Incarnation Vs. Indwelling

As an objection to the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every obedient believer, some argue that such a personal indwelling would be an incarnation, of which, they claim, there has only been one; namely, the case of Jesus of Nazareth. What follows is my response to such thinking.

Only One Incarnation

I, too, believe Jesus of Nazareth to be the only incarnation. However, my use of the term “incarnation” comes with a caveat. Because the term is nowhere used in the Scriptures, but is, nevertheless, a word that stands for the divine Logos becoming flesh (John 1:14, NKJV), how we are using it is vitally important. In Webster’s definition of the subject at hand, he says it refers to “the union of God and man in the person of Christ” (New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, Lexington Publications, 1992). I have no problem with this definition as I believe it correctly identifies the scriptural idea being discussed. However, under the same word, Webster’s list as one of its definitions as “an embodiment” (Ibid.). So, if you’re using incarnation as “an embodiment,” then such a definition would include the indwelling of the actual Holy Spirit in our bodies. But, if you’re using the incarnation to refer to “the union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ,” then it would be wrong to say that our bodies being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is an “incarnation.”

Equivocation

One meaning of “to equivocate” is to use “the double meaning of a word” to one’s advantage. Therefore, for one to insist on using the two very different definitions of incarnation mentioned above as if they were interchangeable, especially after such a difference has been noted, opens one up to the charge of equivocation, which no Christian would knowingly engage in. Anyway, when it comes to the bottom line, the point is not what Webster’s has to say about the term “incarnation,” but that the Bible means by “became flesh.” As surprising as it may sound to some, the thing that makes the Incarnation the Incarnation is not that deity indwelt flesh, but that deity (viz., the divine Logos) became flesh (i.e., human—viz., Jesus of Nazareth). John does not say the Logos entered into a man or dwelt in a man or filled a man. Instead, he says He became a man. This is why the Scriptures point out that anyone who denies Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is exhibiting the spirit of the Antichrist (1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7).

Many Indwellings

There is only one Incarnation. God, in the person of the Logos, “became flesh” and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth. He wasn’t always Jesus of Nazareth. That’s who He was (and still is) when He became flesh. That is far different than Allan Turner, along with other Christians, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I’m not God incarnate; I’m Allan Turner who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When indwelling me and other Christians, the Holy Spirit does not become flesh. That is, He does not become anything other than what he is and always has been. That is far different than the Incarnation. Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit does not make me the Holy Spirit nor does it make the Holy Spirit Allan Turner. There are many such indwellings (1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 8:9), but only one Incarnation.

Conclusion

Therefore, I see no validity to the “Why isn’t the indwelling of the Holy Spirit an incarnation” argument.

The “Only In And Through The Word” Bunch

Having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:5).

Alexander Campbell’s favorite philosopher was John Locke (1632-1704). He is one of mine as well. But I am afraid that Locke’s rationalistic approach (viz., empiricism) unduly influenced Campbell. Consequently, Campbell rationalized the working of the Holy Spirit in conversion, limiting His influence to the written Word. It was Campbell’s belief that “if the Spirit of God has spoken all its arguments” in the Bible, then “all the power of the Holy Spirit which can operate on the human mind is spent” (The Campbell-Rice Debate, Henry Clay presiding, Lexington,
Kentucky, 1843, which was Mr. Campbell’s last public debate). It is not surprising, then, that Campbell’s son-in-law, close friend, and biographer, Dr. Robert Richardson, who preached Campbell’s funeral, wrote the following in a letter to Isaac Errett:

The philosophy of John Locke with which Bro. Campbell’s mind was deeply imbued in youth has insidiously mingled itself with almost all great points in the reformation and has been all the whole like an iceberg in the way—chilling the heart and benumbing the hands, and impeding all progress in the right direction (Goodnight’s transcript of Richardson’s private papers; a letter from Bethphage, July 16, 1857. Also Cloyd Goodnight and Dwight E. Stevenson, Home to Bethphage: A Biography of Robert Richardson, 1949, page 122).

Although I am not convinced that Richardson, rather than Campbell, had a better grip on the “right way,” I do believe Richardson was right in rejecting the “Word alone” vs. the “Spirit alone” dichotomy that had arisen in the Restoration Movement. But before anyone thinks me an enemy of Campbell (and some have), please understand that I hold him and most of his work in high esteem. And although I think Campbell was right in trying to counter the “better felt than told experience” of the Calvinists, who taught that one was saved by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit apart from the Word of God, his conclusion was, in my opinion, quite incorrect. The Holy Spirit certainly works through the Word (i.e. Scriptures) in conversion. In fact, no one can be converted apart from it. But, and this is very important, the Bible nowhere teaches that the Holy Spirit is limited to working “only in and through the Word.” Unfortunately, this is a mistake many among us have continued to make. Some have even taken the next step and are teaching that “God [viz., the totality of Who and What He is] works only in and through the Word today.”

