Summary: Written and published December, 2016. How does a Christian know he is truly a Christian? And how does a Christian know he is being taught by God? Sadly, so many Christians can’t properly answer either of these questions. This article will help you find the answers to these fundamental questions in God’s word.
The present dispensation (the Christian dispensation) is characterized by Jesus going away, back to heaven, and in consequence, the Holy Spirit being sent down. Jesus said that it was to our advantage that He go away; for if He did not go away, the Helper would not come. The Spirit is the Comforter He would send, the One who dwelt with them and would be in them (John 14:16-17). The Christian dispensation is characterized by the Holy Spirit dwelling in both the corporate body of Christ (Eph. 2:22 – the true church) and the individual believer (I Cor. 6:19 – his body the temple of God).
Now if this is all true, and these things are characteristic of the Christian dispensation, it would be beneficial for every believer to do what he can to understand the purpose and benefits of the Spirit’s coming down at this time to live in the believer/church. How was it, in fact, a far greater advantage for us over Jesus staying here in this world with us? If I am saying to myself it would have been better if Jesus would have stayed, then I am missing the comprehension of many important realities concerning the presence of the Spirit with us. In this article I will not attempt to list and explain all the different ministries of the Holy Spirit associated with the entire scope of Christianity. That would be difficult and lengthy. But I will speak of two very important ones, and their uniqueness to the Christian dispensation. Further, I want you to see how the framework of understanding of the first one is similar to how we should see and understand the second. Bear with me and I will explain.
First, I ask every believer reading this article, how do you know you are saved, that you have been justified from your sins? How do you know you are redeemed, and that you have eternal life? What is the proof of this work of God’s grace in you? How would you answer? Are you hesitating to come up with a good intelligent reply, or what might be, in your mind, the right answer? Do you know that God gives you the evidence? After all, it is His work alone, His workmanship, to create every individual He redeems as a new creation in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10, II Cor. 5:17). Every true Christian believes this is true. But what is the proof He gives you that now you are saved, and you are His son, possessing this relationship with Him? The answer to all these fundamental and important questions is that God gives every believer the Holy Spirit.
After we believed the gospel of our salvation, trusting in Christ, we were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13). This means that the Spirit of God dwells in every true believer, our bodies the temple of the Spirit of God. But is that it? Just take God at His word? Granted, this is noble, and it is faith, and faith is characteristic to the Christian dispensation. I would never belittle faith and its connection with the word of God. But isn’t there something more? Well, yes, there is something the Holy Spirit does, and this is not by faith or through faith, but simply because God loves us
Rom. 8:15-17 (NKJV)
“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…”
Isn’t this something you should be aware of? I mean, shouldn’t you sense this? Or are you to be oblivious to any real evidence or practical experience of the reality of the Spirit’s presence in you? He is called the Spirit of adoption because He is the seal of God the Father upon every new believer, marking and distinguishing every individual who now has this specific relationship with God – the Father with His sons. But the practical experience is, having received the Spirit, He begins to cry out inside us to God, saying, “Abba, Father.” Also, the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. This bearing witness to us, to our spirits, is the proof, beyond faith, that God has done this work for us. It is the practical evidence that He has, in fact, established the existence of this new relationship. It is not just because God says so, but that I somehow sense in a practical way God’s Spirit inside me, bearing witness with my spirit. God is so good and gracious to provide this for us
I am convinced that today, after almost 2000 years of the present dispensation involving the Holy Spirit’s presence on the earth, we have, over time, significantly lost our awareness of His presence. In result, most Christians have the greatest difficulty benefiting from His ministries, especially when compared to believers in the early church. Near the beginning of the dispensation men failed in their responsibilities for the public testimony of the glory of Christ. While men slept, Satan came in to compromise and ruin Christendom (Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43). Although the dispensation goes on by the longsuffering and mercy of God, that which has the responsibility as the house of God (Christendom) only ripens in its evil and corruptions through the passing of centuries. God can’t acknowledge His own house any longer, and He can’t sanction it by pouring out power and blessing upon it. Christendom has been in noticeable decline since apostolic days (Rev. 2:1-5). In the midst of such corruption, is it any wonder we have grown numb to the Spirit’s presence and ministry?
