Confirming Miracles (3)

B. Signal:

The Greek word semeion is correctly translated “sign” (See Mk 16:20; Jn 3:2; At 14:3; 2 Co 12:12; Hb 2:4). In reference to supernatural works, the purpose of a miraculous event as a sign was to manifest to man the presence of the supernatural. In other words, the sign was meant to be a token, or indication of something above the actual happening itself. The miracle as a sign directed the attention of the beholders to the Supernatural above that which is the natural. Confirming miracles must signal the presence and work of God.

As in the use of the word “wonder,” the word “sign” must generate a response on the part of those who behold the sign. Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2). Nicodemus, and those who were with him, witnessed the miraculous work of Jesus. Their conclusion was that Jesus was confirmed to be from God. They could have concluded this only if what Jesus did was beyond the ordinary occurrence of natural laws. The miraculous work of Jesus had to be so definitive that the beholders could not deny that God was at work.

The same was true in God’s miraculous work with the disciples as they went forth to preach the gospel after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. God was with them, “confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mk 16:20). The preached word of the gospel was signaled to be from God. It was signaled to be the word of the gospel by the miraculous work that God worked through the messengers. And, it was signaled as the word of the gospel before unbelievers. A miracle, therefore, must be of such a nature that it has the powerful witness to signal before unbelievers that God is at work.

We would not define a confirming miracle as such if the unbeliever could deny its occurrence. In other words, there would be no “signaling” of the Supernatural if the unbelievers could deny or explain away the event of the miracle. True miracles cannot be explained away by unbelievers. They cannot be denied because the force of the event of the miracle is so strong that it works to confirm either the message or the messenger who worked the miracle.

[Next in series: May 26]

Confirming Miracles (2)

A. Wonder:

The Greek word teras is often translated “wonder.” It is a word that is never used by itself in reference to miracles (See At 2:22,43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 15:12; Hb 2:4). It is a term that emphasizes the actual reac­tion of the pe­ople to the particular miraculous happening that was witnessed (See Mt 9:26; Mk 2:12; 6:51; 7:37; Lk 8:56; 13:17).

The use of this word defines a true miracle as an event that causes some type of reaction on the part of those who behold the miracle. Acts 4:14-16 records the reaction of unbelievers who witnessed the miracle that Peter and John worked in healing the lame beggar at the temple. The beholders said, “For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (At 4:16).

Though Simon the sorcerer “astonished” the people with his magical tricks for years, he himself was “amazed” when he beheld the true miracles that were worked by Philip (At 8:11,13). The action of a true miracle is so strong, therefore, that it must stimulate a response in those who behold it. A valid and true miracle, therefore, cannot be denied even by those who are unbelievers.

The fact is that a confirming miracle is not defined as such unless it does cause wonder on the part of those who behold it. Miracles were to confirm both the spoken word of God and the messengers who preached the word of the gospel (Mk 16:20; Hb 2:3,4). God’s work of confirmation was not meant to be carried out before believers. The work of confirmation of the message of the gospel was to take place before unbelievers. Therefore, the miracle must be of such a nature that unbelievers have to admit that something above nature occurred in the event of the miracle.

The judge of whether or not a miracle occurs must be the unbelievers, for it was before the unbelievers that confirming miracles occurred in order to confirm both the message and messenger of the gospel. This vital truth is affirmed by the use of the word teras in reference to the miraculous work of God as recorded in the Bible. Therefore, a miracle is a miracle only when it causes wonder on the part of the unbelievers. This is what we would define as a “confirming” miracle.

[Next in series: May 23]

Confirming Miracles (1)

The term “supernatural” has also come into use in reference to miracles. “Super” comes from the Greek word huper that means “above.” When we say that something is “supernatural” we are referring to that which is above natural law. A miracle is an extraordinary happening that is above, or beyond, the ordinary occur­rence of natural laws that govern this physical universe.

The English term “miracle” comes from the Latin word miraculum. This word was used by English translators to translate the Greek words dunamis and semeion. Both words were originally used in language to refer to that which causes wonder and astonishment. They were words that were used to refer to that which was extraordinary and unexplainable by empirical definitions.

