Why We Believe What We Believe: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Ep 11)

Our culture has become increasingly opposed to black-and-white ideas, particularly in the area of theology. To hold firm convictions as a Christian is often difficult.

Learn more about the controversial Doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the ways some academic approaches challenge our beliefs in Episode 11 of Why We Believe What We Believe.

Click to read Transcript

There’s a book entitled Foundational Faith, Unchanging Truth for an Ever Changing World. The general editor is John Koessler. The authors are all Moody Bible Institute professors. In the forward of that book, John writes about the time D.L. Moody was settling in Chicago and beginning his work as an evangelist, Protestant Christianity in the United States, and he began to wrestle with an important theological conflict. New approaches to science and history had begun to raise questions about a number of accepted beliefs in the church. Some in Protestant Christianity believed the only way to keep Christianity from becoming irrelevant was to adapt its teachings and worldviews to these modern ideas, except in contemporary theories about the beginning of the world and Biblicalcriticism, they called themselves modernists.

Then Dr. Koessler goes onto to explain the different views of Scripture, of the virgin birth, different presuppositions, and they became essentially outmoded doctrines because they didn’t fit with the new thinking. While that was written in 2003, it’s only gotten worse.

Tolerance has become the byword and unless we’re tolerant of all kinds of views we’re ergo intolerant and therefore hateful. To be a Christian who has firm theological foundational convictions, it’s not easy. It’s very unpopular to see the Bible as black and white. We have become a culture that likes lots of shades of gray in our theology and other areas of life.

Teaching: The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a fountainhead of controversy. I’m reading the Foundations of Faith. The book that you’re required to read, I chose to read, and I read it on a plane this weekend, and was fascinated with Dr. Cornman and other sections as they walked through the creeds and how these creeds were written in a context, and what’s added to them, and what it explained to them. And as I’ve been reading, also on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, there are many similar kind of concepts where you study the doctrine of the Holy Spirit things are added to explain, to exclude as we continue in our development of understanding this person, the work of the Holy Spirit.

In recent decades, of course, the Pentecostal movement, the charismatic movement and sometimes what we call neo-charismatic’s and other hybrids of these – these energies have developed into more and more specialized applications and interpretations of the role of the Holy Spirit. Some very well respected evangelical scholars have changed their positions as they studied these issues over time. And like all the issues of doctrine, it’s enormous to try to get your arms around.

One article I came across that was quite compelling was by Dr. Dan Wallace called “The Holy Spirit and Hermeneutics.” Now, I know that’s not a scintillating title, but it’s a great article. (laughter) Listen to what he writes: “The relation of the Holy Spirit to hermeneutics is a hot issue among evangelicals today. On a popular level, there’s always been a large misunderstanding about the Spirit’s role. Many Christians believe if they simply pray the Holy Spirit will give them the proper interpretation. Others are not so concerned about the interpretation of the text, rather, they are happy to see and idiosyncratic meaning of the text. In other words, what this text means to me. All of this is the doctrine of the priesthoods and of the believers run amuck. Although each of us is responsible before God for understanding and applying the message of the Bible, this in no way means a pooling of ignorance or merely a pietistic approach to the Scriptures that meets a divine mandate.”

Surprisingly, there’s also an increasingly large gap of conservative scholars. For instance, Dr. James D. Young says, “When it comes to scholarly methods of interpreting the Bible, the Holy Spirit may as well be dead.” He goes on to describe why he believes this polarity, this divergence, this frustration really in how we understand the role of the Holy Spirit is played out today. He says four reasons: Number 1 the shift toward post-modernism. We would say, “duh.” Number 2 because of the unwillingness to do hard study. Number 3 because evangelicals thought it was indeed and by too much in rationalism. And number 4 because evangelicalism is moving towards post-conservatism in which tolerance rather than conviction is the popular stance on many issues. Listen to that again. In which tolerance rather than conviction is the popular stance on many issues.

So in the inclusive and diverse and, “why can’t we get along discussion,” in the large umbrella of evangelical fundamentalism, when we start to disagree on theologies we just say, “Oh, it’s not that big a deal. It’s just semantics. It really doesn’t matter if we have a Trinitarian Godhead. It really doesn’t matter the role of the Holy Spirit interpreted vastly different from different groups that would call themselves believers in Christ.”