We know we are redeemed and children of God because the Spirit of God given to us witnesses to our spirit that it is so. That is the proof that our Father provides to us. But because we can’t see or touch the Holy Spirit, because we can’t capture in a bottle His “bearing witness” to our spirits, displaying it to those around us, we lose all confidence and dependence on the practical experience God intended all believers to have as proof of our sonship.
This “bearing witness” by the Spirit that we are sons of the Father is a characteristic work of God’s grace in the Christian dispensation – not the work of the enemy planting tares, not men sleeping in their failures to be responsible in the administration of it, not any of these other parts of the Christian dispensation, but the Son of Man planting the wheat, and wheat springing up as “sons of the Father” (Matt. 5:45, Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6), destined for entrance and glory in the Father’s kingdom (Matt. 13:43).
Because so many Christians, it is sad to say, are far more comfortable walking by sight and physical senses, instead of by faith (II Cor. 5:7), they tend to create outward things as proofs convincing themselves of their redemption and sonship – water baptism, going to church, praying, taking communion, doing good things, helping the poor, etc. Yet our redemption is through faith in Jesus Christ and His shed blood, and faith is always the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The difficulty of walking by faith or seeing unseen things with the eye of faith, simply becomes overwhelming for many Christians. For the most part, in time the Christian dispensation has denigrated to a walk by sight and senses (a Judaized form of Christianity). Few believers today would ever point to the fact of the indwelling Spirit witnessing to their spirit as proof that they are sons of God and therefore, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ.
Here are a few other points I must make, which should be obvious to all believers. Only true Christians possess the indwelling Holy Spirit, their bodies becoming the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19). This is God’s work in sovereign grace (Eph. 2:8-10); the believer does not do any work in order to be sealed by the Spirit. People can say they are Christians, get baptized in water and attend church on Sundays. This simple routine has been going on in Christendom for over a thousand years. The general body of Christendom was likened by the Lord as a spoiled crop of wheat and tares growing up together in a field (Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43). The tares are not wheat, although they are thoroughly mixed in together with the wheat the entire time of the Christian dispensation. The tares profess to be Christians but are not. And certainly a false profession of Christ does not fool God. Regardless of what they may say and profess, they do not possess the Holy Spirit. Here is Paul again from Romans 8:9: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”
Now take this pattern of argument and apply it to another specific ministry of the Spirit of God (again a ministry characteristic to the present dispensation). This topic will be centered in answering the question: How do we determine the meaning or interpretation of a passage of Scripture? Or this question: How do we know that what we are being taught is God’s truth from His word? This may be viewed as a deeper theological question by many, and certainly it attracts the attention of theologians, academics, and so called scholars, who fall over each other in their attempts to explain to us the proper way and tools for doing this. But all their convoluted machinations, esoteric reasonings, and so called “proper exegesis” I find in such contrast to God’s perspective and what He has provided every believer for the understanding and enjoyment of His word. Here again, my answer begins with this – God has given to every believer the Spirit of God.
I Corinthians 2:7-16 (NKJV)
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ”.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. He alone has the ability to guide the Christian believer into all truth (John 16:13). In the above passage the apostle says, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God…” Yes, that is the Spirit we have been given. But in this passage we are considering a different purpose altogether from what we have in Romans eight. This is a different ministry of the Spirit on our behalf. We know it is by Paul saying, “…that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” Earlier in the passage He says, “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” When Paul speaks of the things which God has prepared for those who love Him, he immediately says, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.”