Though the words “miracle” and “supernatural” are used today to refer to all the work of God both past and present, the biblical interpreter must understand the common error that we make for ourselves by reading our present-day experiences into the Bible. We define words by our experiences in everyday life. The word “miracle” is commonly used in our society to refer to any unusual event that people experience. For example, what is easily understood as a physiological condition of epilepsy is often defined by some to be demon possession. A nervous condition on the part of some individuals is sometimes referred to as demon possession by others. Some hallucination that one might experience at a time of emotional distress is often defined by some to be a vision from God. Unusual dreams are sometimes considered to be visions from God. All such experiences are also defined today with the words “miracle” or “miraculous.”

The problem is that our experiences are read into the Bible where the word “miracle” is used. This is the problem many have in understanding the miracles of the Bible. They define the miraculous work about which we read in the Bible with the experiences of their own lives.

If one assumes that God works today in the affairs of man as He has always worked in a miraculous manner two millennia ago, then it is easy to assume that He miraculously works today in the same manner. If we assume that He continues to work in our lives as He did in the life of Isaiah or Paul, then it is only natural to assume that miracles occur today in our lives in the same manner they occurred in the lives of the Bible characters.

However, the problem with this method of interpreting the Bible is that we do not allow the Bible to speak for itself. We want it to speak according to our own experiences. Nevertheless, we must allow the Bible to be its own dictionary of the miraculous work of God. In other words, we must allow the Holy Spirit through the inspired words of the Bible to define the miraculous work of God. We cannot use our own experiences as the definition of God’s work. If we do, then our own experiences become the foundation upon which we interpret the word of God, and subsequently base our faith.

Since it is easy to be deceived by our own experiences and environment, it is imperative that we allow the Bible to define the miraculous work of God. It is imperative that the Bible be the only guide by which we understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the affairs of man. The following are Greek words that were used by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament in order to define the miraculous or supernatural work of God in the affairs of this world:

[Next in series: May 21]

Free Moral Choice

  1. 3. God expects us to exercise our free-moral agency. God holds us responsible for our behavior. The plea of the early evangelists, therefore, was, “Repent!” (At 2:38; 2 Pt 3:9). Such was a call for people to exercise their free-moral choice to bring their lives into harmony with God’s will. “Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” (2 Co 7:1). “Do not touch what is unclean” (2 Co 6:17). Such pleas on the part of the Holy Spirit would be senseless if we could not make free-moral choices in relation to God’s plea through the gospel without the aid of the Holy Spirit. They would not make any sense if the individual could not make a choice to respond on his own accord.

In the context of these exhortations, we wonder why there is the absence of pleas to submit to the supposed inner workings of the Holy Spirit if indeed He is to do such in the life of the alien sinner or saint. The point is that God will hold each individual responsible for his or her own behavior, regardless of one’s beliefs concerning the influence of the Holy Spirit. Paul warned, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Co 5:10).

The fact that we will be held accountable for behavior in judgment means that the Holy Spirit will carry no burden for spiritual growth that would end in the Spirit’s accountability for our behavior. The Spirit will not come into judgment for our bad behavior. Each Christian will be held accountable for his own moral behavior.

In order to influence the moral behavior of man, the Holy Spirit works through the medium of revelation. In this way the free-moral choice of each individual is guarded. We are without excuse if we refuse the Spirit’s pleas through the word of God to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pt 3:18).

Our understanding concerning the work and influ­ence of the Holy Spirit must respect the free-moral choice of each individual. This is necessary because if the free-moral choice of man falls in any way, the justice of God in final judg­ment also falls. Therefore, God has shielded the heart of man (his moral behavior) by making man a free-moral individual. Camp conclud­ed,

“Any work of the Spirit that does not conform to God’s way of teaching His Word, or that would destroy or set aside man’s free moral agency, is a misconception of how the Spirit works.”5:35

Through our free-moral knowledge of revealed truth, we are allowed to either respond negatively or positively to God’s law. However, the influence of the Holy Spirit must not be viewed as directly influencing the our moral behavior apart from our responsibility to make choices for ourselves. If it is the work of the Spirit to directly control or influence our moral behavior, then our free-moral choice is violated. If our free-moral choice is violated, then the justice of God cannot stand in final judgment if one is lost. Boles concluded,

God has never forced man to serve him. In the long history from the first of Genesis to the close of the New Testament, not one instance do we find where God has refused to let man do as he pleased …. God never compels man to serve him; he has never coerced or forced man to do his will. He has always left man free and has never used any coercion, nor has he used any coercive methods to force man to obey him.6:262

