Christianity and Economics, Part 4: What Does It Profit?

For other parts of this series on Christianity and Economics, click here.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Mark 8:36

The answer to Jesus’s question is obviously nothing. Even if a man were to gain the whole world, if he loses his soul in the process, he has made a terrible trade. In the end there is no profit at all. There is only tremendous loss.

What is “Profit”?

It’s not uncommon to hear “profit” treated like a bad thing. Just think about all the movies where the villain is some evil businessman that chooses “profits over people.” But profit is not a bad thing. The word “profit” simply means “benefit.”

Profit can certainly be measured in money if the “benefit” sought is money. If I buy something for $3, and I turn around and sell it for $5, I’ve earned a profit of $2. But in a more general sense, such as the sense in which Jesus used the word, profit simply refers to the reward for making good decisions. Giving away money to a charity can be “profitable” if advances a cause that I’m passionate about.

When discussing economics, however, “profit” often takes on the more precise meaning of monetary profit. When all goods can be traded for money, those goods develop market prices defined in amount of money. For this reason profit and loss can be discussed in terms of money. As long as revenue is greater than expenses, there is a profit. If expenses are greater than revenue, there is a loss.

But we must remember that as soon as we limit “profit” to a monetary value, we are no longer making a statement about an entrepreneur’s overall happiness, spiritual well-being, or subjective satisfaction. We are only talking about profit as it is appraised by other members of society, who ultimately determine monetary value through their demand for certain products in relation to their supply.

It’s easy to see how profit benefits an entrepreneur. But what often goes unrecognized is how profit benefits others. In order to explain how this is so we must first consider the problem of resource allocation.

The Complex Problem of Resource Allocation

God created the world with numerous resources, each of which could be used in any number of ways. For example, iron could be used to make all sorts of things – cars, refrigerators, medical devices, construction buildings, houses, power plants, tools, weapons, spoons, etc. The possibilities are endless. The same could be said for all natural resources.

With endless possibilities, mankind is faced with the complex task of deciding what resources, in what quantities, should be used in what ways. What needs are most important? How can we properly use the earth’s resources to help as many people as possible? Even if we are properly motivated impartial love for everyone, how can we know for certain that we are using the earth’s resources most effectively? How much iron should be used for refrigerators? For medical devices? For houses? For machines?

Even if we correctly prioritize the right needs, we still have a problem.  Perhaps we think housing is most important. Since resources are limited, at what point does our investment in housing begin to take away from the important need for medical devices? Or for tractors, which are used to harvest the food everyone needs? Even if our intentions are pure, it would be impossible to know for sure if we are using resources in the best possible way.

To illustrate the complexity of this problem, imagine a world where this problem is perfectly solved, where we know the optimal use of every resource. To simplify the illustration, imagine there are no changes to anyone’s subjective wants, changes in technology development, changes in the total population, or changes in resource availability. If this were the case, every person would do the same tasks every day. Producers would produce the same products, in the same quantity, every day. The prices of all consumer goods and factors of production would remain constant, as neither supply nor demand ever changed.

Consequently, there would be no uncertainty about the future. There would be no need for someone to risk combining resources in a new way. There would be no reason for a business owner to invest more in one line of production, or less in another, or for anyone to take any risks or seek greater profit. Everything would already be used towards its optimal end.

It’s not difficult to see why this can only be an imaginary scenario. James cautions us against assuming that things will continue in the future as they do today.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

James 4:13-14

People’s subjective values change all the time. Technology changes. Population levels change. Resource availability changes. There’s always change going on. Tomorrow will not be like today. The future is uncertain.

For this reason, all entrepreneurs have the task of taking risks. No mater how successful an investment may have been in the past, or may appear today, the future will be different. An entrepreneur has no guarantee of future profitability, because prices are always changing to meet changes in supply and demand.

How Profit and Loss Solves The Problem of Resource Allocation

Since the future is uncertain, entrepreneurs must engage in the task of forecasting future prices for the factors of production and finished products. They must forecast future profitability.

For example, one farmer may forecast that there will be a beef shortage, beef prices will increase, and raising cattle will be profitable. As a result, he may raise more cows, build bigger barns, and dedicate more land towards cattle farming. On the other hand, a competing farmer may forecast that cattle prices will fall, and his time will be better spent growing fresh produce, such as corn, beans, and garden vegetables. Whichever farmer’s forecast proves to be more correct will enjoy a greater profit.

Suppose the first farmer is correct. Due to a beef shortage, prices were high, and he was able to enjoy a good profit. The following year, the other farmer may look to the first farmer’s success as a signal that he should raise cattle as well. Because of the first farmer’s profits, the beef shortage will move quickly towards a solution as more and more farmers move into cattle farming. This will continue until cattle production reaches a level where cattle farming is no longer as profitable as the next best use of the  land. As entrepreneurs seek to invest where there will be the greatest return on their investment, production shifts to meet consumer demand.

Just as important as profit is loss. By suffering a loss, the unsuccessful entrepreneur may be forced to make changes. Suppose the cattle farmer was wrong. Instead of a shortage, there was a surplus of cattle. As a result, he was not able to bring in enough revenue to cover the cost of his investment. If the farmer continues suffer loss, he will eventually have to make a change. Perhaps he will shift away from cattle farming to something more in line with consumer demand. Or perhaps he will sell the farm to another entrepreneur who will use the land more efficiently and more profitably. For instance, if there is a housing shortage, there may be a great demand to develop the land as a new neighborhood.

Profit and loss is a wonderful thing, because it communicates to entrepreneurs the most effective uses of resources allowing them to produce what people want and need. Regardless of whether the farmer is profitable, or suffers a loss, by following profit and loss signals, resources will continually be reallocated to meet consumer demand.

This process plays itself out every day, in every industry, in various ways. All over the world, entrepreneurs continually adapt to changes in people’s preferences, changes in technology, and changes in resource availability. When consumers are free to choose which products, they spend their money on, they are able to influence where entrepreneurs invest, what products are produced, and in what quantities.

Who Benefits from Profit?

Obviously, the entrepreneur who correctly forecasts future economic conditions will enjoy the reward of greater profits. But now we can see how others benefit from profit as well.

Consumers enjoy the benefit of enjoying new and better products. Because of profit, these products will become increasingly available and affordable until the market is saturated to the point where increased production is no longer profitable. As entrepreneurs seek to maximize production of profitable products, they will need to invest in the labors of others.  So not only to consumers benefit, but workers are able to earn a greater living as well. Profit and loss are signals which everyone to a greater standard of living.

A successful entrepreneur is able to earn a profit, not by cheating people, but by meeting the desires of his customers. He does this by anticipating what products they are most willing to spend money on. As they seek to earn a profit, they continually examine whether the resources at their disposal are being used in the most efficient way to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.

Obstacles to Meeting The Needs of Others

This process only works when consumers are free to choose what products they spend money on, and entrepreneurs are free to make whatever changes are necessary to earn a greater profit.

