Receive Ye the Holy Ghost

Mark 1:7-8 ESV - And he [John the Baptist] preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:8 ESV - “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Luke 11:11-13 ESV - What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Acts 2:1-4 NIV - When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues x as the Spirit enabled them.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift - a promise of divine power - available to all believers who ask their Father in heaven.  Typically the main hindrances to receiving this gift may be unconfessed sin/lack of real repentance or lack of faith/trust expressed through one’s doubt, faulty theology, or even insecurity. It is going to be difficult to expect to receive God’s gift of His Spirit if He also has to resist you for the pride of worrying more of what others may think of you!  Scripture teaches that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.  

To receive a gift (which, by definition, is unearned by our merits or works) can often be humbling for some of us.  To give up control of anything under our power is also humbling (in this case, something as deeply personal as our speech/voice).  It’s why giving control of our bodies to doctors and nurses (both in terms of modesty and general access, whether awake or anesthetized) is extremely humbling.  For some patients, having to give strangers total control over their feeding, bathing, or cleaning (after going to the bathroom) requires extreme humility and trust.  So to receive a gift graciously requires humility.  So does allowing God to directly control a part of your body to which nobody else normally has access.  If others are present, one’s personality may be easily embarrassed or ashamed if they exhibit a display that draws unwanted attention to themselves.  All of these are possibilities when it comes to receiving this promise, this gift - the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Is it possible this pride - an unwillingness to just humbly receive, or the humility to yield control of such a personal body part, or the fear of looking foolish to others - may be why some believers never ask God for this New Testament experience, or perhaps never receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit?  

Then again, how many other believers are like the disciples of Acts 19 - “We have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit [to receive]?”  I agree with Pastor Chris Hodges who has lovingly and non-judgmentally appealed to all Christians to ask God to show them in Scripture about the baptism of the Holy Spirit - that they should ask and seek in faith and humility for this wonderful, Christian experience!  

Personal story:  Though Holy Spirit baptism does not eradicate our ability to sin nor mean that the rest of our lives will be lived out perfectly under the Spirit’s control (I’ve yet to see that), I can say that the night God baptized me with His Spirit in an encounter that corresponded to the Book of Acts was an unquestioned highlight of my life that has no comparison.  I was already a genuine believer in the Gospel of Christ - justified by faith.  I had thoroughly turned away from my old life to walk a new path of following after the God of the Bible in deep repentance that even unbelievers acknowledged openly.  Biblically, I couldn’t have done this (or even wanted to do this) had the Spirit of God not quickened me from being dead in my sin and drawn me to the Lord Jesus.  As a new believer, I already had supernatural encounters of great joy and repeatedly experienced overwhelming spiritual awe on various occasions, including at my water baptism - immediately after which I experienced a holy sense of cleanness and purity so unexpected that I cannot compare it to anything else in my life.  Theologically-speaking, I’m persuaded that I was already “saved”, just as I believe Mary, the remaining apostles, and the other followers of Christ in the Upper Room were already “saved” before being baptized with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Unlike some Pentecostal subsets, I do not believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to be saved (nor necessarily a sufficient indicator that one is truly saved).  Yet, my experience receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit was something altogether more than anything else I’d already received from God.  This Biblical experience was utterly amazing and transformative for me - an occurrence that even led unbelievers I knew to ask what had happened to me in the weeks that followed.  I quite literally felt like I was walking two feet off the ground for the first couple weeks after this experience.  Also notable, my personal study of Scripture changed - it was like a bright light was now shining on the text of the Bible…like the Bible was coming more alive, almost jumping off the page when I read it (figuratively speaking) - and I wanted to obey it.  This newfound joy that resulted in an overflow of worship and lack of self-consciousness was also awesome.  I wanted to tell everyone about God - how real He is and what all He had done in my life.  But it was not only about when I spoke in tongues, but also what I noticed when I spoke in English.  My conversations with people - whether believers or unbelievers - took on a different tone, a prophetic tone.  Some of the best “sermons” I ever heard were flowing unrehearsed out of my own new-convert mouth as I shared wisdom and insights that were beyond my knowledge, experience, or spiritual maturity level.  Often my talks with others yielded encouragement, conviction, and direction for my own situation - like God was using my own mouth to speak to me in a life-changing way.  Eventually, even words of knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, and gifts of healing accompanied my prayers on occasion as God guided me to pray for certain people.  Most notably was an unbeliever on my job who even had a doctor confirm her miraculous healing.  The empowerment received through Holy Spirit baptism is simply too life-changing and ministry-impacting to take lightly.  Again, I will echo Pastor Chris Hodges’ appeal to all Christians to seek the baptism of God’s Holy Spirit!   

If you have not experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts, will you study Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19, and ask God to illuminate the meaning and significance for you?  Will you ask God to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and be prepared to humble yourself in obedience however He directs?

