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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Reception of the Holy Spirit: Applications

I hope that in the last few posts I've demonstrated from the Bible that the Holy Spirit is received by believers in Christ in two ways: within for regeneration at conversion and upon for power usually subsequent to conversion.  I want to conclude with some points of application that I think make or break our effectiveness as servants of God.

1. We get the Holy Spirit upon us by asking for him.  When we looked at the Spirit upon, we saw that receiving and maintaining the Holy Spirit in this way is actually commanded in Ephesians 5:18-21 and 2 Timothy 1:6-7.  Never in the New Testament are believers commanded to receive the Spirit within, because it would be to no purpose—a person who is still dead in their transgressions and sins has no interest in receiving the Holy Spirit, much less ability to do so.  The Spirit takes the initiative to enter the person and bring him or her to life.  But once the person has been awakened, God calls that person to receive the Holy Spirit upon to empower his or her confession of Christ.

So, how does a person answer God's call?  Fortunately for us, it could hardly be simpler, and Jesus lays it out plainly:
So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you 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! [Luke 11:9-12]
All we need to do is ask!  That's it!  We know that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit upon, not within, in large part because this text appears in the Gospel of Luke, and as we've seen, Luke speaks of receiving the Holy Spirit exclusively in terms of the Spirit upon.  Jesus says that everyone who asks the Father for the Holy Spirit receives him.  Everyone!  It's a guarantee!  Now, the timing isn't guaranteed.  Precisely how the Holy Spirit manifests himself in your life, aside from boldness to proclaim the glory of God in Christ, is not guaranteed either.  And though the trigger is asking, there's a big difference between a casual, half-hearted request and the kind of prayer that the apostles and company engaged in continually for ten days before the Spirit fell upon them on Pentecost.  God wants to see that you're serious.  Nevertheless, at root, receiving the Holy Spirit upon you is as simple as asking your Dad.

2. Why do we expect evangelism to work if we're not filled with the Holy Spirit?  It is amazing how we rely on our own efforts when it comes to evangelism.  For one, we are so obsessed with technique and program.  Technique and program can be useful tools, but trying to bring someone to faith in Christ just using those tools is like trying to build a house with tools but no builder to wield them.  Moreover, 90+% of Christians don't even make the attempt to evangelize; they're scared and feel inadequate.  Why would they evangelize if they don't have the power of the Holy Spirit that both makes them effective in evangelism and implants a drive to be bold about their faith that they can't resist?

We are so wrapped around words when it comes to evangelism—"what do I say?"  We're afraid that if we say the wrong thing, we'll screw everything up.  Well, words are important.  In some cases, a misplaced preposition is the difference between the gospel and heresy.  But at the same time, words themselves, even God's Word itself, aren't expected to change anybody's life alone.  The perfect articulation of the gospel, by itself, will always be met with hostility or more likely an indifferent shrug.  The Word converts people because of the power of the Holy Spirit on the person who speaks it and in the person who hears it.  The New Testament knows no other kind of conversion.  Paul says, "My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:4-5).  Shockingly, verbose Paul goes even further two chapters later when he bluntly asserts, "The kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power" (1 Cor. 4:20, NASB).

Jesus actually told his closest followers, witnesses of his life, death, and resurrection, people whose minds had been opened to understand the Scriptures, the best-qualified evangelists in history, to stay put and not to tell anyone their life-changing message until they had been clothed with power from on high.  When the Spirit then came, 3,000 were saved in one day.  Centuries later, if we aren't seeing people repenting of sin and coming to Jesus, and we also don't see evidence of the Holy Spirit upon us and our churches in power, should we conclude that this is merely a coincidence?

3. The laying-on of hands needs to make a comeback.  It appears to have been a pattern going back to the earliest days of the church to lay hands on people after they had been baptized into the name of Jesus in water and ask the Lord to baptize them in the Holy Spirit.  (In a previous post I noted this in Acts 8:16-17; 19:5-6; and it's implied in 2:38).  Has Christ in heaven baptized people in the Holy Spirit apart from this process?  Certainly; Cornelius and his household are a prime example.  But the laying-on of hands after water-baptism seems to have been established as the typical procedure.