When profits are villainized, so that a portion of profits are taken through taxation, this is bad for everyone. It is bad for entrepreneurs, who receive a decreased return for their investments. As profits decrease, entrepreneurs will decrease investment in production. This hurts workers, who receive less investment for their labors. It is bad for consumers, who get less of the product that they desire.

When people call for the government to bail out industries that aren’t profitable, they prevent those resources from being recombined in more beneficial ways. When politicians protect certain jobs they like, they fail to recognize the more profitable, yet unseen jobs they destroy (see Part 2). Instead of responding to losses by making necessary changes, they will continue to waste scarce resources for products that people don’t want enough to buy.

We have the responsibility to use the limited resources as efficiently as possible to meet the needs of others. Making sure entrepreneurs are free to seek a profit, while also bearing the risk of an uncertain future, is the best way to make sure that the earth’s resources are being used in the best possible way.

The Miraculous and Non-Miraculous Work of the Spirit

This is part 11 of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. For previous parts click here.

What Happened After Baptism

In the previous part of this study it was observed that the “mighty rushing wind”, “tongues as of fire” and the miraculous ability to speak in tongues from Acts 2:1-4, was recognized by Peter as the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit, and the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. Then in Acts 2:38-39, Peter promised that the gift of the Holy Spirit himself would be given to all those who would repent and be baptized for remission of sins.

What then would Peter’s audience have expected to happen for those who were baptized? It seems they would expect to receive the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 2, what does it look like when a person receives the Holy Spirit? Up to this point, it has looked like the things they were seeing and hearing on Pentecost (cf. 2:33), namely the mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in tongue.

What then would Peter’s audience have expected to happen for those who were baptized? It seems that they would expect to receive the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles did.

That expectation makes what happens next even more interesting and noteworthy. Notice carefully what the result is (and what it is not) when those who received Peter’s words were baptized.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:41-47

Did you catch that? About three thousand people received his word and were baptized, but there is not one word about a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire, or speaking in tongues. In fact, Luke specifically mentions that they were in awe at the “sign and wonders being done through the apostles.” That makes it clear that signs and wonders were not being performed by everyone. Instead of describing a recurrence of the events of Acts 2:1-4, Luke gives us a picture of unity, fellowship, self-sacrificial giving, with glad and generous hearts.

What should we make of this? There are only two possible explanations.

  1. Peter was wrong. Despite Peter’s promise, those who were baptized failed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Peter was right. The gift of the Holy Spirit was given in baptism, but the three thousand who were baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles did, nor did they experience the same kind of results as the apostles did.

Again, since the gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to all who would repent and be baptized (2:38-39), and since “signs and wonders” were only being done by the apostles after the three thousand were baptized (2:43), this means that the three thousand who were baptized did not receive the ability to work signs and wonders as the apostles had when they received the Holy Spirit.

So which is it? If Peter was wrong, and the gift of the Holy Spirit was not given to the three thousand in baptism, what would we expect to read next? We would probably read a description of disappointment, as their expectations to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit were not realized.

But what we see next is anything but disappointment. Instead we see gladness and joy. We see God’s people, who were once scattered (2:9-11), enjoy unity and fellowship with one another. We see where Christians self-sacrificially gave up their possessions for one another. We see that no one was left in need.

Luke makes it clear that something incredible happened when the three thousand were baptized. Something had changed. What is it that Luke trying to communicate to his readers?

Prophecy Fulfilled

Here it may be helpful to revisit the prophesies referred to in Peter’s sermon. If we go back and read Joel’s prophesy about the Spirit in context, we can see that the coming age, the age that would be characterized by the Spirit’s presence, would be an age when God’s people would have their needs satisfied.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:26

When Jesus was raised from the dead (which was understood to be an act of the Holy Spirit, see Part 8), the result would be joy and gladness.

I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.

Acts 2:25-28 (cf. Ps. 16:8-11)

Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar to what Luke describes at the end of Acts 2? When Luke describes the unity of God’s people, with no one lacking what they need, who experience joy and gladness, he is describing the new age; the age that the prophets had said would be brought by the Spirit.

It seems that Luke is showing his readers that, yes, the early Christians did in fact receive the promised Holy Spirit in baptism, albeit not in the same manner, nor with the same miraculous results experienced by the apostles in Acts 2:1-4. As we continue to carefully read the book of Acts, it will be seen that Luke continually describes the miraculous reception of the Holy Spirit as something separate from the way the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit in non-miraculous ways.

A Parallel Passage to Acts 2

After Acts 2:38, the Spirit is not mentioned again until Acts 4:8. To set the context, In Acts 3:1-10, Peter miraculously healed a lame beggar. Peter then stood at the temple and preached a sermon about the risen Jesus (3:11-28) which resulted in the arrest of Peter and John. The following day, Peter and John were called before the Jewish authorities. It is here that we read:

And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders…

Acts 4:7-8

You may notice that Luke mentioned the Holy Spirit filling Peter as Peter was opening his mouth to give a defense. The idea of the Holy Spirit giving someone words to speak shouldn’t surprise us. This has always been an activity of the Spirit (see Parts 3 and 4). This is the same things that happened on Pentecost in Acts 2 (See Part 10). This also reminds us of what Jesus had told his disciples previously about the Spirit giving them words to speak.

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you should say.

Luke 12:11-12

After Peter and John gave their defense we read:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:13

How did they know that Peter and John had been with Jesus? It wasn’t Peter’s miracle itself (although they certainly recognized this as an undeniable sign). It was the boldness of their speech.

The following day, after Peter and John had been released, we read:

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

Once again, we see that being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is connected with the disciple’s boldness as they continued to speak the word of God. Here once again, Luke shows us the result of the Holy Spirit filling the disciples.

Now the number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts 4:32-35

Did you notice the parallels to Acts 2:42-47? After the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with boldness, the result was unity, fellowship, and self-sacrificial giving. Once again, Luke specifically mentions that the apostles continued to with great power (4:33), but they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (4:31), and they were all living like a transformed community of people.

Once again, just as in Acts 2, Luke describes work of the Holy Spirit, not only in miraculous signs and wonders done by the apostles, but also in the transformation, boldness, and generosity of all those who follow the way of Christ.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

This is part 10 on an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. For previous parts of this study, click here.

The Promise of the Father

Luke introduces the book of Acts by reminding how Jesus had given commands to his apostles “through the Holy Spirit” (1:2), and by recalling what Jesus had said to his apostles prior to his ascension.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:4-8

Observe:

  • Luke connects the “promise of the Father” (Lk. 24:49) with the statement about how Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 3:16, See Part 9)
  • When asked about the restoration of the kingdom, Jesus answered by telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them and empower them as his witnesses. The connection between the question about the kingdom, and Jesus’s response about the Spirit makes sense when we recall that the prophets had frequently spoken of the new kingdom as the work of the Spirit (see Part 5).
  • Jesus promised that the apostles would somehow be empowered when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Again, the idea the Holy Spirit giving someone special “power” or “strength” makes sense when we recall those times in the Old Testament when the Spirit did the same sort of thing (cf. Judges 14:5;14:19; 15:14. See Part 3).

