Theology


I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

While most people rightly understand the baptism of the Spirit as a reference to regeneration, there is no shortage of interpretations of what the “fire” refers to.

Some understand this as referring to two separate Spirit baptisms for believers: the baptism of the Spirit is for salvation (regeneration), while the baptism with fire is an empowerment for ministry. Others agree that “fire” refers to anointing and empowerment, but only see one baptism in view. When we receive the Spirit, we experience both salvation and ministry empowerment simultaneously. An appeal is often made to Acts 2:1-4, where fire appeared over the disciples when they were filled with the Spirit.

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I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:5-8, ESV)

What is the “gift of God” that Paul enjoined Timothy to fan into flame? Many interpreters, including Pentecostals, tend to view this gift as the gift of the Holy Spirit that we see in the book of Acts. I’ve heard a number of messages about stirring up the Holy Spirit inside of me, based on this verse. It’s not hard to see the connection. The laying on of hands is associated with receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:17-18 and 19:6, and this experience is intimately connected with “power” being given to the believer (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 4:33; 6:8; 10:38).

While this is a plausible interpretation, I do not think it is the best. Let’s consider other possibilities. (more…)

If you think “God just wants me to be happy,” you are going to be very disappointed in your Christian life, and inclined toward sin and doubt. False expectations never end well.

The notion that God just wants us to be happy has led many believers to question God’s existence when some evil befalls them or their life is not working out the way they wanted. It has led others to disobey God’s Word, reasoning that God can’t possibly require them to do X since X does not bring them happiness. I see this all the time when it comes to matters of sexuality and divorce/remarriage.

This isn’t to say God wants us to be sad, but merely that God’s purpose for our lives is not our personal happiness per se. His purpose is that we live our lives for His purpose and that our character be conformed to His image. He is primarily interested in our obedience, our dedication, and our faithfulness – not our happiness. While obedience often leads to happiness, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it leads to loss, sorrow, and personal difficulty.

No, God does not want you to be happy. He wants you to obey Him. He wants you to take up our cross and follow Him. Doing so will always bring ultimate fulfillment, but not always ultimate happiness.

When it comes to Biblical interpretation, some tend to think that they don’t need to study or engage in deep thinking on the Scripture. God will simply tell them what the Bible means. On the other end of the spectrum are those who tend to think that they don’t need any spiritual illumination of the text. They can discover the meaning through study and deep thinking alone.

Paul rejected both of these approaches to Scripture. He told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). Paul didn’t see it as an either-or, but a both-and. We must do our best thinking on the words of Scripture, and Jesus will help us understand Scripture in the process.

I am temporarily reviving an old series I did on hermeneutics called “straight outta context.” For this installment, I want to look at 1 Corinthians 3:10-17.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3:10-17)

I had always heard verses 10-15 used to exhort people to good works. As Christians, we need to make sure that we are doing works that will endure for eternity (gold, silver, precious stones) and for which we will receive a reward, rather than doing things that have no eternal value (wood, hay, stubble). However, in context, this is Paul’s warning to teachers to make sure that they are discipling God’s people correctly.

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In John 20:21-22, during Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the apostles, He said, “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” Did the apostles receive the Spirit at that moment, or did the fulfillment of Jesus’ words await the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4)?

Many interpreters have concluded that Jesus was speaking prophetically in John 20 of the future Pentecost experience. They do so, however, because they assume that both John and Acts refer to the same event. In the paper linked below, I argue that this assumption is mistaken. The authors of John and Acts are referring to two different works of the Spirit for two different purposes that occurred on two different occasions. In John 20, the apostles experienced the regeneration of the Spirit, whereas in Acts 2 the apostles experienced the empowerment of the Spirit that equipped them to be a witness for Jesus and His resurrection.

Did the Disciples Receive the Spirit in John 20:22?

More than 80 fragments of Nahum and Zechariah (not all have text written on them) were recently discovered in the Judean desert. These are the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 60 years. Apparently, these fragments belong to a scroll of the Minor Prophets that was discovered in this same cave more than 60 years ago. That scroll, and these new fragments, are written in Greek rather than Hebrew. One of the interesting features of this scroll is that the name of God is written in paleo Hebrew, which is the ancient Hebrew script. Hopefully more scrolls will soon be discovered.

