The Work of the Spirit | pt. 3
In the last post, we looked at “God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit.” In this post, we will be looking at…
Next, we need to understand that God the Spirit gives “grace gifts.” God’s abundant grace that we see demonstrated all throughout redemptive history issues in grace gifts. God expresses His grace concretely in the rich number of grace gifts He bestows upon the Church for its upbuilding. Schreiner observes this and says, “I would define spiritual gifts as gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church.”
The Spirit was vital at the beginning of the church and He continues to be on through to the consummation. He brought the birth of the Church, He hovered over the Church like He hovered over the water at the beginning. The Spirit does not bring charismatic chaos but the creation of order. That was the Spirit’s work at the beginning and it is the Spirit’s work today. There is no biblical warrant for believing in some big discontinuity between the work of the Spirit then and the work of the Spirit now in the last days. Actually, Scripture says, “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). We are in those latter days today and we still need the empowering presence of the Spirit.
The hodgepodge, unlearned, and often unimpressive group of Jesus followers did not see the messianic movement die. Instead, the people of the way (Acts 9:2) actually exploded in growth, this group of people that followed a crucified and cursed man who claimed to be God, this group of people who had no leader on earth. How did this group survive let alone thrive?
Because Jesus did not leave His disciples without what they needed. Jesus sent the Helper.
Jesus said, that it was better that He go. That seems shocking. As it should. And as it did for the first disciples. We are left asking, how could it be better that Jesus’ bodily presence not be with us?
Thankfully Jesus answers that question. He tells us that He will not leave us as orphans. He gives us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (See John 14).
The Grace Gifts Continue Today
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Will we? Will we receive power?
The Work of the Spirit | pt. 2
God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit
God the Spirit. Since we are considering the work of the Spirit within the church, it is important that we consider God the Spirit, who He is and what He does. First, without going into any detail, the Holy Spirit is the third person of Trinity. The Spirit is fully God. The Holy Spirit also has personhood; He is not an impersonal force. That is who the Spirit is.
Second, it is important that we briefly consider what it is that the Spirit does. The Old Testament teaches us various things about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit molds creation into shape and gives life to created beings (Gen 1:2; 2:7; Ps 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The Spirit controls the course of nature and history (Ps 104:29-30; Isa 34:16). The Spirit teaches and reveals God’s truth and will to His messengers. The Spirit elicits personal response to God. The Spirit equips individuals for leadership. We also see that the Spirit equips individuals with skill and strength (Exod 31:1-11; 1 Kgs 7:14; Hag 2:5; Zech 4:6).
The Spirit is given as our Helper (John 14:24). He takes what belongs to the Son and shares it with those who believe (John 16:14), beginning with the new birth (John 3:6), teaching and guiding (John 16:14), and transforming (2 Cor 3:5-18) in ways that surpass human capacity (1 Cor 2:10-14). He empowers believers to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). By indwelling believers (Rom 8:9; 1 John 2:27), the Spirit washes and renews (Titus 3:5), pours out divine love in our hearts (Rom 5:5), reproduces the divine virtues (Gal 5:22-23; Rom 14:17), enables us to resist sin (Rom 8:13) and pursue holiness (2 Thess 2:13), and build unity among the church (Eph 2:22; 4:3, 13; Phil 2:1-2). The Spirit hears, speaks, witnesses, convinces, shows, leads, guides, teaches, commands, forbids, desires, gives speeches, helps, and intercedes with groans. It is vital that we not leave out the most miraculous work that the Spirit works within people; He makes them new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 3:3, 6, 18; Titus 3:5-6; Ezek 36:25-28; Rom 2:28-29).
The Work of the Spirit | pt. 1
Introduction and Thesis
The Apostle Paul said, “Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware” (1 Cor 12:1). This is a very important subject yet sadly very divisive. The reality is “there is one body and one Spirit” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5) but there are many divergent views on the work of the Spirit within the Church. So we have all the more reason to carefully evaluate this subject.
This subject is important to consider because we want Christ’s church to be as healthy as it can possibly be, we want it to be adorned as Christ would have it. If there are good gifts that are available to the church for it’s upbuilding then we should want to and should make use of them. Especially because 1 Corinthians 12:31 tells us we are to eagerly desire the greater grace gifts.
I believe that all the good gifts that were available at the outset of the church continue to be available and will be until the consummation when the Lord Jesus comes back to get His bride. So my thesis is that God the Spirit continues to empower and provide various grace gifts to the Church for its upbuilding and these gifts should be earnestly desired and practiced in accordance with Scripture. This is very important to consider because “despite the affirmations in our creeds… and the lip service paid to the Spirit in our occasional conversations, the Spirit is largely marginalized in our actual life together as a community of faith.”
Setting the Context
I have a number of questions that are important for us to honestly consider. Could it be the case that some people have a bias against the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Could it be that people do not have solid biblical reasons for believing that the “more miraculous” gifts of the Spirit have ceased? Could it be that most people’s beliefs in this regard are simply based upon what they have heard someone else say? Could it be that in this case, people have failed to check what was taught to ensure it was in accordance with Scripture (See Acts 17:11)?
Could it be that the Western enlightenment worldview has crept into our own view of the world and impacted the way we think about spiritual things? Many have adopted a view of reality that sees “the universe as a uniform system based strictly on the cause-and-effect relationships between its constituent parts, each in a determinate relationship one to the others, utterly closed to any dimensions of reality that transcend the natural.” Of course, many Christians rightly confess with Abraham Kuyper, that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” But, could it still be the case that “naturalism nonetheless deeply influences our view of the daily events of our lives”?
Can we concede that the continuation of the gifts would be a good thing? Should not we want all the grace that our good Father has availed to us? How can we say something is bad that our Father has called good? If the grace gifts are part of the “every good and perfect gifts” (Jas 1:17) that God has graciously given us then should we not receive them gratefully? If spiritual gifts are as bad and unhelpful as many make them seem, then why would the gifts have ever existed at all?
