God the king Maker

     Stress levels can be high during an election season.  Political parties, and their constituents, tend to be sharply divided.  The biased media often manipulates information in order to shape public opinion in favor of a particular political candidate.  Because of a short attention span, most people prefer sound bites rather than substantive arguments.  At times, the whole process can seem unstable and corrupt. 

     God Controls the WorldThe Christian is called to a biblical worldview, which means he/she sees all of life from the divine perspective, including the political process.  God is never neutral.  He meddles in the affairs of mankind, political or otherwise. His unseen hand works behind all the activities of mankind, controlling and directing history as He wills. “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  Ultimately, it is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan. 2:21a), for “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:14).  God delegates authority to those whom He appoints as rulers, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1; cf. John 19:11). God controls the process of selecting a leader, whether that process is by family descent or democratic vote. 

     Because this is true, we might ask why an oppressive or divisive ruler comes into office and causes pain and suffering to a nation? Biblically, there were times when God appointed oppressive rulers over His people to punish them for their rebellion and sin.  For example, when Judah rebelled against God, He declared, “I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them” (Isa. 3:4; cf. vs. 12).  Even after divine discipline, God’s people continued in their sinfulness and the Lord declared, “You who have forsaken Me,” declares the LORD, “You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting!” (Jer. 15:6).  Because Judah continued in their rebellion, God eventually raised up Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan-king, whom He called “My servant” (Jer. 25:9; cf. 27:6; 28:14), whom the Lord used to punish His people and to lead them into captivity (see Jer. 20:4-5; 29:4; 1 Chron. 9:1).  After God’s people humbled themselves, the Lord raised up Cyrus, king of Persia, whom He called “My shepherd” (Isa. 44:28), and used him to be a blessing to Judah and to restore their land (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3; 7-8; 5:11-13).  This was all accomplished according to God’s sovereign rulership.

     America is under God’s sovereign control and our destiny is ultimately determined by His will.  As Christians living in America, we can strive to make our nation great by learning and living God’s word in all aspects of our lives, whether in politics, business, family, recreation, or whatever else is common to the activities of mankind.  And, when given opportunity, we should be sharing Christ with others and praying for our nation. 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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What is Integrity?

     In his book, Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson writes about God’s integrity.  He states that integrity is a “matter of truth.”  Erickson explains, “There are three dimensions of truthfulness: (1) genuineness—being true; (2) veracity—telling truth; and (3) faithfulness—proving true. Although we think of truthfulness primarily as telling truth, genuineness is the most basic dimension of truthfulness.”[1]

  1. Genuineness means that God is true concerning who He is. “In a world in which so much is artificial, our God is real. He is what he appears to be. This is a large part of his truthfulness.”[2]
  2. Veracity means that God’s words are true and accurate. “Divine veracity means that God represents things as they really are. Whether speaking of himself or part of his creation, what God says is accurate.”[3]
  3. Faithfulness means that God keeps His word and can be trusted. “If God’s genuineness is a matter of his being true and veracity is his telling of the truth, then his faithfulness means that he proves true. God keeps all his promises.”[4]

     I believe this has practical application for believers who are walking with God and daily drawing closer to Him.  As we learn more about God, we’ll be challenged to conform our lives, words, and actions to His character.  Spiritually mature believers will desire genuineness (or authenticity) of character, honesty of speech, and faithfulness to our promises (both to God and others).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Related Articles:

  1. Walking with God  
  2. The Virtue of Humility  
  3. What Does it Mean to be a Man? 
  4. Christians in America  
  5. You Fight like you Train  
  6. Overcome Evil with Good  
  7. An Ambassador for Christ  
  8. Marriage Vows  
  9. Choose Righteous Friends  
  10. Love your Enemies  
  11. Learning to Live by Faith  

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2000), 316.

[2] Ibid., 316.

[3] Ibid., 316.

[4] Ibid., 317.

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The Basics of Grace

The Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament[1] and most often refers to the undeserved favor or kindness that one person shows to another.  The favor or kindness can be from God to undeserving persons, or it can be from one person to another.  Grace derives from the bounty and open-handedness of the giver, can be very costly to the donor, but is always free to the beneficiary.  Here are four uses of Grace in the New Testament:

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) can refer to “a winning quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction, graciousness, attractiveness, charm.”[2] Grace is here presented as that quality about a thing or person that makes it beautiful or attractive to others (see Luke 4:22; Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6).

And all were speaking well of Him [Jesus], and wondering at the gracious [χάρις charis] words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

Let your speech always be with grace [χάρις charis], as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col. 4:6).

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[3] A gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another.  The kindness here finds its source in the abundance and free-heartedness of the giver.  A gracious disposition leads to gracious acts (Luke1:30; 6:32-36; Rom. 3:24; 5:15; Eph. 2:5-8). 

“If you love those who love you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to the “exceptional effect produced by generosity.”[4] Grace here is the divine enablement God gives to people that they might do His will.  (Rom. 15:5; 15:15; 1 Cor. 3:10; 2 Cor. 12:9).

