Divine essence, omnipresence, filled with the Holy Spirit, and what "Jesus living in us" means

Dialogue with a Jehovah's Witness 12

"This set of instructions is not to cease being a part of your conversations. Meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to carry out everything that's written in it." -- Joshua 1:8, International Standard Version

Excerpts from email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness

Watchtower Society interchange: Recently a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and I exchanged a lot of email messages about beliefs and doctrines. Here are the questions he asked and the responses I gave. In essence, this is a blog of our conversations. There will be some overlapping of material since the email conversations occasionally circled back to similar themes.

One of the sad things about our email exchanges is that my Jehovah's Witness friend rarely asked me a follow-up question. So we had very few real "conversations" in which we discussed anything in-depth.

Jehovah's Witness question: If the Holy Spirit is something that controls our minds, how could it be a person? If we are being filled in the sense of being controlled, isn't it a force that is controlling us rather than a person?
My answer:    No, unless you are reducing the definition of personhood to only what human beings are. You see, God plays three distinct yet related roles in the drama of human redemption. Behind this plurality of roles, there is a single actor. There are not three actors or gods. There is one God who acts in a multiplicity of manners. There is a fundamental unity within the Godhead (a word used in Colossians), even with the inherent complexity of the revelation of God within history.
Jehovah's Witness question: Where in the Bible did it speak about Jehovah being everywhere at the same time?
My answer:    First of all, are you reducing God to the limits of time and space as we experience them? Did you know that God created time and space and that He is not limited by them in the ways that we are? Thus, God is where He acts and since all things are upheld or exist by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), God can be said to be everywhere.

For instance, because the one true God is not limited by space, we do not have to go to any one location such as Jerusalem in order to encounter and worship Him. Though a Temple was built in Jerusalem according to Yahweh's instructions, Moses pointed to a "de-localization" of the worship of the Lord (Deuteronomy 26:25). It's a concept we also find in Jeremiah 7:12-14. That idea would have seemed radical at the time because pagan religions were teaching that a god was present in only one place at any one time.

When we say God is omnipresent or present everywhere, that does not mean He is diffused and spread out through space. Remember what Solomon said as He thought of God's essential nature in his dedication prayer for the Temple? He said, "The heavens, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27 and 2 Chronicles 6:18) So when we say God is omnipresent what we are saying is that it is impossible to escape His presence (Jeremiah 23:23-24; Psalm 139:8). In fact, it's probably better to say that than to use the "everywhere at the same time" phrase.

Rather than using the phrase you have used in your question, it's more biblical to say that God can be anywhere He wishes at any time. There is nowhere that is apart from Him. Sin cannot be committed where He is not. God can be effectively present anywhere. Thus, He knows not only every act performed and every word spoken but also every thought or motive and every feeling that we have.

John Wesley, influential English evangelist and theologian of the 1700s, wrote:
"The great God, the eternal, the almighty Spirit, is as unbounded in His presence as in His duration and power. In condescension, indeed, to our weak understanding, He is said to dwell in heaven: but, strictly speaking, the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; but He is in every part of His dominion."
Allan Turner has said it well:
"God is universally present to all of space at all times. Even so, this does not mean that He is dispersed throughout the infinite reaches of space so that every part of space has at least a little part of God. In other words, God is not present in all space; He is, instead, present to all of space. This means that the unlimited God in His whole being is present at every point of our space. Perhaps a better way to express God's omnipresence is to say that all space is immediately present before Him."
Jehovah's Witness question: Jesus is divine in essence, but he is not God. Do you know what essence means?
My answer:   "Core" is a good start at a definition of essence. However, we need to build on that. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that essence is "the real, or ultimate nature of a thing." The Free Dictionary says that essence is "the inherent, unchanging nature of a thing or class of things." The online Wikipedia dictionary defines essence as "the attribute (or set of attributes) that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is"

What is the fundamental nature of God? Wouldn't you say that fundamentally, God is eternal with no beginning or end? Isn't eternality something that differentiates God from anything and everyone else? So, if Jesus has the essence or "fundamental" characteristic of God, then doesn't He have to be eternal with no beginning nor end?

A more philosophical definition of essence is: "The necessary defining characteristic of a thing, such that without that characteristic, the thing would not be the thing it is."

So, what is the necessary defining characteristic of God? Well, as I've already noted, would not "eternal-ness" with no beginning or ending be one defining characteristic of God?

If you're going to say that Jesus had many of the characteristics of God but not the one defining characteristic of eternality, then don't you need to find a different word to use than "essence"?

