Examining the Theology of Bill Johnson’s “Face to Face with God” (Chapter 2)

 Josiah Espinoza | June 18th, 2019 

Chapter 2- “The Favor of his Face”

According to Bill Johnson (BJ) the “quest for the face of God has two central dimensions–the quest for His presence and the quest for his favor.” (19) The first dimension (seeking His presence) is not about trying to get God to do something for you, for he has already given you his Holy Spirit, but rather it is about coming into full agreement with God thereby knowing that he is good. Another reality of God’s presence is that he is omnipresent, not in the pantheistic sense, but evidence of his presence among us is everywhere. We also have God’s presence dwelling in us by faith through Jesus and his work on the cross. Our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit and when we gather together with other Spirit filled believers, the measure of his presence increases more. Bill Johnson states, “I cannot live in mediocrity, content with merely knowing that there is more of God to experience and explore–and then to do nothing about it.” Jesus promised that “he will always be with us” and the promise of his presence makes his command to disciple the nations doable. For Johnson, this promise was not limited in any capacity and therefore we can enter into a fuller measure of God’s presence as we enter into the “intended experience”. When we are disobedient we “grieve the Holy Spirit” and when we fail to do what is right we “quench the Holy Spirit”. BJ says, “Jesus modeled what life could be like when a person neither grieves nor quenches the Holy Spirit.” (22) He explains that when the Spirit “descended from heaven like a dove” and “remained upon [Jesus]” that this was a sign of the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry, and “the Holy Spirit came to rest upon Him as a mantle of power and authority for that ministry work.” (23) The Holy Spirit resting on Jesus is evidence of “Jesus’ faithfulness to be perfectly trustworthy with the presence of God.” (23) BJ says that the same is true for every believer, the Spirit dwells in all of us but it “rests on very few”. Why? Because the Spirit is holy and only those who have “entered His rest” can give the Spirit a place to rest.

According to BJ, the quest of God’s favor is modeled by no one other than Jesus. Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and men.” (Lk. 2:52)Johnson states, “If Jesus Christ needed to increase in favor with God, I need it much more.” (24) BJ sees Jesus as the ultimate example of a model Christian life. He states:

“Everything He did in His life and ministry He did as a man who, though he was fully God, had set aside his privileges of his divinity in order to show us a model of the kind of life He would make available to each of us through His death, resurrection and ascencion.” (24)

BJ defines favor as the gift of grace (charis). “If we gain favor with people, or, as we might say, get into their ‘good graces,’ we have special access to them.” (24) The same can be said of God though the charis we receive from God is different then the favor we receive from men. “God’s grace is his unmerited favor toward men through the blood of His Son.” (25) This favor results in the forgiveness of sins and grants “access to the very presence of God in the same way Jesus has access to Him.” (25) Therefore we are empowered to become like Christ. In pursuit of gaining access and power to God, Johnson states, “I believe that the failure to understand and pursue the journey of stewarding the favor of God has led so many people to die in the unnecessary tragedy of never having their God-given dreams and desires fulfilled.” He explains that the purpose of favor is to help achieve the biggest “God-given dreams” in our hearts for God but that not everyone has the same measure of favor. Each one is “positioned to increase” if they are willing to properly steward the favor that they have.

Bill Johnson describes these different measures of favor by pointing to the parable of the ten talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and how each was held responsible for how they managed their talents (money). God determines the amount of favor we receive because not “all men are created equal.” He clarifies by saying, “The statement is true as it pertains to God’s love, for He loves everyone the same.” (27) But as for his favor he does not give equally. God only gives to each what they can handle and they are expected to be good stewards of God’s grace. Just as in the parable we are responsible before God for the things that he gives us. Those who are faithful are commended while the the unfaithful are judged. Interestingly enough (but not at all surprising) Johnson does not tackle the issue of God’s punishment in eternal hell in Matthew 25:29-30, though he quotes the verse in the book on page 29. He states, “God judges everything that opposes love,” but he does not expound how God judges the sinful rebel servant. In order to be a faithful servant we must follow the footsteps of Jesus and be God’s friend.

Since the beginning, Adam and Eve were created with the unique purpose of extending God’s rule and reign while they subdued the earth. However, Johnson explains that the territory beyond the garden was in turmoil because “Satan, one of the three archangels, had set up his rule there after being cast out of heaven for his rebellion and desire to be worshipped like God.” (32) (Though no scriptural evidence is given) BJ says:

“God in his sovereignty allowed the devil to set up his rule on planet Earth because His intention was to bring eternal judgement to the devil through mankind, in particular, through the fruitfulness of intimate co-laboring between God and man.” (32)

Johnson believes that the devils judgement would be fitting to come by the hand of those made in God’s image. This judgement would come by those who choose to love and worship God and the devil hates it when God and his people are engaged in fellowship. God is looking for partnership on earth that will demonstrate God’s rule to the world. He has chosen to accomplish this task because we are the ones that “signed up”.

Wisdom is the key to us increasing in favor. Christ became wisdom for us so that we might draw deeper into God. “Placing high value in the voice and Word of the Lord plays a big role in obtaining favor from God.” (34) Aligning ourselves with our head, Christ, is the evidence of having found wisdom. We are resting in the favor of God when we are “being and doing that which He created us in His wisdom to be and to do.”

Overall, there were only a few points of disagreement that I had with BJ in this chapter. First off, I agree that the pursuit of God’s presence in us is the core of our ongoing Christian walk. We should desire to experience God in greater and greater measures in our lives. The Holy Spirit is bringing us into greater degrees of glory and holiness and therefore the presence of God in us becomes much more sweeter and real. I am not sure what BJ means when he says “intended experience” when talking about a greater measure of God’s presence but for the most part I agree.

