Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Permanent Pentecost (Part II)

The Holy Spirit movement has many virtues for which we can give God thanks.  The first of them is its very God-centeredness, something that is easy to get away from even while mouthing such coined cliches as “sovereignty”.  Closely related is its emphasis upon praising God in everything, as the Scripture enjoins, rather than practicing mere patience in adversity.  Attempts at real worship, especially via Bible quotations in song and prayer, is another.  We are tempted to identify worship with theological orations or even week-day work.  The Holy Spirit movement stresses the importance of Body life, in contrast to the rugged individualism that tends to intrigue us Calvinists.

Many long-neglected doctrines of Scripture are currently coming into their own.  One of them is our identification with Christ.  We are usually satisfied to limit atonement to the idea of substitution.  Similarly, we have been prone to think of salvation primarily in terms of justification: “Christ died to pay for my sins; that I might be forgiven,” forgetting that Christ is a “double cure” who also makes me a new person and keeps me from sinning.  This “new” idea also has been the subject of repeated articles in [Christian magazines], plus the reminder that Christ is our sanctification as well as our justification (I Cor. 1:30), rather than the regenerate man showing his gratitude to God for being saved.  Another example of our innate tendency to autonomism.  The hardest thing for all of us to “lick” is not sin or Satan, but sheer self.

But basic to all these is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit Himself, which has never come into its own the way that it should have.  Abraham Kuyper, writing 1900 years after Pentecost, lamented that fact as the rationale for his monumental book on the subject.  And the brilliant Princeton Professor B. B. Warfield, in that same book, says that Kuyper has by no means said the last word.  The Apostles’ Creed confesses nothing about the Holy Spirit except the bare fact of His existence.  (On this count as well as others we ought to make more use of the Nicene Creed in divine worship; like other heirlooms in the back of the Psalter Hymnal, it gathers honored dust.)  The more used Heidelberg Catechism devotes only one question out of one hundred and twenty-nine to the person and work of the Holy Spirit per se, and says nothing about His role in Creation, in my personal conception, nor his inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures.  Even more amazing is the common ignorance as to His very Being.  Many otherwise orthodox minsters are practical tri-theists, thinking of God today in essentially Old Testament concepts.  This is evident in the criticism against current Holy Spirit “over-emphasis” on the score that it neglects the first two persons of the trinity.  But Christ Himself said that He reveals only what the Father first gave to Him (John 16:13) — to say nothing of the fact that the three are more inseparable and indivisible in the New Testament than ever before (John 14:9). What is more, the New Testament Holy Spirit is not the “same” Person that He was in the Old (John 7:39).  Every Christian child knows that the Second Person of the Trinity is not identical with the Son of God as we know Him in the New.  In very related fashion, the Third Person of the Trinity has become “incarnate” in the New, has become the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the two have become wonderfully one. (II For. 3:17)  Illustrations of this union may be found in the “change” that is made in a beam of light when it passes through a colored glass, assuming inseparably the tint.  Or compare the “difference” in a girl who, upon wedlock, is no longer Miss Jones, but has become Mrs. Smith.

Take it on the personal testimony of this garden-variety missionary and run-of-the-mill Christian, when this concept of Christ’s indwelling via His very own Spirit takes possession of a person’s thinking, feeling, and believing — believe me, then for the first time you really begin to realize what the Bible is talking about when it says that we actually died with Christ long ago, and now we are a brand new person in Him. Gone is all the struggle, the self-effort, the “confession/obsession” (except to confess Christ constantly as Lord), the resolutions to “witness” more instead of letting the Light shine through and letting the Spirit take over the tongue, in understandable English.

