Does the Holy Spirit lead us?

A friend on facebook (Tim Dukeman) recently said:

- I’m deadly serious about this. God doesn’t speak through impressions, feelings, “leadings”, or any of that other nonsense. He speaks through the Bible.

- Nothing in the Bible would lead us to the idea that God speaks in these hyper-spiritual ways. If you hear an audible voice, we’ll talk.

But this “leadings” nonsense is paganism.

- I used to ask God for specific guidance. I have repented of such foolishness.

This was my response:

Tim, have you never read a Scripture and felt vaguely convicted, and then asked God to reveal to you the specific attitude or action you needed to repent of?

I do that all the time. I read something and ask the Spirit to search my heart and bring to mind whatever He wishes. Suddenly I’ll realize, “Oh! I’ve been arrogant. *That’s* not good.” So I’ll repent.

I consider that the leading of the Holy Spirit. It’s Scripturally grounded, but goes “beyond” the Scripture in that He brings to mind something specific in my own life to which the Scripture corresponds. It’s a kind of “revelation” about my own circumstances and heart.

It’s not authoritative. I don’t even have to know whether it was my own insight or something God led me to think of. But it seems silly, after having asked God to guide my thoughts, to say that it is wrong to believe he actually did guide them.

I realize this is not what you meant. But I think it is what you should have meant.

Tim’s further response:

You are correct. That is an important caveat. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. If you feel convicted of sin after reading Scripture, that’s usually legitimate.

But what I said above stands.

Comments? I have a lot of other opinions on this, but I want to organize my thoughts a little before saying much more.

 

 

Evil spirits

Those of us who believe evil spirits exist tend to think of them as putting thoughts in our heads, but suppose that they also often stir up passions within our hearts? Maybe instead of thinking of them as wandering disembodied intelligences that also have will and desire we should instead think of them as wandering disembodied passions that also have will and intelligence. Maybe along with thinking “I wonder if that thought is from a demon” we should sometimes think “I wonder if that sudden rush of emotion is from a demon”. This view seems to fit the Biblical references to evil spirits about as well as the traditional one. (See 1 Sam 16:14-15,23; 19:9-10 for example.)

Questions

The sermon today was on John 5:31-47.

The pastor emphasized the four witnesses that testify to Jesus’ deity: John the Baptist, Jesus’ miracles, the Father, the Scriptures.

Here are some questions our family had afterwards.

  • Verse 36 says that Jesus’ miracles show that he was from God. Yet other Scriptures talk about people who are not from God doing miracles. So do miracles prove someone is from God, or not?
  • Jesus says later in John that his disciples would do “greater works” than he did. How can they be greater than raising someone from the dead? What does that verse mean?
  • What is the testimony of the Father mentioned in verse 37? Our pastor first connected it to the testimony Scripture, as mentioned in verse 39. In that case, there are only three witnesses in this passage, with the last being “the Father through the Scriptures”. Later he connected it to the announcement, “This is my beloved Son” at Jesus’ baptism. But then what does it mean, “You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form”?

Our family had a really good discussion about the first two of these questions. We ended up talking about miracles, and about living with the expectation that God may still work supernaturally today.

Other questions I’ve been wondering about recently:

  • Acts 2:42 refers to “the breaking of bread”. I’ve always assumed it meant communion. A pastor a couple of weeks ago preached that it meant having a meal together. So what does it mean?
  • James 2:26 says “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” This is backwards from what I always think it is saying. I think of works as being the body — the outward form — and faith as being the thing that makes them of value to God. Works have spiritual value when they come from a believing heart. But this verse turns it around. I think it says that faith is like the body. It is just the form, the shell. When faith is fulfilled in works it becomes alive. The works that proceed from faith are what provide the life, the power, the “spirit” that animates the faith. The question is, am I right? Am I missing something? What more is there to add that would illuminate this?

I love having questions. Every question is a promise that there is more out there for me to learn.

(By the way, we did come to some satisfying conclusions about most of these questions. I just didn’t tell you what they were!)

Oh, one last thing I almost forget: Go check out my brother’s brand new website. Say something on it. You could even ask him my questions and see how smart he is :-)

What is the gospel?

I tend to think of “the gospel” as “what you need to believe to be saved”. If you don’t have to believe it to be saved, then while it may be true, it isn’t part of the gospel.

Now I’m wondering, is that what the gospel means in Scripture? A book I’ve been reading sent me back to the New Testament for another look.

It’s certainly good news that in Jesus we are offered forgiveness of sins. But there are other things about Jesus that are good news too. Does the New Testament use “gospel” to mean all the good news about Jesus, or does it mean very specifically the offer of personal salvation through His death for us and nothing else?

