Our Concept of God
By its very nature this book is not meant to be easy, with me repeating things that you already know or even agree with. These chapters will be complex (at times), not all premises will be straightforward, and it will require an effort to stay focused. However, there are rewards for those who stay with it. For example:
- A greater and more accurate understanding of who the Holy Spirit is, what He does and the nature of His relationship with the Father and the Son.
- An overview of the Bible from a fresh perspective.
- This material will provide a greater understanding of Pentecostal and Charismatic believers and why they think the way they do about the Holy Spirit and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- Hopefully, you will appreciate the divine work of redemption more perfectly.
One of the main reasons we have problems talking about and communicating effectively about our faith (New Testament Christianity) with another believer in Christ (i.e. Catholic) is that we use the same words (priest, church, baptism, religious authority, etc.), however, the words mean different things to the member of the church of Christ (New Testament Christian) than they do to a member of a Roman Catholic Church.
New Testament Christian
The Jewish priest who offered sacrifices in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
Same concept of the Biblical priesthood in the Old Testament of the Bible.
The local minister in a neighborhood parish who conducts mass and administers the sacraments to the Catholic faithful.
A spiritual goal of Christians.
The title of the lowest level of catholic clergymen.
Immersion in water of a repentant believer as an expression of faith at which time this person receives forgiveness of sins and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and is added to the church by God.
The sprinkling of water on a baby based on the faith of its parents in order to remove original sin and join him to the Catholic church. This same person receives the Holy Spirit at the hands of the bishop when he is older (10-12 years old) at a ceremony called Confirmation.
38Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
- Acts 2:38-41
We could continue demonstrating the differences in the meanings of religious words that sound and look the same but are given different meanings and applications by different groups, all claiming to be Christian and believing in the Bible.
This phenomenon – same words/different meanings is to a certain extent, the reason for so much division within Christianity and why it is so difficult to have the kind of dialogue necessary to create unity in the church.
Therefore, when I mention ground rules, I'm referring to a basic rule that will guide our study so we can all agree on the conclusions we arrive at in our examination of the Holy Spirit.
There is actually one basic ground rule and here it is: The Bible is the only reliable source of information concerning the Holy Spirit.
Some may ask why this is so. Two reasons:
1. The Bible was authored by the Holy Spirit who enabled different authors to write and preserve it.
For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
- II Peter 1:21
2. There is no new information concerning the Holy Spirit that is not already contained in the Bible.
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
- Jude 3
Now, I am not saying that there is no longer any "experience" of God, but all experience and knowledge of Him that is genuine is always confirmed by the Bible.
Therefore, this study of the Holy Spirit is based solely on what the Bible teaches about Him and how He interfaced with different individuals we read about in the Bible. There will be no discussion of personal experiences that I or someone I know or have heard of included in order to further our knowledge of the person, power or presence of the Spirit. The main rule that we can agree on and that will help us maintain objective and not subjective conclusions, is that all of the information we will examine about the Holy Spirit will come from the Bible, no other source materials will be used.
Concept of the Godhead – History
The basis for understanding the Holy Spirit comes from His position and role within the Trinity.
Some of you may be thinking that I'm already violating our basic ground rule for this study (that all teachings must come from the Bible) and that the word "Trinity" doesn't even appear in the Old or New Testament, and you are correct. The term Trinity does not appear, but the dynamic nature of God requires a word to capture His essence, and words like Godhead and Trinity have been coined in order to express His likeness in a single word.
We can trace back the use of this term (Trinity) to the third century AD and the early church "father" or leader by the name of Tertullian.
There had already been many theories and doctrinal pronouncements trying to explain more precisely the nature of God's being, however, Tertullian offered the first defense of the doctrine of the Trinity and explicitly defined it as the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. This, as the case for the compilation of the official texts of the New Testament (canon), was done in order to respond and refute a major heresy which was being circulated and gaining popularity in the church by a man called Praxeas. He taught that God was One and that all references to deity like the Son of God or the Holy Spirit were simply different ways of referring to the One God. He was attempting to merge Old Testament teaching about God with the revelations contained in the New Testament about God's dynamic nature.
This heresy was met with a tract written by Tertullian who was a Christian apologist writer who lived in Carthage. The tract, clarifying the triune nature of God in the Bible, was called "Against Praxeas," and was successful in eliminating Praxeas' ideas while promoting this triune concept as well as the term "Trinity," by which it was explained in short form.
Tertullian, then, was the first one to use the term Trinity in the third century. He wrote, "…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in essence – not one in person."
His ideas were not immediately accepted by Christians but with time his idea that the Bible actually taught that God's nature was triune and an accurate way to refer to it was the term Trinity became acceptable to most believers.
