- 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
- 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]
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]
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.
- 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]
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.
- 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]
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]
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]
B. The personality of the Holy Spirit:
Personality refers to things as emotions and feelings. We reveal our personality by the way we respond to others and situations in which we are involved. Therefore, when we seek to explain the personality of the Holy Spirit, we are often explaining who He is after the characteristics of our own personal behavior. As an eternal personality, the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ep 4:30), vexed (Is 63:10), lied to (At 5:3), resisted (At 7:51; 1 Th 5:19), despised (Hb 10:29), blasphemed, and sinned against (Mt 12:31,32; Mk 3:28,29).
All the preceding explain the affect of our sin on the person of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit was an impersonal entity, then these human reactions against the Spirit would make no sense. The fact that the Spirit is a being with emotion is revealed in the fact that we can sinfully work against Him and cause this emotional response in Him. The Holy Spirit, therefore, responds to our sin in a manner that is similar to someone sinning against us.
C. The gender of the Holy Spirit:
God the Father is called the Father. God the Son was named Jesus, and thus was Jesus the Christ who fulfilled all prophecy in reference to the Messiah of Israel. However, God the Holy Spirit has no name. Spirit is what He is as God. The word “holy” refers to the eternal Spirit as One who is distinct from the Father and Son. But the reference “Holy Spirit” is not a name. It is a reference to who and what God the Spirit is.
The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal “it.” Though Deity has no gender in the sense of male or female, the masculine gender is used in the Bible to refer to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus said to the apostles, “He [the Holy Spirit] will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26). “He will testify of Me” (Jn 15:26). “He will speak and He will tell you all things” (Jn 16:13).
Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome concerning the Spirit, “He who searches the hearts …. He makes intercession” (Rm 8:27). The Spirit said in Antioch, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (At 13:2). The Holy Spirit, therefore, is not an impersonal influence. He is not a mystic force or ghostly nudge floating through the air. He is “person” or “personality” in the masculine gender as the Father and Son.
D. The eternal attributes of the Holy Spirit:
In Acts 5:3 Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. However, in verse 4 it is said that they lied to God. The Holy Spirit is God, and when one lies to the Spirit, he lies to God the Holy Spirit (Gn 1:1,26). The Spirit is of the eternal Godhead who existed before the creation of the material world (Jb 26:13; Hb 9:14). The Spirit is not a minor God who is inferior to the Father and Son. All the nature we would attribute to the Father and Son we must also attribute to the Holy Spirit (See Mc 3:8; Rm 8:26,27; 1 Co 2:10-13).
The Holy Spirit manifests the same divine characteristics as God. The Spirit is omniscient (all-knowing) in that He “searches all things” (1 Co 2:10). He is omnipresent in that one cannot escape His presence (Ps 139:7-10). When Paul spoke of the presence of God to the men of Athens, explained that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (At 17:28). We live within the realm of God, which includes the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is thus mentioned in the presence of the eternal Father and Son (Mt 3:13-17; 28:19,20; 2 Co 13:14). The Spirit is one with the Father and Son and shares the same eternal attributes as a part of God.
[Next in series: May 5]
A. The “person” of the Holy Spirit:
Any attempt to comprehend God by use of our human dictionary will surely end in frustration. There is too much earthly baggage hanging on our words. Struggling to use earthly defined words to define that which is beyond this world is certainly a challenge that is faced by every Bible interpreter. Therefore, when reading words that the Spirit used to define His being and work, we must keep in mind that we are using words of this world that often carry with them the earthly baggage of how we use the words in our own lives. We thus caution ourselves in making any definition of God with the use of the words of our dictionary.
In any study of the Holy Spirit, we must seek to understand what the Bible teaches concerning the “person” of the Spirit. With the use of the word “person” we have already limited our understanding of the Spirit. Nevertheless, by using the word “person” we are referring to the individual identity or nature of the Spirit Himself. But keep in mind that our use of the word “person” carries with it our earthly baggage of how we identify ourselves as individuals.
The Holy Spirit is a person of the eternal Elohim. This Hebrew word for God is plural in its use in Genesis 1:1. This “plural” God created the heavens and earth. When God (plural) said, “Let Us make man” (Gn 1:26), the Holy Spirit was a part of the eternal Us that formed man from the dust of the earth. Though the Son of God as a “person” of the eternal Godhead created the world (Cl 1:16), the Holy Spirit could not be separated from the eternal Elohim who worked in partnership with the Father and Son in the creation.
The use of the word “Us” assumes that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wanted us to understand that Elohim works as one, but are three in nature and function. What is beyond our understanding is that the one true Elohim both works and manifests Himself as a plurality. This does not mean that there are three Gods. It simply means that the one God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit could manifest themselves in many different ways in order to carry out their work and function in reference to creation.
The word “Godhead” is used three times in the King James Version to translate either the Greek phrases or words “to theios” or “theiotes,” which words are used in reference to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Acts 17:29 the word “Godhead” is used to translate to theios that is translated by other versions with the English words “divine nature” (NKJV), “divine being” (NIV) or “Deity” (RSV). The word “Godhead” is used to translate theiotes in Romans 1:20 and Colossians 2:9.
The word theiotes refers to the attributes, nature and properties of God as spirit (Jn 4:24). The nature or “property” of God is His plurality. This has confused many Bible students for centuries, and thus we must not think that we can fully understand that to which the inspired writer is referring. One would simply have to be God in order to fully understand the nature of God. The fact that God is spirit is the length to which we can go in understanding the being of God (Jn 4:24). But to say that God is spirit is simply to say that His being is not of this material world.
The Bible reveals three “personalities” or persons of the Godhead, though the words “personality” and “person” as we use them here should not be understood to refer to different natures in person or personality. The Godhead is precisely the same in character and nature. There is no difference between the character and nature of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, the Godhead manifests Himself as three. For example, Paul stated, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Co 13:14). In this one statement Paul mentioned the three “personalities” of the Godhead: the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. This manifestation of three was also revealed at the baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:13-17). Jesus, the Son, was baptized in water on earth. The Holy Spirit descended on Him in the likeness of a dove. But the Father spoke from heaven.
Though the Bible teaches that there is one God (Dt 4:35; 6:4,5; Is 43:10,11; 46:8-11), the one God can be manifested to be in three different “places” in reference to this world. On earth, Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, but saw in vision the Son at the right hand of the Father (At 7:55-59). There are numerous other statements that manifest this distinctiveness in the “persons” of the Godhead, as well as God being located in reference to our locations as individual persons (See Mt 12:28,32; Jn 11:41; 15:26; 20:17; 1 Tm 2:5). The Holy Spirit, therefore, is a distinct entity of the eternal Godhead in the sense that He has a specific work. He is not distinct in a sense of being separate. He simply has a specific work as part of the eternal Elohim.
It may seem that our struggle to define God, and specifically the Holy Spirit, with the words of man is a confusing ordeal in linguistic gymnastics. This may be true. Our inability to understand how God can be three and yet one does not communicate to our human intellect. Nevertheless, this is how God has manifested Himself to us, and thus, we must be satisfied with our intellectual inadequacies to fully understand.
The Holy Spirit knew that we would be confined to the definition of the words of our dictionary. Nevertheless, He used our words in the best manner they could be used in order to explain God. At the same time, however, He realized that we could never fully understand that which is beyond the definition of our earthly words. We must caution ourselves, therefore, not to dispute with our earthly words concerning things that are beyond the definition of our dictionary. If we do, then we will be tempted to create a god after our own image, one that we can fully understand. And this would be idolatry.
[Next in series: May 3]