mercredi 20 septembre 2017

A Christian Reflection on Life After Death

Image result for life after deathDeath comes for all of us. Escaping it has been the wishes of many throughout generations. Under the sun as would have said the sage of old, after death all dreams cherished on earth ceases to be. This sentiment was expressed forcefully by the Ecclesiastes:
"At least the living know they will die, but the dead know nothing; they no longer have a reward, since memory about them has been forgotten."- Ecclesiastes 9:5
The Ecclesiastes is known to be a preacher that presented everything being done or happening on earth as being vain, futile and ultimately without lasting purpose, hence his signature, 'Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity' (Ecc.1:2). His specialty was to portray a grim picture of human life by taking out all purposes and meaning out of man's existence if this natural life was all there is to be. If all end with death, he reasoned, then nothing really matters. If all end with the end of this life, then it doesn't matter whether one live a life of nobility and goodness or if one live a life of wickedness and corruption, wise or fool, men or beast we all end up in a forgotten place with no memories, no pleasure and no pain.
"For neither the wise nor the fool will be long remembered, since in days to come everything will be forgotten. The wise man dies the same way as the fool, does he not?"-
Ecclesiastes 2:16 
Attracting our attention to the creation of man as expressed in Genesis, the Ecclesiastes reasoned that,
"All of them go to one place: all of them originate from dust, and all of them return to dust." - Ecclesiastes 3:20 
If man is no different from an animal or any other creation then his existence ends with this world. But, is this all the Ecclesiastes says about the death of human beings? We discover if we keep reading that as he come close to the end of his book, a message of hopes started emerging. A message that recognizes that not all is vain, not everything is insignificant. On the last chapter (12) of his book, he reminds his readers that evil man and good man in this life shall not be treated the same. He warned that there is indeed something more to this natural realm. There is a spiritual realm, and God who is Spirit is interested in what has happened in the natural world, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it is good, or whether evil." (Ecc 12.14).

The language dramatically changes after 11 chapters of 'vanity, vanity, all is vanity'. Suddenly, not everything is vanity and meaningless. Now there is a judgment, there is someone who cares and remind us that the natural life is not all there is to be. It seems that the Ecclesiastes has tried to make an argument based on Genesis 2:7 throughout the book.
"(a) God formed man of the dust of the ground, and (b) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Genesis 2:7
 It seems that the Ecclesiastes in chapter 3:20, quoted above, was only making an argument based on the first part (a) of Genesis 2:7, namely "man was made of dust" without attracting the attention of the readers to the second part (b) which clearly pointed out that man was made with more than a material element namely "dust". There was a spiritual element in man, an immaterial element in man which has been called "spirit" or "soul". And it is in his last chapter 12 that the Ecclesiastes complete his thoughts in order to bring significance and meaning to human life,
"Then man's dust will go back to the earth, returning to what it was, and the spirit will return to the God who gave it." - Ecclesiastes 12:7 
In completing his thought, the Ecclesiastes make two affirmation, a) man's body which is dust will go back to earth. However, b) man's spirit which is immaterial and soulish will go to another destination, a spiritual destination, to the realm of his creator.

This belief that man has both a material aspect to him (the body that stays in the dust realm) and an immaterial aspect to him (the soul that goes to the Creator's realm) became more forcefully expressed in the New Testament starting with the one who had both knowledge of this world and of the other world,
"Stop being afraid of those who kill the body but can't kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell." - Matthew 10:28 
The Lord Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be afraid in the face of deadly opposition to their faith reminding them that those who kill the body can not kill their soul. Even though they might put the believers body to death and return it to the dust as would say the Ecclesiastes, their soul can not be equally killed for their souls will survive the persecution, the Lord Jesus informed his disciples.

This wasn't the first time Jesus pulled the veil of what happens after death when man's body go to dust and his spirit to the Creator. In the book of Revelation, St. John is given a revelation of what had happened to the souls of the martyrs after their physical death,
Revelations 6:9 "When the lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God and the testimony they had given."
Rev 6:10  "They cried out in a loud voice, "Holy and true Sovereign, how long will it be before you judge and take revenge on those living on the earth who shed our blood?" 
Rev 6:11  "Each of them was given a white robe. They were told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers was completed, who would be killed as they themselves had been."
From this portion of Revelation 12:9-11, we are informed that St. John was able to:
1) see the Souls of the Martyrs (v.9)
2) hear them speak and cry out in a loud voice (v. 10)
3) see the Souls receive something (white robe, v.11)
4) see the Souls receive instruction about remaining calm and being at rest (v. 11).