Now, my course of study is perhaps not unlike yours. On my shelf I did a survey this week: Keeping Step with the Spirit, by J.I. Packer; The Ministry of the Spirit, A.J. Gordon; The Holy Spirit, by Sinclair Ferguson, a good reformed writer; The Work of the Holy Spirit, by Abraham Kuyper, a very reformed writer; The Holy Spirit at Work Today, by John Walvoord; The Holy Spirit and Your Teaching, by Roy Zuck; The Holy Spirit, – that’s just a shorter title – by Charles Ryrie; and the last one, The Secret, by Bill Bright. So you go the continuum of sort of arch reformed to almost pop evangelicalism just on my study and my few years of trying to get my arms around this doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Now, some of us in this room are from a stoic side of the continuum. You would be happy if there wasn’t a Holy Spirit. (laughter) You don’t like the whole concept. The Holy Ghost language gives you the heebie-jeebies, you know. It would be better off if there wasn’t this subjective component to the Holy Spirit.

The other side of us in this room, perhaps, have been bread and buttered in a Pentecostal, charismatic, maybe a more open view of the Holy Spirit’s role, and we would be more subjective. Not to be over simplified, let’s put stoic’s on the one side and those subjective(s) on the other; stoics who vilify experience and the subjective(s) who see everything in the experience and some place in between.

Now we hear this in different ways. People pray and they say, “The Lord led me, the Lord told me.” Have any of you had a person come up and tell you that, “God, told me to tell you something”? How many? Raise your hand. Be proud. Be one of the few, one of the pointed out. I’ve had a number of people in my life tell me, “God told me to tell you.” That puts you in a very interesting situation doesn’t it? (laughter) I mean, if they’re – you know, if they’re dressed rather oddly and have alcohol on their breath and haven’t bathed in a few weeks, then you can sort of dismiss that one. But, you know, Balaam’s donkey spoke to him. And others of us sort of – you know, just the way I’m talking about it. “Michael, that’s so unkind to say that.” Well, it happens. I’ve had many people tell me.

I had a woman one time at the first church I served rush into my office one morning. She hadn’t slept all night because she had a dream about something bad happening to me. No matter what I could tell her, I couldn’t convince her nothing bad had happened. She said, “This has never happened to me before.”She said, “I don’t even have these kind of dreams, but you were in my dream.”And off she went, and this just possessed the poor woman for about four or five days. She eventually got over it. (laughter)

So what do you do with those experiences? How do you interpret them?

Let’s say it another way. Some basically ignore the Spirit, some overstate the experience that they call the Holy Spirit. What I want to do today is not give you the definitive treatise, obviously, on the Spirit ministry. It would be impossible.

I was dusting through Kuyper’s book the other day. I was amazed how many things I’d never thought of that Abraham Kuyper wrote pages about. So it’s not as though we’re really going to be exhaustive in these surveys, but why we believe what we believe about the Holy Spirit is crucial; because each of us moves and breathes in a context where people are going to have very different views that you have. So what I wanted to do today was not point out where other groups are wrong, or where we’re right, or I’m right. What I want to do is tell you what I think the Scripture does tell us very specifically, that are clear facts that we know about the Holy Spirit of God.

And to begin this I want to start with the word pneumatology. Obviously, you all know the word pneuma, the Greek word for spirit or wind; ology, the study of something, the content, the word of it. So we have the study of the Spirit. Let’s limit our conjectures on the Spirit and look specifically at the text of Scripture.

The whole testament, to begin with, has over a hundred references to the Spirit of God. Two passages that are easy to look at: Psalms 51:11, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” David, of course, after he sinned he committed murder. He tried to cover up a sin. He had an adulterous affair. He tries to absolve himself of this, and when he’s exposed by the prophet he writes this incredible psalm, one of the most penitent psalms in all the Psalter. “I can’t offer a sacrifice to you God. The only thing I deserve is death.” So David in Psalm 51 throws himself on what we would call the mercy and grace of God. And he says, “Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.” David the king understood at full measure that God’s Holy Spirit somehow indwelt him. He didn’t have the full revelation you and I have in the New Testament, but he understood.

Isaiah 61 – 63 are rich texts in the Old Testament about the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 63:10,

“But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. Therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them. Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flocks? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them?”

So the prophet Isaiah, (under the) inspiration of God, talks about the Holy Spirit at the exodus; the Holy Spirit working in their life.

At the risk of over simplifying it, let me give you four roles in the Old Testament of the Holy Spirit. First, He’s involved in creation. The Spirit of God was moving over the waters. It’s Ruah in Hebrew, the Spirit; Ruah Elohim, the Spirit of God. God’s presence in the Person and the Spirit is, one text said “brooding over” – I like that – hovering over the waters. We have the Spirit involved in creation.

