The Role of the Holy Spirit in Counseling

Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He promised His disciples that He would not leave them orphans but would send them another Paraclete Whom He identified as the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). In English translations of the Bible, the Greek word ‘Paraclete’ in the above-cited passage is rendered either as ‘Advocate’ or ‘Helper.’ In addition to those however, the most appropriate translation of that word in the context of our topic is that of ‘Counselor.’ Although Jesus was and is definitely the Great Counselor while He walked the earth, the Counselor who remained on earth to guide Jesus’ disciples is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will remind His disciples everything that He taught them—and that includes us modern-day Christians.

In referring to the third Person of the triune God, the word ‘holy’ is most commonly used. According to Jay Adams, the Holy Spirit is called holy not only because He is to be distinguished from all other spirits, and in particular from unclean spirits, but also because He is the Source of all holiness. He further states that “the holiness of God’s people that results from their sanctification by the Holy Spirit must be attributed entirely to Him as He works through His Word.

As pastors and nouthetic counselors entrusted by Jesus to take care and watch over His flock (Acts 20:28), we are to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. We should acknowledge Him in all our ways and He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). Instead of relying on human wisdom as set forth in the various philosophical systems of the world, it is only through the help of the Holy Spirit and by our reliance on the truth of God’s Word in Sacred Scripture that we can truly be effective in guiding His people out of the problems they are facing. By being faithful to God’s calling and direction, we bring glory to His name.

Hermeneutical Spiral

Grant Osborne, in his book Hermeneutical Spiral, gives us, his readers, a good introduction to the art and science of hermeneutics. According to Osborne, hermeneutics is derived from the Greek word meaning “to interpret”. Although other biblical scholars, such as Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart distinguishes, at least for their purposes, between “exegesis” and “hermeneutics” in that the former refers to the study of the text’s original meaning while the latter refers to its significance in the present, Osborne opposes such practice because technically, hermeneutics is the overall term, while exegesis and contextualization are two aspects of that larger task. In this regard, I would tend to agree more with Osborne.

As a lawyer, we also had a similar subject in law school entitled Statutory Construction. That subject was also called legal hermeneutics. As students of the law, we were required to learn the skills necessary to properly understand and interpret the laws of the land. If this skill is required in studying human law, more so when it comes to studying God’s Law! In the study of both civil or State laws and Scripture, we are dealing with words. Albeit that ultimately, God is the author of the Bible, God used human beings and their skill in the usage of conventional words to record and communicate His message. That is exactly why as reader, students and especially, teachers of the Bible, we should possess the skills to correctly interpret what it says.  Preachers and teachers of the Word, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are accurately transmitting the heart and message of God to His flock. For we are Christ’s ambassadors, it is as if God is making His appeal through us. We must be faithful to the calling God has given us so as to be trustworthy mediators of God’s message.

I liked the way Dr. Osborne explained the three levels of the hermeneutical enterprise, namely, the third-person approach, asking ”what it meant” (exegesis), then passing to a first-person approach, querying “what it meant for me” (devotional) and finally, taking a second-person approach, seeking “how to share with you what it means to me” (sermonic/homiletic). He further stated that “Hermeneutics is important because it enables one to move from text to context, to allow the God-inspired meaning of the Word to speak today with as fresh and dynamic a relevance as it had in its original setting. Moreover, preachers or teachers must proclaim the Word of God rather than their own subjective religious opinions. Only a carefully defined hermeneutic can keep one wedded to the text.”

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

I first read the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in its entirety back in 2008. I read it just because I wanted to know how to properly understand the Bible and thereby maximize my learning. A few months thereafter, I was invited by my friend and co-faculty member at the University of Makati to speak at their church during their Lenten seminars. It was a Catholic parish in Makati and the topic was Scripture. So, I quickly grabbed the opportunity and reviewed the above-mentioned book in preparation for my talk! I felt so privileged that in spite of my being a “Protestant”, I was still invited to speak and teach about no less than the Bible.