These four (4) points are biblical proof that the Souls which survive the physical death are conscious. So conscious matter of fact that they could speak and hear instruction given to them. More interesting is that when God lifted the veil of the spiritual realm, St. John was able to see the souls of those who died as Martyrs as pointed out in verse 9. This is not unlike what happened to the disciples when they prayed with the Lord Jesus at the Mount of transfiguration and that God opened their spiritual eyes to see beyond the veil of the natural world as St. John did in the book of Revelation:
"And Elijah with Moses was seen by them, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. And let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah ... And suddenly, looking around, they did not see anyone any more, except Jesus alone with themselves." - Mark 9:4-5, 8.
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes that the disciples saw both Elijah and Moses. Regardless of what your theology maybe of the status of Elijah, what is sure to all though is that Moses was dead, "And Moses the servant of Jehovah died there in the land of Moab, according to the Word of Jehovah." (Deuteronomy 34:5). Despite Moses physical death, which mean his body returning to dust by being buried, his souls survived his physical death long enough to meet with his Lord in Palestine on the Mount of Transfiguration many centuries later.

We find similar stories of the human soul surviving the physical death of man. One such strange story is told of Elijah the prophet that involved the soul of a departed child,
"And he [Elijah] stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to Jehovah, and said, 'O Jehovah my God, please let this child's soul come to him again'.  And Jehovah heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he lived." - 1 King 17:21-22
So those who think that life end with this world have seriously misunderstood the Ecclesiastes, and have not paid much attention to what the scriptures kept saying on the issue of man's death. For man do not only have a body that sleeps in the dust but man has also a soul/spirit that survives man's bodily's death. This was the whole exercise of the parable of the wicked rich and the poor Lazarus. Though both bodies went to the ground, back to dust, and that their cerebral activities ceased functioning (Ecc 9:5), their story of their conscious existence didn't end there (Luke 16:19-31).

Here is what St. Paul the apostle had to say about death despite his desire to stay on earth to serve his beloved brothers and sisters in the faith,
"Indeed, I cannot decide between the two. I have the desire to leave this life and be with the Messiah, for that is far better." - Philippians 1:23-24 
St. Paul was totally positive that to leave this life was not an absolute end to his conscious life, but he knew based on the biblical evidence that he would be with the Messiah, Jesus. What He said to the Church to the Philippians he also reiterated to the Church of Corinth,
"We are confident, then, and would prefer to be away from this body and to live with the Lord." - 2 Corinthians 5:8 
Understanding that man is made with a material part (body) and an immaterial part (Spirit and/or Soul) is the key to understand what happens to those who experience physical death. St. Paul exemplify this understanding of man as a tripartite entity, "And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blamelessly at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." - 1 Thessalonians 5:23

I will end by quoting Dr. Ravi Zacharias tributes to our departed beloved brother Nabeel Qureshi who is at this moment at the presence of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
"Knowing the biblical message, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it well:
                             Life is real! life is earnest!
                             And the grave is not its goal.
                             Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
                             Was not spoken of the soul
.
"

mardi 25 juillet 2017

When Satan Does Not Collaborate with our 'Theologies'

Image result for satan"It is impossible, Satan can't even pronounce the name of Jesus", my friend retorted confidently. He was certain I didn't understand the power of God so he took upon himself the task to lecture me on God's power over Satan and his army of evil spirits and demons.

This conversation happened in 2005. My friend was discovering it seemed, the amazing and glorious power of the Lord. Just as it happened to many before him, discovering something new about our faith tend to make people take the extreme position with zero regard to other biblical evidences. I have been a practicing Christians for more than 20 years now and I can still remember time when people claimed all Christianity could be understood through the lenses of:

  • The Blood of Jesus, 
  • The Cross, 
  • The baptism of the Holy Spirit, 
  • Intercessory prayer, 
  • Prophecies 
  • and now the message of Grace.

Different topics, same logic. My good friend in South Africa resumed all of Christianity through the
lenses of the Power of God found in the name of Jesus. My contention to him was simply this, there is true power in the name of Jesus but this doesn't mean that Satan is for that matter incapable of resisting us, attacking us or for that matter speak (uttering) the name of Jesus. This latter one was what made him explode. "Each time we use the name of Jesus, Satan fall from his chair", he insisted. He heard it from someone who used to be a practicing sorcerer He claimed.

