Holy Spirit

Pentecost

Pentecost

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, which is the commemoration and celebration of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the early church as recorded in Acts 2.

In Acts 2, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit becomes a reality as the Spirit descends on the disciples at Pentecost. The disciples “began to speak in other tongues” (2:4), and devout Jews from many nations were amazed, “because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (v. 6). God shows that the gospel is breaking through linguistic barriers and going to all nations, and then Peter stands up and, in the first recorded sermon in Acts, explains how Pentecost is the glorious and long-anticipated fulfillment of God’s work of redemption since the beginning. Through Peter’s sermon we see the most prominent theme of Acts: the gospel of Jesus will go out to the nations, through the witness of his disciples and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

God Initiates

When the celebration of Pentecost comes, Acts 2:1, 5 places 120 of the disciples (1:15) together in Jerusalem. Acts 2:2 then says “and suddenly there came from heaven.” The direction of agency is important. While often in religion humans must first do the equivalent of speaking in other tongues (mysterious incantations, complicated rites, elaborately altered behavior) in order to lure the gods into visitation, at Pentecost God’s Spirit rushes into the scene of his own accord: the apostles are just waiting. Pentecost illustrates the fact that God is the initiator of our salvation; he comes to us independent of our control.

Babel

Since the time of Babel, the nations of the earth were divided by language, unable to come together as a result of their rebellion against God (Gen. 11:1–9). Even in God’s redemptive acts of the Old Testament, he singled out the Jewish nation in order to mediate blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1–3; Ex. 19:6). The good news of God’s grace was only communicated in the Hebrew language. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the curse of Babel begins to unravel. No longer is the gospel confined to the Hebrew language; it is available directly to all nations and all languages. The restored order of God’s kingdom begins to break into the dark and confused world of sin. Pentecost is, in a sense, a magnificent reversal of Babel.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–13)      

Since the time of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9), the nations of the earth were divided by language, unable to come together as a result of their rebellion against God. Even in God’s redemptive acts of the Old Testament, he singled out the Jewish nation in order to mediate blessing to the nations. The good news of God’s grace was only communicated in the Hebrew language.

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the curse of Babel begins to unravel. No longer is the gospel confined to the Hebrew language, but is available directly to all nations and all languages. The restored order of God’s kingdom begins to break into the dark and confused world of sin.

This gives us hope today. The gospel of Jesus Christ triumphs in a world that is still groaning under the curse of sin (Rom. 8:22). One day his reign will be fully realized, and the effects of sin that plague us will fall away completely.

While often in religion humans must first do the equivalent of speaking in other tongues (mysterious incantations, complicated rites, elaborately-altered behavior) in order to lure the gods into visitation, at Pentecost God’s Spirit rushes into the scene of his own accord: the apostles are just waiting. Pentecost illustrates the fact that God is the initiator of our salvation; he comes to us independent of our control.

The experience of the Spirit at Pentecost is a fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist concerning the one—Jesus—who would baptize in the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11, Mark 1:6, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33). This promise is also repeated by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:5. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost has a specific purpose in redemptive history: to show that God’s salvation is now flowing out to people from every nation, tribe, and language. This is repeated in the three outpourings of the Spirit that follow in Acts 8, 10–11, and 19.

Pentecost is a climactic event in salvation history for the whole Church. Luke’s focus in Acts 2 is on the fulfillment of prophecy, not on paradigms for personal experience. Luke is introducing the expanding gospel ministry of the Holy Spirit as the gospel is beginning to spread.

The story in Acts is also our story, because we are participating in God’s story. The descent of the Spirit on these apostles who looked like crazy drunk men is really our birth story, for those in Christ. While we think of our lives in terms of our own births, upbringing, education, families, line of work, and so on, there is another story that has been happening parallel to these things, actually it has weaved its way through these things. And it begins here with the descent of the Holy Spirit who fills these believers. If this had never happened, if God had not looked on Christ’s work on the cross and said, “It is good,” then raised him from the dead and set him at his right side, pouring out his Spirit on his people to take the message of his gospel of grace to the nations, we would still be in our sins. We would still be lost and without hope.