See:

Biblical Archaeology Society

The Jerusalem Post

Why doesn’t God give people a second chance to be saved after death (Heb 9:27)? Surely those who go to hell would want to repent once they are faced with the consequences of their sin, right? Wrong. This idea underestimates these people’s disposition toward God. They know God exists (Ps 19:1-4; Rom 1:18-32; 2:12-16), but they hate Him and refuse to acknowledge Him by repenting of their sins (Ps 83:2; Jn 3:20; 7:7; 15:18,23-24; Rom 1:30; Rev 9:20; 16:9,11). They reject His moral authority over their lives. While they do not like their punishment, they don’t want the alternative either. They don’t love God, and they don’t want to be with Him for eternity. It’s not so much that God will not give them a second chance to repent as it is that they would not take Him up on His offer if He were to give it.


Many people (non-Christians and Christians alike) find it morally outrageous that God would consign people to an eternity in hell to pay for a finite number of sins committed here on Earth. As a result, some people reject Christianity, some deny that hell is eternal, and others choose to live with the theological tension. None of this is necessary, however, because this understanding of hell is based on false assumptions. It falsely assumes that the purpose of hell is only to pay for sins committed prior to death, which, in turn, falsely assumes that people stop sinning in hell. Neither is true.

Yes, hell is a place where people will be punished for their sins, but it is also a place where the sinners who are being punished for their sins will go on sinning for eternity. They sin on Earth and in heaven. Think about it. Does anyone believe that those in hell suddenly become good people? Do we really think that they undergo complete sanctification upon entering hell? Of course not. They will continue to sin against God for eternity. They will continue in their moral rebellion and rejection of God. And that is why they will continue to be punished by God for eternity.

We are saved by faith, not works, but the faith that saves is a faith that works. True saving faith will produce good works. Faith, not works, is the causal condition for salvation, but good works are the necessary effect of our saving faith. That doesn’t mean we will be perfect, but it does mean we will be moving toward perfection via the process of sanctification.

Our biggest temptation as humans is works righteousness – thinking that we can earn our salvation by own goodness. Ask the average nominal Christian in America how he knows he is saved and you’re likely to hear, “Well, I’m a pretty good person.” Even those who recognize that they are saved by grace alone often feel the temptation to believe they are “kept,” at least in part, by their good works. While we are certainly saved for good works (Eph 2:8-10; Tit 2:11-12), good works cannot save us or keep us saved. Our trust in Jesus alone saves us. Faith causes salvation – good works are the effect.

We could never do enough good works to be accepted by God because, in God’s economy, good works cannot cancel out evil works. And it’s our evil works that are the problem. They are an affront to God’s holiness. If we are to have a relationship with a holy God, our evil works have to be dealt with. The problem is that mankind has no ability to atone for his evil works. Only God can do that. And He did. He became a man and paid the penalty for our sin (death) on the cross. The sinless man died in the place of sinful man. The way we access the atonement God provided for us is by trusting in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. Since God’s acceptance of us is based entirely on Jesus’ work rather than our own, God’s continued acceptance of us is also based on Jesus’ work rather than our own (Rom 5:8-11).

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Sometimes we portray Jesus as providing us with a ladder to bridge the chasm between our sinful selves and a holy God. Jesus made a way for us to reach God. This is inaccurate. Jesus didn’t just provide us with a ladder and tell us to climb, but Jesus provided the ladder and climbs it for us. We get to the top – not by climbing it ourselves – but by riding on the back of Jesus.

For a number of years now, churches have latched on to the “leadership training” fad. The idea is that everyone is a leader, and needs to be trained as such to be more effective in the kingdom. Really? Is everyone a chief? If so, where are the Indians? Those who claim everyone is a leader have to have a pretty thin definition of leader. Yes, everyone has influence in someone else’s life at some point, but that does not make them a leader or require that they undergo leadership training.

Despite the fact that I don’t think everyone is a leader, I wouldn’t be bothered by all of this leadership training if churches were also focused on theological training. In my experience, however, people being trained in leadership are getting virtually no theological training at all. People well-versed in leadership couldn’t exegete their way out of a paper bag or tell you the first thing about the Bible’s teaching on justification. Let’s get first things first. Theological training is a necessity for every Christian. Leadership training is a luxury.

I often hear people preface their wayward theological musings with, “I really prayed about this and did a lot of study.” If they are simply making the point that they did not come to their conclusions rashly, fine, but this sort of statement is often used as a justification for their theological conclusions. They are appealing to their prayer and study as reasons to accept their beliefs as true. This is mistaken. Prayer and study do not guarantee that one will come to the right conclusions. This should be evident from the fact that many people have given themselves over to much prayer and study regarding a particular issue, only to come to different conclusions. Prayer and study do not guarantee that you will come to the right conclusion, and surely they are not good reasons for others to trust your conclusions. All that matters are the reasons you offer for your conclusions. If your reasons are good, then your conclusion should be trusted. If your reasons are bad, then your conclusions should not be trusted. The same goes for your facts and presuppositions. Your conclusion will only be as good as the facts you considered and the presuppositions you bring to the question. I’m glad you prayed and studied, but I care more about your reasons than your investment and sincerity.