While we speak of the restraint and constraint of the Holy Spirit, yet we recognize that the Holy Spirit leaves man free to choose his own course in the work that he does. Man can turn a deaf ear to the words of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit will not force him to hear.6:263

Can God stand just in final judgment if the Holy Spirit is allowed to directly influence the moral behavior of man? Can any Christian be justly condemned to hell if it is the work of the Holy Spirit to influence directly the moral conduct of that Christian in order to keep him saved? If only one apostate Christian is lost, then would we not question the ability of the Holy Spirit to keep one saved?

If it is the work of the Spirit to directly activate man’s response to the revealed word, then He must do so in a way that does not leave Him responsible if either a Christian is eternally lost. We wonder what effect the Spirit would have on the Christian’s moral behavior to the extent of guarding him from apostasy. Whatever understanding one derives from the Scriptures concerning the work of the Spirit, or influence of the Holy Spirit upon the moral behavior of man, his interpretation must not make the Spirit infringe upon the free-moral choice of the individual. If our free-moral choice is set aside by a supposed direct action of the Holy Spirit, then God’s justice would be brought into question if only one Christian was eternally lost.

[Next in series: May 19

Free Moral Choice

  1. Peter exercised free-moral agency. Peter was also an apostle and a Spirit-inspired man. However, in Antioch of Syria he ran into some problems because of his lack of courage. In Antioch he at first freely associated with Gentile Christians. However, when some Jewish brethren came up from Jerusalem, Peter exercised his free-moral choice, and subsequently made a bad decision. He “withdrew and separated himself [from the Gentile brethren], fearing those who were of the circumcision” (Gl 2:12).

Paul confronted Peter about his fear of the legalistic Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. Paul later recorded, “I withstood him to his face because he stood condemned” (Gl 2:11). During the incident, “even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy” (Gl 2:13). The problem was that both Peter and Barnabas were greatly intimidated by the Jewish brethren from Jerusalem. Their lack of confidence to continue to walk according to the gospel in the presence of these legalistic Jewish bre­thren led them to behave in a hypocritical manner. They were thus not being straightforward about the gospel. We can understand Paul’s harsh judgment of Peter on this matter for Paul had faced similar false brethren in Jerusalem who sought to sinfully bind Jewish laws on Gentile Christians. Paul said that he and others “did not yield submission even for an hour …” (Gl 2:5). But during this encounter in Antioch, Peter yielded.

The above illustrates that though Peter was an apostle of Jesus, the Holy Spirit did not directly control or change the moral beha­vior of Peter. As previously stated, Peter was intimidated to be a hypocrite even though he had been given the witness of a special vision and experience of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles (See At 10,11). He had even experienced the working of many signs and wonders (At 14:3; 15:12). Nevertheless, he stood condemned on this occasion in Antioch when he allowed his personal lack of boldness to be revealed because of the intimidation of the Jewish brethren from Jerusalem.

The point is, though God used Peter to do great things, the Holy Spirit did not make them bold enough to withstand intimidation. He was struggling to overcome this lack of confidence even these many years after becoming a disciple. Peter’s lack of confidence remained with him even after he had walked with Jesus for over three years.

"If the Holy Spirit is to work directly upon the heart of man in order to change one’s character, we would wonder why He failed in the case of changing Peter’s lack of confidence so that he could stand up publicly for the truth of the gospel.
The situation with Peter in Antioch must also be viewed in the context of Paul’s request for prayers for boldness while in prison in Rome.  He wrote to the Ephesian brethren to be ...

… praying always with all prayer and supplication … that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ep 6:18-20).

Consider also the request for boldness by the disciples after the miraculous release of Peter from Herod’s prison. The disciples prayed, “Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (At 4:29). For these prayers to be made, it seems that in some way boldness can be granted. However, it cannot be granted in a way that would free us from our personal responsibility. It may have been that Peter did not pray for boldness in Antioch when he feared the Jewish brethren from Jerusalem. It was certainly the case when Paul needed from the Ephesian church special prayers for boldness when he was in prison in Rome. In both cases, we would not conclude that the answers to the prayers set aside the responsibility of one to free-moral choice to stand for that in which he or she believes.