When I came across his perspective of the Spirit resting on Jesus I had to pause a moment and think about what he ways saying, only because it was strange to me. From what I gathered, as a man, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit at his baptism in order to inaugurate his ministerial work. Jesus, being a perfect servant of God, was entrusted with the presence of the Spirit of God for the work of the ministry and according to BJ we too can be entrusted with the Spirit of God if we are willing to be faithful servants. I can’t help be get a hint of second blessing type theology in that language. Second Blessing or the baptism of the Spirit is the belief that Christians can receive a greater measure of spiritual power by a “second anointing” or second blessing of the Spirit,which is why he claims that the Spirit “rests on very few”. Some who experience this “second blessing” claim incredible sensations, like how BJ explained in the previous chapter. Others claim to speak in tongues and others claim increases in faith and holiness. I do not believe that Scriptures indicate any kind of “second blessing” or “baptism of the Spirit”, rather I think that there can be greater increases in our sanctification, faith and holiness as the Spirit works in us. The idea of a second blessing suggests that there can be Christians who are spiritually nominal while there are others who have received a “greater amount” of the Holy Spirit, resulting in “greater power”. I believe everyone is granted the full measure of the Spirit (Jn. 3:34, Ep. 1:3) and as you learn to grow in your walk and as you increase from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18), then you are more disposed to be used by God.

I am pleased to see BJ claiming Jesus’ divinity. Jesus is 100% God and 100% man, he is of the same essence and of the same substance as God. The accusations of BJ’s opponents that claim he believes in a Kenotic Heresy is not substantiated in this quote. This, along with his clarification on the issue, so far, do not hint at any heresy about Christ’s divine nature. With that being said, his overemphasis on Christ’s humanity can cause some to question his orthodoxy. It is true that everything that Jesus did, he did in his humanity. He ate, slept, laughed, cried, walked on water, raised the dead, healed the blind and lame, died and rose again in his humanity, but he also did every one of those things 100% in his deity as well. This is the mystery of the hypostatic union of Christ. The Son of God, the second person of the Triune Being of God, became man so that he might live and die as the God-Man. The two natures cannot be separated from each other. The reason Christ was perfectly entrusted with the power of God, was not because he was a faithful man, but because he was the faithful God-Man and in his nature the fullness of God dwelled bodily. (Col. 2:9) We will never, ever receive the Spirit in the same measure as Christ did, because when Christ spoke, healed, performed miracles, died and rose from the grave, he did so as the God-Man, perfectly in the power of God, which is the Spirit of God who is of the same substance and essence as Christ and the Father. We can never and will never be equal in power to the glorious God-Man Jesus Christ.

Though I disagree with BJ’s view of grace or “favor”, I do like what he has to say about increasing in grace. I believe, like he does, that the grace of God is a gift, but I believe it is a sovereign gift. Grace is not granted to the one who “signs up” for it, grace is the sovereign gift of God that results in salvation or, in BJ’s words, it results in me “signing up”. I do not sign up to receive grace or to receive more grace, God gives grace freely and as he pleases, which then draws me further into him. And I do agree with BJ that we are called into deeper levels of grace (Jn. 1:16) as we search for God. However, the purpose of drawing in nearer to God is not so that I can achieve my “dreams and desires” (whatever that means), but so that I may fall in line with God’s will and God’s purposes. The evidence of God’s grace is not the fulfillment of my dreams but of God’s decreed will. It is interesting to me that when describing the parable of the talents he does not talk about God’s wrath in hell. Is it because his book is only intended for Christians and doesn’t think that it is helpful? If that’s the case, then the whole of Scripture is wrong for talking about the wrath of God because truly the Scriptures are only intended for God’s people. Why only mainly focus on the blessings of the faithful servant and not the judgement of the unfaithful servant? I think that is very telling of BJ’s intention in his book.

I also found his explanation of Adam and Eve pretty unorthodox. From what I gathered, Bill Johnson believes that when God made the world, he made Eden as a place of sanctuary and perfection for Adam and Eve while the rest of the world was in turmoil (it was not cultivated or worked). The uncultivated part of the earth was where the devil had set up his kingdom and it was the call of Adam and Eve to work and fill the land with image bearers so that the world could be filled with God’s glory and people. Yet, the Bible makes no mention of this, ANYWHERE. How BJ came up with this theory is beyond me. It isn’t heresy, but it certainly is unorthodox. Beside that, he makes it seem as though humanity was initially the one who would judge the devil and his demons, but because of the fall and original sin (which unshockingly was not mentioned in his explanation) somehow God’s plan was thwarted by the devil. But the Scriptures tell us that Christ was “slain before the foundations of the world.” (Rev. 13:7-8) So when God promised that one would come from the Seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent (Gn. 3:15), it was not a reaction nor was it a contingency plan, God foreknew the fall of Adam and Eve, he created the world knowing it would take place, he decreed that it would take place, so that Christ would be the victor over Satan. Christ is the one who has the final judgement over Satan. It had been decreed before the foundations of the world that Christ would crush the serpents head through his death and resurrection and therefore have the final judgement over all his enemies. (Hb. 1:13; Rv. 20:7-10) We who are in Christ will judge angels, not by our own holiness or our own rule, but through Christ’s holiness and his rule when we inherit the consummated Kingdom of God at the eschaton. (1 Cor. 6:2-3; Rm. 8:17)

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