RE-FORMATION THESES #29-32
Thesis #29 of 95 – The human’s spirit (not to be confused with the human spirit) is often mistaken for the Holy Spirit when interpreting the Pauline epistles
Thesis #30 of 95 – The fruits of the spirit pertain to man’s spirit, for those currently devoid of the Holy Spirit also produce good fruit
Thesis #31 of 95 – The inner conflict described by Paul in Romans 7 arises from conflicting motivations derived from the processing of the brain on the one hand and the conscience-directed spirit of the “inner man” on the other
Thesis #32 of 95 – Such an inner conflict is not restricted to the Christian, but to everyone with a functioning conscience
Rom8:6 For the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit (sic) is life and peace
Gal5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit (sic) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law
Rom7:23 But I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members
The above related theses again pertain to a fundamental flaw in the Augustinian derived biblical theology the Western Church has relied upon for the last 1600 years or so. It is one of his several “twos-for-threes” for those familiar with my ditty. In this case, contrary to the teaching of Paul and the writer to the Hebrews, he insisted man consisted of body and soul alone rather than body, soul and spirit (cf. 1Thes5:23; Gal6:18; Rom8:16; Heb4:12). He also came to reject soul creationism – i.e., that the spiritual part of man (that which returns to God after physical death) is directly planted by God into the embryo (what Paul and Peter sometime refer to as our tent or vessel). For Augustine well knew its implications, whereas many creationists, including within his own Church have either failed to think it through or are content “to hold in tension” the notion that God would condemn a person for the soul/spirit He has just provided to them; indeed, that He would plant what was morally deficient within them in the first place.
The resulting denigration of both divine and human nature is resolved when what has been taken as read – that a human soul is either “saved” or “damned” is demonstrated from scripture to be a fallacy. Indeed, few souls proportionately speaking are in either category [note#1] in the context of what the bible actually means by salvation. Whilst those (starting with Cain) who are reprobate/cursed/damned/children of the devil are an eluded sub-category that has been lumped together with “the unsaved”. In terms of the Church’s evangelical mission such a misclassification has not essentially mattered (which is why God has permitted it for so long – cf. Rev10:9. For the Church must preach the Good News of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, practice justice and offer compassion to all in the world, regardless of how deserving or otherwise the recipients may be.
But it does matter in terms of human perspectives on God’s providential care, mercy and justice – whether such is munificent or draconian. And it does matter in terms of our understanding of human nature and how we perceive our fellow man. Is it sinful in its entirety as Augustine and the Protestant Reformers assert? Is it liable to corruption yet capable of maintaining its integrity through a self-discipline verging on ascetism – as Pelagius allegedly taught? Or is human nature basically sound – at worst neutral and capable of living a life that is pleasing to God without any enabling grace on His part?
With, I am clear, the Apostle Paul I would reply “none of the above”. Fallen human beings are indeed sinful by nature in view of the flesh. “The flesh” can be taken absolutely literally – from a creationist perspective it is the procreated material part of us: the body and brain. “Flesh” is not referring to our “sinful nature” as some bible translation infer (e.g. NIV in Rom7). For our nature is sinful, but not (normally) in its entirety: “For I know that no good whatsoever dwells within me, that is, IN MY FLESH” (Rom7:18a). And how does he complete the statement? “For the willing (to do good) is present in me, but the capacity to do the good is not (18b). In other words, human nature is dualistic. Why? Because its component parts although ultimately derived from God arrive in in the embryo from two different immediate sources: God plants the spirit whilst the corrupted intellectual vessel (body and brain) is procreated via the wondrous but entirely material processes of human childbirth.
Hence the psalmist’s lament: “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps51:5). But she did not provide his eternal soul – that had been God’s domain. What has been materially procreated results in what Paul describes as “the body of this death” (Rom7:24YLT). “This death” for he is referring to what he had been describing in that passage – the willingness to do good and adhere to the spirit of God’s law on the one hand; the inability consistently to practice it in view of “the law in the bodily members” on the other. The resulting transgression results in a defilement of the conscience leading to “death”, being a disruption in the access to the One who is the source of “life” – that abundance of spiritual Life Jesus came to give (Jn10:10 cf. Rom8:13). And through the Saviour’s death He provided what was needed for those His Father has chosen for His Son (Jn6:44): even “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God to cleanse your conscience from dead works so as to serve the living God” (Heb9:14).
