In Impossible People, Os Guinness calls us to the kind of love and allegiance to God and the Gospel that will give us the courage we’re going to need in the future:
Such is the character and record of the gospel of Jesus that we may trust it absolutely however dark the times and however bleak the challenge….
The gospel of Jesus may be trusted to be the transforming power that it is. It is, after all, the very power of God for the saving of humanity, and the record of its impact in history is glorious and undeniable. Our allegiance to it is the concern today. We have to rise to the challenge that the gospel raises to all who say that they believe it—we must demonstrate our confidence in the gospel by a courage that is prepared to break with all that contradicts with what God says. In short, by faith we must be prepared to wager our comfort, our livelihood, our honor and our very lives on God and his Word against all other claims and authorities. We must therefore live as we have been called to live: to take up our crosses and to count the cost of living lives that are true to the gospel and to the lordship of Jesus, regardless of the cost and the consequences in our day—and so be worthy of the great cloud of witnesses behind us in history and around us in the world today.
You can hear Greg’s recent interview with Os Guinness on Impossible Peoplehere and read about the prequel to the book, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times, here.
Author and apologist Nabeel Qureshi asked for our prayers when he announced this week that he has advanced stomach cancer. This is difficult news. Soon after I heard, I came across “Waiting to Die,” a deeply honest post written by Michael Patton of Credo House when it seemed his own death was imminent, reminding us that sometimes we suffer like Lazarus (the one in Jesus’ parable), not Job, without restoration or any humanly discernible good resulting. As he says, “God sometimes does kill us.”
So many times we see our suffering through the lens of Job and not Lazarus. Job lost everything but eventually got it all back, and more. We think to ourselves that what God has taken he will restore or use it mightily for his kingdom. We have seen it a thousand times. God turns so much water into wine. He takes our lives of anguish and uses it to lift others up (2 Cor. 1:4). I don’t know how many times that I have turned to the suffering of Job to be encouraged. David’s time in the mire of doubt, lifts me out of the mire. John the Baptist asking if Jesus was really the Christ lets me know I am not alone. I have always gravitated toward other Christians who spoke about their dark side with openness. It brings purpose to their pain. That is the Job story. It is very real. God does often bring us through trials so that we can, once restored, display the fortitude and resilience of our faith to others.
However, there is also pitiful Lazarus. He was thrown at the gate of the rich man (probably because his friends did not know what else to do with him), begging for food, and watching as the dogs lick his sores. In the eyes of the Jewish people of the day, he was one who God had abandoned. He was never healed. He was not restored. We find nothing in the story about him using his pain to help others. He wrote no books about how to deal with suffering. He did not blog daily about how he was keeping the faith. He just died. He was waiting to die and then died. Alone, with the dogs licking his sores, he assumed room temperature. And most shocking of all, his name (a rhetorical device in the parable) means “God helps.” The rich man (at whose gate he was thrown) had everything: money, honor, and respect. And he was even a splendidly happy guy. He was the one everyone thought God was helping, but he remains unnamed (another rhetorical device). “God helps” died at the gate without ever preaching one sermon….
[S]ometimes we do suffer, endure, go through trials and then we simply die. This does not mean our suffering was gratuitous in any way. God holds closely his secret council in which he allows for pain and kills for his sake his children. We don’t have to know the reason why. We just keep the faith.
We keep the faith because of the cross. On the cross, God showed His great love for us—the Father by giving His son, the Son by sacrificing His life and suffering the Father’s wrath, the Spirit by graciously applying this work to us, turning God’s undeserving, rebellious enemies into His children. God showed His wisdom and sovereignty by bringing history to that intended point. He showed His power by raising Jesus from the dead.
He had a purpose for the evil Jesus suffered at the hands of men. He has a purpose for all that you suffer, even if, like Lazarus, you suffer and then die without restoration in this life, without understanding why.
We keep the faith through suffering because of all that God revealed of Himself on the cross. Look to the cross.
In my last post, I outlined a straightforward and concise argument for why Christians believe the Holy Spirit is a person. Namely, I demonstrated from Scripture that the Holy Spirit has a will, a mind, and emotions. Since these are the attributes of persons, not impersonal forces, it is better to understand the Holy Spirit as a person.
Let’s now turn to the three objections that were offered to me in response to my case.
The Holy Spirit language is a personification. My Witness guests did not attempt to deal with the specific texts that I presented; rather, they dismissed these verses as personifications. A personification is when personal qualities are attributed to something impersonal. They admitted that some passages appear to portray the Holy Spirit as a person, but said this is merely a literary device.
There are many problems with this response. First, it is a blanket assertion that ignores the specific context of the personhood passages. This response does not even attempt to honestly exegete each passage.
