This past Sunday I spoke about the importance of us being a Spirit empowered people and gave opportunity for people to receive the Spirit.
Had we have had more time I would have given more attention to demonstrating from scripture all the New Testament occurrences of receiving the Spirit.
I thought it might be useful to underline some of our thinking when it comes to this immensely important issue. This will be the first of a number of posts engaging with what it means to be a Spirit filled people, and how this works itself out in our community and in the use of the gifts.
Receiving the Spirit
The subject of our receiving the Spirit is one which has been contentious for many years.
Some would say that you receive everything you need for the Christian life at the moment of faith and repentance. Others say you receive the fullness of the Spirit then, but it is ‘activated’ later on in our walking with God. Still others say that we need a second experience, where we receive the Spirit, and which is different to salvation.
When engaging with a discussion like this it is important that, rather than simply identifying with a position we might prefer or be most familiar with, we engage with scripture and allow scripture to speak.
So, let’s do a whistle-stop tour through Acts as a starting point:
In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost the Spirit is poured out on the disciples in Jerusalem. They receive the Spirit, and burst out onto the street where a large crowd gathers.
Peter seizes the opportunity and preaches to the crowd. Many in the crowd, convicted by the Spirit, ask Peter what they can do to be saved. Peter responds: “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”
A few verses later Luke records that some 3,000 people were added to the church that day. In that sense, the normal Christian birth includes: Faith, repentance, baptism in water, receiving the Spirit and being added to the church.
So, do all these happen simultaneously, or not?
In Acts 8 Philip goes to Samaria and preaches the Gospel. People turn to Jesus in faith and repentance, and are baptised in water in His name. However, it is only later when Peter and John come from Jerusalem that they lay hands on the new believers and they receive the Holy Spirit.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14 -17)
In Acts 9 Luke tells us the story of Saul’s conversion, the man who becomes the apostle Paul. On the way to Damascus Saul encounters Christ, and is struck blind. Three days later Ananias visits him in Damascus and lays hands on him:
And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptised; and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19)
Luke doesn’t tell us when Saul had faith in Jesus, but he certainly obeyed him after meeting Him on the road to Damascus, which would seem to point to the fact that He now believed in Him. Likewise, Luke doesn’t speak of Saul’s repentance, but this is made clear in his lifestyle proceeding from this point.
In Acts 10 Peter preaches the Gospel to Gentiles in Cornelius’ house, and to his (and the Jews who were with him) surprise the Holy Spirit falls on them while he was still preaching.
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptising these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:44-48)
In this instance the Holy Spirit seems to fall on these Gentiles before there has been any confession of faith or repentance. In fact, it is on the basis of the Spirit’s action that Peter commands them to be baptised in the name of Jesus.
In Acts 19 Luke records that Paul engaged with some Ephesian people who had been baptised with John’s baptism. Paul asks them of their experience with the Holy Spirit, which they no nothing about. While there is repentance from sin, there isn’t yet an understanding of Jesus or faith in Him. So Paul explains the Gospel to them, and they are baptised in Jesus name.
And Paul said,“John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:4-7)
The normal Christian birth:
While Luke does not include all five elements of salvation (faith, repentance, baptism in water, receiving the Spirit and being added to the church) in all of these stories, it is unlikely that all aren’t present. What he does seem to major on in each one is baptism in water and receiving the Spirit. And what is also clear is that in each case these didn’t all follow the same sequence:
- In Acts 2, 10 and 19 the believers receive the Spirit and are baptised at roughly the same time.
- In Acts 8 there is a period of time between people being baptised in the name of Jesus and the arrival of the apostles, who then laid hands on them to receive the Spirit.
- In Saul’s conversion and Cornelius’ house baptism follows receiving the Spirit, in Acts 19 receiving the Spirit follows baptism.
- Acts 8 would seem to be a fairly clear example of people believing, repenting and being baptised into Jesus, but not receiving the Spirit until a later date.
What we must be clear of is that this is an experiential reality.
- When the 120 received the Spirit in the upper room onlookers thought they were drunk.
- When Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans Simon the Sorcerer wanted to buy the power that they evidently had.
- When Peter went to Cornelius’ house the Jews were amazed, and they agreed that what was happening to the Gentiles there corresponded to what had happened to them.
- When the Ephesian men received the Spirit they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
In all of these examples something happened. They experienced something!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones contends:
“Now my second proposition – and I regard this too as a very important statement – is that baptism with the Holy Spirit is something that happens to us. That is clear surely, in all these cases that are recorded in Acts which is, as I have tried to show, our ultimate authority in the matter. It is this history that is taken for granted as background to the teaching of the epistles. And there as you read of these of these different cases that have obviously been recorded for our instruction and enlightenment, you find that it is something that happens to men and women, to Christian believers.”
Lloyd-Jones argues that Acts forms the backdrop to what is written in the Epistles. in other words, the experience of Acts and the writings of Peter and Paul are consistent and coherent.
He also argues that in every instance we see of people receiving the Spirit in Acts something happens to them which is noticeable and experiential.
Even in the case of Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-42 we see the filling of the Spirit accompanied by her prophesying.
When we downplay the experiential nature of receiving the Spirit we reduce our expectation from a Biblical norm to a non-biblical norm.
When we deny the possibility of receiving the Spirit at a different moment to repentance and faith (as in the case of the Samaritans) we stand against what scripture clearly portrays.
When we downplay the idea that we experience something when receiving the Spirit we speak a different message than what is clearly portrayed in all the examples above, which are the sum total of all the experiences recounted in scripture.
When Paul appeals to the Corinthians he reminds them that his focus among them was not intellectual, but experiential. He did not come to them with great wisdom (for such is pleasing to Greeks) but rather with the foolishness of the cross, backed up with the demonstration of the Spirit’s power:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1Cor. 2:1-5)
In the posts to come I will outline how we receive the Spirit, engage with the gifts of the Spirit, and speak about the activity of the Spirit in our lives individually and corporately.