First Corinthians and the Continuation of the Gifts of the Spirit
I have written on this subject elsewhere but here we’re going to look at the text of 1 Corinthians and evaluate what it’s says regarding the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit.
First, it’s important that we acknowledge that this is a controversial issue. And it’s important that we consider these questions from an unbiased perspective.
What we were taught in the past should not determine our beliefs. We also should not let misapplications or extremes that people have that hold a certain belief dissuade us from holding a certain belief. The validity of a theological truth must be determined by what the Bible itself says. It’s important that we first agree on that.
Scripture is the final say on wether or not the gifts of the Spirit continue, not whether or not we understand each of the gifts perfectly or whether or not those who believe the gifts of the Spirit continue practice everything in a way that builds up the body of Christ in accordance with Scripture. Those other things are distractions (in logical argumentation they are referred to as the red herring fallacy).
So, what does 1 Corinthians itself say about the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?
The Tri-unity of God
What does the word “Trinity” mean? And do we even see the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament? Or did it just burst upon the scene with the arrival of Jesus? We will see the answers to these questions, and many more below, but first, why is understanding the doctrine of the Trinity important?
It is important because a biblical understanding of the Trinity keeps us from all sorts of unhealthy, unsound, and damaging teaching. It helps us be able to dialogue with Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses, and Mormons; all of which have divergent views on the doctrine of God.
Further, as we study the doctrine of the Trinity we realize the fact that God is triune has huge implications. We can know God because He has revealed Himself to us. We do not merely know that He’s out there, He’s came here. Jesus exegetes God to us. God has tabernacled among us in Jesus. In Jesus, we see the exact image of God (homoousios). Through the Spirit, we know God because the Spirit gives us His word. However, that is not it. The Spirit of God draws us to Himself. And, wonder of wonder, the Spirit dwells in us! The triune nature of God is very important because it is through the (economic) work of the Trinity that we come to know God.
The triune nature of God is essential to our faith and our salvation. Without the unified work of the three Persons in the one God we would be forever damned. We need a perfect wrath absorbing sacrifice. We need “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14).
The triune nature of God shows that He is relational, loving, self-giving, and personal. God is not just some distant cosmic force. He has personhood. He has existed in all eternity past in loving relationship, odd to say, with Himself. God actually and amazingly calls us to join in that relationship with Him. He recreates us in His image and welcomes us as His sons and daughters. God welcomes us through communion, and all it represents, to have communion with Himself. God sent His Son, poured out His blood, and His Spirit, in order to welcome us to the feast where we, the Church, shall be His bride. We shall be in a consummated covenant relationship with the King where the story will have an eternal happily-ever-after.
The Trinity also gives fabric and fiber to our human relationships. We have structure and not chaos when we model the Trinity in loving relationship (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 4:4-7).
The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible but teaching on the Trinity is. In fact, we see it in the very beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-3; cf. Jn. 1:1-14). “The doctrine of the Trinity teaches both God’s Threeness and his oneness. The adjective triune refers to God as both thee (tri) and one (une).” John Frame says,
“God is one, but somehow also three. This fact is difficult to understand, but it is quite unavoidable in Scripture and central to the gospel. The doctrine of the Trinity attempts to account for this fact and to exclude heresies that have arisen on the subject. Its basic assertion are these: (1) God is one. (2) God is three. (3) The three persons are each fully God. (4) Each of these three persons is distinct from the others. (5) The three persons are related to one another eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
God is One
Monotheists believe that there is only one God and Christians agree. There is only one God. But the One God is three Persons in one God.
We see that God is one through various passages. The Shema, the Jewish and Christian confession from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” There are also many other passages that we could look at (e.g. Deut. 4:32-35, 39; 32:39; 1 Kings 8:60; Is. 40:18ff; 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 21-22; 46:9; Mk. 12:29; Jn. 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19).
Christians affirm that there is only one God and that God alone must be worshiped (cf. Matt. 6:24; Mk. 12:29; 1 Cor. 10:19-20). Christians affirm the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christians affirm this because it is the teaching of the New Testament but, as we will see, it is also in the Old Testament, though perhaps veiled.
So, let’s look at God’s Three in One nature in the Old Testament.
The Trinity in the Old Testament?
Imagine you walk into your house at night, the lights are off and it’s very dark. Is their furniture in your house? Is their fixtures? Pictures on the wall? A TV?
How do you know? You know because you’ve have seen your house in the light. However, if I came into your house in the dark I would have no idea what, where, or if there was anything in your house. Why? Because I have not seen it in the light.
But just because I do not understand the contents of the room does not change the fact that there are things in the room. Correct?
That is the way it is with the Trinity. The prophets, priests, and kings did not see the doctrine of the Trinity with the same light with which New Testament and post-New Testament believers see it. They longed to see it as we do (Matt. 13:17) but they didn’t. However, that does not mean that it was not there. It was there all along.
So, where is the Trinity in the Old Testament?
Sometimes in the OT the LORD’s name is in the plural form. So in Genesis 1:26 the LORD says, “Let us make man in our image” (cf. 3:22; 11:7; Is. 6:8). Also “’Elohim usually takes a singular verb, but it takes plural verbs in Genesis 20:13; 35:7; Exodus; Nehemiah 9:18; and Isaiah 16:6.” Of course, as John Frame points out:
“We should not try to derive any precise doctrinal content from these grammatical peculiarities. In every language, plural forms sometimes denote singular realities (like pants in English). I do think it significant, however, that the writers and characters of the Old Testament, emphatic monotheists that they were, do not object to these plural forms or try to avoid them, even though the language offered them alternatives.”
In the OT there entities that are identified with the LORD. First, the Spirit comes to mind. We see the Spirit in various places in the OT. The Spirit was hovering over the waters at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:2 cf. Job 26:13). God uses His Spirit to accomplish His purpose (Ps. 33:6). The Spirit enters the prophets and they speak God’s word (e.g. 2 Sam. 23:2; Ezek. 2:2).
