Issue 16 - September 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Is the Effect of the Holy Spirit
to Unite Us or Divide Us?

Audio version:  

Common Ground
According to the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit was supposed to be a blessing from the Father to unify His children. Consider three of the apostle’s exhortations.

To the Corinthians – In his characteristic way of starting with truths he shares with his readers, Paul reminds the Corinthians that the possession of the Holy Spirit is one of the main things all of the Christians have in common. The Spirit’s divine presence should pull them together, not tear them apart. Paul observes:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by [or in] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. —1 Corinthians 12:12–13

Note the alls in these verses. Despite all of their differences, the Corinthian Christians had one thing in common, the Holy Spirit. All of them were soaked in the Spirit at their baptism and at that time, all of them received the Spirit as if drinking Him in like a desert wanderer gulps water at an oasis well. As far as God is concerned, there is no such thing as a distinction between a "Christian" and a "Spirit-filled Christian." All true Christians are Spirit filled according to this passage. He is what they all have in common.

To the Ephesians – Paul urges the Ephesians to maintain the unity God has achieved for them. He writes:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. —Ephesians 4:3–6

The seven ones that the apostle lists, including the one Spirit, constitute once more what all Christians have in common. All of them, by the way, are gifts from God, not human achievements. Paul urges us to hold on to what God has already done for us. That's what he means by "keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." His charge is not for us to achieve unity, but to hang on to what God has already achieved for us through Christ.

To the Philippians – Following a similar line of argument, Paul insists that the Philippians recognize what they have in Christ and avoid disrupting or destroying their oneness because of a desire for personal recognition or advancement. Based on the common ground they share (expressed by the ifs), Paul offers some practical wisdom:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. —Philippians 2:1–5

We could turn each of those conditions in the opening sentence into a question: Is there any encouragement from being united with Christ? Do we find any comfort from His love? Do we share in the Spirit? Do we experience as a result tenderness and compassion? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding, joyful YES! Given all of those gifts we share from God, Paul calls on us to have the attitudes and make the effort to maintain the unity we ought to have as a logical consequence of our redemption.

Unity of Primitive Church

The Book of Acts indicates that the primitive church experienced this kind of unity. For example:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42–48
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. —Acts 4:32–35
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. —Acts 9:31

The final passage in this series of quotations explicitly connects the unity of the early disciples with the Spirit, but the other two do so implicitly (see Acts 2:38-39; 4:31).

"What God Hath Wrought"
We could summarize this quite simply:

  1. Christ died to redeem sinners, all sinners!
  2. He calls them to submit to Him as Savior and Lord.
  3. To all who respond in obedient faith He gives the same gifts:
    • Cleansing from sins.
    • His own righteousness to wear.
    • His Holy Spirit as a divine presence in the heart.
    • Membership in God’s family and kingdom.
    • Purpose for living: to bring praise to God through Christ.
    • Assurance for eternity: resurrection and inheritance.
  4. Because everyone redeemed has the same gifts, they should be united.

None of us is better than anyone else, since everything we have and are we have received from God (see 1 Corinthians 4:7). God’s Unity Agenda has divine power to accomplish His purpose “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

Fractured, Splintered, Fragmented
Yet the religious world has never been more divided than it is today. A website that tracks statistics for the religions of the world,, divides the churches of Christendom into Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Latter-day Saints, and each one of these broad categories can be divided and subdivided again and again. Some estimate as many as 40,000 denominations and sects that all claim connection to Christ and Christianity.

Nor has the rise of the Pentecostal movement (starting around 1900) and the Charismatic movement (also called the Neo-Pentecostal movement and arising in the 1960s) brought about unity. Pentecostals themselves have divided into Assemblies of God, the Church of God (Cleveland), apostolic churches, and United Pentecostal Church, among many others (Wikipedia lists 37 groups under "Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America"). In addition are hundreds more sects ranging in strength from one to a dozen or more churches. Charismatics remain within the major denominations, but often they form distinct sub-fellowships.

This demonstrates an obvious disconnect between what God intended to be the effect of His giving the Holy Spirit to all Christians and what has actually happened, especially in modern times. Why is the Spirit a cause of division rather than the basis of unity? Why do some believers tend to ignore or avoid any discussion of the Spirit, while others seem to focus on the Spirit so much that other topics are neglected? What can we do to change the situation and bring about a spiritual renewal that includes broad agreement about the Holy Spirit?

We need three things for this unity to occur. First, we need to recognize our common ground: all the spiritual blessings accomplished for all sinners in Jesus Christ and applied to each obedient believer by the Spirit. Second, we must accept our responsibility to maintain this unity with the attitudes of humility and mutual respect that the Spirit prompts in our hearts. Third, we need to gain a deeper understanding of the Spirit by careful Bible study.