With the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” and the “promise of the Father” in the front his mind, Luke then tells his reader about the events of Pentecost.

The Spirit on Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4

Observe:

  • The close connection between the mighty rushing “wind” and the “Spirit.” Recall that the words “wind” and “Spirit” are the same (see Part 1). This passage could be translated that the apostles heard a sound of a mighty rushing “Breath” or “Spirit”, they were filled with the Holy “Breath”, and began to speak in tongues as the “Breath” gave them utterance.
  • It was the “Spirit”/”Wind”/”Breath” that gave them their words. This makes sense when we recall how God filled various people in the Old Testament, giving them the ability to speak words from God (Part 3). The apostles, filled with the Spirit, were speaking words that originated with God’s Spirit.
  • Given the context of Acts 1, we can observe that Luke sees this event as closely connected to the baptism with the Spirit and the promise of the Father.

Next, notice how Peter explains these events by referring to the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 (Part 5).

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:14-18

Just like the other prophets, Joel had spoken of a future day when the world would change. This day would be brought about by God’s Spirit, which would be poured out on “all flesh”. This prophecy included men and women of all ages who would be given the ability to prophesy. According to Peter, this was being fulfilled in the events of Pentecost.

This raises a question. Up to this point, the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Jesus’ apostles. But Joel prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh”. When would the Spirit be given to everyone else?

Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit

This brings us to Peter’s words at the conclusion of the Pentecost sermon:

And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 2:38-39

Peter says that those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins will receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit”, as had been promised to them. Grammatically speaking, the gift of the Holy Spirit could be understood in one of two ways. We could read the phrase as referring to a gift which is given by the Holy Spirit (as in, this new shirt is ‘the gift of my wife.”) Or the phrase could be understood as referring to the Holy Spirit himself as the gift which is given (as in, my wife gave me “the gift of my new shirt”).

The key to understanding this phrase is to pay attention to the immediate context, where Jesus referred to the Spirit as “the promise of the Father” (1:4-5) and where Peter had just spoken of the outpouring of the Spirit as “the promise of the Holy Spirit” (2:33). Having just mentioned “the gift of the Holy Spirit”, Peter immediately adds “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” What promise was Peter referring to in verse 39? The context would suggest the same promise already mentioned and just offered as a gift. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the promised Holy Spirit who had just been poured out, and is now available to all those who repent and are baptized.

Looking ahead in the book of Acts, we will see that the Holy Spirit himself is given to all those who obey him (5:32).  The phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” appears again in Acts 10:44-47, where it clearly refers to the Holy Spirit himself as the gift.

From Acts 2:38-39 we can thus observe

  • The Holy Spirit himself is promised as a gift to all those who repent and are baptized.
  • This serves to fulfill Joel’s promise that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, because through baptism, the Holy Spirit is now available to everyone.
  • The gift of the Holy Spirit is connected with the command to be baptized. This, of course, fits perfectly with what John the Baptist had spoken about Jesus, that he would “baptize” with the Holy Spirit.

Reading the book of Acts closely to this point answers some important questions, but it raises others. If the Holy Spirit was poured out in a miraculous way upon the apostles, and if the Holy Spirit is promised to those who would repent and be baptized, in what sense would the Holy Spirit be given to those who were baptized? Would they also be given the ability to speak in tongues? This question will be the subject of the next part of this study.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

This is part 9 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. For previous parts of this study, click here.

In part 5 of this study we observed where God promised, through the prophets, to give his people new hearts by sending his Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27) and to pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:32-38).

In a similar manner, John the Baptist spoke of a coming one who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:7-8 (see also Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16)

John was baptizing with water, but the coming one, identified as Jesus (Jn. 1:33), would baptize with the Holy Spirit. We know that this is somehow tied to the events of Pentecost (Acts 2) because of what Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now“… “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and 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

As we observed in parts 6 and 7, Jesus had spoken of a day when the Spirit would be given to those who ask the Heavenly Father (Lk. 11:13), and he identified himself as the source of the Spirit, who would be poured out on the thirsty (Jn. 7:37-39).

What is this baptism with the Holy Spirit that was referred to by the prophets, and spoken of by both Jesus and John?

Not “Baptism Of The Holy Spirit”

It may be interesting to notice that the Bible never actually speaks of a “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In fact, Paul says that the “unity of the Spirit” only involves “one baptism” (Eph. 4:3-6). This can only refer to the baptism that was commanded by Christ (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:5) and his disciples (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and was referred to by Paul as the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

When it comes to “baptism” involving the Spirit, we only find the following phrases:

  • “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16)
  • “This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1:33)
  • “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; 11:16)
  • “Be baptized… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)
  • “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)

There are also phrases that refer to Jesus “pouring out” the Spirit (Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45, Titus 3:5-6), and this also seems to be closely connected with Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit, but the phrase “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” never occurs in the Bible. Perhaps this is a difference without a distinction. But since many today refer to a “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, it should be noted that the phrase is never actually used in Scripture.

Popular Views of the Baptism

There are many who believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an event that is described as occurring only a few times in the book of Acts. As noted above, Jesus’ “baptism” is most certainly tied to the events of Acts 2. Many will identify this baptism in the events of Acts 2:1-4, where the Holy Spirit filled Jesus’ disciples who were together in Jerusalem, and gave them the ability to speak in tongues. They will also point to Acts 10:44-48, when in an occurrence similar to that of Acts 2 (see 11:15), the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were with him, giving them the ability to speak in tongues.

There are many variations of this view. Some will also include the events of Saul’s conversion (9:17-18), when the Samaritans received the Spirit by the laying on of hands (8:14-17), and/or when the Ephesians received the Spirit by the laying on of hands (19:6). Some will argue this “baptism” was a unique event that only occurred a few times in the first century. Some will argue that this is a baptism that all Christians should seek, even today. Some will say that this miraculous “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is the moment of conversion. Others will argue that this “baptism of the Holy Spirit” served an important purpose, but should be thought of as separate from the actual moment of conversion, which happens when a person is baptized in water.

What these various views hold in common is the belief that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is to be equated with miraculous signs described in those passages cited above. It is easy to see how many arrive at this view, as the book of Acts makes a strong and indisputable connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the unique ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders.

An Event That Occurs at Every Conversion

What is sometimes overlooked is the way that Luke, in the book of Acts, speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit for all who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38-39), as available for all those who obey (Acts 5:32), and also speaks of the Holy Spirit’s presence among those who apparently lacked the ability to perform miracles (Acts 6:3). Paul also frequently speaks of the Holy Spirit being something that all Christians are baptized with and all Christians drink from.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13

Paul also spoke of the Spirit’s role in the “washing of regeneration” for all Christians.

He saved us, not because of works done by use in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:5-6

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 6:11

Paul appears to be referring to the one baptism spoken of by Jesus, which was necessary to enter the kingdom of God, and which involved two elements: water and Spirit.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5

For this reason, Paul can also of the Spirit dwelling in all Christians (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 8:8-13), even though he recognized that the ability to perform miraculous gifts was not common to everyone (1 Cor. 12:4-11; Rom. 12:6-8).

