Two Errors in Ten Seconds
My wife and I were recently back where we started. When we first got married, we were living in Edmonton, Alberta. Around the same time we got married, the city’s first Christian radio station came on the air: 930 CJCA. As we were about to set off to drive somewhere a couple of weeks ago, on a whim I changed the vehicle’s radio to 930. Was it still a Christian radio station? Sadly, what I heard made me quickly change the station again.
I heard two grievous theological errors in ten seconds. I don’t know who it was on the radio, but he said something like: “After you believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will come to you. It will change your life. It will not leave you the same.” I didn’t write down the exact words, but it was something like that.
So what were the two serious errors?
The first one has to do with being born again or regeneration. Arminian theology teaches that the new birth follows faith. So first you believe and then the Holy Spirit comes to you and you’re born again. You can see this order in many Statements of Faith. For example, this is from Samaritan’s Purse: “We believe that all men everywhere are lost and face the judgment of God, that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and that for the salvation of lost and sinful man, repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ results in regeneration by the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration follows faith – that’s the Arminian order.
However, the Bible teaches that the unregenerate are dead in sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1). As a result, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). And Paul says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). But Christians have received “the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). The Holy Spirit brings dead hearts to life – he causes us to be born again. Then our living hearts are empowered to take hold of Jesus Christ for salvation. Faith follows regeneration – that’s the biblical order of things. You can’t believe unless you’ve been born again.
The second serious error has to do with the personality of the Holy Spirit. The guy on the radio used the impersonal pronoun “it” for the Holy Spirit. This makes it sound as if the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, rather than the third Person of the Trinity. Sadly, this sloppy way of speaking is quite common. I’ve seen it slip into Reformed theology books and I’ve heard it from Reformed pulpits. It’s a major problem because it’s not only false, it’s also dishonouring to the Holy Spirit.
Scripture (inspired by the Spirit!) says that the Holy Spirit is a person. By that we mean that he is a someone, a subject. He acts and he is acted upon. Persons communicate – the Holy Spirit says things (Heb. 3:7). Individuals may try to deceive persons – Ananias and Sapphira attempted to deceive the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). You can grieve a person – we’re warned in Eph. 4:30 not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Impersonal forces like electricity or gravity cannot be grieved, cannot be deceived, and cannot communicate. The Holy Spirit is a person and therefore it’s vitally important that we use the right pronouns for him: he, him, his. This is indeed the practice of Scripture. In John 16:7, Jesus says, “But if I go, I will send him to you.” The third person masculine pronoun is used in English, just as in the Greek.
Is this just nit-picking? No, these are really important things to get right. It’s important to get the order of faith and regeneration correct, lest we ascribe too much to man and too little to God. It’s a matter of making sure he gets all the credit for our salvation. It’s important to use the right pronouns for the Holy Spirit, because it’s a matter of honour and worship. If we’re not careful to refer to him in the right way, we’ll not be thinking about him in the right way. Not only will that affect our theology, but also what’s downstream: Christian living. After all, why would you pray to an impersonal force to strengthen you faith and help you with holy living? You see friends, correct theology really does matter.