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14–41)

Peter begins his famous Pentecost sermon with an extensive reference to the Old Testament, a citation from the prophet Joel, who predicted that God’s Spirit would be poured out in the last days, the days before the final judgment (the “day of the Lord”). According to Peter, the last days have begun. This “new religion” is actually the continuation of what God has been doing through Israel all along. Better yet, this God made promises years ago that these “last days” would come, and at Pentecost God is demonstrating that he is faithful and powerful to keep his promises. As he promised, God is pouring out his Spirit on all flesh—men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. God is mercifully and joyfully calling all people to salvation.

In Peter’s first sermon, the essence of gospel proclamation is clear: “Jesus is Lord” (v. 36). This simple statement poses a fundamental challenge both to the Jews (with their strict monotheism) and to the Romans (with their religious-political system founded on the supremacy of Caesar as Lord). The resurrection is also one of the core elements throughout the gospel presentations in the book of Acts. After setting current events in redemptive history, here Peter quotes from the Psalms to show that the resurrection (Ps 16:8–11) was God’s intention along. The crucifixion of Christ was part of God’s plan, and he followed it by raising Jesus from the dead. Peter shows that this is all promised in Scripture. God’s grace breaks through the walls of the worst of human rebellion.

Just as Jesus promised that the gospel would spread to the end of the earth, Peter proclaims that “the promise is … for all who are far off”. The gospel is not confined by geographical boundaries, but is universal in scope. But “far off” is not just geographical: by his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has reconciled to himself all of us who were formerly “far off” from God and one another. No one is so far removed that God cannot redeem them.

The Fellowship of the Believers (Acts 2:42–47)

The Holy Spirit brings forth a devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, community, and prayer. Notice also the unity of mind and heart of these first believers. When God is present by his Spirit, unity happens. This shows us what the Holy Spirit does when he works in us individually and collectively. He brings forth love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22–23).

The Spirit’s ministry also brings forth conversions and numerical growth to the church, as we see that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47). The Spirit produces not only inward spiritual growth, but also expansion and growth of the church. Gospel-fueled, Spirit-empowered growth is a repeated theme that runs throughout the rest of Acts, as we see that “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14) and “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5; see also Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20). The Spirit continues to testify through the church to the grace of God in Jesus, bringing about growth in love and in numbers. The grace of God is fruitful and effective, and we see God taking the initiative to spread his grace to ever-expanding numbers of people.

 

This post is adapted from my book, Acts: A 12-Week Study, and my notes on Acts in the Gospel Transformation Bible.

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The below is an abridged excerpt from “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit,” a chapter that Mike Wilkerson and I co-authored in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, which was just released yesterday.

It’s About Engagement, Not A Process

Life is a mess of sin and suffering. When people find themselves in over their heads, they come to us the counselors, and quickly we’re in over our heads with them.

What do they want? Often they want relief from the pain or practical advice for how to break sin patterns. Sometimes they’re aware that there’s more to it, something deeper.

We can’t go far without prayer and Scripture.

What do we want for them? If we’re thinking biblically, then we’ll want to provide some immediate, practical help. But we also know that the roots of their problems are likely deeper than they are aware, and that God is often up to something greater than merely cleaning up the messes as we see them and in the ways that we would clean them.

We know that biblical counseling will involve prayer and Scripture—we can’t go far without those. Yet if we’re not careful, even prayer and Scripture can be deployed in the counseling process as mere techniques (the technologies of biblical counseling) rather than as means of engaging with the living God, who alone is sufficient for the needs at hand.

It’s The Holy Spirit’s Counseling

Rather than asking about the role of the Holy Spirit in counseling, we should be asking about the counselor’s role in the Holy Spirit’s counseling! Yes, there will be Scripture. Yes, there will be prayer. Yet, it is good for us to focus on the Holy Spirit’s personal presence, agency, and efficacy. We should not reduce him to the topic of “prayer in counseling,” nor to “Scripture in counseling.”

By taking this more personal approach, we’ll be reminded that prayer is not just a technique of spirituality—it is conversation with our Redeemer, a person.

The Holy Spirit is the primary counselor.

Further, the Spirit is at work even before we pray and in ways for which we may not even know how to pray. He does more than we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). We’ll also be reminded that the Scriptures are not magical formulas that work apart from our understanding; they are meaningful communications from a personal God about himself that we might know him. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to know God through the Scriptures.

Counseling that lacks this dependence on the Holy Spirit ceases to be Christian. Jay Adams is emphatic here:

Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion. Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and his Word without grievously sinning against him and the counselee.