The question reminds me of the charismatic churches that talk about being “full gospel”. What they mean, I think, is that Jesus doesn’t just offer forgiveness, he offers healing and prosperity and so on. I don’t share their views about guaranteed healing and prosperity for believers, but set that aside for the moment and notice that when they call healing and prosperity part of the gospel, they aren’t implying that you must believe in that healing before you can be saved. They’re just saying that the good news doesn’t end with forgiveness. Not only can you find pardon for all your sins, you can find other blessings as well.

When Jesus walked on earth, there was a lot of good news about him. He healed and cast out demons. He taught with authority and insight. He said the kingdom of God was near. He demonstrated the compassionate heart of God.

Since his resurrection and ascension, there are more things that are good news. He has been made both Lord and Christ, and has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. He is the reality that all the Old Testament rituals were pointing to. All of God’s goodness is summed up in him. He has called us to follow Him. He is our perfect example.

Of course none of these other blessings does us any good until we’ve received forgiveness in his name, but is it accurate to call them part of the gospel anyway?

If this is what the gospel means in Scripture, does that affect what we should think of when we talk about “sharing the gospel”?

Let me know what you think.

Exodus 23:20-21

In Exodus 23:20-21 God says to Moses and the Israelites:

Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him.

??

When did this happen?

The second-born in the Old Testament

Abraham had two children, Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was first-born, but the line of Israel came through Isaac. Then Isaac had Esau and Jacob. Esau was first-born, but gave away his birthright and the line came through Jacob. The Jacob had a whole bunch of sons, but the one God used for his purposes was Joseph, nearly the last of the twelve.

Why this emphasis on the first-born not being the important one?

I don’t think it will do to say, “There is no significance. It just happened that way historically.” Old Testament Jewish readers, at least, would have expected the pattern to mean something important to their identity as a nation chosen by God.

Does it emphasize that being the chosen people is up to God rather than man? (Compare Romans 9:11). Or that God is more concerned with a person’s heart than his position? (Compare 1 Samuel 16:7). It can’t be straightforwardly Messianic: Jesus is definitely pictured by a first-born, not a second-born, son. (John 3:16, Colossians 1:15).

Hmmm …

Any suggestions?

Persuasion

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says this:

And when I came to you, brethren, … my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Cor 1:1-5)

I’ve been thinking about what it means to persuade people of the truth. From my point of view, you persuade someone by a) understanding the truth, b) understanding their point of view, and c) building a bridge that will get them from where they are to where they need to be.

But is building a bridge that will get them from where they are to where they need to be the same as getting them to rest their faith on their own wisdom? Perhaps you need to just skip the bridge and say, “This is the truth!” even though you know they’ll never buy it because, from their point of view, there isn’t any reason to.

Proverbs speaks favorably of persuading people:

The wise in heart will be called understanding, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov 16:21)

The heart of the wise instructs his mouth And adds persuasiveness to his lips.(Prov 16:23)

By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone. (Prov 25:15)

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable (Prov 15:2a)

Paul certainly persuaded people, too:

And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)

And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4)

And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)

Agrippa replied to Paul, ” In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:28-29)

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (2 Cor 5:11)

How does all this work out? I’m still not sure.

Prayer

I love prayer meetings, sometimes. Other times I am bored and discouraged by them.

Recently I’ve had the chance to be a part of the first kind. It’s been refreshing spiritually. It’s hard to describe how greatly refreshing it’s been. 

It’s hard for me to say what the difference is. I’ve tried to capture it in different ways at different times. Here are some of the things I’ve pointed to in the past as characteristic of a rich time of prayer:

  • When God’s presence is clearly felt
  • When people are free to pray as the Holy Spirit leads, instead of feeling as though they have to follow a specific pattern
  • When there is strong spiritual leadership that casts a united vision for the purpose of our prayers
  • When people are praying with genuine faith, as though they expect God to answer
  • When people are praying because of a genuine spiritual burden, rather than just bringing laundry lists to God
  • When people are praying for the kingdom and glory of God instead of just for their own comfort
  • When people are paying close attention to the Spirit’s direction as they decide what to pray
  • When most of the people there are serious about prayer and have a hunger for what it can be

These days, I’d characterize it as being a time

  • when people really seek the face of God, as opposed to just jumping into their prayer lists.

Whatever it is, I don’t do it well on my own; I really depend on other people being there with me, their faith encouraging and stimulating mine.

Regardless, I’m really enjoying this season in my prayer life. I’m treating it as a gift from God and not trying too much to find ways to make it happen.

Thoughts? What factors make corporate prayer times really good for you?

Question about Romans 8:37

Quick question about Romans 8:31-37.

It says:

What then shall we say to these things?

If God is for us, who is against us?

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?