Second, we see the angel of the Lord in the OT. There are many legions of angels and they are obviously not all divine (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:9). Yet, it seems the angel of the Lord is. For example, in Genesis 22:11-12 the angel of the LORD says that “you have not withheld from Me [i.e. God] your son.” The angel in Genesis 31:11-13 identifies Himself as “the God of Bethel.” Further, “In 32:30, Jacob says of the man (called an ‘angel’ in Hosea 12:4) who wrestled with him that ‘saw God face to face, and my life was spared.’” (cf. Gen. 16:13; Ex. 3:2-6; 23:20-22; Num. 22:35 (with v. 38); Judg. 2:1-2; 6:11 (with v. 14).
Third, we see that the promised Messiah is also said to be divine in some passages. From Isaiah we see that the Servant of the Lord is the one that will atone for people’s sin (Is. 52:13-53:12). Yet, Isaiah also teaches us that only God brings salvation (cf. Is. 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 59:15-20; 60:16; 63:8). The crucifixion, the form of execution that Jesus endured, “more than any other, had associations with the idea of human sacrifice.” Jesus’ followers came to see parallels between His death and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Truly Paul echoes Isaiah 53 (cf. esp. v. 11) in 1 Corinthians 5:21 (see also Matt. 8:17; Luke 22:37; Acts 8:32-33; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:22, 24-25).
So Richard Bauckman has shown that there was room for Jesus in the Divine identity. So, for instance, Isaiah 9:6-7 says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” Also see Daniel 7:13-14 (cf. Davidic promises in 2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 17).
Psalm 110:1 shows us that “the Old Testament looks forward to a deliverer who is distinct from Yahweh, yet also bear the title of Lord.” Paul, for example, would have looked at Psalm 110:1, one of the most quoted Scriptures in the NT (Matt. 22:44; Mk. 12:36; Lk. 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:20), and seen that verse 5 says that Adonai (אֲדֹנָ֥י), which was reserved only for deity in the OT, is in fact the Messiah.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 is a very important text for us as well: “’Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”
Our last passage we’ll look at is Isaiah 33:6: “Come near me and listen to this: ‘From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.’ And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit.” John Frame points out that “the speaker is Yahweh, as the preceding context indicates. But the verse says that Yahweh has been sent by someone else, called ‘the Sovereign LORD,” together with another called ‘his Spirit. From a New Testament vantage point, we can see this as a Trinitarian passage. Interestingly, the following verse adds, ‘This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” (cf. Ps. 45:6-7; Is. 48:16).
The Trinity in the New Testament?
It is important for us to notice that the “doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the New Testament in the making, but as already made.” The doctrine of the Trinity is more explicit in the NT then in the OT and it seems to of been more accepted then justification by faith apart from works of the Law. In Paul’s writing for instance he argues against both legalism and license but interestingly no NT writing argues for the Trinity; rather, they suppose a Trinitarian understanding of God. Let’s look at a few texts.
There are a few texts that are explicitly Trinitarian and there are others that are more implicit. We will just look at a sampling of passages.
The classic Trinitarian text comes from Matthew 28:19. We are told to baptize “in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The baptism of Jesus is also a very important and popular text: “when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Here we see God the Father (the first Person of the Trinity) speak to the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) and the Spirit descending (the third Person of the Trinity).
Jesus is God
We see the Trinity very clearly in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17. We see the Trinity in the birth narratives. “Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35) and thus comes to be ‘God with us’ (Matt. 1:23), ‘the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35).” We see that the Spirit of the LORD was upon the Messiah to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (cf. Is. 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). We see the Trinity in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:33, 38-39). We see the Trinity explicitly in Paul’s closing in the Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).
We could also look at the use of the word Lord (kyrios) for Jesus when it communicates that He is LORD (e.g. Matt. 21:16/Ps. 8:2; 1 Cor. 1:31/Jer. 9:24). We could look at the Gospel of John’s “I AM” statements (cf. Ex.3:14/Jn. 4:24 “I am [ego eimi], who speaks to you”). See especially John 8:56-58.
The fact that Jesus is God was not only realized very early by the Early Church but articulated very early. So Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50-117) said in his Letter to the Ephesians, “Our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit” (18.2 cf. 19.3; Letter to the Romans, 3.3; Letter to Polycarp, 3.2). Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 69-155) said may “the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth…, and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead (Philippians, 12.2). Justin Martyr (100-165) said “Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God” (Dialogue with Trypho, 128) and he said that he would “prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts” (Dialogue with Trypho, 36).
So to conclude our brief survey:
“The most concise, and arguably most fundamental summary of Old Testament teaching is ‘Yahweh is Lord.’ But the New Testament, over and over again, represents Jesus as Lord in the same way that the Old Testament represents Yahweh as Lord. The most fundamental summary of New Testament teaching is, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11)” (DG, 650).
The Spirit is God
It says in Acts 5:3-4 “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…you have not lied to men but to God.’” Thus, we see that the Holy Spirit is God the third person of the Trinity. Also we see that the Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force but is rightly understood as the third person of the Trinity. The Spirit has personhood, the Spirit can be lied to; one cannot lie to impersonal objects or forces. We also see the Spirit’s personhood in that He teaches (Jn. 14:26), can be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31-32), comforts (Acts 9:31), speaks (Acts 28:25), can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), can be resisted (Acts 7:51), and helps us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26).
Further, as we have briefly seen, Jesus was conceived by (Matt. 1:18, 20; Lk. 1:35), empowered by (e.g. Is. 11:1-2; Acts 10:38), and resurrected by (e.g. Rom. 1:4) the power of the Spirit. The Spirit is also a creating Spirit. In the beginning we see “the Spirit hovering over the waters.” So we see God the Father creates (e.g. Gen. 1:1), the Son creates (e.g. Jn. 1:1-3), and the eternal Spirit also creates (Gen. 1:2; Heb. 9:14). The Spirit also re-creates and brings new life (Jn. 6:63). Regarding the deity of the Holy Spirit we could look at many other texts (cf. Is. 61:1; 63:10; Mt. 12:28; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:11; Matt. 28:19; Lk. 11:13; Jn. 14:26; 15:26; Rom. 8:26-27; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).