 

Siang-Yang Tan agrees:

The role of the Holy Spirit in counseling is therefore a crucial one. He is the ultimate source of all true healing and wholeness. All true Christian counseling needs to be done in the Spirit, by the Spirit’s power, truth, and love, under the Lordship of Christ, and to the glory of God

It’s A Trialogue

If the Holy Spirit is the primary counselor, then biblical counseling is not merely a dialogue between a counselor and a counselee. Rather. It is a trialogue in which a counselor participates in the Spirit’s work already underway with the counselee. The Spirit is actively engaged in counseling, working directly on the counselor and the counselee, and through each to help the other.

 

Download the entire chapter

 


 

Copyright © 2013 abridged expert from Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, James MacDonald, Bob Kellemen, and Steve Viars, eds. 

 

Love-Making

Love-Making

Everyone agrees that love is a good thing. Love is often a very feel-good topic. But if we look at Scripture, we find something disturbing: love is actually a big problem for us humans.

Our Problem with Love

The Bible tells us that God doesn’t just want us to love each other—he actually requires that we love each other:

  • “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Rom. 13:9)
  • “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14)
  • “. . . Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
  • “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . . [You] must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:44, 48)
  • “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37–40)

As we read through these verses, it should become apparent that every one of us has failed and does fail to love as God intends and commands us to, with all our hearts.

Jesus has some bad news regarding what naturally comes out of the human heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, false testimony, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Matt. 15:17–20; Mark 7:20–22). He concludes, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). In Galatians 5:17–21, Paul follows Jesus’ lead and tells us that inherent within us are works of the flesh like “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

After Paul makes his list of sinful desires, he follows it with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruit of the Spirit is not inherent in us but worked into us by the Holy Spirit. The natural human heart produces one kind of desires, and the Spirit produces another kind by giving us a new heart. And they are opposed to one another. Thorn bushes do not produce oranges. Weeds do not produce apples. And the human heart does not naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Love is our problem. Moreover, the command to love doesn’t generate in us the ability to fulfill it. We can be told over and over that we ought to love, but being told to do so doesn’t make it possible for us to accomplish it. The command to love actually condemns us, because we all fail.

Freed from Condemnation

God provides the answer for our love problem in Jesus Christ. Through faith we trust in Christ, and we experience grace, reconciliation with God, and forgiveness of sins. Romans 5:1–2 says, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Through faith in Christ’s finished work, we are freed from condemnation for our failure to love.

But it gets even better.

Freed to Love

We have been freed to love. When God makes us new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), he produces in us new passions and desires so love and good works are actually possible (Phil. 2:13).

God has loved us in a way that has given us life. The atoning death of Jesus provides the means by which we enter a relationship in which love is received and expressed. With that as the context of the commands to love, the commands are viewed not as the “ought” of compulsion but the “transformation” of internal constraint. To those who encountered the source of love, the commandment to love can be read with hope and joy, because love is not alien to our experience.

We have been given an overabundance of love.

1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God’s love for us produces love in us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s gracious, generous love toward us changes our hearts and makes us able to love.

Abundance of Love

The more we bask in God’s affection, the more the reality of God’s acceptance of us seeps into our hearts, the more we might love others as ourselves. This seems to be the logic behind Jesus’ statement: love one another as God has loved you. We have been given an overabundance—a surplus—of love. And out of that love, we can love others out of the overflow of God’s affection for us. God’s love is a love-making love.

Are You Spirit-Filled?

Are You Spirit-Filled?

What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” That we’re supposed to speak in tongues? Be eccentric? Does a Christian have to be Spirit-filled? 

In many churches, the Holy Spirit is either super-emphasized or completely ignored. I grew up in a Pentecostal church that taught that speaking in tongues was evidence that one had been filled and baptized in the Spirit. I even told other people that unless they spoke in tongues they were not Christians and doomed for hell. My logic was this: 1: Speaking in tongues means you are filled with the Spirit. 2: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 3: “… No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore: Speaking in tongues is proof that you are filled with the Spirit and are saved. Not speaking in tongues is proof that you don’t really have the Spirit (even though you think you do) and, therefore, you do not truly confess Jesus is Lord and you are not saved. Yikes! That’s just weird logic. Fortunately, not all Pentecostals are this wacky in their theology, but at the time, I was wrapped up in a form of Pentecostalism on steroids and committed to faulty interpretation. That’s a bad mix. The other extreme is that the Holy Spirit is nearly forgotten, which can be more of a problem in certain Reformed and Lutheran traditions. The unfortunate joke in some of those circles is that the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Oops.

