“X” is for eX Nihilo

“X” is for eX nihilo.  This is a Latin phrase where “ex” means “out of” and “nihilo” means “nothing.”  Thus ex nihilo means, “out of nothing.”  What in the world does that have to do with anything?  Well the world has something to do with it along with all of creation.  For creation itself was created by God ex nihilo, “out of nothing.”  In this week’s newsletter we will examine a number of Scripture passages and will expand our understanding of the phrase, ex nihilo.  Yes I do realize it begins with “e” but thanks for being gracious.

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1a says, “In the beginning, God…”  Now some advocate for ex nihilo nihil fit which means, “out of nothing, nothing comes.”  The Christian view is not that from nothingness comes something.  For God Himself is not nothing, and He has always been.  God is the self-existent One (cf. Ex. 3:13-14).  God is eternal and alone has the ability to create something out of nothing.  Let’s clear things up.  There has never been nothing as though there were a time when God was not.  For Moses records for us in Genesis 1:1a, “In the beginning, God…”  What we are saying is that God created everything without any preexistent materials or things that have always been.  Only God has always been.  There was no prior materials at God’s disposal by which He formed and fashioned the universe by using a little bit of “this” and a whole lot of “that.”  Still confused?  Maybe an example will help.

When living in Grand Rapids, Katie and I visited Art Prize each year.  We have even gone since moving north.  There are many pieces of art on display throughout the city of Grand Rapids.  Let me quickly note here that I am not one who has a keen eye for art.  There are some things I look at and wonder what in the world the artist was thinking.  Nevertheless we enjoy seeing many of the displays of art from paintings to creative sculptures.  Let’s say we are all looking at a very nice painting.  We realize that the artist began their work with a blank white canvas before them, a number of paint colors, and brushes next to them.  And then from these things came this beautiful painting we are now looking at.  From the very same stuff, canvas, paint, and brush, I would not be able to duplicate the same work, or anything close to it.  Now you are probably seeing why I don’t have a keen eye for art, because by no means am I an artist, but I still enjoy some of it.  Well our artist in this story began with a canvas, a variety of paint colors, and a variety of paint brushes.  God did not create the universe with anything “on hand.”  There was no oxygen, nitrogen, methane, or to use the technical scientific language, primordial soup.  Now I am hungry.  So without the use of preexisting materials God created the entire universe.  How?

A Spoken Word

Hebrews 11:3 tells us, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  God created the universe by His word.  We see this in Genesis 1.  God did not create with some preexistent material but rather by a divine command (sometimes referred to as the “divine imperative”).  We read in Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  You see this pattern continue as you go through the six days of creation: what God says, happens, and God sees that it is good.  As RC Sproul says, “Nothing can resist the command of God, who brought the world and everything in it into being” (Everyone’s a Theologian, 92).

Agent of Creation

What becomes abundantly clear in the NT is that Jesus, the second person of our triune God, the Word made flesh, was the Agent of creation.  And note that the Spirit of God is also present at creation (cf. Gen. 1:1-2).  John 1:1-3 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 was not any thing made that was made.”  1 Corinthians 8:6 says, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”  Colossians 1:16 adds, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”  And lastly, Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”  Each of these passages makes it clear that Jesus, the Son of God, was the agent through which everything was created.  And as John 1 tells us, the Word (Jesus), was not only with God but is Himself God.

Creations Testimony

We often speak about sharing our testimony with others since we are commanded to be prepared to do just that (cf. 1 Pt. 3:15).  Creation itself is a testimony that is declaring something.  Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  A starry night, a beautiful sunset, a flower blooming in early spring are all for the glory of God.  Romans 1:18-20 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  Creation bears witness against us in that no one will have an excuse for not believing when they die and face the judgment.  Creation bears witness about our God.  However, no one can be saved by general revelation for we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

 

 

“T” is for Total Depravity

“T” is for total depravity.  For some people immediate thoughts come to mind, oftentimes negative, when they hear these words.  However, this usually stems from a misunderstanding.  Because of the possible misunderstandings some prefer to change the phrase altogether.  While that is one way of doing it another way is to keep the word (or phrase) and help people properly understand its meaning.  We will begin by looking at what it is not to clear some initial and incorrect understandings.  Then we will see what the proper and correct understanding of total depravity.

What It Is Not

We won’t spend much time here but in order to help us better understand what total depravity is we should nevertheless clear one common misunderstanding about it.  Total depravity does not mean that we as humans are as bad as we could possibly be.  This is not hard to understand since even some of the most grotesque leaders, say in the 20th century alone, could have been even worse.  So total depravity does not mean we are as bad as we could be, but what does it mean?