It is the Christian believer who has been given the Holy Spirit by God — all believers, but certainly only believers. This is emphasized by the apostle in the passage when he says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God…nor can he know them…” The truth of God’s word is not meant to be accessible to the mere natural mind of the unbeliever. It is one of the many unique things of the Christian dispensation. No unbeliever possesses the Holy Spirit – no Jew or Gentile in unbelief. Divine teaching only comes from the Spirit of God, who uses the word of God to instruct us. Only Christians can be taught by God, for they alone possess the Spirit of God. What believer would dare argue with these statements, when they come directly from His word? But this is where so many Christians exit faith, giving in to their desire to walk by sight. The Spirit is unseen. It is inherently more difficult to be confident in someone unseen teaching us. How do we know, how do we recognize divine teaching? We can’t really bottle it up, displaying it for all to see. So we, even true believers, automatically exclude the Holy Spirit by defaulting to things and methods taught by men.
The two above paragraphs teach what is the proper understanding of the passage — the Holy Spirit, which all believers have received from God, is the sole teacher of the meaning of the word of God. Knowing this, what does this truth imply in the negative? It is this — no amount of human mentality, no amount of human wisdom, no amount of man’s scholasticism and intellectualism can discover or ascertain the thoughts of God from His word.
A noticeable decline (may we even say, absence) of prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God to reveal and teach the truth of God’s word has taken place in the Christian dispensation. The Spirit of truth was to reveal to all believers the hidden wisdom of God which is for our glory. He was to reveal the things which God has prepared for us, every believer possessing the mind of Christ. However, in the early years of the dispensation, the overwhelming majority of so-called church fathers produced writings void of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Then with Protestantism, we easily see the systematic substitution of academia, scholarship, intellectualism, hermeneutics, genre analysis, research, historical studies, schools and seminaries, term papers and dissertations, general elitism, etc. – all the products of human wisdom and prideful reputation replacing the place and ministry of the Holy Spirit. But Paul says in the passage above that it is the Holy Spirit who searches all things, yes, the deep things of God, because no one knows the things of God but the Spirit of God. But we settle for our own searches and efforts, our own human wisdom and scholarship.
We might ask, what was the case in Christendom before the days of Protestantism? The answer is simple. Before Protestantism, it was the Mother Church of Romanism which controlled and dictated the interpretation of the word of God (more than a 1000 yrs. of suppression). By official doctrine, only the universal Roman church supposedly had the ability and authority from God to explain Scripture. The infallibility of the popes was a key element of this external human control, and justified their restriction of all access to Scripture. No, more than this, she substituted her own doctrine for the truth of God’s word (Matt. 13:33) – her so called “Church teachings.” The sovereign grace of God in the Reformation (1517 AD) brought out the understandings of Sola Scriptura and justification by faith. This new sovereign work of the Spirit of God made certain that a part of Christendom had rediscovered the gospel and the truth of Scripture.
Another great legacy of the Reformation is the principle of private interpretation, which essentially places the bible into the individual believer’s hands. You can see how this would offset the Roman church’s dominion over the written word of God. But early in Protestantism, this human responsibility soon broke down and individuals mistakenly became judges of God’s word. This led to the plethora of denominations and independent churches we have today, the unrighteous schism and division of the one body of Christ. This was not the Holy Spirit teaching us the truth of the word of God. Rather it was scholarship and intellectualism. It was human wisdom exalting itself against the wisdom of God. And it is exactly what we have surrounding ourselves today in Christendom. It isn’t hard to see the reasons for the failure of the Christian dispensation, and that this failure is irreparable. Remember, my dear reader, judgment begins at the house of God (I Pet. 4:17).
2 Tim. 3:16-17 (NKJV)
All Scripture is given by inspiration by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Yes, you must be a true Christian, you must have been given the Holy Spirit by God. But for understanding, for Scripture to be profitable for doctrine, the believer needs a certain state of soul for its proper apprehension. He or she must be a man of God. Indeed, this is not great attainments of human learning and scholarship. Rather, what is absolutely required is devotedness (that which can be found in the lowest and poorest believer just as well). Devotedness – that we be God’s men. God meant spirituality to be a first necessity, and an absolute one, for the decrement of His thoughts from His word. By profession and possession all believers are in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), but sadly, not many believers walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4 – this being the practical side of Christianity). This is the single eye, which we must have for the body to be full of light (Matt. 6:22-23, Luke 11:34). Spirituality, devotedness, and Christ centeredness.