The Importance of Reading Both Luke and Paul Carefully

The role of the Holy Spirit in Christians today has been the source of much confusion, disagreement, and sometimes division among Christians. I believe on of the primary reasons for this is because it is easy to read the book of Acts, and get the impression that the Holy Spirit is primarily connected with miraculous gifts, but it is easy to read the letters of Paul and be left with the impression that the Holy Spirit is common to all Christians and not necessarily miraculous. We must avoid the temptation to emphasize only those verses which fit our preconceived notions about the Spirit.

The key to rightly understanding the role of the Spirit is, I believe, to accept that both Luke and Paul were inspired authors of Scripture, and both shared at the same understanding of the Spirit. For this reason, Luke and Paul should not be pitted against one another. At the same time, we can also recognize that Luke and Paul were different individuals who wrote for different purposes, and thus emphasized different aspects of the work of the Spirit. It would be a mistake to assume that every time Paul refers to the work of the Holy Spirit that he was contemplating the same aspect of the work of the Spirit as described by Luke, and vice versa. The inspiration of both authors does not eliminate their individual personalities, writing styles, unique purposes, or unique points of emphasis.

So what was Luke’s point in emphasizing the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in the book of Acts? Did Luke view Jesus’ “baptism with the Spirit” as something limited to those special, miraculous occurrences, or did Luke, like Paul, view the baptism with the Holy Spirit as something which is available for all Christians? These questions will be the subject of the next two parts of this study.

The Holy Spirit Raised Jesus From the Dead

This is part 8 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. For previous parts, click here.

During the time of Israel’s rebellion, the prophets looked forward to a future age, when the Messianic king would set all things right, sins would be forgiven, and the exile would be over. This would be accomplished by God’s Spirit (see Part 5).

In all four accounts of the gospel, the Holy Spirit is emphasized as playing a major role in the life of Jesus (see Parts 6 and 7). Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18), declared to the be the Son of God when the Spirit descended on him like a dove (Lk. 3:21-22), was led by the Spirit (Lk. 4:1; 14-15), attributed his ministry to the Spirit (Lk. 4:17-21), and spoke God’s words by the Spirit (Jn. 3:34). The gospel accounts thus portray all of Jesus’ life, leading up to and culminating in his death on the cross, as the work of the Spirit.

It should be no surprise when we see that the Holy Spirit is said to be the one who raised Jesus from the dead.

God Raised Jesus from the Dead

After Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples quite naturally attributed this to the work of God.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Acts 2:24

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.

Acts 2:32

God raised him on the third day and made him appear.

Acts 10:10

But God raised him from the dead.

Acts 13:30

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into dead, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:4

Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.

Galatians 1:1

God is the one who created life. The only way a dead body can be resurrected to life is by the creative act of God. Without God, there is no life, and there is no resurrection from the dead.

God Raised Jesus From the Dead By the Holy Spirit

As noted in part 2 of this study, God created life by his Spirit. In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, it was God’s Spirit that resurrected the dead bones into living bodies. Since resurrection was an act of the Spirit, we can see how the disciples concluded that Jesus was raided from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.

1 Peter 1:18

He was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 1:4

Jesus was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit and Our Resurrection

Not only is the Holy Spirit the one who raised Jesus from the dead, but our resurrection will also be the act of the Holy Spirit.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

In order for us to be raised from the dead like Jesus was, we must have the Spirit dwelling in us like Jesus did. Without the Spirit in us to give us life, there is no hope for the resurrection. This raises the question of how Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and what does it mean for us to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. These are the questions we will consider in the upcoming parts of this study.

The Holy Spirit in John

This is Part 7 of an ongoing study of the Holy Spirit. Click here for the previous parts of this study

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John’s account of the gospel gives special emphasis to Jesus’s teachings regarding the Spirit.

Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one of born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:5-8

In John’s introduction, he spoke of the necessity of a “new birth” taking place in order to become children of God (1:12-13). This new birth is the theme of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, in which he tells him that he must be born of both the “water and Spirit” in order to see God’s kingdom. Just as the prophets had foretold, God’s Kingdom was coming by the work of Spirit, blowing like a wind in whatever direction God desires for it to blow (remember that the Greek word for “Spirit” and “wind” were the same). Just as no human organization can control the wind, or dictate the direction it should blow, so it is with how God was bringing his kingdom by the Spirit. You can’t see God’s Spirit, control God’s Spirit, or dictate to God’s Spirit the direction you want him to blow, let alone try to get into his kingdom on your own terms.

Words of the Spirit

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

John 3:34

As John contrasts Jesus who “comes from above” with those who are “of the earth” (3:31), special attention is drawn to Jesus’s words. Jesus speaks words from God. He does this because God “gives the Spirit without measure.” This is right in line with how we see God’s Spirit connected with speaking words from God in the Old Testament.

Living Water

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John 7:37-39

By referring to himself as the source of living, or flowing water, Jesus was identifying himself as the source through whom God’s Spirit would be poured out on the thirsty (see Isaiah 44:3-5). Through Jesus anyone who was faithful to him would be able to receive the Spirit. John notes, however, that this had not happened yet, and it would not happen until after Jesus was “glorified”, a phrase which John uses to refer to the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. 3:14; 12:23; 17:1).

The Helper

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him not knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you… These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:16-17; 25-26

Just before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that he would be going away (14:2). But he promised them that they would not be left alone like orphans (14:18), because he would send the “Spirit of truth” as a “Helper” (sometimes translated as “Comforter” or “Advocate”) to dwell with them and be with them. Even though the world would not be able to see him, they would be able to see him (14:19). In this way, Jesus would be “1in them” (14:20). Jesus would show himself and make his home with those who would love him and keep his commandments (14:21-23). This would be accomplished by sending the “Helper”, the “Holy Spirit” who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all the things that he had said to them (14:26).

Observe that the Helper is described as the “Spirit of truth.” Through the Spirit, Jesus will be made manifest to those who love him and keep his commandments (14:21). Jesus says that the Spirit will “teach” and “bring to remembrance” all the things that Jesus had said to them. This concept of a spirit being connected to truthful ideas, commands, teachings, and memories makes sense. That’s what a spirit does. When people teach things, they do so with their breath. When people know things, or remember things, they do so with their mind, or with their “spirit”.

But Jesus’s disciples wouldn’t just have any ordinary human spirit, as a source of ordinary human teachings or memories. They would somehow be helped by THE Spirit. They would be taught teachings which originated with Jesus, as opposed to those created in their own mind. Just as in the Old Testament, when people were said to be filled with God’s Spirit as a way of saying that their actions and their words could be attributed to God working and speaking through them (Part 3), so the apostles would be given the Spirit, showing that their teachings had their origin with Jesus himself.

In this way Jesus would be present with his disciples after his departure. He was going to be with them in that the Spirit would continue to be with them.

When the World Hates You

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

John 15:26-27

Jesus warned his disciples that they would be hated and persecuted by the world (15:16-21). They should not be taken by surprise when this happens, for they hated Jesus without cause as well (15:22-25). But fortunately, according to Jesus, they would not be left alone. He reminds them that the “Helper”, the “Spirit of truth” would be sent from the Father. When he comes, he will (along with the apostles) bear witness about Jesus.