So we see that Scripture teaches us that there are three persons—Father (e.g. Gen. 1:1), Son (e.g. Col. 1:17; Heb. 2:3), and Holy Spirit (e.g. Heb. 9:14)—in the one God (e.g. Deut. 6:4). So Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Is the Trinity a Logical Contradiction?
When understood aright, the tri-unity of God really becomes an apologetic point. Because apart from divine foreclosure, how would Jews claim God is triune, three in one? Yet, from the beginning Christians were teaching this. Of course, we’ve seen that the tri-unity of God is in the Old Testament, though in veiled form.
So the Trinity, far from defeating Christianity, is actually an argument in its favor. Something hugely significant had to happen for Jews to start expounding their Monotheism in a Trinitarian way (this is to say nothing of the Sabbath, etc.). Christ clearly showed Himself to be God and promised His followers that they would receive power from on high, the Spirit that had already empowered the prophets of old.
The Trinity isn’t a contradiction or illogical, though it is without precedent. We can talk about three leaf clovers, the three forms of water, and the three-headed dog, Cerberus, which guards hades gate but all these analogues fall short. However, just because something is unprecedented or we don’t understand it doesn’t at all mean something isn’t so. Black holes, for instance, are certainly a mystery but that doesn’t invalidate them.
Light is a helpful example for us. Significantly light has paradoxically been explained by scientists and theorists alike as both a wave and a particle (wave-particle duality). It is not claimed that this is completely understood but it is nevertheless believed. Thus Albert Einstein said, “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.” So scientists believe and claim things that they don’t fully understand, things that are shrouded in mystery, regarding the natural universe (resonance structures); so who are we to deny mystery when it comes to the supernatural God?!
The person going to a new land for the first time expects to see new things yet they don’t know what and they don’t expect they’ll understand it all. Who are we to look at God any differently? Is it not the height of folly and arrogance to think this way? We realize that there are unprecedented and unclear things that we will see when visiting a new land and culture yet we think we can know what to expect and determine with God? Who are we to say that God cannot be three in one? Are we in the place to judge God? Surely we are not! We can’t or shouldn’t even judge cultures we don’t understand.
A. W. Tozer has said, “Some persons who reject all they cannot explain have denied that God is a Trinity. Subjecting the Most High to their cold, level-eyed scrutiny, they conclude that it is impossible… These forget that their whole life is enshrouded in mystery.” So Albert Einstein has reportedly said:
“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand those laws.”
We only see dimly. Who are we to say that it is illogical for God to be three in one? Further, it should not surprise us that God would be past finding out (cf. Deut. 29:29; Job 9:10; 36:26; Is. 55:9; Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 13:9). He is God. He has created the vast universe that we cannot begin to fathom.
Paul Copan, Professor of Philosophy at Palm Beach Atlantic University, has pointed out that
“while God is one, three self-distinctions exist within the Godhead… Three and one aren’t in contradiction here; to be in conflict, the same category or relationship must be involved. But threeness pertains to persons; oneness pertains to God’s nature or essence. There isn’t one divine nature and three divine natures; there aren’t three persons and one person in the Godhead.”
So, “There’s simply no logical contradiction when Christians say, ‘Three persons, one divine nature.’” The Holy Trinity is indeed a mystery but not an incoherent one.”
In a similar way, the theologian Bruce A. Ware has said,
“God is one in essence or nature, but God is three in person. There is no logical contradiction here even if the concept is beyond our complete comprehension. If God were one in essence and three in essence, or if he were one in person and three in person, then we would have a straightforward contradiction. The so-called doctrine of the Trinity, then, would be total nonsense. But this is not the case. Rather, God’s ‘oneness’ and ‘threeness’ are in different respects or senses. He is one in essence, so the essence of God is possessed fully by each member of Trinity. But he is three in person, so the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, although the Father possesses the identically same nature as does the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
The Essence and Roles of the Persons of the Trinity
Within the Trinity, there may be different functions or tasks of each person in the Godhead but they are in no way out of unison. The word Trinity itself means tri-unity; three in unity. The ontological, essence, or being of the Trinity is the same within all three persons, all are fully God. However, Jesus submits Himself to the Father and the Spirit to both the Father and the Son. They in a way function like a great orchestra playing a wonderful musical piece. They all play the right part at the right time and do it in complete harmony for the betterment of the song. The great song that is sung is of God’s glory in the work of redemption.
Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father [first person of the Trinity] of our Lord Jesus Christ [second person of the Trinity]” and later in verse 13 it says that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit [third person of the Trinity]. Here we see some of the functions of the Trinity. We are brought to God so that we can behold His glory through Jesus the Son (Heb 10:19) and then the Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance. So within the Trinity there is ontological equality but economic subordination.
“From eternity, the triune God has existed. Indeed, the self-sufficient Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit have existed in their free, mutual selfgiving and self-receiving love. Relationship or communion is intrinsic to this “household” (or economy) of divine persons who, though distinct from one another, are inseparably united in other-oriented love. This divine inter- (and inner-) connection of mutuality, openness, and reciprocity has no individualistic competition among the family members but only joy, self-giving love, and transparency. Rather than being some isolated self or solitary ego, God is supremely relational in His self-giving, other-oriented nature. Within God is intimate union as well as distinction, an unbreakable communion of persons. The persons of the Godhead can be distinguished but not separated. God is both community and unity.”
Truly, “The beauty of harmony is a beauty of diversity without discord, of distinctiveness without disarray, of complexity without cacophony.”
So the essence of each person of the Trinity is that they are each fully and eternally God. Yet, they have different functions or roles within the history of redemption. Each person—Father, Son, and Spirit—are all fully God yet they are not the same person. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and so forth. To state it differently: The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there is only one God.
Why is Understanding the Trinity Important?
In the introduction I hinted at some of the reasons understanding the Trinity is important. I will give a few more here. First, as I pointed out before, I think the doctrine of the Trinity actually adds to the validity of the Christian faith because the teaching is so unprecedented. The doctrine of the Trinity though true and biblical is not unequivocal. Why would Jesus’ first follows have said He was God and said the Spirit that indwelt them was God unless something very significant happened that would allow them to say such things? It seems then, that though the Trinity is indeed a mystery it is not illogical (as discussed above) and actually helps to validate the unprecedented nature of what happened with Jesus and His first followers.
