by Steven Chan
In 2 Peter 1:12-13, the apostle Peter wrote thus: “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you,…” and he echoed the same concern expressed by the apostle Paul in Gal 1:6-7: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Even though one may be established in the present truth the apostle Peter felt that he would nonetheless be negligent if he does not remind the brethren of the truth concerning our hope and various matters pertaining thereto. The need for constant reminder is due in part to the warning that there will always be some who will “trouble the brethren and want to pervert the gospel of Christ”.
With that in mind, it is perhaps helpful to review some teachings that we may come across from time to time, to ensure that we are indeed established in the present truth and have not moved there-from.
1. Does God still talk to us today through visions and dreams?
In times past God did speak to His people through the intermediary of the prophets by visions and dreams: “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.”(Num 12:6).
However, according to Heb 1:1-2, there is a change in the intermediary (i.e. mediator or go-between: Jesus is the only mediator – 1 Tim 2:5) through which God speaks to man today: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son,…” Note that the Scriptures explicitly state the contrast and change in the intermediary through whom God spoke. “In time past”, God spoke to the fathers “by the prophets” (but) “in these last days” God has “spoken to us by His Son”.
Christ came to give us God’s Word and Jesus gave God’s Word to the Apostles (John 17:8); and God’s Word was then preached by the apostles (Mark 16:20). Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth as well as to bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had spoken to them (John 14:26;16:13) so that today we have the once for all delivered faith or truth (Jude 3).
The Bible tells us that God bore witness of the truth preached by the apostles by confirming the Word with signs. Consider Mark 16:20: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the Word through the accompanying signs.” This was further emphasized in Heb 2:3-4: “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, 4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed…”(2 Peter 1:19).
God’s confirmed Word has now been written down so that we can read and understand what God had revealed to his apostles (John 20:30, 31; Eph 3:3-5). And so, we have the inspired Scriptures to guide us today so that we can be furnished for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Miracles and signs were temporal as they were meant to confirm the Word preached by the apostles. Hence, when the perfect (i.e. the complete revealed Word of God) had come (i.e. delivered), then there was no further need for the signs of miraculous powers, tongues and prophetic knowledge, and they ceased when the last apostle completed preaching the revealed Word (I Cor 13:8-10).
Through the years, many have claimed that God speaks to them in visions and dreams. The problem with their claims is that the Bible reveals that in the last days (i.e. the New Testament era) God no longer speaks through the prophets but through His Son (who empowered His apostles to continue the revelation).
Some such as Joseph Smith have claimed that God spoke directly to them in visions and dreams but their new revelations contradict what the Bible teaches. Would you rather believe such people, or the teachings of the Bible? From long ago, the apostle Paul had warned in Gal 1:9: “if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
How do you know that God actually spoke to these men today who so claimed? Indeed much false teachings and practices have arisen because of those who claimed that God spoke directly to them in dreams and visions. We will do well to go back to the Bible and test those who make such claims (I John 4:1, 6) – do they speak what the Bible speaks – as the oracles of God, 1 Pet 4:11?
2. Should we address our prayers to the Holy Spirit since He is Deity and is a member of the Godhead (Col 2:9), comprising the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19; I John 5:7)?
In Luke 11:1-2, the Bible records that Jesus taught His disciples to address their prayers to the Father in heaven: “One of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven,”
In Phil 4:6, we are instructed to pray to God: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;”
According to John 16:13-15, the Holy Spirit will not speak on His own authority (even though He is a member of the Godhead) and that He will glorify the Son: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
The afore-stated Scripture revealed to us that although the three comprises the Godhead, they have different roles. Hence, one should respect their different roles and not mixed them up anyhow one may wish.
Indeed in John 16:23 Jesus said that one should ask the Father in His name and there is no command or example that one should pray to the Spirit or in the name of the Spirit: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” Although Rom 8:26 tells us that the Spirit intercedes on our behalf, it says nothing about us having to pray to or through the Spirit.
The Bible clearly teaches us to pray to God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son –and we will be well-advised to follow its explicit instruction. Col 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” As advised in Prov 3:5, we need to “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;”
3. Does the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance scripture verses even today?
In John 14:26, Jesus assured the apostles that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance “all things that Jesus had said to them” while He was with them: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
This verse should not be lifted out of its context and made applicable to all believers because Jesus was specifically addressing the apostles in that context as they were to be His eye-witnesses (Acts 1:8) and the ones to whom He has given the Word of God so that they could preach the revealed Word far and wide (John 17:8; Mark 16:20).
4. Does the Holy Spirit illuminate one’s understanding when one is reading the scriptures?
The account of the conversion of the Ethiopian nobleman in Acts 8:26-40 reveals to us that the Ethiopian nobleman was reading the writings of the prophet Isaiah without understanding what it says.
If the Holy Spirit’s role is to illuminate the understanding when one reads the Scriptures then why didn’t the Spirit simply illuminate the understanding of the Ethiopian nobleman without having to inconvenience Philip the evangelist to come all the way from Samaria to the desert road leading to Gaza?
