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Epignosis, Christian Epistemology, and Spiritual Growth

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Question #1:  Pastor, I am about as apolitical as they come. I have never voted, don't really support any party and have been disgusted with both republicans and democrats (although the latter more than the former.) I have become even more so in the last six to eight years. I totally agree with your statement about politics being a satanic minefield, unfortunately there are no sappers to protect us if we decide to walk through this field! I will continue to pray for President Bush and other politicians as well although sometimes I think praying for the likes of Iran and countries like it is futile.

I too have family members from different denominations, including Pentecostal. I actually went through a Teen Challenge program which of course, is Pentecostal or at least, was at the time. I believe I was saved there but as I got deeper and deeper into the religion, something didn't seem right. I left before completing the program because I simply couldn't swallow much of what they dished out and the church services seemed more like a circus than anything else. I don't think that all the men that ran this program were bad people though, as I said, I believe I was saved there but I simply didn't agree or feel right about the church services and many of the customs that went on there.

Thanks for the links, I will read them over the weekend!

God Bless,

Response #1:   

I know what you mean about the "something didn't seem right" feeling. I believe that the Spirit does direct us in such matters and we ignore such warnings to our peril (e.g., Gal.5:16-25; 1Jn.2:27). I think that is what Paul means in Colossians 1:9 where he prays for the Colossians to be "filled with the full-knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding". The word translated "full-knowledge" is epignosis – not just knowledge, but directed, faith-based knowledge that has been spiritually metabolized, the largest part of which process is truly understanding and accepting what God is telling us through faith. The process of getting to that point being filled with God's "full-knowledge" in Colossians 1:9 involves two things: 1) "wisdom" which I take to mean the specific teachings of the Word of God (so Bible reading, Bible study/teaching, and accepting such truth is indicated here), and 2) "spiritual understanding": this latter element would be the application of the truth we believe to the circumstances we face in the world, and the Holy Spirit is the key to correct application/implementation. Since the two factors are linked, it is clear that the truth of scripture is necessary for our "spiritual understanding" or spiritual I.Q. to get very high. The more we know that is genuinely God's truth and the more we accept/believe that truth, the more the Spirit is able to guide us with ever greater specificity – not that God is ever limited, but our ignorance and lack of belief always limits what God is doing for us; conversely, the less ignorant of the truth we are and the more readily we believe it, the more closely God guides us (and the more effectively He uses us). The first part is spiritual growth per se; the second I like to call spiritual progress (passing the day to day tests of applying truth: we believe it, but are we willing to live it?); the final state, spiritual production (bearing fruit for the Lord in the ministries we are called to according to the individual gifts we are given) rounds out the three phases of the Christian life after to salvation (please see the links in CT 6: "The Judgment of the Church" and "The Gates and Foundations Stones of New Jerusalem"):

"You did not choose Me but I chose you (salvation) and have established you (spiritual growth and maturity from being taught the truth), in order that you may progress (Greek hypagete; a reference to spiritual progress – the disciples still had some work to do here) and bear fruit (spiritual production) and that your fruit may remain (fulfillment of earthly ministry for the highest possible eternal rewards), so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He will give it to you (highest possible level of functioning in ministry while yet on earth)."
John 15:16

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Dear Bob,

I am always amazed at the replies I get from you; at the insight they provide into what we, as Christians, should be about. When I said "what would Jesus do, I was not referring to a movement of any kind. I don't recall ever hearing about WWJD. I meant, would Jesus have even taken on such a debate? And you answered that in your reply when you said He always did what the Father wanted Him to do.

Kirk and Ray set out to prove the existence of God without the use of the Bible. In my opinion, they failed miserably because I don't believe that can be done without the Bible. I would surely like your thoughts on that too.

Response #2: 

This issue has, of course, been hotly debated in apologetics for centuries. Leibniz, for example, made great use of the "Ontological Argument" and the "Cosmological Argument"; there are others as well (Hodge's Systematic Theology provides a good synopsis). All these generic apologetic arguments boil down to what really is a truth, namely, that the way the universe is constructed and as it exists and as we exist in it, everyone "knows" at some point from this mass of evidence that there must a God (whether they admit it or not or whether they remember that moment or not in later years of unbelief). For that the very "heavens reflect the glory of God" and all mankind is aware of God from their testimony is a definite scriptural teaching (this is generally called "natural revelation" as opposed to the "special revelation" of the Bible: Rom.1:18-20; cf. Job 38:1-38; Ps.8:1-4; 19:1-6; 97:6; Jn.1:9; Acts 17:24-31). But perhaps even more than this, God has made human beings in such away that they must come to this knowledge (unless on an individual basis they never arrive at "accountability" whether by early death or mental limitation):

I have seen all the work that God has given Man to occupy himself with. [God] has made everything beautiful in its [limited] time; but He has also placed the [the notion of] eternity in the hearts of mankind - and [He has done this], moreover, without Man being able to discover the work which God has done from the beginning unto the end.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

I know that everything God does will stand forever; it is impossible to add to it; it is impossible to take away from it. God has established matters in this way so that Men will be in awe before Him.
Ecclesiastes 3:14

This universal knowledge of God's existence that intrudes on every human heart is quite a different thing, however, from proving God's existence, because almost as soon as the truth of the existence of God shines forth in the hearts of most human beings, that truth is challenged by the evil one and – if the soil is poor – that truth is rejected (Matt.13:1-9; Mk.4:1-9; Lk.8.4-8; cf. Matt.13:18-23; Mk.4:13-20; Lk.8:11-15).