An Example

While discussing the continued activity of demons today with a fellow preacher (and I’m not talking about demon possession), I pointed out that the Bible says we are engaged in a battle “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). I pointed out that it had been prophesied that some would give heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). In connection with this, I mentioned the Bible teaches there is a wisdom that is derived from demons (James 3:14-17), and that the battle we are engaged in seems to be centered on the mind (Acts 5:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3; 2 Timothy 2:26). It was my point that these passages teach us that the Devil can fill our hearts, blind and corrupt our minds and, by the use of deception, take us captive to do his will. But according to this preacher, such was true only during the miraculous age. Satan and his agents, he claimed, can no longer do these things today. When asked why, he replied, in part, that God worked only in and through the Word today and, therefore, if Satan and his agents were allowed to influence our minds, then they would be more powerful than God.

This is exactly the kind of thinking I am trying to pinpoint. Where does the Bible teach, either through direct statement, approved example, or necessary inference, that God works only in and through the Word today? Where is the teaching that says God cannot influence our minds apart from the Word? Of course, one may counter by asking, “Where is the passage that says God does influence the mind independent of the Word?” This is a good question. In answering it, I call your attention to James 1:5. In this passage, we are taught that God gives wisdom to His children when they ask for it. Notice that this wisdom comes as a direct result of prayer, not study—although I believe it is safe to conclude this happens in a way not totally divorced from a serious study of God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible teaches that God can, and does, somehow influence the mind apart from the Word—and by this I mean the Word as the agent. If this were the only passage we were able to cite, it would prove, quite conclusively, that God is not limited to working only in and through the communicated Word today.

Modern Sadducees

I am afraid that many, “not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God,” have become nothing much more than modern-day Sadducees (Matthew 22:29). Like the Deists, these seem to worship a God who no longer actively works in His creation. Their secularized gospel, although it sometimes gives lip-service to God’s providence, says that when good things happen, they happen because of chance, accident, planning, or work. In such matters, God’s providence is not really taken into consideration—after all, “God works only in and through the Word today,” they say. Likewise, when bad things happen, they happen for the same reasons. Satan’s activities are simply not factored in—after all, if Satan were directly involved, then he would have more power than God. Why? “Because God,” they remind us, “works only in and through the Word today.” Such teaching may seem orthodox to more than a few Christians, but I am convinced it has its roots in Locke’s 17th-century rationalism. The following examples come from Wayne Wells, a gospel preacher, concerning exchanges and conversations he engaged in with several  preachers of the gospel:

In an email exchange, one preacher from a western state claimed the only thing Christians can ask from God is the forgiveness of sins. He said we can thank God for what He already created but cannot ask Him to do anything else or that would be a miracle. He wrote, “No, I do not believe in any kind of material or spiritual providence by God, Christ nor the Holy Spirit in this day and age” (Wayne Wells, “Campbellism vs. Prayer,” re:thinking magazine,
April 2006, at www.allanturner.com/magazine/Wells009.html).

He went on to say:

In a conversation, several preachers from a northern state claimed the only way God can influence nations is by His Word. They said the citizens will either obey or reject the Scriptures. If they obey, they will be honest and hard working so the nation will prosper. If they reject the Scriptures, they will be lazy and dishonest and cause the nation to crumble, and this is the only influence God has over the nations today! (Ibid.).

Ending that section of his article, he rightly concluded:

Such Biblical ignorance and perversions are breathtaking in their implications. How did a people become so ignorant of the hand of the Lord? God asked Israel, “Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?” (Isaiah 50:2). They had no faith that God worked in their lives. The lack of understanding today proves again there is no new thing under the sun.

It is disappointing there are 21st-century Christians who are more comfortable with naturalistic rationalism than they are with the supernaturalism taught in the Bible. This ought not to be.

God’s Providence

If we are going to teach that God’s providence is real, and that prayer is, in fact, effectual, then we must not teach that God works only in and through the Word today. As Sovereign of the Universe, God exercises control over nature, nations, and individuals. Currently, Jesus Christ rules as “Lord of lords.” The Bible says He has all authority in heaven and on earth (John 17:2) and “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). Are we to think that He does this only in and through the written Word? Surely we can see how such thinking would dethrone the Lord in the minds of such folks. Moreover, the very fact that we exist proves that God is actively at work in His creation, for it is “in Him [viz., Jesus] all things consist” or hold together (Colossians 1:17). Without Jesus’ continuing work, everything would simply disintegrate.

Furthermore, in addition to general providence, there is the special providence promised to the church. Paul tells us that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), and that He provides us with all our needs (Philippians 4:19). He tells us that we always have “sufficiency in all things” (2 Corinthians 9:8-11). In Matthew 6:23-33, the Lord Himself says that those who will put the kingdom of God first in their lives will have all their physical needs taken care of. Are we to think that this will happen only in and through the Word?