Second, when we understand that each person of the Trinity is equally, fully, and eternally divine then we will wonder at the work and roles of each person of the Trinity and the perspective roles given to husbands and wives, for example, will be understood and carried out as they should be. The various parts of the body of the church will also be able to function and operate as they are called to without feeling either prideful or belittled. Subordination is not inferiority, it is Godlike. When we understand that the authority-submission structure pictures the Trinity—who is equal ontologically in essence but distinct in roles, then we see that when we chafe at the role of authority and submission within our lives, whether at church or home, at heart, we chafe at the very nature of God Himself.
Third, when we understand the Trinity we will be amazed and humbled by passages like Philippians 2:5-11 and by the fact that the Holy Spirit lives within us (1 Cor. 3:16). When we understand the fellowship within the Trinity it will be a stimulus for fellowship within our church and community. In fact, as Bruce Ware has said, “God intends that his very nature—yes, his triune and eternal nature—be expressed in our human relationships.”
Fourth, we see communities and societies have a deep need for true fellowship all over the globe. This is because we were created in the image of the triune relational God. So Paul Copan says, “Because a relational God exists and chooses to create humans in His image, relationality is central to our identity as humans.” We are the way we are because we are made in the image of the triune relational God. We also see that our relational desires can be meant in God, He existed in mutual loving existence for all eternity past.
Bruce Ware gives Ten Reason to Focus on the Wonder of the Trinity:
- The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.
- The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.
- Worship of the true living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- The Christian’s life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to Father through the Son, in the power of the Spirit.
- The Christian’s growth in Christlikeness or sanctification is rightly understood and enriched when seen as the work of the triune God.
- The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the unity of the triune God.
- The triune relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the diversity within the triune God.
- The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to wonder at the social relationality of the triune God.
- The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the authority-submission structure that exists eternally in the three Persons in the Godhead, each of whom is equally and fully God.
- The doctrine of the Trinity—one God existing in three Persons in the ways we have described—provides one of the most important and neglected patterns for how human life and human relationships are to be conducted.
Further, Bruce Ware says:
“To illustrate the significance of the Trinity of our faith, consider just briefly the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to the Christian understanding of salvation. In order for us sinners to be saved, one must see God at one and the same time as the one judging our sin (the Father), the one making payment of infinite value for our sin (the divine Son), and the one empowering and directing the incarnate—human—Son so that he lives and obeys the Father, going to the cross as a substitute for us (the Holy Spirit). The Christian God, to be savior, must then be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is, our salvation comes as the Father judges our sin in his Son, who became incarnate and lived his life in the power of the Spirit as the perfect and sinless God-man, and accomplished his perfect obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit. Disregard the Trinity and you necessarily undermine salvation.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is important for various reasons. It is important because God is the Lord of all and we are told to know, love, and worship Him. It is important that we know what He is like as far as we are able. When we understand the Trinity, we will wonder at the fact that Jesus reached out to the leper. He, He that eternally was, is, and will be, spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well (this was unprecedented even for a Rabbi in that time as the text shows). We will tremble to think that we are Temples of God, the Spirit dwells in us.
We should wonder at the glorious Trinity, not stand in judgment. Who are we to say that God cannot be three persons in one God? We must throw our hand over our mouth. We must understand that we cannot understand the incomprehensible.
When thinking of the Trinity far from being puffed up in pride we should explode in benediction: “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
 There are a few common divergent views in regard to the Trinity: First, Trithesim is a heretical view of God. Trithesits do not believe in the triune God who is three persons in one God; instead they believe in three different Gods; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, Modalism or Sabellianism. Modalists believe that God is not triune but rather that God has come in three different modes or manifestations as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So for the modalists there are not three divine persons but only one divine person. Third, Arianism is a heretical view that holds that Jesus was fully human but not fully God. Rather, they believe Jesus was the highest of all created beings.
 John Frame, The Doctrine of God¸ 622.
 Frame, DG, 621-22.
 Frame, DG, 632.
 Frame, DG, 632.
 Frame, DG, 634.
Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, 87.
See esp. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 19.
 Frame, DG, 652.
 Frame, DG, 637.
 B.B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” 143 as quoted in DG, 639.
 Frame, DG, 639.
 “It may be remarked in reference to them all that they are of little value. They do not serve to make the inconceivable intelligible. The most they can do, is to show that in other spheres and in relation to other subjects, we find a somewhat analogous triplicity in unity. In most cases, however, these illustrations proceed on the assumption that there are mysteries in the Godhead which have no counterpart in the constitution of our nature, or in anything around us in the present state of our existence” (Charles Hodge, Sysetmatic Theology, vol. 1, 478).
 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 23.
 From an interview with Albert Einstein published in G.S. Viereck, Glimpses of the Great, (New York: Macauley, 1930).
 Paul Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three in One,” 211 in Contending with Christianitys Critics.
 Ibid., 213.
 Ibid., 215. “Christians have long pondered the mystery of the Trinity, and we’re not here trying to demystify the God whose nature and purposes can’t be reduced to tidy formulas or manageable boxes. We should celebrate the unfathomable God, who’s under no obligation to human demands to clarify everything about Himself (Deut 29:29). And why think our puny minds could grasp these “secret things” (NASB) anyway? Paul reminds us that we know partially and lack the clarity about God’s nature and ways (1 Cor 13:9; cf. Isa 55:9). “The great things of the gospel” (as theologian Jonathan Edwards put it) are astonishing, but mystery or partial knowledge doesn’t imply contradiction.” (Ibid., 210).
 Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 41.