Once again we see that the Spirit will have something to say to the world about Jesus. The idea of a “spirit” having something to “say” makes sense given the Hebrew understanding of “spirit” (Part 1).

Guide Into All Truth

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judges.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will come to declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:7-15

Jesus consoles his disciples by telling them that it is to their advantage that he goes away. That’s because his death, resurrection, and departure are necessary events that must happen before sending the Helper, the Spirit of truth. Part of the job of the Spirit will be to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, to guide the apostles into all truth, and to glorify Jesus, taking what is his and declaring it to the apostles.

Once again we can observe that the Spirit’s work, as in the rest of scripture up to this point, is that of expressing or teaching God’s words. But here the message which the Spirit will speak is namely the teachings of Jesus himself (which of course came from the Father to start with).

In other words, the past work and teachings of Jesus will be continued after his departure through the work and teachings of Spirit.

Jesus, the Spirit, and the Disciples

John’s emphasis on Jesus’s teachings about the Spirit culminates in his interaction with his disciples in the upper room after the resurrection.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

John 20:21-23

Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples by breathing on them. By doing this, he made them his agents through which sins would be forgiven. By giving them the Holy Spirit, he commissioned them to act on his own behalf. What Jesus had done previously on earth would now be accomplished through His Spirit, who was now embodied in his apostles.

Up to this point, Jesus’s teachings about the Spirit had always been forward looking. But now that Jesus had been glorified through his death and resurrection, the anticipated time had come.

Observe that the point of Jesus “breathing” on his disciples and giving them the Spirit was not to give them some moving or emotional experience. Surely following Jesus can and should be deeply moving and emotional, but that’s not what Jesus giving the Holy Spirit was all about. Nor is the point that Jesus’ disciples were now free to follow whatever kind of intuition they might feel tugging at their hearts. Part of the point of giving the Spirit is that they would be led and taught by Jesus Himself through the Spirit, not by their own spirit, their own feelings, or their own emotions. The apostles, now having received the Holy Spirit, would be acting on Jesus’ own behalf, teaching things that originated with Jesus Himself.

Christianity and Economics, Part 3: Honest Money

Just Weights and Measures

You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin.

Leviticus 19:35-36

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good.

Proverbs 20:23

It is not necessary to explain what unit of measurement the “ephah” or “hin” were. The point is clear: once defined, they could not be changed by individuals in the marketplace. Moses instructed the Israelites not to tamper with this constant measurement so as to defraud another person.

In Old Testament times, when an individual went to buy something, he would bring with him something valuable. At times they would have used barter (maybe trading a sack of wheat for a sheep). At other times they may have brought silver or gold as money. Either way, the use of scales and measurements were important. Their money didn’t have dollar amounts printed on it. They had to weigh out the appropriate amount.

It would have been easy for a dishonest businessman to steal from his neighbor by rigging the scales. For instance, say a man was trading one pound of wheat for a sheep. If he could make his side of the scale heavier, he might put 4/5th of a pound of wheat on the scale, and yet the scale would say that he had enough to buy the sheep. At the end of this fraudulent transaction, the thief would have the sheep plus 1/5th of a pound of wheat which rightfully belonged to his neighbor. But the law of God made it clear that tampering with the scales was wrong.

When people would bring silver or gold to the market, it became even easier for sellers to use dishonest scales. The metal money would normally be measured in weight. The dishonest man could defraud his neighbor by mixing in a less valuable metal with his gold or silver. As long as the impurity of the metal was not noticed, he could then trick his neighbor into thinking he was getting real money, when he was actually getting a watered-down version of the real thing. Meanwhile, it would appear as if the dishonest man had more money left over to buy more stuff. By diluting the silver or gold, a dishonest man could defraud anyone in the marketplace, even if the actual scales were accurate. Diluting the value of money was another form of dishonest measurement, which Isaiah specifically cites as one of the sins of unfaithful Israel when he says “Your silver has become dross” (Is. 1:22).

Why Counterfeiting is Sin

Suppose an individual in Old Testament times figured out a way to duplicate coins for himself. Perhaps he figures out a way to make coins out of cheap metal, and then coat the coin in gold so that it looks and feels like the real thing. Today we call this practice counterfeiting. In addition to breaking God’s instructions for just weights and measures, this individual is stealing. But who is the victim of the kind of theft known as counterfeiting?

The counterfeiter steals money by increasing the money supply when he spends this money in the marketplace. With each fraudulent coin he spends, he slowly dilutes the value of everyone else’s gold coins. With more money being circulated in the marketplace, goods and services cost more. Economist refer to this process as “inflation.” Counterfeiting is destructive because it slowly steals from everyone except for the counterfeiter. The counterfeiter benefits by getting to spend new money he didn’t work for, while everyone else is force to pay higher prices with the same amount of gold coins they had in the first place. For others, the cost of living simply rises and no one can provide an explanation. They are totally unaware of the counterfeiter. Counterfeiting is therefore an invisible form of theft, but it is most certainly theft and therefore breaks God’s law.

This is an important point. Counterfeiting money is not simply wrong because it breaks the laws of a country. Counterfeiting is wrong because counterfeiting breaks God’s law, regardless of the laws of a country. When sin is legalized, it is still a sin. Legal abortion is still sin. Legally recognized homosexual marriage is still sinful. If counterfeiting were legal, it would still be theft.

Thankfully, private counterfeiting has never been much of a problem in society. If anyone is caught printing new money on a private printer, the consequences are very severe. Even when private counterfeiting successfully occurs, it happens on such a small scale that the impact of the counterfeiter on the cost of living is immeasurably small.

However, when creating new money is legal, and even sanctioned by the government, this is still counterfeiting, it is still wrong, and it is detrimental to an economy.

Modern Money

In one sense, modern money has become invisible. It moves electronically from one computer to another, and does not even have a physical form. A vast majority of money used today is simply numbers in a computer on someone’s account balance. But at some point this electronic money is converted back into paper cash and coins.

If you examine a dollar bill from your wallet, you will find the words “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.” In other words, this dollar bill is legal money. Yes, we can pay for things using checks or credit cards or Venmo, but ultimately, these can be turned back into paper dollars.

You will also find the words “Federal Reserve Note.” In other words, these paper dollars are created and distributed by the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States. The green piece of paper is very obviously money because it has official and authoritative images in the right places. These images indicate the full faith and strength of the United States Government.

Prior to 1957, dollar bills looked very similar to how they look today, but with a few slight differences (click here for an image). Dollars at this time contained the words “Silver Certificate.” The also included the following words: “This certifies that there is on deposit in the treasury of the United States of America… One Dollar in silver payable to the bearer on demand.”

That tiny difference is significant. To be perfectly clear, there is nothing backing modern currency. At one point in time, a United States dollar could be traded for a silver dollar on demand. But this convertibility was gradually removed. Evidence of this can be seen in coins. If you are lucky enough to find a quarter from before the year 1964, you will notice that it is made of 90% pure silver. Now days quarters are made of much cheaper metal.

