Diffusing the Problem of Evil

The most common objection to the existence of God is, “If there is a perfectly good, knowledgeable, and powerful God, why does evil exist? Either he is not all-knowing because he doesn’t know about the evil in the world, or he does know about it but is not powerful enough to stop it, or he is malevolent and does not desire to stop it.” So, it is argued, we are either left with a good God who is impotent to stop evil or an evil deity who could end all suffering and evil, but enjoys watching his creatures suffer. This is usually delivered in an emotionally-charged triumphalistic tone as if no possible solution could be given and therefore Christians should mind their own business and stop preaching repentance to those who enjoy their sins.

One thing to keep in mind about the problem of evil is that it is not a logical argument against God’s existence, but an emotional and psychological argument that is phrased as a logical one. That is, it is an inductive argument treated deductively. This throws a lot of Christians off because they are trying to answer the objection on the atheist’s own terms rather than by phrasing the problem as Scripture does. The Bible is sufficient to explain the origin and existence of evil in the world and what God is going to do about it.

The answer to the problem of evil is this: Christians believe that God has a morally just reason for allowing evil and suffering in the world and that one day he will do away with all evil and suffering at the Second Coming of Christ. Evil exists because sin exists, and until sin is done away with, evil will still exist until the time when Christ returns and conquers it. To do away with evil, God must deal with those who commit evil, and that’s all of us.  The problem of evil begins with us and only those who trust in Christ will be spared God’s wrath.  Without God’s wrath, those who do evil could not be punished.

The atheists are correct in asserting that a good God would do away with all evil and suffering. The problem is with demanding that he do so right now. Without the fall of man into sin, Christ could not have died since death only entered the world through sin, but the cross was God’s plan from all of eternity (Eph 3:11). God can even use evil and suffering to accomplish a greater purpose and the greatest example of this is in the murder of his own Son to bring salvation to those who believe (Acts 4:28). I would recommend Robert Morey’s book The New Atheism and The Erosion of Freedom and Randy Alcorn’s book If God Is Good for more information on how to answer the problem of evil.

Outline on Alcohol and Drunkenness

The Bible teaches that drunkenness is sinful, but drinking wine, in and of itself, is not sinful; otherwise, Jesus would have sinned.  There is also the incorrect belief among many Baptists that wine in the first century was so watered-down that it could only make a person drunk if he or she consumed a ridiculous amount of it or that it was unfermented grape juice.  A brief study of Scripture shows that this was not the case.  I myself do not drink alcohol.

New Testament:

Matthew 27:48/Mark 15:36/Luke 23:36/John 19:29-30 – Jesus drank sour wine on the cross before he died.

Mark 14:23-25 – Jesus drank wine at the Last Supper.

Luke 1:15 – John the Baptist is commanded not to drink wine or strong drink (unlike Jesus).

Luke 7:33-34 – Jesus drank wine (how else could they wrongly accuse him of being a drunkard?).

John 2:1-11 – Jesus turned water into wine.

John 2:10 – Jesus’ wine was “the good wine” (which is contrasted with the cheaper watered-down wine which was normally served last after people became drunk).

Acts 2:13-15 – The Christians were accused of being filled with new wine, but Peter responded by saying, “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.”  How could unfermented grape juice make one drunk?

Romans 14:21 – Those who are offended by others drinking wine are among the “weak brethren” in contrast to the “strong” who do drink wine and eat meat (why would the “weak” be offended by others drinking unfermented grape juice?)  This is similar to Colossians 2:16 where Paul says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink.”  Wine was a common drink in the first century.

1 Corinthians 11:21 – “One person gets drunk” wine at Lord’s Supper was alcoholic (how could unfermented grape juice make one drunk?).

Ephesians 5:18 – do not get drunk with wine (how could unfermented grape juice make one drunk?).  This verse does not forbid drinking wine, only getting drunk with wine.

1 Timothy 3:8/Titus 2:3 – Deacons and older women are not to be addicted to “much” wine (Paul does not say they are not to drink wine, but only “much” wine).

1 Timothy 5:23 – Paul instructs Timothy to drink a little wine for medicinal use.

Old Testament:

Gen 9:21, 24 – Noah became drunk by drinking wine (not unfermented grape juice).

Gen 14:18 – Melchizedek (a type of Christ and priest of God Most High) brought out wine to drink for himself and Abraham (prefiguring the Lord’s Supper).

Gen 19:32-35 – Lot was made drunk with wine (not unfermented grape juice).