Indeed, the Bible teaches that Christians ought to study and pray. But, if God today works only in and through the Word, then we ought, in all honesty, to quit praying and use this time for more Bible study. If not, why not? In truth, Restoration slogans and ideas, even when they come from esteemed brethren, are useful only as long as they reflect the truths taught in God’s Word.

But How About Miracles?

Some believe that in order for God to be actively at work in His creation today He would have to be performing miracles. This view seems to ignore the fact that most of God’s activities in both the Old and New Testaments were non-miraculous. The story of Joseph is but one of the many examples of this. Although men, with all their lusts, jealousies, and deceptions, were exercising their free wills in the matter of Joseph, he could say, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20; 45:5-8). Further, the Bible attributes David’s success against the lion, bear, and Goliath to the help of God (1 Samuel 17:37, 45-47). Are we to label these “miraculous”? The Scriptures teach that the Lord was able to work a great victory through Shammah when he stood in his own bean field (2 Samuel 23:11-12). Where was the miracle? Consequently, when we stand in our own bean fields today, can’t God work victories through us without performing miracles? And when He does so, is it correct for His followers to claim He is working only in and through the Word?

The Bible tells us that God can deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3) and open doors of opportunity for us (1 Corinthians 16:7; Colossians 4:2-3; Revelation 3:8). Can He? Does He? By faith, we can say, “Yes!” Does God need to perform a miracle to do so? Most certainly not! Therefore, those who believe and trust in the Lord can confidently sing, “Lord I believe, yes, I believe, I cannot doubt or be deceived; the eye that sees each sparrow fall, His unseen hand is in it all.”

In contemplating the majesty of Jehovah, Jack Cottrell, in his excellent book, What The Bible Says About God The Ruler, wrote:

Who is this God who holds the entire universe in the palm of his hand, and preserves it from oblivion by the mere force of his will? Who is this One whose power and presence penetrate and envelope every particle of the cosmos? What kind of God holds the reins of nature so that clouds turn, snow falls, thunder roars, and stars explode at his command? What kind of God knows every star and sparrow by name, and cares about them? What kind of God is this who can endow the crown of his creation with free will and still maintain constant control over the events and flow of history? How shall we describe the God who turns kings’ hearts wherever he wills; who metes out life and death, blessing and calamity, whose power bursts forth in signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth? (1984, page 265).

How thankful we ought to be that this one true God is our God. We must not think, say, or do anything that would take away from His glory and majesty. Limiting Him to working only in and through the written Word does just that, and is, I am convinced, a serious mistake.

Therefore, let us not be guilty of limiting the Lord of the universe to working only in and through the Word today, thereby making Him just another of the sham gods of man-made religion.

A Review Of Our Own Sham Gods: Taking A Look At The God Who Must Be Either Here Or There (Conclusion)

The Indwelling of the Spirit

It is only God, by virtue of who He is, who is free from the constraints of the space-time continuum. The God who is not so free can never be anything more than a small “g” god. It is simply not possible the one true God can be divided or torn asunder. Anyone who thinks so, no matter what position he takes on the Holy Spirit, is not honoring the God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. It is impossible for the omnipresent God to be “scattered… into thousands, perhaps millions, of fully functional, self-contained, independent units, each one the perfect clone of all the others.” In fact, the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible is a God who could make Himself known in a million simultaneous theophanies and still be present to all the rest of creation at the same time. He could indwell a multitude of Christians equally, and all at the same time, without diminishing Himself in the least. He can do all this not because He is a spirit, but because He is God, the uncreated Spirit, “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God” (1 Timothy 1:17; Jude 25).

Christians, particularly those who teach God’s Word, must not transfer to God any of the creaturely limitations. As the Creator, He simply isn’t subject to them. Along these lines, I find it interesting that modern science, which hasn’t always been friendly to the Creator, has started to bow in His direction. Although I believe “big bang” cosmology to be inconsistent with the Biblical account of creation and thus wrong, it is interesting to hear scientists conclude that time and space came into existence at “the beginning” of the universe. The British physicist, Paul Davies, typifies what I’m talking about:

If we extrapolate this prediction to its extreme, we reach a point when all distances in the universe have shrunk to zero. An initial cosmological singularity therefore forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. For this reason most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event, the creation not only of all the matter and energy of the universe, but also of spacetime itself (“Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology and Black Hole Evaporations,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J.T. Fraser, N. Lawrence, and D. Park, 1978, pages 78-79).

Others, addressing this same thing, assert: “At this singularity, space and time came into existence, literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated as such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo” (John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, 1986, page 442).