If you have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, was it simply a supernatural occurrence or did you see the evidence of the Spirit working in your life in the times that followed?  Since Jesus declared that the purpose of Spirit baptism was empowerment for witnessing and ministry, how are you using His gift as a witness or in bold ministry?  If you are not actively witnessing about Jesus Christ and ministering in a way that builds up His church, how exactly is your Holy Spirit baptism being used to honor God?  Is it time to pray for renewed boldness and willingness to put yourself out there for God to use to impact others?

Acts 19:1-2a ESV - And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

Acts 4:29-32a ESV - And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul…

Holy Spirit Post Script:

Miraculous occurrences are sort of rare by definition, so for God to make this miraculous experience (Holy Spirit baptism) available to all believers on a regular basis is something of which we should seek to take advantage. I realize that there are plenty of mistakes, misuses, and outright abuses by some within classical Pentecostal or Charismatic streams of Christianity.  Scripture and the character of Christ (beginning with love, followed by the rest of the fruit of the Spirit) must always serve as a governor and guide for all spiritual practices.  

1 Corinthians 13:1-2 ESV - If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

It is likely that some instances of general spiritual weirdness, lack of Biblical fidelity and accountability, an unwillingness to judge the proper exercise of spiritual gifts as valid, gross violations of Christlike character, and outright lying about certain supernatural experiences (receiving miracles, visions, healings, etc.) have caused otherwise solid Christian teachers and apologists (Pastor John MacArthur is a chief example) to become so vehement in their criticisms or condemnation of the ongoing use and experience of spiritual gifts, including speaking with tongues associated with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  I’m of the opinion that their criticisms are not always unfounded.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and when some Pentecostals and Charismatics prophesy falsely, claim healings or miracles that are not verified (or perhaps falsified), or manipulate people in ways that are simply violations of Scripture - it can cast a dark cloud over every sincere believer who has genuinely experienced the Biblical baptism of the Holy Spirit.  

1 Corinthians 14:39-40 ESV - So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

Scripture reminds us that even in the First Century there were spiritual frauds, charlatans, false teachers, and false prophets roaming the church landscape.  Perhaps if modern Pentecostals and Charismatics policed our respective ranks more diligently and Scripturally, God would not need to use people like Dr. MacArthur to chastise us so harshly for tolerating or celebrating the inexcusable.  This does not excuse some hardcore cessationists (those who do not believe in ongoing spiritual gifts) for their unmerited hostility and opposition to Biblical expressions and experiences of the Holy Spirit.  I believe these critics of Pentecostalism, particularly Pastor John MacArthur (whose ministry I genuinely appreciate and enjoy for the most part), are absolutely wrong in their harsh dismissal of these modern, Biblical experiences.  Yet I certainly understand why they would be repulsed by the actions of some churches or ministers that wrongly attribute error, foolishness, or sin to work of the Holy Spirit.  

Dr. John Piper:  “In Protestant evangelicalism [Holy Spirit baptism] is equated with a subconscious work of God in regeneration which you only know you have because the Bible says you do if you believe. It is easy to imagine a spiritual counselor saying to a new convert today, “Don’t expect to notice any difference. Just believe you have received the Spirit.” But that is far from what we see in the New Testament. The Pentecostals are right to stress the experience of being baptized in the Spirit.”

Acts 5:32 ESV - “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Remember, the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus Christ - not make a religious spectacle or show out of the believers or the spiritual gifts themselves.  The Holy Spirit is given to those who are obeying God, which is why Paul told the Ephesian Church that Christian wives’ respect for their husbands, Christian kids’ obedience to parents, and Christian servants’ (workers’) obedience and respect for masters (bosses) are indicators of a Spirit-filled life.  He did not highlight tongues, but character, submission, and the songs we sing to and about God (Ephesians 5 & 6).  Some may often mistake the ability to speak in tongues as the only necessary evidence of their Spirit-filled life while ignoring or defying what the Bible clearly teaches otherwise.  Paul also contrasted a life full of the Spirit with indulging in alcohol, which far too many supposedly Spirit-filled believers are presently doing to gratify their flesh while claiming Christian liberty.  We must let the Spirit have control of our tongues not only when we speak in unknown languages but also (and especially) when we speak with the languages we do understand.  

Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV - And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I absolutely and without apology encourage and advocate every believer in Jesus Christ to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2, 10, and 19… AND I just as vehemently encourage every believer who has received this great gift to live a life that is truly Spirit-filled and Spirit-controlled in the ways clearly spelled out in Scripture (and demonstrated by the character of Christ).  Let the empowerment of the Holy Spirit not simply be a “tongue-talking experience” but a life-changing, lifelong celebration of God, His truth, and His way of living.  Let us always seek to live lives filled with the Holy Spirit - with boldness as His witnesses, with prophetic ministry that builds up the church and evangelizes the lost, and with the indwelling Spirit who overpowers the lusts of our sinful nature in our everyday lives.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV - So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.