Dialaogue with a Jehovah's Witness
Divine essence, omnipresence, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and what it means to have
Jesus living in us
"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." --
Joshua1:8, International Standard Version
Excerpts from email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness
- 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 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), despite 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? 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 by the
word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), God can be said to be everywhere.
For instance, it is because God is not limited by space that
we are not bound to Jerusalem or any other place in our worship of the true God. Though a
Temple was built in Jerusalem according to Yahweh's instructions, even Moses had begun
pointing 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 is 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 really
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 entertained and every feeling indulged.
John Wesley, great English evangelist 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:
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
What is the fundamental nature of God? Wouldn't you say
that fundamentally, God is eternal with no beginning or end. Isn't that 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
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, isn't it being eternal with no beginning or ending?
If you're going to say that Jesus had many of the
characteristics of God with the exception of the one defining characteristic of eternality, then you
need to find a different word than "essence" to use.
Look at Colossians 2:9 for example. 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"?
Doesn't "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 Christ in you, the hope of
"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 is 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 great 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?
- Ephesians 3:17: "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."
- 1 John 4:13: "We know that we live in him and He in us"
- Romans 8:10: "If Christ is in you . . "
- John 15:5: "If a man remains in me and I in him"
- John 17:23: "I in them and you in me"
- John 17:26: "that I myself may be in them"
In Colossians Paul speaks of a "mystery" that he defines as
"Christ in you." Most first century Jewish teachers were not expecting the type of Messiah that
Jesus turned out to be. They were looking for a military leader who would lead them to
deliverance from oppressive Roman rulers. In other words, they were looking for a deliverer who
would fix all the bad things around them. Jesus, however, came to offer 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 which 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 Scriptures.
-- Howard Culbertson
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