Secondly, we have the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament sustaining life. Listen to Job 33:4, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” We’ve talked about this a number of times. God breathed His Spirit and made man in His image. Job understands this. Job, as I understand it, is the oldest book in our Bible. So if we just look at a dating, the way the books were written and transcribed and developed in the text you hold, the oldest book of the Bible includes a clear understanding of the Spirit of God giving life and sustaining him.

Thirdly, the indivisible activities of God and two references if you’d like to jot them down: Judges 3:10 and 1 Samuel 10:6. Judges 3:10, remember the first judge, Othniel, says, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he judged Israel.” So here we have this period from the prophets to the judges when things couldn’t get any worse morally. They couldn’t get any worse spiritually, and God raises up Othniel as the first judge. His Spirit comes upon him to do this work of the seven cycles in Judges that you know so well. And the first judge comes out and he’s announced as being full of God’s Spirit.

Fourthly, is God’s presence. So in the Old Testament we have creation, we have sustaining life, we have the invisible activity and what I will call His presence. This can apply to prophecy. It can apply to when God makes a covenant within His people. It can apply when they have supernatural wisdom like Solomon. One passage in Isaiah 59:21, “’As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the Lord, ‘My Spirit which is upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth.’” And so this activity of God through His Spirit judging, creating, sustaining life, His power, and His presence are all seen in the Old Testament.

There’s a lot of other passages we could look at in the Old Testament. Some are quite interesting when you see, what I would suggest, as some controversy about the Spirit early on. Remember the story of Eldad and Medad in Numbers 11. They’re prophesying. They’re speaking and Joshua tells Moses make them stop. Make Eldad and Medad stop. And he says, “No, this is God’s Spirit.” So there was recognition of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament that we sometimes forget.

Isaiah 61, I mentioned before. The first three verses; I won’t read all three of them, but they’re rich in the Holy Spirit’s doctrine. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted.” And here we had the messianic shadows of what Jesus will do. The Holy Spirit is sending him, and, of course, you know how most of these connect the dots.

The last Old Testament passage I want to look at is a reference to the Spirit’s filling, which Peter, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will speak on the day of Pentecost in Joel 2:28 and 29. “And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions; even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

So, again, 100 plus references in the Old Testament. The Old Testament believer understood from Job to David, to Joshua and Moses, to Isaiah the prophet, to the judges that’s God Holy Spirit somehow moved in the believing Jew to accomplish things that are often difficult to describe.

Now let’s jump to the New Testament for just a few moments. The synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke; talk about the work of the Spirit mainly in referencing to Jesus’ Christ ministry. So Matthew, Mark and Luke, if you take all the references of the Holy Spirit, they primarily talk about the work of Jesus Christ. So that’s interesting when you look at the way Johannine (John’s writings in the New Testament) literature will talk about the role of the Spirit in a very different way.

Let me give you just four observations of the synoptic use: the birth narrative, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation of Jesus, and the great commission. If you just took those four alone, it is interesting that God superintended the appearance of His Spirit, the record of His Spirit, on these four crucial events of the life of Christ.

The birth announcement in Matthew 1:18, for example, that Mary is going to have this child. The Holy Spirit will overpower, overshadow her; will literally impregnate her. And by the act of the Holy Spirit of God coming over her, she is going to bear Messiah: the birth narrative.

The baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:10, I’ve pointed this out many times before, and it’s crucial that you have the Trinitarian Godhead and the baptism, the Father, Son and Spirit. The temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, isn’t it interesting the Holy Spirit is involved in Jesus’ going into the wilderness to be tempted, because as fully God, fully man, He has to be tempted in all ways, and He is.

He was hungry. He was tired. He was angry. I don’t have any reason to conclude Jesus did not become ill in His lifetime. There’s no record of it in the text, but He’s certainly crucified. He’s susceptible to pain, susceptible to being wounded, and killed, and beaten. In every way He relates to you and me. Here we have the baptism and the temptation, and finally, the great commission. It is through His Spirit that what is going to occur through the disciples and through Jerusalem, Judea, and the remotest part of the earth, it will require God’s very Spirit to (implement) these four very crucial events in the life of Christ to continuing (on).

Now, Luke and Acts in the Lucan literature – by the way, you know that Luke and Acts comprise more of your New Testament than Paul. Luke has a great length of literature and vocabulary so it’s interesting to see how he talks about the Spirit. Many times we refer to the book of Acts as what? Not the Acts of the apostle; the Acts of the Holy Spirit. We refer to it as such, because you read through those pages, chapter one verse eight, and what the Spirit will do, and how the Spirit leads and moves and guides, and how people come to Christ and the dramatic change when the Holy Spirit indwells them at Pentecost and all these events.