The Holy Spirit does not directly work on the moral behavior of man in any way to influence directly the attitudes and prejudices of men in violation of free-moral choice. At least, in the case of Peter in Antioch the Spirit did not do this. Also consider as an example, the lives of Balaam and David. Though inspired by God to give testimony concerning the Israelites, Balaam did not change his moral behavior or evil counsel (See Nm 22:38; 24:13; 2 Pt 2:15,16; Jd 11). Though David was inspired to write many psalms, the Holy Spirit did not directly control his moral behavior by deterring him from commit­ting adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sm 11:2-5). And though some of the Corinthian disciples possessed the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in abundance, Paul said they were behaving carnally (1 Co 3:1-3). Some were selfish and covetous.

When speaking or writing by direction of the Holy Spirit, Peter and the other Bible writers spoke and wrote truth by inspiration. Their behavior, however, was subject to their personal decision. Though their revelation of the truth was under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, their moral behavior was under the indirect guidance of the truth that they revealed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And by such, they exhorted themselves and others to exercise free-moral choices in relation to their behavior.

Peter exhorted Christians to give “all diligence” to grow in the graces of gospel living (2 Pt 1:5). In recognizing our responsibility to take ownership of our spiritual growth, he exhorted Christians to “be ever more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pt 1:10). Concerning his guide for gospel living, he said, “If you do these things you will never stumble” (2 Pt 1:10). What is illustrated here is that Peter by inspiration reveals things to be done. He expresses individual responsibility that these things be done in their lives. Emphasis is not placed on the Holy Spirit activating one’s heart to respond to the instructions to be carried out in their lives. It is the responsibility of the individual Christian to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Pt 3:14). It is the responsibility of Christians to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jd 21). Only in view of the fact that we are true free-moral individuals do these injunctions make any sense.

[Next in series: May 17]

Free Moral Choice

a. Paul’s vision concerning outreach to Asia: In Acts 16:6 Paul and his mission team evidently determined to personally go into Asia to preach. However, “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” They thus changed plans and decided to go into Bithynia, a province of Asia. However, “the Spirit did not permit them” (At 16:7).

The reason the Spirit did not want them to go to these areas is discovered in Acts 19:8-10. The Spirit foreknew that Paul would later have the opportunity to indirectly preach to all Asia through the medium of teaching in the school of Tyrannus.

In Acts 16:9 Paul was given a vision that detoured him to Macedonia. However, he had a choice even concerning this vision. He could have disobeyed. The Spirit allowed him to exercise his free-moral choice by giving instructions in the vision to go into Macedonia. But this did not mean that Paul had to obey the vision. The fact that the vision to go to Macedonia was given in a vision assumes that he was only given the opportunity to go. He had to make the decision to go.

The fact that the Spirit “forbade” and “did not permit” in the above context concerning Asia and Bithynia indicates that something other than inner nudges and inclinations were used to detour Paul’s plans. The fact that a vision was given to direct him to the correct location is also evidence that the Spirit guarded Paul’s free-moral choices by giving him knowledge through vision by which he could make a decision. The Spirit simply did not force him to do anything.

b. Paul’s vision concerning obedience to his call: Later in his life, Paul stood before King Agrippa and stated concerning a vision that led to his conversion as recorded in Acts 9: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (At 26:19). In order for Paul not to be disobedient to the vision, he must have had the freedom to make a choice concerning the vision.

Therefore, in reference to any vision, the beholder could make a choice. Free-moral choice was not violated in the case of Paul in either Acts 9 or 16. In both situations Paul had a choice as to whether he would obey or disobey the visions.

c. Paul’s vision concerning travel to Jerusalem: At the end of his missionary journeys, Paul was returned to Jerusalem for a final visit. He came to Tyre. The disciples there “told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem” (At 21:4). Nevertheless, Paul continued on to Jerusalem. He then came to Caesarea. The prophet Agabus came down from Judea, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit …” (At 21:11). Agabus then gave Paul a symbolic prophecy that he would be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, and against the Spirit’s warnings and counsel, Paul free-morally chose to go to Jerusalem.

It was in Jerusalem that he was eventually arrested. In this case, Paul was allowed by the Holy Spirit to exercise his free-moral agency. He was given the knowledge concern­ing his future, but he was left with a choice as to what he would do in reference to the knowledge that came from the Holy Spirit.

