Monday, February 20, 2017

Are there many ways to heaven?

Does it matter what I believe? Do all roads lead to God? These are critical questions to ask because, if all roads lead to God, then it does not matter what I believe. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a U.S. Religious Landscape Survey in 2008, which found that 70% of those affiliated with a religion did not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. These are not atheists or agnostics, but people who believe religions other than their own can lead to God. Of those religions which base their faith on the Bible, 66% of Protestants and 79% of Catholics agreed that many religions can lead to eternal life.[1]    

What does the Bible say?
According to the Bible, are there many ways to heaven?  No, the Bible clearly teaches only one way for one to be saved. Some claim that Christians are intolerant of other religions, but modern Christians did not devise the way to salvation, God did. Jesus Christ was very exclusive concerning the road to eternal life. He stated, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6) and “unless you believe that I am he (sent from God), you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).  Peter also preached the exclusivity of Jesus Christ when he said; “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Paul affirmed the same concept when he stated, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).  If the Bible is not true and not from God, then there may be other ways to be saved.  However, if the Bible is true, other roads to heaven are necessarily excluded.  It is logically permissible to state that either Christianity or another religion contains the way to salvation, but it is illogical to believe that Christianity and another religion can both lead to God. 

Why is Jesus the only way to heaven?
Why is there only one way to be saved? So the Bible teaches that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, but isn’t the way to heaven like the way to Chicago?  You can take a plane, car, train, bike, or even walk if you wish.  And, there are many different roads:  Interstate 94 from the North or East, Route 65 from the South, Route 90, and so on.  Or, to use another analogy, isn’t religion similar to ice cream?  One person thinks the best flavor is Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, while another would argue that Rocky Road is the best, and so on.  Two people may disagree as to the most efficient route to Chicago or the best ice cream, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as you get there.  The reason Jesus is the only way to be saved is that no other mechanism exists to expunge our sins.  Since God is completely holy[2] and righteous[3], while all humans have sin in our lives[4], we are necessarily separated from God and condemned[5].  The only effective method to deal with sin was for a sinless person to face punishment in our place[6].  No other religion completely addresses the sin issue and that is what makes Christianity unique.    

What about other religions?
Isn’t it arrogant to make the claim that Christianity is better than other religions?  First, it is crucial to recognize a category difference between truth and preference, such as the difference between religion and ice cream.  As Sean McDowell has pointed out, different ice cream flavors are a matter of preference and, in the end; it is inconsequential which flavor of ice cream you prefer.[7]  Religion could be categorized as a preference if there really is no god or, alternatively, if all roads do lead to God.  But, what if there really is a God and not all roads lead to heaven?  If that is the case, religion is not a question of preference, but of truth versus error.  If I want to travel to Chicago from New York and I decide to drive south on Route 95, I will not arrive in Chicago.  It is not a matter of preference, nor is it arrogant, to believe that this road will lead to Miami, not Chicago.  It is simply the truth.  Other religions typically contain much good teaching and philosophy, but if they do not point to Jesus Christ as the only way to God, they do not contain the whole truth and may contain very serious errors.    

How do we know Christianity is true?
There are a number of methods to demonstrate that the Bible contains the truth from God.  The most convincing evidence, which also happens to be the most crucial difference between major religions, is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus of Nazareth is the only religious leader or founder who: 
1.    lived a perfect, sinless life
2.    performed verifiable miracles
3.    died a substitutionary death
4.    was raised from the dead

No religious leader can claim any of the above and these are actions that only someone sent from a living God could perform.  Whereas some other religious leaders may have lived very exemplary lives, all were sinful human beings.  This is true for Siddhartha Gautama, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Lao Tzu, Charles Russell, Confucius, and others.  This is not to say we cannot find some value in the teachings of non-Christians, but we need to be very discerning in regard to essential issues, in particular the nature of God and the way of salvation. 

