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 Gnostics Among Us-The Death of Christianity

The Gnostics Among Us

A Study in First John

1 John 2:7-8

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

1 John 2:24-25

 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.  And this is what he promised us-even eternal life.

1 John 2:27-28

 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit-just as it has taught you, remain in him.

 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

1 John 3:11

 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

1 John 3:23-4:1

 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 4:4-6

 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

The book of First John is one of the most interesting books in the Bible and one of the most relative for the American Church.  Someone once said that America is a nation that has the soul of a Church.  Well, that is true but the church that it reflects is a Gnostic Church.  What do I mean by Gnostic?  Gnosticism was an ancient philosophy that was quite diverse in its beliefs.  However, there are a few general tenets in all forms of Gnosticism which we can note.  The word Gnostic comes from the Greek and means “to know.”  People that embraced this philosophy claimed to have special knowledge that was given only to them or their group.  They often claimed that this knowledge came to them through some form of revelation.  These revelations came in the form of impressions in the mind or a warm feeling that confirmed the thinking of the person or group.  If they are Christian Gnostics, they also claimed that this revelation and knowledge are greater or equal to that of the apostles of Christ.  They furthermore, believed that their revelations were personal, making them purely subjective.  By personal and subjective, I mean there was nothing outside of their own mind that they could appeal to as a source of authority.  In contrast, the apostles of Christ worked miracles to confirm their word and revelations (Heb 2:1-4).  Gnostics seem to feel no need to ground their teaching in scripture or the doctrine of the apostles of Jesus.  In fact, they often created their own scriptures –  sometimes forging the name of one of the apostles of Jesus.  The proof of their experience is and was only their own testimony, a subjective experience in contrast to the sign and wonders done by the apostles of Jesus. Of course, some Gnostics claim the same power of the apostles and worked counterfeit miracles, which are and were as subjective as their revelations (2 Thess 2:5-12).  The Gnostics tried to prove their revelations and miracles by their words. The apostles proved their words by their miracles.

Gnostics also embrace an extreme form of dualisms. Dualism is the separation of the spiritual and the physical.  Their dualism was extreme because they believed unlike other dualists that the material or the physical was evil and unclean.  This belief had some serious implications for how these people interpret the Christ story.  If the physical was evil, how could Jesus –  a spirit being who was completely holy enter into a physical body which was evil?  So they taught that Jesus was a ghost or illusion.  The apostle John addresses the false assumption that Jesus did not come in the flesh in a number places in his letter (1 John 1:1-4).  Because, of their negative view of the body, the Gnostics slip into the errors of ascetic and extreme pietism (thinking they were perfect); this led to the abuse or neglect of the body and the denying of any worldly or physical pleasures.  They often try to separate themselves totally from what they called worldly activities and people.  The desert fathers where gnostics to the highest degree and are still held by Gnostic Christians to be great heroes of the faith.

Many Gnostics embraced antinomian, which is the dislike of law and authority. These folks misused the apostle Paul’s doctrine of grace and turned grace into a license to sin (Rom 6:1-3).  There were many false teachers in the early years of Christianity, who taught that Christians were not under any law and therefore, could not sin.  Of course, Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, but they are under the law of Christ, which is the law of love (Gal 6:2, 1Cor 9:20).  The apostle Peter warns Christians to watch out for these lawless men who could lead them away from Christ (2 Pet 3:17).  John corrects both views of extreme pietism and antinomian by pointing out that Christians do sin, and yet they do not keep on sinning.  In other, words the Christian seeks a lifestyle that is free of habitual sin. (1 John 1:8-2:2).

My main interest in writing this article is to look at the Gnostics doctrine of the anointing which John speaks about in his letter. From the words of John, we can build a picture of some of the claims and teachings of the Gnostics, who were a part of the fellowship that John was addressing.  However, we know that at least some Gnostics have left the fellowship, believing they were too spiritual to be in the fellowship of mere believers who proclaimed their relationship with Christ through eating bread and drinking wine ( The Lords supper).

The Gnostic world of the first few centuries after Christ, as it is today was one of subjective impressions and feelings. Their truth was not out there in the physical world, in the church or scripture, but in each of their own minds.  Truth was what they believed and in the end only supported by their impression and feelings.  When someone would challenge their Gnostic beliefs, they would simply say they had an anointing from God that would teach them all truth.  Interpreted this means; I have this warm fussy feeling that I have the truth.  In this, there were as many faiths (religions) as people.  John and the other apostles saw this movement as the greatest damage to the true faith.  John refers to these people as anti-Christ.  In our day we see the identical thing in what we call religious relativism, which stems from the same sources of Gnosticism.  Religious relativism in its simplest form says that religious doctrines are not important and the only thing that matters is what an individual person believes and feels.  All beliefs are equal.  The authority to choose is left up to the individual.

This brings us to the question of what is the anointing that John speaks about in his letter? (1 John 2:27) Before giving my interpretation let’s note some general observations about this anointing that John speaks about.  First of all, whatever, it was; it was given to every Christian not just those with a personal knowledge or a personal religious experience (1 John 2:20).  Second, the truth that the anointing provided was a truth that was public and shared by all the body of Christ.  It was not personal or individual “all of you know the truth” All Christians had the anointing and the truth that came from it.  Third, the anointing came in the beginning of their faith when they placed their faith in Christ through the preaching of the gospel which is the bearer of the Spirit.  There is no room here for any second work of grace in the believer, which would create two kinds or classes of Christians[1] (1 John 2:24).  This anointing taught all Christians the same truth, a truth that was public and corporate.  If we were to boil down the teaching of the anointing to its simplest form, it would be a teaching of faith and love.  The anointing of the Spirit teaches all Christians to have faith in Christ and to love one another.  Faith and love are the sign and seal that someone has the anointing (Eph 1:13-14, Col 1:4-5, 1Thess 1:2-3).