Look at Colossians 2:9. It says, "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives." Does it say that Christ has most of the major characteristics of God? No, it doesn't say Jesus Christ is like God in most ways. Doesn't it say "all the fullness of the Deity"? As The Living Bible paraphrase puts it, "In Christ there is all of God in a human body."

Would not "all the fullness" mean that Jesus has every single characteristic of Yahweh, including eternality?
Jehovah's Witness question: I hear people say "Christ lives in me." How can Christ live in you?
My answer:    That is a great question. You have hit on the very heart of what being a Christian means. Did you know that we evangelical Christians did not make up that phrase?

When you hear me say "Christ lives in me," do you know that I am quoting Galatians 2:20? To be sure, Galatians 2 is not the only place that the idea of Christ living in us is found in Scripture. Another clear statement of this idea is found in 1 John 3:24: "Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."

Another of the great passages in which Paul spoke of this idea is Colossians 1:27: "The glorious riches of this mystery, which is is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

"Christ in us" is the transforming principle of the Christian life. Having Christ in us is what makes us different — if we are different at all — from any other human beings on earth. What does "Christ in us" mean? Well, when Paul speaks of this idea in Colossians, he twice uses the word "mystery." This word "mystery" may imply that I may not be able to explain the "how" Christ lives in me in ways that are satisfactory to you. Though there remains a mystery about it, I do know that it is true.

The most wonderful thing about being a Christian is not that a person believes all the right things. It's not even the hope we have about the future, as glorious as that thought can seem. Isn't having Christ in us the most wonderful thing about being a Christian? Pastor and author Ray Stedman once said, "Christ in you is the greatest theme the mind of human beings has ever contemplated."

Charles Finney was a well-known Christian evangelist of the early 1800's. He once wrote,
"Many seem to have conceived of Christ as their hope only in His outward relation, that is, as an atoning Savior, as a risen and ascended Savior, but also as a factual, historical, concrete statistic. The indispensable necessity of having Christ within them, ruling in their hearts and establishing His government over their whole being, is a condition of salvation of which they have not thought. Christ cannot be truly and savingly our hope, in any degree further than He is received into, and reigns, in our souls. To hope in merely an outward Christ is to hope in vain."
Other Scriptures that speak of Christ being "in us" include: Many people mistakenly think the Christian life centers around what we believe and what we do. God — who is seen as being up in heaven — is understood to hear us when we pray and to help us when we get off track. In other words, the belief is that (1) if we do our job down here and (2) God does His job up there, then (3) someday we'll come together. However, is that what the Bible teaches?

In Colossians, Paul speaks of "Christ in you" as a mystery. We must remember that most First Century Jewish teachers were not expecting the type of Messiah that Jesus turned out to be. They were looking instead for a military leader who would deliver them from their oppressive Roman rulers. In other words, they wanted somone who would fix all the bad things around them. Jesus, conversely, came offering a different kind of salvation. He offered salvation built on a special relationship whereby He enters into the hearts of those who receive Him.

Some people have difficulty with this concept. They point to biblical passages in Psalm 110, Mark 16 and Colossians 3 that say that when Jesus ascended, He took a position at the right hand of the Father. "If this image is true," they ask, "how can Jesus also be living within each of us at the same time?"

The answer lies in the understanding of God as triune and the promise that Jesus made to send the parakletos. That "helper," of course, is the Holy Spirit, whose primary ministry is to live the life of Christ in and through us. If you don't believe Yahweh has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then "Christ in you" is a difficult phrase to understand. If, however, you understand God as one who has revealed Himself in three persons, then it's much easier to understand these Bible passages.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

  Archangel Michael   |   Ascend   |   Begotten   |   Christ in us    |   Christmas   |   Control   |   Creator/created?    |   Cross or stake?    |   Communion/Evening meal    |   Divine essence    |   Forsaken?  |   God's name  |   God speaks today?    |   Headship  |   Heaven  |   Hell  |   Holy Spirit   |   Is Jesus God?   |   Jehovah/Yahweh    |   Jesus and His  father   |   Jesus as Lord and  Savior?    |   Lord   |   Matthew 28    |   New Covenant   |    New World Translation   |   Original manuscripts   |   Pagan teaching   |   Paraclete   |   Praying   |   Present everywhere   |   Resurrection   |   Saved now?   |   Son of God    |   Soul   |   Trinity   |   With God   |   Women 

You might also like these

Recommended links