From what happen on Paul’s way out of Caesarea, we learn that he was not even moved emotionally within himself to change his mind. Though the pleading of the brethren in Caesarea for him not to go to Jerusalem certainly touched him, he still went to Jerusalem (At 21:13,14­). It is clear, therefore, that he was not controlled directly by the Holy Spirit. In fact, he went on to Jerusalem and was arrested. However, the Lord stood by him with the comfort­ing words, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (At 23:11).

The conclusion to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Paul would be that though Paul was often led by the Spirit on different occasions, he was not directly controlled in his behavior by the Holy Spirit. When a vision was given to him, he still maintained the freedom to make a decision concerning what to do. In his decisions, he always followed the direction of the Spirit to accom­plish his ministry (See At 9:15). At other times when it involved his personal safety, he chose to go on his own accord, though he was forewarned by the Spirit. In reference to his moral behavior, he was left to be a true free-moral individual.

Paul would conclude this point for us with the following words: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disquali­fied” (1 Co 9:27). Though Paul preached the inspired message of the gospel, he was still free-morally responsible to live by that which he preached.

In the same context of obedience he exhorted Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tm 4:16). Though this thought seems to scare some, the fact is that these free-moral men were left on their own to do what Paul had told the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Ph 2:12). When it comes to moral behavior in reference to our salvation, every Christian is responsible for himself. And because we are responsible for ourselves, God will remain just in judgment if we are “disqualified.”

[Next in series: May15]

Free Moral Choice

B. Freedom of the free-moral:

The Bible assumes that man is a free-moral individual. There is no definition in the Bible of free-moral choice of man. It is just assumed that we would logically conclude that such is true. Free-moral choice is thus an axiomatic truth. It is a truth that does not need direct revelation to teach or necessarily be proved. It is simply a fact of life that all men have the freedom to make choices. Therefore, we do not need to quote a scripture that states, “Man is a free-moral agent.” That man is such, needs no proof according to Scripture.

Free-moral choice is true because we all exercise daily choices in an environment that allows choices to be made. Even without the Bible, we assume the free-moral agency of man. Nevertheless, the manner by which God deals with man teaches us that God created us true free-moral individuals.

Joshua exhorted Israel, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Ja 24:15). Isaiah also exhorted Israel to “choose the good” (Is 7:15). God pled with Israel to come and reason together (Is 1:18). He did not make the people righteous. He did not force them to return to His law. He allowed them the opportunity to choose their own destiny. Such exhortations in the Scriptures assume that Israel had the ability to make a choice that would affect their future and eternal destiny. The fact that God made these pleas to Israel is evidence that God allowed them to make their own choices. And the fact that God allowed them to make choices assumes that they had the freedom to do so.

In the New Testament free-moral choice is assumed even in the personal behavior of inspired men as Paul and Peter. These men were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and yet, they were allowed to make choices concerning their eternal destiny. The Spirit did not directly control their moral behavior.

  1. Paul exercised free-moral choice: The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Paul can be quite interesting. Did Paul always obey the counsel of the Holy Spirit? Did he always give heed to the forewarning of the Spirit? In answer to these questions, it is necessary to understand an important point concerning God’s use of visions to direct His chosen men.

Throughout the Bible visions are mentioned in situations where God directly appeared in some way to those He wanted to give counsel or direction in ministry. We do not know exactly what transpired in a vision. It was an experience that was so real and clear that the beholder perceived that it was actually happening. It was an almost real appearance that the one who beheld the vision received a moving picture from God concerning the future.

However, understanding what a vision was is not the point. The point is that a vision was given in view of the free-moral choice of the one to whom it was given. The beholder saw the vision, but he was allowed the opportunity to make a choice as to whether to obey the vision.

Visions were not subjective experiences. They did not take control of the individual. In other words, the fact that God gave the vision is evidence that He allowed the beholder to make a choice concerning obedience to the instructions of the vision. Examples of this fact are seen in the life of Paul.

[Next in series: May 13]

Free Moral Choice

A. Requirements for a free-moral agent:

In order for one to be a true free-moral individual there are three things that must exist: (1) We must have the ability to make choices. (2) We must live in an environment in which the choices can be made. (3) We must have the freedom to make the choices.