Without it, it is perfectly possible to be living chronologically long after Pentecost (as Acts 19:1-7 sadly demonstrates) and still be operating spiritually way back in the Old Testament, wandering around in the wilderness of the world after the fashion of the Israelites, getting nowhere, when Canaan and its “rest” are so near at hand, attainable in this present life.  These things all happened, says Paul, for an admonition to us upon whom the end of the ages has come.  Let us take heed, then, that we do not deny Christ’s Spirit.  He Himself said that every sin is forgivable except that.  (Matt. 12:32))


Permanent Pentecost (Part I)

The “Holy Spirit movement” — which began way back in Genesis 1:2 is known by a variety of names.  This is not strange, for it has to do with God, whose names are as countless as they are wonderful. The moral of this first fact is that God’s work is never obstructed by the simple device of giving it a label, as some are prone to do.  Neither should we, as fellow-Christians, spend our strength in sparring over semantics, quarreling about whether to speak of “Baptism in (with?) the Spirit, vs. “filling”, etc.

The Holy Spirit movement has, over the years, inevitably taken on all kinds of different forms and expressions.  Once more, this follows from the fact that the infinite God works how and where he chooses, plus the fact that no two of His children have ever been exactly alike.  Two equally Spirit-filled Christians can be drastically unalike in their experience and demonstration of His possession.  “Tongues” and miracles do not begin to exhaust the charismatic catalog, nor should they ever be made the touch-stone of “filling”.

Like any “revival”, there is much in the Holy Spirit movement that is as old as creation, and, like the Reformation, simply re-emphasis on what was becoming sadly neglected.  There is much in so-called neo-pentecostalism that is regarded as somewhat avant-garde, when actually it is as old as the Old Testament and commanded so plainly that even he who runs can read it.  (Every Christian has had the experience of reading a given Bible passage a dozen times before actually seeing what it clearly says.)

On the other hand, there is much in the Holy Spirit movement that is as brand new as it is possible for anything “under the sun” to be.  This too is perfectly expectable and desirable.  (Matt. 13:52)  Theology and our understanding of God’s self-revelation are as  open-ended as eternity itself.  The “discover” of new truths is not disparagement of the past but rather a recognition of our spiritual heritage by building upon it.  Even a dwarf can see much farther than a giant if he is standing on the latter’s shoulders.

Deliberate Sin

If we sin deliberately after receiving the …. truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.         Hebrews 10:26

The Old Testament makes a sharp distinction between sins committed involuntarily and those done deliberately.  Old Testament believers had the “excuse” that they did not have the Holy Spirit in them to tell them what was right.  Hebrews says it is extremely serious, however, when New Testament believers fall into sin.  We have no “excuse,” for God Himself is at work within us, both to will and to do His pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

Alas, a born-again believer does sin occasionally, but, when this happens, he may say, as the apostle Paul said, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me” (Romans 7:16, 17).

God guarantees that no temptation will ever come our way that we cannot escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).  He “always leads us in triumph” (2 Corinthians 2″14).  And Jay Adams says that it is not enough to learn to cope; Christians must be overcomers.

We can’t use the excuse any more that we can’t help sinning, that it is just part of our nature.  If we talk that way, we are denying the fullness of Jesus’ work at Calvary.  He died to save us from guilt and to send His Holy Spirit to live in us.  In the power of Christ, we must now resist sin and live for God.

Our God Is One

The Holy Spirit also bears witness to us.      Hebrews 10:15

It seems strange that so “spiritual” a book as Hebrews should contain so little reference to the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps we think this, however, because we often mistake God to be three individual Gods.  Such a crude conception of God is tritheism — the belief that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are separate.

The Bible tells us that there is one God — and that He became a man.  That man is Jesus Christ. When He completed His work on earth, Jesus promised not to abandon His followers but to be with them to the close of the age (Matthew 28:20).  And His presence among His followers was realized when the Holy Spirit came to live within the church (Acts 2).

The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son and is often called the Spirit of Christ.  Paul uses this term repeatedly.  In 2 Corinthians 3:17 we read: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

It is absurd to say that we are making too much of the Holy Spirit nowadays.  When we think about the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, we are worshiping Him (Jesus), and whoever honors Jesus honors God.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then, are one.  To this, Jesus adds that even we are one with Him (John 17:20-26).

God is Talking to You

He has spoken to us by a Son.             Hebrews 1:2

In some ways it is good the we do not know the author or authors of Hebrews.  Often we may be tempted to say of some parts of Scripture, “Well, those are just Paul’s ideas,” or, “That was written only for the Corinthians.”  The namelessness of the author of Hebrews emphasizes that God is really its primary author.