Many so-called prophets had prophesied that Trump would win re-election, including Kris Vallotton, Jeremiah Johnson, Pat Robertson, Curt Landry, Tomi Arayomi, Kat Kerr, Denise Goulet, Charlie Shamp, Albert Milton, Taribo West, Kevin Zadai, and many more (references are in the comments). President Trump’s legal challenges to the election results have failed and the Electoral College has voted for Joe Biden to be the next president, so it should be abundantly clear at this point that Trump is not going to serve another four years.

Will those who follow the aforementioned prophets shrug off this as just an unfortunate example of how “everyone misses it from time to time,” or will they recognize these people for what they are: false prophets?

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You can always tell when someone believes something based on their emotions/will rather than their reason: They resort to name-calling, yelling, violence, shame, intimidation. They want to silence the opposition rather than respond to them. I heard it said that you know someone doesn’t have a good argument when they resort to hitting people with blunt objects to make their case.

Many Christians would disavow such things, but they have another way of responding to challenges to their ill-founded beliefs. When they don’t have good reasons to support their claims or to challenge your arguments, they trump you with spirituality. They will say the Holy Spirit told them that X is true, or that the only reason you believe X is because you are not spiritual. Don’t fall for the bait by shifting the focus to your own spirituality. Shift the focus back to the argument by responding, “Ok, so I’m carnal. Can you tell this carnal brother of yours why I should believe you are right (or conversely, why I should believe I am wrong)?”

Certainty is a state of mind. One who is certain is one who does not doubt that some X is true. Having certainty regarding X does not guarantee that X is true, but merely that one believes X is true and has no doubts regarding its truth. Someone who seeks certainty regarding some X, then, seeks to justify belief in X to such a degree that they no longer have doubts regarding the truth of X.

Many post-modern types decry the desire for certainty as an “Enlightenment ideal,” preferring questioning and doubt instead. This is wrong. The desire for certainty is a basic human desire that has manifested itself in every generation. Humans want to know that what they believe is true. While certainty is not required to have knowledge (and philosophically speaking, not possible for most things), and while certainty is not required for everything we believe, and while an inordinate desire for certainty can be bad, the desire for certainty is natural, good, and obtainable in some matters.

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People’s perception of Christianity is often shaped more by their church experience than by Scripture. If your experience of Christianity was in a Catholic church, you may think of Christianity as solemn and reverent, but ritualistic and largely irrelevant to daily life. If your experience of Christianity was in a Baptist church, you may think of Christianity in terms of moral behavior and Bible study. If your experience of Christianity was in a Pentecostal church, you may think of Christianity as wild and crazy, where emotions and the supernatural are top priority. Whatever your experience may have been, that is what you associate with “Christianity.” For you, that IS Christianity.

So when you invite a former Christian to rekindle their former Christian faith, they will naturally think you are trying to convert them back to the same church experience they had in the past. And for many people, it was their church experience that caused them to leave the faith. Why on earth would they ever want to go back?!

That’s why it’s a good idea to ask them about their church experience. What was their church community like? What did they believe? What were their negative experiences? It’s also good to ask them what they think Christianity is all about. In my experience, most people’s understanding of Christianity is very thin, if not warped. Once you know more about their view and experience of Christianity, the better you will be able to share with them the true gospel. Once they see the difference between what they came from and what you are inviting them to, they might be willing to give Christianity – the real Christianity – another shot.

Sometimes we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Let me give you two examples where Christians cannot seem to win with non-Christians.

Non-Christians will often complain that Christians are hypocrites, by which they mean we do not live up to our own moral codes. While we say people should do X, we ourselves fail to do X. And yet, these same people will complain when one Christian calls out another Christian for their immoral behavior. Now the complaint is “you shouldn’t judge” (not recognizing that they themselves are making a judgement when they say “you should not judge” – and thus being hypocritical themselves – and that they make a judgment when they say Christians are hypocrites). So let me get this straight. Christians are damned if they fail to live up to their own moral standards, and they are damned if they try to encourage each other to live up to their own moral standards. Can we win?

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Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Our eternal destination is not determined by our sin, but by our Savior. If no good work can earn salvation, then no evil work can forfeit our salvation. All Christians commit sin. We are saved, not because we stop sinning, but because we trust in the One who never sinned.

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