[In contrast to the righteousness of God which is being revealed (i.e., dispensed) through faith (vv.16-17)], God's wrath is being revealed (i.e., dispensed) from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness – on men who suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. For that which can be known about God [from everyday experience] is obvious to them, because God has made it obvious. His nature, though invisible, is nevertheless plainly apparent, and has been since His foundation of the world, for it may be clearly inferred from this creation of His – [this is true of] both his eternal power and his divinity - so that they are without any excuse: they knew about God, but they neither honored Him as God nor thanked Him. Instead, they gave themselves over to [the] vanity [of this world] in their speculations, and their senseless hearts were filled with darkness. Claiming to be wise, they became foolish, for they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for images and likenesses of corruptible men, of birds and beasts and reptiles. For this [very] reason, God abandoned them to corruption in the lusts of their own hearts, that they might mutually defile their bodies (i.e., the very thing they lusted to do). [And so] they exchanged the truth of God for the lie [of the devil], and worshiped and served the creature [Satan] in place of the Creator who is [worthy to be] blessed forever. Amen. [Yes,] for this [very] reason God abandoned them to defiling passions. For their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones, and likewise also the males abandoned natural relations with the female and burned with desire one for another, males for males, acting out their shamefulness in full, and in their own [flesh] fully receiving the reward due for their error. And just as they did not see fit to keep God in their hearts, God abandoned them to their unfit minds, to do things which are not fitting, filled up with every [sort of] unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, guile, maliciousness, gossips, slanderers, God-forsaken-[and]-forsaking, insolent, arrogant, boasters, devisers of evils, not concerned for their parents, unthinking, unreconcilable, uncaring, unmerciful, men who though they had full knowledge of God's righteous decree, namely, that those who do such things are worthy of death, not only did [such] things themselves, but even commended those who made it their practice [to do them].
Romans 1:18-32 (cf. Mark 7:20-23)

The italicized portions above summarize the unbelievers' response to the truth that there is a God, namely, their exchanging of that truth about Him for some lie. This is not always atheism, of course, but there is little to choose between atheism and idolatry or false religions. This is why I too am skeptical of such debates. The true epistemology at work is invisible. That is to say, the recognition of God's existence, of what sort of a God He is, and of the specific understanding of the gospel in the human heart is the work of the Spirit, "sent out into all the earth" (Rev.5:6). And for that very reason the universal (and particular) knowledge of God's existence is completely deniable by all those who have rejected God and His solution to death, faith in Jesus Christ.

As I say, I am reluctant to criticize anyone who is out there putting their neck on the line and preaching Christ, even if they are doing so in a venue to which I would not be drawn myself and of which I might even be skeptical. There is always the chance that such discussions contribute to the salvation of those who have not yet closed the door entirely on God and faith in Christ. God has His ways of using even blunt axes, of which I am definitely one myself (Eccl.10:10).

In Him who is the only truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill!

I've been on both sides of the fence regarding the issue of whether or not believers still possess a sin nature. As I understand from scripture, when we are saved we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and "all" things are passed away. I compared the words "all things" in this verse to the same words found in Revelation 21:5 where God makes "all things" new. Both seem to imply that the changes are extreme. This makes me wonder if our old nature no longer abides in us when we are born again. Then at the same time there are other passages that seem to state just the opposite (Rom. 7:14-20). How do I harmonize these passages? Is our "old man" different from the sin nature or the same? Thanks.

God Bless,

Response #3:   

I can assure you (from personal experience as well as from scripture) that Christians still have sin natures. There is a fundamental transformation which takes place at spiritual rebirth, that is, when a person is "born again"; but the change is just that, namely, a spiritual transformation, not a physical one. The sin nature is physical. It is part of the human body presently configured. It is why human beings die (whereas Adam and Eve would have lived indefinitely in their physical bodies had they never acquired sin natures by eating of the tree of "knowing good and evil"). The best short explanation of this – one I confess to have using several times before – came from a man who had been an alcoholic prior to becoming a Christian. When years later he was found to be suffering from cirrhosis he remarked: "God gave me a new heart, but He didn't give me a new liver". As believers, we still have mortal physical bodies infected with the sin nature, and for that reason will eventually die (unless it be our lot to endure until the Lord's return). If we didn't have sin natures, we would (theoretically) no longer sin. And of course, Christians still sin (1Jn.1:8; 1:10), although we shouldn't, and that is why we continue to have need of God's forgiveness when we confess our sins (1Jn.1:9), something which would be unnecessary if we were now sinless in body as well as in Christ.

The quote in the verse you mention, Revelation 21:5, is said by the Father on the occasion of the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth, after the old heavens and old earth have passed away (Rev.21:1; cf. 20:11), and therefore after all sin has been literally burned out of the old universe revealing a new creation where only "righteousness dwells" (2Pet.3:10-13; please see the link: "The New Heavens and the New Earth" in CT 6). On that glorious future day, our new resurrection bodies will indeed be sinless – and we will then be truly immortal in every way. As things stand now, however, we remain saved spirits in corrupt bodies; the two interface at the heart, and it is there where we fight the battle of the Christian life, constantly facing the issue of truth. Do we believe it, meditate on it, love it and attempt to implement it in our lives, or do we instead allow our thoughts to wander back to pointless things and, inevitably thereafter, to sinful things? Obviously, any honest Christian will have to admit that he/she does not in fact have anything like perfect control of his/her thoughts and emotions, and that is the first clear indication of the continuing influence of the sin nature.

Therefore since you have been resurrected [positionally] with Christ, be seeking after the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your hearts (lit., minds) on the things above, not the things on earth.
Colossians 3:1-2

Clearly, Paul would not have to write this as a command if it were automatic, and the same thing goes for more overt sinful behavior, what we say and what we do (consider the voluminous number of passages in both the Old and New Testaments which tell us not to do sinful things, unnecessary if we were now capable of being sinless). When we are saved, we are cleansed. We are forgiven our trespasses and are made one with Jesus Christ. That is our "position", so to speak, but not our "experience" in the sense of what will obtain in eternity. Now, we still know pain, sorrow, suffering, hurt, fatigue, hunger, unhappiness, sorrow . . . and sin (along with its consequences). When we are saved, we also are truly born again not only in a positional sense (i.e., possessing an eternal life which, while not yet being experienced, is absolutely secure and waiting to be revealed for us when Christ is revealed: 1Pet.1:5), but also in a very real experiential way as touching our ability to perceive the truth. When we are saved, our hearts are cleansed (Heb.10:22; cf. Eph.5:26), opening up our spiritual perception to understand and accept the truth of the Word in order that we may continue to grow spiritually (1Cor.2:6-16; my old pastor, Col. Thieme, used to call this the removal of "scar tissue" from the heart). This "fresh start for the heart" is analogous to a slow running drain which is purged of all its accretions and now can flow fast and free. Our hearts are now soft, not hard. It is true that even believers can let the plumbing get sluggish again. Only the truth of the Word, believing it, meditating on it, and applying it to our lives aggressively and without compromise keeps the water of truth flowing freely. A better (and biblical) analogy is that of the truth as light and our eye as the heart's window on the light of truth. Jesus tells us that if our eye is darkness, so will our body be; this means that to the extent that we have allowed hearts, the eyes of our spirits, to get foggy or cloudy (or clogged or hardened), to that extent we are not letting in the light of truth and are instead operating in darkness (Matt.6:22-23).