The anointing comes when one believes the gospel and identifies with Christ in baptism, which puts one into Christ (Acts 2:38, Rom 6:1-3). It confirms in the heart of the believer that Jesus is the Christ in order that the believer may have a certitude of their relationship with Christ (I John 5:10).  It is faith in Christ and love for our brothers which gives the believer a mark or seal of assurance that we have the anointing and are saved (Eph 113-14)[2].  We need no subjective knowledge or religious experience to confirm our relationship with Christ other than our baptism, faith and love.  Because our faith, baptism and love are public, they are both subjective and objective.  That is, you can feel them and see them.

There is nothing in John’s words on the anointing that would lead anyone to think that God is guiding them into all religion truth or personal truth by putting impressions on their minds. If that is or were the case why did the early Christian ask the apostles for the answer to their questions?  Why did they not just pray for answers to come through revelation?  It is obvious the early church believed that only the apostles of Christ had the authority to speak on all religious questions concerning the faith, the faith that once and for all was given to the saints (Jude 3).  This faith was completely delivered to the apostles by the Lord and in turn the apostle delivered it to the fellowship (church) through their words and the traditions that they pass down to the church which words are recorded in scripture and interpreted by the spiritual mature.  There is no room for new revelation in regard to doctrine, which goes beyond the teaching of the apostles.  The church must reject any teaching or tradition that goes beyond the teaching of Christ and His apostles (2 John 9).  Only the apostles of Christ were promised to be led into all truth (John 14:26) and even among the apostles, it had to be confirmed by two or three of them (Matt 18:18-20).  The revelations were not private.  Even the apostle Paul set his teaching before the other apostles to be confirmed (Gal 2:2).

The apostle Paul put little stock in personal religious experience for he knew they were private and in the end proved nothing[3] (2 Cor 12:1-60).  It was this kind of personal subjective knowledge, which comes from individual experiences and subjective impressions that filled individuals with spiritual pride.  It is not book knowledge that fills people with spiritual pride as Gnostics would have us believe.  Book knowledge requires a person to submit to another and gives another credit for one’s knowledge.  It recognizes that it is dependent on someone else for knowledge and that knowledge is outside itself and public.  In other words, it looks to an authority outside itself for knowledge where subjective knowledge looks to itself.  One of the characteristics of Gnosticism is its anti-intellectualism, which stems from its hatred of objective knowledge.

Is there a problem with Gnosticism in the American Church? It seems that many evangelical leaders think so.  “Despite the vast cultural differences between North American Protestantism and ancient Gnosticism, the parallels between the two innovations can no longer be ignored.” Philip Lee, “Against the Protestant Gnostics.”

“The studied creedlessness of American Protestantism, its reliance on the guidance of the inner light, its resistance to the specific authoritative claims of Scripture, its ignorance of the teaching of Scripture, its preoccupation with the millennium, its anti-sacramental and anti-ecclesiastical biases are all indicators of an essentially Gnostic world view.” Jay Grimstead, Crosswind Spring/Summer

In his book “Gnosticism: The Coming Apostasy, D.M. Panton alerted Christians to expect Gnosticism the most dreaded foe the Christian faith ever confronted to reappear as a new Theology “ D.M. Panton.

Once we gain a historical perspective on the church’s continuous struggle with the Gnostic seed for over two millennia, we should not be surprised that much of the essence of Gnosticism has managed to permeate evangelical Christianity. The critical difference is that today, due to our disinterest in church history and distaste for doctrinal boundaries, the enemy stalks our camp unrecognized.”[4] Doner Colonel, “The Late Great Evangelical Church”

I could go on quoting church leaders from the Pope to R.C. Sproul and all would say the same thing, that this generation of American Christians are in a death struggle with Gnosticism or what we call the new-age movement which has already infiltrated the Church. Only time will tell whether we are ready for this battle with this anti-Christ.

[1] In the new testament there are not two kinds of Christians or class of Christians.  In Scripture all Christians are born again and all Christians have the Spirit.  The only thing that separated Christians are their  degree of  mature and the gifts given by the Spirit.  Spirit filled Christians were simply those that had yielded more to Spirit.  The expression “filled with the Spirit” is a metaphor denoting the level of control that the spirit has in one’s life.

[2] The mark in Eph 1:13-14 is the seal that a king would place on a letter sent with his authority. The mark of a Christian is the Holy Spirit that is manifested in a life of faith and love.  Nothing mystical in this passage unless you are a Gnostic and looking for something mystical to set you apart from ordinary Christians.

[3] Subject and provide religious experiences means nothing more than the fact that you had an experience which you believe came from God. However, your belief that it came from God may be wrong.  It may have come from Satan or your own imagination.  Every cult leader in the past and present uses their subjective and private religious experiences to prove their religious doctrines and to confirm their authority, to get men to follow them.  The greatest example of this is Joseph Smith the founder and first prophet of the Mormon church.  He had nothing to prove his cock and bull story other than his own personal revelation.  The Mormon Church now has 12 million members and is one of the most Gnostic groups among American religions.

[4] I highly recommend this book because of the author’s insight into the influence of Gnosticism on American Christianity.

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.