If one had the ability to make choices, but did not live in an environment wherein he could make choices, then certainly he would not be a true free-moral individual. If he could make the choices, and lived in an environment in which he could make choices, but was prevented from doing so, then he would still not be a truly free-moral individual.

  1. Ability to choose: If we are to make choices in relation to revealed law in order to maintain a covenant relationship with God, then we must have the mental ability to make choi­ces. God first placed man in the garden of Eden. He also placed in the garden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In relation to the tree, there was law. “Don’t eat of it” (Gn 2:17). It would have been senseless to state the law concerning the eating of the fruit of the tree if Adam did not have the ability to make a rational choice concerning the law.

Adam was given the law not to eat of the tree because God had already given him the ability to make a choice. Because Adam had the ability to make a choice in reference to law, he was truly free, and thus, would be held accountable for his sin if he violated the law. Therefore, in order for all men to stand in judgment and be held accountable for their choices, all of us must have been created with the ability to make choices concerning good and evil.

Condemnation of anyone would be unjust if any individual did not have the ability to make choices by which he or she could be saved. The justice of God will stand in judgment because we have been given the ability to make choices. And because we have this ability, we will be held accountable for the choices we make.

2. Environment for choice: A man with the ability to choose, who is not placed in an environment wherein he can make choices, is not truly free. Therefore, God had to place choices before Adam and Eve in order to produce an environment wherein they could function as true free-moral individuals. For this reason, man was placed in a world where Satan is allowed to deceive. The reality of deception by Satan is evidence that we must make choices in relation to truth. As free-moral individuals we are capable of making decisions in the environment in which we live.

In order for God to stand as a just God in judgment, those who are judged must have had an opportunity to make choices of good or evil. If the condemned did not have the choice of making bad choices, then God could not be just to condemn them to hell. Therefore, the fact that we will be held accountable for making evil choices, assumes that we now live in an environment in which those choices can be made.

3. Freedom to choose: It would have been useless for God to create us with the ability to make choices, and then place us in an environment wherein choices could be made, but without giving us the freedom to make choices. God’s creation of man with the ability to make choices assumes that we have the freedom to do so.

Placing us in an environment wherein we can make choices also assumes that we can make the choices. Therefore, in order for man to be a true free-moral agent, he must have the privilege of making choices of either good or evil in an environment wherein such choices can be made.

If God had pre-programmed us to behave in a certain manner, we would be robots. But it is difficult to love a robot. Therefore, in order for God to relate to a being upon which He could truly pour out His love, man of necessity had to be created truly free to make moral decisions. And when God did pour out His love through His Son, then the recipients of the love could free-morally respond to the Father with the words, “We love You, too!”

To be truly free, however, God could not create man with a programmed nature that would incline him to either good or evil. We were created pure. Babies are born pure of sin. We were brought forth into this world with an unbiased nature. Therefore, we are not programmed (predestined) to good and heaven—Calvin was wrong. We are not programmed (predestined) to evil and hell.

If we were programmed to do good, then we would not deserve heaven. If we were programmed to be disobedient, then we could not justly be condemned to hell. Therefore, of necessity we had to be created pure and free, and then allowed the opportunity to live in an environment wherein freedom of choice was possible.

Without freedom of choice, we could not be justly given heaven as a “reward.” A reward can be given only to one who freely chooses to do that which was necessary to receive to receive the reward. Neither could we be justly condemned to hell if we were not true free-moral individuals with the freedom to rebel against obedience to the gospel.

What type of a fiendish god would condemn to hell one who never had the freedom to make a choice concerning his or her eternal destiny in heaven? This is the insidious nature of the doctrine of Calvinism. It is an attack against the justice of God, as well as the free-moral choice of each individual person who has and will live on the face of the earth. It is an attack against our opportunity to respond to the gospel, and our walk of gratitude to God for sending us His love offering.

[Next in Series: May 11]

Free-Moral Choice

The justice of God is necessitated by the fact that there will be a final judgment wherein most of the world will be condemned to the destruction of hell. The fact that there will be accountability for sin in judgment assumes that there must be a just God who will bring all of us before judgment. Therefore, in order for there to be a just and fair judgment, those who are judged must be fairly judged by a just God. Just judgment before a just God can happen only if we are held completely accountable for our own behavior. And for us to be held completely accountable for our own behavior in final judgment, we must be truly free to make our own decisions in this life.