This subject is a complicated one which involves Christian anthropology (BB 3A), hamartiology (BB 3B), soteriology (specifically, Christian epistemology). The last mentioned is slated to be covered in BB 4B which I am currently working on at present. In the meantime, for some things on the epistemological aspects of this question please see these links:

Pursuing a Deeper Relationship with Jesus and Christian Epistemology.

Christian Epistemology

The "Mind of Christ" in 1st Corinthians 2:16

I hope this begins to answer your question at any rate. Please do write me back about any of this.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Hi Bob:

Just wanted you to know that all I have had time to read so far is a good bit of the introduction to the Tribulation Series. I did so appreciate some of the scriptural verses that you shared in the intro. My favorite in particular was the one that went to the effect of saying that there are times when asking for a blessing is just too much to ask for because of the "time of cursing" that we live in. I am not sure I have ever read that verse before and I am often surprised by how much of scripture I have read over the years (when a verse or story is thrown my way and I have actually heard it mentioned in a sermon or studied it in a bible study or read about it myself). I have never read the bible from Genesis 1:1 to the final chapter of Revelation, but it does seem as if I have read almost all of scripture (just not in intentional order from cover to cover). So, it is always a blessing to run across some verses that speak of my own first-hand experience (a truth that is spoken in scripture that I wasn't aware was there). I am often accused of being sort of a "downer" or "negative" concerning life's trials and I don't believe it is my intent to be negative...I just seem to have this keen internal awareness of times of blessing and times of cursing and most churches tend to take the view that the New Testament Church is all about the blessings of God because we live in the "Age of Grace"...don't know how they discount all the things mentioned about the wrath and judgement of God in NT.

I have dealt with so many physically ill family members the last few years and it has been beyond frustrating at times to be praying for the healing of family members and to realize that God is willing to show me the future and willing to speak messages through me, but not as willing to physically heal people as Christ clearly was so willing to do in the time He was here on earth. It made me start to wonder if we are living in a time that is collectively a time of awareness about the cursing nature of God rather than the blessing nature of God? I am not saying that God doesn't bless people now nor am I saying that God hasn't always cursed people. I am speaking about the general nature of the time period we live in. It seems God wants us to know more of His nature now and people (or the sick person's loved ones) that are physically healed (as was the case in biblical times) often lean too much on their own understanding and merely go ungratefully on their way.

It is hard to completely reserve judgement what another person writes. You already understand that I don't believe it is completely useless for God to speak of the suffering of the Tribulation Period even if all those that come to Christ beforehand are raptured in to heaven beforehand so there is no harm in my stating again that that is one area where (thus far) you and I don't agree, but I will continue to read and reserve adding any more of my own new views to what you write about the things you and I disagree about although it does feel like I am sort of ignoring the author when I read and read and never comment on anything you have written. I guess I am not very good at just reading and reserving total judgement, but I am trying. I mainly wanted you to know that I will pick up reading more in the next few days and when I have finished reading the Tribulation Series, I will write you some more. I guess the most important thing about reserving judgment is that it isn't really fair for me to be questioning the conclusions you have come to before I read everything you have written on this topic. It could be after reading everything through that I find that some of your post-tribulation rapture beliefs are irrefutable based on scriptural evidence that you pose in your research. I just know that I have studied this topics extensively and thus far, I have not been able to come to any definitive conclusions where I can boldly make the statement that one rapture theory is irrefutably true and that is is so clear that God wants us to know the chronological order in which everything will occur during the end times. I am with you that it doesn't seem to make sense in certain regards that the Holy Spirit would so explicitly spell out a time period that His people won't live through, but on the other hand, could it be because those that have come to Him have come to Him out of proper fear that they don't want to live through the ultimate time of cursing? Hard to say....I just know my intent is not to say you are wrong because I honestly don't have a clear-set belief about when the rapture will occur. I guess I am not too worried about it because it seems that it is more up to the Holy Spirit to warn me that trouble is coming and for me to believe it is (whether I will be here or not) than it is for me to know and plan for it. I have never really questioned why the Holy Spirit is warning me because most of the time He isn't asking me to escape to a safe place or to store food and bottled water in my pantry. Most of the time I feel He is warning me so that I can commune with God in the sorrow of what has to be done to birth the return of Christ, but maybe there is something in all of this where God is trying to prepare my heart to go through a time that will be unspeakably hard. A foreshadowing example of this would be the things that have come to pass in my recent life. A few years ago if you had told me that my life would be what it is now (so much sorrow and tragedy all around me), I would've told you I would be a basket-case, but the Holy Spirit saw to it that I was emotionally prepared to face each day I face now. I don't mean to sound disrespectful regarding the importance of studying God's word, but there are certain things that words in a book can't prepare you for if the Holy Spirit isn't breathing those words in to you and convicting you. I guess I believe that the Holy Spirit will always prepare our hearts to embrace what is coming if we truly belong to Jesus. I believe scripture is there to spell out what is coming (those things that all men are supposed to know), but it is only submitting to the Holy Spirit that can make our hearts prepared to believe what scripture says. To me, it has seemed irrelevant why the Holy Spirit is warning me so much as that He is warning me that very troubled times are coming and I feel His sorrow so intensely that I know the reason He is sharing it with me is important even if I don't know precisely what that reason is.