Similarly if one fails to have the correct understanding of the Scriptures could one place the blame on the Spirit for failing to illuminate one’s understanding of the Scriptures?
The Bible says in Psa 119:130 that indeed “the entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” God’s Word provides the light for our understanding.
5. Is one committing the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit when one allegedly restrains the work of the Holy Spirit today?
In Matt 12:31-32, Jesus spoke about the blasphemy against the Spirit: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
This sin of rejecting the testimony of the Spirit is clarified in Heb 10:26-30: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”
When one rejects the truth as testified by the Spirit through the various signs and miracles, then one stands condemned as there would be no new provision of sacrifice for sins – the sacrifice of Jesus is the one and only sacrifice for sin that can set one free from sin.
Those who reject the truth as testified by the Spirit is described thus in Heb 6:4-7: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
In none of these passages is there any mention of restraining the work of the Spirit. The only people who restrain the Spirit are those who reject the gospel: Acts 7:51: “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.”
Is one restraining the work of the Spirit when one follows the teachings of the Spirit that are revealed in the Spirit-inspired Word of God (Eph 6:17)? Certainly not. One can see that the Holy Spirit revealed to us in Acts 8:26-40 that it is not His role to illuminate the understanding of the student of the Word – that’s the role of the teacher or the evangelist. That was what the prophet Ezra did many years ago as recorded in Neh 8:8: “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” It was not the Spirit’s role to illuminate the mind. So that would not constitute restraining the work of the Spirit.
6. Is it true that we need to change our perception of the Holy Spirit because the sheer mention of the Spirit has become a taboo in our church?
Such a charge is without foundation. The churches of Christ teach the work of the Spirit as revealed by the Spirit-inspired Word of God. The Bible teaches us to walk/live in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:19), to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), to be born of the water and of the Spirit (John 3:5), and to receive the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38). There is no taboo to teach such Spirit-related matters.
On the other hand, it would be wrong to teach that the Holy Spirit illuminates one’s understanding as that would be teaching an idea that is inconsistent with what is revealed by the Spirit-inspired Word of God (Eph 3:3-5; Acts 8:26-40).
It would similarly be wrong to teach that the Spirit somehow directly operates on the heart of a sinner and makes him respond to the gospel – as that would put the onus or responsibility of a sinner’s response onto the Spirit – and that would necessarily lead to the Calvinistic concept of predestination that God arbitrarily chooses some to be saved (i.e. those that the Spirit cause to respond to the gospel) and others to be lost (i.e. those that the Spirit decides not to cause to respond to the gospel). Yet, the Bible declares that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 1 Tim 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
7. Is it true the lack of Holy Spirit’s influence in our midst has resulted in many not being spiritual and therefore many are turned off from coming to our church?
It is not clear what is meant by the lack of Spirit’s influence. The Bible teaches in 1 Peter 2:1-3 that the lack of spiritual growth is due to a failure to feed on the Word of God: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
The Bible declares in Heb 5:12-14 that the many are mere spiritual babes and not spiritually strong because they have failed to become skilled in the Word of righteousness: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
In 1 Cor 3:1-4, the apostle Paul observed that the brethren at Corinth were mere spiritual babes because they were carnal minded: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” These Christians failed to transform their lives as they were still behaving like mere man instead of following the Word of God given by the Spirit.
Similarly in Rom 12:1-2, the apostle Paul exhorted thus: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
In none of the above Scriptures is there any mention of the direct influence of the Spirit in the lives of the believers.
It is very convenient to put the blame for one’s lack of spirituality on to the absence of the direct influence of the Spirit. But the Spirit-inspired Word of God teaches otherwise.
Under what conditions will non-believers be moved to worship God in our assemblies? According to 1 Cor 14:24-25, “if all prophesy (i.e. speak forth the Word of God in a known language as opposed to an unknown tongue), and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.” Thus the Spirit-inspired Scriptures reveals that we need to speak forth the Word of God clearly and convincingly so that unbelievers will be convicted by what they hear – not by the direct operation of the Spirit in their hearts!!
Brethren, we need to again be established in the present truth lest we be led astray by teachings that are introduced by those who do not love the truth so as to be saved (2 Thess 2:10). Listen to 2 Peter 2:1-2: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”
Brethren who accuse the churches of Christ of being “without the Spirit” (just because we may not use the word, “Spirit”, as often or as frequently as the denominations) or of being unwilling to embrace the teachings of the denominations on the direct operation of the Spirit in illuminating the minds of the bible students or the Spirit making the sinner respond to the gospel, are causing the way of the truth to be blasphemed or evil spoken of. The Bible teaches that God gives the increase when the Word of God is preached but that is not the same as teaching that the Spirit is the one that needs to make the sinner respond to the gospel. Let us be careful to speak as the oracles of God (I Pet 4:11).