Having heard briefly his reasoning, I asked him if he was willing to hear the other side of the story. He smiled and gave me the go ahead. So I opened the New Testament I had with me and read him this:
"Suddenly there was a man in their synagogue who had an unclean spirit. He screamed, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!'" - Mark 1:23-24
After pointing out to him that unclean spirits, also known in some circles as demons, did pronounce (utter) the word "Jesus" without falling from 'their chairs'; he looked a bit surprised but resisted to give in. 'I am not convinced', he said. But I attracted his attention to the gospel of Mark by reading again the text and emphasized this portion, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?'

He reasoned, 'yes, you have a point. The evil spirit did in fact pronounce the name of Jesus but that was before Jesus triumph over them at the Cross as it is written in Colossians. But today they can't dare pronounce His name'. Here is the verse my friend was referring too,
"He [Jesus] took those charges away when he nailed them to the cross. And when he had disarmed the rulers and the authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross." - Colossians 2:14-15
Seeing that he was honest enough to recognize at least that the Gospel of Mark didn't support his position, I pushed for the next step. Probing him to see if he was interested to go the extra-mile in his honesty. 'Can I share with you another text then and you can tell me what you think of it?' I said without waiting for his answer. I quickly turned by New Testament pages and read him this:
"But the evil spirit told them, 'Jesus I know, and I am getting acquainted with Paul, but who are you?'" - Acts 19:15 
This time my friend was really taken aback. He gazed intently into the Bible trying to read preceding texts, trying to find out if there was other hidden meaning or an out of the context verse. Then he laughed. 

'I can't believe demons have dared to pronounce the 'name of Jesus'!''- He was incredulous and laughing nervously. He was convinced I came to learn later. He had elevated stories and anecdotes he heard in different Christian communities above the testimony of the scriptures. His intention was perfectly understandable. He wanted a crushing victory over Satan and all his legions of demons, but the scriptures was revealing to him that even though Christ's victory over Satan was absolute, this doesn't have to mean we have to make up new 'theologies' without taking in account what the bible really teaches.  

IT IS NOT BLACK AND WHITE

I had come to learn that things are not always as simple as some teachers or preachers of the Bible tend to make it sound. Let's take the case on casting out (expelling demons).

Expelling Demons:

St Paul had an episode where he was confronted with a demonic activity and he seemed to have effortlessly expel that demon by using the name of Jesus.
"She kept doing this for many days until Paul became annoyed, turned to her and told the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus the Messiah to come out of her!" And it came out that very moment." - Acts 16:18   
However when we read 3 chapters later, a group of young men also using the name of Jesus didn't find the same successful experience in expelling demons.
"Then some Jews who went around trying to drive out demons attempted to use the name of the Lord Jesus on those who had evil spirits, saying, "I command you by that Jesus whom Paul preaches!" ... Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them, got the better of them, and so violently overpowered all of them that they fled out of the house naked and bruised. - Act 19:13, 16
Image result for satanIn the case quote above in The Acts of the Apostle, they used the right name, the name of Jesus. They even specified which Jesus they spoke of, Jesus the Christ who Paul was preaching. Despite that, demons were overtly aggressive and hostile to them and refused to leave despite the use of the name of Jesus, and that demons made sure that those praying in the name of Jesus were the one leaving that home in a catastrophic manner.

The Apostle of Power

In those days of St. Paul ministry, he experienced great divine power and we are told that demons were expelled even by the presence of some of his handkerchiefs. 
"And God did works of power through the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons from his skin being brought onto the sick, the diseases were released, and the evil spirits went out of them." - Act 19:11  
If you only read this, you might think nothing could have resisted to St. Paul in his earthly life. You couldn't be more wrong if that is what you thought. Paul himself explained,
"Therefore we desired to come to you, truly I, Paul, both once and twice; but Satan hindered us." - 1 Thessalossians 2:18  
St. Paul is writing to the Church of the Thessalonians explaining why he hasn't be able to come and visit them despite his desire and certainly not by lack of trying. He tried more than once to organize a visit and knowing Paul, He certainly prayed for that. But in both occasions Satan hindered him, prevented him. At this point some over-zealous Christian might think, "but Paul, just cast out Satan in Jesus'name! Don't you know that there is power in the name of Jesus?" Right!?