Of course, as an Evangelical Christian, I hold to the five solas trumpeted by the Protestant Reformers, the most hotly contested of which was sola scriptura or scripture alone. This was relevant because unlike Protestants and Evangelicals, the Catholic Church teaches that God’s infallible Word is not only found in Sacred Scripture but also in Sacred Tradition as handed down by the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. Nonetheless, when it was my turn to speak (there were three of us, the others were Catholic seminary graduates), I only focused on Scripture and its primacy.

I started my talk by stressing the importance and significance of the Bible in our daily lives; that as God’s immutable Word, it should be the basis of all our beliefs about how to live our lives on earth and hereafter. Most of all, it is by reading the Bible that we get to know God better. However, it is not enough for us to just read the Bible but to read it with understanding. And that’s how I got into discussing hermeneutics, which I learned primarily from reading Drs. Fee and Stuart’s book and secondarily Knowing Scripture by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

I told the congregation that just like Jesus, Scripture has a dual nature, that of the human and divine. As a work of human hands and skill, it has historic particularity, meaning, that every book in the Bible is conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written. But because the Bible is also the Word of God, it then has eternal relevance in that it speaks to all mankind, in every age and in every culture. Interpretation of the Bible is thereby demanded by the tension that exists between its historical particularity and eternal relevance. It is incumbent for teachers of the Word to stress this because while we adhere to the “plain meaning” of Scripture, there are still certain things that we need to consider, otherwise, we might fall into the common trap of “prooftexting” without context. Albeit Catholics usually just depend on the “official” interpretation given by the Magisterium, i.e. the Pope speaking “ex cathedra” together with the College of Cardinals, I nonetheless stressed the indispensability of hearing or reading God’s words to us directly from the Scriptures. To be able to do this effectively, one must at least have an idea of the basic principles of sound exegesis and contextualization. It was really good to have re-read the introduction portion of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. It reminded me of the important things to consider while reading the Bible. All in all, it should be a recommended reading not only to seminary or Bible school students but to each and every Christian who considers the Bible to be the infallible written Word of God.

The Necessity of the New Birth: A Theological Exegesis of John 3:3-7

I.          INTRODUCTION

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). Just the same as Nicodemus, you and I likewise must be born again to see the kingdom of God. It means that unless we are born again, we will not be saved; we will not be part of God’s family, and we will not go to heaven. Unfortunately however, the term “born again” has either come to mean as being a member of a certain religion or the name of a religion itself as in our case where the term “born-again” has been equated with Evangelicalism or Protestantism.

According to John Piper, Jesus’ teaching about the new birth confronts us with our hopeless spiritual and moral and legal condition apart from God’s regenerating grace. Before the new birth happens to us, we are spiritually dead; we are morally selfish and rebellious; and we are legally guilty before God’s law and under His wrath (Ephesians 2:3). When Jesus tells us that we must be born again, He is telling us that our present condition is hopelessly unresponsive, corrupt, and guilty. Moreover, teaching about the new birth is unsettling because it refers to something that is done to us, not something we do. In the same way that we do not decide nor control our physical birth, it is God who causes the new birth, not us (1 Peter 1:3).[1] This paper will attempt to expound on John 3:3-7 through the use of the historical-grammatical method.

II.         HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Authorship

The fourth gospel does not specifically assert its author’s name but only refers to the author as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in 21:20, 24. The internal evidence indicates that the author was (a) an apostle (1:14; cf. 2:11; 19:35), (b) one of the twelve disciples (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”; 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20; cf. 21:24-25),, and still more specifically, (c) John the son of Zebedee. The external evidence from the church fathers supports this identification (e.g. Ireneus, Against Heresies 3.1.2). The title “According to John” however, was attached to it two or three decades later after the book was published. From the end of the second century on, there is virtual agreement in the church as to the authority, canonicity, and authorship of the Gospel of John. An argument from silence in this case proves impressive.[2] Therefore, it has been accepted henceforth by the Christian community that this gospel was indeed written by John the son of Zebedee, who was one of the three closest disciples of Jesus Christ together with Peter and James (13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21:2-23; cf. Luke 22:8; Acts 1:13; 3:1-4:37; 8:14-25; Galatians 2:9).