What is more, Hebrews is addressed to each one of us.  That we have this special message addressed to each of us personally is extremely encouraging because each of us needs a special message from God.  As we follow Christ, each of us is at a certain stage in his or her spiritual development.  And each of us is required to advance in his or her spiritual life.

It is true, of course, that everyone who has been saved in Christ is saved completely; no one is merely “half saved.”  Every child of God is filled with the Holy Spirit, who is “given without measure.”  Still, we must grow in the Spirit to achieve full awareness of our salvation.  Many Christians have only a vague idea about what being saved means, and they do not consciously enjoy their salvation.

We must increase our fullness daily.  God speaks to us personally through the book of Hebrews so that we can lean more about His perfect salvation.


Baptism, continued (The Sacraments, Part II)

Baptism “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” can also mean nothing more than the washing away of sins, which for many people is all that salvation amounts to; a kind of ticket to heaven, which is about what the word “sacrament” really means.  It is better to use such a word as “ordinance”, a practice or ritual which our Lord ordained, instituted.

Again, if this is all that baptism represents, it might be well if we were baptized more than once, for we all keep sinning even after our regeneration, all of which sins have to be forgiven.  Some early Christians put off baptism until death was imminent (since repeated baptism was not allowed then any more than now), and the Catholic custom of extreme unction, a form of baptism or anointing at the end of life, has something of that early Church idea behind it.  (Accuracy recommends stating that this 7th of the Roman Catholic sacraments originated in the good advice of James 5:15 as to anointing the sick.  This practice is sadly neglected in all communions.)  Jesus indicated our need of repeated or continuous washing in his example of foot-washing in the Upper Room (same hour that he instituted the Lord’s Supper), and it may seriously be considered whether that pious practice on the part of some churches ought not be a third sacrament for all of us.  The Bible does not say how many sacraments there ought to be, or what constitutes one.  If it be said that sacraments have to do with our relation to God, the answer is that the Lord’s Supper has a horizontal dimension as well, and most sins, for which we have to be forgiven, are committed against our fellow human beings. (Without adding another sacrament we might well imitate the Roman Catholic Church by sprinkling ourselves [!] with water at such times as entering worship services.  While this does not depict the reciprocal nature of our repeated sinning and need of mutual forgiveness, it is an apt picture of its continuing persistence as well as God’s ongoing  forgiveness.)

But in that same situation in which Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he said plainly that there is a once and for all cleansing that makes any exact repetition unnecessary and superfluous. (John 13:10)  This was pictured in the Old Testament by the fact that in addition to the daily ablutions of hands and feet by the priests, at their ordination there was an elaborate ceremony in which they were completely bathed, shaved, and put on clean clothes.  It should be remembered – which some of the early Christians forgot – that our baptism, much like the cleansing stream that followed the Israelites in the wilderness, is a continuous thing, constantly washing and refreshing us as we move along through life. (I john 1:9)  In fact, as we all should know, future sins are forgiven by Christ’s one-time atonement as well as those of the past.  In making this point plain the writer to Hebrews asks the rhetorical question, “How many times do you think Christ was or has to be crucified in our stead?”

All this would certainly recommend immersion as a more appropriate mode of baptism than either sprinkling or pouring.  While it may not be warranted to say that immersion is the only permissible mode of baptism, if baptism represented nothing more than complete washing or cleansing from sin, it is a rather inadequate sign (poor picture) to have a baptizee touched on the head with little more than a moist finger, and even that hardly visible  to the “witnesses” outside the immediate huddle around the fount.  Many ministers are making the ceremony more visible, which is the purpose of it all; they should be encouraged to sprinkle the symbolic water on the hands and feet of the recipient as well as the head.  Are we not enjoined to present our entire bodies as living sacrifices, and do we not sing, “Take my hands…. my feet…..”?