Deut 7:13 – Giving wine to the people of Israel is a blessing of the covenant.

Deut 14:26 – The Israelites were allowed to buy and drink strong drink and wine.

Deut 28:39 – Not being able to drink the wine of the vineyard is a curse of the covenant.

1 Samuel 1:14-15 – Hannah was accused of being drunk through drinking wine (not unfermented grape juice).

Psalm 104:14-15 – Wine is for making man’s heart glad.

Prov 3:10 – Having vats bursting with wine is a blessing from God.

Prov 9:1-5 – Lady Wisdom makes wine.

Prov 31:6 – Strong drink and wine are to be given to those in distress (which is an ironic way of discouraging those who are rulers from drinking it since they are not in distress).

Ecclesiastes 9:7 – “Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” God approves of drinking wine.

Hosea 2:8 – God gave Israel her wine to drink.

Joel 2:24 – Vats overflowing with wine is a blessing from God.

Amos 9:14 – Planting vineyards and drinking their wine is part of the restoration of Israel and blessings of the covenant described by Amos.

Zech 9:17 – Wine makes the young women flourish.

Outline on Abortion

I am going to be making available my outlines on different biblical and ethical topics which I have been working on for many years.  The first of these is on abortion since I will be going in mostly alphabetical order.  This is not all the information that I have on each topic since I want each article to be able to be read in one sitting.

Biblical Literature:

Genesis 25:22 – children struggled together within her (use of the term “children” to describe unborn children is also the same term used for children already born)

Exodus 21:22-25 – (use of term for child)

Deut 27:25 – shed innocent blood (what blood is more innocent than that of an unborn child?)

2 Kings 8:11-12 – rip open their pregnant women (especially cruel since this also involves the death of the child)

2 Kings 15:16 – ripped open all the women in it who were pregnant

Job 10:18-19 – Would that I had died before any eye had seen me (Job was alive before birth)

Job 31:15, 18 – Did not he who made me in the womb make him? (God creates unborn life)

Psalm 22:9-11 – from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (David was alive before birth)

Psalm 51:5 – in sin did my mother conceive me. (David was alive at conception)

Psalm 58:3 – wicked are estranged from the womb (the wicked exist before birth)

Psalm 71:5-6 – Upon you I have leaned from before my birth

Psalm 127:3 – children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward (children exist even in the womb)

Psalm 139:13-16 – you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

Prov 6:16-17 – hands that shed innocent blood (what blood is more innocent than that of an unborn child?)

Prov 24:11-12 – Rescue those who are being taken away to death (an urgent plea to save the lives of those who are to be killed)

Prov 31:8 – Open your mouth for the mute (unborn children are mute since they can’t speak)

Eccles 11:5 – the womb of a woman with child (“child” describes the unborn)

Isa 49:1, 5 – he who formed me from the womb to be his servant (Isaiah was alive before birth)

Jeremiah 1:5 – Before I formed you in the womb (Jeremiah was alive before birth)

Jeremiah 20:17 – because he did not kill me in the womb

Hos 12:3 – In the womb he took his brother by the heel (Isaac was alive before birth)

Amos 1:13 – ripped open pregnant women

Matthew 1:18 – to be with child (same term for child before and after birth)

Luke 1:15 – filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb

Luke 1:41,44/ Luke 2:12,16; 18:15 – the baby leaped in her womb (same term for before and after birth)

Luke 2:5 – was with child

Luke 2:21 – before he was conceived in the womb (life begins at conception)

Extra-Biblical Literature:

1 Enoch 69:12 – all the wicked smitings of spirits and demons, and the smitings of the embryo in the womb, that it may pass away.

Didache 2:2 – you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.

Epistle of Barnabas 19:5 – Thou shalt love thy neighbor more than thine own soul. Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born.

Athenagoras (35:6) Plea for Christians – And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it.  But we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason, and not ruling over it.

Tertullian Apology 9 – In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.

Basil of Caesarea Letter 188.2 – The woman who has deliberately destroyed [her child] is subject to the penalty for murder. And among us there is no fine distinction between a completely formed and unformed [child]. For here justice is not only to be procured for the woman, who conspired [to kill] herself, because the women who attempt such things often die afterwards.