Purpose and Audience

The author himself provides the reason for the writing of the gospel in John 20:30-31, where it says: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John selected the signs he used with the apologetic purpose of creating intellectual and spiritual conviction about the Son of God. The key verb in John is “believe”, and requires both knowledge and volition.[3] John’s original audience most probably consisted of both Jews and Gentiles living in the larger Greco-Roman world in Ephesus and beyond toward the close of the first century A.D. He frequently explains Jewish customs and Palestinian geography and translates Aramaic terms in to Greek, thus showing awareness of non-Jewish readers. He also present Jesus as the Word (“Λογος”) become flesh against the backdrop of Greek thought that included Stoicism and early Gnosticism. Nevertheless, John likewise shows awareness of Jewish readers as he demonstrates Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, and the Son of God who was sent by God the Father to reveal the only true God and to provide redemption to humanity.[4]

The Gospel of John presents a strikingly different picture of Jesus from that of the synoptic. Allusions to the opening chapter of Genesis can clearly be seen, i.e. “in the beginning”, as reference to God’s word as a creative power. The prologue of John 1 presents us with the story of Jesus as the coming of the Divine Word to humanity and that there is no other way to truly know God except through the Word that has dwelt with man in the form of Jesus.

 Date and Place of Writing

Since none of the arguments concerning the exact dating of the Gospel of John, scholars suggest that the probable writing of the same occurred anytime between A.D. 55- 95. As to the locus of its writing, four places are commonly proposed by scholars, namely, (a) Alexandria; (b) Antioch; (c) Palestine; and (d) Ephesus.[5]

III.         LITERARY CONTEXT

The theme of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the promised Messiah and Son of God and that by believing in Jesus, people can have eternal life with God. John 3:3-7 belongs to topic heading 2:23- 3:12 of section 2:1-4:54. The section 2:1-4:54 where 3:3-7 is included belongs to the large unit of 1:19-10:42 where Jesus discloses Himself in word and deed. This first large unit may be divided into four major sections, to wit: the prologue (1:1-18); Jesus’ early ministry, specifically, His signs, works and words (2:1-4:54); more signs, works and words, but now in the context of oppositions (5:1-7:53); the periscope of the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11); and climactic signs, works and words in the context of radical confrontation (8:12-10:42).

The first section includes the stories about Jesus’ first sign which, is the changing of water into wine at Cana (2:1-11), His words and actions in the clearing of the temple (2:12-17), and the utterance about Jesus’ replacing the temple (2:18-22). The inadequate faith of those who trust Him is then shown at the juncture of 2:23-25 now sets the stage for the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus (3:1-21), which is the subject of this study.[6]

Nicodemus is described as a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews (1:1), which meant that he was a member of the Jewish religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin. Albeit the Sanhedrin does not possess civil authority because it rests with the Roman Empire, they still had significant influence over the Jewish population as they were the ones charged with the interpretation and proclamation of the Laws of Moses or the Torah. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus took place at nighttime probably because Nicodemus was afraid of anyone seeing him confer with Jesus, with the latter considerably being hated by his fellow Pharisees. Nonetheless, Nicodemus did not hesitate to address Jesus as “Rabbi” (1:2) as he recognized Jesus as a teacher of the Law who came from God due to the “signs” that Jesus performed (2:23) notwithstanding His lack of formal rabbinical training. Jesus then tells Nicodemus outright about the necessity of being born again (3:3-12) or what we would call “regeneration”. The topic of regeneration however is not just limited to the book of John but is actually taught in other parts of the New Testament. Below is a table of passages where the new birth or regeneration is mentioned:

John 1:13 “born…of God”
John 3:3 “born again”
John 3:5 “born of water and the Spirit”
John 3:6 “born of the Spirit”
John 3:7 “born again”
John 3:8 “born of the Spirit”
Eph. 2:4-5 “God…even when we were dead…made us alive together with Christ”
Col. 2:13 “you, who were dead…God made alive together with him”
Titus 3:5 “he saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”
James 1:18 “he brought us forth by the word of truth”
1 Peter 1:3 “he has caused us to be born again”
1 Peter 1:23 “you have been born again”
1 John 2:29 “everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him”
1 John 3:9 “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning”
1 John 4:7 “whoever loves has been born of God”
1 John 5:1 “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”
1 John 5:4 “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world”
1 John 5:18 “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning”

IV.          LITERARY STUDIES

3 “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[7]

Jesus’ answer begins with the word “Amen” (Gk. “άμην”) which is of Hebrew origin (“אמן”) transplanted into the Greek New Testament that signifies trustworthiness or truthfulness, i.e. verily, truly. The fact that Jesus begins His statement thus stresses the veracity of whatever He is about to say. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the word “amen” was said twice, which was a device employed by ancient writers who did not possess the technology of a computer that can embolden, underline or italicize certain words, to stress the importance of what they are saying.

Jesus stresses that it is He who says what He says, i.e. “I say to you”. This assertion contrasts with what of the rabbinic training that Nicodemus was accustomed to in that the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of Jewish religious law would always quote other eminent scholars and scribes for authority. Instead of doing the same, Jesus Himself would issue a command or an interpretation of God’s command by His own authority.

In stressing the necessity of regeneration, Jesus used the conditional term “unless” from the Greek word “έάν μη” which means “except”, “if not”, “before” or “but if”. The use of this word makes regeneration a conditio sine qua non before entering or seeing God’s kingdom. John Gill explains it thus: “Christ assures him, that he must be “born again”; in distinction from, and opposition to his first birth by nature; in which he was vile, polluted, carnal, and corrupt, being conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity, and was a transgressor from the womb, and by nature a child of wrath; and in opposition to, his descent from Abraham, or being born of him, and of his seed; for this would be of no avail to him in this case, nor give him any right to the privileges and ordinances of the kingdom of God, or the Gospel dispensation”[8]

The terms “born again” from the Greek words “γέννάω ανωθέν”, can also be translated as “born from above”. Here, it can be seen that the intent of the author is to show that this rebirth is from above or from God. This discussion of the need for spiritual rebirth further develops the earlier reference to the “children of God” who are “born of God” (1:12–13; cf. 8:39–58; 11:51–52).

In this verse, “Kingdom of God” refers to the reign of God in the hearts and lives of the believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in His body, the Church (cf. Matthew 5:10). The word “kingdom” here is a translation of the Greek word “βασιλεια”, which properly means royalty, that is, abstractly, rule, or concretely, a realm, or figuratively, a reign.[9] Genuine believers, i.e. those who have been born again, will increasingly reflect Christ’s love, obey His laws, honor Him, and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

4 “Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Here, Nicodemus clearly understood Jesus’ words in a literal way, hence, his confusion and dumbfoundedness.

5 “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Again, Jesus uses the words “Amen, amen”, which signifies and stresses the veracity and importance of His following statement.

The phrase “born of water and the Spirit” refers to spiritual birth, which cleanses from sin and brings spiritual transformation and renewal. Water here does not refer to the water of physical birth, nor is it likely that it refers to baptism. The background is probably Ezekiel 36:25–27, where God promises, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean. … And I will give you a new heart. … And I will put my Spirit within you.”

 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Here, Jesus distinguishes between the physical (“σαϱξ”) birth from the spiritual (“πνεϋμα”) birth. As descendants of Adam according to the flesh, the entire human race has inherited the sinful nature and hence, spiritually dead in our transgressions. That is why spiritual birth, which cleanses from sin and brings spiritual transformation, is necessary (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17).

