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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Reception of the Holy Spirit: The Spirit Upon

In my last post I wrote at length about how every converted believer in Jesus Christ receives the Holy Spirit within and about the blessings that come from that.  In this post I'm going to do the same about the Holy Spirit upon the believer, another mode of receiving the Spirit that is available to every believer but that is distinguished in significant ways from the Spirit within.  As in my previous post, I'll be looking at this by listing the terms in the New Testament that refer specifically to "the Spirit upon" and digging a little bit deeper into a passage or two.

The logical place to start, like I kicked off my previous post, is with the New Testament terms "the Holy Spirit descending/coming/falling upon" and "being/remaining/resting upon" the believer.  These terms appear almost exclusively in the writings of Luke (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles), which is a theme you'll see through today's post and which I'll talk more about in my next one.  The absolute most important thing to notice about the descent of the Holy Spirit onto believers is that everyone on whom the Spirit rests is imbued by him with supernatural power and boldness to testify to God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.  This testimony is often called prophecy.  This pattern extends from Simeon, who prophesied when he saw the infant Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:25-35) to the believers on whom the Spirit fell in Ephesus in Acts 19:5-6.  In many cases, including in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit caused people to speak in other languages ("tongues"), but in all cases they were fired up to talk about Jesus in whatever language they could.  Appropriately, the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4) was promised by Jesus as "being clothed with power from high" (Luke 24:49).  The Spirit-empowered testimony of these believers was so powerful that it demanded a reaction from those who heard it.  Many believed; others responded with hostility and persecution.  Thus Peter observes that "[i]f you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you" (1 Pet. 4:14).

Two interesting and exceptional cases of people on whom the Spirit descended are Mary the mother of Jesus and Jesus himself.  For them, the descent of the Spirit didn't merely empower them to testify to God's plan of salvation in Christ but to accomplish it, Mary in her conception of the Son of God (Luke 1:35) and Jesus in his perfect life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return.

All four Gospels record the Holy Spirit coming down on Jesus at his baptism in water by John (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32).  Throughout Acts we see an interesting relationship between the descent of the Spirit and water-baptism.  When the Holy Spirit fell on the believers on Pentecost, we can assume, though it is nowhere explicitly stated, that those people had all previously been baptized by John or by Jesus' disciples.  But in his exhortation that day Peter made the connection between water-baptism and the Spirit's descent when he urged his listeners to "[r]epent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).  In both Acts 8:16-17 and 19:5-6 we see people being baptized in water into the name of the Lord Jesus, and then at or after that baptism apostles laid hands on them and the Holy Spirit came down.  The exception in Acts is when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentile household of Cornelius (also described as "God pouring out the Holy Spirit") before they had ever been baptized in water.  But exactly because the order of events was so unusual, Peter reacted by baptizing them in water immediately (Acts 10:44-48).  (I'll talk about the example of Cornelius more in my next post.)  The significance of these accounts is that baptism was administered to people who had repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ.  These were people who had been born again to the best knowledge of those who baptized them, which means that they already had the Holy Spirit within them and had already been "washed/baptized by means of the Holy Spirit" as discussed in the previous post.  Receiving the Holy Spirit at or after water-baptism through the laying on of hands, however, was a different thing.

Here we see the contrast between "being washed/baptized/immersed by means of the Holy Spirit" and "baptism/immersion in/of the Holy Spirit."  As recorded in all four Gospels, John the Baptist said that just as he immersed people in water, the one who came after him (Jesus) would immerse people in the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:22; John 1:33).  (It is interesting to note that a metaphor for the Holy Spirit within is water, but the metaphor for the Spirit upon is fire, as indeed he appeared on the believers on the day of Pentecost.)  Three of the situations that Luke describes as the Spirit coming upon believers he also describes as Jesus baptizing people in the Holy Spirit as John had predicted (Acts 1:5 [fulfilled in 2:1-4]; 8:14-17; 19:1-6).  In short, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit coming upon the believer are the same thing.

The terms "descending/coming/falling upon" (and also "baptism in/of the Holy Spirit") refer to an initial event that launches a believer's experience with the Spirit upon his or her life.  The terms "being/remaining/resting upon" describe the ongoing experience of the believer who has received the Holy Spirit upon him- or herself.  The terms "being filled with the Holy Spirit" and "being full of the Holy Spirit" have a similar relationship.  Luke uses the term "being filled with the Holy Spirit" in just the same way that he uses "falling upon" and "baptism in the Spirit" in that it describes a single, discrete episode in which the Spirit fills a person with himself.  The only difference is that filling may also happen to believers who have already been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and they manifest the same boldness and power they showed the first time they were filled (as, for example, in Acts 4:29-31).  Therefore, unlike when the Spirit falls on someone, which occurs at most once, fillings with the Spirit may happen repeatedly.  Luke uses the term "being full of the Spirit" to describe the ongoing character of someone who has been (perhaps frequently) filled with the Spirit.  In fact, "full of the Spirit" is often tied to character qualities such as wisdom and faith (Acts 6:3, 5).

To sum up the differences we've seen between the Spirit within and the Spirit upon so far, the Spirit within brings a person's spirit to life as they believe in Christ while the Spirit upon gives the believer boldness to make that profession everywhere.  The Spirit within is God the Father's baptism of the believer's conscience to cleanse from sin, reflected subsequently in water-baptism, while the Spirit upon is Christ's baptism of the believer in the Holy Spirit that generally comes with the laying on of hands after water-baptism.  One additional crucial difference between the Spirit within and the Spirit upon is that believers are never commanded to seek or take responsibility for the Spirit within, but believers are commanded to put themselves into a position to receive or maintain the Spirit upon.

One such command is Ephesians 5:18-21, which says, "And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."  First I need to make a rather technical observation.  In the phrase "be filled by the Spirit," "by" is the Greek word en that I talked about in the last post, and it has the same definition of "by means of" here that I talked about there.  So "being filled by means of the Spirit" is like "the cup was filled with a pitcher," not like "the cup was filled with water."  Paul is saying, "Look, don't use alcohol to fill the emptiness in your life.  That's what the Holy Spirit is for!  Use him to feel full."  The result of having the Holy Spirit make us full is a special power to testify to Jesus with our mouths.  We sing to him, we thank God because of him, and we even employ his name when we speak words that give each other preference over ourselves.  These are all things God commands us to do, and we will only do them effectively if we obey the command to be filled by means of the Holy Spirit.

Another such command is in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, where Paul exhorts his protégé, "I remind you to rekindle God's gift that you possess through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control."  Without a doubt, "God's gift" that Paul refers to in verse 6, as Peter did in Acts 2:38, is the Spirit he mentions in verse 7, a gift that came through the laying on of hands and is described with the metaphor of fire.  "Reigniting the Holy Spirit" is Timothy's continual responsibility in order to retain the power, love, and good sense necessary to fulfill his duty as a servant of the gospel.

In conclusion, in the New Testament the Holy Spirit comes upon the believer who receives him usually (though not always) through the laying on of hands following baptism in water.  The result is supernatural power to bear witness to Christ.  Though baptism in the Holy Spirit happens once, the manifestations that come at Spirit-baptism may be repeated through many times of filling with the Spirit thereafter.  And though we have not seen yet in our study how a person goes about getting and maintaining this gift, we have seen that as believers it is our responsibility to take the initiative to do so.

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