But there is something else that the once-ness of baptism (whatever the mode) is supposed to represent, and that is our personal spiritual death and resurrection at the time Christ died and rose again, which is made literal at the time of our second birth and death to “self”, and becomes a matter of consciousness and experience as we reach maturity and discover for ourselves who we are, essentially.  There is no need to argue that for Paul this is the primary meaning of baptism.  (See Romans 6:3,4)  Jesus, of course, spoke of his death as a baptism.  (Cf  II Cor 4:10)

This being so, immersion – which happily symbolizes completeness of cleansing – would seem to be the most preferable mode of baptism on the score of its representation of burial and resurrection.  Certainly the baptismal formula should be stated exactly the way it is correctly written in Christ’s command, “I baptize you into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.  Any child knows that “the name of” is identical with the person who bears it, so that what we are saying at baptism is the person is symbolically engrafted into Christ, becomes one with him and through him with God, as Jesus prayed at the conclusion of the first Lord’s Supper.

In the Old Covenant (Testament) which is a type of the New, the symbolic death of both parties was an important element that we overlook in both the type and its fulfillment.  Parties to a solemn covenant would mix a little blood of each, as pledge of their lives to each other, and invoking death upon either or both in the event of violation.

Next post:  The Lord’s Supper (Part I), a continuation of “The Sacraments”

Holy Spirit

The similarity between the Holy Spirit and the wind or breath and air is so close that you could almost say that it is not a simile or a metaphor but it’s a definition.  In fact it’s his name.  Most of us know more Greek than we realize.  I think almost as many words come from the Greek as from the Latin, so we are using them all the time.  One of them is the word for spirit, whether mine or yours or the Holy Spirit, and that is pneuma.  Everywhere in the New Testament where you read about spirit, whether it is what Jesus gave up to God on the cross or the Holy Spirit that came from heaven.  Of course we use it in pneumonia, or pneumatic tools and so on.  Jesus naturally in talking to Nicodemus made use of that figure in John 3 when he says, “You must be born of the Spirit.”  And this is fulfilled beautifully in Acts 2 on Pentecost.

The words wind and breath and air are virtually synonymous.  Sixteen of our high school boys took part in a track meet and talking about their breath they would say, “I’m just winded.”  Or, “I got my second wind.” Or we use the expression, “I got the wind knocked out of me.”  And there was a great amount of wind that was at the track meet that had to be accounted for or reckoned with.  Records can not be established if there is a greater wind velocity than this or that.  But as I started to say, if there is no wind we don’t say that, we say, “there was not a breath of air.”  So there you have all three words, which are virtually interchangeable.  And all three of them are used to describe the Holy Spirit.  There is bound to be some overlapping as we look at these three words, much like ice can become water and can vaporize and become steam.  Just like that is often used as a symbol of the trinity, so too with the Holy Spirit as a symbol of himself, so He is air and wind and breath all at the same time.

Let’s look at the Holy Spirit first as air.  Three characteristics:  It is invisible, and it’s universal – omnipresent if you want to use that term – and it is essential.  And there you have three perfect descriptions of the Holy Spirit who is the breath or the air of God.  With regards to his invisibility, here is something, air now, which is very real. It is one of the most real phenomena in the world.  Yet no one has ever seen it.  We are sitting in the midst of it like a giant ocean but no one has ever seen it, not even with electronic microscopes.  It is just invisible, and isn’t that a perfect picture of the Holy Spirit?  No one will ever see it, at least with physical eyes, and yet we know it exists.  One of the first experiments we had in physics in high school was to weigh air and we had to laugh thinking that air had no weight.  But we found out by weighing flasks that had a vacuum with those that were pressurized that air had real weight.  So here we sit in this ocean of air, we sleep in it, we work in it.  We got to, and how we take it for granted, the way we do God, His Holy Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our very being.