What It Is

The church father St. Augustine wrote out a prayer that one British monk did not like.  Augustine said something along the lines of, “Oh God, command what thou wouldst, and grant what thou dost command.”  The British monk who did not like this was Pelagius and it was not the first part of Augustine’s prayer that he objected to so much as the second part, “grant what thou dost command.”  Pelagius did not like this because it assumes a creature is not morally able to do the will of God.  Pelagius believed that man was capable of pleasing God, obeying His commands, and choosing good and not evil without any divine intervention.

Original Sin

Pelagius, and those who adhere to Pelagianism have a false view of original sin.  Original sin is not the first sin ever committed by Adam and Eve but rather involves the consequences of that first sin.  The New England Primer was a text used to help colonial children learn their letters among other things.  For the alphabet beginning with the letter “A” it states, “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.”  In other words the entire human race is fallen, born into sin.  King David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).  David isn’t talking about when his parents came together in a sexual union that this was sinful but rather that he from the moment of conception was born sinful.  The reason looking at original sin is important is because of the meaning of total depravity.  Total depravity points out the seriousness of the fall and points to the fact that the totality of man’s being is depraved.  All of our being whether physical (death and disease), mental (darkened minds), emotional, or spiritual has been negatively impacted.  And many Christians would agree that we are fallen, and that this is a serious thing, and it impacts every part of our being.  But there is still disagreement on the level of its impact.  When people say that, “We are basically good” is this true?  Or are we at the core of our being evil?

The Bible Tells Me So

Psalm 14:1-2 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Proverbs 20:9 says, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?  [Note – This is a rhetorical question and the answer is, no one].

Eccles. 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Titus 1:15, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Many more verses we could look at but each of these shows how sinful we are and that we are not basically good people who need a few government reforms to be made right with God.  When people speak about being basically good they base that claim on a purely human understanding, on a horizontal plane.  This lessens the understanding of sin to something accidental and outside ourselves, rather than what it really is, rebellion and disobedience against a holy God that is found within our very hearts.  When fleshing out these verses to help us understand man’s condition and our word total depravity we see that we are enslaved to sin, we are spiritually dead, and we are living in rebellion against God.

We are not in need of a few tweaks here and a few adjustments there but a radical heart transplant is needed, and something only God can do.  For, “…no one can come to me [Jesus] unless it is granted him by my Father” (John 6:65).   Our condition is dead in our trespasses and sins and only by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating our hearts do we place our faith, a gift from God (see Eph. 2:8-9), in Jesus Christ.

“S” is for Sanctification

“S” is for sanctification.  A simple definition is provided in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “The act of making holy.”  The Greek words translated “sanctified” and “sanctification” most frequently both have the root word for “holy” in them.  I’ve also heard it defined as the process by which a believer becomes more like Christ.  That is fitting since Christ is holy and perfect.  Notice how it is a process of becoming more like Christ, or becoming more holy.

In our instant gratification culture the thought of a lifelong process sounds rather daunting and downright defeating.  When we want something we want it now.  Well it is good to want to become more like Christ, in fact that is great.  We just need to recognize that it is a lifelong process and one that is not complete in this life.  Some would disagree with this statement so let’s turn our attention to the biblical text to help clarify.

Biblical Texts

Mentioning a quick distinction will help us in understanding a number of biblical texts and for making a proper distinction between the truth of what we are and the truth of what God is making us, holier.  Some call it the indicative and imperative of sanctification.  Others speak of positional sanctification and progressive sanctification.

Positional Sanctification

Believers are declared holy because they have been set apart by faith in Christ as God’s own possession (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 407).  For example, Paul begins a number of his letters in the NT by addressing the believers as “saints in Jesus Christ” (see Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2).  The word “saints” is literally “holy ones.”  To the believers in Corinth Paul said, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2).  If you were to conclude here that the believers in Corinth had obtained moral perfection you would be incorrect.  How do we know that?  All you would have to do is get past the thanksgiving to vv. 10-12 of chapter one to see that these believers in Corinth were not perfect.  So we would say that believers are positionally holy because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed (or counted or credited) to their account.  Or to say it another way “Paul spoke approvingly to the Christians at Corinth not because of their deepening spirituality (progressive sanctification), but because of their justified standing in Christ (positional sanctification)” (Demarest, 407).