I would agree with Denny Burk’s response to the objection of what about women who are pregnant because of rape or incest:

“Christian pro-lifers weep with those who are victims of sexual violence. We name it as an unspeakable evil and condemn it in no uncertain terms (see Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s helpful piece in CT). We also believe that children conceived as a result of rape are precious human beings created in the image of God. One cannot erase the evil or the trauma of sexual assault by killing these children. If one is willing to deny the humanity of children conceived through violence, one cannot consistently defend the humanity of children conceived through consensual sex. To deny the humanity of the one is to deny the humanity of the other. That is why pro-lifers support the right to life of all unborn children. It’s not how children are conceived that makes them image-bearers. It’s that they are conceived that makes them members of the human community whose lives deserve to be protected in law. I am concerned that these pro-life principles not be cast aside in the rush to defend the Republican nominee for president. Those who do cast them aside are profoundly wrong and are giving up the grounds upon which to defend any unborn human life. Legitimate pro-lifers respond out of principle, not out of political expediency.”

http://www.dennyburk.com/illegitimate-responses-to-illegitimate-rape-remarks/

The Bible and the Quran

The Quran says that Muslims must believe in that which was revealed beforehand to Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and the prophets (2:136).  Muslims are those “who believe in that which has been revealed to you and that which was revealed before you” (2:4).  Allah has revealed the Torah and Gospel to give guidance (3:3).  The Torah and Gospel are revelations from Allah and Christians (the followers of the book) should look to them (5:46-48, 65-66).  Muslims are even instructed to ask Christians about “the reminder” or gospel to discern what Allah’s will is (16:43-44; 21:7).  Muslims, if they are consistent with the Quran, must believe not only what the Quran says, but also what the Torah and Gospels say too.  Because the Quran contradicts the Bible in numerous places, Muslims must say that those portions of the Scriptures which contradict the Quran are corrupt.

The New Testament, like the Quran, views the Torah as revelation from God.  The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament.  However, the god of the Qur’an is the false unitarian deity of the Quraysh tribe.  Christians cannot accept the Qur’an because it is contrary to God’s previous revelation.  Muhammad thought that the Bible agreed with what he believed but since he had probably never read it, he did not know that the Gospels

teach that Jesus was crucified.  He instead relied on poor second-hand information to determine what the Bible says.  It is ironic that while he tells Christians they would follow him if they had read the Torah and Gospel, he is the one who is ignorant of Scripture.  As a result, he badly misrepresents the teachings of the Bible and Christian doctrine.  When Muslims came into contact with Christians who had read the Bible, they had to say that their Bible has been corrupted and that the Quran fixes these corruptions.  The later and final revelation of the Quran fixes the corruptions of the earlier revelation.  In the same way, Mormons claim that their Scriptures correct the textual corruptions of the Bible by restoring Christianity to its pure unadulterated form.

Both the Bible and Quran claim that they are without error.  Surah 4:82 says that if the Quran is not from Allah, then people would have found many errors in it.  The Quran claims that the Torah and Gospel are revelations from Allah and therefore they would have to be without error too.  This puts Muslims in a difficult situation because both the Bible and the Quran cannot be without error.  There are dozens of significant differences between the Quran and the Bible that cannot be overlooked.  The Quran’s teaching on the Bible can be used in sharing the gospel with Muslims by showing them that the Quran teaches that the Gospels are revelation from Allah and therefore they should read them.  I could then ask them why they believe there are differences in the teachings of the Bible and the Qur’an.  I would share with them the Bible’s good news of salvation while reminding them that if they want to be good Muslims they must believe what the Bible says.  The Qur’an fails the test of Surah 16:44 because the Gospel makes it clear that Jesus was truly crucified for sinners.

It seems that Muhammad was influenced by Gnostic teachings that Jesus was not really crucified but only so in appearance.  Surah 4:157 says, “They did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so.”  The Quran also refers to apocryphal accounts of Jesus such as when he made clay birds come alive from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (5:110).  The Quran was influenced by pagan practices, portions of the Old and New Testaments, Jewish myths, and other local Arabian myths about jinn and the evil eye.  The Quran’s denial of the crucifixion is one of, if not the most obvious differences between the Bible and the Quran.  The death and resurrection of Christ is the central theme of the New Testament but is explicitly denied by the Qur’an.

Muslims must claim that the gospels have been massively corrupted so that there is little resemblance between the New Testament today and the one in the 1st century.  However, this argument is deeply flawed because Muhammad did not believe that the Gospels were corrupt in his day because he instructs both Christians and Muslims to look to them (5:68; 16:43-44; 21:7; 41:41).  There are copies of the New Testament such as Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus which predate the Quran by three hundred years.  This is an unanswerable argument against Islam which Muslims cannot answer.  Understanding the textual criticism of the Bible is important for witnessing to Muslims because these issues will come up when Christians bring up what the Quran says about the New Testament.