Choices about the Holy Spirit

I believe that a great proportion of the biblical doctrine of the Spirit can be summarized into a series of either-or questions. Searching for and finding the answers to these questions will result in a significant gain in clarity regarding the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which in turn should lead to fundamental progress in how we all can harness the Spirit to accomplish His purpose to bring believers together and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some of these questions are:

Choices About the Spirit

  1. What is the Spirit’s effect: uniting or dividing? (this essay)
  2. What is the Spirit’s identity: person or force?
  3. What is the Spirit’s contact with our world: active or passive?
  4. Is the Spirit’s outpouring exceptional or usual?
  5. The Spirit’s conduit: mind or feelings?
  6. Does the Spirit’s leading involve developing wisdom or "fleecing" God?
  7. Does the Spirit come to each believer by grace or by works?
  8. Is the Spirit’s main work His fruit or His gifts?
  9. Was the Spirit’s proof the tongues of men or the tongues of angels?
  10. Is the Spirit’s focus Christ or the Spirit Himself?
  11. Is the Spirit’s lifestyle to be satisfied or to be thirsty?
  12. Are the Spirit’s people spiritual or carnal?
  13. Is the Spirit’s deposit a present blessing or a future hope?

Series on Holy Spirit Choices
In future essays, we will seek answers each of these questions. To give you a preview, in each one of these either-or choices, I believe that the first is the correct answer rather than the second, and I will strive to demonstrate that truth from Scripture. Our study will range through the entire Bible, for the Spirit is mentioned in the first paragraph of Genesis (1:2), in the last paragraph of Revelation (22:17), and hundreds of times in between.

God wants us to reach unity about the Spirit, and if we can, then perhaps a greater unity will no longer elude us.

Whose Fault Is It?
Conclusion: God intends for His Holy Spirit to unite all Christians. If we are divided, the fault is ours, not His. The starting point for that greater unity He wants us to have is to find unity regarding the Holy Spirit.

Want to go deeper?
I highly recommend the following books about the Holy Spirit and Pentecostalism:

Bruner, Frederick Dale, A Theology of the Holy Spirit: The Pentecostal Experience and the New Testament Witness. Originally published: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970. Reprints: Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2001; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006 (still in print from both sources).

Bruner is a non-Pentecostal who nevertheless documents the teaching of Pentecostalism from its own literature and then compares it with a careful exegesis of Scripture.

Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the U.S. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971.

Synan has written a number of other books on the Pentecostal movement since this, his doctoral dissertation, was published. One of the most recent is The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001. He is a lifelong student and historian of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement and is regarded as a prominent Pentecostal theologian. He is Dean Emeritus of Regent University.

I will share more resources on the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit as this series continues.

We are still offering free books that will help you in your Bible study. Many of these books are in like-new condition, though some are more used. We are only asking for help with the shipping and handling. This is a tremendous bargain! You will get at least four books--all six if they are available. Order your books now! [TOP]


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Issue 15 – December 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

Issue 15 is here, just in time for the holidays! I hope you have a joyful one. As always, I welcome your feedback. Here is the Printable version —Steve

God at center

One of the first things journalism students learn is "the inverted pyramid": they learn to cram all of the most important points of their article into the opening paragraph. In normal English usage, the most important person or thing should go at the head of almost any list.

Biblical Greek employs similar usage: the most important item usually comes first in a list. And because, unlike English, Greek does not need word order to determine how a word is used in a sentence--it has word endings for that--it can leverage word order to indicate emphasis. The beginning and then the end of a sentence, a clause, or a list is the place where the emphasis falls in Greek. Unfortunately, we lose much of this emphasis in English translations, because the translators feel forced to rearrange the words back into normal English order.

Consider 1 Corinthians 3:9, which the NIV renders, "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building." A more literal rendering would be: "God's fellow workers we are; God's field you are, God's building." Paul is making a triple emphasis that we almost completely lose in English: God is the important One, not what we are or what you are. [TOP]

The context bears out this emphasis. The Corinthian Christians are wrangling about whose group is the best, the one that claims Paul, or that one that names Apollos, or Cephas (Peter), or Christ (see 1:10-12). Apparently, the Corinthians are in danger of splitting into competing factions or sects, each thinking of themselves as superior to the others. Perhaps their fellowship is deteriorating so much that they are discounting their rival factions and even writing them off as no longer members of God's kingdom. Whether that has happened yet, they certainly seem to be moving in that direction.

Paul's antidote to this sectarian poison is pointing all of them to God. He notes that he and Apollos are not in competition or leading rival factions. Instead, he says, "God's servants we are." Similarly, the Corinthians' organic growth as Christians is because "God's field you are." Their organizational growth is because they are "God's building."