Sometimes, the reality of the spiritual battlefield is more complicated than we are sometimes thinking. In another occasion we read that God permitted Satan to inflict severe discomfort to St. Paul, 
"... and by the surpassing revelations, lest I be made haughty, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be made haughty." - 2 Corinthians 12:7 MKJV  
Or as this other version put it,
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of the exceptional nature of these revelations, a thorn was given to me and placed in my body. It was Satan's messenger to keep on tormenting me so that I would not become conceited" - 2 Corinthians 12:7 ISV  
Paul knew about Jesus victory over Satan on the Cross, he was the one who wrote Collosians 2 that I quoted above, and he was still the same Paul who did amazing miracles and casted out demons in Acts as already mentioned. But we see him at this particular point of his Christian life unable to defeat Satan. Why? Because things are not always as simple as some preachers pretend it to be.

Fight the Good Fight

We are exhorted to fight the good fight in the New Testament because the truth of the matter is that the Christian fight against the enemy is not also Black & White or straight forward. We have to stay alert and collaborate with the Spirit of God who will train us in fighting the good fight. One group of Christians were not careful in their fight against the enemy and found themselves Bewitched. 
"O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you not to obey the truth, to whom before your eyes Jesus Christ was written among you crucified?" - Gal 3:1  MKJV
 The bewitching of the Galatians Christians is troubling to many. How can they be affected by demonic interference some wonder? It is not possible for someone who have the Spirit of Christ in Him to be victim of Satan. Well, as already said above, things are not as simple as preachers tell us. As for the Galatians, they made a fatal mistake, they opened themselves to a false gospel. they started believing in receiving their justification through the law of an Old Covenant instead of receiving it from the person of Jesus. By doing so, they forfeited the divine protection which is their inheritance through Jesus Christ.

How do I know that? Because Paul said as much:
"you who are justified by Law are deprived of all effect from Christ; you fell from grace." - Galatians 5:4 
If protection from Curses (Gal 3:13) and the power of the enchantress comes through Christ victory at the cross, then to be 'deprived of all effect from Christ' will entail to be deprived from the victory of Christ. That is why Paul said to them, 'you fell from grace'. You can only fall if you were standing, and the Galatians fell from that position of strength which the position of divine grace, hence became victimized by the enemy (Satan).

The word 'bewitched' is an ancient word used for 'occult' practices known in in the middle East as the 'Evil Eye'. The Greek word for that is, 'baskainō' (Strong Hebrew and Greek Dictionary). Here is two other different translations of the same verse.

International Standard Version: "You foolish Galatians! Who put you under a spell? Was not Jesus the Messiah clearly portrayed before your very eyes as having been crucified? " - Galatians 3:1  (ISV)

Easy-to-read Version: "You people in Galatia are so foolish! Why do I say this? Because I told you very clearly about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But now it seems as though you have let someone use their magical powers to make you forget." - Galalatians 3:1  ERV

For this reason, let us remember the warning of the scriptures, "so that we may not be outsmarted by Satan. After all, we are not unaware of his intentions." - 2 Corinthians 2:11 (ISV)

And if we are outsmarted by Satan, we can not expect him to leave us alone. He will endearvor to destroy us. That is why you should stick to correct biblical doctrines and proper Christian living otherwise the enemy might find a door to destabilize our lives. For this warning was also written to Christians 2000 years ago and it is still relevant to us in the 21st century,
 "When you are angry, don't let that anger make you sin, and don't stay angry all day. Don't give the devil a way to defeat you." - Ephesians 4:26-27
I will end with this words, Christ victory is historic and irreversible. We on the other hand, we are call to be overcomer by the power of Christ. If we stay in line and do not believe false teachings we will overcome despite adversities that may fall upon us as it did with St. Paul. We have to keep fighting the good fight and learn fast how to excel in that. 

Let us speak the truth to each other, especially doctrinal truths. Some may not like what I wrote but it doesn't change the fact that it is still the truth, the biblical truth.
"So have I now become your enemy for telling you the truth?" - Galatians 4:16  

dimanche 9 juillet 2017

The Blood of Jesus on my Car?