 In some discussions this would be classified as a discussion on the Economic Trinity and Ontological/Immanent Trinity. The economic Trinity has to do with the manifestations of the persons of the Trinity in their unique roles in dealing with creation and particularly in redemption. The ontological/immanent Trinity has to do with the essence of and interworking of the triune God without reference to God’s dealing with creation. So, as we have seen, discussions of the economic Trinity have to do with the different roles of the persons in the Godhead. Whereas, discussions of the ontology of the Trinity have to do with the fact that each person of the Godhead is ontologically equal and divine and relates to the others in mutual love.
 Paul Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One,” 209.
 Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, 135.
 So Paul Copan says, “God is one immaterial soul (substance) with three distinct centers of consciousness, rationality, will, and agency (persons) who are deeply and necessarily interconnected, and they share the same unique divine nature” (“Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One,” 209 in Contending with Christianitys Critics Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors).
 Ware quotes P.T. Foryth in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, 81.
 Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 73.
 Ibid., 132.
 Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One,” 209.
 Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 15-22.
 Ibid., 17.
The Baptism, Filling, and Continual Filling of the Holy Spirit
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
First, I must say, this is a difficult question as there is much disagreement and misunderstanding on the topic. However, it is a very practical and important question.
“Pentecostal and charismatic theology generally maintains that baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second blessing, an experience of God’s grace subsequent to conversion.” However, Allison demonstrates that “the New Testament vividly portrays the initial work involving the Spirit with several interchangeable expressions.” To understand what our term, “baptized in the Spirit,” means we have to look at the extended context in which it is used. We also have to determine if Jesus’ followers were regenerate or not. If we believe that they were already regenerate then our term refers to a second or subsequent work of the Spirit. If they were not already regenerate then it does not refer to a subsequent work but to the conversion work of the Spirit. I believe that Allison has demonstrated that it refers to the conversion work of the Spirit and not to a subsequent work.
If this is true then “baptized in the Spirit” means something akin to regenerated by the Spirit or the initial giving of the Spirit. However, I think this term brings in more meaning. I believe that “baptized in the Spirit” (Matt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16) means something close to immersed in the Spirit. It has to do with being engulfed in the glory and wonder of God by the Spirit. “Baptized” (Gk. baptizo) means dip, submerge, or plunge. So, the baptism of the Spirit, like the one at Pentecost, is an overwhelming experience (So, the LXX reading of Isaiah 21:4: “My heart wanders, and transgression ‘overwhelms’ [Gk. baptizo] me”).
It also seems that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in Scripture, has partly to do with being incorporated into the people of God. We see this for example through Paul’s use of a similar phrase. He says, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Yet, we also saw this at Pentecost: Jew and Gentile, together, we’re baptized in the Spirit. They were brought together through the overwhelming experience of the Spirit.
In Scripture, I think baptism of the Spirit is used to refer to the initial giving and overwhelming effect of the Spirit. The Spirit was poured out and overwhelmed God’s people in accord with Joel 2. However, in popular parlance it has come to mean something else. This is not surprising since many believe that the baptism of the Spirit was and is a subsequent work and not a converting work. It is also not surprising since the term in many ways is synonymous with filled with the Spirit. The term does perhaps especially emphasize the overwhelming effect of the Spirit. So, for instance, I think it would be okay to say, the Great Awakening that Princeton’s Jonathan Edwards was involved in was a type of immersion of the Holy Spirit. People were dipped, as it were, into the reality of God and His truth; they were “baptized by the Spirit.”
Sinclair B. Ferguson has said,
“Revival is the unstopping of the pent-up energies of the Spirit of God breaking down the dams which have been erected against his convicting and converting ministry in whole communities of individuals, as happened at Pentecost and in the ‘awakenings’ which have followed.”
I also believe that Pentecost was unique in some ways. Unique in that it may have been the first time that believers were indwelt by God the Spirit (there is much debate and necessary caveats regarding this statement). There were also prophecies that were fulfilled through Pentecost (Joel 2). It was also a very turbulent time and there was an especially significant need for God to demonstrate that He was behind the New Covenant and the inclusion of the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 15:8-11). This is not to say, that God does not still work in significant and similar ways. I believe He does at times. I do not believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have seized. This is only to say that we must see the special uniqueness of that time in the life of the Church.
I believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is closely related to the filling of the Holy Spirit and may or may not result in the sign gifts of the Spirit. That, briefly, is how I understand the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I would, however, like to further study this subject.
Filling of the Holy Spirit
From the point of our new birth we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are, amazingly, temples of the Living God (e.g. 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:13). However, we can still be filled with the Spirit. We need this filling for instance to be powerful witnesses, to put to death the wicked deeds of the body, and to know and love God as we should.
Paul wrote to the saints (who thus were indwelt by the Spirit) at Ephesus (Eph. 1:1) and yet he prayed that they would be filled with all the fullness of God (notice “filled,” “all,” and “fullness”) (Eph. 3:19). He prayed that they would have strength to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, this happens through the Spirit’s power (Eph. 3:16). So, I think the filling of the Spirit has to do with tasting the reality of God’s truth. It is more than cognitive consent.
So, for instance, I think Jonathan Edwards is getting at this when he says, “There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means… There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”
Yet, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not just about having this “sense.” It is also about being prepared for significant ministry. However, I think the two tend to go hand in hand. We see this in Scripture; it’s clear in the book of Acts. Many earlier church leaders were “filled with the Holy Spirit” before or as they carried out the Lord’s work (cf. Acts 4:8; 4:31; 7:55; 13:9; 13:52). “Furthermore, the same vocabulary is sometimes used to describe an honorable Christian lifestyle. The table servers (Acts 6:3), as exemplified by Stephan (Acts 6:5), and Barnabas (Acts 11:24) were characterized as being ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’”
So I agree with Allison, I think “the sense of the filling or fullness of the Spirit is being thoroughly and regularly pervaded by or permeated with the Spirit resulting in fruitfulness, seen in productive ministry and proven godly character.” We should all greatly desire, pray for, and seek this filling of the Spirit. We want to both have a sense of the great sweetness of God and His truth (cf. Ps. 34:8; 1 Pet. 2:3) and be empowered for significant ministry to God’s glory.