Here is a lesson for all of us. Let's get our eyes off of ourselves--our status, our achievements, our position relative to someone else--and return to focusing on Him, the one who has "rescued us out of the dominion of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14).

Left to ourselves, we would be a barren field, a collapsed building. But God makes His chosen ones into a verdant paradisial garden, a gloriously splendid temple. Let's give the credit to Whom it belongs.

Want to go deeper?

If you want to explore other places where "of God" (tou theou) occurs in an emphatic, first position, look up these verses. You will see how in these instances also, the emphatic word order of the original does not survive the translation process. Click on the verse for the NIV rendering (except 2 Cor. 11:2, which has Young's Literal Translation):

Acts 12:22
Romans 13:4 (twice)
1 Corinthians 1:24 (twice)
1 Corinthians 2:7
1 Corinthians 6:9
2 Corinthians 6:4
2 Corinthians 11:2
2 Corinthians 11:7
Ephesians 2:8
Hebrews 6:5
James 1:1
1 Peter 2:16
1 Peter 4:14
1 Peter 4:17 (2nd time)
2 Peter 3:5
2 Peter 3:12
Jude 4

Here are two more instances, using "Jesus our Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:1) and "of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 10:26), quoting Psalm 24:1. (The Hebrew has the same emphatic word order.) [TOP]

What was God doing on the cross? The question is more than a good book title (authored by evangelical Alister E. McGrath). It constitutes a search for understanding of one of the crucial events of human history, perhaps the crucial event. The entire New Testament focuses on the death, burial, and resurrection, events leading up to and flowing from it, its theological significance and ethical implications. This essay will focus on the deep significance of the atonement, as explained from three perspectives: the dynamic, subjective, and objective views.

Dynamic view

The dynamic view sees Christ's death and resurrection as the climax of a cosmic conflict with Satan and the demonic forces of evil. Christ came as the Second Adam (Romans 5:18-19), winning the contest that Adam failed. He also came as the new Israel, faithfully keeping submitting to God instead of to Satan as the first Israel had done (Matthew 2:15; 4:4; etc.). Immediately after His baptism, the Spirit "drove" (Greek: ekballei) Him into the wilderness so that He might confront Satan (Mark 1:12). His victory there was only one of what must have been many battles, for Luke records that Satan left Him until "an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

During His ministry Jesus offered His ability to cast out demons as a demonstration that He was stronger than Satan. Although He described Satan as a "strong man," He claimed the ability to "bind" the strong man and despoil his possessions (i.e., those who were demon-possessed). His ability to cast out demons “by the finger of God" He presented as proof of the arrival of God's kingdom on earth (Luke 12:20-22). Jesus got His disciples involved in the warfare; their successful preaching, healing, and exorcism mission He afterward described as the fall of Satan from heaven (Luke 10:18).

Satan was behind the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (John 13:2, 27), his abandonment by the other apostles (Luke 22:31-32), as well as his trial and murder (John 8:40-41, 44). Jesus recognized Satan as His principal enemy, and even before His death, He was so confident of victory that He spoke of it as a fait accompli (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11, 32). The moment before His death Christ Himself uttered the triumphant words, “It is finished” (John 19:30; compare Luke 12:50). The glorious resurrection is proof that His death was a victory and not a defeat (Revelation 3:21).

In his confrontation with false teaching at Colossae, Paul presents the cross and resurrection as a triumph over spiritual enemies. The Colossians were in danger of being deceived by a syncretistic blend of Judaistic legalism, Hellenistic philosophy, and Eastern mysticism. Apparently the heretical teachers were not advocating a rejection of Jesus, but they denied Him the primacy in favor of intermediary beings. "Go beyond Jesus Christ to greater realities," they might have taught. Paul replies that there is nothing beyond Jesus Christ, in whom God’s fullness dwells. He it is Who "disarmed the powers and authorities, [making] a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15).

Not only did Christ conquer Satan, demons, principalities, and powers. He also conquered death (Acts 2:24; Revelation 5:5-6)- Paul uses militaristic terms to discuss the resurrection, e.g., “destroyed” and “victory” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26, 54-56).