It is sometimes presented as an objection, other times as an inquisitive question bordering a reproach,
"Is it biblical to say, we cover our cars with the blood of Jesus?"
 Sometime the objection is formulated more poingnantly in this way,
"Christ blood was not shed for your house, why then ask God to cover your house with Christ's blood?"
The reaction (question/objection) is a reasonable one, and it should be answered. After all there is some biblical precedent for the objections whch can be found in the book of Leviticus which informs that the sacrificial bloods were shaded for the atonment of souls.
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood. And I have given it to you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls. For it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul." - Leviticus 17:11  
The objector hence has a basis to wonder, why use the blood for objects such as a car or a house when we know from the scripture that the blood was shaded for the atonment of souls?

The practice of using the blood of Jesus as means of protection among Christians, instead of strictly limiting it to the atonment of souls, could be easily traced back to the Old Testament teachings about the multiple usage of the sacrificial blood.

Let's start where the similarity is most strucking.

1) Passover Typology

Jesus Christ shaded his blood on Easter which was coincidently the Jewish Passover. On that day, Israel was repeating its tradition of sacrificing a lamb in the image of the lamb that was sacrificed when their ancestors were still slaves in Egypt. They received instruction from God on that first Passover to sarifice a lamb and to put the lamb's blood on their houses' doors.
"They're to take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat the lamb." Exodus 12:7  
"And the blood shall be a sign to you upon the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you. And the plague shall not be upon you for a destruction when I smite in the land of Egypt." - Exodus 12:13   
It is clear from the above two texts of Exodus that the blood of the first Passover was used for objects such as doorposts or house. Since this was acceptable for the first Passover blood, we can understand why Christians find no fault in doing the same by faith with the precieuse blood of Jesus when they request similar protection on their properties against the destructors. And we are reliably informed that Jesus is now our Passover:
"Therefore purge out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For also Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." - 1Corinthians 5:7   
We therefore see that those who claim the blood of the Lamb for protection in their cars or houses in addition to recognizing its atoning power are not necessarily operating outside biblical juridiction nor misusing it as this might have been implied or feared by some segment of believers within Christianity.

2) Old Testament use of sacrificed blood on objects:

a) Blood used on the alter:  "And you shall kill the ram, and you shall take its blood and sprinkle all round upon the altar." Exodus 29:16

b) Blood used on houses: "And he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet dye, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times." - Leviticus 14:51

c) Blood used on the mercy-set (a lid used to cover the Ark of covenant): "And he shall take of the blood of the young bull and shall sprinkle with his finger on the front of the mercy-seat eastward. And he shall sprinkle at the front of the mercy-seat seven times from the blood with his finger." Leviticus 16:14   

N.B
It is therefore eminently clear that sacrificed blood shaded for the atonment could also be used for other noble purposes such as for protection on a house (Exodus12:13). If this was true for a less glorious covenant, how much more from a better new covenant that is based on better promises (Hebrew8:6)?

mercredi 31 mai 2017

Is Good Works Against Heaven and Eternal Life?

"Do we inherit Eternal life and heaven because of our works or because of having faith in Jesus."

This question was asked in one of the WhatsApp group I happen to be in. This question has the singular weakness to present a false choice to those who are asked to answer them. As I remarked in the WhatsApp group, the question although interesting to provoke a discussion, it is nevertheless based on a false dichotomy. Before I answer the question directly, some clarification is needed given the faulty assumption that oppose deeds and faith.

Clarifying the Concept

The attitude of the New Testament is not to make an unintelligible separation between our action and our faith, as if we were asked to choose and show our loyalty between our actions or our faith. Rather, the New Testament always strive to keep a balance by reminding us about contexts and the necessity of a collaboration between our faith and our actions. 

This is clearly seen in the writings of St. James who took pains to point out that faith and deeds are not in a perpetual war as some would like us to believe. There three verses found in the second chapter of the epistle of James says it all:
"But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds." James 2.18 NIV
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?" James 2.14 NIV
 "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."James 2.26 NIV
It is clear that from the perspective of St. James, there is no good that can come from making an arbitrary distinction between faith and action. Such as endeavor is theologically futile just as it is practically fruitless.

