I’m preparing to preach a series on Spiritual Gifts, which will start in a few weeks time and the first sermon will be on the Holy Spirit as The Gift. Today I wrote the following on Face Book,
We do ourselves, the church and therefore our global community a disservice, when we do not recognise that the presence of the Holy Spirit was and still is the crucial normative ongoing experience for the Christian life. It’s only through His presence that we can bear fruit, witness and manifest his gifts, for the benefit of all.
I was surprised at the discussion that ensued afterwards, as I did not think this statement was all that controversial. During the conversation I pondered on the narrative account of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers and the early church.
It seems to me that a plain reading of Scripture will show that the work of the Holy Spirit is two fold. One is in external convicting work of making believers, or within the context of salvation. The other work is in the work of empowerment, or the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
We see in the narrative accounts that many become believers without actually receiving the indwelling baptism of the Holy Spirit. The first disciples were believers in Christ when Christ first appeared to them. We read of numerous accounts where Jesus appears to them, and even reinstates them. Doubting Thomas becomes a believer when Jesus tells him to put his finger in his nail holes.
Yet, we now have a quandary. For, just before his ascension Christ told them to wait in the city till they received the promised Holy Spirit. The question this raises is whether or not those disciples were saved at that time or not. If they were saved, we see the first clear example of believers not having experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…. the other option is to say that before Pentecost, the disciples though they were believers, were not at that time saved… one which I think would take a bold person to make that call.
We see this happen at least four times in the Scriptures. The first as previously mentioned. The second is with the Samaritans. Phillip took the gospel to them, they believed, but, like the Disciples and the Apostles, they had believed without experiencing the indwelling / empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The third time was with the Apostle Paul. He was on the road to Damascus. He met Jesus. He became a instant believer. He was blinded in the process. A bloke whom we know very little encountered God in a vision to go and lay hands on him, and so Ananias obeyed God. He went and laid hands on Paul. He told him to receive the Holy Spirit and Paul received the Holy Spirit. This happened at least 3 days after he became a believer. But it doesn’t stop there. Some years later, (it could be 10 – 2o years after Pauls conversion experience) we have an account of Paul encountering some disciples outside of Ephesus and he bluntly asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed.
These accounts show us that the Apostles did ask believers if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. The first occurrence was with the Samaritans, where John and Peter asked the question. The second was with Paul who asked the question. And they could ask this question, because it was their own personal experience that you could be a believer without experiencing the reception of the Holy Spirit upon believing. The story of Ananias, also disproves the oft quoted doctrine that the Holy Spirit was only given through the prayers / laying on of hands by the Apostles. And of course, we see that Cornelius received the Holy Spirit without the Apostles laying hands on them to do so also.
Within the framework of belief, we have to say that any who call Jesus Lord are saved. But Scripture also says that none can call Jesus Lord, apart from the Holy Spirit convincing / convicting them that this is so. And indeed we can say that every believer was convinced through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Peter knew Christ was the messiah, because the Holy Spirit convicted him of that truth, many months before Christ was crucified, resurrected, ascended and the promise of the Spirit came about. After the resurrection the disciples were convinced of Christ, because of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit – for we cannot deny the Spirit was not at work through, in and over Christ between his resurrection and his ascension. The Jews become believers through the convicting work of the Spirit. The Samaritans become believers through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. One which powerfully worked through Phillip the evangelist. And Paul also become a believer through a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit and Christ….and yet…
So, within the narrative framework of Scripture we see a clear example that you can be a believer without experiencing the reception or the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This example makes it clear that those who equate salvation as being the baptism of the Holy Spirit are wrong. It also makes it clear that those who equate the baptism of the Holy Spirit as salvation are also wrong. Belief comes first, the experience comes later.
What is compelling is that the early church thought so much about the reception of the Holy Spirit, that they would ask the believers if they had received the Spirit of God, and if they hadn’t, they would ensure that they did so. Why is that so controversial for today? For the early church it was a normative experience.