This aspect of current cosmological theory is especially troubling for some scientists, particularly those with atheistic/materialistic beliefs. For example, the Russian astrophysicist, Andrei Linde, acknowledges, rather candidly, the problem that such a model poses for him: “The most difficult aspect of this problem is not the existence of the singularity itself, but the question of what was before the singularity…. This problem lies somewhere at the boundary between physics and metaphysics” (“The Inflationary Universe,” Reports on Progress in Physics 47, 1984, page 976).

Sounds to me like Fred Hoyle’s old “steady-state” theory (viz., an eternal universe) with its well-known dictum Exnihilo, nihil fit (“Out of nothing, nothing comes”) has finally bitten the dust. As philosopher William Lane Craig says, “The steady state model has been abandoned by virtually everyone” (Reasonable Faith, page 103).

So, the theory most scientists subscribe to today is the big bang model, especially the inflationary version. Again, I am not arguing for the correctness of this theory. In fact, I totally reject the 15 billion years this theory postulates for the age of the universe. I mention it here only because it argues that the expanding universe necessarily had a beginning. In other words, it did not begin to expand into already existing space, but was space itself—which prior to the big bang had not existed—expanding outwards, with the alleged cosmic expansion creating space as it went along.

Now, if scientists who are limited, in the things they do, to the material creation, although they don’t always act like they are, can understand the universe had a beginning, and that such a creation would have to be created ex nihilo or “out of nothing,” then I should think that modern-day Christians who are, generally speaking, the best educated the world has ever known, should not fail to understand the profound implications of such a creation—namely, that the Creator is over and above time, space, and all finite reality. As such, He can no more be confined to space than He can be measured by time.

The inescapable truth is that if something material exists now, one of three things must be true of it: (1) it is eternal, (2) it was created by something that is eternal, or (3) it is self-created. The first option is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, since an eternal universe would have wound down or dissipated a long time ago. The third clashes not only with the First Law of Thermodynamics, but with logic’s Law of Contradiction, because in order to have created itself, the universe would have had to exist before it existed, an idea that is scientifically and philosophically ridiculous. This leaves only the second option, and the God extolled in this series satisfies all the necessary criteria of such a Creator. Natural revelation, when properly interpreted, points at a Being whose existence explains why science can explain anything. At the same time and in the same way, it tells us the reason why science cannot explain everything. As the famous and erudite Mr. Stephen Hawking has said about the big bang theory in his more cogent years, “It would be difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of God who intended to create beings like us” (A Brief History of Time, page 140). Commenting on this, William Lane Craig wrote:

Since everything that began to exist has a cause of its existence, and since the universe began to exist, we conclude, therefore, that the universe has a cause of existence. We ought to ponder long and hard over this truly remarkable conclusion, for it means that transcending the entire universe there exists a cause which brought the universe into being ex nihilo…. This conclusion ought to stagger us, ought to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder at the knowledge that our whole universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it (The Kalam Cosmological Argument, page 149).

Finally, the now deceased high-profile astronomer, Robert Jastrow, who was Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in an article in the New York Times, asked the question: “Have Astronomers Found God?” His answer was that they had, or had at least come close to doing so. After arguing that the universe had a beginning in time, and after accepting that its creation by an act of God was a reasonable possibility [Jastrow was a professed agnostic], he went on to point out that astronomical evidence points to a theistic view of the world: “The details differ, but the essential elements…are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy” (June 25, 1978).

His final words in that 1978 article were quite appropriate to our study:

This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians…. We scientists did not expect to find evidence for an abrupt beginning because we have had until recently such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time…. At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries (Ibid.).

Brethren, let us “act like men” (1 Corinthians 16:13) in the midst of a lost and dying world (Philippians 2:15). Let us determine to know and proclaim the Rock who is our salvation (1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:7). As we do so, let us forever put away from us the little “g” gods of the religious rabble.

A Review Of Our Own Sham Gods: Taking A Look At The God Who Must Be Either Here Or There (II)

The Indwelling of the Spirit

Before going any further, it is important to point out that I do not believe everyone who disagrees with me on the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the body of every obedient believer is engaged in idolatry. I have fellowship with those who think the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian only in and through the word. In fact, I believe it fair to say that the majority of brethren I have associated with over the years believe this way. I may yet discover they are right, but I don’t think so.

As long as my fellow Christians do not withdraw from me due to my position, then I expect continued fellowship with those who disagree with me on this compelling subject. But my humble opinion, for those who haven’t quite figured it out yet, is that the Holy Spirit personally (i.e., actually or “literally”) dwells in the physical bodies of Christians (1 Corinthians 3:19 and 3:16-17).

However, when some, in order to defend their position that the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian only in and through the Word, begin to make God in man’s image and subject to the same limitations as a creature, I wish to make it clear that such are engaged in idolatry, even when they don’t realize it. There is, In my opinion, no excuse for such thinking. Nevertheless, teachers of God’s Word, seemingly without any embarrassment at all, make all sorts of spatial-limiting arguments for why it is supposedly impossible for the Holy Spirit to actually and equally occupy all the bodies of all obedient believers.

