Wednesday, August 10, 2016

P2 - How spiritual gifts demonstrate the reality of the true and living God

1 Corinthians 12:1-3 "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.2 You know that when you were pagans,you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit."

In yesterday's post, we considered how spiritual gifts function as a demonstration of the reality of the true and living God operating through His people in the local church. When I think about the place of the spiritual gifts in the local church, I'm reminded of the last stanza of Martin Luther's famous hymn: "A Mighty Fortress":

"That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever!"

We first considered how God revealed such in the Old Testament by His gifting of various people among the Hebrews, and how such a notion was absent from ancient pagan belief systems. In such systems, the pagan worshiper would bring his or her gifts to the given deity, and attempt to appease such or make themselves worthy by a system of works and ritual. The New Testament expands upon what God first revealed in the Old Testament about the gifts and reveals that at salvation, the Person of the Spirit unconditionally bestows multitudes of gifts upon every believer. Anywhere we begin to see conditions and good works lumped into the reception of the gifts, or where we see the gifts restricted or non-existent, the sign of paganism mixed into the worldview is surely present. In today's post, we want to continue our discussion by noting a modern day example.

How the spiritual gifts distinguish true Biblical Christianity from other would-be-contenders
So we have seen how the manifestation of the spiritual gifts are expressed by Paul as demonstrating the reality of the living God in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Such an apologetic (that is, a defensive strategy for explaining the truth of Christianity to non-Christians) of using spiritual gifts to demonstrate the reality of Christianity is valid in today's culture. The James-Fausest-Brown commentary notes: "these dumb idols—Greek, "the idols which are dumb"; contrasted with the living God who "speaks" in the believer by His Spirit (1Co 12:3, &c.). This gives the reason why the Corinthians needed instruction as to spiritual gifts, namely, their past heathen state, wherein they had no experience of intelligent spiritual powers. When blind, ye went to the dumb."

Paganism as a worldview (known by its older name "New Age" but known more widely today under the headings of loosely organized movements such as "neo-paganism" and "wicca") is associated with the following underlying beliefs:

1). All of reality is a unified whole, with no distinction made between "God" and "the creation". The idea of a Supreme, all-powerful God is denied by this worldview. Reality is likened unto a one-story house, with the "spiritual" and "material" realms collapsed into one.

2). There are varying levels of "spiritual beings" that human beings can allegedly learn to control and harness for the purpose of gaining power, wealth or influence. 

3). Nature is elevated to the point of worship, and human beings becoming subjects of unseen forces to which they must either attempt to satisfy through ritual or can learn to control by way of ritual and incantations.

We could say more, but these three features tend to generally characterize a pagan worldview. Paganism by its very essence has devotees bringing "gifts" or trying to merit enough good works so as to placate their myriad of deities. Christianity is the only worldview that claims that God has unconditionally given gifts by the Person of the Holy Spirit to every Christian at salvation. Wherever paganism tries to stick its nose, one will find either a great restriction or non-existence of the gifts or some sort of additional conditions added for their reception.

Oftentimes we will see attempts to marry together paganism with more established worldviews (chiefly Christianity) to produce a hybrid that results in a form of paganism baptized into Christian terminology. An example of this is Mormonism. We find for example what all must take place for a Mormon to receive what they would classify as their version of the gifts, as cited in a Mormon reference work: "Encyclopedia of Mormonism", Volume 2, page 544: "As prerequisites to obtaining such gifts, a person must receive the ordinances of baptism and bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost from an authorized priesthood holder, must earnestly seek to obtain the gift or gifts, and must make sincere efforts to keep the Lord's commandments." 

Notice how access to the gifts has added "prerequisites", as well as emphasis upon what the devotee must do. Contrast this to Biblical Christianity, in 1 Corinthians 12:1-4, where such gifts are conferred upon the person in saving faith. Moreover, Mormons generally affirm six general gifts, whereas Biblical Christianity affirms at least 18. The point is this: the true and living God gives gifts for the sake of empowering His people to do His will, whereas all other systems require some measure of good works in order to hopefully make oneself worthy enough to receive anything. 

When we think about what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, we are reminded of how Christians are delivered from such a way of life. Whether it its pure unmitigated form or in its mixed format, all forms of paganism cut-off access to the true and living God, putting a surrogate deity (mainly an impersonal force) or series of deities in the place that God, and God alone ought to occupy. Moreover, the idea of God granting graces or gifts to His people in an unconditional fashion is unheard of in any other religion, creed or worldview.  

Closing thoughts
The point of these last couple of posts have been to explore how Paul uses spiritual gifts as an apologetic to demonstrate the reality of the living and true God in the face of other would-be contenders. May God grant every Christian understanding into the significance of this point, and may those who are non-Christian see how the living and true God is demonstrated by way of the gifts. 

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