Second, no other religious leader performed certifiable miracles.  For example, the Qur’an portrays Muhammad as refusing to do miracles (Suras 3:181-84; 4:153; 6:8-9).  Allegedly, traditions in the Hadith contain miracle accounts, but these were written by individuals who lived more than 100 years after Muhammad’s death.[8]  The numerous miracles of Jesus Christ were recorded by eyewitnesses, such as Matthew, John, and Peter. Additionally, extra-Biblical writer Quadratus recorded that Jesus performed miracles and, during his time, some of the eyewitnesses were still alive.[9] 

Third, no other major religious leader died to offer atonement for the sins of others.  Jesus Christ “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” and “so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation” (Hebrews 9:26,28).  The death of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested historical facts from the entire ancient world.  In addition to eyewitness accounts in the Bible, other non-Biblical sources record His death, including Josephus, Tacitus, Ignatius, Phlegon, the Jewish Talmud, Lucian, the book of Barnabas, Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Pilate, Justin, and early creeds.[10] 

Fourth, the resurrection of Jesus was even more extraordinary (if that was not enough in itself) because He prophesied His own death, resurrection from the dead, and exactly when it would occur.[11] In addition, the Apostle Paul wrote of the resurrection of Jesus and, as Paul’s letters were being circulated among the early churches, most of the 500+ witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were still alive to attest to that fact.[12]  No other religious leader can touch that. There is only one way to heaven; belief in Jesus Christ. 

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, U. S. Religious Landscape Survey, Jun. 2008, <>
[2] Leviticus 11:44 – “be holy, for I am holy”
[3] Daniel 9:14 – “the Lord our God is righteous”
[4] Romans 3:10 – “there is none righteous, not even one”
[5]Romans 5:18  - “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men”
[6] 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf”
[7] Sean McDowell, Apologetics DVD Seminar:  The Big Dig, (Focus on the Family, 2007).
[8] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 2002) 55.
[9] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO:  College Press, 1996), 244.
[10] Habermas, p. 247.
[11] Luke 18:33 – “after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again"
[12] 1 Corinthians 15:6 – “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Has the Bible been changed over time?

Some people say the Bible may have been true and accurate when first written, but has been altered over the years and the version we have today is not trustworthy.  This is one of the most serious attacks on the credibility of the Bible.  So, has the Bible been copied accurately or has it been corrupted?  Can we trust the Bible we have today?

Where is the evidence of corruption?
A favorite tactic of critics is to throw out baseless accusations and demand that a Christian offer a defense.  If someone claims the Bible has been corrupted over the years, it is reasonable to ask what evidence exists to support that allegation.  It requires no proof to criticize, but on what basis?  Other ancient books are accepted as authentic unless proven otherwise.  Why is the Bible treated differently?  Some assert that Emperor Constantine (lived in the early 4th century) was involved in corrupting the original message of Christianity.  Again, where is the evidence?  Someone can claim Lyndon Johnson was involved in Kennedy’s assassination, but what are the facts to support that?  Nonetheless, for those who honestly want to know whether the Bible can be trusted, some solid evidence is presented here. 

When could the Bible have been corrupted?
If there was corruption of the original documents, when would that have occurred?  The New Testament documents were written and circulated among the early churches scattered throughout Asia Minor, Northern Africa, and Southern Europe from approximately 40 to 100 A.D.  None of the original Biblical documents still exist; however, no original documents of any kind exist from that time period for any other books.  The key question is the reliability of the copies and those made chronologically closer to the originals leave less time for possible corruption. 

Manuscripts of Biblical passages have been dated from as early as 200 A.D., such as the Chester Beatty papyrus (P46), which contains ten of Paul’s letters and the book of Hebrews.  The Bodmer papyrus (P66) also dates to about 200 A.D. and contains the Gospel of John.  The Sinaiticus uncial manuscript dates to the fourth century and contains the entire New Testament.   

Earliest manuscripts
The earliest original portion of the New Testament found to date is the John Rylands fragment, dated to around A.D. 130, which contains portions of John 18, verses 31-33 and 37-38.  The Greek text matches that of later manuscripts, even further diminishing the possibility of corruption.  Additionally, because the fragment was found in Egypt and the traditional place of composition is Asia Minor, some time would have been required for John’s gospel to travel that distance.  (The early second century was not exactly the internet age and information traveled much slower.) 

Textual corruption of the Bible is one of the most common criticisms of Christianity from some in the Islamic community.  However, the Qur’an, which dates from the seventh century, commended the Bible for containing “the Truth”:
“If thou wert in doubt As to what We have revealed Unto thee, then ask those Who have been reading The Book from before thee:  The Truth hath indeed come To thee from thy Lord:  So be in no wise Of those in doubt” (Sura 10:94). 
By the time of Muhammad, thousands of complete or partial manuscripts of the Bible were in circulation on several continents and in several languages (Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, Georgian, Ethiopic, and Nubian).  To remove the Bible from circulation and replace it with a corrupted version would have been an impossible task.  These manuscripts can be compared today (and have been) with the Bibles we have now.  So, there was no time for corruption or alteration of the Biblical texts.   