I believe some of the reasons for this is that many Christians today have drunk deeply at the humanist-materialist well. These give lip-service to omnipresence but then turn right around and define it in such a way as to, in effect, deny it. If God is omnipresent, and the Bible says He is, then don’t expect me to be impressed by arguments that claim He can’t be in more than one place at a time and if He were, He’d be divided into pieces (or clones) of Himself. This is nothing but pure humanistic poppycock. Worst yet, it appears to be nothing less than a manifestation of unbelief. And any teacher of God’s Word who makes such a claim is failing his responsibilities.

Theophanies

It must be understood that God’s omnipresence does not prevent Him from manifesting Himself in a localized place. In fact, while it is true that His ontological Being is present to all of space equally, He has, at various times and for various reasons, entered space at specific points and become present in it. These “theophanies,” as they are called, most often involved redemption. There was, for instance, the account of God’s presence in the garden of Eden “in the cool of the evening” (Genesis 3:8ff.). There was His appearance before the Israelites as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 33:9; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10ff). Of course, the most dramatic case of God entering time and space was the Incarnation itself (John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16). But, and this point needs to be clearly understood, in entering time and space, God, in His self-existent, eternal, and infinite Being, did not cease to be omnipresent. He was, while existing as Jesus of Nazareth, still present to every point of space and was, in fact, holding everything together by the “word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3; cf. Colossians 1:17).

John 3:13

With this in mind, it seems evident that the omnipresence of Immanuel or “God with us” is the real subject of John 3:13, which says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of God who is in heaven.” I’ve heard people say they didn’t know what this passage was saying, but they knew it couldn’t mean what folks like me think it saying. This isn’t exactly what one would call cogent exegesis if you ask me. Nevertheless, some among us are confident that the ontological presence of the Word, who was Himself God, could not be on earth, in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and be in heaven at the same time. I suppose it could be that this difficult passage is not saying what I think it’s saying, but the teacher of God’s Word who claims that it “can’t be” is clearly not taking into consideration the omnipresence of Jehovah’s ontological Being—a Being not limited by time nor space. Yes, I know the concept is mind-boggling, but such is, I believe, characteristic of the magnificent nature of Almighty God. When contemplating the nature of God, it is not detrimental to have our minds boggled a bit.

The Importance Of Scripture Properly Interpreted

It has been my experience that when one moves off of center on a particular Bible subject, he’s probably off on something else as well. Why? Because the Word of God, which is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16f) is a palliative against false doctrine. If we take a wrong position on something, we can be sure other passages will confront our wrong interpretation and, if we are amenable, they will surely correct our error. However, when we come to a conclusion that a particular interpretation is right and we are unwilling to be corrected, convinced beyond all doubt that our position is the right one, we will surely have to misinterpret and misapply other passages that impinge our belief. In other words, the Word of God, if we will let it, when properly understood and believed, will make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). The starting point for all this is, of course, Genesis 1:1. Failing to grasp the implications here will surely cause us to misunderstand some critical aspects of the nature of both God and His creation. Therefore, it behooves us to spend a little time thinking about the implications of Genesis 1:1.

Genesis 1:1

On the basis of creation texts such as Genesis 1:1 and Proverbs 8:22-23, it can be argued that time, at least physical time, had a “beginning.” In fact, Genesis 1:1, which is neither a subordinate clause nor a summary title, says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” According to James Barr, this was an absolute beginning which, when taken with the expression, “So the evening and the morning were the first day” (verse 5), indicates this was, in fact, the very first day, which may well be intended to teach that “the beginning” was not just the beginning of the physical universe, but the beginning of time itself and that God, therefore, may be thought of as timeless (James Barr, Biblical Words for Time, 1962, pages 145-147). In this statement, Barr appears to reflect what Jude said so succinctly: “To the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen” (Jude 25, ASV of 1901). When this is coupled with Proverbs 8:22-23, which clearly looks back to “the beginning,” it can be said that the Old Testament implies that time started at the beginning. Add to this Jude’s statement mentioned above, along with John 1:1-3, which says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made,” and it seems clear that the Bible teaches the beginning of the creation was not just the beginning of space and matter, but it was the beginning of time as well.

Totally Other

If all this is true, and I think there is little to doubt about it, then the Creator, at least before He created, was neither subject to time (i.e., He was timeless) nor space. In addition, as the immortal and eternal God (Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 1:17), He did not, indeed He could not, consist of the material nature (matter) of His creation. He was, in essence, totally other (i.e., transcendent in nature). All this stands in stark contrast with creation which, by virtue of its creation, owes its existence to something outside itself (viz., God, the Creator). It is in this regard that we are said to live, move and have our being in the Creator (Acts 17:28). How, then, do some New Testament Christians feel at liberty to claim that God is somehow, ontologically speaking, limited by space and time?