Response #4:   

I can certainly vouch for the "coming trouble" sensation you are having, from scripture. There is always value in scripture, so that even were the pre-Trib rapture theory correct, we still should get something out of all the eschatological passages designed specifically for the Tribulation. In fact, as I often say, even if we personally will not face those times, we will face personal tribulation, and the same spiritual methods and approaches necessary for the one are identical for the other. It's just a matter of scale, intensity and coverage.

I would, moreover, emphatically argue for the value and more than that the need for Christians to understand the truth behind as much scripture as possible. That is the basis for spiritual growth. The Spirit can only use what we both know to be true and believe to be true. That resident truth in our hearts is the capital of which the Spirit makes use through us. The less we know and the less we believe, the less we grow and the less effective we are for the Lord. It is possible to memorize the entire Bible without learning much and without believing anything. And there is a limit to what can be learned without the help of teaching (in whatever form it comes), and all the good teaching in the world, even it is 100% correct, is of no value until it is believed. This epignosis (i.e., "believed truth") is what the Spirit uses (cf. 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:25; 3:7; Tit.1:1; etc. – not always distinguished correctly in the versions from "knowledge"). This is why Paul tells us that the "sword of the Spirit" is the Word of God (Eph.6:17): the truth of scripture understood correctly and residing in our hearts by faith is what the Spirit "wields" in directing our paths and Christian applications, and in empowering our ministries. All believers have the Holy Spirit, but only those who consistently listen to the Spirit in adjusting their will to God's will make spiritual progress – and a very large part of that process is the taking in of the truth of the Word of God, understanding that truth through the Spirit's ministry, and believing it once understood – otherwise it is impossible to apply such truth in the power of the Spirit. Knowing what is in the Mind of Christ is a prerequisite to effective obedience to that truth (cf. 1Cor.2:10-16).

Best wishes in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #5:

Respected Sir - Dr. Robert D. Luginbill,

I have just begun reading your material on "Satan's Rebellion Part 1" and became immediately uncomfortable with your assertion below.

"Had we not come through the fiery testing supplied by the devil and his corrupt world system, we would never be able to appreciate God's marvelous provision for us and His deliverance of us from all our trials (2Tim.4:18)."

This statement claims that, inherent in God's mastery plan was a need for a "satanic" character and system. This as such implying that Man whom God said at creation, "Let us make man in the likeness of our own image" Gen 1:26, was by virtue of "His" makeup incapable of "appreciating God's Marvelous Provision" etc. I must say I find this very troubling. My view on this subject is one that takes a different tone. I propose that "Man" was made capable of complete and total holiness and as such one with God, to act and live like God on Earth.

The second question I have Sir is how did you come about translating 2 Tim 4:18, to mean the statement above? My understanding of that verse is in effect the opposite. I believe that due to the fact that "Man" by "His" own choice has fallen from his original statute, in his struggle now to live godly will come against opposition from evil forces and God in his infinite mercy and grace is saying in that verse that He forever stands to support Man in that effort to live godly and to ultimately deliver "Him"

Please what are your thoughts on the following:

1) The term or context "existence" houses everything that "Is" in Heaven (Spirits, Angels, Heavenly host and all there is) and Creation (Multiverse and all there is). Thus a true attribute of God would be that "He" God created "existence". If that is true, how then did anything "contrary" to God's "Will" become possible? In a world where all there is is God's will, all creation could still have free will to choose any options amongst the host of all there is "God's will". To draw a quote from your text "we need to remember that for all his terrible power, Satan is still only a creature, operating entirely within the universe of time and space which God has created". In spite of this statement above and the preceding statements, Iniquity was found in him (Satan) Ezekiel 28:15. My question is how was that possible, if all there is from eternity past was "God's Will"? How did the potential for iniquity come about if it never existed? For the purpose of this discussion let's say God's creation were by their creative makeup incapable of being unlike God yet with free will? - for the Bible teaches us that God is a free will being and will never do contrary to His will- it thus should be expected that He God, will create free will beings just as He is, to have free will to do the only will that exist "God's Will"

2) I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things Isaiah 45:7 can you address this profession in light of the profession that it is Impossible for God to lie Hebrews 6:18 which implies that it is impossible for God to produce any evil.

3) God is a "Spirit" John 4:24 - In this life, will we ever be able to comprehend what "Spirit" is. Is our physical mind ever going to be able to comprehend Spirit. And I do not mean the manifestations or evidence of the Spirit. I mean Spirit in its very essence

4) Would you agree with me that Holiness is a "State of Being" in other words Holiness is a state of Mind. If this statement is true, then the same should be true that a person's feelings and emotions result from the constitute of their way of thinking and these in effect influence their decisions and produce their actions.

Thanking you in advance

Warm regards

Response #5: 

Very good to make your acquaintance. As to the first issue you raise, to wit, "This statement claims that, inherent in God's mastery plan was a need for a "satanic" character and system", that is certainly not what these words say, nor is what I teach, nor what, in my opinion, these words imply. I think when and if you have a chance to read more of the materials at Ichthys, you will see that this is so. As to the statement itself, I am very sorry if it did give you the wrong impression, but the statement itself is true, important, and I am loath to alter it. When you further say, "I propose that "Man" was made capable of complete and total holiness and as such one with God, to act and live like God on Earth", I have no problem with that at all. It is, however, moot since the fall.

As your first, numbered question on 2nd Timothy 4:18, it seems to me that your words here are also exactly along the lines of my thinking and I dare say the thinking of all who look to the Lord for help and deliverance in this world.