God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Just as it is written,

“FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;
WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Why is verse 37 in the past tense?

And how does it affect the meaning of the verse?

More about the “peace that passeth understanding”

In a previous post I discussed this verse:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

I suggested that when Paul said the peace of God “surpasses all comprehension” (or “passeth understanding”, in KJV), he meant that it surpasses any peace we could attain by understanding.

The more I think about that, the more uneasy I am with it. The more natural interpretation is that there is more of the peace of God than we can understand.

So, suppose the phrase means that the amount of peace surpasses what we can comprehend. How can we understand the verse in that case?

How much peace?

At first glance, I don’t understand how there could be so much of something that I don’t understand how much there is. As a mathematician, I work a lot with the concept of infinity. I understand infinity. So even if God has infinite peace, I can still understand that he has infinite peace. How can God’s peace surpass infinity? How can it surpass understanding?

Maybe Paul means that God’s peace has no conceivable limit. Any limit I can think of, God’s peace exceeds (because infinite peace has no limit).

In fact, it occurs to me that perhaps Paul didn’t have the concept of infinity that we do. We’ve been influenced by the mathematics of infinity, which was developed just a couple of centuries ago. I don’t know if the cultures of Paul’s time even had our concept of infinity. For example, one of the Greek philosophers used the word apeiron, which may mean something like unbounded, but some translators think it means without definition instead. It seems there wasn’t a clear linguistic distinction between infinite and indefinite.

Even the New Testament phrase “forever and ever” doesn’t use a word for infinite: the literal rendering is “to the age of the ages”.

If Paul didn’t have the words or concepts for “infinite” he might have been trying to express what we mean by infinity by saying that the peace of God was without conceivable limits. The “beyond comprehension” may simply be a way of saying “infinite”.

(I can’t even say for sure that the peace of God is infinite. It seems philosophically right to assume that an infinite God would supply infinite peace, but there could be something technically incoherent about peace being infinite.)

A related possibility: maybe Paul means that even if we can understand how much there is of the peace of God in the abstract, we cannot really grasp the enormity of it. Thus the translation in the New American Standard: comprehension rather than mere understanding. We can know that there is an infinite amount of peace, but we cannot really comprehend it. I know what infinity is, but I can’t say I totally get it.

Maybe Paul means we don’t comprehend the peace of God in that we can’t grasp its full relevance for us. The peace of God is more than we can possibly know in experience. Even if the peace of God is supernatural as to its source, it manifests itself to us through our human emotions. (That means that the peace of God as we experience it is not infinite, because we aren’t capable of having infinite peace.)

In this case, Paul could mean that even what we can experience is beyond what we could ever have imagined ourselves experiencing, or he could mean that the actual peace of God, out there, available to us, is so abundant that no matter how much we need there is always enough. The peace of God that I feel is within my comprehension, but the peace of God that is available to me is beyond my comprehension.

Hyperbole?

Of course, another possibility is that the phrase is an example of hyperbole; that is, Paul is exaggerating to make a point. As a young man I rejected the idea that Scripture could have hyperbole in it, because it seemed to me that hyperbole was a kind of falsehood, and an inerrant Bible could not teach something false. But if hyperbole is a figure of speech then it is not intended to be taken literally and so when it is interpreted correctly, it doesn’t teach something false. When I realized that, I started keeping an eye out for legitimate examples of hyperbole in Scripture. I remember finding a fairly definite example in Song of Solomon somewhere (I forget which verse now). That settled it for me: the Bible can contain hyperbole.

The reason it took me a few years to figure that out, though, is because people around me kept taking verses that seemed to them unlikely to be true and calling them hyperbole to avoid having to take them seriously. That was bad interpretation. Good interpretation would ask whether the original writer / speaker meant it to be taken literally or not.

In that light, is Paul using hyperbole here? Does he mean us to understand that the peace of God is not really beyond comprehension, that there’s a just a lot of it? His statement here reminds me of the passage in Ephesians 3:20 where he says that God can do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. Did he intend us not to take that one literally either? I can’t prove it, but it seems to me likely that Paul really meant what he said in these phrases. He was trying to make his claims as bold as possible because he meant them, not because he didn’t. He didn’t want his readers to water the phrases down. Doing so would be misinterpreting him.

So, personally, I doubt the verse is hyperbole. I’d be willing to change my mind if I learned that the phrase “surpasses all comprehension” was a common idiom in those days with a standard non-literal meaning.

Given all these possibilities, my current tentative interpretation is that Paul means that the peace of God is infinitely abundant so that there is always as much as we need, that this infinite abundance surpasses comprehension in the sense that we can conceive of no limit to it, and that our experience of that peace is finite because all our experiences are finite.

What do y’all think?