The Bible clearly teaches that we have one God. The Old Testament declares, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4) It also declares, "I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God." (Isaiah 45:5) The New Testament agrees, "There is no God but one." (1Corinthians 8:4 All quotations are from the NIV.)
And yet, the Bible also refers to God as three persons, such as in the Great Commission, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)
The clearest example of the threefold nature of God is when Jesus was baptized. "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'" (Matthew 3:16-17. Also Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:21-22) So, God the Father spoke from Heaven while God the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove onto God the Son, Jesus.
One way to help understand how one God can be three Persons is to think of an egg. It has three parts: shell, white and yolk, but it is one egg.
Christians historically refer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as the Trinity. But "Trinity" does not quite describe God correctly. Some people think "Trinity" means that we worship three gods. A better name is "Triune God" or "God the Three in One."
The Old Testament mostly teaches about God as One, but there are a few evidences of the Triune nature of God. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in Psalm 53:11 and Isaiah 63:10-11. The Spirit of God came upon many of the Judges as they led the nation of Israel: Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (6:34), Jephthah (11:29) and Samson (13:25, 14:6, 14:19, 15:14)
Also, the Son must have appeared to Abraham. We know this because God told Moses, "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Exodus
33:20) But the Old Testament also says, "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre." (Genesis 18:1a) God must have appeared to
Abraham as God the Son, because Abraham would have died if he had seen God the Father.
Jesus spoke about meeting with Abraham to Jews in Jerusalem. He said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.'
'You are not yet fifty years old,' they said to him, 'and you have seen Abraham!'
'Very truly I tell you,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am!' At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds." (John 8:56-59)
The people were ready to stone Jesus for blasphemy, because He claimed to be God. He referred to himself with the sacred name of God, "I AM WHO I AM," revealed by God to Moses at the burning bush. (Exodus 3:14) Jesus not only claimed that he existed before he was born as a baby in Bethlehem, but he also revealed that he is the eternal "I AM," just like God the Father.
John declared the eternal nature of Jesus, the Word, at the beginning of his gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:1-3)
Also, the night before he died, Jesus prayed to God the Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (John 17:4-5)
These Bible passages teach us that Jesus the Son existed long before he was born in Bethlehem. Jesus was not only present at the beginning of all creation, but he participated in the creation of all things.
Even while Jesus was a human, he still kept the nature of God. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30) He told his disciples, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9) The writer of Hebrews wrote, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (Hebrews 1:3) John wrote, "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." (John 1:18) Paul wrote, "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." (Colossians 1:15)
After Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, God the Father restored his former glory, and highly exalted him. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)
Now that Jesus is back in heaven, he has a different task: interceding with the Father for us. "For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people." (1Timothy 2:5-6) "Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Romans (8:34) Could we ask for a better intercessor and mediator than the one who gave his life for us?
Jesus' promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be given to them was fulfilled fifty days later on the Day of Pentecost. "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:1-4) The coming of the Holy Spirit drew a large crowd, and the disciples witnessed to them. Peter preached about Jesus. When many people realized that they had rejected Jesus, their Messiah and Savior, they asked Peter what they should do. Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, not a gift given by the Holy Spirit.
One of my Bible college professors spent a weekend teaching a church about the Holy Spirit. When he was finished, the pastor prayed, "Thank you God for the Holy Spirit. We need more of it." My professor was so disappointed that the pastor still thought of the Holy Spirit as a thing that we can have more or less of. The Holy Spirit is a person, like the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit has emotions. It can be grieved. "Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit." (Isaiah 63:10, also Ephesians 4:30)
The Holy Spirit also has a will. God said, "My Spirit will not contend with humans forever." (Genesis 6:3) So, the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force.
Paul even compared the Holy Spirit to the earnest money when buying a house. "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) If we have the Holy Spirit, then we know that we will receive everything that God has promised to believers.
There are three tests we can apply to ourselves to see if we do indeed have the Holy Spirit living in us.
1. Sanctification "Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) The first test is to see if we are overcoming the sins that we indulged in before we were saved.
2. The fruit of the Spirit "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23) The second test is to see if we are experiencing the new attitudes that the Holy Spirit builds into believerís lives.
3. The gifts of the Spirit "To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines." (1 Corinthians 12:8-11) The third test is to see if we are exercising the special talents that the Holy Spirit gives to believers to minister to others.
These three tests will tell us if the Holy Spirit is living in us, but be aware that there is not an instantaneous change from living in the flesh to living in the Spirit. These changes in us occur not because we get "more" of the Holy Spirit, because we receive all of the Holy Spirit when we are saved. The change occurs as we allow the Holy Spirit to take control of more and more of our lives.
Often, a new believer will have an instantaneous victory over an old sin, but many sins will remain for each believer to overcome. Sometimes in the sanctification process, we do not even know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit helps us. "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." (Romans 8:26)
Paul warned the Thessalonians, "Do not quench the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 5:19) We quench the Spirit when we refuse to let the Holy Spirit take control of a part of our life. When we allow the Holy Spirit to take control over more of our lives, then we can be filled with the Spirit as we minister to others. Paul wrote, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18-19) We receive the Holy Spirit one time when we are saved, but we can be filled with the Holy Spirit many times as we let him use us to bless others.
There are also false tests to see if the Holy Spirit is living in us. The first church I joined after I was saved insisted that no one could be saved unless they spoke in tongues. I have seen Christians seek other signs such as being slain in the Spirit and holy laughter. While these may be harmless, they also distract people from the more important and meaningful processes of sanctification and of developing spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit does not glorify itself. It gives glory and honor to the Father and the Son. The Corinthian church had a lot of trouble with people seeking after sign gifts to show how spiritual they were. Paul wrote three chapters, 1 Corinthians 12-14, to instruct them how to use spiritual gifts properly.
A challenging part of living by the Spirit is learning to recognize when the Spirit is speaking to us. Every so often someone commits a horrible crime and claims, "God told me to do it." Obviously, it was not God telling them to do something that clearly violated God's standards of right and wrong. John instructed believers, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) While John was referring to the spirits of human teachers, the same applies to discerning whether a thought comes from demons or from the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit guides me by reminding me of a Bible verse. The more Bible verses we know, the easier it is for the Holy Spirit to guide us. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit will put a visual image into my mind's eye. The first time the Holy Spirit spoke words to me, I thought it was an audible voice, but now I can tell that it is an inaudible voice in my mind. Sometimes, the Devil also tries to deceive me with a similar inaudible voice, but experience has taught me to distinguish the Holy Spirit's voice.
God speaking to Elijah on Mt. Horeb is a guide to help us recognize the Holy Spirit's voice. "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." (1 Kings 19:11-12) A voice like a swirling wind of confusion is not from God. A voice that tears people apart like an earthquake is not from God. A voice full of hot anger is not from God. God's voice is a gentle, calm, reassuring whisper that guides us to do what Jesus would do. As we mature in our Christian walk and gain experience in recognizing the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are better able to carry out God's will.
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