The Quran has many things to say about Jesus that are in agreement with the New Testament.  It claims that he was born of a virgin as the Bible does (19:20).  He was sent by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit (2:87).  He performed miracles (2:253).  He ascended into heaven (3:55).  He is a prophet from God (3:84).  He is the Word of God (4:171).  He will die and be raised again which possibly contradicts what the Quran said earlier in 4:157 (19:33).  The Quran’s version of Jesus is also strikingly different from the one in the New Testament.  He does not die on a cross because that would be dishonorable for one of God’s prophets (4:157).

He is not God but only a prophet from Allah (5:72-76).  To say that Jesus is God for a Muslim would be shirk or associating other partners with Allah.  The birth account of Jesus in the Quran describes Mary as giving birth to Jesus under a palm tree in contrast to the Gospels (19:23).  Muslims reject the title “Son of God” for Jesus because to say that Jesus is God’s Son would be to say that Allah would need to have a wife (6:101; 19:35; 72:3).  Muhammad misunderstood Christianity’s claim that Jesus is God’s Son to be a literal physical relationship instead of an eternal relationship.

Discussing the Quran’s statements on Jesus is a good way to open dialogue with a Muslim and move to a presentation of the gospel.  If Muslims can see that the Qur’an teaches that Jesus is the messenger of Allah, they should be open to reading the New Testament to see what Jesus says.  Once they read the New Testament, they will see what a difference there is between his words and the Qur’an.  I need to correct Muslims’ misunderstanding of the sonship of Christ by explaining that Christians do not believe that Mary is God’s wife resulting in the conception of Jesus.  Muslims by and large do not understand the differences between Catholics and Protestants so I need to explain to Muslims that I do not pray to Mary or have statues.

There are similarities and major differences between the Quran’s teachings on Allah and the Bible’s teachings on God.  Like the Bible, the Quran says that God is “compassionate and merciful” (1:1).  These are key attributes of God for Muslims and are mentioned first in the Quran before any other. Islam is monotheistic like Christianity but it is Unitarian instead of Trinitarian.  Allah shares in common with the God of the Bible attributes such as eternality, immutability, transcendence, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.  Allah in the Quran is the creator of all things and the sole object of worship (6:102).  I would argue that Muhammad’s formulation of Allah in the Quran is an attempt to take the moon god of the Quraysh tribe and morph him into his understanding of what the Bible says about God.  The Quran explicitly denies the doctrine of the Trinity as Muhammad understood it.  He accuses Christians of worshiping others beside Allah (3:64).  He says, “Believe therefore in Allah and His messengers, and say not, Three.  Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one Allah; far be it from His glory that He should have a son” (4:171).  Muhammad misunderstands the doctrine of the Trinity as tritheism involving God, Jesus, and Mary.  Surah 5:116 describes a conversation between Allah and Jesus which demonstrates this, “And when Allah will say: O Isa son of Marium!  Did you say to men, take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah?  He will say: Glory be to Thee, it did not befit me that I should say what I had no right to.”  The Qur’an denies that God is our Father because this would imply that we are then literally his sons and daughters (6:101).

There are many clear differences between the teachings of the Bible and the Quran. Demonstrating these differences to Muslims is what I believe is the key to leading them out of Islam and to knowing the true Jesus of the Bible.  While there are many more differences between the Quran and the Bible, I believe that the differences I have just listed are more than sufficient to prove that Islam is a false religion based on a man-centered pursuit to obtain paradise.  May God show his people the folly of Islam and pray that Muslims would come to know the true God of Scripture who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther on Justification (Part 2)

The Christian can approach God with confidence because he knows that his sin no longer belongs to him, but to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is his own.  As Martin Brecht observes, in Luther’s thinking, though Christians are still actually sinners, they are righteous in the sight of God because of Christ’s righteousness which is imputed to them by faith.  This teaching has enormous pastoral implications.  The Christian who is wearied by the magnitude of his own sins can look in faith to the cross and see his many sins condemned in the wrath-bearing death of Christ his God.  Then he can have hope of eternal salvation knowing that he is dressed in the garments of Christ’s righteousness without sin in God’s sight.

