Reason, Faith and Certitude

Reason, Faith and Certitude

“From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve … FIRE … God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and savants. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.”[i] Blaise Pascal

Reason will never take you to the certitude of God.  If it’s pure, which it never is, it regularly leads to doubting.  On the other hand, love will always lead to trust (faith) and acting on faith will lead to certitude.  However, in the end certitude is a gift of God, given to those who love Him and have true faith in the Christ.  The apostle John says, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son” ( 1 John 5:10).  In chapter  two of his letter John refers to this inner witness as an anointing of truth.

Moreover, Jesus also speaks about faith as a revelation from the Father.  When he asked his disciples who they believed he was, in Matthews gospel, the conversation reads like this; “Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17).  This inner witness that Jesus speaks about is the revelation in the believer’s heart through the spirit of God, which gives them certitude that Jesus is the Christ.  It is this revelation in the believers heart that is the rock on which Christ would build his church[ii].  This measure of faith cannot be accessed by reason alone or any human effort.  It is a gift of God given to all true believers.  It is being born from above.  It is given to all who truly put their faith in the Christ and love God.  It is for the pure in heart

This inner witness, that Jesus is the Christ, is not the same as the promise which Jesus made to his apostles that they will be led into all truth (John 14:16).  The all truth promise was made to his apostles who form the foundation of the new temple of God (Eph 2:19-22).  The early church looked to the apostles as the ultimate authority in matters of the faith and except for a few Gnostics heretics, never claim, “the all truth promise”.. It is obvious, that if every Christian had received “the all truth promise” there would have been total unity and no division in the church from the beginning, to which we know there is, and therefore was not the case.  Plus there would have been no need for the first-century church to ask the apostles questions about the faith, as we see early Christians do in the New Testament.  Many of the writings in the New Testament are made up of the apostles answering questions that were sent to them by individuals and churches.

From the above we gather that when John said, “all of you know the truth”, he was taking about the fact that believers had received through the gospel the revelation that Jesus was the Christ. (1John 2:20-21).  There is no reason to separate this faith experience from the acceptance of the gospel and hearing the word of God preached, for that Word or Gospel is the bearer of the Spirit. This simply means that if a person hears the good news preached and believes it, the Holy Spirit will confirm their faith in their heart that Jesus is the Christ resulting in a certitude giv

[i]  Pascal’s conversion experience was recorded on a small piece of paper and sewed into the inner lining of his coat and was found after his death. It read, “The year of grace 1654. Monday, 23 November, feast of Saint Clement. . . From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past midnight. Fire. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. Not of the philosophers and intellectuals. Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace. The God of Jesus Christ. My God and your God. Forgetfulness of the world and everything except God. One finds oneself only by way of the directions taught in the gospel. The grandeur of the human soul. Oh just Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. I have separated myself from him. They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water. My God, will you leave me? May I not be separated from him eternally. This is eternal life, that they may know you the one true God and J.C. whom you have sent. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. I have separated myself from him. I have run away from him, renounced him, crucified him. May I never be separated from him. One preserves oneself only by way of the lessons taught in the gospel. Renunciation total and sweet. And so forth.” (pp. 95-96

[ii] it is incorrect to assume that the rock was Peter or Peters faith. The rock is the revelation that Jesus is the Christ given to believers by the Holy Spirit.

The Baptism of Fire and The Holy Spirit

The Meaning of the Baptism of Fire and the Holy Spirit

Matt. 3:1-12, Mk 1:3-8, Luke 3:2-17

I was at a meeting of ministers from various denominations for a period of fellowship and discussion.  We were told by the facilitator that we would be discussing Matthew the third chapter, verses one through twelve.  When I read the text I thought to myself that this was going to be an interesting and lively discussion since the text introduces the idea of the baptism of fire and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  However, when the time came to discuss it, I was surprised to see how the text was allegorized and the historical meaning of the baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit were totally ignored.  The following is the written explanation of the text that I had prepared for the meeting to read aloud:

We first run into the expressions of baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels in the preaching of John the Baptist.  “John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).  His message promised two things: 1. To those who accepted His message and repented, He promised the remission of sin and the gift of the Spirit. 2. To those who refused, He promised the wrath of God (baptism of fire).[1]   It is obvious from the context that a mixed multitude of people, good and evil, came outto hear John’s preaching. The scribes and the Pharisees He called “vipers” and it is that group He promised would be immersed in God’s judgment (baptized with fire), a judgment He said had already begun.  “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  He surely did not promise this group that the Messiah would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.  He said to them, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath” (Matt3:7)?

He clearly states that the Messiah would completely separate the wheat and chaff in the nation of Israel.  “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).  This promise and prophecy is reinstated and elongated in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 23 and 24.  The prophecy is fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple and the nation in A.D. 70 by the Romans.  In this destruction of the Jewish state, the promise and prophecy of both John and Jesus were fulfilled in that generation in the very people they were spoken to (Matt. 24:34).  The evil in the nation would be destroyed with the baptism of fire and the good would be blessed with and by the Spirit of God, i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which happened to the church (the new temple of God) in Acts chapter two on the day of Pentecost.

