Pentecost - The Gift of the Spirit.
Roy D. Oosthuizen
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2010. Volume 28.
Date Posted July 10, 2010
The Centrality of the Spirit in Christian Teaching and Experience
The doctrine and experience of the Holy Spirit is fundamental to Christianity. If we misinterpret it, we create something other than New Testament Christianity. If we remove it, Christianity exists in name only. Without the Holy Spirit we are left with an outward form of Christianity, minus the inner dynamic - the shell without the kernel.
The Holy Spirit alone makes Christ real to believers. He alone is God's witness, God's seal that a person's sins are forgiven and that they indeed belong to Christ (Rom 8:14-16). D.L. Moody once said, "You may as well try to hear without ears, or breathe without lungs, as to try to live a Christian life without the Spirit of God in your life." Oswald Chambers was quite correct when he said that Pentecost made the disciples living examples of the Christian faith.
Jesus went so far as to say, "Many will come to me on that day and say, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'" To which He replied, "I never knew you, away from me you evil doers" (Matt 7:22-23).
These followers assumed they belonged to Christ, but they were mistaken. What was the problem? They held to some form of Christianity which may have had prophetic and miraculous elements in it, but it had not produced real salvation. Why else would Jesus said, "I never knew you"? Could it be it was because they lacked the personal presence of the Holy Spirit? Jesus said concerning the Holy Spirit, "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (John 16:13-14). They obviously did not know Christ personally through the Holy Spirit.
A Case of Divine Delay in Receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit
What truly makes a person a Christian? This is a question of utmost importance, because our eternal salvation hangs upon the correct answer. Acts 8:24-25 provides us with insights into the importance of the witness of the Spirit to His work of redemption. In this account, a powerful and influential sorcerer, named Simon, along with some others, hears, believes the Gospel and undergoes water baptism in Christ's name. Luke stresses exactly these points, "they [all] believed; they [all] accepted the Word of God; they [all] had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8:13-16). Luke also states their deficiency, "that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them."
Even though they all appeared to have fulfilled the conditions, they lacked the Spirit. (Rom 8:9) Luke's point is significant; none of them were genuinely Christians at this point. Unlike Cornelius' group, where the Holy Spirit came on them while Peter was still preaching, this group, including Simon, believed the Gospel, repented, and was all baptized into the name of Jesus, yet Luke says the evidence of the presence of the Spirit was clearly lacking.
Yet when the same thing happens today, many Christians are quick to assure respondents of their immediate acceptance with God on the basis of a "sinner's prayer," as well as counsel them to rejoice in their newfound "experience" of salvation without a shred of evidence that God has either accepted their repentance, or witnessed to their sonship. You won't get closer to "name it and claim it" than that! Not only is this practice unbiblical and unsound, it also creates confusion in relation to entire sanctification later on. One wonders if the "second work" for some people is not actually the moment of their birth into the kingdom. With such confusion, how does one then explain to believers their continued conflict of wills and struggle to obey God after they were supposedly entirely sanctified?
It is far wiser to follow the counsel of Wesley's father to rest in nothing less than the living witness of the Holy Spirit to the new birth. We ought to counsel repentant seekers not to rest in presumption, but to wait obediently, trusting and expecting God to give the definite witness of His Spirit.
At some point in our walk with Christ there must surely be evidence that the Holy Spirit has imparted Christ's life to us (1 Cor 3:16). The witness of God's Spirit with our spirit that we are truly children of God is one aspect of this evidence, while the fruit of the Spirit corroborates the witness of God's Spirit.
In this instance recorded in Acts, the witness of the Spirit was noticeably absent. Not until this group of people received the gift of the Spirit, did they possess God's guarantee they were genuinely His children (Rom. 8:16). The moment they received the gift of the Holy Spirit their fellowship with Christ commenced and not before. The Holy Spirit endorses the fact that God's conditions for salvation have been fully met by a repentant, obedient, believing seeker.
This point holds even though this situation was a little more complicated than normal. After they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Simon saw in the Apostles' ability to impart the Holy Spirit something which would further enhance his personal status. According to Peter, his request revealed "a heart not right before God." Simon's lust for the sensational probably needed to be exposed publicly and his influence over these people broken once and for all. It is therefore possible these were some of the reasons behind the delay in the coming of the Spirit on that particular day.
Acts 8 is no Proof Text for "Two Works of Grace"
To insist that this particular account in Acts illustrates "two works of grace" misses Luke's point completely, namely, that it requires the Holy Spirit to make one a Christian. Only when these people were Spirit-baptized into the body of Jesus Christ did they actually become Christians in the biblical sense of the word.
Despite Simon's response to the Gospel, Luke adds that Peter described Simon's spiritual condition. "You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right with God. Repent of this wickedness. . . . you are full of bitterness and captive to sin" (8:21-23). Simon's response was obviously deficient.
Acts 5:32 says, "God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him." If our response to the Gospel is deficient in some way, or disingenuous, might God not withhold the confirming gift of the Holy Spirit until our response fully meets His conditions? This may throw some light on the reason for some spiritual "still births."