Because Christ has triumphed as our representative, we share in His triumph (hence the super-conquerors of Romans 8:37). In Ephesians 4:8 Paul applies Psalm 68:19 to Christ’s triumph, picturing Christ as a conquering general returning to Rome for a victory parade: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” The ensuing passage explains that the gifts He gave are the offices for building up the church. The captives are bypassed, but Colossians 2:15 seems a fitting commentary. In 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul says that "God . . . always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him." In this case the apostles (see 1 Corinthians 4:9), and perhaps all Christians, are probably among those following along behind—themselves conquered, and yet joyously sharing in the victory celebration. Our struggle against Satan and demonic forces continues (Ephesians 6:12). Because He is victorious, we also can be victorious (Rev. 3:21; 1 John 2:14-15; 4:4; 5:4-5). [TOP]

Subjective view

It is true that we are the subjects of His daring rescue (Colossians 1:13-14), but we also participate. This is the subjective nature of the atonement: it transforms us. When we are united with Christ through faith-repentance-baptism, God's Spirit begins the process of transforming us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Spirit, Himself the guarantee that this beginning will reach its intended end (Ephesians 1:13-14}, begins to produce His fruit in our hearts (Galatians 5:22-23) as we cooperate by "walking in the Spirit" and being "led by the Spirit" (Romans 8:4, 14; Galatians 5:16). The metamorphosis is not automatic; it takes constant mental concentration as we count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). It also requires continual moral striving, as we refuse to let sin dominate us, yielding the members of our bodies to righteousness instead of to sin (Romans 6:12-13).

It is a battle we fight, yet Paul assures us, "[S]in will have no dominion over you" (Romans 6:14). The struggle leads to holiness and the end is eternal life (Romans 6:22). When Christ returns, at the eschaton, the Spirit will have performed His work in us: "[W]e shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). Though this is work that changes us from within and in which we ourselves participate, the credit still belongs to God, because it is His work being done in us and through us. He is the one that will bring it to completion on that day (Philippians 1:6). Meanwhile, we image Christ in this world. He was our representative in the cosmic conflict; we are His representatives in the existential struggle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. [TOP]

Objective view

Yet Christ's death is more than what he did for (hyper) us (see Mark 14:24; Luke 22:19-20) and what he does in (en) us (see Colossians 1:27). It also involves what He did instead of (anti) us (see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)—the objective view of the atonement. In fact, many believe that the substitutionary nature of the atonement is the most important aspect of all.

Several types of the substitutionary atonement come from Genesis. The word used in 1 John 3:12 to describe Cain’s murder of his brother is the word for “slaughter” (Greek: ephaxen), as in the offering of a sacrifice. This has led some to view the world’s first murder, recorded in Genesis 4:8, as the offering of a substitute sacrifice. In effect, Cain may have said, “So, You didn’t like my vegetables as an offering? Let’s see how You like THIS! (slash).” The murder certainly involved the shedding of his brother’s blood, for it cried out from the ground against the perpetrator (Genesis 4:10).

When the angel stops Abraham from stabbing Isaac to death, Abraham finds a ram caught in a nearby thicket that he can offer in place of (Septuagint: anti) his son (Genesis 22:12-13). The passage assumes that some sacrifice must be offered, and the one is replaced by the other. More than a hundred years later, when Joseph’s testing of his brothers created a crisis situation involving the enforced servitude of Benjamin, Judah stepped forward and freely offered himself as a substitute for his brother (Genesis 44:18-34, especially not the Septuagint’s use of anti in v. 33). In this case also, some substitute had to be provided. There was no possibility of mere escape from the demands of the master.

Yet all three of these are one-for-one substitutions, just like the “eye-for-eye” provisions of the Law. Christ’s sacrifice (one for many) is more like the sin offering in behalf of all the people or the sacrifice of the goat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 4:13-21; 16:15-19). He is the “atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He is the “Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

One for the world? How can that be just? Its justice depends on the identity of the Sacrifice. A single human deserves infinite punishment because of sins. Adding the punishment of another human adds no more than was there already (for infinity plus infinity equals infinity). The same is true for “the sins of the [whole] world.” The slaughter of the Infinite One for these sins beings one infinity into contact with the other—just payment (see the chart below). [TOP]

Our sins brought us under the curse of the law, but Christ became a curse for us by hanging on the tree (Galatians 3:10-14). Because of Christ's death, God was able to effect what Luther called a "happy exchange": we were the subjects of God's just condemnation, the objects of His righteous wrath, but the sinless Christ became “sin” for us, so that we might become God's righteousness by Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). God established Him as the propitiation, the appeasement, so that the all-consuming fire of His wrath might be diverted to Him instead of destroying the rest of us humans (Romans 3:25). As Isaiah said, "The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). [TOP]

Must we choose?

Dynamic, subjective, and objective—must we choose between them? No! By its very nature the atonement is greater than any one metaphor or perspective can contain. We must always be answering, "Yes, and much more besides." Like astronomers surveying the universe, the more we study it, the more vast it becomes. Our inability to fully comprehend its dimensions does not nullify what we can understand, nor does it rob us of the amazement we sense at what we know was accomplished. [TOP]

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We are still offering free books that will help you in your Bible study. Many of these books are in like-new condition, though some are more used. We are only asking for help with the shipping and handling. This is a tremendous bargain! You will get at least four books--all six if they are available. Order your books now! [TOP]

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Wednesday, December 31, 1969