Although you might find this interesting, you might also be wondering “what’s the big deal? People still accept the dollar. Just as long as people are honest, how is paper money wrong?” To be clear, there is nothing immoral with paper money, just as long as the measurement of value is held constant and just. The problem with unbacked paper money is that it can be created at almost no cost. When paper money is not backed by something of value, this enables individuals (governments, big banks, and their buddies) to enter the marketplace with newly created, counterfeit money, which is in direct opposition to what the Bible teaches about just weights and measures.

What Is the Right Quantity of Money?

Without a fixed measure of value (such as gold or silver) backing the dollar, there is no longer any limit on how much new money can be created. In 1971, Richard Nixon officially removed the dollar from the gold standard, and ever since then the supply of money created by the Federal Reserve has dramatically increased (especially in the year 2020). This new money has been literally created out of thin air. It is dishonest money that contradicts God’s prescription for honesty in trade. If this was done by a shady guy in a basement with a fancy printer, he would be thrown in jail for a very long time.

Someone might object that allowing the Federal Reserve to create money isn’t the same thing as a private individual printing up 100’s in his basement. Not only do they have the proper legal authority, but there are times of economic crisis (such as in the year 2020) when there just isn’t enough money to go around. During such times, wouldn’t there be an economic benefit to having a more elastic money supply? Can we really say that the Biblical standards for “honest money” apply in such a situation?

In other words, if new money is created legally, with only the very best intentions of creating wealth and preventing poverty, is it still wrong?

To answer this objection, imagine you had the ability to create a new can of peas out nothing (or turkeys, or watermelons, or cattle). Would this help the poor? Of course it would! The increased supply of goods per person would mean everyone can consume more, and the standard of living would go up for everyone. But creating new money provides no benefit for society at all (except for the dishonest counterfeiter).

Why not? Because money itself cannot be eaten or consumed. Money is used only as a medium of exchange. Once we have enough money for the use of exchange, no more money is needed. So while increasing the number of cattle or cars or cell phones or houses would be beneficial, increasing the supply of money only dilutes its value because there is more of it floating around.

To put it simply, if the number of cars suddenly doubled, twice as many people could own cars. But if the supply of money were doubled, the only result would be that we would have the same number of goods and services for double the price (at least on average). Now if everyone saw their bank accounts double, they might feel richer, at least in the short term, and go buy houses, vacations, or new cars. But once prices went up to compensate for the increased demand, reality would set in, and people would realize that they are not better off at all. In fact, they might be worse off because they were encouraged to buy things that they really couldn’t afford.

Counterfeiting money does more than just drive-up prices. It causes people to make foolish decisions with their money (“malinvestment” is the economic term). Dishonest money has no societal benefit at all.

The Real Problem With Christian Nationalism

Bad arguments for correct positions often do more harm than good arguments for incorrect positions. This certainly seems to be the case with many of the popular criticisms against Christian nationalism. It’s not uncommon to read that Christian nationalism is wrong because “it suppresses minorities” or because “it is racist” or because it motivates political violence or “insurrection.

The problem with focusing only on the most unreasonable extremes is that it leaves the door open for Christians to adopt a more reasonable and balanced version of Christian nationalism. Many Christian nationalists simply believe that their government should look out for the best interest of its citizens, and the best way to do that is by encouraging their government to uphold godly values. They don’t try to suppress minorities, enforce Christianity by the force of law, and would never “storm the capital”. Since many of the popular attacks don’t accurately depict the most common forms of Christian nationalism, it’s no wonder why many find those attacks unconvincing.

Christian nationalism is wrong, but not for the reasons many popular arguments would have you believe. The real problem with Christian nationalism is that it misses the fundamental distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world.

Before accepting Christian nationalism in any form whatsoever, I encourage you to carefully consider the following passages.

1 Samuel 8:1-22

Although God originally formed his people as the unique nation of Israel, they were different from other nations in that they had no king other than God himself. Eventually, the Israelites grew tired of being different and so they asked for a king “like the nations” (8:5). Why did Israel want a king? Because they wanted someone to fight their battles for them (8:20).

The problem with Israel’s nationalism was that of trust. Israel wanted a human ruler because they no longer trusted in God to continue to fight their battles. That’s why God viewed Israel’s request as a rejection of his own kingship (8:7). Ultimately, God gave them their request. Over the next several centuries, Israel’s nationalism led to continual political conflicts, failed alliances, and ultimately to exile.

This passage reveals something very important about how God views the nationalistic desire for governing authorities to fight our battles. While this passage makes it clear that God is the head of all rule and authority (cf. Col. 2:10), and he institutes them for his purposes (cf. Rom. 13:1), he does so only as a concession to humans who cannot trust in him to fight their battles for them. Since humans insist on having governments, God uses them as ministers to accomplish his purposes (Rom. 13:1-5). But this does not mean that God approves of them. Often times God used wicked nations (such as Assyria or Babylon) as his ministers to punish Israel, only to turn around and punish them for their evil (e.g. Is. 10:5-15). Governments are under the influence of Satan (Lk. 4:5-7), but nevertheless, when people turn to earthly rulers, God permits them to have their way and uses those governments to accomplish his purposes.

Jesus, on the other hand, rejected the devil’s offer to take control of the kingdoms of the world (Mt. 4:8-10), refused to use his power to secure political power, and ran away from those who tried to make him a king (Jn. 6:15). Jesus came to destroy Israel’s nationalism by breaking down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph. 2:11-18).

Psalm 33:16-17

The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Even after God allowed Israel to have a king, he still opposed their nationalism. He stressed that the security and success of his people was not to be found in the king, but in God himself.

When David wrote “Blessed in the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12), he did so in the context of opposing Israel’s nationalism (which ironically is nearly the opposite of how many Christian nationalist will use the verse today.) David was saying that people are blessed when they trust in God to be their Lord as opposed to turning to earthly rulers (33:10-11).

Isaiah 40:15-17

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust…
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Although this passage doesn’t necessarily forbid Christian nationalism, it should greatly reduce the temptation by reminding us of the greatness of the Lord’s sovereignty in comparison to the meaningless nations. When people believe that the nations hold supreme influence on the course of the world, it is understandable why they would place a good deal of importance on influencing those nations for good. But for those whose eyes are fixed on the Lord there is continual peace, for they know that regardless of what unfolds in politics, whether good or bad, the Lord will use the authorities as his ministers to accomplish his good purposes (Rom. 13:1-5).

Matthew 20:25-28

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The quest for ruling power characterizes the world, but it must not characterize Jesus’ disciples. Christian nationalism, even in its very best and most reasonable form, is ultimately about influencing earthly powers to govern and rule in a particular way. Christians should have no part in wielding this kind of power.

John 18:36-37

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

When Jesus announced “My kingdom is not of this world,” Pilate then interpreted his words like many do today, as if Jesus was only speaking figuratively. He asked “So are you a king?” But Jesus, with no hint of confusion, weakness, or compromise responded, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born.”