(to be continued)

 

A Review Of Our Own Sham Gods: Taking A Look At The God Who Must Be Either Here Or There

The Indwelling of the Spirit

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).

Looking at the above title, you might be thinking, “Who among us could believe such a thing?” Well, if my experiences are indicative of brotherhood norms, then there are more than a few New Testament Christians who think this way. But before proceeding further, I want to make it clear I do not think my fellow Christians who think this way are intentionally trying to create a sham god. Nevertheless, this is what they do when they argue that the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every obedient believer could only be accomplished by either a fragmented or multi-located Holy Spirit. By this they mean that if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every Christian is actual, rather than “only in and through the Word,” as they are wont to say, then this could only be accomplished by either breaking (or dividing into pieces) the Holy Spirit, or by means of a multi-located Holy Spirit (i.e., a Holy Spirit that could be in more than one place at the same time, an idea they think is absurd). One who takes this position accused me of believing that “the Holy Spirit is scattered, one-to-a-believer, into thousands, perhaps millions, of fully functional, self-contained, independent units, each one the perfect clone of all the others.” Of course, this caricature does not represent what I believe, as such would be polytheism, pure and simple. But it does represent the kind of maneuvering that goes on in the minds of those who think God is somehow limited by space.

The one true God is infinite in His characteristics and attributes. This means He is not restricted by any external limitations, which does not include, of course, those internal limitations He may place on Himself or which are due to His nature. Therefore, this infinitude is defined by God’s self-existence, eternalness, and omni-characteristics, which are omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. If we, in our theological surmisings, try to take any of these away from Him, then we honor a god who could no longer be the God of the Bible. Instead, he—and I’ve purposely dropped the capitalization here—becomes just another of the sham gods that populate the Pantheon of man-made religion.

Why then do otherwise faithful, intelligent Christians engage in such thinking? I don’t know all the reasons, but in some cases, at least, they think themselves to be defending the faith once and for all delivered (Jude 3) against whatever false “ism” they happen to be zeroing in on at the moment. Consequently, it is difficult for them to see themselves as anything other than faithful servants of the Lord and His Word. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, this “ism” is most often Pentecostalism. As one who has taught and helped to convert many Pentecostals, I certainly understand the many errors associated with such doctrine. But when one thinks he is defending the faith by denigrating the characteristics and attributes of God, then it seems to me that these folks have involved themselves in an equally terrible delusion. Yes, Pentecostals are wrong about the Holy Spirit, seemingly unable to decide whether He’s a “He” or an “it.” They fail to distinguish between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They readily misappropriate passages to teach that all Christians are to be directly guided by the Holy Spirit. They believe the miraculous manifestations (“gifts”) of the Spirit are continuing today, even after that which is perfect has come—that is, the completed Word of God (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). There are, in fact, a whole host of errors associated with Pentecostalism. But to diminish God’s infinitude in the name of fighting Pentecostalism is a gross error that causes one, however unintentionally, to imbibe idolatry.

Theologians have argued that “God, in the totality of his essence, without diffusion or expansion, multiplication or division, penetrates and fills the universe in all its parts” (Jack Cottrell, What The Bible Says About God The Creator, pages 264-273). Although I do not feel the need to defend anyone’s theological construct but my own (and I am aware that my thinking could itself be in error), I do think this quote accurately represents the nature of omnipresence as set forth in the Bible (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24; 1 Kings 8:27). However, I wish to make it clear that I totally reject the idea of Pantheism, a concept that says everything is God and God is everything (i.e., that the material universe somehow makes up the very fabric of God). I make this disclaimer because several over the years have accused me of this very thing. More than likely, these charges were made by those who have never even talked to or, what’s more, helped convert a pantheist. Unfortunately, pantheism is a terribly wrong concept that presently enslaves more than a billion people, and I feel blessed to have taught and helped to convert pantheists. No, the uncreated, self-existent, eternal Creator is not some pantheistic everything. He does not consist of that which He has created. Instead, He stands above and beyond that which He’s created. Consequently, the transcendent God is not limited by the space-time continuum and is not, therefore, a spatial being (viz., He transcends all spatial limitations).

All Created Beings Are Spatial Creatures

Space, like time, is a product of creation. Therefore, all created beings are spatial creatures. This means that both the material and spiritual dimensions are spatial, though not necessarily in the same way. Although spiritual “space” is obviously not like material space, each of these dimensions must, by nature of their creation, have spatial limitations. Consequently, space of some sort is characteristic of all created beings.