To those who repented, John promised that they would receive the remission of sins and would be immersed in the Holy Spirit.  It is interesting and important to note that both promises, the baptism of fire and Spirit, were made to groups and not individuals.  Therefore, we should view both baptisms as corporate and not individual.  Those Jews who rejected the Messiah will be immersed in judgment.  Those who believed in the Messiah would be immersed in the Spirit and its goodness.  “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (1:17).

In Acts chapter two, we see the Spirit being poured out on the new creation, and the new creation was immersed and filled with the Spirit of God.[2]  All those who enter into the new creation, therefore, of necessity, are immersed in the Spirit that fills the body of Christ.  When you are put into a vessel that is filled with something, you are immersed in the thing that fills the vessel.[3]  When you are put into Christ, you of necessity are immersed in Christ and His Spirit and share in the experience of the Spirit baptized Body of Christ.  Water baptism symbolizes faith and that one has been immersed into Christ and His Spirit-filled (controlled) body (Rom. 6:1-3, Gal. 3:26-27).

In addition, we see John’s words fulfilled in Acts chapter 2 when Peter tells people “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 3:38).  Here Peter promises the same thing as John; all those who will put their trust in the Messiah and identify with Him in baptism will receive the remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Much of the confusion about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire comes as a result of three errors: (1) Taking the expression literally instead of metaphorically. (2) Trying to read these baptisms as personal individual experiences instead of as historical events. (3) Reading them as something that happens to individuals instead of a corporate group.

Both the baptism of fire and baptism of the Holy Spirit should be taken metaphorically and not literally (see Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, by Bullinger).  If you take the metaphors of baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit literally, you can end up with what some call a liquid theology, that is, picturing in your mind that the Holy Spirit is a liquid that fills people or that people are immersed in.  Both expressions, being filled with the Spirit and being baptized by the Spirit, are terms used symbolically to denote the amount of influence and control that the Spirit has on a person or the new creation.  They should not be taken literally.  In the book of Ephesians, verse 5:17, the apostle Paul contrasts being drunk on wine which he says leads to mockery with being filled with the Spirit (controlled by the Spirit), which leads to praising God.  The context makes it obvious that Paul uses this contrast to demonstrate the controlling influence of wine with the controlling influence of the Spirit.  Of course, all this is denied by Gnostic Christians who want some kind of religious experience to separate them and elevate them above other Christians.

When John predicted that those in his audience would experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, he was speaking of two events that would take place in the future.  First was the baptism of fire which took place when the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Romans in A.D. 70.  The second was the pouring out and baptism of the Spirit on the new creation on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.  John was not speaking of some personal religious experience but rather historical events, which both took place in the first century.

In Acts chapter two, we see the fulfillment of the promise made to apostles that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and receive power.  The first thing to note is that this baptism of the Spirit is not the receiving of the indwelling Spirit.  The apostles had already received the Spirit before the Lord had ascended to the Father (John 20:21).  What we see in Acts two is the pouring out of the Spirit and filling up of the new creation, i.e., the body of Christ with the Spirit.  All of this imagery is done to show the contrast of the new creation and old creation.  In the old creation only a few were controlled (filled with the Spirit) by the Spirit; however, in the new creation, the Spirit would be poured out on everyone who had faith in Christ.  In the old creation only a few individuals had the indwelling Spirit.  In contrast, in the new, all members of the Israel of God (body of Christ) have the indwelling.  You could say that the old creation was sprinkled with the Spirit, and the new is immersed (baptized) in the Spirit.  One was touched by the Spirit, while the other is seized by the Spirit.

Some may have questions about the relationship of the tongues of fire that appeared above the apostles on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two and the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.  “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).

Did the light that appeared above the apostles’, which seemed to be like tongues of fire have anything to do with the “baptism of fire” that John spoke of?  The answer is an emphatic no.  There is no evidence in the text that would indicate that the writer of the book of Acts saw this relating in any fashion to what John called the baptism of fire.  Neither the writer nor the context gives us any hint as to the meaning of the rushing wind or the tongues of fire.  The most that could be said about this phenomenon is that a similar thing happened in the Old Testament whenever God inaugurated and sanctified a new temple.  Of course, the apostles and the body of Christ (Church) represented the new temple of God’s Spirit, and I believe it would be safe to say that the wind and fire here represented the presence of God in the new creation (Body of Christ).  However, there seems to be no connection here with the baptism of fire spoken about by John.

I hope this has helped your understanding of fire and Spirit baptism.  If you have questions, please contact me at lyleduell@gmail.com

[1]  Fire is used metaphorically as a judgment of the wicked nations.  (Gen. 19:24, Josh. 8:8-19, Ps. 11:5-6, Ps. 50:3-6, Jer. 37:8-10)

[2] Here baptism is used metaphorically to denote the degree and intensity of the work of the Spirit in the new creation in contrast to its limited influence in the old creation.

[3] In Acts 2 the baptism of the spirit is viewed from the view point of Christ as the one pouring out the Spirit. The same phenomena is viewed as a filling or immersion by those receiving it.  The Body of Christ is anointed and baptized with the Spirit by Christ.  In this, Christ shared His anointing with His body. He brings His entire body under the same anointing that He received from the Father. This anointing is the anointing of Christ and includes His Body which makes it corporate, and not individual as it was in the old creation.  All believers share in this anointing for they are all in Christ.