Continual Filling of the Holy Spirit
I believe that the Spirit fills us through a collaboration of means. He works as we sing songs, and hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). He speaks through Scripture. He works as we pray (Eph. 1:17ff; 3:16ff). We come to God as our good Father and ask Him to fill us with the Spirit (Lk. 11:5-13). “Sam Storms explains, baptism with the Spirit at salvation ‘does not preclude multiple, subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s activity… The New Testament endorses and encourages multiple subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s power and presence.’” We see this in Scripture. We’ll take our example from Ephesians.
First, Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), he says it as a command, not an option. We must also realize that he says it to believers, believers that are already temples indwelt with the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:13 cf. Titus 3:5; Jn. 3:3, 5). So there must be a way that we can be more filled (notice Paul’s language in Eph. 3:19). Second, the tense is present, so we could say that we are called to “keep on being filled with the Spirit.” It is not simply a once and done type of thing. We continually need to pursue the filling of the Spirit. Third, it is in the passive voice, we are filled and we cannot do the filling on our own. The Spirit does the work of filling us and we cannot fabricate or conjure His presence. However, that does not mean that we are inactive in our pursuit of being filled with the Spirit. Remember, Paul says “be filled.” It’s a passive imperative. Thus we pray (Lk. 11:5-13) and we sing (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). We kill sin (mortification) and live towards God (vivification). We purify ourselves to be worthy vessels (Rom. 8:4-6; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20; Gal. 5:16-25; 2 Tim. 2:21).
 Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 8.
 Ibid., 11. Sinclair B. Ferguson also says that “Luke-Acts speaks of being filled with or being full of the Spirit as an ongoing condition, but also describes particular occasions when individuals appear to experience distinct fillings” (The Holy Spirit, 89).
 see Ibid., esp. 10-14.
 Max Turner gives a good and brief biblical analysis of what the term means to different authors. He says:
“The phrase, ‘baptize in (the) (Holy) Spirit (and fire)’ in the NT is found on the lips of John the Baptist, Jesus (Acts 1:5) and Peter (Acts 11:16) and, perhaps, in the writings of Paul (1 Cor 12:13). It is only just beginning to be realized (cf. Hummel, Fireplace chap. 14) that these usages are not uniform but amount to different metaphors-topic and illustration being subtly different in each case:
(a) John the Baptist uses the phrase as a metaphor for the end-time ‘deluge’ of Spirit-and-fire that will destroy and recreate the world (Mt. 3:11 f.). All will experience that. (b) Jesus uses the same language, this time as a metaphor for the deluge of Spirit experienced by the 120 at Pentecost (Jesus’ re-use of end-time language in connection with events in salvation history is characteristic: cf. his use of ‘kingdom of God’ language at Lk. 11:20 for example). At Acts 1:5 there is no suggestion that any further such mighty deluge of Spirit (before the end) is actually indicated.
(c) Peter (Acts 11:16) sees Cornelius’ experience and ‘remembers’ Jesus’ vivid metaphor. (The inference is that this was not the usual experience and ‘baptize in Spirit’ not the usual language of Peter’s circle: this surprising experience recalled that metaphor.)
In conclusion we can say that the speakers in Luke-Acts use ‘baptize in Holy Spirit’ as a metaphor for being ‘deluged’ or ‘overwhelmed’ by the Spirit (albeit in different ways). Luke, like Josephus (see Turner, ‘Spirit Endowment’ 50ff.), uses ‘baptize’ metaphorically to compare an experience of the Spirit (or wine, or sleep or whatever) with how a deluge or floodtide overcomes and engulfs a man. The phraseology is used to denote a dramatic experience which overwhelms. Few in the NT are described as having such an overwhelmingly powerful experience of the Spirit as to suggest the metaphor (Pentecost and Cornelius in Luke-Acts); and few today have such a powerful experience that this language commends itself.
(d) Paul’s use in 1 Cor. 12:13 ‘for by one Spirit we were all baptized into the one body’ means God, in spirit, ‘immerses’ us into Christ’s body. All experience this, but Paul’s metaphor is not Luke’s. He is using ‘baptize’ language to compare the Spirit’s placing of us into the body of Christ with the way a man immerses or sinks an item into a fluid. The point of comparison is ‘total incorporation’, not ‘overwhelming experience’. Stott, Dunn and Bruner are right to insist (in Pauline terms) that all Christians are baptized by the Spirit into Christ: but they wrongly read Luke’s language this way. Charismatics rightly see that Luke’s phrase denotes overwhelming experience, but wrongly assume Luke thinks it happens to all before the parousia (then, of course, it will happen to all!) and wrongly apply it to many experiences today for which the language can only charitably be called a gross exaggeration.”
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 90.
 “A Divine and Supernatural Light.”
 Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 14.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 14.
Are the Gifts of the Spirit for Today? A Brief Exploration
“Are the gifts of the Spirit for today?” This is a big question and an important one because it impacts the church, missions, and individual’s spiritual lives. It is an important question because many denominations and individuals are divided over it.
Truly and sadly very often “those who [speak] most loudly of being led by the Spirit [are] the very persons responsible for quenching the Spirit’s work.” Interestingly, this was also true of the Corinthians of Paul’s day. Yet, Paul does not say, “Away with the Spirit!” Instead, he says, “Don’t quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19)! The Spirit is not the problem; we are.
I think both camps, cessationists (they believe the gifts have seized) and continuationists (they believe the gifts continue), are right on some points and wrong on others. “Error is much more likely to be propagated, when it is mixed with truth. This hides deformity and makes it go down more easily.” Those who believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit continue and those that believe they do not both very often sound right. This likely means that both arguments have been construed wrongly.
Neither side is understanding the question rightly. Of course, I will not satisfy everyone, or, perhaps, anyone. But this is my attempt to satisfy myself on this subject. And I hope to bring you along as well.
We will first look at four negative arguments that people make that believe the charismatic gifts have seized. Then we will look at one positive argument in favor of the continuation of the charismatic gifts. I also have included a long excursus that outlines a somewhat chronological example of the ongoing powerful and uncommon work of the Spirit since Pentecost. Finally, we will look at a few practical reflections.