Of course, even today there are still many who reject this term and idea of God's triune nature, so we'll review both Old Testament and New Testament texts that teach us about the composition and nature of God's being.
Nature of the Godhead – The Triune God – Trinity
The Old Testament teaches implicitly the idea of the triune God (It's there but not expressly stated).
However, the Oneness of God is stressed. For example, Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One!" - The Shema.
This early focus on there being only one God and no other was a natural emphasis for the religion of a people who had traditionally followed after and included many different gods in their personal and corporate worship.
The first step in worship of the true and living God was to acknowledge that there was only one of Him, no others like Him, and He tolerated no other gods in his place. This is not to say, however, that there was no mention of His dynamic nature in the Old Testament. The idea of a triune God (Trinity) was implicitly suggested in the opening account of Genesis.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
- Genesis 1:1
Note that God is initially presented as a distinct person apart from his creation. This is not Pantheism where there are many gods or God is an impersonal force or multiple forces in the universe (the idea behind Star Wars and other sci-fi books and movies). Also, the concept behind the idea of "Mother Nature," which is a personification of the Force idea. Note also that this first mention of God in Genesis is not Monism, where everything is God and God is in all of his creation (a common tenet of various nature religions as well as Eastern religions - i.e. Hinduism). The Bible clearly states that God created the world but is apart from it. A tree is just a tree, it is part of God's creation but not part of God.
The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
- Genesis 1:2
The Spirit is mentioned as a separate being, "distinct," yet not personified so early in the development of revelation. Progressive Revelation is a term used to describe the way God slowly and in stages revealed Himself and His plan of salvation to His chosen people. There could have been no revelation. You live, you die, and from Adam to the last person on earth you don't know about God and his purpose from one generation to another (This would produce despair, no answer to sin, and no insight into God's love). Or, you are born with all the Godly knowledge already uploaded to your brain (the problem here is that this would violate man's free will and transform us into soulless auto-humans).
The third option is the progressive revelation of God Himself, His will for mankind as well as His plan for salvation. This maintains man's free will status, provides hope in the face of insurmountable sin and its inevitable destruction. It also makes possible the experience of joy as we have the possibility in every generation to continually discover and grow in the never-ending knowledge of God Himself as well as God's plan for man's salvation, the knowledge and proclamation of which never grows old or tired.
Through this progressive revelation, which God uses to reveal Himself and His plan, we begin and continue to learn about the Holy Spirit (as well as the Father and the Son) from Genesis all the way to Revelation. For example, we learn from both David and Job that the Holy Spirit sustains the created world.
14"If He should determine to do so,
If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,
15All flesh would perish together,
And man would return to dust.
- Job 34:14-15
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground.
- Psalms 104:30
These writers are writing some six centuries after Moses' preliminary inspired remarks about the Holy Spirit in Genesis, each adding new and more precise information about the role of the Holy Spirit in creation. In these passages, written by different inspired believers, we see the progress of the information given by God about the Holy Spirit (His power, His work, etc.). This is an example of progressive revelation.
Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
- Genesis 1:3
In this passage we see that the Word of God is given as a distinct power. God speaks the world into existence. This idea is confirmed in the New Testament.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
- Hebrews 11:3
John expands this idea by explaining the dynamic presence in the Godhead where God refashions the very essence of His being according to His will and purpose.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
14And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
- John 1:1;14
In these two verses John refers to three distinct entities as God - God, the word and the Son (Word made flesh).
Now, at this point someone would reasonably argue that all three (God, Word, Son) are the same person – God. In other words, John is only describing transitions taking place in God's nature. God – Word – Son.
However, through progressive revelation seen in John's gospel alone, we soon realize that there are three distinct beings united within a single Godhead, existing, functioning and expressing their Deity, without separating or compromising the unity within the Jewish "Shema" that declared, "The Lord is our God, the Lord is One!" Deuteronomy 6:4.
I said that the Trinity is suggested by the opening verses of Genesis. Here is one more example…
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
- Genesis 1:26
Note that the Bible says, "Let us make man…" The Hebrew pluralizes for emphasis sake. It not only states that God is the One who makes man and that man is a created, not evolved being. The passage also reveals something about the creation as well – The term "Elohim" is the plural form of God. This is why it says, "let us make man…"
In our study of the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit in particular, we see that from the very beginning, Scripture suggests the dynamic and diverse nature of God. It doesn't provide all the information to give us a complete picture and understanding right at the outset but through a process of progressive revelation God will steadily reveal in greater clarity and knowledge many key truths including man's condition and God's plan to save him, as well as a clearer picture of His true nature and being. This is God's promise.
For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1
- I Corinthians 13:12
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
- I John 3:2