The Kingdom of God

Now back to the question related with the inheritance of the kingdom or as some presume by calling it Heaven. To reflect on it from a sound biblical foundation, I'd like to share a text which is suggestive of how the early Christian community thought of it, which is still how the majority of the Christian today think of it. The text is found in epistle of St. Peter which give the direction for proper reasoning in light of what we read above in James 2:14,18,26.
"Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For IF you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter1:10-11 
In this passage of St. Peter, we are informed that the believers should do something in order to receive a rich welcome into the Eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Just like St. James, St. Peter doesn't see the necessity to separate a life of faith with a life of actions (deeds) as these the verses above demonstrates through sentences such as these: a) make every effort, b) if you do these things. These are statement of actions. St. Peter not only link but also condition the plain entrance into the Kingdom of the Lord to these series of actions as the word "IF" in the verses suggest.

We also see that St. John do not make an arbitrary separation between actions and the experience of receiving the kingdom in his book of Revelation in chapter 3 verse 21,
"To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne." NIV
St. John expressly says that the inheritance into the reign of Christ is meritorious, which means based on the believer's life of victory. This explicit reasoning from St. John is repeated over and over in the book of revelation. It is clear that St. John saw no problem that a life of faith should be expressed through actions and deeds of an overcomers - "The person who conquers will inherit these things. I will be his God, and he will be my son" - Rev 21:7 (also see Revelation 2:7; 2:26-27). 

Eternal Life

As for Eternal life, the New Testament use that word in different way with regard to the life of the believer. However, I will start by restricting its possible diverse meaning by singling it to one mean. I will restrict it to Jesus definition of the word, "Eternal life" as the knowing relationship with the Father in John 17:3,
"Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent." - John17:3  CEV
"And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent—Jesus the Messiah." - John17:3  ISV
The Lord Jesus therefore define Eternal Life as the knowledge of God (the Father and the Son). If we use this definition with relative consistency we discover some interesting biblical revelation. For one, we can find out that St. John reminded his audience that they already have that knowledge form of relationship with the Father and the Son called "Eternal life" in 1John5.13,
"I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." - 1 John 5:13 ISV
Hence for St. John, the believers who were recipient of his letters had the 'Eternal life' or had 'that knowledge/relationship with the Father and the Son'. In order word, they were in a relationship with God, for knowing someone indicate having a relationship with that person.

Another New Testament writer, St. Jude told believers that the relationship with the Father "Eternal life" is something we can be led into just like any other relationships. 
"keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life." - Jude 1:21 ESV 
So as believers keep their eyes focused on Jesus' mercy (or grace), the believers are lead into Eternal Life. Here St. Jude seem to suggest that this relationship with the Father is something that we are continuously led into. Which makes sense, since all relationship are not static and continuous. We are always invited to know the person more and more or this relationship will be disrupted and we become estranged to each other (no more relationship).

All these were just to show in an indirect way how active participation is required for anyone who is in a relationship and want to keep this relationship alive and enduring. It is true for our human relationship, it is equally true with our divine relationship. Allow me now to respond to the question of Eternal Life and its relationship with deeds in a more direct way now. 

St. Paul told his audience that this relationship with the Father called "Eternal life" is unmistakably linked with a believers good actions in Roman 2:6-7,
"God 'will repay each person according to what they have done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." Romans 2:6-7 NIV
St. Paul unmistakably said that God do avail the provision of the knowledge (relationship) of God aka 'Eternal Life' to those who search for Him by doing good. Here we see St. Paul who understand the primacy of faith over the works of the Mosaic Law with regard to divine justification, nevertheless recognizing that actions are not per se in opposition to faith but that action such as doing good are an inescapable in our experience of true faith that lead is to the reception of 'Eternal Life' just as St. Jude and St. James recognized.

mardi 2 mai 2017

Holy Spirit controversy?

Long time ago, I responded to an email request about a discussion that arose on the popular discussion about the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I was younger and more aggressive, allowing little patience to statements that I considered misguided. I hope I have changed over time by being more patient now. In any case, I was surprised to read this old piece and see that my views have barely changed over the years as I keep learning about the Christian faith. I hope you enjoy this read of a zealous young man.
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Hello J.C friends*,

A friends of mine has sent me a long email from a friend/ acquaintance of her that kind of mocked the current teaching and doctrinal standings on baptism of the Holy Spirit and many other things. Well, I share my views in brief of that letter and I thought sharing that with you too. Hope you like it. If you disagree with me, it is ok. You have the right to disagree with me. :)

Have a nice weekend in Jesus' name.
Eric G.
H.R.Mod.
P.S: Jeunnesse Chretiènne (JC)*
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Hello dear xxxxxx,

Thank you for sharing with me the letter of your friend. Reading it has just reinforced in me the necessity of writing my new book, 'BETRAYAL - The consequences of forsaking the teaching ministry'.