Quotations of the New Testament
Early church fathers writing from early in the second century onward quoted the Bible extensively.  In fact, if we had no manuscripts of the New Testament, all but 11 verses could be reconstructed by referencing the writings of early church fathers made within the first couple of centuries after the time of Christ.  There are about 86,000 quotations of the New Testament in these writings as well as lectionaries (church service books) in the early centuries.  For example, Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, writing around A.D. 150, quoted sections of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, writing around 180 AD, made 1,819 N.T. quotations from 23 of the 27 New Testament books, omitting only Philemon, James, 2 Peter, and 3 John.[1]  Justin Martyr (c. 100-164) quoted 330 verses of the N.T. 

Other examples include Origen (185-254), who quoted 17,992 verses and Tertullian (160-220), who made 7,258 quotations.[2]  Clement of Rome (A.D. 95) quoted from the books of: 
Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, 1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Hebrews and Titus. 
Ignatius (A.D. 70-110) knew the apostles and wrote seven letters containing quotations from:
Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, Colossians, James, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and 1 Peter.[3] 
It is true that not all quotations by early church fathers were word for word exact replicas of the words found in the Bible.  However, given the vast number of references, and by comparing the numerous exact quotations with various paraphrases, the accurate transmission of the Bible is overwhelmingly confirmed.

What about the Old Testament?
The same criticism of the New Testament has been made by some of the Old Testament:  Since the original books were written hundreds of years before the oldest extant copies, how can we be sure they were copied accurately?  If it was necessary for scribes to copy the scrolls periodically as older ones deteriorated, there may be significant differences between the originals and the copies. 

Prior to 1947, the oldest manuscripts of the O.T. available dated to about A.D. 980.  Since the last books of the O.T. were written around 400 B.C., there is a time gap of about 1,400 years.  However, in 1947, the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, which contain manuscripts dating to 150 B.C.  So, upon comparison, did the later copies contain major discrepancies from the earlier copies?  No, in comparing the manuscripts, it is clear the scriptures were copied with remarkable accuracy (realizing this process was done by hand with ink on papyrus).  To illustrate, Dr. Gleason Archer, who personally examined both the A.D. 980 and the 150 B.C. copies of the book of Isaiah, wrote:
Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1, near the Dead Sea, were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text.  The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.[4] 

There is no evidence that the Bible has been corrupted over time.  In fact, the evidence shows that both the New and Old Testaments have been very carefully preserved throughout the years.  We can trust that the Bible we have today accurately represents the Bible as originally written. 

For additional in depth study, see The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce and The Canon of the New Testament by Bruce Metzger.

[Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.]

[1]Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 2002), pp. 210-211.
[2] Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1978), p. 357.
[3] Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA:  Here’s Life Publishing, 1972), p. 51.
[4] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1964), p. 19, quoted in Ron Rhodes, pp. 208-20.9

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Can salvation be lost?

Is it possible to be saved, then later turn away from God and lose one’s salvation?  This can be a hot topic and even Christians weigh in on opposite sides of this issue.  Some Biblical verses seem to indicate a Christian can lose his or her salvation.  Some people today believe in eternal security, not necessarily because they have researched the issue in the Bible, but because it sounds more appealing.  That’s not a good method for understanding theology, so let’s look at what the Bible says.

Some of the passages in the Bible that seem to indicate salvation can be lost:
·         “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22)
·         “if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:20)
·         “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

Maybe not?
Other Biblical passages seem to indicate salvation is assured:
·         "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
·         “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
·         “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

The Bible seems to support both sides of this issue.  Let’s dig deeper to gain a better understanding.

What about those who fall away?
Many people who read the sixth chapter of Hebrews become concerned they may not be able to return to God.  It states, concerning those who have once been enlightened, “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Hebrews 6:6).  Another verse that seems to corroborate this idea is Hebrews 10:26, which explains, “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.  These seem to indicate believers can lose their salvation.  This is definitely one of the more troubling passages in the Bible.  As the Oracle said to Neo, “It’s a pickle, no doubt about it.”  Those of the Calvinist persuasion are convinced a person cannot lose their salvation:  Those destined for eternal life will experience irresistible grace and those destined for perdition will never be saved.  Arminians, on the other hand, hold to the position that we have the free will to reject God’s salvation even if we had previously accepted it, and vice versa.  As with any Bible passage, Hebrews 6:6 needs to be understood in context. 