As to your second question, as I am wont to say, what is logical is not always theological. It is God's will that all be saved (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.3:16; 12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9), yet all will not be saved (Matt.25:31-46; Rev.20:11-15). How can it be that God's first best will is not done? That can only come about by His allowing some other will to become involved in the process of history. Indeed, without free will there could have been no Satanic rebellion, and there could have been no fall from grace in the garden. It is indeed staggering to consider just what a powerful thing the free will we have been given to respond to God truly is! It is the most powerful force in the universe next to the power of God, because it comes from God (that is the essential meaning of Ps.82:6 quoted by our Lord at Jn.10:34). We human beings have all been given the choice, option, free will to respond to God . . . or not. God allows us to use this wonderful faith to embrace Him and His truth . . . or not. If He had not done so, we would not be who we are, we would not be creatures with free will at all. If our choice were not a definite choice, we might be rabbits, we might be geraniums, but we would not be made "in the image and likeness" of God; for that is what the "image" is, namely, the free will which mirrors (or at least when it responds has the potential to mirror) divine will (please see the link: "The Image and Likeness of God"). How does anything contrary to God's will happen? Because He allows it to happen, that is, He allows us to make our own choices in regard to our eternal future and obedience to Him, to respond to His grace in Jesus Christ . . . or not. Disobedience is the root of all iniquity. That was true of Satan; that was true of Adam and Eve; and that is true of each one of us today.

Hebrews 6:18 states that it is impossible for God to lie. Nevertheless, Isaiah 45:7 is a commonly misunderstood verse. The Hebrew word used there, ra', is the generic word for "bad/evil/trouble". It does not inherently mean "evil" in the conceptual sense of the English word "evil". In the context of Isaiah 45:7, it is opposed to shalom, "peace/prosperity", and the pair is likewise parallel to the preceding "light and darkness". Light is the natural state of God's creation; darkness is the result of divine judgment (as in God's judgment of the world following Satan's rebellion and His blacking out of the universe after Genesis 1:1 necessitating the reconstruction of the seven days beginning in Genesis 1:2; this is all explained in part 2 of the SR series [see the link]). Similarly, peace/prosperity/wholeness is the natural state of God's creation; "badness" is the result of judgment. God does not create evil, but He does judge it. The idea in Isaiah 45:7, therefore, is one of divine judgment as the alternative to turning to God. If we use our free will to respond to Him, our destiny is light and prosperity; if we decline to do so, our destiny is darkness and damnation.

As to comprehending God, through human means this is impossible. But as 1st Corinthians chapter three tells us, God has given us the means by which to know what would otherwise be incomprehensible for sinful human beings. Simply put, the Holy Spirit teaches our spirit all the truth we are willing to learn (thus by-passing the limitations of our natural flesh). So while to the world it may seem that we learn about God's truth through natural means, senses and "mind", in fact no divine truth can be understood, truly perceived and made available so as to believe it without the ministry of the Spirit. That is the essence of biblical epistemology. I hope to have a more detailed study available sometime in the future but until then please see the links:

Pursuing a Deeper Relationship with Jesus and Christian Epistemology.

*Epistemology and Epignosis

The Mind of Christ

Finally, I am not at all sure that I would characterize holiness as a "state of mind". Holiness is a behavioral description. It is the "defense" of the Christian life (as opposed to the "offense" of spiritual growth, progress and production). Holiness is separation from sin and evil in thought, yes, but also in word and deed. Given that sin infests our present earthly, bodies, sanctification is always going to be a bumpy process here in this life (that is, "experiential sanctification" as opposed to the "positional sanctification" we possess in Jesus or the "ultimate sanctification" we shall possess in perfection forever following the resurrection; please see the link: "Sanctification"). Emotions are indeed a problem, as are our thoughts. Since our "heart" or inner person is really the clearing house where our spirit and (sinful) body interface, that is, our "mind-emotion" inner-self, as long as we inhabit these imperfect shells we will seldom have a good thought or godly decision which will not challenged by the flesh (see the link: "The Heart: interface between body and spirit"). Learning how to control our thoughts (by concentration on the good rather than the bad), learning how to lead our emotions with our free will faith (rather than following them), is a large part of the challenge to Christian spiritual growth. This is another area on which I have written quite a bit but hope to do more in the future. Until then, please see the following links:

Who Controls our Thoughts and Emotions?

Techniques of virtue thinking (in Pet.17)

Walking with Jesus

The Battlefield (in SR #4)

I really do think that as you read the entire Satanic Rebellion series (as well, I hope, as other writings at Ichthys), your perspective of this ministry will become much more clear – and I genuinely hope that it will be a benefit to your personal spiritual growth. For that is reason and the purpose of its existence.

In the One who provides us with all the spiritual food we could ever want, if only we are willing to seek and find, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #6: 

Dear Bob,

I have attached a piece on Christian epistemology. If you have time to comment on this, I should be most appreciative.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Response #6:   

The question/issue of Christian epistemology is a thorny yet important one. To my view, it seldom properly explained in true biblical terms (at least not completely – see below). I have been working on aspects of the question for some time (and I think have shared some of my views on the subject with you before). I hope to write this up in detail in the forthcoming part 4B of Bible Basics: Soteriology.

Essentially, the "problem" of knowing the unknowable, of the material understanding the immaterial, is indeed fraught will all manner of philosophical complications. Countless complex systems of the past were developed to explain and/or rationalize these difficulties; likewise in more modern times the "problem" has been a ready argument for all manner of atheists and skeptics to take down the idea that we can know anything about God (attempting to reduce Him at times to a mere evolutionary reflex). Thus, an apologetic which is conversant with scientific views could be a boon to our fellow believers. However, in my view, that is only so if it has first correctly apprehended and is thus able to effectively communicate the true biblical view of the issue.

My own ministry is not focused on the apologetic end of things, and, given my limited scientific knowledge, will never be greatly effective in keeping up with the current scientific "take" on any of these topics. For me, it is enough to explain what the Bible really teaches, and allow Christians so inclined to judge to what degree science has "got it right" or "got it wrong". As I say, apologetics is a useful and important calling, but it is not mine.

To boil down the epistemology issue to its essentials from the standpoint of what I see to be the major crux (and as I say it will be some time before I get to the specifics and all of the details), the objections of science and philosophy are non-starters because they fail to take into account (and would surely dismiss if so informed) the critical factor that perception of the truth takes place for Christians through largely spiritual means – the material part of our makeup being far subordinate in its importance in fact if not in its perceived role. We are not merely material: we have a human spirit. And for all those who have been saved since the days of the first Christian Pentecost, we who believe all have the Holy Spirit resident within us (Rom.8:9). Thus though it is true that we have a mind which is part fleshly (the brain et al.), our inner person or heart is half spirit. The "heart" or "mind" is the interface of the two where we think and feel and decide and estimate and choose. One of the most important things we choose is what to believe. When we expose ourselves to the truth, when we seek the truth and hear the truth, and, critically, when we believe the truth, the Spirit working with our spirit gives the ability to understand the truth and make it our own (something unbelievers do not have and why the truth in all of its manifestations beyond natural revelation is "foolish" to them: 1Cor.1:18-25; 2:15; 3:19). So the epistemological apparatus for believers is unique and invisible. It cannot be seen or evaluated by the scientific world. That is why the Bible says . . .