Second, it assumes what needs to be proved. When a Jehovah’s Witness comes to a straightforward personhood passage (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:11; Rom. 8:27; and Eph. 4:30), they assert that it must be a personification. But how do they know it’s a personification? Because they have already assumed the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. This is reasoning in a circle. Jehovah’s Witnesses need to show that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force before they can even begin talking about supposed personifications. But this is exactly what they cannot do.
Third, there are many instances that cannot be explained away by a personification. For example, what does it mean to grieve (Eph. 4:30), or to blaspheme (Matt. 12:32), or to lie to (Acts 5:3), a personified impersonal force? In addition, the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals at historical events. For example, in a meeting at the church at Antioch, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). This is the Holy Spirit using person pronouns of Himself. It appears the Spirit thought Himself to be a person, not a personification.
The Holy Spirit lacks a name. My Witness guests were adamant that if the Holy Spirit is a person, then He would have a name. They stated, “Since no name is mentioned, the Holy Spirit is not a person.”
This is a deeply fallacious argument. Just because the Holy Spirit is not given a personal name in the New Testament, that does not mean He isn’t a person. Spiritual beings are not usually named in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t persons. For example, at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit (Luke 4:31-36). Notice that this demon is both unnamed and a person. Furthermore, spirits are routinely identified by a particular characteristic. This was an unclean spirit.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit is identified by His chief characteristic: holiness. If the Holy Spirit can’t be a person because we don’t know His personal name, then all the angels and demons in the Bible who are unnamed can’t be persons either.
The Holy Spirit fills people. My Witness guests offered one last argument. If people are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit cannot be a person. “How can one person be filled with another person?” they asked. “It makes more sense to be filled with an impersonal force.”
Again, this argument is demonstrably false. As already discussed, undisputed spiritual persons, like unclean spirits, have the ability to enter into human persons. This doesn’t disqualify them as persons, so why would it disqualify the Holy Spirit?
Moreover, our personal God is said to fill things. If God’s presence can fill the temple (2 Chron. 5:14), or fill the whole earth (Num. 14:21), then why is it so hard to believe that the Holy Spirit could fill believers? In fact, Paul calls our bodies the “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19).
These responses were very instructive. Rather than address explicit texts raised against their view, the Jehovah’s Witnesses I spoke to relied on circular reasoning and demonstrably false argumentation. The Watchtower position that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force simply cannot be supported by the testimony of Scripture.
A week ago I had two friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses over for what turned out to be a two-hour conversation. You can read more about that experience here. One of the topics that my Witness guests kept coming back to was the Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead. Instead, they believe that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal active force.
In our conversation, they were adamant about talking about the Holy Spirit. They repeatedly told me that the Holy Spirit is never referred to as a distinct person. This led me to ask a question, what attributes would distinguish a person from an impersonal force? Or, to ask the question a different way, does the Holy Spirit have the attributes of personhood?
There are three primary characteristics of personhood: will, mind, and emotions. It should be obvious that a force, like gravity or electromagnetism, cannot possess these properties. However, the New Testament demonstrates that the Holy Spirit has a will, a mind, and emotions. For simplicity, I walked through one example of each with my guests.
The Holy Spirit has a will. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:11 that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts as He wills. Paul writes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” It is clear from the context that it is the Holy Spirit who makes the decision about what gift each respective Christian receives. An impersonal force does not have the ability to make decisions. This is an attribute of persons, not impersonal forces.
The Holy Spirit has a mind. In Romans 8, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit intercedes (or prays) for believers. He says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26–27). In verse 27, we are told that God the Father knows the mind of the Spirit. An impersonal force does not have a mind and, therefore, could not intercede for believers. This passage only makes sense if the Holy Spirit is a person.
The Holy Spirit has emotions. Probably the most conclusive passage on this point is Ephesians 4:30. Paul states, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” How does one grieve an impersonal force? Grief is an emotion that is experienced by a person, not a force. Yet, Paul tells us explicitly that we cause the Holy Spirit to grieve when we commit sins.
After going through these three clear passages, I had one question. If the Holy Spirit has a will that decides (1 Cor. 12:11), a mind that thinks (Rom. 8:27), and emotions that feel (Eph. 4:30), how can anyone rationally claim the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force?
What happened next is very telling. Rather than deal with the argument that I presented, my Witness guests offered three challenges by way of response. In my next post, I will walk through their three responses that I received to this argument and how I responded.
If you’ve ever spent time speaking with a Mormon missionary before, you may have been handed a card listing the “17 Points of the True Church.” Here are the points many Mormons think ought to determine for us which church is the true one:
To help people use this LDS list as a starting point for discussions, I created a second list of 17 points. Some of the points are direct responses to their numerical counterparts on the LDS list, and some bring in ideas not mentioned on the LDS list that are unique to Christianity and not shared by Mormons. Since each list includes aspects of the unique theology of its group, by going through their list and ours and examining the context of the verses cited, you can quickly move into deep and meaningful conversations with your LDS friends. (Download a card-sized version to print and cut out here.)
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