Progressive Sanctification

“Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).  We stand justified in the sight of God because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  But while we are holy positionally through justification we are to progress in holiness morally.  How do we know this?  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:3-4, 7).  As a quick aside many people ask the question, “What is the will of God for my life?”  Now usually this question comes with a focus on relationships, career choices, college selection, or another important decision.  My response to those seeking the will of God in these areas above is to ask them, “How are you doing with the revealed will of God?”  There are multiple times throughout the Bible that God’s will is made plain to us (see Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Thess. 4:3-4; 5:16-18).  Let’s start by focusing on being faithful there and trust that God will take care of the rest.  That was the long way of pointing out that “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3).  How important is our sanctification to God?  Important enough that it is His will for EVERY believer and so it needs to be that important to us as well.

Peter reminds us that, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pt. 1:14-16).  We progress in sanctification by avoiding the sinful patterns of our old self and the sinful behaviors of those around us, but also by putting on the new self and obeying the commandments of our Lord (cf. Eph. 4:17-32).  We are to be holy in all our conduct because we currently are not holy in all of our conduct.

Does the believer participate in this process of sanctification?  After all we have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  “Not a result of works” (Eph. 2:9).  The answer to this question is found in Philippians where Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  This sounds like a cooperative effort to me.  No I am not saying you justify yourself before God but that God has decided that believers should have a part in putting to death the old man and putting on the new self (cf. Col. 3:5-17).  As a pastor friend has said,
“We can only work out what God is working in.”  That is to say that there can be no sanctification apart from God’s grace.  As Eph. 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We are saved apart from works but we are also saved for good works.

The Fifth of May

Today is Cinco De Mayo a day commemorating the Battle of Puebla (1862) where a band of Mexican troops defeated the invading French troops despite being outnumbered two to one.  The French troops still invaded Mexico City but with the aid of the Americans the French were pushed out for good and President Benito Juarez was restored.  While today is celebrated in Mexico, particularly in Puebla, the holiday has become larger in America.  We celebrated by having tacos for lunch (made with venison, yum).  In other words, we had an excuse to eat tacos, not that we really needed one.

Today is also an important day in the history of the church, one that is quite often overlooked.  Today is Ascension Day.  That is to say today marks the day that our Lord ascended into heaven after His resurrection from the grave.  It was forty days after our Lord’s resurrection that He ascended to the Father’s right hand (just as the date for Easter changes each year so does Ascension Day).  During those forty days Jesus appeared to Peter, two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, the rest of the apostles, and more than five hundred brothers at one time among others (cf. Matt. 28:8-9; Luke 24:13-35; 1 Cor. 15:5-7).  Jesus also enjoyed a meal with the disciples and commissioned them to make disciples of all nations, a commission that remains true for followers of Jesus today (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; John 21:9-14).

In Acts 1 we read the following,

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight” (vv. 6-9).

Jesus said it was to the disciple’s advantage that He goes away (cf. John 16:7).  This must have shocked His disciples for they could not possibly imagine at that time how it would be better for their Master and Teacher to go away.  Yet as Jesus ascended into heaven the angel assures them that Jesus will come back in the same way (cf. Acts 1:10-11) and then in the very next chapter of Acts we read about the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.  Now rather than Jesus only being with the disciples when they were with Jesus, wherever they went, or wherever the believer today goes, the Holy Spirit was with them and is with us.

We could touch on a number of other areas about the ascension of our Lord but a quick look at Hebrews gives us a good picture of what Jesus is doing right now, after ascending and before His return.  “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:23-25).  Jesus is our Great High Priest who is interceding for us (see also Rom. 8:31-39).  After Jesus offered a single sacrifice for sins He sat down at His Father’s right hand and is there interceding for the believer (Heb. 10:12).  Jesus now is interceding for us and is waiting “until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet” (Heb. 10:13).  The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered and all Christ’s enemies will be made a footstool under His feet.

“Q” is for Query the Text

“Q” is for query the text.  We have arrived at that part of the English alphabet that does not lend itself to a plethora of words in general and so is the case when we speak about theology.  While we will get creative toward the end, this week’s newsletter is no less important for us as Christians.  Let’s then understand what is meant by query the text.

In Webster’s 1828 dictionary he defines the term “query” as follows: “a question; an inquiry to be answered or resolved.”  So a query is no more than asking questions so that something can be answered or resolved.  This particular newsletter is titled, “Query the Text” with the understanding that the “Text” refers to sacred Scripture.  So am I asking you to question the Scriptures?  In one sense I am.  We will first take a look at a couple of passages of Scripture that shed some light on what I am thinking and then we will see how we can implement this exercise into our Scripture reading.  But before going further the phrase is not original to me but rather part of a chapter title in John Piper’s book Brother’s We are Not Professionals.