The New Birth in Relation to Entire Sanctification
Traditionally, the American Holiness Movement has applied the phrase "baptism with the Holy Spirit" to the experience of entire sanctification. On the basis of my own examination of the New Testament and my reading over many years on this subject, I am reluctant to make this connection. I do not see these two phrases as interchangeable synonyms. As far as I can establish, the phrase "the baptism with the Holy Spirit" relates to the new birth and not to the deeper crisis work of entire sanctification.
When explaining the Spirit's part in entire sanctification Wesley sometimes said it was "by the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit," but he actually shied away from using the terms "receiving the Holy Spirit" or "the baptism with the Holy Spirit" in relation to entire sanctification.
His reason for not connecting the phrase "baptism with the Holy Spirit" with the experience of entire sanctification is given in a letter written to Joseph Benson in 1770 where he said,
You allow the whole thing that I contend for; an entire deliverance from sin, a recovery of the whole image of God, the loving God with all our heart, soul and strength. And you believe God is able to give you this; yea, to give it to you in an instant. . . . If they like to call this "receiving the Holy Ghost" they may: Only the phrase, in that sense, is not Scriptural, and not quite proper; for they all "received the Holy Ghost" when they were justified.
John Wesley consistently taught that without the witness of the Spirit, no person could lay claim to being a Christian. Paul says in Romans 8:9, "He who does not have the Spirit of Christ is none of His." This refers to the one indispensable element in being a Christian. Therefore, I must conclude from this verse, along with the support of other evidence in the New Testament, that one becomes a Christian only on the basis of being baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ. Here I simply concur with Scripture that the witness of the Spirit is the only guarantee given by God in the New Testament that any person is a genuine member of His kingdom. It is the assurance of salvation. How do you know you are a child of God? 1 John 3:24 and 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 concur that "we know that He lives in us by the Spirit He gave us."
Receiving the Spirit in the new birth and being entirely sanctified are both the works of the Holy Spirit, but they are not to be confused with each other through the indiscriminate use of biblical terms. The new birth, which includes initial sanctification, precedes entire sanctification. Entire sanctification is the Spirit's method of bringing the whole person completely under the whole will of God by cleaning their hearts from inherited sin. Oswald Chambers defined inherited sin as the propensity to want to do without God. Entire sanctification is experienced by fully trusting in Christ's atonement to cleanse us from all antagonism to God (Rom 8:7). Entire sanctification usually, if not always, occurs some time after a person is born again.
Entire sanctification is a personal process/crisis/process by which the Holy Spirit leads us to make a choice regarding our ultimate loyalty. Will we be loyal to our own self interest or will we be loyal to Christ? Whichever of these loyalties eventually reigns supreme in our lives determines our growth in Christlikeness, our development in moral love, and our usefulness to God.
I suspect that the when of entire sanctification is as long or as short as we ourselves make it. It depends upon our willingness to allow God to fulfill His unhindered will in and through us.
Sealed by the Spirit
Another way of looking at the connection between the new birth and the gift of the Holy Spirit is to examine what Paul means by describing the gift of the Holy Spirit as God's "seal." In Ephesians 1:13-14 Paul teaches that the Spirit is the "seal" of our redemption.
In Paul's day, a seal was used for many purposes. It was used as a mark of authenticity or authority to letters and royal commands, or to mark or ratify a transaction or covenant. It was also used to protect books and documents from being tampered with or as proof of delegated authority and power. Seals were often used as an official mark of ownership. When Paul used the word seal, in relation to the Holy Spirit, his readers had a clear understanding that he meant to authenticate or to show ownership.
The presence or the gift of the Holy Spirit alone is God's seal or stamp confirming that your sins are forgiven, that you share in Christ's redemption; that you are a bona fide member of God's kingdom; that you have the assurance of salvation.
Therefore, any young Christian, despite his shortcomings, who genuinely has the witness of the Spirit, belongs to Christ as much as the oldest of saints does. John Wesley maintained that without the witness of the Spirit, no person could lay claim to being a Christian.
You might even say that the Holy Spirit is God's receipt. When you make a purchase, you receive a receipt as proof of the transfer of ownership of the item from the original owner to yourself. To both parties the receipt represents proof that the required conditions have been fully met and the receipt settles the matter on both sides. This idea is supported by Romans 8:16, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children."
Christianity is Christlike Living Through Trust and Dependence in the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of authentic Christianity. He produces Christlike characteristics as Galatians 5:22-25 spells out. Jesus promised His disciples He would send them "another Counselor" (John 14:16). The word another means another Spirit just like Christ. The Holy Spirit is a Christ-like Spirit, who reproduces a Christlike life in true believers. Holiness is nothing more, nothing less and nothing other than Christlikeness.
Being a Christian means we live our lives by faith in the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit. When Jesus described how the Christian life works, He said it's in the same way that branches growing on a grapevine exist; they simply draw their life from the vine. (John 15:4-6) Therefore the question, "Have you received the Holy Spirit?" (Acts 19:2) is surely tantamount to asking, "Are you genuinely a Christian?"
Roy is a bi-vocational Nazarene pastor presently ministering in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.