 It is just shocking and astonishing what people can write and say. And all this while they really think they even know or understand what they are talking about. It is sad.

Bon, i came late and as you can imagine i am a bit sleepy hence i can't go through a point by point refutation, correction and clarification of the biblical doctrine that he abused. However let me just touch few points here and there and i am sure that you can find the remaining one's or if there are some specifics you want me to deal with - please let me know i'll be delighted to respond to them when I'll be fully awake. :)

Let start with the first point.

I. He is right when he said we need the holy Spirit to live the Christian life. That is quite correct. This is pretty much all i can wholly agree with him with few exception here and there though.

II. " 1. Being born again and 2. Being baptized in the holy spirit. Now most church say this, but when you study the scriptures, you find out this is not what the bible says. And those who put it this way,are the ones who are seeking more power all the time from God. They're are the ones who are praying and fasting and crying for power. Because they have their Theology mixed up.In no where in the scriptures, does it make the baptism of the holy spirit a 2nd experience!"

Well, let me correct this. After Jesus resurrection and before the Jewish feast of the Pentecost, Jesus gave the Spirit to the disciples by breathing to them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" John 20:22. So according to the account in the gospel of john the disciples received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them. This was the first experience. However, before Jesus left the disciples in order to be assumed in Heaven, he said to them, 

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit ...  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on youand you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4-5, 8. 

If you look at this portion of Acts 1, Jesus is no longer talking about receiving the Holy Spirit, for that was already done in John 20:22, but he is talking about receiving the promise of the Father. What is the promise of the Father? The baptismal with the Holy Spirit in few days. But is the baptism with the Holy Spirit? It is the reception of power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Not the reception of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) but the reception of Power (Acts 1:8).

(NB: I emphasis this distinction now because later on i'll use verses where this distinction is not recognized by the author of Acts. Matter of fact it will become clear that 'receiving the Holy Spirit' may mean more than one thing. It may mean receiving Jesus' spirit as at the conversion, or it may mean receiving the power).  

Is the distinction I am making real or just artificial? Maybe the book of Luke can shade some lights, " I am going to send you what my Father has promisedbut stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24: 49. Again what was the promise of the father? The clothing with power! Again, the purpose of the promised of the Father, also called the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), is the reception of power or the clothing with power.

 On Pentecost day, which is believed to have been after 10 days after Jesus' ascension to heaven -which reminds us what Jesus said, 'in few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit ...' (Acts 1:5) - it was reported in Acts 2:4 that the disciples, " All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.". Here we see that the word baptized with the Holy Spirit is not used but rather the word filled with the Holy Spirit. This context suggest that the two words are a description of the same even. Which event? The event of the reception of power. In this situation, the first power that was manifested was their experiences with the speaking in other tongues to the amazement of those who heard them (Acts 2:12).

The story of the disciple denies the assertion that, "no where in the scriptures, does it make the baptism of the holy spirit a 2nd experience!". On the contrary, it was well a different experience with the Holy Spirit than the one they had when Jesus breathed on them. The book of revelation speaks of the seven spirit of God (Rev 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6), which can well mean that the Spirit can manifest itself in more than one way on earth. Matter of fact, even Jesus experienced the presence of the Spirit on him differently twice. 

Here is an example, 

1. "Jesus, full of the Holy Spiritleft the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness," (Luke 4:1) and 

2. " Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside" (Luke 4:14). 

An attentive read will realize that when Jesus was baptized on the Jordan river he received the Holy Spirit and he was full of the Holy Spirit (verse 1). However when he left his 40 days of fasting and temptation victoriously, he had then the power of the Spirit (verse 14). 

Is there other text that can help us understand this distinction? Yes, there are. Philip preach to the Samaritan (Acts 8). They believed the message Philip was preaching. They got baptized with water (Acts 8:12). However they received the power (here again the Tongues as the primary manifestation) through the laying of hands of Peter and James (Acts 8: 15-18) when they came from Jerusalem to witness the fact that the Samaritans had already received the word of God and converted. It is clear here that their conversion (via Philip) was different from their experience of the new power (via Peter and James). Certainly they received the Holy Spirit at their conversion when Philip brought them to the obedience of the Gospel. So in one sense they received the Holy Spirit for without the Spirit there can not be a new birth and a regeneration. But in another sense they had not yet received the Holy Spirit for they still had no power yet.