7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

To be sure, Nicodemus was evidently puzzled and marveled by what Jesus told him. The word “marvel” here is from the Greek word “θαυμάζω”, which means to wonder; by implication, to admire.[10]

In the English language, the word “you” is meant for either singular or plural. However, the change from singular (“σοι”) to plural (“ύμας”) probably is meant to include Nicodemus and his fellow Sanhedrin members. The plural also carries broader application to all people, as in everyone “must be born again”.

The word “must” is translated from the Greek word “δεί”, which is the third person singular active present of “δεω”; also “δεόν”, which is neuter active participle of the same; both used impersonally; it is (was, etc.) necessary (as binding): – behoved, be meet, must (needs), (be) need (-ful), ought, should.[11] By using this word, Jesus stresses the indispensability of the new birth as a requirement to see the “kingdom of God”.

V.          LIFE APPLICATION

What it Means to Me

Living in a predominantly Roman Catholic country where religiosity is the norm, I have seen how millions of Filipinos would sacrifice their lives, liberty and property in order to gain that much coveted salvation. Although they confess Christ as their Lord and Savior, it is clearly apparent that they are still trying to earn their way to heaven through the merits of their own good works. Surely, however, in the passages that this study has presented, it is only through the spiritual rebirth that a person can truly and unselfishly do good works that would please God. As a physically dead person cannot produce anything, neither can spiritually dead persons produce spiritually meritorious good works. It is only by being born again to a new life can man truly do something beneficial. Only regenerated children of God in Christ can see the Kingdom of God.


[1]John Piper, Finally Alive. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Desiring God, c2009) p.49.

[2] D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, c2005) p. 229.

[3] Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, The Wilkinson and Boa Bible Handbook. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, c2002) p. 337.

[4] The ESV Study Bible, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, c2008)

[5] Supra, p. 254.

[6] Supra, p. 227.

[7] Text is from the English Standard Version 2007

[8] John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (Public domain).

[9] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, e-Sword, c2012.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints

As I was reading the chapter on Perseverance in the book Renewal Theology by Dr. J. Rodman Williams, there were some persistent questions that kept on bothering me. Dr. Williams speaks of the security of salvation, to wit: “Hence, there is no way of falling out of God’s love and care and concern. Grace is unconditional. This means that God perseveres, whatever man may do, in the undergirding and sustaining of all who truly believe. God never fails. The security of salvation rests—let it be repeated—not in ourselves, but in Him.” However, on the next page, he says that true believers—Christians—can and indeed do fall away (apostatize) from the Faith. To be sure, Dr. Williams did provide ample passages from Scripture proving both statements. So if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Those of the Reformed (Calvinist) camp, quoting 1 John 2:19, would say that those who apostatized were not genuine Christians and were never saved in the first place. As a staunch Calvinist, I held on to that position. But when I took another look at that passage, I realized something. Although I noticed this prior to reading Renewal Theology, I’ll just use the words of Dr. Williams therein: “However, John is here referring to unbelievers—indeed ‘antichrists’ who have been in the Christian fellowship but who do not in faith truly belong, and who by their defection exhibit this.” He further states that the word ‘apostasy’ itself means a departure from the faith and that it would be a contradiction in terms if we would say that a person who never had the faith could apostatize from it. I see the point. So, lo and behold, I have changed my view! But the question begs us, if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Because Scripture simultaneously teaches predestination, election, perseverance (or eternal security) on the one hand and the falling away of true believers on the other hand, then we have to believe both to be true without making it appear that the Bible contradicts itself. In his article entitled A Tiptoe Through TULIP, James Akin provided the Thomist, as in St. Thomas Aquinas, view on predestination. According to Aquinas, we should distinguish between predestination to initial salvation and predestination to final salvation, to wit: “the gift of final perseverance is the abiding in good to the end of life. In order to have this perseverance man . . . needs the divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions . . . [A]fter anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance that he may be kept from evil till the end of life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given.” [ST I:II:109:10]. James Akin further posited that “The idea that a person can be predestined to come to God yet not be predestined to stay the course may be new to Calvinists and may sound strange to them, but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther.” Herein I have found the solution to this apparent dilemma, one that sufficiently harmonizes biblical doctrine.

