I completely agree with your understanding of being born again "by
water and Spirit" as referring to the water of the Word and the Holy
Spirit, and I also have long held as you state that "The baptism of Mt
28:18-20 has been completely misunderstood; it is the Holy Spirit
baptism not an earthly water baptism". There is in truth only "one
baptism", the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Water baptism is indeed one the many dangerous symptoms of all that is wrong with the contemporary church visible. I find it particularly disturbing myself that the more successful mega-churches and mega-church movements in this country, far from de-emphasizing water baptism, have instead made it a cornerstone principle of their movements. Your e-mail is quite effective at showing the dangers of this approach. Once a person turns away from the truth, it is inevitable that lies will fill the void. How much more is this not the case for those who are not seeking God's truth through His Word in the first place!
What I have a question about is this particular teaching I have bumped into which claims that the Spirit is not really a separate person in the same way as the Father and the Son. Your comments?
In the service of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the One and only begotten Son of God.
Response #1: There is no question that the current state of what I call the
"church visible" (i.e., "official" Christianity organized into
denominations) is largely spiritually moribund at best and apostate at
worst. Further, the religious church is indeed prophesied to continue to
deteriorate in the end times until, during the Tribulation, apparently
all of what is now organized will be subsumed into antichrist's
tribulational anti-Church (see the link:
"The situation of the church visible on the eve of the Tribulation"
"The persuasiveness of the tribulational false religion" both from
On the Trinity, it would be best to consider first Matthew 28:19. In that passage we agree that the baptism is that of the Spirit. Furthermore, the Greek word used there for "Name", onoma, can and often does have the sense of "person" (i.e., for which the name stands), and clearly does so here. So it is the baptism of the Spirit which places the believer "into union" with the Persons of . . . . . the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – therefore clearly and obviously the Spirit is a Person of God to the extent that and in the same way that this is true of the Father and of the Son.
Now there are many other passages which may be adduced from a positive point of view that show clearly the three Persons of the Trinity at once (see the links: "The One True God and the Trinity in the Old Testament", and "The Trinity in Isaiah 63:10-15"). But since a good deal of the justification for questioning the Trinity in this theory to which you refer seems to be based upon the numerous passages where the Spirit does not appear, it is important to point out that this is hardly evidence that the Spirit is not a co-equal member of the God-head. That would not be a logical deduction in light of the other passages where the Three are mentioned together and also the many places where the Spirit is mentioned either individually or in tandem with either the Father or the Son (see the link: "Questioning the Trinity").
It is true that the Spirit is the least mentioned of the Three in scripture. But to use that as an argument against His divinity is also to necessarily question the divinity of the Son. That is so because the Son, of course, is mentioned much less often than the Father because of the fact that His deity is largely shrouded in the Old Testament. In truth, many of the instances where the Father seems to be in view are actually instances of the Son acting in the Father's place, something that was not meant to be fully understood until Jesus was revealed in the flesh (see the links: "Jesus Christ in the Old Testament [Christophany: Gen.3:8]" and "Christophany in the Exodus"). But the fact remains that, to the casual reader of the Old Testament with no knowledge of the New, the divinity of the Jesus the Messiah might possibly be overlooked (especially if certain key passages like Isaiah 52-53 and the Messianic Psalms are omitted either out of ignorance or arrogance) – it certainly has been by the Jewish faith.
Doubting the divinity of the Spirit because of the relative paucity with which the Bible mentions Him is poor theology - the Bible only has to say something once for it to be true, and the divinity of the Spirit is established many times (as in Matt.28:19 and in the links given above). And there is of course good reason for this relative numerical scarcity, namely, it is the Spirit's role to warm, empower, inspire, guide, restrain invisibly. That is why Jesus says of the Spirit in the other passage we have spent some time on, John 3:3-15, that "the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (Jn.3:8). One other important set of passages to consider are the visions in Revelation where the Father on the throne and the Lamb are clearly seen, but the Spirit, while mentioned prominently, is represented somewhat less visibly by "seven spirits", that is, the Spirit in perfection as the number seven represents Him (Rev.1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6).
Many of the questions people have in this regard seem to be based upon the supposition that because the Spirit is sometimes called "the Spirit of Christ" or "the Spirit of Jesus", that these and therefore all other instances are to be taken as a periphrasis for "Christ/Jesus". There is no convincing argument to be made for this extension of the premise on the one hand, and, on the other hand, it is far easier and more natural to understand the Spirit as being "of Jesus/Christ" because it is Jesus Christ who sends Him and because He then teaches about Jesus Christ (e.g., Jn.15:26). This last passage, by the way, John 15:26, talks about the Paraclete, the Son and the Father in a way that certainly makes it seem like they are three distinct Persons (indeed, one would have to be operating on the "two Person theory" at the time when one reads this passage for any other interpretation even to come into the mind, a sure sign of trouble). The same is true of many of the other passages which are sometimes adduced as support for "two" but really have "three", such as 1Cor.12:4-6 where the Spirit, Son, and Father all have separate duties regarding spiritual gifts: the Spirit gives the gift itself, the Son gives the ministry or ministry field, and the Father gives the results of using the gift in that field.