The material universe of which we humans are a part is three-dimensional space. Our bodies themselves are spatial and, therefore, limited by the three-dimensional boundaries of space. Included in these limitations are the following: a material body can exist in only one space at a time; to get from one space to another, a material body must pass through the intervening space. This means that given the limitations of three dimensional space, it is impossible, when we factor in the fourth dimension of time, for a material body to occupy two different spaces at the same time.

In contrast to this, and evidently at the same time, fully spiritual creatures, such as angels and demons, do not normally occupy our space, as we do (Jude 6). Therefore, it can be safely concluded that these spiritual creatures are not restricted by the limitations of three-dimensional space, as we are. Nevertheless, as created beings, they have their own spatial dimension, with whatever limits that exist there. As I don’t occupy that dimension, I can’t tell you what it is like, but that this dimension exists is evident from Scripture. Further, the Bible teaches that when these spiritual creatures interact with material space, they are not totally outside its limits. For example, a spiritual creature, although he can evidently act multi-dimensional, can still only be in one space at a time. This is illustrated by the angelic appearance recorded in Daniel 10. The prophet Daniel had been “mourning” (which clearly included praying) for “three full weeks” (verse 2). When the angel appeared, he said:

Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia (Daniel 10:12-13).

He went on to say, “Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come” (verse 14).

So, when interacting with our material dimension, this angel could not be in two places at the same time. He had been sent to answer Daniel and make known to him what would happen to his people in the future, but the “prince of Persia” (evidently another spiritual entity) withstood him for “twenty-one days.” The struggle was so intense that Michael (another spiritual creature) had to come and help him. Then, after administering to Daniel, he still needed to return and “fight” with the prince of Persia, knowing that the “prince of Greece” would eventually be involved (verse 20).

It is clear from Scripture, then, that a spiritual creature (remember, I’m not talking about God here) cannot occupy more than one space at a time. This means that spiritual creatures (angels and demons) are not omnipresent. Satan himself cannot be everywhere at once and, therefore, uses other spiritual creatures to represent his interests around the world.

What all this means, once again, is that created beings, whether they be spiritual or material, are spatial beings. But in complete contrast to His creation, God, the uncreated Creator, is not a spatial being per se. Instead, He is unlimited by space and is, in fact, transcendent by means of His infinitude. The traditional word for this is immensity. However, because this word has come to mean “very large in size,” one must be very careful to exclude this connotation when speaking of God.

God is not immensely large, so as to fill all of space, even to infinity. Such thinking would be totally false and is manifested in Pantheism. The word itself literally means unmeasurable, not because God is too large to measure, but because, as a non-spatial being, He is not the kind of Being that can be measured. The term simply means that God is not limited by space. As such, all the limitations of space—extension, location, and distance—simply do not apply to Him.

Therefore, God is universally present to all of space at all times. This does not mean, however, that He is dispersed throughout the infinite reaches of space so that every part of space has at least a little part of God. God is not present in all of space, which is pantheism; instead, He is present to all of space. This means that the unlimited God in His whole Being is present at every point of our space. Perhaps a better way of saying this is to say that all space is immediately present before God. Personally, I don’t care how you look at this as long as you understand that the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible is not limited by space, as are His creatures.

(to be continued)

The Christian And The Holy Spirit (Conclusion)

The Christian and the Holy Spirit

Some say the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian the same way Christ does—i.e., by faith (Ephesians 3:17). But in order for me to be required to believe that this is true, it would need to be proven that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian in the same manner as does Christ. In other words, just saying He does, does not make it so. Second, if it could be scripturally demonstrated that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian “by faith,” then one would still need to prove that faith is the manner (or mode) by which He dwells in the Christian, and not the condition that must be met before the Holy Spirit indwells him. Based upon my understanding of Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32, I believe that obedient faith is the condition which must be met before the Holy Spirit can be received as a gift.

What Does The Indwelling Spirit Do?

In addressing the question posed in the above subtitle, R.L. Whiteside, in Doctrinal Discourses, wrote:

What does the indwelling Spirit do? What if I am unable to answer that question? And what if no one else can give a definite answer, would our inability to answer the question nullify what God has said? If we cannot explain a thing, shall we say there is no such thing?

Whiteside’s point is valid, especially in this materialistic age, which says, “If I can’t see, hear, smell, taste, or touch it, then it just ain’t so.” But, and this ought not to surprise the careful Bible student, the Bible plainly tells us the indwelling Spirit does do something for us—viz., He helps our weaknesses (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 3:16). Even though we do not always know what we ought to pray for, the Bible tells us that the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us. Although it is true that some, like the esteemed Alexander Campbell did, teach that the “spirit” under consideration here was the human spirit, most have not so understood this passage. Furthermore, common sense tells us this passage must be speaking of the Holy Spirit and what He does for Christians (viz., the ones who are clearly the “we” and “us” of this passage). But someone says, “This is a controversial passage and doctrine ought not to be established on a controversial passage.” This is nonsense, and this is true even when such comes from the lips and pens of esteemed brethren. In truth, there are hardly any passages in God’s Word that are not considered to be controversial by someone. Furthermore, this passage is considered controversial not so much because it is difficult to understand or interpret, but because of the preconceived idea some among us have that the Holy Spirit works only (i.e., solely) in and through the Word today.