HOW THE SPIRIT WORKS IN THE WORLD

Jesus accomplished redemption and forgiveness through his life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit applies that redemption and forgiveness to us. The Spirit continues and expands the ministry of Jesus through the lives of believers. Without the Spirit, we can do nothing. Even Jesus, in his earthly ministry, relied upon the Holy Spirit. The four Gospels are accounts of Jesus’ ministry that was empowered through the Spirit. At age 30, Jesus was baptized by John and the Holy Spirit came down upon him and anointed him for his ministry. The Gospel accounts are full of phrases like “in the power of the Spirit,” and “full of the Holy Spirit,” used to describe Jesus’ ministry.

FROM CREATION ONWARD, THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS BEEN ACTIVE IN THE LIVES OF GOD’S PEOPLE.

The book of Acts is the extension of Jesus’ ministry through earlier believers. After Jesus’ resurrection and just before his ascension, Jesus said to his disciples: “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” (Acts 1:8).

From creation onward, the Holy Spirit has been active in the lives of God’s people. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Godhead and is the empowering presence of God, filling all believers for his mission to make himself known.

SPIRIT-FILLED, NOT “CHARISMATIC”

We prefer not to use the word “charismatic” when we talk about what it means to be under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We prefer the language of “Spirit-filled,” because the word “charismatic” tends to conjure images of everybody speaking in tongues, having their own private experience, and distracting others from the preaching and hearing of the gospel. Simply put, to be Spirit-filled is to be like Jesus, who depended on the Spirit for the success of his earthly ministry. The Gospels reveal that the life of Jesus—doing miracles, healing people, raising the dead, and resisting sinful temptation—was marked by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). In the Gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus was:

  • Conceived by the Spirit (1:35);
  • Taught and matured by the Spirit (2:26-27, 40, 52);
  • Filled by the Holy Spirit at his baptism (3:22);
  • Led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (4:1)
  • Sent to preach by the power of the Spirit (4:14).

All of this was building toward the cross, where Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for our sin through the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). Jesus actually said it was to our advantage that he would no longer be with us in the flesh because in his absence he would send a “Helper,” the Spirit of truth, to be with us forever and to lead us into all truth. He said God the Father would send the Spirit in his name, teaching us all things, and bringing into remembrance all that he said (John 14:15–27). Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, leading us into all truth (John 16:7–13).

IF YOU TRUST IN JESUS AND HIS WORK ON THE CROSS FOR YOU, YOU ARE SPIRIT-FILLED.

In possibly the greatest promise of the coming work of the Spirit, Jesus said the Spirit would take everything that is Jesus’ and make it known to us (John 16:14). All these promises were fulfilled as the Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers in Jesus Christ at Pentecost (Acts 2) and subsequent outpourings of the Spirit in Acts 810–11and 19.

HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT MINISTERS TO US TODAY

1. If you trust Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit.

You can’t be a Christian without having the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit who gives life and awakens your heart to understand the gospel and believe in Jesus. The Spirit is the one who applies the finished redemptive work of Jesus to us and unites us to Christ through faith. John Calvin argued that if Christ’s benefits had remained outside of us, his work on our behalf would have been useless. We need to be united to Christ. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is our inauguration into the life of Christ. Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way: Baptism with the Spirit inaugurates us into the life of union with Christ. Baptism with water makers this outwardly: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, 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). Here repentance, water baptism, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit are seen as correlative aspects of the one reality of entrance into Christ, and thus into (the fellowship of) the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

2. You can also be “filled with the Spirit” after salvation.

This is where the Spirit empowers you for renewed worship, increased holiness, and special fruitfulness in ministry. Wayne Grudem explains, It is appropriate to understand filling with the Holy Spirit not as a one-time event but as an event that can occur over and over again in a Christian’s life. It may involve a momentary empowering for a specific ministry … but it may also refer to a long-term characteristic of a person’s life (see Acts 6:3; 11:24). In either case such filling can occur many times in a person’s life: even though Stephen, as an early deacon (or apostolic assistant), was a man “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3, 5), when he was being stoned he apparently received a fresh new filling of the Holy Spirit in great power (Acts 7:55). If you’re part of the church, if you trust in Jesus and his work on the cross for you, you are Spirit-filled—and should earnestly desire to be filled continually (Ephesians 5:18). To be a Spirit-filled Christian means you have gifts, both natural and supernatural, to be used to build the church, serve those in need, spread the gospel message, and ultimately to glorify God. Don’t shy away from those gifts. Rather, humbly ask God to help you grow in them to his glory.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