I remember one of the best illustrations I ever had given to me to understand the book of Acts, and I should do a slide sometime to show you this, but if you picture a book of Acts chapter one to the end, and right in the middle you have a diamond. Rather, you picture the New Testament. Right in the middle you have a diamond. The diamond is the book of Acts, and law and grace collide. Works and grace collide. Jewish believers and the Gentile world collide.

And all these things collide in the book of Acts, and it takes God’s Spirit to sort through these things to verify that the old is fulfilled and the new is in the work of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts is a book of Holy Spirit transition. That’s why you can’t always sequence some events in the book of Acts so neat and clean because the Holy Spirit is transitioning through different situations, different contexts. When baptisms occur, when they spoke in tongues, when miracles were performed, when they’re whisked to different places; all this required the Spirit’s work to verify these things.

In Luke, in writing, we have the prophesy of John the Baptist. The conception of Jesus again and an interesting phrase, I think, where Simeon knows that this is baby Jesus. Though what does he call Jesus, “the consolation of Israel.” Isn’t that great; “the consolation of Israel.”Because Israel’s in upheaval. Israel is waiting for their king to come. Israel wants to be liberated. And Simeon says, “it’s the consolation of Israel” this Jesus Christ. All these are the Holy Spirit at work.

Closing: So (we see) there are contexts of the person and work of God’s Spirit in the Old Testament and in the New. The major change in the New Testament, is that each individual when he or she trusts Christ is indwelt by God’s Spirit. It’s a pretty cool theology.

When we understand in the new covenant that His Spirit did not come and go as He did in the Old Testament, but when you trust in Christ, and Christ alone, the person of the Holy Spirit indwells you. Now we use some language that’s descriptive, asking Jesus into our heart, the Holy Spirit lives in our heart, while that’s descriptive and illustrative for children, the Bible doesn’t say that. What the Bible does teach us is, that we are indwelt by His Spirit; controlled by His Spirit; we can be empowered by His Spirit, we are sealed by His Spirit. Again, it’s not a simple subject, but it’s a vital subject, and unfortunately many Christians amble around not understanding the person, nor the work of God’s Spirit.

One of my favorite passages about the work of God’s Spirit is found in        1 Corinthians 2: 14, Paul writes: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised, but he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet He Himself is appraised by no one.”Paul sets out this comparison and contrast; the natural man over against the one who is spiritual. He uses terms to say the natural man thinks God’s Spirit is foolish, but the person who is spiritually appraised sees value.

Now perhaps you’ve gone and had a piece of jewelry appraised. When Cindy and I were dating, I wanted to get her a diamond for her engagement ring and so I had a friend in college who happened to be a gemologist and he offered to find a diamond for me. So this gentleman came to me with a bag of diamonds. He dumped them out on a piece of fabric and with a loop, an eight power magnifying lens called a loop, he showed me things like color, clarity, cut, carats, and he explained these things to me like I understood what they meant.

But he explained them to me and then he chose let’s say five or six diamonds that he liked. So I’m looking at them through this little Lupe (magnifier) and he would say, “Ok, I see that one’s got a crack. That one’s yellowish. This one’s clear. This one looks like a piece of glass. You look right through it.” So we picked out several and I said, “Alright, how much do these cost?” And he rattled off numbers like, “Well this one’s $3,700, that one’s $1,200, this one’s $4,200.

Now, I looked at him and there was no price tag on them. I looked at him and I said, “How do you know that’s what they cost by looking at them?” He responded to me somewhat incredulously. He said, “Michael, I’m a gemologist. This is what I do for a living.” See, he’d been trained to appraise jewelry as a certified appraiser. He could look at something under magnification and say it was worth so much.

Why I love that story is because, a natural person, before we know Christ, we cannot put value to the things of the Spirit. We can’t put value to the Bible. We read it and it’s boring, or it’s immaterial, or it’s confusing, but when you’ve trusted Christ and God’s Spirit indwells you, you might say, “Now you can appraise its value.” You see, the Holy Spirit doesn’t necessarily tell us things that are outside the Bible. What we know, for sure, is what the Scripture says, “he who is spiritual appraises all things,” meaning that now we have the mind of Christ, because His Spirit lives in us. So when you read that story that at one point was foolish, or confusing, or just a piece of literature now has great value. Understanding the person and work of the Spirit is a critical thing for all Christians to know Why We Believe What We Believe about Christ’s Spirit in you.

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