Another significant way Luther spoke of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness was through the parallelism between Adam and Christ.  As Luther said, “Adam is a figure of Christ. The similarity consists in this, that just as through Adam sin came to all, so also Christ’s righteousness comes to all who believe in Him” (1:219).  Just as we are sinners because of the sin of Adam, we are righteous because of the righteousness of Christ.  Luther used Romans 5:19 to prove that all became sinners as a result of Adam’s sin and that Christians become righteous by Christ’s righteousness so that the believer and Christ share the same righteousness.  The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is the counterpart to the doctrine of original sin: Adam’s sin is imputed to all mankind, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers, and the sins of believers are imputed to Christ.  Christ’s righteousness is now given to us instead of Adam’s sin:

“Just as original sin is there before our every evil work, so original righteousness would have been there before our every good work. In its place the righteousness of Christ is now given us before every meritorious work” (11:174).

Though Luther was condemned as a son of Adam, he took courage in the truth that he had another righteousness who is Christ.  Luther admitted that he had no righteousness of his own, but saw Christ as his righteousness and only way to have peace with a holy God.  Luther saw that the only way man can be saved is through receiving Christ’s obedience which is imputed to him as a free gift from God.  While we are all guilty as a result of Adam’s sin, there is hope for fallen man because Christ has done what the law could not do.  His spotless righteousness is far greater and accomplishes more than the original righteousness of Adam.  This righteousness comes by grace through faith to all who trust in Christ alone for salvation.

As Paul Kang correctly notes, “Luther’s concept of oneness with Christ is the key to his doctrine of justification.”  Union with Christ is the foundation for Luther’s belief that both Christ and the believer share the same righteousness.  The imputation of Christ’s righteousness and Christ as present by faith through union with him are not mutually exclusive concepts in Luther’s doctrine of justification as some have contended.  Luther relates them in this way:

“Therefore, know that Christ himself was made our righteousness, virtue, and wisdom by God [cf. I Cor. 1:30]. In him God the Father reposed all his wisdom, virtues, and righteousness in order that they might become ours. This is what it means to know the Son. Moreover, you should know that the Father in his mercy reckons to us his Son’s righteousness, which is his own righteousness; for the righteousness of the Father and the Son are one; it is one life and one virtue which is given to us” (51:28).

Because the believer and Christ are one, they share all things, including Christ’s righteousness.  Because Christ and the Christian are united, his righteousness covers all of our sins so that we stand without sin in God’s sight:

“This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him” (31:298).

Without this divine righteousness covering our sins, we would have no hope of salvation.  To illustrate this blessed truth, Luther used the biblical metaphor of bride and bridegroom to represent the believer and Christ.  When our conscience condemns us because of our sins, we should tell it to be quiet because we have the righteousness of Christ.  Just as a husband and wife share all things, so too do Christ and the believer, including Christ’s righteousness.  We must not rely on our own reason, but believe by faith alone that we have Christ’s righteousness.  Satan seeks to rob Christians of their assurance of salvation by deceiving them into thinking that they must rely upon their own works for salvation, but Luther rebukes this error by pointing to Christ’s own righteousness which comes to us when we take hold of Christ alone for salvation.  Only when we know that Christ’s righteousness is our own will be ever have a clear conscience before God.

Martin Luther on Justification (Part 1)

One of the prominent ways in which Luther spoke of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness was through the double exchange of the believer’s sin to the sinless Christ, and Christ’s righteousness to the sinful believer:

“He has made His righteousness my righteousness, and my sin His sin. If He has made my sin to be His sin, then I do not have it, and I am free. If He has made His righteousness my righteousness, then I am righteous now with the same righteousness as He” (25:188).

It was this precious truth that gave Luther peace of conscience knowing that his sin would not be counted against him because it was borne by another, and that his justification depended not upon his own works, but on the merits of Christ.  Timothy George summarizes Luther’s teaching on the exchange that takes place between Christ and the Christian: “God accepts the righteousness of Christ, which is alien to our nature proper, as our own.  Though our sins are not actually removed, they cease to be counted against us.” Diarmaid MacCulloch similarly defines Luther’s understanding of justification in this way: “God ‘imputes’ the merits of the crucified and risen Christ through grace to a fallen human being, who remains without inherent merit and who, without this ‘imputation’, would remain unrighteous.”

Christ took upon himself our sin, bore God’s wrath in our place, clothes us in his innocence, and by this sweet exchange frees us from the curse of the law. Luther taught that in justification our sins are not imputed to us but forgiven.  Our sins instead belong to Christ and his perfect righteousness is now our own.  Luther beautifully expresses this truth in one of his letters:

“Therefore, my dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not'” (48:12).