WILLPOWER IS WEAK

There’s an assumption about human nature that is important to have in place as we think about New Year’s Resolutions: people do what they want to do. The Reformation theologian Thomas Cranmer held this view of human nature (as summarized by Anglican historian Ashley Null):

What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.

An article in the New York Times only confirms that the will is weak when it shows that the overwhelming majority of New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure. According to research, 80 percent of those who make resolutions on January 1 have given up by Valentine’s Day. Nutrition experts say that two-thirds of dieters regain any weight lost within a year, and more than 70 percent of people who undergo coronary bypass surgery fall back into unhealthy habits within two years of their surgery.

Confront the reality that your resolution is likely needed because you are not loving God with your entire being and not loving your neighbor as yourself.

“Most of us think that we can change our lives if we just summon the willpower and try even harder this time around,” said Alan Deutschman, the former executive director of Unboundary, a firm that counsels corporations on how to navigate change. “It’s exceptionally hard to make life changes, and our efforts are usually doomed to failure when we try to do it on our own.” If you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. NOT ALL RESOLUTIONS ARE GOOD

Try to determine if the resolution is actually good. Are you planning on working out more? If so, is it because you want to be a good steward of the body God gave you or is it vanity? In reality, it is probably both. But what is the driving desire? Self-improvement or to glorify God?

2. JUST DO IT…

If your resolution is actually a good one, just do it. Go ahead and work out more, smoke or drink less, read your Bible more, pay down your debt and save more for retirement, focus on your marriage, spend more time with your children. Every once in a while, people start a New Year’s resolution and it sticks. But most don’t. That’s because (1) you are sinner and (2) your heart is an idol factory.

3. GRACE ACTUALLY WORKS

Confront the reality that your resolution is likely needed because you are not loving God with your entire being and not loving your neighbor as yourself. These two failures lead to havoc, discord, pain, and destruction. Jesus gave us the basic requirement: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).

That basic failure is why we need the gospel: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection deal with the guilt and the stain of sin. Jesus is our propitiation and our expiation.

Jesus also gave us the Holy Spirit, who can change our desires and empower us to love God and neighbor. As Paul tells us, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

4. GOD GIVES GRACE TO CHANGE

As Cranmer realized, our wills are captive to what our hearts love, and we are powerless to change ourselves without the work of God’s Spirit changing our desires. When you think through New Year’s resolutions, here’s a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as you ask God to work on your heart:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Missional Pneumatology: The New Era

Missional Pneumatology: The New Era

In Acts 19, we see that Apollos and some Ephesians became followers of John the Baptist and received his baptism. They knew that John pointed beyond himself to Jesus. They probably knew not only of Jesus’ life and ministry, but also about his death and resurrection. D.A. Carson writes: But apparently they knew nothing of Pentecost and what it signified of eschatological transformation. This ignorance could have developed because they (or the people who taught them) left Jerusalem (like tens of thousands of other diaspora Jews) shortly after the Passover feast—that is, they learned of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but not of the coming of the Spirit. (Showing the Spirit) These people were in a salvation history time-warp. They are in the same situation as the believers of Acts 1. They are living in the section of time before the unfolding of salvation history. This is a unique experience because it is rather abnormal to find someone who follows John the Baptist’s teaching of Jesus, accepts Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as true, and is ignorant of Pentecost. The tongues of Acts 19 do not serve as communication of glorious praise as in Acts 2, and they are not to authenticate a new group to the Jerusalem church. Rather, they serve as the attestation to the Ephesian believers themselves of the gift of the Spirit that transfers them as a group from the old era to the one in which they should be living (D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit).