A key point in understanding this chapter is recognizing the audience.  Since the book of Hebrews was obviously written to a Jewish audience (hence the book title), this passage may be referring to those who first believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, then returned to Judaism and the regulations found therein.  Rather than reading these verses in isolation, the context of the first five chapters of Hebrews discusses in some detail the status of Jesus Christ as our high priest.  The concepts of the animal sacrificial system and Sabbath rest practiced by the Jews under the old covenant are fulfilled and perfected in Jesus Christ.  Now, if we read Hebrews 6:6 with that backdrop, we can gain a fuller understanding of this verse.  In fact, Paul encountered a similar problem of Jews reverting to the old covenant in Galatia.  He writes, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6) and “did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).  Those who have entered into salvation through grace under the new covenant are warned not to return to the old, which was only a foreshadowing anyway (Colossians 2:17).  This is exactly the point the writer of Hebrews is making in chapter 10, when he states:
“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1).

What about King Saul?
When Saul was first called by God to be king of Israel, and after the prophet Samuel anointed Saul, he told Saul:
“the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6)
Then, we are told:
“God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day.   When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them” (v. 9-10).
Though there is no Biblical verse that explicitly states Saul was “saved”, and being able to prophesy does not necessarily mean a person is saved (Matthew 7:21-23), it appears he was accepted by God.  Furthermore, because the Spirit of God came upon him, we can be fairly confident King Saul was saved. 

But, later in his life, Saul disobeyed God and was rejected by God.  The prophet Samuel (in an appearance from the grave) told Saul:
“The Lord has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David.  As you did not obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the Lord has done this thing to you this day” (1 Samuel 28:17-18).
The key question is whether King Saul lost his relationship with God and was no longer saved. 

Notice in Samuel’s indictment of Saul, he never stated Saul was no longer saved or anything to that effect.  Obviously, God was angry with Saul and removed him as King.  But, look at what Samuel says in the next verse:
“Moreover the Lord will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (v. 19).
Samuel had died by this time; he was indicating Saul would also be dead the next day.  But, he did not say Saul would be in Gehenna (hell) but with him (Samuel).  God terminated Saul’s life early, but the Bible does not indicate Saul lost his eternal life with God. 

What about Judas?
Did Judas lose his salvation?  Was Judas saved?  In Luke 9, we read:
“And He (Jesus) called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing”, then “they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (v. 6).
Judas Iscariot was obviously with this group, since Jesus sent “the twelve”.  If Judas was with Jesus, preached the gospel, and was given authority to heal, do those actions mean he was saved?  If so, did Judas later lose his standing with God when, at the end of his life, he betrayed Jesus (Luke 22:48) and committed suicide (Matthew 27:5)?   

The Bible gives no indication that Judas was ever saved.  He is mentioned on a number of occasions in the four gospel accounts as being one of the twelve disciples, spending time with Jesus, and participating in the activities with the other disciples.  Even when Jesus spoke of a betrayer in their midst at the last supper, no one apparently suspected Judas.  To all outward appearances, he was a believer.  However, he never truly became a follower of Jesus in his heart.  Biblical references of Judas portray him as a traitor (Luke 6:16), betrayer of Jesus (Mark 14:10), entered by Satan (Luke 22:3), predicted in the Old Testament as a traitor (Psalm 41:9), a thief (John 12:6), and a devil (John 6:70-71).  Judas never was saved and therefore never lost his salvation. 

To ask if someone can lose salvation, it is critical to ask how salvation is attained in the first place.  Is it through adherence to the commandments?  No, it is not by works, but completely by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  So, if we cannot gain salvation by good behavior, it is reasonable to suppose we cannot lose it through misbehavior.  Paul states that we are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26) and “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).  King Saul did not lose his salvation because he did not obey God.  His disobedience cost him severely in this life, which is a lesson we should definitely heed today.  However, he did not lose eternal life.  On the other hand, Judas did not lose his salvation because he never had it.  Though he appeared to be a follower of Christ on the outside, his heart never was with Jesus. If we believe in the Son of God, we can know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).     

[Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.]

Recommended reading:

Geisler, Norman, and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask, Wheaton, IL:  Victor Books, 1992.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Can I be saved more than once?

Is it possible to be saved more than one time?  Can we be baptized or born again - again?  What if I received Jesus as my Savior years ago, but fell away? 