Before Christ’s righteousness can be grasped by the empty hand of faith, the sinner must despise his own righteousness and good works.  For Luther, the purpose of the law is to show the sinner the impossibility of gaining salvation by his or her own merits when confronted with the utter holiness of God’s perfect righteousness.  The only way to be righteous before God is to cast oneself upon the righteousness of Christ who alone fulfilled the law’s requirements in our place.  The only righteousness which God will accept on the day of judgment is his own which comes through faith in Christ who is God himself.  Luther describes in detail this glorious exchange which takes place at justification:

“Is not this a beautiful, glorious exchange, by which Christ, who is wholly innocent and holy, not only takes upon himself another’s sin, that is, my sin and guilt, but also clothes and adorns me, who am nothing but sin, with his own innocence and purity? And then besides dies the shameful death of the Cross for the sake of my sins, through which I have deserved death and condemnation, and grants to me his righteousness, in order that I may live with him eternally in glorious and unspeakable joy. Through this blessed exchange, in which Christ changes places with us (something the heart can grasp only in faith), and through nothing else, are we freed from sin and death and given his righteousness and life as our own” (51:315).

The Holy Spirit in Pastoral Ministry

The Holy Spirit is fully God as the third person of the Trinity (Acts 5:4).  The Spirit is not an impersonal force, but is as personal as the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit teaches Christ’s disciples, glorifies Christ, regenerates sinners to new life, intercedes on behalf of Christians in prayer, and inspired the authors of Scripture to write his God-breathed oracles (Rom 8:27).  The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to take out the heart of stone from dead sinners and give them new life through the preaching of the gospel.  He convicts sinners of their sins and gives new life through regeneration.  The Spirit makes Christ known through the gospel and seeks to glorify him.  The Spirit empowers believers to live the Christian life and gives gifts to believers so that they can serve God and each other (1 Cor 12:11).  The Spirit purifies Christians and progressively conforms them to the image of Christ in sanctification (2 Cor 3:18).  He unites believers together, guides them, gives assurance of salvation, and teaches them.  The Holy Spirit is the agent by which the Father and the Son carry out their work in the world.

Because only the Spirit can give new life, pastors must rely completely on the power of the Spirit to give life to the unregenerate sinners that they preach to.  The preacher can do nothing without the working of the Holy Spirit.  If the Spirit does not convict sinners and fall down upon the congregation when the Word is preached, then all is in vain.  The Christian leader must recognize his own helplessness to bring new life to those who are dead in their sins.  Only the Spirit can give new life as the gospel is preached.  Because of this, the pastor does not need to change the gospel to make it attractive to dead sinners.  The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18).  It is only when the Spirit takes away the veil that they can see (2 Cor 3:16).  The pastor must therefore pray that the Spirit would work to convict sinners when the Word is preached.  This cultivates humility, dependence, and boldness.  The pastor should ask God for confidence when preaching because God will honor the preaching of the Word and it will not return void without accomplishing God’s purposes (Isa 55:11).

Christian leaders can have confidence in prayer since the Spirit intercedes for them in their prayers.  Even if the pastor does not feel adequate to intercede for his congregation, the Spirit will equip him to pray if he comes to God in faith asking for God’s power and help in his ministry.  This is a great encouragement to pray and to have endurance in the face of trials.  When facing difficult decisions, the pastor knows that God has promised to be faithful to his people and will support them in the midst of their difficulties.  Christian leaders should therefore seek the power, conviction, boldness, and encouragement that only the Spirit of God can give through prayer.

Just as the Spirit seeks to give glory to Christ through making him known, the Christian leader should imitate the Spirit by seeking to glorify Christ in all that he does (John 16:14).  The pastor must seek first Christ’s glory in all things and find ways to make him known to those who have never heard.  The convicting work of the Holy Spirit should be a motivation to share the gospel with unbelievers because the pastor knows that the Holy Spirit will be with him as he shares the gospel.  He does not have to rely on his own wisdom or cleverness when presenting the message because it is only through the gospel that people are saved.  If the pastor preaches any other message beside that of Scripture, the Spirit will not work because it is only through the Word that the Spirit gives new life to sinners (1 Pet 1:23).  Because the Spirit has united all Christians together in one body, the Christian leader should strive for the unity of the church (Eph 4:4-5).  Each member has been given a gift from the Holy Spirit to serve the church (1 Cor 12:7).  The pastor therefore needs to exercise the gifts that he has been given to the fullest extent that he is able and encourage others to use their gifts.