Missional Pneumatology: Showing the Spirit

Missional Pneumatology: Showing the Spirit

Tongues Prove the Spirit to the Jews

In Acts 10, the Spirit falls on Gentiles while Peter is speaking. This experience with the Holy Spirit is attested to by tongues and followed by water baptism. Again, note the lack of a particular sequence. It is no more normative than Acts 2 or Acts 8. The Jewish believers with Peter are shocked that the Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). They probably thought that Gentiles should become Jewish proselytes first. They knew the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles when they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God (Acts 10:46). Therefore, there was nothing to prevent the Gentiles from being baptized as Christians. Acts 10:47 quotes the Jewish believers, “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” Peter uses this incident (Acts 11:15-17) to answer the challenge of the Jerusalem church concerning the necessity for a believer in Jesus to first be a Jewish proselyte.

God Can Make All Things Clean

The reference to Acts 2 is obvious. The same Holy Spirit who had been poured out on Jews had also been poured out on Gentiles. God can make all things clean. The conclusion, embraced by Peter and by the Jerusalem church, was that these Gentiles were fellow believers. Repentance unto life had been granted even to those who had not come under the Mosaic covenant (D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit). The tongues of Acts 10-11 do not serve to communicate God’s glory to nonbelievers. They do, however, serve as authentication to Jewish believers that Gentiles are members of the messianic community apart from the institution of the law of Moses. To be continued.

Missional Pneumatology: The Samaritans and the Spirit

Missional Pneumatology: The Samaritans and the Spirit

The Samaritans and the Spirit

In Acts 8, the Samaritans believe the gospel that Philip preaches, and then they are baptized. However, they do not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John lay their hands on them. The discussion between charismatic and non-charismatic is whether the Samaritans were really believers. If they were believers, the charismatics make a case for reception of the Holy Spirit as a second stage experience. Some non-charismatics, possibly because of these implications, urge that the Samaritans were not true believers. If this were true, the reception of the Holy Spirit is the only salvation.

Missing the Point

This debate does not seem to be Luke’s point or purpose. As Don Carson explains in Showing the Spirit: The problem in part is that the debate has been cast in simple antithesis: either the charismatic insistence that the Samaritans were converted immediately upon hearing is correct, or the non-charismatic insistence that the Samaritans were not converted until after they had received the Spirit is correct. But we are not limited to those alternatives. It is far from clear, judging from the diversity of his approaches (see Acts 2:38; 8:12; 10:44-48) that Luke is particularly interested in the question of normative order of faith, water rite, experience of the Holy Spirit, and the like.

Half-Breeds

The Samaritans were considered “half-breeds,” both racially and religiously, and they were operating from the Pentateuch of the Jerusalem Canon. In Acts 8, it appears as if the Spirit is withheld to draw a connection between the Jerusalem church and the Samaritans. If the order of events was different from this the Samaritans may have assumed autonomy from Jerusalem or Jerusalem may not have accepted them as full brothers and sisters in the family of God. To Be Continued…

Missional Pneumatology: Pentecost

Missional Pneumatology: Pentecost

Pentecost Is a Prophecy-Fufilling Event

The experience of the Spirit on Pentecost is a fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist concerning the one—Jesus—who would baptize in the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11, Mark 1:6, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33). This promise is also stated by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:5. In addition to this, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost reveals a missional thrust. Acts 1:4-5 is not an injunction to justify contemporary, post-conversion “waiting” experiences for a personal Pentecost. Rather, Pentecost in Luke’s perspective is “first of all a climactic salvation-historical event” (D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit). Peter’s explanation of the pouring out of the Spirit on all people groups attests to this position (Acts 2 and Joel 2). As J.I. Packer mentions in Keeping In Step With the Spirit, the point is that Pentecost is a salvation-historical event that fulfills what the prophets said (identifying Jesus as the Messiah). Luke’s emphasis in Acts 2 is on the fulfillment of prophecy, not on paradigms for personal experience.

The Purpose of Tongues

If this is the case, then Acts 2 raises some questions for charismatics and non-charismatics. Many charismatics use this passage to affirm that all who are filled with the Holy Spirit should, as a normative practice, speak in tongues. The non-charismatics attempt to make the evangelistic use of tongues (of Acts 2) the normative and exclusive purpose of tongues. A study of 1 Corinthians 12-14 shows that not all speak in tongues and that the tongues of Acts and 1 Corinthians are different. Luke is not concerned to establish a proper order among baptism, faith, and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Rather, Luke is introducing the missional ministry of the Holy Spirit as the gospel is beginning to spread. To Be Continued.