To Think or Not to Think that is the Query

It can be argued that in order to learn something one must ask questions.  We recently received a new game for students (and adults) to play called 9 Square in the Air.  Some of the students didn’t know how to play so they were asking questions about how the game works and how one can win.  This provides them with a framework that having not even played the game before they begin to understand it.  It is likely that many of you had asked a question or two (or lots more) about the Christian faith and the Bible before the Father drew you to the Son (cf. John 6:44).  In fact, that was likely part of the process the Father used in doing so (not that He has to).  And even now as a Christian it is not as though all your questions about the Bible and Christianity have been resolved.

In Acts 17 we read about certain Jews who lived in Berea and this is what Luke records, “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (17:10-11, emphasis mine).  The Bereans were a people “more noble” than the Thessalonians.  Why were they more noble?  The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness” and part of that involved “examining the Scriptures daily” to see if what they were being taught was true.  These were Jews who were learning many new things about Jesus, the Christ.  Things like, He had come and it was Jesus of Nazareth.  Who was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3).  So with these things being taught to them by Paul and Silas, teachings they were certainly not hearing from their own religious leaders like the Pharisees and Sadducees, they examined the Scriptures to see if it was so, if it was true.

Now let’s say you were a Berean and you are hearing for the first time from Paul and Silas that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, who suffered and was raised up on the third day.  When you read Isaiah 53, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (vv. 5-6).  When you read this you likely are asking if this prophecy is about Jesus whom Paul and Silas say is the Christ.  How did Isaiah seem to write about crucifixion hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified?  Are my sins in fact forgiven not by the blood of goats and calves but by the blood of Jesus Christ?  As you can see it is quite natural to ask questions when trying to get at a right understanding of the biblical text.  Certainly not all the questions you can come up with can be answered but those pertaining to life and godliness and much more can.  So ask questions.

One other verse stands out for now and that is 2 Timothy 2:7 which says, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”  Now in its immediate context Paul is telling Timothy to think on the three metaphors he just utilized to help Timothy understand the road ahead, even particularly as he ministers in Ephesus.  Like suffering as a good soldier.  While the immediate context is Timothy applying Paul’s words to himself (particularly vv. 1-6) since all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16, see “I” is for Inspiration) there is truth to the fact that for you and I to think over what Paul is saying to Timothy here, or what Moses is saying to the Israelites in Exodus, or what Jesus is saying to the disciples in Mark, to think on these things means we are spending time studying the word.  Then as John Stott said, “We must do the considering, and the Lord will do the giving of understanding” (2 Timothy, 60).  The Holy Spirit will teach us (cf. John 14:25-26) but we cannot sit on our hands never opening up the pages of Scripture and expect to gain insight in it.  But neither should we solely rely on concordances and commentaries to the neglect of the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Beginning Steps

One of our goals is to find unity in divine truth.  For God is a God of order not disorder.  Part of the fear of asking questions is that it seems we are pinpointing problems with God’s word and that is not something we are comfortable doing.  While at first glance it may appear we’ve found an error when texts don’t seem to align the problem is not with the Scriptures but with you, the reader.  John Piper says, “It is impossible to respect the Bible too highly, but it is possible to respect it wrongly. If we do not ask seriously how differing texts fit together, then we are either superhuman (and see all truth at a glance) or indifferent (and don’t care about seeing the coherence of truth)” (Brother’s We are Not Professionals, 76 (older edition)).  Let’s not claim to be superhuman and let’s not be indifferent, or lazy, rather let’s be careful and thoughtful students of the word of God like the Bereans before us.

“P” is for Pneumatology

“P” is for Pneumatology.  Even though the “p” is silent it still begins with the correct letter.  What is pneumatology?  πνεῦμα (pneuma) means Spirit, wind, or breath in Greek depending on the context.  In the case of pneumatology it is the study of the Holy Spirit.  The third person of the triune God tends to get the least amount of press and Christians tend to know the least about Him.  This blog will be a little different from the others in this series but hopefully still beneficial as we think about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  The two sections below are statements taken from my own doctrinal statement.  The first part “Blessed Trinity” is the beginning of my confession on God (Theology Proper).  The second part is my confession on the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology).  This second statement was written not in seminary but while I was preparing for my ordination and finalizing my full doctrinal statement.  We will finish by looking at a few areas mentioned in the confession a bit further.