A Mystic’s Meter
The rhythms of a mystic’s faith are not drudgery upon duty and duty upon drudgery. The mystic’s meter, rather, is delight. Delight in a God they know. Yet, as much freedom as rhythm and cadence have, there is still structure. So, I want to look at the structure of the meter. What cadence does knowing God take?
Is Mysticism Wrong?
Is mysticism wrong? I think a lot depends on how it is defined. If you define mysticism as subjective vain emotional longings, then yes it is wrong. If you define mysticism as unbiblical, then yes it is wrong. If mysticism is set on anything else then God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), then yes, mysticism is wrong.
Mysticism, however, is not wrong in itself. It is the focus that can be wrong. It is the information, or perhaps more often, the lack of information, that can be wrong.
Don Whitney instructs us:
“Don’t be deceived by a complex spirituality that gives the appearance of wisdom but doesn’t start with ‘Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3). And don’t become entangled in any spiritual practices that sound good but incline your mind and heart away from the ‘things that are above’” (“Practice True Spirituality”).
Not All Mysticism is Created Equal
Mysticism does not have “inalienable rights.” That is, not all mysticism is created equal.
Frist, some mysticism is based on illusionary dreams and speculation. However, there is a problem with this (1 Jn. 4:1). Satan parades himself around like an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) so that he may devoir like a lion (1 Pet. 5:8). Subjective experiences alone cannot be our guide.
Second, some mysticism contradicts the Word of God. Any word that contradicts His Word should not be our word. God is our authority. And His Word is our authority. There are many other good and important texts but they are not ultimate. They are subordinate.
Third, any form of mysticism that does not prize and exalt Messiah and His work is defective (1 Jn. 4:2). Mysticism is about knowing God. Jesus the Messiah is God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14). It is through Him that we can know God (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:4); that we can go boldly before the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). Jesus reveals God. If we conceal Him, belittle Him, or don’t rightfully honor Him, we are not practicing mysticism but anti-mysticism; we are concealing God.
Mysticism, I believe, at it’s heart, is about knowing God deeply and experientially. So then, how do we know God? We know Him through His Spirit, amen! And the Spirit, most typically, uses the means of His own inspired Word, the Bible. We meditate on His Word, as well as other good texts, and God, by the Spirit, reveals Himself to us. Good Christian mysticism thus relies on: 1) The Spirit for illumination, not vain visions or the like (Rom. 8:26; 1 Cor. 2:12-16; Eph. 3:14-19; 1 Jn. 4:1); 2) The inspired Word of God, not primarily other sources (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:3-4); 3) The Incarnate Son to show us God, and not visions (Jn. 1:1-14; 14:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3).
Good biblical mysticism (some may prefer “spirituality”) is about having a deeper sense of God’s truth. It’s seeking for God to open our eyes that we would be deeply impacted by His truth (Ps. 119:18). It is about knowing God’s love that surpasses knowledge that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19). It’s about being renewed by the transformation of our minds (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). It is about revival.
It short, mysticism does not seek mere knowledge. It seeks to also experience the truth of that knowledge. So, it seeks to taste the sweetness, and not just know hypothetically and intellectually that something is sweet.
Jonathan Edwards words are enlightening:
“There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means… This spiritual light that I am speaking of, is quite a different thing from inspiration: it reveals no new doctrine, it suggests no new proposition to the mind, it teaches no new thing of God, or Christ, or another world, not taught in the Bible, but only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the word of God… There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”
Mystics, so to speak, not only want to know that something is sweet, they want to taste it’s sweetness.
A.W. Tozer: A Good Example of a Good Mystic
James L. Snyder points out that “the word ‘mystic’ did not scare Tozer. The term ‘mysticism’ simply means ‘the practice of the presence of God,’ the belief that the heart can commune with God directly, moment by moment, without the aid of outward ritual. He saw this belief at the very core of real Christianity, the sweetest and most soul-satisfying experience a child of God can know.”
Tozer rightly reminds us—how sad that we need reminded!—that salvation is “not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead.” Conversion is meant to lead to communion. Orthodoxy must, if it is to be true orthodoxy, result in doxology. “’You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically,’ Tozer often remarked, ‘and as empty as one spiritually.’”
The true Christian mystic should be heat and light. Heart, head, and hand. He should love the LORD with all that he is, his heart, soul, mind and strength; and his neighbor as himself.
So, you might say, a mystic’s meter, what gives him his aesthetic poetry and music, is knowing God by the Spirit, though the Word, and in Christ. This is where he can find true delight. He can know God and true joy in this rhythmic triad; instead of the clashing and subjective thrashings found elsewhere. A mystic’s meter in sum, should be rhythmic, not chaotic. It should have a distinguished element to it, not destructive and haphazard vague desires. God has, Paul reminds us, revealed Himself; we don’t worship Him as unknown, but as known (Acts 17:23). We can know God truly, if not fully.
Will you seek to know God? Will you dance to the melodious meter? Will you use the means He has given you? Will you be a Christian mystic?
 Don Whitney, “Practice True Spirituality.”
 Let it be noted that exceptional things may likely still happen. See 2 Cor. 12:2-4, for example.
 Mysticism is “the belief and practice that seeks a personal, experiential… knowledge of God by means of a direct, nonabstract and loving encounter or union with God. Although a psychophysical dimension (including visions, dreams or special revelation) may be part of the mystical experience, this dimension is not necessary. Instead, Christian mystics generally teach that the true test of the experience is the resulting fruit of the Spirit in the mystic’s life” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 81). “The mystic,” Tozer said, “differs from the ordinary orthodox Christian only because he experiences his faith down in the depths of his sentient being while the other does not. He is quietly, deeply and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him” (The Christian Book of Mystical Verse).
 Mysticism, at least, true accurate mysticism, can only take place after the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (see Jn. 3:3).
 Jonathan Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light”).
 The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, 155.
 The Pursuit of God, 13 cf. Jn. 17:3. Brother Lawrence reminds us that “Many do not advance in the Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of God, which is the end” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 24).
 The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, 155.