The Meaning and Method of Sanctification

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Jesus Christ returns.” (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

Many of us have already heard the word “sanctification”. Several years ago, there was even a song entitled “Sanctified” by a famous Filipino rock band named Wolfgang, but I have never really understood how the song pertains to sanctification. I mean, did the writer of the song truly understand what being sanctified really meant?

Sanctification, according to Dr. J.R. Wiiliams in his book Renewal Theology, refers, accordingly, both to an action and to a condition or state. To sanctify means to make holy or be made holy; and to be holy means to be set apart for some special purpose. As Christians who are members of the body of Christ, the Church, we have been chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless before God (Ephesians 1:4). Sanctification therefore, is the goal of the Christian life and the intention in the sanctification of the whole person is renewal in the likeness of God. In the book of Genesis, it says that mankind was created in the image and likeness of God (1:26-27). However, because of the fall of Adam and Eve, the image of God in man has been marred ever since. That’s why God needed to send His one and only Son, Jesus, so that in Christ, as the agent of sanctification, we may once again be sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2) through the inner working of the Holy Spirit, the energizer of sanctification.

Nevertheless, unlike regeneration and justification, which are purely works of God, sanctification is also the task of man. It is in the process of sanctification that man’s cooperation is required. As believers in and disciples of Christ, we are commanded in several places in Scripture to be holy (2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14). It is here and only here that we participate in the salvific plan of God. We are instructed as children of God in Christ “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12, NASB).

Last week, during our CLDP (Christian Life Development Program) class at Church of God, Barangay Almanza, Las Piñas City, we discussed the different stages of salvation and one of which, is sanctification. Although I have already learned about it in seminary, it was a good reminder nonetheless. By our own human will and effort, sanctification is impossible; but with God’s grace through the working of the Holy Spirit in us in Christ, we can rest assured that we are indeed on our way. To God be all the glory, honor and praise forever and ever!

How God Justifies the Ungodly

Article 11 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines provides the justifying circumstances which precludes an otherwise criminal from incurring criminal liability, to wit: (1) self-defense; (2) defense of relative; (3) defense of stranger; (4) avoidance of greater injury or evil; (5) fulfillment of a lawful right or duty; and (6) obedience to a lawful order issued by a superior.

In state criminal law, to be justified does not mean that one has not committed any crime but that in spite of having committed a crime, no penalty thereafter attached to the same. It means that although an act which would have otherwise been a crime had been committed, the person cannot beheld criminally liable because of the existence of reasonable—hence, justifiable—grounds therefore. In other words, there is a crime but there is no criminal.

In a similar way, when we talk about our justification before God, we are actually pertaining to God’s sovereign act of grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. The apostle Paul speaks of God as He “who justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5 NASB) and that “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NASB). But why do we need to be justified in the first place? We all need to be justified “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:23-25 NASB) “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV).

According to Dr. J.R. Williams, to be justified means to be declared or pronounced righteous. It comes from the Greek word “dikaiōsis”, which, in its verb form, is “dikaioō” as used frequently in Romans and Galatians. Dr. Martin Luther describes Christians as “simul justus et peccator”, or “righteous and at the same time a sinner”. This justification before God has two aspects: On the one hand, our sins are no longer imputed to us; and on the other hand, the righteousness of Christ is in turn imputed to us. Therefore, when God looks at us, He no longer sees our sinfulness but the righteousness of Christ. Oh, how great is the love of God that He gave us His own righteousness in exchange for our unrighteousness! To Him be all the glory, honor and praise, Amen!