Apparently, the idea of being a king and establishing a real kingdom was a big deal to Jesus. What’s more, this kingdom is primarily distinguished from the kingdom of the world in that its citizens do not fight in the same way citizens of earthly kingdoms fight.

Strangers and Foreigners

Most Christians believe in a two-kingdom concept in some form or another. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 22:15-22. The Pharisees in this passage tried to trap Jesus by asking him about the matter of paying taxes to Caesar. It is here that Jesus replied, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Most any Christian will acknowledge that there is a distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, although they will sometimes disagree where that line of distinction is drawn. But the early Christians drew that line with a decisive stroke.

Peter spoke to Christians as if they did not belong to the earthly kingdoms in which they lived.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourself with fear through the time of your exile.

1 Peter 1:17

Peter would later refer to them as “sojourners and exiles” (2:11).

The book of Hebrews likewise encouraged Christians to follow the examples of those who by faith “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13). Paul held to the same ideas as can be seen in the following passage.

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian disputes, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

Paul told Timothy that a Christian should view themselves as a loyal soldier in the Lord’s army, not distracted by concerns outside of his domain. He reminded Timothy that a soldier does not have the time, nor the right, to involve himself in the affairs of the country in which he finds himself. Why? Because his relationship to that county is that of a foreigner. Christian nationalism is no more appropriate for a Christian than German nationalism would be for an American soldier stationed in Germany.

Nationalism, in it’s most basic and defendable form, suggest that nationalism is reasonable because citizens are right to concern themselves with the affairs of their own country before concerning themselves with globalist affairs of foreign nations. Yet it is this very logic which renders Christian nationalism unreasonable since Christians are citizens of a different kingdom.

Christian Nationalism is Backsliding

Other scriptures could certainly be added to this list, but the point should be clear. Christianity isn’t merely non-nationalistic. It is anti-nationalistic. The early Christians didn’t merely fail to transform Rome into a Christian nation, they viewed themselves as strangers and exiles living in a foreign country. The Bible doesn’t merely fail to support Christian nationalism, it warns Christians against it.

Come out of her [Babylon] my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues.

Revelation 19:4

Advancing God’s kingdom today requires that we remain distinct from the world (Jn. 15:19). Christian nationalism, in any form whatsoever, is backsliding because it blurs the line of distinction between the church and the world, between foreigners and citizens, and between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. To seek to build up nations reverses what Jesus accomplished when he established a kingdom that would rule over all nations, and one day will ultimately triumph over all earthly rule and authority (1 Cor. 15.24).

Just as Old Testament Israel rebelled against God when they demanded a king, Christians express a lack of trust in God when they embrace Christian nationalism. Christians are citizens of a different kingdom (Phil. 3:20). It’s time we live like it.

The Holy Spirit (Part 6): The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus

Read earlier parts of this study here.

In the New Testament, the Spirit plays a big role in the life of Jesus, in his resurrection, and in the lives of his people. This is true in all four gospel accounts, and especially in the book of Luke. What God’s Spirit does in the New Testament corresponds with the things the Holy Spirit is said to do in the Old Testament.

Jesus’s Birth Is Attributed to the Holy Spirit

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:18

Mary’s pregnancy was from the Holy Spirit. As surprising as the virgin birth is, it is not surprising to see God’s Spirit connected with the gift and creation of life in a place where there was previously no life. This is the same sort of thing that the Spirit is described as doing in the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 1-2).

Luke starts the story even earlier with the story of the birth of John the Baptist. First, Luke records how Elizabeth was told that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb.

He will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.

Luke 1:15

A few verses later, Luke records that John’s father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit when he prophesied about Jesus’s birth. Again, it is no surprise to see that the Holy Spirit is connected with speaking words from God, as this is the same thing the Spirit is described as doing in the Old Testament.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying…

Luke 1:67

Similarly, Simeon is described as having the Holy Spirit when he prophesied.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents of the child brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up on his arms and blessed God and said…

Luke 2:25-28

Again, just as in the Old Testament, we see the Holy Spirit described as revealing special knowledge to a prophet. Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit in that he was able to know things that came from God’s own mind.

All these events surrounding the birth of Jesus were attributed to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit’s Role in Jesus’s Baptism

In Luke 3, Luke describes how John was leading a repentance movement and baptizing people in the Jordan River. Some people began to question whether or not John might be the Christ. Luke records John’s answer (which will be examined in more detail in a future part of this study).

John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Luke 3:16-17

Luke then records that Jesus himself was baptized by John.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22

Observe:

  • Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan
  • The heavens were opened
  • The Holy Spirit descends in bodily form, like a dove
  • God’s voice is heard speaking

Having studied the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, we can see that this event seems to echo another time when God’s Spirit is said to hover (a word used to describe what birds do) over the waters in connection with God’s voice speaking words.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.

Genesis 1:2-3

From the account of Jesus’s baptism, we can also notice the close connection between God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. The Holy Spirit/Pnuma/Breath is described as descending on Jesus at the same moment that God speaks words. Again, given our understanding of the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit, it makes sense that we would see a close connection between God’s Holy Spirit and God’s Word’s. We can also note that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the person of Jesus, but is also very active in the life of Jesus.

The word “trinity” is never used by Luke (or any other New Testament author) to describe the close relationship between God and the Spirit and Jesus. (The word “trinity” wasn’t even invented until after the close of the New Testament when early Christians tried to describe God’s nature.) But there is certainly a very close relationship between God and the Spirit and Jesus, just as in the Old Testament there was a close relationship between God and the Spirit and the prophesied Messiah.

The Spirit in the Life of Jesus

Luke highlights the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus more than any other author.

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days.

Luke 4:1

Jesus’s day to day work was attributed to God’s Spirit.

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

Luke 4:14-15

If Jesus was in the power of the Spirit when he taught, who’s words was he speaking? God’s words! Jesus was giving voice to words from God’s own Holy Spirit. Jesus made this clear when he applied Isaiah 61:1-2 to himself.

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:17-21

In Luke 10, when Jesus saw what was happening, he gave credit to, and rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Luke 10:21

In Luke 11, Jesus described the Holy Spirit as a gift that could be given by God to his children.

If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13

In the Old Testament, when on special occasions, God’s Spirit is filled unique individual’s, the words and actions and wisdom of those individuals could then be attributed to God himself. When Luke and the other gospel writers attribute the life and ministry of Jesus to the Holy Spirit, it means that the things Jesus said and did can rightly be attributed to God himself. When we see Jesus’s ministry and teachings, we see the words and actions of God Himself.

The Holy Spirit (Part 5): Prophesies Concerning the Spirit

In previous parts of this study it was observed that the Hebrew word for “Spirit” includes the idea of “wind” or “breath”. Spirit refers to that which is invisible and inside a living person which makes them alive. All living persons have a spirit, and God himself has a Spirit. We have also observed the things God’s Spirit is described as doing in the Old Testament, including creation, sustaining life, and re-creation. Sometimes God’s Spirit is said to fill special individuals in a unique and personal way. This is a way of attributing the words and actions of those individuals to God who speaks and works through them. When people were filled with God’s Spirit, their words could rightly be attributed to God’s own mind.