Remember the biblical illustration of the seven Spirit of God. This may mean a diversity in the way the Spirit manifest himself. When Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as a counselor in John 14 he used a masculine pronoun as if he was a person. But when Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1 he used a neutral pronoun as if he talked about a thing (the power). The Jehovah witness prefer the Acts 1 usage of the Holy Spirit when they discuss about him. In a sense they are right. In another sense they are wrong. They are right when they emphasize his power, but wrong when they ignore his personality. We can't apply just one criteria especially when the context prevent us to do that. Because the same word is used doesn't mean that it is talking about the same thing. The context will teach us to recognize what is going on here/there.

III. "The baptism of the holy spirit is actually what is meant by the NEW BIRTH. Now for several people,this will completely kick their theology and they'll be like: oooohh what am I hearing??? And you found out all the people who say this never really studied the subject concerning the Holy Spirit."

I have already shown that this is an non careful way to read the scripture. Actually these verses in Acts 8 will show that this is not true:

"12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptizedboth men and women. 
13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of Godthey sent Peter and John to Samaria. 
15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit,16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them;they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."

The Samaritans were new believers for the accepted the word of God (verse 14-15) but the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them yet! This is a biblical example that shows that this really happened, and i see no reason why it can't happen again in our century. The context inform us that the Holy Spirit they had not yet received is in fact the power of the Holy Spirit, for when they received the Holy Spirit there were a visible things that was happening to the people as witnessed by even Simon when the disciple placed their hands on them (verse 18).

And in the incident of the disciples in Ephesus that Paul met, contrary to what we were told, the reason Paul might have asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" in Acts 19:2, when the disciples said to him, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." it is because It appears that during the Christian baptism the name of the Holy Spirit is pronounce as recorded in Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," So even if they never heard of a teaching on the Holy Spirit, at least we know they should have heard at least once in their lives that there is such a thing or such a person as the Holy Spirit on the day of their baptism if their baptism followed Jesus model and teaching. So saying they 'never even heard of the Holy Spirit' was really astonishing. Hence Paul wondered what kind of baptism did they receive?

However this is not even the most troubling aspect of this story. The aspect that is really revealing is the fact that Paul asked this question when he first met these disciples for the first time, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (Acts 19:2) -- It is as if Paul is assuming that it is even possible for someone to believe without receiving the Holy Spirit at the same time. We have to grant this point when reading the text, otherwise this would have made Paul question nonsensical if that was not possible in any case to believe and not receive the Holy Spirit! So we also have to learn from this apostolic experience to assume that we can meet with Christians who have not yet received the Holy Spirit. 

And here again, the expression is used not with regards to receiving the Holy Spirit as part of the conversion but receiving it as part of the power that was promised. The context show that they received the ability to prophesy (verse 6) when they received the Holy Spirit indicating by this that Paul meant by receiving the Holy Spirit - the experience of receiving some power as promised by the Father - namely the baptism of the Holy Spirit (remember the discussion on Acts1 above). 

The rest of his discussion is at best tangential to this issue of the timing of the baptism of the Holy Spirit when he converts or at worst irrelevant to the issue. All this shows is that your friends confuses things and do not understand the elementary issues of Christian doctrines, particularly this one, 

"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.And this we will[a] do if God permits." (Hebrews 6:1-3)

Notice that the point 3 in the elementary principles is the doctrine of baptisms (in plural). The New Testament speaks of different form of baptisms namely, a. water baptism (Acts 8: 36-37), b. baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), c. baptism in body (1 Corinthians 12:13), d. baptism of suffering (Luke 12:50), e. baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11). Your friends seem to have a real hard time to distinguish between some of them. And this is just the elementary stuffs of Christian principles. How can you expect him to have a developed theology on systematic theology? Impossible. It is clear by his writing that he is just a novice thinker of biblical doctrines who hasn't taken the time sharpen his views notwithstanding his self-congratulating pose. He is just thinking higher about himself than he should have. He still have a long way to go before he start presenting a mature pneumatology or even a coherent soteriology.

But at least he is trying to think out of the box. Pas mal. I am curious to read what he is going to send you again. :)

I hope my small reaction will help you frame the debate in a more fruitful context with him.

GBU