One of the greatest challenges we face as believers on the cusp of the Tribulation, with so much of the church visible already having at least one foot in apostasy and the rest largely proceeding in the same direction, is to find a way to keep false teaching at arms' length while at the same time continuing to grow spiritually through attention to genuinely orthodox (i.e., "true and straight") teaching. Every believer is individually responsible for the choices he/she makes in this regard, and they are of no little moment. I am certainly prepared to commend good work when I see it, but also to censure what I believe to be wrong, especially when it is so obviously and dangerously wrong as this "two Person" theory is. I believe in the Three Persons of the Godhead not because of tradition but because that is what the scripture teaches very clearly in my view – just as a teaching is not necessarily true because it has the authority of tradition, so also the authority of tradition does not necessarily make it false. I see nothing at all in the examples and arguments often presented which I find compelling in the least. One of the dangers in being "iconoclastic" is that sometimes one gets so carried away with busting up "icons" that one takes the hammer to what is right and true as well. I believe that this "two Person" theory is a case in point, and I would recommend that all genuine believers give it a wide birth.
In the Name of Him who died for our sins and through His death gave us eternal life, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Bob, In scanning some of the e-mails on your site I thought I saw an estimate of 1% as the possible saved? Is there any back-up other than the general verses (many called...few chosen etc.) you quoted in some of the most recent mail?
When our Lord was asked by His disciples, "Lord, are those who are
being saved few?", He responded by telling them to "enter by the narrow
door" (Lk.13:22-30), and His disquisition which follows makes it clear
that many who think they know God actually do not.
I probably should have said "extremely small percentage" instead of giving this number, but I do think it is accurate with regard to historical world population. Here is my reasoning. Consider that in the world today that of approximately 7 billion or so human beings less than a third are counted as "Christian" by those who estimate such things. Of this generously estimated 30%, we must concede that in many places in the world being a "Christian" is a social designation. In much of Africa and the Middle East you have to be something, and if you are not Muslim you are probably Christian. Your tribe, nationality, and family often determine this designation rather than any decision from your heart to follow Jesus.
Further, the statistic above includes Europe, and most Europeans are described by the bean-counters (and would no doubt describe themselves) as "Christian", but unlike the USA where we assume that there may be at least some element of choice involved in this decision (even traditionalists here have so many options that they are at some time in their lives at least challenged to consider why they "are what they are"), European Christianity is by and large a matter of tradition in its entirety. Spiritually speaking, there is little fervor for Christ (and I would argue genuine belief in His Person and saving work) in the many millions of "Christians" that continent is said to represent. So let us cut the number to a third of the original total to allow for the removal of statistical/traditional "Christians" and we are left with 10%. I am sure that you yourself have plenty of experience with individuals even within genuine Christian churches who are not truly believers in and followers of Jesus Christ. How much more would that not be so in the case of many denominations whose allegiance itself to the Lord is in truth very weak if even truly genuine (and these probably contain the lion's share of so-called Christians)! I would be surprised if it is a tenth (i.e., 1% overall) are really followers of Christ, based upon what I have learned and observed in my own life.
And there is of course more. The parable of the sower allows for those who are saved but fall away under persecution (apostasy: Matt.13:20-21), and for those whose faith is choked by the weeds of life (at least potential apostasy: Matt.13:22). Not even everyone who believes makes it over the finish line with faith still intact.
Looking forward to the years before the Tribulation and the apathy that is growing in the church visible, and into the Tribulation and the falling away of one third of genuine believers that is predicted to occur in the Great Apostasy (see the link: "The Great Apostasy"), one would have to reduce the figure even further. More than that, looking backward requires a serious reduction in the figure, since in the days of the Apostles only a very small percentage of even the Roman world had heard the good news by the time that greatest generation had died out, much less the rest of the globe. And before the cross, well, Israel was the witness to the world, and there was some proselytizing etc., but only a handful of non-Jews, relatively speaking, would have been believers.
In the USA, clearly the figure is more than 1%, but it is also probably much smaller than most people assume. Consider that . . .
1) Abraham's conservative estimate of the number of believers in Sodom which turned out to be far more than he expected (Gen.18:16 - 19:29);
2) the reduction of the number of the faithful in the northern kingdom at the time of Elijah's ministry to a mere "7,000 who have not bent the knee to Baal" (i.e., many more than Elijah thought, but a mere fraction of the population, surely less than 1%: 1Ki.19:18);
3) the fact that only "a tenth" will remain in Israel after the Tribulation (Is.6:13), and not even all of these will enter the land (Ezek.20:35-38).
The one wild card in all of this is the unknown number of individuals from Adam to our Lord's return who have failed or will fail to reach moral accountability. All those who die before attaining the age of even being able to decide for or against God will not come into judgment for rejecting Christ. This is also true of all who have lacked or will lack the mental competency to make the decision for which, ultimately, we are all born, namely, of wanting God or rejecting Him, of accepting His truth or preferring the devil's lies. Given the high rate of infant mortality, especially in antiquity, that fact alone means that every nation, race, and people since the re-population of the world with mankind after the Genesis gap will be represented in the Church of Jesus Christ (cf. Ps.8:2), and for this reason alone it is impossible to produce an accurate number for the overall composition of the Body of Christ as a percentage of humanity generally. The one thing that we can definitely say is that this percentage will be "extremely small indeed":
How narrow the gate and how constricted the road which leads to life! And those who find it are few.
The following link spells out these and related matters in greater
The Refining of the Remnant (in CT 3A)
Hope this gets to the nub of your question.
In our Lord,