The Holy Spirit and Conversion
Happy All Saint's Day, everyone.
If anyone is wondering, "saints" is used in the general sense of "Christian", not it the more specific sense often used by the Catholic Church. Traditionally, this specifically referred to remembering those saints who had made it the whole way to Heaven. The unfortunate folks still stuck in Purgatory get remembered tomorrow on On Soul's Day. In those branches of Christianity that don't believe in Purgatory, All Saint's Day just applies to all dead Christians (because they are all in Heaven). The living seem to be out of luck. And, no, All Hollow's Eve is not originally about remembering them. I checked.
In honour of the day, here is a bit of Christian theology. The topic is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and conversion (to Christianity). Pastor Dallas and I had a long talk about this today, and I am putting it here so the conclusions won't become lost. I am afraid I am sometimes rather forgetful. Note: This is all as interpreted by me, and combined with my prior thoughts. And it turned out long again. That seems to happen to me for some reason.
For reference, I am a Evangelical Protestant in the Baptist tradition. Most of this should transfer, but there are minor differences. For example, the Catholic Church considers baptism an essential part of joining the Church, while many Protestants (such as me) believe that it should follow conversion.
Part A: Conversion
People go through 4 distinct stages as part of becoming an Christian. Sometimes these overlap a bit, both due to the broadness of the issue and the fuzziness of human thinking, but the general trend is clear. I am writing these out in the general style of mystery cult initiation levels, because why not? Note: I chose the category names for fun-ness rather than seriousness.
I believe that some denominations (e.g. Catholic) have another category (5) for people who got the boot from the Christian level, but would be allowed back in if they jump through the right hoops. Words like "repentance" and "atonement" are often involved.
Unreached: A person here is simply ignorant of basic Christianity. They have never heard about God or Jesus or salvation or whatnot. Everyone starts here. Graduation from this category is gained through knowledge, plain and simple.
Atheist: Someone who knows what the basics of Christianity are, but doesn't believe them. The name isn't great, since the category also includes principled agnostics, members of other religions, and those who just don't have an opinion. Graduation is by accepting the claims as true. Apologetics, philosophy, social interactions, and wishful thinking can contribute, but there is no single path. It is very rare for someone to fall back to the Unreached level, but amnesia or forgetfulness makes it possible.
The best term here would be "heathen", but that often considered old-fashioned or to have negative associations.
Demon (see James 2:19): Rather than a literal evil supernatural being, this here refers to someone who accepts Christianity as factually true, but is unwilling to join the religion. Graduation is through conversion proper, also called things like "accepting Jesus" and "surrendering your life to God". The Sinner's Prayer or something similar is often be involved. Returning to the Atheist level is common, and often involves the same processes as leaving it.
In hindsight, this was a really bad term to use: it caused too much confusion. The point of the verse is that a demon ( = fallen angel) knows that God exists, etc. but still refuses to serve Him. My point was that there is a parallel between such a demon and a person who knows God exists, etc. but still refuses to serve Him. "Resister" might have been a better term.
The moral here is probably "Don't try to be cleaver on the Internet."
Christian: A full member of the Christian Church (dead or alive). This is the highest level, and the stated goal of Christianity is to get as many people here as possible. Most -- although not all -- variants of Christianity allow members to fall back to the Demon level. This may be stated explicitly or may be by declaring retroactively that someone who has since left must have never really reached it. Traditional Christianity locks the doors (in and out) to this level at death, although dissent is common, especially concerning those who die on the Unreached level.
Part B: The Holy Spirit
Did you notice I left out half of what I said this was suppose to be about? Bonus marks if you did; you were paying attention.
The Holy Spirit can be involved in 4 ways here:
The Holy Spirit "lives/dwells in" Christians, also referred to as "having the Holy Spirit" and any pretty much similar phrasing you can think of. Exactly what this means is not clear, but it involves the Holy Spirit changing your personality and "speaking" to you in various ways. Luckily, the overall rule here is simple: if you are a Christian you have the Holy Spirit, otherwise you don't.
The Holy Spirit changes Christians in actions, thought patterns, and similar. The Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is a good example. The effect of this is to make Christians more likable, and thus make other people more willing to listen to them and assign their religious opinions higher weight. This is certainly one of the reasons for the change, but I am not convinced that it is the only one. This contributes to the Atheist-to-Demon change.
The Holy Spirit also contributes to Christians wanting to convert others, which results in them talking about it. As such, we also have a contribution to the Unreached-to-Atheist change.
The Holy Spirit affects the non-Christian directly. This is generally held to be essential for the Demon-to-Christian conversion, which is entirely between the person in question and God. This privacy, incidentally, is why there can be uncertainty over whether someone ever was a Christian. The Holy Spirit can also influence the logical, emotional, and intuitive associations involved in the Atheist-to-Demon change.
Pastor Dallas argues persuasively that if person talking to the unbeliever has the Holy Spirit, that can/will increase the effect of the Holy Spirit in the person being addressed. Acts 1:8 is a good example verse. This probably contributes to the Atheist-to-Demon change the most, with the Demon-to-Christian as second most likely. However, the verses in question aren't specific enough to be sure. It could be that the Holy Spirit fiddles with memory, for example, to ensure that as many people make the Unreached-to-Atheist change as possible. We really don't know.
The Holy Spirit can influence non-Christians directly. This most obviously includes visions, hearing from God directly, and other forms of directly revealing information. (Side question: Are these all really the same thing being interpreted differently by different brains?) It could also include "inner miracles", where something happens inside our mind that couldn't happen naturally. These are subjective experiences by their nature, but can be good evidence that there is something out there.
While the other three ways are considered to be very common (always-on?), this one is unusual. Probably. I suppose that it could go on on a small scale all over the place and we don't notice.
I got a response from a fellow Christian who was rather worried about me because of this:
About the Holy Spirit living in Christians... you said something very important: "If you are a christian you have the holy spirit, otherwise you dont (and aren't). Now my question is: "If you (or your pastor Dallas) dont know exactly what it means to have the Holy Spirit, than how can you claim to have it? By definition, it is impossible. I am not making this comment to insult either you nor your pastor, but as always, to draw you both closer to God in both spirit and in truth.
There is sooooooooooo much more I want to write about regarding your article, but this one is so major for me (and has so much that can be said about it), that I am not going to comment on the rest until I hear back from you regarding this. Having the Holy Spirit is so super major, and as you said: the difference between being a real vs. fake Christian.
As far as I know "Christians have the Holy Spirit and other people don't" (with a few Old Testament exceptions) is normal Christian theology. One reference would be 2 Corinthians 1::21-22:
"Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." (NKJV).
The target audience is Christians, so I assumed "establishes us... in Christ and has anointed us" referred to conversion (and/or related things). The "guarantee" would be or eternal acceptance, which is either the same or associated (depending on terminology, theological speculation, etc.). I am claiming that if we (already) know whether someone is a Christian we can therefore know if said person has the Holy Spirit.
As for how I can know (without a full understanding of the Holy Spirit), I am using a rule of the form IFF A THEN B given to me by an authority (God, via. the Bible) that does know. I combine this with knowledge of A from another source. Using this to determine B is logically valid, regardless of my understanding of B (or A). All I have to do is keep them the consistant throughout the equation.
Back to essays page
Back to home page