Blessed Trinity

I believe the one true God is eternally self-existent (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2, 4, 93:2; Jer. 10:10; John 1:1; Gal. 4:4-5; 1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16) as one essence in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; each person is fully God, and there is only one God.  In the unity of the Godhead there is neither a mixing of the persons nor a division of the one essence.  In regard to their persons the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father (John 1:14, 18; 3:16), and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).  The Godhead is a community of self-giving lovers (Gen. 1:26, 3:22; 11:7; Is. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 3:16; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6).

RC Sproul (Everyone’s a Theologian, 179) says in regards to the work of the Trinity in our redemption that “…God the Father initiated the plan of redemption; Christ performed all that was necessary to effect our redemption; and the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work to us and makes it ours by imparting new life to dead souls, which theologians call ‘regeneration’” (see “B” is for Born Again).  As the final part of the last verse of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” says, “Holy, Holy, Holy merciful and mighty; God in three persons blessed Trinity.”

Confession on Pneumatology

I believe in the Holy Spirit who is one in essence with the Father and the Son and also co-eternal with them (Matt. 3:16-17; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  He is very God and eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).

I believe the ministry of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension is to testify about the Son (John 15:26; Acts 5:30-32).  The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:8-11), regenerates (John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:5-6), sanctifies (Rom. 15:16), and assures the believer of their salvation (Rom. 8:16; 2 Cor. 1:22).  Upon repentance and belief in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and remains with them forever (John 14:16; Rom. 8:9-11).  He counsels (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7), seals (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30), and teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:11-13; 1 John 2:20, 27) the believer while guiding them to put behind the sinful desires of the flesh and clothe themselves with the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:16-23).

I believe the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to all believers for the glory of God and the edification of the church (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; 13:1-13; Eph. 4:11-12, 16; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pt. 4:10-11).  Believers are given different kinds of gifts so that they work together in unity and properly function as the body of Christ.  The “sign gifts” such as healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues were essential for the authentication of the apostolic generation to both confirm the message spoken and the authority of those speaking (Matt. 11:2-6; John 10:24-26, 37-38; 14:11; Acts 8:4-8; 14:3; Heb. 2:1-4).  These gifts were particularly necessary when a completed canon (the Bible) was not yet finalized, and therefore are not normative for today (Num. 11:10-25; 1 Cor. 3:10-11; 2 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 3:1-6; Heb. 2:1-4).  No individual gift serves as a sign of the Spirit’s indwelling, because the Spirit’s indwelling is itself the gift (Acts 10:45; 11:15-17; 1 John 4:13).

Taking a Closer Look

One can see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is far reaching.  In fact it reaches back to the beginning when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2).  The Spirit was active in creation and, as the statement above declares, is active in the re-creation (or regeneration) of individuals who were dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3).  And the Spirit is active in the process of sanctification, where believers are transformed to become more like Jesus Christ, and will be active in the believer’s glorification.  The Holy Spirit is the One whom God sends to make the believer holy.  Without the work of the Spirit we would neither come to faith in Christ, in fact could not, nor would we desire the things of God.  It is rather ironic that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked and yet He is very active at every point in the believer’s life.

It was stated briefly above in my confession on pneumatology but is worth highlighting again and that is the Holy Spirit’s work in regards to the Scriptures.  Namely, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers and now illumines the text for us.  2 Peter. 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  And 1 Cor. 2:11 says, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”  The Holy Spirit helps us understand the truths of Scripture by shedding light onto our dark minds.  He is the teacher of truth which is fitting since He is called the “Spirit of Truth” three times in John’s gospel (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Have you ever been stuck when praying?  What I mean is, have you ever not known the right thing to say?  Maybe you found yourself in a new situation and were unsure of how to proceed forward.  Or maybe a friendship or other relationship is on rocky ground and you don’t know whether to pray for healing or for God to cut the ties with the least amount of hurt possible.  Or maybe you agreed to pray for someone who then shares with you that they are seeking prayer for something you know is not biblical.  Have you ever had a hard time praying the “right words” afraid that if you don’t ask for something just right you won’t receive it, as if God is like one of those school lockers that won’t budge unless you get the right combination.  While we may not verbalize this, but based on how we pray we reveal a lot about what we actually believe.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we can approach God’s throne with confidence and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).  Why can we approach God’s throne with confidence?  Because Jesus, the Son of God, our great high priest was tempted like we are but unlike you and me, Jesus never once sinned (vv. 14-15).  And because of Jesus’ substitutionary death (see “A” for Atonement) on the cross for sinners we who have been brought into God’s kingdom by the work of the Holy Spirit can be confident God is able to help us.  We can also pray confidently, even boldly, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf.  Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses.  The blessed Trinity is active when you and I pray.  May that realization spur us to approach God’s throne today!