This brings us to the ability to make choices that God has instilled within all men. In order for just judgment to be conducted in reference to every individual, every individual must be a truly free-moral individual who lives in an environment wherein choices of either good or evil can freely be made.

In order for God to be just in judgment, therefore, man must be a true free-moral individual with the ability to make choices. By free we mean that we must have the right or freedom to make choices of either good or evil. By moral we mean that we must have the freedom to make moral choices in reference to our behavior, and subsequently, our eternal destiny. By individual we mean that we must be an independent personality wherein our heart can be influenced. We cannot be truly free individuals if our minds cannot make either right or wrong choices that are outside the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. A truly free-moral individual has the freedom to make choices of either good or evil in an environment wherein choices of either good or evil can be made.

[Next in Series: May 9]

Understanding The Holy Spirit (4)

E. The relationship of the Holy Spirit to the saints:

The early disciples walked in the “comfort of the Holy Spirit” (At 9:31). This would manifest the nature of the Spirit, as well as what the Spirit does for the saints. The Spirit is of a nature that is comforting to man. This closeness is defined in the New Testament as “indwelling.” He works on behalf of Christians in prayer (Rm 8:26,27). He was close to the apostles as a “helper” in inspiration (Jn 14:26; 16:13). Such closeness emphasizes the individu­ality of the Spirit.

We are now in the time of the Holy Spirit wherein it is the work of the Spirit to be in and with the saints of God until the end of time. Therefore, Christians have a unique relationship with the Holy Spirit that was not experienced before the establishment of the church in the beginning.

F. The intellectual characteristics of the Holy Spirit:

When we speak of the intellect of the Spirit, we must mean that His intellect does not condescend to what we know. The Spirit as God knows all things. The Holy Spirit “knows the things of God” (1 Co 2:11). He has a mind (Rm 8:27). He has freedom of choice in that He divided the miraculous gifts among the early disciples according to His will (1 Co 12:11). He has the power of search­ing (1 Co 2:10), loving (Rm 15:30), and witnessing (Jn 15:26). All these characteristics manifest the intellectual nature of the Spirit and how He functions on behalf of the saints. Therefore, the Spirit is not a “ghost” that is whispering from one place to another.

G. The function of the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit has a specific work. His specific work identifies Him as a distinct manifestation of the Godhead who works on behalf of the Godhead. In the beginning, it was the specific work of the Spirit to bring order to the created world (Gn 1:2; Jb 26:13; Ps 104:30). It was the specific work of the Spirit to inspire men to speak and write Scripture (1 Co 2:10-13; Ep 3:3-5; 2 Tm 3:16,17; 2 Pt 1:20,21). The Spirit also worked through Jesus during His ministry on earth (Mt 4:1; 12:28; Lk 4:14,18; Jn 3:34). It was the specific work of the Spirit to guide the Christ-sent apostles into all truth (Jn 14:26; 16:13). It was the work of the Spirit to work miraculously through the gifts that were given to the early saints for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (At 8:18; 1 Co 12-14; Hb 2:4).

The preceding works identify the individual function of the Spirit in relation to the Godhead. In all His work, it is the purpose of the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus. Jesus said of Him, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:14). It was never the purpose of the Holy Spirit to bring glory to Himself. Therefore, anyone who would glorify the Holy Spirit over Jesus is misguided.

The preceding brief points of explanation of the identity of the Holy Spirit certainly fall short of what we would like to know about the Spirit and His function in our own lives. We struggle with the definitions of our dictionary in order to understand something that is beyond our earthly definitions. Nevertheless, the Bible reveals enough about the Spirit’s identity and work to distinguish Him from the spooks and ghosts that are often conjured up in the minds of men and read into the Bible.

Because of their background, some people feel comfortable to say that God is working among us today. Others, however, feel comfortable in saying that it is the Spirit working among us today. Both statements are saying the same thing. Regardless of how it is said, it is God the Spirit, and thus, the Spirit as God is working among us. It is God the Spirit who is working all things together for the good of the Christian (Rm 8:28). It is God the Spirit who guards us from being tempted above what we are able to endure (1 Co 10:13). When Jesus worked on earth, it was God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together through the manifestation of Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit into this world for us. He is now working for the benefit of all believers.

[Next in series: May 7]