The Stigma of God
By Jerry Johnson
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version with the exception of those marked “ESV.” “ESV” is the abbreviation for English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Man just naturally resists the intervention of God in his life unless it is on his own terms. We do not want to be forced out of our “comfort zone” by being told by someone else what to do or how to think. We do not like things we do not understand or which are not familiar to us. We are afraid of the unknown; and certainly, by the time we reach adolescence, God is unknown to us. Oh, most of us admit that He exists, but beyond that He is a distant, ambiguous, misunderstood quantity…….unless…….unless He invades our world by His Grace. His invasion can be very disturbing and we just naturally resist Him. It is only by His mercy that He persists in pursuit of our heart. When we surrender, when we overcome the stigma of God, we are often overwhelmed with gratitude for His faithfulness and His love. So, for the praise of His mercy, and though a novice in my own pursuit of knowing God, I humbly submit this paper to you as I seek to address some of the Biblical background to the notion of the stigma of God. For, after we have met Him in our own life, often we still harbor resistance to His nature and His will and we quench the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying, empowering work in our life.
Stigma: a stain or reproach as in disgrace, discredit, blame or shame (Random House). From a Greek word, stizo, which means “to prick,” “tattoo” or “mark, as with a sharp instrument.” In the culture of New Testament times, the word referred to a brand burned on the body with a hot iron for a person who has been proven to be dishonest, a thief or a slave who has run away. Sometimes a soldier would have the mark of his legion etched into his skin for identification (From The Anointing: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow by R. T. Kendall, 2003, p. 77ff. Bro. Kendall introduced me to the concept of God’s stigma in this book and I recommend it as an expansion of my ideas here).
In a negative sense, the idea of the stigma of God refers to the tendency for the “natural man” to discredit God, or disdain Him for His attributes and His claims. We should note that a “natural man” is someone who has not been born again, or born from above, as in John 3:3: Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. The phrase, “natural man,” is used in 1Co 2:14: But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. In some cases, an individual will project disbelief, shame, blame or even hate on God for the circumstances of life or just out of pure rejection and rebellion. Note John 15:23-25:
23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. (Note: Ps 35:19 Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause. Ps 69:4 They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty:…. Ps 109:3 They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.)
In a positive sense, the mature believer (the “spiritual man”) will bear the presence of God in his or her life as an honor and a privilege, as an ambassador for Christ, despite the reproach or stigma of such in the eyes of those who do not understand or accept it. Paul spoke of this:
Eph.6:18-20 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
2Co 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Gal. 6:17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
The English word “marks” in the above verse in Galatians is the only occurrence of the Greek word, stizo, in the New Testament. The idea of a stigma associated with God and His children is not uncommon in the Bible. One example is in Hebrews 13:12-13:
12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (ESV)
Another example of us sharing God’s stigma precedes the passage from John 15 quoted above:
18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.
We’ll have more on the stigma “born again” believers endure before the unbelieving world later. Right now, let’s look at the “stigma” of our Triune God.
The Stigma of the Father
The following scriptures highlight the stigma of God the Father, which is His sovereignty, His absolute authority, His prerogative, His right and power to do and say whatever He wills.
Ge 18:14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
Ex 4:11 And the LORD said unto him [Moses], Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?
Job 42:2 I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
Ps 115:3 But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.
Jer 32:17 ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. (ESV)
Mr 10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (ESV)
Eph 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:….
Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,…. (ESV)
Romans 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. (Ex 33:19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.)
Man just cannot accept his subservient position before the True God.
Romans 1:21-25: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (ESV)
Gal 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
The Stigma of the Son
The main cause for human rejection and disdain of the Only Begotten Son of God is the unique position He has been given as mediator between God and man. Accepting the free gift He made available to us through His death on the Cross is the only way we can be saved from our sins and eternal condemnation. As we quoted above in Romans 1, man is still trying to manufacture another way to heaven and reject the simple gift of Grace through Jesus Christ. The natural man, without Divine intervention in his life, will go to great lengths to discredit the claims God has on His creation, man. You could say an example would be the recent postulation that some claim that they “may” have found the sarcophagus (a stone box used to hold the dried bones of a loved one) of our Savior’s unresurrected bones (https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/09/living/jesus-tomb-talpiot-evidence/index.html). Consider these passages of Scripture:
Matt 13:54-57 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? 57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. 58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief..