(14) Now the unspiritual man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (15) But the spiritual man (i.e., the believer with the Spirit) is able to discern all things, but he himself can be discerned by no one (i.e., no one can see how he "knows"). (16) For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he might instruct Him? But we possess the very mind of Christ (i.e. the Holy Spirit illuminating the scriptures which are Christ's very thinking).
1st Corinthians 2:14-16 (cf. v.12-13)

This does not, of course, mean perfect immediate perception. We are also flesh. Between what we hear and what we understand lies the imperfect filter of our fleshly mind. Our brain is a barrier for a whole wide range of reasons – some of which I see you grappling with in this piece – not the least of which is inherent sin. An intellect which is pedestrian either by birth or choice (alcohol or drug use, prize-fighting, a life-time of mental-indiscipline etc.) creates a barrier; lack of consistency in seeking the truth creates a supply problem where the truth is concerned; lack of interest and enthusiasm for the truth likewise affects how well truth is digested, understood and retained; and critically, the choice not to believe damages the process of the reception and retention of truth; failure to use the truth and confirm the truth once learned causes atrophy; one could go on. But set against all the imponderables that resist learning and understanding the truth is the unstoppable power of the Holy Spirit. His epistemological ministry explains why you can walk into a church in Shanghai or Mombasa or Rio and find people who really do believe in Jesus Christ in spite of obvious problems in their doctrine and application and the often very confused teaching they have received, even about the gospel. In all such cases, the Spirit has taken what is true and made it clear to those willing to receive the truth. But it is a mistake in these instances to investigate their practices and theologies and the experiences and training of their teachers as if we are "missing something good". It is the Holy Spirit who is their true teacher, and He has taught them the gospel (using only what was true in the message received). In spite of everything material, they have believed – through spiritual means.

Now the deeper into truth one gets – I say this as a personal observation – the more necessary it becomes to remove negative filters on both sides of the equation, otherwise there is a big drop-off when it comes to perception because of interference. That is to say, for maximum spiritual growth (which is absolutely necessary for maximum spiritual progress and production), one needs to remove as many barriers as possible on the inside as well as the outside (and, ideally, all of them – of course with the exception of our Lord, that standard has never been attained). Believers have to seek out the truth, be consistent in their taking in of the truth, believe all that is true without doubting, and consistently, enthusiastically, diligently and determinedly retain, contemplate and apply that truth. On the other side of the equation, the supply needs to be pristine as well: the pure water of the Word, properly understood, exegeted and taught in all its proper detail and depth – the plain, complete whole truth of the Bible. Clearly, there is much lacking on both sides of the equation in contemporary Christianity, but this ministry is devoted to the attempt to work at things from the supply side.

Now the Spirit can do much with little. Indeed, there is no limiting the power of God. But God has set things up in this world so as to make free will faith the critical element in all that we are and do here on earth. Therefore while He can and will make some things, basic, important and essential things, very clear and very available despite shoddiness on either or both sides of the demand/supply equation, spiritual maturity, spiritual progress, and effective production require giving our will over to the Spirit's will in all these things, not in some emotional once-and-for-all outburst, but in a consistent, daily, diligent application of our will to all the things we know He wants us to do in this regard: finding a good source and vetting it; taking in teaching deeply, volume and quality; doing our own Bible reading and study; praying consistently; believing and applying, treasuring and contemplating the truth He has given us; passing the tests that come our way; and helping others do the same. If we go down this road, many if not all of the natural/fleshly/worldly barriers we can see that would otherwise hinder perception will not hold us up or keep us back forever, until . . .

"we all reach that unifying goal of believing what is right and of giving our complete allegiance to the Son of God, that each of us might be a perfect person, that is, that we might attain to that standard of maturity whose 'attainment' is defined by Christ."
Ephesians 4:13-15

A word about filters. They work both ways in this process. Just as the natural mind (demand side) and the insufficiencies of communication (supply side) not only entail barriers to perception which tend to filter out truth, so also there is the problem of the "chaff" they both produce. That is to say, things that are not true but are represented as such (whether deliberately or by mistake) are things that very much need to be filtered out for spiritual growth to occur. In both of these cases we find the Spirit at work. Truth in the heart is His fulcrum; the more truth, the more usable the believer in question. And He does not use anything that is not true. So we never have to worry about some bit of information or false doctrine being used by God against His own plan; by definition, that is impossible. More practically, we can also be confident that if we are making good faith efforts to get to the truth, He is guiding us and helping us to separate the wheat from the chaff. This may be a lengthy process, and in it our heart and our commitment are going to be tested, but if we persevere on the right course from right motives, we can be confident that the Spirit will ever be refining our understanding and our application "until we are perfect".

God has put the entire apparatus into place. He has given us the Spirit. He has shown us the right way to go. He has given us the Bible. He has made good teaching available (even if it has to be sought out). He has clearly laid out His plan for our lives of spiritual growth through learning/believing/applying the truth, and left no part out. What is lacking is on our side. We can't even hide behind the claim of "insufficient means". God deals with us where we are. If we have a low I.Q. by birth, He is fully able to measure our effort based upon our means and compute our reward fairly based upon the true effort and desire of our hearts: the woman who put in the least coin in God's fair judgment put in more than all those who were rich. So the bottom line for me is that God takes care of everything. Perception of the truth is possible, because He made it possible. We know this by Christian experience. Theologically explained, He has given us the ministry of the Spirit – an actual indwelling at that in this age – so that His invisible spiritual truth might be made known to us and become ours in our invisible spiritual part. And the Agent of all this is His Spirit, the One who overcomes all the barriers that science and philosophy can detect or imagine. If we persist, He helps us. If advance, we will find Him ever at our side. If we have difficulties, we know that He is watching us, testing the value of our faith to see if we really as serious as we say we are. His will and desire for us to learn and appropriate the truth are perfect: and He wants us to do it perfectly.