Before turning to the New Testament, it will be important to note what the inspired prophets said concerning the Spirit. After years of rebellion, the prophets warned that Israel was facing exile as a consequence of their sins. But the prophets also preached hope. Something better was coming. A future ruler was coming who would set things right. A new age was coming, an age when sins would be forgiven and the exile would be over. What was old and broken in the world would be made new. The world would be set right.

The important thing to note is that all of this would be accomplished by God’s Spirit.

The Prophesies of Isaiah

Isaiah prophesies of a future king who will have the Spirit of the Lord resting upon him.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Isaiah 11:1-2

There would be a future king from the line of David (Jesse was David’s father). Four different times Isaiah says that he will have the Spirit of the Lord upon him, permeating him in all that he does. His wisdom and understanding will come from the Lord’s Spirit. His counsel and might will come from the Lord’s Spirit. His knowledge will and fear of the LORD will come from the Lord’s Spirit. Practically everything about this future king can be attributed to the Lord’s Spirit. His attributes, his thinking, and his mindset will all be God’s own attributes, thinking, and mindset. This includes his just judgments (11:3), his care for the poor (11:4a), his supremacy over his enemies (11:4b), and his righteousness and faithfulness (11:5). The result of his kingship will be a peace that is so perfect it can be compared to a wolf lying down with a lamb, or a child playing in a vipers’ den without fear (11:6-9). In that day, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).

Is Isaiah prophesying about the church? Is he talking about heaven? Or perhaps something else? At this point in the Bible, that isn’t yet clear. What we can clearly see is that Isaiah foresaw a very different and much better era coming in the future, and this future era was going to come about because of a Messiah who would be filled with God’s Spirit.

Another prophesy about the Spirit can be found in Isaiah 32.

For the palace is forsaken,
the populous city is deserted;
the hill and the watchtower
will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys,
a pasture of flocks;
until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.

Isaiah 32:13-18

Found in a section that has Messianic implications (cf. 32:1), Isaiah looked forward to a day when the world is going to be dramatically changed. This future age will be characterized by justice, righteousness, and peace, and will involve “pouring out” of the Spirit in a new way.

Another prophecy about the Spirit is recorded in Isaiah 44.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams of water on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, “I am the LORD’s,”
and another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, “The LORD’s,”
and name himself by the name of Israel.

Isaiah 44:3-5

Here Isaiah describes a “pouring out” of His Spirit upon Israel’s descendants. Note how the promise of the Spirit is connected with the figure of water given to satisfy thirst. Later on, Jesus will describe the Spirit using similar imagery (Jn. 7:37-39). The key thing to notice throughout all of Isaiah’s prophesies is that the world was going to change, and this change would be brought about by God’s Spirit.

The Prophesies of Ezekiel

If the world is going to change, it will be necessary that people are changed as well. According to the prophesies of Ezekiel, rebellious Israel would be transformed by God’s Spirit.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

Ezekiel recognized that Israel needed to be fixed from the inside. The only way this would occur would be for God to give them a new heart and a new Spirit, which will enable them to walk in God’s statutes and keep his rules. This is very similar to how David prayed about the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

In Ezekiel 37, following the vision of the valley of dry bones, Ezekiel once again speaks of God’s Spirit being put into his people. If Israel was as dead as dry bones, the only way they would be made alive again would be if God’s Ruakh/Spirit/Breath gave them new life.

I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.

Ezekiel 37:14

Another prophecy that relates to the promise of the Spirit is found in Ezekiel 39, which looks beyond the time of captivity to the restoration of Israel.

And I will not hide my face from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 39:29

Like Isaiah, Ezekiel foresaw a new age coming which would be brought about by God’s Spirit.

The Prophecy of Zechariah

And I will pout out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him as one weeps over a firstborn.

Zechariah 12:10

It is not entirely clear whether Zechariah refers to the future pouring out of the Holy Spirit, or if he speaks of a generic attitude of grace and pleas for mercy that will eventually characterize his people. What is clear is that Zechariah spoke of a future day when God would pour out a spirit, and the attitudes of God’s people would change. Note the connection between “spirit” and how we think. Again, this makes sense when we understand how the Hebrew word for “spirit” was used in the Old Testament (Part 1). When we turn our study to the New Testament, it will be important to remember this connection between “spirit” and “attitude” or “thinking.”

The Prophecy of Joel

And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophecy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon the blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.

Joel 2:28-32

Similar to the other prophets, Joel looked forward to a day when the world would be dramatically different. This future day would be brought about by God’s Spirit. One element of this prophecy of particular interest is that is speaks of God’s Spirit being poured out on “all flesh.” This includes sons and daughters, young and old, and male and female servants (including Gentiles???).

In part 3 of this study we observed that throughout the Old Testament, God’s Spirit was occasionally said to be with a few special individuals (such as judges, kings, and prophets) in a special and unique way.  Whenever people were said to have God’s Spirit, it meant that they had God’s mind, God’s thoughts, God’s wisdom, God’s words, or God’s strength. It means that their words or successes are attributed to God working through them as opposed to that person speaking or acting on their own wisdom. Here Joel speaks of a day when God’s Spirit will no longer be reserved for just a few special individuals, but will in some way be poured out on “all flesh.”

The Spirit in the Old Testament

This concludes the Old Testament portion of this study of the Holy Spirit. The specific meaning of these prophesies may not be entirely clear at this point. But what we can observe is that the Old Testament prophets anticipated that a new age was coming, and this coming age would be characterized by the work and influence of God’s Spirit being poured upon his people. The Spirit would be necessary to enable the people of God to keep his will.

This naturally raises questions. What exactly do these prophesies mean in the New Testament and for today? How exactly is God’s Spirit poured out on his people, and how does God’s Spirit work in the lives of Christians today? We will attempt to study these questions as we move into the New Testament portion of our study. The challenge will be to observe exactly what the New Testament says concerning the Spirit without reading any preconceived ideas into those passages.

In Summary:

  • Spirit, like wind or breath, is that invisible substance that makes things move and/or live
  • God’s Spirit is closely related to God’s mind, God’s thoughts, and God’s words
  • God’s Spirit is responsible for creating the world, and breathing life into all living beings
  • Sometimes God’s Spirit is said to come upon special individuals: Bezalel, Gideon, Samson, Saul, David, etc. When this happens, God speaks or acts through that person, so that their words and actions can be attributed to God rather than to the individuals speaking or acting on their own
  • When God’s Spirit fills a prophet, their words are God’s own words (See 2 Samuel 23:2; Micah 3:8)
  • Just as God’s Spirit created the world, so the prophets spoke of future renewal of all things. This new creation would be brought about by God’s Spirit
  • The Messianic King would be filled with God’s Spirit (Isaiah 11)
  • God’s new covenant people would be transformed by God’s Spirit. This transformation would be so complete that it is visualized as a resurrection of dry bones (Ezekiel 36-37)
  • God’s Spirit would one day be poured out on “all flesh” (Joel 2)