In baptistic traditions like my own, we need to bring this back.  This past Easter, when believers that I baptized came up from the water, I laid my hands on them and prayed for God to pour out his Spirit on each one.  In traditions that baptize infants (paedobaptistic), the laying-on of hands still figures in to the rite of confirmation, and it does traditionally relate to the gift of the Holy Spirit as he came on Pentecost (see, e.g., the Compendium of the Catholic Catechism, nos. 265-268). But the significance of the act needs to be emphasized, particularly in light of the two modes of reception that I've been talking about (which is not always made clear in paedobaptistic traditions).

In addition, in the run-up to baptism or confirmation the candidates need to be taught about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and encouraged to seek it for themselves.  We read in an ancient document called the Didache (did-ah-KAY), which was probably written while some of the apostles were still alive, "And before the baptism, let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able.  Also, you must instruct the one who is to be baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand" (7.4).  What are they to be fasting for?  The text doesn't say, but I think they were all praying with fasting that the Holy Spirit would fall upon the baptized.  We need to revive this practice or something like it.  I plan to do so the next time I prepare people for baptism.

4. Don't stop asking.  We've seen that although the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a single event that inaugurates the experience of the Spirit upon a believer, nevertheless those who are so baptized may be filled repeatedly ever after.  Therefore, we must never cease to ask to be filled ever more with the Holy Spirit, or to use the term Paul employed to Timothy, to "reignite the gift of God."  Those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit have not "arrived."  That baptism is the beginning of experiencing the Spirit in his fullness, not the end.  It is worth remembering the example of Saul/Paul, Barnabas, and their colleagues in Antioch (Acts 13:1-4), who served God with fasting and prayer, out of which they heard the Holy Spirit tell them to set apart Saul and Barnabas for a special mission.  They then laid their hands upon them and prayed with more fasting before sending them out.  If those spiritual giants repeatedly called on God for more power, shouldn't we?

5. Our significance comes from being baptized into Jesus, not baptized in the Holy Spirit.  While we're on the subject of Christians who haven't "arrived" because of their experience with the Holy Spirit, I might as well take a swing at charismatics and Pentecostals.  It is painfully common that those who have received the Holy Spirit upon themselves quickly turn toward those who have not received the gift that way and insinuate that they have a problem, that they are somehow defective.  Now, from one angle there's some truth to this in the sense that, as we've seen, being filled up by means of the Holy Spirit is a command of the Lord, because it is a necessary ingredient to fulfilling other commands like proclaiming the gospel everywhere.  Properly, it is not an optional thing.

However, it should not escape our notice that Paul the Apostle wrote three whole chapters of one of his letters to address the very issue of how those who have been empowered by the Holy Spirit should treat other believers: 1 Corinthians 12-14.  In this amazing passage of Scripture Paul insists that all believers have been baptized by means of the Holy Spirit's regenerating, cleansing work into the one body of Christ, and all have been given him to drink as part of salvation (see earlier post).  All—Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and I would add young or old, educated or uneducated, hip or square, traditional or contemporary, high-church or low-church, spiritually strong or weak, and even charismatic or cessationist—are of Christ through faith.  So any denigration of those who have not yet been baptized in the Holy Spirit is denigrating a member of Christ's body that each other member needs for health and survival.  Go read 1 Corinthians 13 again: it wasn't written to be read at weddings but at "full gospel" worship services.

I've met charismatics who tie themselves in knots about their saved friend or family member who hasn't shown evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Would you please just chill out!  Go ahead and pray for them, but also remember what Jesus said when his disciples returned after healing and throwing demons out of people: "Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names stand written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).  No matter how great the Spirit upon us is and no matter how badly neglected this reality is in many quarters today, the salvation bought by Christ and effected by the Spirit within every believer is an incomprehensibly greater gift.

6. "Wives, submit to your husbands" doesn't make sense apart from the Spirit upon.  This point of application is quite different than the ones that precede it, but I think it's worth mentioning.

