Lost Love

When we have no mission outreach to the lost, we have lost our purpose as a church of Christ. We are thus dead to the purpose for which the church exists in a world of sin.

The Ephesian and Sardis churches are the New Testament examples of this fact. The Ephesian disciples started off with a blast in Acts 19. But a little over thirty years later the members had lost their first love. The members of the Sardis church had a great reputation in their city for their good works. But they were dead. Because of where both churches were at the time the message of Revelation was written, they had incurred the negative judgment of Jesus in reference to their function as the universal body of Christ.

We have found that dead churches often do not realize that they are dead. The reason for this is that Satan generates too much religious behavior in the lives of those whom he wants to feel good while in a state of death. When the church goes down, he makes the members think that all is well in a sinking ship. Keep in mind that until Jesus showed up, the Ephesian disciples probably did not realize that they had lost their first love. Churches that have no mission outreach, but are involved in a great number of good works, usually do not realize that Satan has sent them off course. This seems to have been the situation with the Sardis Christians who felt good about themselves, but they were dead to the function for which Christ died.

Love lost:

Notice the truth of this point in reference to what Jesus said to the Ephesian disciples over three decades after their beginning in Acts 19: “I know your works and your labor and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil” (Rv 2:2). The complements continued in order to notify them that their “church” activity and involvement was by the time Revelation was written, was only self-deception. They had digressed into systematic religion from which they needed to repent: “You have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rv 2:3). That was their past. Their present was not so.

If we stopped here we might conclude that these disciples throughout the city of Ephesus were doing quite well. They felt secure in the deception of their church involvement. The members were an active group who were busy as bees doing this or that program in order to present a front that they were a church that was on fire for the Lord. But there was something tragically wrong. Something was so wrong that Jesus called on them to repent.

We might assume that the Ephesian disciples had involvement programs that focused on their own needs. There was probably even a committee that sat as judges who “tested those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars” (Rv 2:2). They surely had a benevolent program, a Bible school department, a roster of those who were to be the participants in the Sunday morning performance. They possibly had a disaster relief program where members involved themselves in helping those who suffered from earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. But something was tragically wrong. Their first love was gone.

In their euphoria of activity, Jesus dropped in with a pronouncement that shock them to their inner soul. “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rv 2:4). They had left their purpose for being disciples of the One who came into this world to seek and to save those who are lost (Lk 19:10). They turned into a religious social club who catered to those needs that were not focused on eternal consequences.

The first love that originally led to their birth as a church and initial rapid growth in their beginning. But now it was gone. Their activity of how they loved one another was going great. But their loving function with one another to the exclusion of loving the lost, led to their need to repent.

[Next in series: June 1]

Confirming Miracles (5)

D. Work:

The Greek word egron is translated “works” or “deeds” throughout the New Testament (See Jn 5:36; 6:28,29; 7:21; 10:25,32, 37,38; 14:11,12; 15:24). In reference to miraculous activity, a miracle as a work signified the natural activity of the environment of God that is manifested to men.

As a work, a miracle indicated the natural environment in which God dwells. If Jesus is the Son of God, as He so claimed, then we would expect Him to work as God. We would expect Him to reveal the supernatural world that is beyond this world. We would expect Him to manifest the environment of God that is beyond the perception of our senses. And this He did.

The very nature of the miraculous to manifest the environment of God defines a miracle to be something that is not of this world. If the event can be explained by the occurrence of any natural law or the psychological activity of any person, then the work is not a miracle. If one can explain the psychological power of the mind to block out bodily pain, then it is not a direct work of God. If one can explain the hypnotic ability of one who has hypnotized another, then it is not a miraculous work. A confirming miracle as a work of God cannot be explained by any scientist or psychologist. Confirming miracles are unexplainable by our knowledge of the physical world in which we live. A miracle as a work of God must be witnessed to be the activity of the Supernatural as opposed to the work of man.

From the Holy Spirit’s use of the words teras (wonder), semeion (sign), dunamis (power) and ergon (work) in reference to the activity of God among men, He wanted to convey the meaning that action or reaction must take place on the part of man. These Greek words in reference to confirming miracles, therefore, are defined by the response of those who witnessed the occurrence of the miraculous event. In the case of miraculous work that is recorded in the Bible, it would be the work of God before either those who did not believe, in order to bring them to belief.

It was not the purpose of the miraculous to convince the true believers. They did not need convincing. God worked to generate wonder on the part of unbelievers in order to convince them that He was present with His message and messenger. He worked to signal to beholders that the message of the gospel must be heard and obeyed. He worked powerfully in order to dispel any question as to who was at work. And thus, His intervention in the affairs of man was defined as the work of the Lord. He worked through the miraculous in order to accomplish the purpose of convincing unbelievers that His messengers were sent from Him with the message of the gospel. Jesus said, “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (Jn 5:36).

Our definition of the words that are used to refer to the miraculous work of God still leaves us wondering what actually took place when a miracle occurred. Our words, whether Greek or English, do not adequately define the work of God in His intervention into our natural world. It will be easier to understand the work of a confirming miracle by understan­ding the realm of the Supernatural, though it is difficult to understand the environment of God by use of earthly words.

The preceding Greek and English words are words that express the experiences of man with man. It is difficult for us to use our dictionary to explain that which is above our experiences. For example, Paul said that he was caught up to Paradise and “heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Co 12:4). In other words, he saw things that could be expressed only by using “God’s heavenly dictionary” which has no earthly definitions. If he did utter such words, then we could not understand them because they would have heavenly definitions. Such illustrates the difficulty we have in using earthly-defined words to explain heavenly activities among men in the form of miracle. So in reference to Paul trying to explain the Paradise unto which he was taken, the Spirit simply said that it was not lawful for him to try to explain.

[End of series]

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Confirming Miracles (4)

C. Power:

The Greek word dunamis is usually translated in the English Bible with the words “powers,” “mighty deeds,” or “mighty works” (See At 2:22; 19:11). Emphasis on a miraculous event as a “power” is placed on the supernatural power that is revealed through the occurrence of the event.

A confirming miracle as a power is meant to manifest the tremendous energy of the realm of God in relation to the physical environment of man (See Gn 18:14; Is 40:12-17; At 15:12; Mt 10:1; 12:28). As a power, a miracle manifests the nature of the environment in which Deity dwells. A miraculous power is a manifestation of the real environment of the supernatural that has existed from eternity and will exist, from our viewpoint, into eternity without end when this world ceases to exist.

As with the words “wonder” and “sign,” a miraculous work as a power must be defined as such by those who behold the event. If the event does not manifest power that is beyond the natural world in which we live, then it is not a “power.” It is only something that has happened according to the ordinary occurrence of the natural laws of this world. Therefore, in order for a miraculous event to be defined as a power, it must be witnessed by those who confirm its occurrence as greater than the ordinary occurrence of natural laws.

In the biblical context of definition, miracles were defined as powers by the unbelieving beholders of the miraculous events. Pharaoh did not at first know the God of Israel (Ex 5:2). However, after the power of God was unleashed through the ten plagues, he realized that a Supernatural power was working (Ex 12:31). The same was true of many unbelievers throughout the Bible’s record of God manifesting power through miraculous works (See Dn 3). Therefore, any event that is proclaimed to be miraculous, and yet, does not convince the unbeliever that it is the Supernatural at work, cannot be defined as a confirming miracle. If the power that is unleashed through the event of a miracle convinces the unbeliever, then it is the power of God at work, and thus is defined as a confirming miracle.

[Next in series: May 28]

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]