Many sacrifices, many times
Prior to the time of Jesus, sins were forgiven based on numerous and continual animal sacrifices.  The book of Leviticus provides very detailed instructions for God’s people to offer sacrifices for sin.  When anyone failed to perfectly follow the Lord’s commandments, it was necessary for blood to be shed for one’s atonement.  However, even that did not completely remove sins, as the Bible states:
“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11). 
However, when Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice, this act was completely sufficient to remove all sins.  As John informs, Jesus “appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).    

One sacrifice, one time
The Bible informs us that Jesus Christ did not:
“enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrew 9:25-28). 
The Bible is clear that we do not return to offer sacrifices again and again to receive forgiveness for our sins, but Jesus Christ died once for all time.

We can know we are saved
When many people are asked if they will be admitted to heaven after death, they answer, “I hope so” or “I think so”.  Fortunately, we can know for certain in this life that we have eternal life.  The Bible states:
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11). 
We don’t have to hope we have eternal life, we can know.

What if I don’t feel like I’m saved anymore?
The Bible informs that, as believers, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  We live not by how we feel, but by faith (assurance, belief) in God’s word.  Does this mean I can live however I want and God will still forgive and accept me?  The Apostle Paul answers this by saying, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!” (Romans 6:15)  Anyone who believes this demonstrates that they do not understand salvation.  Sin is so destructive and evil that God’s Son willingly suffered a horrible death to conquer sin.  Sin is the cause of evil in the world.  Why would anyone who accepts Him as Savior desire to return to sin?  But, sometimes we do, because of addictions or just plain stupidity.

It is important to confess our sins to God, but we do not lose that position as a child of God because we sin, as John points out:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin and if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:9, 2:1).
Notice that John uses the term “children”, not unbelievers.  It is evident that he expects children to sin on occasion, but remain in the family.  

What if I fell away from God?
Once you are saved (Acts 16:31) and becomes a child of God (John 1:12), your name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20).  It is possible to move away from the Lord by our own volition, as Jesus illustrated in Luke 15.  Intentionally leaving his father, the “son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country” (Luke 15:13).  After the son had partied hard and tried what the world had to offer (sounds like many of us), he realized he had made a big mistake by leaving his father.  Then, Jesus gave us a template to use in this situation, in which the son said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21).  As we know from the story, the father’s response was to immediately accept the son back into the family.  He said, “this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (v. 24).  The son did not need to reapply for sonship, he simply needed to return to his father, admit his wrongs, and resume his former position. 

What does it mean to be a child of God?
The Bible states, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  Galatians 3:26 states, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”  This is not intended to exclude women, but in the first century, sons were entitled to more inheritance rights from their father because daughters were normally married into other families.  The Bible states “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Once we become a child of God, we may be disciplined (Hebrews 12:7), but remain in the family.  Jesus said:
“I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:27-29).
Once we have come into the family of God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we are children of God.  Now, it is up to us to believe it and live like children of God.

[Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.]

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is the Holy Spirit God?

Who is the Holy Spirit?  What is the holy spirit?  Is the Holy Spirit a person?  Some cults misrepresent the nature of the Holy Spirit and many people are not sure exactly what or who the Spirit of God is.  Genesis 1:2 states, “the Spirit of God was moving over the waters.”  Some have translated spirit here as “active force” indicating the spirit is an impersonal force, perhaps something like electricity or the force of gravity.  What does the Bible say about the Spirit of God? 

The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for Spirit is ruach, from the word ruah (Strong’s 7307), used more than 340 times in the Bible.  The word means “breath, wind; by extension: spirit, mind, heart,” and is translated 227 times as spirit, 81 as wind, 27 as breath, and a few similar meanings.[1]  In the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma (Strong’s 4151) is translated 345 times as spirit.  The same word can also be translated as, “wind, breath, things which are commonly perceived as having no material substance; by extension: spirit, heart, mind”[2]

Filled with the Holy Spirit
Is the Holy Spirit a person or a force like the wind?  One Biblical example some use in an attempt to demonstrate that the Spirit is an inanimate force is Ephesians 5:18.  How can we be filled with a person as believers are instructed in Biblical passages such as Ephesians 5:18, in which we are instructed, “do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit.”  In this verse, wine is a parallel of spirit, and wine is certainly not a person.  To further make this point, other verses in the Old and New Testaments speak of being filled with the Spirit.  In fact, in at least one instance, many people were filled with the Spirit simultaneously.  Acts 2:4 states that about 120 people in the upper room were “all filled with the Holy Spirit”.  How can that be possible if the Spirit is a personal being? 