We have been discussing this problem from the standpoint of the mechanical issues and barriers, but for God there are no barriers. In truth, there is only one really important limitation to learning God's truth entirely and perfectly to the extent that it is available this side of heaven, and that barrier is us, our own free will faith (or more specifically the lack thereof). If we were perfect in our choices and pure in our heart for Him, holding nothing back after the example of our Lord Jesus, He would quickly overcome every barrier for us, removing every obstacle from our path until we knew all that He would have us know, believing and applying it all to the glory of God. For we really do not have to worry about inaccuracies, or lack of availability, or even deception: for all those who follow Him perfectly, He perfectly provides. And in this I believe I have the Spirit of God.

(12) But we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, in order that we might know the things given to us by God. (13) These are the things we are speaking [to you] – not in words taught from human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, entrusting spiritual [teachings] to spiritual [people].
1st Corinthians 2:12-13

I am certainly not the first to put pen to paper on this subject. My own views on these matters have been greatly influenced by my old pastor, Col. Thieme. And while I would not dream of foisting the above off on him (there is much here and elsewhere at Ichthys with which he would have disagreed), I think it is fair to say that the core idea of the spiritual connection short-circuiting its way past all material barriers and complications is original to him. There was a pamphlet a while back based on his teachings on this subject: "The Grace Apparatus for Perception (GAP)". I checked the website and it seems no longer to be in print. It is available on reel-to-reel audio tapes (see series 661 at the following link: http://rbthieme.org/LessonListingForWeb.PDF). You also may want to take at these other two Ichthys links:

The "Mind of Christ" in 1st Corinthians 2:16

Christian Epistemology.

Thanks again – I'm happy to respond further on any of this.

For the Spirit Himself testifies to our spirit that we are God's children.
Romans 8:16

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Dear Robert,

My ability to concentrate on reading has improved a lot. This is a gift from the Lord. I am reading your material on hamartiology. Your comment that "the mind is where our spirit meets the flesh" is particularly to the point I address in my writing.

The mind depends for its functioning on a correctly performing neural system. To some degree or other, we all have disorders of the brain. Some of these glitches are due to external causes such as lead pollution or the effect of physical or emotional trauma. Some are genetic in origin. Inherited problems are clearly "original sin." Insofar as DNA disorders affect will power, or self-control, the structure and function or malfunctioning of the brain interferes with success in cooperating with the Holy Spirit to re-make ourselves in the spirit of the mind. Truly, we must look forward to the day when we will inhabit a perfect body.

From your point of view, do my comments reflect a correct understanding of "mind" and the process of re-making ourselves "in the spirit of the mind"?

Your brother in Christ Jesus,

Response #7:   

I would agree with your comments in the main. The list you provide could be lengthened even more. The body, of which the mind is a part, is a filter which stands between our perfect spirit and the physical world we inhabit, and the degree of filtering differs from individual to individual. The only thing we have in common, whether we be geniuses who have experienced no environmental damage to our brains, environmental or self-induced, or whether we possess very low I.Q.s just barely sufficient to be morally responsible, is that in all cases there is significant degradation when compared to the state of perfection in Eden (and even Adam and Eve in their original pre-fall state would not come close in this respect to the perfect interaction which will obtain in our pneumatikon resurrection bodies in comparison to our present psychikon bodies; 1Cor.15).

However, none of this is really decisive when it comes to biblical epistemology. God's truth is absolute and can only really be understood and believed in an absolute sense (although, when we express it, it must of necessity be in a relative and imperfect way). The Holy Spirit bypasses the interference where truth is concerned. Learning/believing truth is a pure process which only appears to be affected by the flawed filter of the physical mind. The process of remaking the mind, on the other hand, is not one of improving our brains, but rather of reshaping our hearts, reorienting our viewpoint, and training ourselves as to how and what we should think. This takes obedience to the truth, concentration on the truth, application of the truth – but the truth itself comes into our hearts from the spirit side, not the body side, and it does so through the ministry of our Teacher, the Holy Spirit. When we hear the truth, it is the Spirit who makes the truth real to our spirits, and that truth becomes resident in our hearts/minds (i.e., the interface between spirit and body where "we" exist internally) when accepted by faith.

But as it is written: "What the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, and [what] has not entered the heart of man, [these are the very] things which God has prepared for those who love Him". And God has revealed [these very things] to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches out everything, even the deep things of God. For who knows the things of a man except the spirit of man which is in him? In the same way too no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. And we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, in order that we might know the things graciously given to us by God. And these are the very things we are speaking about, not in words taught by human wisdom, but with words of the Spirit, communicating spiritual information to spiritual people. Now the unspiritual (lit., "soulish") man does not receive the [deeper] things of the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him and he is not able to understand them because they are appreciated [only] through spiritual means. But the spiritual man does appreciate them all, though he himself is not appreciated [in this regard] by anyone. For [as it says] "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who will instruct Him?" But we do have the very thinking (lit., "mind") of Christ (i.e., His truth from the Spirit).
1st Corinthians 2:9-16

That is why secular epistemology going back to the Platonic philosophers is a waste of time, biblically speaking, since what may be true for "how we learn" and "how we know" and "how we understand" in terms of secular information is turned on its head where divine truth is concerned. In cases where it is a question of God's truth, whether the revelation is special or natural, from the Word or from His creation, the Spirit "solves" the problem of relative differences in the ability to perceive and process what is true. The passage above is not speaking of memorization or recall or the ability to verbalize or systematize or any number of other facets of what may be connected to the epistemological process, only the essential understanding of "truth as it is in its essence". We may fairly call this "a miracle", because that really is what it is, an everyday miracle wherein the Spirit arcs the gap between absolute spiritual reality and the density of the human physical mind, no matter how dense it may be in any given case. Thus God allows no one who is genuinely accountable any excuse on this score, for He Himself has made available not only the truth, but the means of delivering it perfectly to every receptive spirit, so as to begin the process of reshaping and building up every willing heart. The only ingredient which differs from subject to subject is that of the free-will exercised in faith necessary to receive the truth initially. Embracing and employing truth after it has been received (i.e., made one's own through believing it) takes concerted will-power and all of these efforts are most certainly affected by the limitations of the particular body we inhabit and brain-power we deploy. But here as well we who are Christians have the indwelling Spirit to help us.