Knowing God

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3; NASB)

The above-quoted passage is a favorite pet verse of Felix Y. Manalo, the self-proclaimed “God’s Messenger in these last days” and founder of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) cult. He and his so-called “ministers” use this verse as a proof text to prove that Jesus is not God in nature. Manalo claims that the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity were only invented by the church leadership, as convened by Emperor Constantine, during the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325.

Indeed, Manalo’s teaching that Jesus was a created being is nothing new. The same teaching was espoused by Arius, an ascetic presbyter of Alexandria, Egypt of Libyan descent. The formal declaration of the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity in A.D. 325 does not mean that the same were just invented by the church council at that time. Prior to the convening of the Council of Nicea, the doctrine of the Trinity of the Godhead was already accepted and taught by the early Christians, it is only when the huge controversy arose and divided the church that a need for a formal declaration by the bishops was necessary.

The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized in three statements, to wit: (1) God is three Persons; (2) Each Person is fully God; and (3) There is one God. Therefore, for Jesus to say that the Father is the only true God is still correct even though both the Son and the Holy Spirit are likewise each the only true God. Moreover, to base one’s doctrine on a single verse to the exclusion of all other passages that say otherwise, is incorrect exegesis. Our theology should be based on what the entire Scripture says. Just because we cannot fully comprehend its truth, it doesn’t mean that it is not true. The apostle Paul admonishes the young pastor Timothy to “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching, persevere in these things, for as you do this, you will ensure salvation both for yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16) and to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). In order to truly know God, we would do well to do the same.

Seeing God

“The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.” (John 12:45, NIV)

I just recently attended a Grand Evangelical Mission (GEM) and an indoctrination session of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) or Church of Christ. The topic discussed by the evangelical worker was about the Bible in accordance with the lesson plan contained in their manual. Nevertheless, after our formal Bible lesson, I proceeded to ask about their insistent use of the Lamsa translation of Acts 20:28 in which it says “church of Christ” instead of “church of God” as in other translations and in the original Greek. He told me that since that verse describes the church as the one which “He bought with His own blood”, then it cannot be God but Christ because God is spirit and does not have blood.

It’s so sad that even though the INC leadership teaches that we should not add nor take away words from Scripture (Rev. 22:18-19), they still insist that the word “God” in Acts 20:28 should be rendered “Christ” as translated by George Lamsa when he translated from the Aramaic (Syriac Peshitta) and not from the Greek, which was the language used in writing the New Testament. Doing so is not only misleading but a violation of a clear truth of God. Clearly, the INC leadership favors this translation as it supports their core doctrine that Jesus is not God but a man—a special man, but still not divine.

The Bible is clear that Jesus is God incarnate. Even though we cannot see God the Father because He is spirit, it is still possible to see and know God through Jesus Christ, who “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:3). To look upon Jesus is to look upon God Himself. So let us recognize and worship Jesus for who He really is. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Creator of all things, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

True Freedom!

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:32, 36 NIV)

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they and their entire progeny were trapped by the Enemy in sin. The entire human race became slaves to sin. Because of the sinful nature, man became fully incapable of restoring his relationship with the God who created them. By our sheer will power alone, we would not be able to free ourselves from our entanglement with sin and its consequences. So what is the main consequence of sin? Death. The apostle Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).

Good thing that God, due to His great love and mercy, provided a way for us to be freed from the bondage of sin through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23b). Knowing the truth does not simply mean memorizing a set of facts or doctrines, although that is part of it. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). To know Jesus personally as Lord and Savior is to know Truth itself. It is when we know Jesus that we experience true freedom from sin and its consequences.

Jesus is able to set us free because of who He is. As the only begotten Son of God the Father, Jesus had the right to petition our release from the prison of unrighteousness. Therefore, let us live our lives in accordance with the freedom earned for us by Christ, not freedom to sin but freedom from sin. This we can do by the grace of God and by focusing on Jesus