Filled with God, filled with Christ
Other verses in the Bible speak of being filled with God Himself (Ephesians 3:19), with the word for God being theos (Strong’s 2316), the most common Greek word for God, used 1152 times in the New Testament.  Similarly, Jesus Christ is referred to as “Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23) and Ephesians 4:10 states that Christ “might fill all things”.  So, if God and Christ may fill believers and all things, and they are intelligent beings, then being filled with the Holy Spirit does not eliminate the possibility that the Spirit is also an intelligent being. 

Baptized with the Holy Spirit
Some people state that, since we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, He cannot be a personal being.  For example, John the Baptist stated, “I baptize you with water”.  Then, he said Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).  Since water and fire (inanimate things) are compared with the Holy Spirit, the spirit must also be an inanimate thing.  What is a response to this assertion?  First, this is non sequitur faulty reasoning:  Simply because A leads to B and A also leads to C does not necessarily indicate that B an C are of the same type.  Second, in Romans 6:3, baptism is associated with Jesus Christ (intelligent being) and death (not an intelligent being), by stating, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death”.  Using the same logic, we could compare “Christ Jesus” to “his death”, which would not make sense.  Furthermore, since this same verse states that we can be baptized into Christ, who is an intelligent being, then being baptized into the Holy Spirit could also mean that the Spirit is an intelligent being. 

The Holy Spirit has no name
Some reason that, if the Spirit of God is a real person, he/it would have a name.  For example, the Son has a name (Jesus) and the Father has a name (Yahweh, Elohim, etc.).  It is interesting to note that the Spirit is never given a name in the Bible.  However, God typically uses names in the Bible, for Himself and others, not so much as meaningless identifiers like a social security number, but as character traits.  For example, the name Jesus (Hebrew, Joshua and Greek, Iesous) means “Yahweh saves”.  God referred to Himself as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).  In the Old Testament, the word elohim (Strong’s 0430) is translated as God 2250 times.  However, the word can mean, “mighty one, great one, judge”[3], which is not so much a name as a description or title.  There are a number of other titles for God, indicating he refers to Himself more descriptively, rather than by name.  Furthermore, other spirits mentioned in the Bible are not always referred to by name, but by description, such as evil spirits.  Some spirits are called evil without being given a name, so another spirit is called Holy, without being given a name.    

Is the Holy Spirit a force?
Some people reason that, because the Hebrew and Greek words translated as spirit can also be translated as inanimate things, such as breath or wind, so the spirit of God is also an inanimate thing.  However, the Bible clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit is a person, not a force.  The Spirit of God is described in the Bible as having attributes of personality, such as emotions, a will, and a mind.  The Bible also portrays the Holy Spirit as acting in ways that only a person would.  Some examples of these include the following:
·         The Holy Spirit can be lied to.  Peter asked Ananias, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).  It does not make sense to say someone can lie to the wind or another inanimate thing.
·         The Holy Spirit knows things, therefore has cognitive abilities associated with an intelligent mind.  Paul informs that, “the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).
·         The Holy Spirit has emotions and can be grieved.  Paul advises believers:  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30).  Only a person with emotions can be grieved.
·         The Holy Spirit acts and wills.  Inanimate things can do neither.  The Bible states, “one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
·         The Holy Spirit teaches.  Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).  An impersonal force does not teach.  A second point we can take from this verse is that the Holy Spirit is separate from God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Jesus speaks of the Spirit and the Father sends the Spirit. 
·         The Holy Spirit speaks and issues commands.  Acts 8:29 informs that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’"
·         The Holy Spirit guides.  Romans 8:14 states, “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”  A person can lead another person, but an impersonal force does not lead a person. 
·         The Holy Spirit testifies.  Jesus said, “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 14:26).  Jesus continued by saying of His disciples, “you will testify also” (John 14:27).  Only intelligent beings testify (as in a court of law) as do the disciples and the Holy Spirit.   
·         The Holy Spirit directs people.  Acts 13:4 states of Barnabas and Saul, “being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
·         The Holy Spirit helps and intercedes for believers.  Paul informs that, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us” (Romans 8:26).  Jesus Christ is also described in the Bible as interceding for believers (Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25).

The Holy Spirit is somewhat of an enigma in the Bible.  However, the Spirit of God is clearly and unmistakably described in the Bible as an intelligent being and part of the Trinity.

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

Selected Bibliography
Geisler, Norman and Ron Rhodes, Correcting the Cults, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1997.
Rhodes, Ron, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1993.

[1] James Strong, John Kohlenberger, and James Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001), 1565.
[2] Ibid., 1637.
[3] Ibid., 1472.