Are the Blessings that Unbelievers Enjoy from God Given Through the Holy Spirit?

Emmanuel Okpor from Nigeria writes:

Hello Pastor Confex,

I have a pressing question. We have seen and heard of unbelievers experiencing something of God’s mercy. Things like healing; escaping death by the whiskers; having a premonition of impending doom and being able to make the right decision just in time to escape tragedy and many more. On the positive side, these unbelievers also enjoy success and come up with innovative solutions that alleviate human suffering and make communities healthier and more peaceful.

Sir, will it be correct to say these unbelievers were being led by the Holy Spirit to accomplish these things (even though it is clear from scriptures that they don’t possess the Spirit of Christ)? Yes, God’s mercies extend to them too, but is it through the agency of the Holy Spirit? If not, then what categories are there to help us explain the goodness they experience and express?

Dear Emmanuel,

In answering your question let me start by highlighting that the Bible is clear as you have already pointed out that the Holy Spirit does not indwell unbelievers (John 14:16, 17). Nevertheless, he can still work in them. One work that is clearly explained in the Scriptures is to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8).

Now as for unbelievers experiencing God’s blessings like healing, protection, and success in their work or in the world we need to consider God’s grace. The Bible shows us that there are two types of God’s grace. Theologians describe them as God’s common or non-saving grace and Gods’ special or saving grace. God’s common grace is the one he gives even to unbelievers and enables them to enjoy his blessings that are not attached to salvation in Christ. Some examples of these blessings from God’s common grace include sunshine, rain, fruitful seasons, food, God’s kindness and many good things (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17; Luke 6:35; 16:35). I believe we can also add to the list God’s protection, healing, and success as you have mentioned in your question. God’s special grace on the other hand is his saving grace which Paul describes well in Ephesians 2:8, 9 when he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

So according to the Bible, the blessings that unbelievers receive and enjoy in this world are a result of God’s common grace. But the Bible is silent on whether they are given directly through or by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I would not say that they are given through him without any scriptural support. Having said that let me also add this caveat: unbelievers should not be content with God’s common grace. They should cry out to God for his special grace in their lives because the blessings of God’s common grace can become a curse if they blind them to their need for God’s saving grace in Christ. A good example that readily comes to mind is the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. The rich man was pumped up with worldly blessings and never sought spiritual blessings of salvation in Christ. In the end God called him a fool for he worked so much for the bread that perishes while neglecting the bread of life that lasts forever (John 6:27). He laid up for himself treasure in this world but was not rich toward God (Luke 12:21).

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

What is the Difference Between “Soul” and “Spirit”?

Bernard Chikoko from Tanzania writes:

Dear Pastor Confex,

Would you please help me to understand the difference between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ from a biblical perspective. Thanks.

Dear Bernard,

Thank you for your question. It is a good one!

Let me begin by highlighting that the Bible emphasizes on the unity of man. As a whole person man is to love and glorify God in whatever he does. However, Christians do differ on what constitutes man. Some believe that the Bible teaches that man is made up of body and soul. This in theology is called dichotomy view.  Others believe the Bible teaches that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. This in theology is called trichotomy view. Historically dichotomy has been the predominant view of the Church.  

I hold to the dichotomy view because I see that the Bible uses the words “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably. In some cases, we read in the Bible that when a person dies his/her soul leaves the body (Gen. 35:18; Luke 12:10) while in other cases the same Bible tells us that when a person dies his/her spirit leaves the body (Eccl. 12:7; Luke 23:46). But there is no single verse in the Bible that says that when a person dies his/her soul and spirit together leave the body. Further, some verses speak of man as being made up of body and soul (Matt. 10:28) while others speak of man as being made up of body and spirit (James 2:26; 2 Cor. 7:1).  The parallelism in Mary’s Magnificat (Song of Praise) in Luke 1:46, 47 is also worth noting: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (ESV).  The words, “Soul” and “spirit” are here used interchangeably just like the words “the Lord” and “God my Savior.” This is abundant proof that “soul” and “spirit” are the one and same thing.

However, those who hold to trichotomy view often cite verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 to argue that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (ESV).

In response to the argument that these two verses are teaching that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit I would say that 1 Thessalonians is using “spirit and soul and body” to emphasize the entirety of our being rather than teaching trichotomy view. This form of emphasis can also be seen in the words of Jesus Christ in Mark 12:30 in which he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (ESV). Jesus is not here teaching that man is made up of heart, soul, mind, and strength rather he is emphasizing that we must love God with all our being.

Similarly, Hebrews 4:12 is not teaching that the soul is different from the spirit rather it is emphasizing the power of God’s word to penetrate into the depths or innermost parts of our being and convict us of sin. This innermost part of our being is in this verse described or emphasized by using the terms, “soul,” “spirit,” “joint,” “marrow,” “thoughts,” and “intentions.” On a lighter note, if the sword of God’s word is able to divide “soul” and “spirit” then it would be more accurate to say it also divides “bone and marrow” rather than “joint and marrow.” But the author of Hebrews’ intention is not to distinguish two things that are different but to emphasize on the penetrating power of God’s word.

I hope this helps.

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

She Concealed Her HIV Positive Status from Her Fiancé Until Three Years Later Into Marriage. Can the Husband Divorce Her Now?

A friend writes:

Mavuto (not his real name) married his wife, Stella (not her real name), about three yeas ago. Both of them are unbelievers but they attend our church regularly. Some years before they met, Stella tested positive to HIV/Aids and she began taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to enable her live longer. When she met Mavuto, Stella concealed her HIV status from him. Eventually they exchanged marital vows. Now it’s been over three years after their wedding and Mavuto has just discovered that Stella is HIV positive and taking ARVs. Mavuto feels cheated; he is very angry and wants divorce.  He has come to me for Biblical counsel. How do I best help him?

Well, brother what a sad and hard situation. I am so sorry to hear this.

First, it is always important to remember that marriage is God’s gift to all people including non-believers. But a marriage between two believers will be very much different from a marriage between two unbelievers. One of the things you will notice (or you expect to notice) in a marriage of believers is honesty while non-believers might not always be honest to each other. The case before you is an example of a marriage that is not guided by God’s word. It is driven by selfishness and dishonesty.

Next, God’s will for marriage both for unbelievers and believers is that once you get married you should remain with your spouse until death separates you (Matt. 19:5-7). God allows divorce only on two grounds: adultery (Matt. 19:9) and desertion (1 Cor. 7:13-16). Adultery is when husband or wife sleeps with another woman or man. Desertion is when unbeliever has become a believer and his/her spouse who is unbeliever doesn’t want to stay in the marriage. In this case, the unbeliever is allowed to leave the marriage.

So despite that there was deadly deception at the onset of Mavuto and Stella’s marriage, they do not have a Biblical ground for divorce. What Stella did was evil and serious dishonesty but the Bible does not regard deception as a ground for divorce. So, I would share the gospel with this couple and encourage the wife to repent of her deception before God and ask for forgiveness from God and her husband. I would encourage the husband to forgive his wife and continue to love her. I know this is hard but it’s only the power of the  gospel that would remedy this situation.

Mavuto being unbeliever might disregard this biblical advice. That is beyond your control and there is nothing you can do about it apart from continuing to love and pray for them that the Lord will grant true repentance and enable them to believe in the gospel of Christ for their salvation.

I hope this helps.

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

Thank You.