Existence of God (part 27)

April 17, 2011     Time: 00:13:39


Belief in God as Properly Basic.

Excursus: Natural Theology
§ VI. Properly Basic Belief In God
Lecture 2

We have been talking about belief in the biblical God’s being a properly basic belief grounded in the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. What I suggested is, when you look at what the New Testament has to teach about how we know Christianity is true, the New Testament teaches that we know that our faith is true through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. What I would like to do is look at some of the New Testament material pertinent to the witness of the Holy Spirit, first, in the life of the Christian believer.

Biblical Data Pertinent to the Witness of the Holy Spirit

When a person becomes a Christian, he is automatically regenerated by the Spirit of God and becomes indwelt with the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 3:26 and 4:6 Paul says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. . . . And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” We are indwelt with the Spirit of God and by that Spirit we cry out to God, “Abba! Father!”

Turn to Romans 8:15-16, where Paul reflects further on the witness of the Holy Spirit. Here he explains that it is through the witness of the Holy Spirit that we have confidence that we are God’s children. “For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our Spirit that we are children of God.” Paul says that the way in which that you know you are a child of God is through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

In Colossians 2:2 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul uses the Greek word plerophoria, which means “complete confidence” or “full assurance” to indicate that the believer has the knowledge of the truth as a result of the Spirit’s work. We have complete confidence, full assurance. In popular piety, this is called “assurance of salvation.” Do you have assurance of your salvation? Yes, I know that I am saved; I know I am reconciled to God. When you think about it, having assurance of salvation entails certain truths of Christianity such as “God has forgiven me of my sin” and “Christ has reconciled me to God” and “I am a child of God,” and so forth. So in having assurance of salvation, you have assurance of these central truths of the Christian worldview.

Not only Paul, but also the apostle John, makes it very clear that it is the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives believers the conviction of Christianity’s truth. Look at 1 John 2:20 and 27. John says,

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know. . . . but the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.

John says it is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that teaches the believer the truth of divine things. When John says this, he is clearly echoing the teachings of Jesus himself as John records them in the Gospel of John. For example, in John 14:26, Jesus says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”1 This is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer that Jesus describes and that John then echoes.

The truth that the Holy Spirit teaches us is not, I am convinced, the fine points of Christian doctrine. There are too many Spirit-filled Christian believers who differ doctrinally in order for that to be the case. Rather, I think what John is talking about here is the inner assurance that the Holy Spirit gives of the central, basic truths of the Christian faith – what Alvin Plantinga has called the Great Truths or the Great Things of the Gospel. This assurance doesn’t come from human arguments or evidence, but directly comes from the Holy Spirit himself.

Somebody might disagree with me about this by pointing to 1 John 4:1-3. One might say that this shows the testimony of the Holy Spirit is not self-authenticating but needs to be tested. John says,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of the antichrist . . .

Here John talks about testing the spirits, and someone might say that shows that the Holy Spirit’s witness needs to be tested. I think that would be a misinterpretation of this passage. John is not talking here about testing the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in your own heart. Rather, he is talking about testing other people who come to you claiming to speak by the Holy Spirit. He says many false prophets have gone out into the world. And he refers to these people earlier on in 1 John 2:18-19:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.

So John is talking about people who are coming, claiming to give messages inspired of the Holy Spirit, and says you need to test to see if these people are really speaking by the Spirit of God. But I do not find any place in his epistle where he encourages believers to doubt or test the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in a person’s own life. Rather, he is talking about a situation that is external to you, where somebody else is claiming to speak by the Holy Spirit, and you need to test that person by his doctrinal purity to be sure that he is speaking by the Spirit of God. But in our own lives, the inner witness of God’s Spirit is sufficient to assure us of the basic truths to which the Holy Spirit testifies.

John also underlines other teachings of Jesus on the work of the Holy Spirit, as he gives them in the Gospel of John. For example, John 14:16-17, 20, where Jesus says it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that will give us the assurance of knowing that Jesus lives in the believer and that the believer is in Jesus, in the sense of being united with him. Jesus says,

And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. . . . In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Here Jesus says it is by the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we have the knowledge that we are in Christ and he is in us.2 John teaches the same thing in 1 John 3:24, 4:13: “All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us. . . . By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.” John uses his characteristic phrase “by this we know” to emphasize that as Christians we can have a confident knowledge that our faith is true, that we really do abide in God and that God really does live in us.

John even contrasts the confidence which the Holy Spirit’s testimony gives with the confidence brought by human evidence. In 1 John 5:6-10a:

This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.

Here John says that the testimony of God is even greater than the testimony of men, which probably refers to the apostolic testimony to the life of Jesus. The water and the blood are probably the baptism and the crucifixion of Jesus, which are the beginning and end of his earthly ministry, and the testimony of men is this apostolic testimony that John lays such emphasis on in his own Gospel. But here he says, if we rightly receive this testimony, the testimony of God is even greater. As Christians, we have the testimony of God living within us. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God.

So it seems that even though evidence and arguments, such as the arguments of natural theology, can be used to support the believer’s faith, they are not properly the basis of that faith. The proper basis of Christian faith for a believer, I think, is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit himself. God, for us, is not just the conclusion of a syllogism; he is the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, dwelling within us, empowering us to live the Christian life. How does the believer know that the Christian faith is true? He knows it through the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit who lives within him.

What, you might ask about, is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever? Since the unbeliever is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, does that mean that the unbeliever has to rely upon evidence and arguments in order to know that Christianity is true? Since he doesn’t enjoy the witness of the Holy Spirit, is he cast upon arguments and evidence? That is what we will take on next time.3


1 5:13

2 9:45

3 Total Running Time: 13:39