He is also universal.  Water is found in most parts of the earth, but in some parts of the world it is almost nonexistent like the Sahara desert.  Air on the other hand is virtually everywhere.  One couldn’t venture into areas without air unless they had some sort of artificial air. Houdini used to allow himself to buried and through control of his respiration would be able to eventually escape unharmed.  There is air in water.  Fish through their use of gills can extract the air out of the water.  And although water is impressive in its scope with oceans that extend from California to China, it is nothing compared to the universality, the homogeneity, the commonness of air.   So that the air we are “swimming in” today may be half was across the country in a matter of hours and in weeks may be in China.  It is just one, singular.  We demonstrate the unity of the human race by the fact that we are of one blood.  Paul says to the Greeks who were rather snobbish, “God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”  So we can transfuse blood from one person to another and yet there are different types of blood.  But in contrast to that, we all breathe the same air.  The same oxygen goes into our blood.  So it is a perfect picture of the omnipresence of God.  Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go apart from your Spirit.  Where can I go where you are not found?”   We can go without bread and water, which Jesus compared himself to, but we can not go 5 minutes without air.  Is it any wonder that Jesus to Nicodemus talked about his spirit, the Holy Spirit, as air.  It is universal, indispensable and absolutely essential.  And it is free, available, unlike water.  I wonder if there isn’t poetic appropriateness in this age of culture pollution if it isn’t sort of a scientific nicety that our air is polluted, contaminated, irreversibly.  And there is something very appropriate about the statement in scripture, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Air in motion is first of all a breath like what we breathe, take in. And here we take in this wonderful ocean of God’s creation that he brought into being in paradise. Isn’t that thrilling too? It’s always new yet eternal. Changing form and reusable, same air as Adam breathed, you might say.  Now we personalize it, individualize it and call it breath.  That’s called God’s breath; the Holy Spirit becomes part of our being, a very part of us.  You don’t have to be a doctor to know that what you breathe in is passed from the lungs to the blood and taken to all the various cells in the body.  Now the amazing thing is that the air all around us wants to get into our lungs.  There is almost something alive about air.  It wants to get into our lungs and we have to repel it, keep it out.  I’m over simplifying now but one of the reasons why we can go to sleep at night and not worry about having to breathe is that it is instinctive to expel air. But it is an impulse of nature to fill our lungs.  Nature abhors a vacuum and so there is a space, a cavity in our body and air rushes in.  Then instinct takes over and we expel it but right away that vacuum is created and in rushes the air.  There is pressure in the world, pressure around us.  The air presses to get in, to be used.  You know why people are lost without the gospel, who are lost for lack of oxygen, for spiritual oxygen now, God’s breath, that He breathed into man in paradise, that he chose to reject? You know why people die?   It is because they hold their breath. They resist the Holy Spirit.  It is as simple as that.  He yearns after all men.  Genesis says His spirit is jealous of us, longs to envelop us, as He does, possess us and indwell us.  We got to pinch our noses and that is why Jesus said in John 16 that when the Holy Spirit is come he will convict the world of judgement.  Why? Because they are such bad people? Walking corpses, because they are spiritually dead? No. It is because they believe not in me, they don’t breathe.  They hold their breath.  They would rather smell the decaying offal of the world.

The wonderful thing is is that we can pass on that breath.  Or really prompt others to breathe since everyone has to do their own breathing.  We can be the means of communicating the very breath of God. In John 20, the first day of the week or actually the new creation, when things first started again as a counterpart to Genesis, Jesus first appeared to his disciples who were gathered together.  And after finishing saying, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you,” he breathed on them.  Didn’t just raise his hands over them, or body to body contact.  He wanted to indwell them, his very breath to possess them. “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.”  We have all heard of artificial respiration but do you know it is relatively modern?  When I was a boy I was in a club much like the cub scouts and we practiced the Red Cross scheme of aiding a drowning victim with them face down and straddling their back with compresses, “Out goes the water, in goes the air,” being the rhythm.  But now that is obsolete and we have improved upon it.  Even the home-made, rule-of-thumb respiration is mouth-to-mouth.  And what is one to say of inhalation therapy that has revolutionized modern medicine. We tend to think of advances in medicine in regards to surgeries or antibiotics or cancer treatments, vaccines, and so on.  But a lot of credit in surgery belongs to inhalation therapy.  Many of us wouldn’t be here without that oxygen that man has learned to can, so to speak.  And so when Jesus said to his disciples, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” he was giving them artificial respiration and they would in turn pass it on to others.