And He has said to me, “My grace [χάρις charis] is sufficient for you [to bear this difficulty], for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) was also used as a “response to generosity or beneficence, thanks, gratitude.”[5] Grace means giving thanks (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 12:28).

But thanks [χάρις charis] be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:57)

 

Facts about grace:

  1. Because Christ voluntarily went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (1 Cor. 15:3-4), God freely bestows on us all the wonderful blessings associated with salvation (Eph. 1:3; 2:8-9). Grace is sometimes referred to as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.[6]
  2. Grace must be learned. The Christian does not automatically think in terms of grace and must learn it through the regular study of God’s word.  The ignorant believer—being devoid of God’s word—gravitates either toward legalism or asceticism.  Either activity stems from pride.  God is “opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). 
  3. Grace eliminates pride (Rom. 3:27). Some people have great difficulty accepting God’s kindness toward them, or even the kindness shown by others.  Pride dissipates when one learns to accept the gracious acts of others.
  4. Grace is given to the undeserving (e.g. Barabbas; Matt. 27:15-26; cf. Rom. 5:6-8). We bring to God our helplessness (Rom. 5:6), sin (Rom. 5:8), and death (Eph. 2:5), and in return He gives us forgiveness (Col. 1:13-14), righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and eternal life (John 10:28).  Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9).
  5. It is by grace that we are able to draw near to the throne of God (Heb. 4:16) and never by works (Dan. 9:18-19). The person who rejects the gospel rejects the “Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).
  6. Grace is not a license to sin (Rom. 6:1-2); rather, the grace of God instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Tit. 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Related Articles:

  1. Spiritual Blessings in Christ
  2. God’s Great Grace   
  3. God’s Grace to Save  
  4. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

__________________________

[1] The apostle Paul is the foremost proponent of grace and uses the word 130 times in his writings. 

[2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[3] Ibid., 1079.

[4] Ibid., 1080.

[5] Ibid., 1080.

[6] I heard this phrase originated with John Stott. 

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The Plain Interpretation of Scripture

     We live our lives on the assumption that language—whether written or spoken—serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Our survival and success depends on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents.  A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer greatly if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     Bible With PenThe Bible is a collection of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning approximately sixteen hundred years.  The authors originally wrote in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic).  Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings (2 Pet. 1:20-21) so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  

     The Bible is divinely inspired.  Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself.  Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt. 5:17-18; cf. Gal. 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim. 3:16).  The apostle Paul regarded his letters as divinely inspired when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). 

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS, RSV), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage.  There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand.  The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people.  Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles.  These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying.  Liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of the reader to make the Bible say whatever he/she wants it to say.  Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally.  A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[1]  

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[2]

    A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.  The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[3]  A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible.  

     In summary, the Bible is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  It was written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly sixteen hundred years.  The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11) and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Ps. 12:6-7; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:16).  Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, epistles, and apocalypse.  It is best to read the Bible plainly, literally, according to the grammatical-historical approach in which the reader pays attention to the normal meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.  

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[2] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[3] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm. 

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Religious Syncretism

Religious Syncretism    Several years ago I had a strange conversation with a young woman who was in graduate school and finishing her degree in Social Work.  The woman became excited when I mentioned I was in seminary and she proceeded to tell me about the Baptist church she was attending.  She’d been active in her church for several years and was involved in the choir and occasionally substituted for her Sunday school teacher.  The conversation took a confusing turn when she told me she follows her daily horoscope, believing it helps guide her life.  Stanger yet, she began talking about how she believes in reincarnation.  When I asked her why she believes in reincarnation she said, “Because I believe God is fair and gives people second chances in another life to make up for bad choices in a previous one.”  She said all this with a big smile on her face.  However, when I politely tried to explain the biblical teaching against astrology and reincarnation, she quickly shut the conversation down, saying, “I believe what I believe.”  She then changed the subject and started talking about her work.  This woman was engaging in religious syncretism. 

     Religious syncretism is the blending of the doctrines and practices of two or more religions in order to come up with something new.  Religious syncretism has been going on for millennia.  Modern day examples include Chrislam, New Age, Christian Science, and the Interfaith Movement.  A biblical example that dates to about 1100 B.C. is found in Judges 17 where an Israelite named Micah blended the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites with the worship of Yahweh.  The culmination was a monstrous self-serving religion that fostered spiritual anarchy among God’s people (see Judges 18).  In Judges 17 Micah is introduced as a son who stole a great amount of wealth from his mother.  He returned the wealth fearing the curse she’d uttered on the thief, and his mother subsequently blessed him the name of Yahweh (Judg. 17:1-2).  The historical account gets bizarre when Micah’s mother—in the name of Yahweh—used some of her wealth (silver) to create a molten image and graven image, which she gave to her son (Judg. 17:3-4).  Micah took the images from his mother and put them in his shrine and made an ephod (either to be used during worship, or as an object of worship; see Judg. 8:24-27).  He added several small household idols (teraphim) and then ordained his son to be the family priest (Judg. 17:5).  Micah’s house was a type of Israel during the period of the Judges, in which “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6), and all of this was against God’s instruction for Israel (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15).  Micah then welcomed a wandering Levite (Judg. 17:7-10), whom he consecrated to serve as his family priest (Judg. 17:11-12).  This was contrary to Scripture, for only descendants of Aaron could serve as priests, whereas Levites were to serve as priestly assistants (Num. 8:19; 18:1-7).  Micah falsely believed that by having a Levitical priest as the leader of his new religion that he would also have God’s blessing (Judg. 17:13).  This would later prove untrue (see Judges chapter 18). 