All Things Work Together For Good

The apostle Paul relates the common predicament we all experience (Romans 7:13-25) in that battle that takes place between the old sinful self (the carnal mind or flesh, as Paul calls it,) and the new spiritual mind we have in Christ Jesus, which Paul identifies as being “in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9). And as paradoxical as it may sound, Paul says we are in the Spirit only when the “Spirit of God” or “Spirit of Christ” (viz., the Holy Spirit) dwells in us. This indwelling, according to Paul, functions as a “first fruits” (Romans 8:23)—an “earnest” and “seal,” if you will (Ephesians 1:13,14)—of the heavenly inheritance that will one day be ours (Romans 8:24).

In this battle between “the flesh” and “the spirit“ (cf. Galatians 5:17), we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) because “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). The immediate context here is the work the indwelling Spirit does for us—work, incidentally, that we are unable to do for ourselves. No wonder Paul said, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” He would surely agree with the apostle John, who wrote: “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).

With these thoughts of God’s wonderful assurance in mind, I pray the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen (cf. II Corinthians 13:14).

The Christian And The Holy Spirit

The Christian and the Holy Spirit

On the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, people were told to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). There is wide disagreement among Christians over whether the gift of the Holy Spirit in this passage is a gift the Holy Spirit gives (viz., salvation) or whether the gift being given is the Holy Spirit Himself (viz., the “ordinary” indwelling of the Spirit which, in Acts 5:32, is promised to every obedient believer). We get no help from the standpoint of grammar because the Greek dorea hagios pneuma, translated “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” can mean either a gift given by the Holy Spirit or the Spirit Himself given as a gift. Consequently, the effort must be made to understand the use of this phrase by its context. It is problematic, then, that the context of Acts 2:38 does not immediately give us any insight as to how the phrase should be understood. However, the Greek phrase is used one other time in the Scriptures (Acts 10:45), and the context clearly indicates that it is the Holy Spirit Himself Who is the gift being given.

This would probably settle the meaning of this phrase in the minds of most believers if it were not for the fact that Acts 10:45, in context (cf. Acts 10:44-47 and 11:15), appears to be referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a measure of the Spirit the Bible makes clear is not promised to every believer. Nevertheless, just because Cornelius and his household received the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit should not cloud the fact that dorea hagios pneuma is referring to the Holy Spirit as the gift, viz., “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as upon us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15), i.e., “…the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:44). Therefore, when we see this same phrase in Acts 2:38, it seems reasonable that we should understand it to mean the same thing (viz., that in this instance the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift being given). In addition, I think it should be clear that, in this case, the Spirit is given in what is called the “ordinary” or non-miraculous sense. When one adds to this Acts 5:32, which is an inspired commentary on the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38, I believe one can teach with the assurance that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is the Spirit Himself.

In this regard, it is important to note that Acts 2:38 teaches the Holy Spirit is given after baptism (i.e., the Holy Spirit was promised to all believers who would repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins). Nowhere in the Bible is it ever taught that the Holy Spirit was given to enable one to believe or repent, as some teach. In Galatians 4:6, the Bible says the Holy Spirit (identified in this passage as “the Spirit of His Son”) is given to people because they are already children of God. What this all means is that one believes and obeys (i.e., “receives the seed” or Word of God, Luke 8:11-15) and then receives the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” But if, as some say, the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian “only in and through the Word,” then it would appear the Christian would have to receive the Holy Spirit before baptism, which is contrary to Acts 2:38, as I understand it. In other words, Acts 2:38, if I have interpreted it correctly, teaches that we receive (heed) the word of God before baptism and the Holy Spirit after baptism. Therefore, although it is my understanding that the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the child of God apart from the Word, neither does He dwell in the Christian only in and through the Word.

When one takes into account the passages that teach, either directly or indirectly, that the Spirit of God dwells in the Christian (Acts 5:32; I Corinthians 6:19; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:9-11; II Corinthians 1:21, 22; II Corinthians 5:5) and adds to these the widely accepted principle of Bible interpretation, which says: “Words should be understood in their literal sense unless such a literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity,” then one is compelled to accept the Bible’s teaching that says, “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9) as the Holy Spirit actually indwells the Christian. Thus, I know this not because I have ever experienced Him with my five senses (i.e., “a better felt than told experience”), but because the Bible tells me so. Namely, the Holy Spirit, through the written Word (“the sword of the Spirit,” Ephesians 6:17), has made it clear to me that He dwells in me and every other obedient believer (cf. Romans 10:17).

(to be continued)