This can become power, and that is air or breath in motion.  We know that hot air rises and more recently we have become aware of the movement of air on temperature.  We have known for sometime how humidity can affect the feel of a given temperature, but now we know that the affect of air movement, which we call the wind chill in winter, can have just as much effect if not more on our comfort.  So the movement of air or breath has so much to do with our well being and that is true in the spiritual realm as well.  One of our greatest sources of energy is just this thing of moving air.  I’m thinking of the windmills that dot the landscape in the Netherlands, and it isn’t just that they are quaint and picturesque but they are kept there despite the amount of land that they occupy or require.  They are somewhat crude compared to our American windmills, but they persist in using them not because of sake of tradition but rather because every year they reclaim acres and acres of land for this nation.  Holland is growing because of the windmill.  They move oceans of water through the use of the air.  Farmers get energy to light their humble cottages because of these devices. There is always ongoing studies to figure out better ways to harness moving air, which is wind, of course.  Or air brakes that stop mile long trains just by the application of air.

Now then, applying it to the Holy Spirit who is air in motion, who is breath, who is wind – the only way in which we can be recipients of that power is to be in a right relationship to Him. You have to be in the center of God’s will, or everything that I have said about life, movement and energy and power is moot.  We’re all aware that airplanes’ flight patterns for landing change on account of the wind.  Children flying kites can stand in one direction one day and a different direction the next to get their kites in the air, depending on the wind.  Now, how often are you and I powerless, bucking the wind or rowing upstream to change the figure, just because we are not moving along with the Holy Spirit, capitalizing on His power.  That’s what Jesus was talking about when he was talking to Paul, [sic] “Saul, you are a man of motion, energy and power but you are kicking against the bricks. You should be going along with me. We are at a standstill so to speak, cancelling each other out. You are fighting my work.  Why do you persecute me?”  And then we read this pretty expression “that he who had (been) breathing out threatening” – I think it is very deliberate that the Holy Spirit who inbreathes the Bible use that expression – “breathing out threatening” – like a dragon sort of smoke and fire – “began to breathe out blessings.”

Well one form that we can exert this power, that we can share this life that we have is through prayer.  Prayer is the Christian’s breath, his native air.  And by means that we can reach around the world. We would never think of someone taking down a windmill because he didn’t have enough air to make more than one of them run.  Air is free.  You can have as many windmills as you want.  That is what the Bible means when it says, “Pray without ceasing.”  Why settle for 5 minutes in the morning or 5 minutes at night, if that.  We should always be praying.  It is our very breath.  Whoever thought of just breathing for a little while, getting hyperoxygentated, then rushing to school and holding their breath the rest of the day.  Breathe constantly.  Pray without ceasing.  And you can reach out that little windmill of yours and because you are facing the Lord, you are in tune with His power, you can change people behind the Iron Curtain and behind the Bamboo Curtain that you will never see until glory.  Artificial respiration.  Another form of this is the Word of God, which is the power of God unto salvation.  Why does this book change lives, change people, unlike self-help books that may change your thinking or lifestyle?  Books about racism may change your whole attitude towards others but doesn’t change you into those other races. What’s the difference between the Bible and other books?  The Bible is God breathed, it’s in-spired.  And so when the Gideons are distributing their books into the motels they are breathing out the gift of life.  They are a vehicle, bottled oxygen, containing God and passing it on to others.  It is said that one Bible in a motel room can reach 3000 people.  What power we possess.  We are the spiritual mid-wives for the world.  I say again, everyone has to do their own breathing.  I wish we could breath for others.  We are the spiritual obstetricians that make them spark that first breath, makes them gasp for life.  So say, “Lord,” like Saul, “what would you have me do?”  We are the nursery for the new humanity.  What an honor, what a job.  So we ought to have for our first prayer be the hymn, “Breathe on me breath of God, ’til I am wholly thine, ’til all this earthly part of me, glows with Thy power divine.  Breathe on me breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.”