     God’s revelation in the Bible makes it clear that there is no room for religious syncretism (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Phil. 1:27), and Christians should be mindful to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  Christianity is built on certain theological essentials from which Christians cannot depart.  There is room for love and grace when disagreeing on secondary doctrinal matters.  There will always be false teachers who will deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, His death, burial, and bodily resurrection, and His second coming.  Only those who are advancing toward spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word will find protection against false teachers (Deut. 13:1-4; 18:18-22; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2).  Those who fail to grow spiritually will find themselves vulnerable to all sorts of pagan concepts. 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.  

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The Gospel in two Minutes

     What is the GospelThe Bible is a big book with lots of information.  There is information about God, the origin of the universe, mankind, sin, salvation, Israel, the church, the future, etc.  It’s my opinion that a good teacher knows the Bible well enough that he/she can delve into its depths and provide solid biblical answers to life’s biggest questions.  However, I also believe a good teacher should be able to condense a lot of information and—without compromising accuracy—give a short answer in plain language (Charles Ryrie has impressed me with his ability to do this very thing).  Over the years I’ve worked to take the essentials of the Gospel message and present it quickly and concisely.  In one sense, the Gospel can be as simple as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, John 3:16, or Acts 16:31.  However, these verses, as wonderful as they are, do not answer some of the issues that stand behind them.  For example:

  • Why did God send His Son into the world?
  • Why did Jesus go to the cross and die?
  • What’s wrong with me that God had to act on my behalf?
  • Is there any way, other than the cross, that I can be reconciled to God?

To answer these—and other issues—I’ve condensed my Gospel presentation down to about two minutes.  I’m hoping to make it even more concise in the future.  Here’s basically what I communicate:

The gospel is the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem.  First, God is holy (Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab. 1:13; 1 John 1:5).  Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom. 3:10-23).  We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa. 59:2; Jam. 1:14-15).  To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon.  But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph. 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18).  God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins.  The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).   Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31).  When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Heaven Belongs to Little Children  
  3. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  4. Three Phases of Salvation  
  5. Illumination and the Doctrine of Election  
Posted in Inspirational Writings, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God the Holy Spirit

     There is some confusion today among students of the Bible concerning the identity of the Holy Spirit.  Some heretical groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians say the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force.  Mormons recognize the personhood of the Holy Spirit, but regard Him as a lesser deity, being conceived as the offspring of God the Father. 

     Biblical Christianity recognizes the Holy Spirit as God, as one of the three Persons of the Trinity.  Within the Trinity, there is God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three Persons of the Trinity share the same essence and are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 6:8; Deut. 6:4; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 10:30; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

     The Holy Spirit is a PersonThe Bible reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of personhood.  When referring to the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14), Jesus used the demonstrative masculine pronoun “He” (ἐκεῖνος), and this indicates personhood.  Scripture also reveals the Holy Spirit can be lied to.  In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter accused Ananias of lying “to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).  In the very next verse Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).  You cannot lie to a force (such as electricity), but only to a person.  In addition, the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), resisted (Acts 7:51), and blasphemed (Matt. 12:31).  These are all activities that can only be done to a Person.  Here are some further Scriptural truths about the Holy Spirit:

  1. He was involved in the creation ( 1:2).
  2. He brought about the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:35).
  3. He guided the writers of Scripture (2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Pet. 1:21).
  4. He convicts unbelievers of the sin of unbelief (John 16:8-11).
  5. He regenerates unbelievers (John 3:6; 6:63).
  6. He baptizes us into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
  7. He indwells us (John 14:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).
  8. He seals us (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
  9. He gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7-11).
  10. He glorifies Jesus in our life (John 16:13-15).
  11. He fills us (i.e. empowers) (Eph. 5:18).
  12. He sustains our spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16-18, 25).
  13. He loves us (Rom. 15:30).
  14. He prays for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
  15. He comforts us (John 14:26).
  16. He teaches and guides us (John 14:26; 16:13-15).
  17. He makes Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).

     When the above Scriptures are read in their biblical context, paying attention to the linguistic, grammatical and historical context of each verse, it reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of a Person.  I pray the Lord gives you understanding. 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.  

Related Articles:

  1. Jesus is God  
  2. The Work of the Holy Spirit  
  3. The Filling of the Holy Spirit  
  4. Essentials of the Christian Faith  
  5. The Gospel Message  
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