: “Would Paul really write like this,” only accentuate the problem. The real question should be: “Our forefathers have largely accepted Pauline authorship, and if this is the case, though this language may not appear to be as consistent with other Pauline writings, could the Spirit direct this genius named Paul to write in such a way?” When such questions are asked, I believe the answer will be clearer. I am not asserting that there has always consensus in the past (Hebrews as an example), but that the majority position was generally clear (with minor exceptions).

The principle seems clear: when in doubt stick with the most obvious answer and that which has been historically prevalent.

Exhortation to Worship: The Trinity and Meaning

We have come a long way from those early centuries of the Church. Our society no doubt has fallen for the pluralistic trap. Those things which the Church fought so hard to maintain are things that the churches fear to talk about today. This is Trinity Sunday, so we are discussing a subject that is rarely talked about in churches across this country, unless it is in the context of arguing against a cultist at your front door. Even then, most people, to quote Flannery O’Connor find the Trinity so incomprehensible that it is not worth their time. But in a few moments when I call you to rise and worship God in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit, you will realize that the Trinity extends to you an invitation that is not incomprehensible to you. It is actually the only thing that makes sense.

The right question is not only what is the Trinity, but who is the Trinity. The Trinity is not just something to be explained, but someone to be adored. And when this Tri-unity calls us into worship, we are not being called by an abstract Being, but by a Personal God who reveals Himself in Father, Son, and Spirit.

On this Trinity Sunday, we are considering what it means to move, live, and have our Being in God himself. We are Trinitarians, and everything about being a Trinitarian matters to us this morning.

No matter what direction our society might take us, no matter how many gods they may offer us, we know that there is no other God, but the God revealed in the Scriptures: Father, Son, and Spirit. Apart from this God, our existence and our worship are meaningless. The Trinity is the only way the world contains any meaning, because the Trinity created the world with meaning, and to deny the Godhead is to deny meaning.

This is the God we worship; the God who gave our lives meaning, and the One who calls us into His presence on this Lord’s Day.

Meditation on the Lord’s Supper

God is filling the world with his glory. And we are called to make this glory known in word and deed. We do not attempt to make this glory known through our own strength, but by the strength of another, The Holy Spirit. It is He that makes our works fruitful; it is He that transforms and it is He that makes us ambassadors of the most High God.

At this table, Jesus provides us another reminder that God is filling his world with his glory as we partake of bread and wine in this new world. When we eat Jesus is present by His Spirit, and by His Spirit He nourishes and sustains us in all our earthly endeavors. Eat, drink, and rejoice, for the Spirit of God is among us.

A Spirit-Body

To paraphrase N.T. Wright, “much of the evangelical world has bought into the Platonic distinctions.” This distinction includes a separation between our earthly bodies and our heavenly spirits. This distinction has vast repercussions for how we are to think about our responsibilities on earth. If this dichotomy persists, then there is a legitimate sense in which we are merely existing, rather than intentionally living out our existence.

Paul is the ultimate Plato-destroyer. He wrestles the Corinthians on these fundamental points, and concludes that the psychikos and pneumatikos are phases of the body, rather than the separation of the body. When Paul speaks of the spiritual, he is not insinuating a ghostly presence, but a body fit for the presence of the Spirit. “Spiritual” is simply a synonym for something animated or dignified by the Spirit’s presence (so too, “spiritual songs” refer to songs of the Spirit, not a synonym for praise choruses).

Gordon Fee summarizes this well:

The transformed body, therefore, is not composed of “spirit”; it is a body adapted to the eschatological existence that is under the ultimate domination of the Spirit.

The spiritual does not mean “immaterial” but “supernatural.” In this sense, every form of our existence is an embodied existence.