Applying the above to our theses, in terms #29 (interpreting “spirit” as “Spirit”) I have already cited a verse in which the human spirit is understood by most bible translators to be the Holy Spirit. That is Rom8:13 and there are two others quoted above under “Bible References”. The one pertaining to the fruit of the spirit (thesis #30) is particularly important and is one I find especially irksome – for two reasons. Firstly, it is both observable and biblical that those who are not Christian are well able to produce good fruit. For acts of compassion, courage, bravery, endurance and the like are good fruit. To imply even indirectly that man by nature is incapable of such is abhorrent. I know from personal experience that such teaching can poison the soul – in my case regarding my attitude and behaviour in my Calvinist days towards my loving, caring but non-Christian parents.
Secondly, even in the case of the Christian, it is not the Spirit’s good fruit, it is the believer’s – the efflux of his or her own human spirit. Clearly, God the Holy Spirit’s fruit would be good, perfect in fact. Man’s rarely is – but it is his own and can be a blessing to others. In which case God delights in it and shall reward it as if it were performed to succour Christ Himself (Mt25:37-40). [The Mt25 “sheep” were actually justified by “faith” which I have explained elsewhere]. What Paul is contrasting in Gal5 is the fruit of the human spirit contrasted with that of the flesh (thesis #31). As for Jesus’ own teaching, “let your light should shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt5:16). Glorify the Father indeed, for though you or I may perform good works, it is a result of the grace given us to do it. But we, of ourselves and in accordance with our own will, perform the good. The Greek text does not lend itself to be interpreted as alluding to the Holy Spirit’s enabling as many understand it, it is either the human spirit or Holy Spirit’s produce that is being referred to. Likewise, when Jesus speaks of “trees” producing good or bad fruit, it is clearly people he is referring to, not God or the power of God within them (e.g., Mt7:17-19).
A cause for boasting? By no means. “What do you possess that you have not already received? And if you receive it, why would you boast as if you had not received it? (1Cor4:7). What has been received? The light of Christ in the spirit God gives to all at birth and that returns to Him at physical death (Eccles12:7; Jn1:9KJV). For unlike lesser creatures, “God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Gen2:7). But the main point being made here is that grace (in this context being the benevolent enabling of God) is not restricted to the Christian but is present in measure in all who have a functioning spirit (thesis#32). However, not all do possess a functioning spirit or a working conscience (theses#6-10), hence the three soteriological categories being outlined. In terms of category threes in the context of Rom7, there can be no inner tension for the twice dead (Jude1:12), merely a scary serenity – spirit and flesh have become united in evil. For the flesh like everyone by nature is “dead in trespasses and sins” whilst the spirit and its faculty of conscience has been rendered unsensitive (Greek: κεκαυστηριασμένων -1Tim4:2). The seed of their humanity no longer remains (1Jn3:9); God’s image has been obliterated. And though they may not believe in such a being, they have, like Cain, joined the devil’s party (1Jn3:12). This scripturally subliminal mystery of evil actually works to humanity’s advantage (for our Sovereign God has superintended it). Why that is the case would take considerably more explaining. The Little Book of Providence and some later theses will expand on the matter, but here’s a pointer from Scripture: Heb2:10.
Note#1 – In terms of the bulk of humanity being neither elect nor cursed, this has effectively been the case since the Flood. One of the sixteen postdiluvian ancestral lines was cursed, stemming from the lastborn son (Canaan) of Ham who had exposed his father’s nakedness; one was the elect patriarchal line stemming from the firstborn son of Noah’s firstborn son leading down through a line of firstborns to Abraham; whilst the remaining fourteen of the sixteen postdiluvian national patriarchs retained the blessing imparted to Noah and his family on leaving the ark but were not the elective line of firstborns from which Abraham was drawn. God takes no pleasure in destroying anyone (Ezek18:23); He wishes rather to redeem all that can be redeemed within humanity but does not intend that all should go on to marry His Son. That is a role for which proportionately few are being prepared, still less shall be found worthy, having “overcome” (Rev3:4 & 19:7).
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