An unbeliever who is only the slightest degree above the bare minimum mental competency so as to be held responsible for his/her actions in life and who hears the gospel will be given to understand it. This is a spiritual process, a silent interaction of the Spirit and the spirit, and while it is occasioned by words, occurs in a realm above words, a realm of pure and perfect and immaculate truth. Expressing this salvation experience after the fact requires words and may be very difficult for some people to do, but it is just as real for the person who temporarily in this physical body is severely disadvantaged as it would be for the genius intellectual whose advantages are only temporary (and no advantage at all in fact if they prove a stumbling block to salvation as is often the case).

So while we are presently disadvantaged to one degree or another by the limitations of our physical mentalities, the system of receiving truth which God has provided makes this relative problem an advantage. Through the Spirit, God has leveled the playing field. All morally accountable human beings are capable of receiving natural revelation and the gospel (to which it leads); and all believers are capable of understanding the entire truth of scripture. Faith is the mental "muscle" exercised in all cases to accept the truth (without which faith acceptance there is no genuine understanding). Being presented the gospel often requires the prior inclination to want it. Being presented with the voluminous truths of scripture, the special revelation of God, likewise often requires considerable efforts to find it and hard work to learn to use it. So while it is absolutely true that both salvation and the attainment of spiritual understanding (epignosis) are entirely non-meritorious and miraculous, I would certainly not wish to give the impression that they are automatic or quick or simple or easy. Especially in the case of the latter, it most definitely is not so. A Christian who seriously wants to grow will have quite an interesting time finding a good source of truth in today's church-visible, and no source is perfect. The only thing we can count on is that when the pastor/commentator/teacher does correctly articulate a principle of truth, the Spirit will make that truth in its supernatural essence clear to the spirit of the one listening . . . and then it is a question of belief to appropriate it, discipline to remember it, articulate it and contemplate it (i.e., the "remaking of the mind"), and commitment to apply it and complete the process of growth.

Yours in the One who is the Truth and in whom we have put our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #8:

Hello Robert,

Does this make sense to you?

"Jesus said this: "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:24. The lack of an article in the original Greek indicates the term "spirit" as referring to God's ultimate nature. God is only so qualified by 2 other terms; namely "God is Light", and "God is Love", both recorded in John's First Epistle (Letter)."

Is the term "spirit", in Hebrew or Greek, ever equivalent to "energy" as opposed to "matter"?

In Him,

Response #8: 

Yes I think this is fine as far as it goes. Greek does not possess an indefinite article (i.e., an "a/an"); Greek does have an indefinite pronoun which is sometimes used in its place (tis/ti = "a certain one/thing"), but it is stronger than "a/an". I would agree that one could argue that "Spirit" is talking about God's essence whereas "the Spirit" would mean something else again, as would "a certain Spirit". But just for your own edification, it is possible to defend on the basis of grammar (though not on the basis of theology) the translation here of "a (S)pirit". That is what JW's do for example in John 1:1, translating "the Word was A God"; generally speaking, "a/an" is not the default setting for what is called "the anarthrous construction" (that is, a noun without an article), so these sorts of translations have to be defended as being correct in their contexts (and cannot be in the case of Jn.1:1 or Jn.4:24).

As to energy versus matter, that is not really a Hebrew-Greek (or otherwise ancient) conception. "Spirit" indicates the immaterial, whereas "body" represents the material, and that is really the common (and operative) biblical opposition.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Dear Brother Bob,

This question is in the same realm as the last. It is about the Christian Anthropology on which I am focused. I would appreciate your reactions to this quote from my writing:

" In discussions about the need for a continuing substance (body or mind, physical or life force – energy) there is a focus on two known aspects of this world: the stuff that Einstein gave a different slant with his formulation of the interconvertability of matter and energy. But, in my understanding of God's Word, The Creator is not synonymous with the stuff of the universe. God created, is aware of, and communicates with, our universe; but, He is not limited by it. I appreciate that God's, and our, Spirit is a different substance altogether. It is not defined by or limited to matter and energy. Spirit communicates with Spirit. And, Spirit communicates somehow with the transformable substance (matter and energy) of which we are aware and about which philosophers and theologians grapple and sometimes brawl."

In His Holy Name,

Response #9:   

Yes, this is precisely how I understand it as well. The way in which we creatures of mixed material and spiritual components are able to understand God's truth which is wholly immaterial is entirely due to God's grace provision of a means for us to do so. That means is the Holy Spirit, who works with our spirit and makes truth, an entirely spiritual category of knowledge, real and perceptible to our (largely) fleshly hearts, cutting out the interference of the sin nature in the process for all who are willing to hear and understand. The process is described briefly in 1st Corinthians chapter two where Paul says in verse twelve that "we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, in order that we might know the things graciously given to us by God", and in verse thirteen where he describes his teaching as "entrusting spiritual [teachings] to spiritual [people]". The Spirit works with unbelievers to make the gospel real to them, and works with believers in regard to the whole realm of Bible truth. That is why the Spirit is described as our teacher (e.g., 1Jn.2:27). This doesn't mean, as some have misinterpreted the concept, that we get everything "automatically" – far from it. It does mean that in this earthly situation where imperfect teachers working with less than perfect means are communicating in imperfect ways to less than completely responsive or dedicated fellow believers can still have success in communicating the truth. That is because the Spirit can use anything that is actually true, and does in the case of any truth to which the listener is willing to respond. To me, that is a brief to work harder and do better, because nothing legitimate will ever be allowed to fall by the wayside.

Keep on fighting the good fight!

In Jesus,

Bob L.

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