"Complementarian" is a label that belongs to those who, on the basis of Scripture, view men and women as equal in value but who also maintain that leadership in the home and in the church are roles specific to men to fill.  A major plank in the complementarian platform is Ephesians 5:22-33, in which Paul commands wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives and thereby to act out the relationship between the church (wife) and Christ (husband).  Complementarians rightly point out that even though "submit" and "love" often look alike in the daily grind of marital life, they are not strictly the same, and to say that they are is to suggest a heretical equivalence of function and leadership between Christ and the church on the basis of the parallel with husband and wife.

"Egalitarians" are people who, on the basis of Scripture, hold that though the work of Christ does not abolish men's and women's distinct sexual natures in this life, it does abolish differentiation in rank and role on the basis of different sexual natures.  Ephesians 5:22-33 is not their favorite Scripture passage.  (Galatians 3:28 is.)  But since it's in the Bible and they have to deal with it, egalitarians point out that Ephesians 5:22—"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord"—is not a complete sentence in the Greek; it is actually close to the end of a sentence beginning in v. 18.  Connected to the verse before it reads, " . . . submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, [including] wives to your husbands as to the Lord."  Egalitarians argue that the submission of wife to husband is just a subset of the submission that all believers, male and female, are to show to each other, and in terms of grammatical analysis I believe that it is impossible to disagree with them.

However, both complementarians and egalitarians generally fail to consider "Wives, submit to your husbands" in light of the verb that heads the whole sentence in v. 18.  The whole sentence says (as I translate it), "Don't get drunk with wine . . . but use the Spirit to get full, with the result that you speak to each other with psalms . . . return thanks always . . . and submit to each other in the fear of Christ, including the wives to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. . . . "  In other words, wives submitting to their husbands hinges on wives being filled up through the Holy Spirit upon them.

Now, this does not mean that wives on whom the Holy Spirit has not fallen do not need to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.  But it does mean that telling a wife who is not living in the fullness of the Spirit to submit to her husband puts the cart before the horse.  It may be ethically correct but it is not pastorally wise.

To grossly simplify things, imagine two different scenarios in a Christian family in the province of Asia.  In the one the wife is strong-willed and rebels against the leadership of her husband, doing her own thing despite his wishes.  The reactivity she displays toward him suggests that she's missing something within herself that causes her to be emotionally wrapped around him in an unhealthy way.  She is somehow empty and needs to be full of what really fills just like the alcoholic in v. 18 does.  She needs to be filled by means of the Holy Spirit.  Once she receives him, out of that fullness she has the confidence that enables her to submit to her husband without feeling like she's losing herself, because she knows that God has given her a purpose and authority through the Holy Spirit that her spouse cannot take away.  In the other scenario, the wife is bossed around, perhaps abusively, by her husband; she is weak in the relationship in addition to her vast social weakness in her ancient community.  Now instructing her to submit to her husband is really not helpful, because already her submission out of fear results in her being crushed.  Fortunately, she becomes saved by grace and instructed about the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When she receives the gift of the Spirit upon herself, she is so transformed and emboldened, just as the disciples were at Pentecost, that her husband hardly recognizes her.  In fact, far from being won over to the faith, he is feeling threatened by the enormous supernatural confidence displayed by his Spirit-filled wife.  It is only now that it is appropriate for the wife to be instructed to submit to her husband and to direct her spiritual power according to love rather than using it to upend the order of the household.

In both of these situations, the instruction for wives to submit to their husbands doesn't make practical and pastoral sense unless they are filled up by means of the Holy Spirit upon themselves.  How much damage has accidentally been done to women who have been counseled to submit to their husbands without first being instructed properly about the power of the Holy Spirit, without which the command to submit is in some way inapplicable?

Finally . . . I hope you've gotten something out of this series on the reception of the Holy Spirit.  I can truthfully say that studying this subject has changed and is changing my life and ministry.  I can't imagine how many others in the church would be changed if they examined the New Testament carefully and faithfully on this matter and took its implications seriously.

If you'd like to hear more, especially about how this doctrine relates to the mission of the church, view or listen to my sermon "Taking the Show on the Road" (in the list midway down the page).  An even better message is a lecture that preaches like a sermon by Mark Driscoll called "The Spirit-Filled Missional Ministry of Jesus."  You have to be a devotee of Reformed theology to get everything he's saying (both he and his audience are), but even if you're not you'll still be built up.

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