Joh 10:20 And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Acts 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
1Cor 1:18, 23: 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;….
Gal 5:11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.
1Ti 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;….
The Stigma of the Holy Spirit
Have you ever seen a ghost? Well, the thought of it is hair raising. We may be intrigued by movies and books about spooky stuff, but don’t you dare suggest there’s a spirit in the room and mean it…and demonstrate it! The stigma of the Holy Spirit is His presence. We can sing songs about Him. We can read what the Bible says about Him. We can even countenance the idea that He is actually inside us…at least theoretically. We can grasp the notion that He is the “unseen force” behind our answered prayers. But if He begins to tangibly demonstrate His presence, that can be a bird of a different color! Listen to what the Spirit is saying in these verses:
John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Acts 2:12-19 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. 14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: 15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:….
Romans 8:5-9 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
1Cor 2:4-5, 12-14 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Gal 5:16-17 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (ESV)
It may be that this stigma on the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the natural mind is one of the things that hinders in some modern congregations the exercise and demonstration of such activities of the Holy Spirit as Paul lists below in 1Cor 12:
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (ESV)
2Cor 3:16-18 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)
In Romans 15 Paul rehearses the strategy of the Holy Spirit for evangelism:
Ro 15:18-19 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, 19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
There was an atmosphere of need and expectation in the Roman World that we lack in our American culture. Though this expectation was grossly misplaced, it garnered a general openness to the “supernatural” that is commonly absent today. Remember the foolish aspirations of Simon the Sorcerer in Samaria?
Acts 8:6-24 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
8 So there was much joy in that city. 9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 ¶ Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (ESV)
It seems apparent to me, that we need to take careful notice of the difference above in verses 14 through 17 between water baptism and baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. Luke 3:16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:…. The baptism of the Holy Spirit does not automatically follow water baptism. They are two different things and both are legitimate today! John 3:5-6 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The “stigma” of the Holy Spirit must be overcome and the door to the heart of the believer must be intentionally opened to the Holy Spirit.This is not the only example of such an obvious distinction:
Acts 11:15-17 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. 17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? Peter, when later referring to this event in a council in Jerusalem said: Acts 15:8-9 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Acts 19:1-6 ¶ And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
As we quoted earlier, when Jesus tried to minister to His hometown, Nazareth, He was met with disdain and unbelief because of their familiarity with Him. Consequently, He could not do many miracles there. The Stigma of the Son of God produced in them unbelief. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is hindered in our culture, because we “know” so much and we can explain so much and we have so much. Matt 13:58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
The Stigma of the Church
Let us take note of the fact that Jesus Christ faced the stigma of His Father’s sovereignty when He walked the earth:
Matt 26:39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
Jn 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
Ro 15:3 For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
Since we are the children of God and younger brothers to Jesus Christ, it stands to reason that we bear a stigma in the eyes of the world also.
Matt 5:10-12 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Matt 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (ESV)
Matt 10:16-25 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. 24 The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?
Matt 10:32-39 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. 34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Mt 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
There is a stigma on the message we carry to the world:
1Cor 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
There’s an interesting stigma on God’s Children simply by the natural observation of the types of people the Lord calls into His Family:
1Cor 1:26-29 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
May God grant us the great gift to recognize how the natural stigma of God contributes to our own resistance to His Sovereignty, to His simple, free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and to the manifestation of His Holy Spirit in our lives and in our ministry as His priests and His ambassadors in this world. No one ever cared for you like Jesus. He is Love!
God help us share Your message of love with the world You have placed us in without regard for the stigma we bear in Your Matchless Name.
March 10, 2007