The Normal Christian Birth (Part 6)

We have come to the last stage of The Normal Christian Birth. It is the stage where the believer receives the Holy Spirit. It is interesting that Christians, in leading others to Christ and salvation, like to get people to “receive Jesus”. Don’t they know that this phrase is nowhere to be found in the Bible. In the Bible, we are told that we would receive “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17), an inheritance (Col 3:24), revelation (Phil 3:15), and whatever is due for what we have done in this life (2 Cor 5:10). We are not to “receive Jesus” but to believe in Him. The only Person of the Godhead that we are to receive (or we would receive) is the Holy Spirit.

Receiving the Holy Spirit is like a newborn baby breathing in for the first and then releasing a loud cry as it breaths out. It is a fact that some babies come out (of the mother’s womb) crying even before the umbilical cord is cut. So, though I say that receiving the Holy Spirit is the last stage of the Normal Christian Birth, we cannot be too rigid about the sequence of the four stages: Repent, Believe, Baptize and Receive. What we can insist on – and should – is that the new believer be introduced to the Holy Spirit, be told why he needs Him, and receives Him gladly.

Importance of the Holy Spirit

Just before Pentecost Sunday this year (2013), in one of his weekly general audience address in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis explained the importance of the Holy Spirit. It was a good speech, admittedly. I debated within myself whether of not to publish the entire speech here. Finally I decided that I will only quote portions of it and add my own comments to them. The translation of the whole speech can be found here:

In his speech, Pope Francis mentioned 5 pertinent facts about the Holy Spirit. First, (1) He is Kýrios, Lord. (2)“He is truly God, as the Father and Son are.” (3) He is “the third Person of the Blessed Trinity; (4) He is the great gift of the risen Christ that opens our minds and our hearts to faith in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father and that leads us to friendship, to communion with God.” In particular, (5) He “is the inexhaustible source of the life of God in us.” Indeed because Jesus Himself said that, “It is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63).

This is the part I like most: “A Christian is a person who thinks and acts according to God, according to the Holy Spirit. But I ask: And we—do we think according to God? Do we act according to God? Or do we let ourselves be guided by so many other things that are not exactly God? Each one must answer this in the depths of his heart.” He is exactly right because “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14 ESV).

In addition, the Holy Spirit “bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God” (verse 15). You are not a child of God because someone says you are. Neither are you a child of God because you think you are. The only way you will know that you are a child of God is by the witness in your spirit. Did you have it?

He, the Holy Spirit, is also our Helper, Intercessor and Teacher. As the “Helper” sent from the Father, the Holy Spirit knows and “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26 ESV). When we do not know how to pray, He “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words”. He will also teach us all things and bring to our remembrance all of Jesus’ words (John 14:26).

It is by the Spirit that we are all “baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). That is, we, regardless of nationality, language, race or economic status, are all made one. It is also through the Spirit that we have access to the Father (see Eph 2:17-18). I don’t have to tell you how important this is.

Receive the Holy Spirit

While we say that the sinner must receive the Holy Spirit in order to be born again, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not present in him before this. As a matter of fact, there are evidences in Scripture that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Elect, leading them to salvation.

Paul, in Romans 8:29-30, states four things that God the Father does with regards to the Elect. First, He “foreknew” them. Elsewhere in Scripture, like in Ephesians 1:4 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13, the word “chose” (or “has chosen”) is sometimes uses instead. God chose those who would be saved “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and, at the same time, paid the price to redeem them (see Rev 13:8). Those whom God foreknew He also “predestined”. In other words, He makes a plan beforehand that those He had chosen would “be conformed to the image of his Son”.

At this stage, God does the work of calling them to believe and repent. For this purpose, according to Charles Spurgeon (Predestination and Calling – Sermon 241), God issues two calls. “The first,” he says, “is the general call, which is in the gospel sincerely given to everyone that heareth the word.” Human instruments, such as preachers, are God uses to issue this call. And since humans issue it, it is often ineffectual. On the other hand, it is the Holy Spirit within the spirit of man that issues the universal call. And although Man is powerless to obey God, he is powerful enough to resist the call of God. Those “who will not obey [the call],” Spurgeon says, “shall be without excuse in the day of judgment.” Those who respond with faith to God’s call, on the other hand, will be justified. That is, they will be made righteous. This corresponds with what Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thes 2:13 ESV). Apart from calling the Elect, the Holy Spirit also sanctifies (or makes holy) them for salvation. It is a spiritual sounding term, I know. But don’t let it intimidate you. Sanctification is, simply, the act of setting something apart from the rest; and that which has been set apart is holy. In short, you are holy because you have been sanctified.

How did the Holy Spirit sanctify you? I believe He did it by placing a seal on you, just as He will do for the 144,000 in the book of Revelation (7:3). Once you are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, you will come under angelic protection so that no physical harm will befall you until you believe in the truth. I have heard story after story of people who were miraculously spared certain death – either from sickness and disease, or accidents – while they were still unbelievers. The reason: they had been sealed by the Holy Spirit for salvation. You might be one of them too.

Then, even after you have believed, the seal will remain on you until the “day of redemption” (Eph 4:30) when you will be glorified.

This glory, according to John Gill, “will consist in a likeness to Christ, in communion with him, in an everlasting vision of him, and in a freedom from all that is evil, and in an enjoyment of all that is good” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible: Romans 8:30). John Wesley thinks that this glory is a reference to the grace of God, which is “both an earnest and a foretaste of eternal glory” (Wesley’s Explanatory Notes: Romans 8).

It is interesting to notice that Paul consistently uses the past tense in these two verses. “He uses the past tense for the present time, as the Hebrews use, who sometimes describe something that is to come by using the past tense, to signify the certainty of it: and he also is referring to Gods continual working.” (Geneva Study Bible: Romans 8)

Therefore, the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of our salvation – that’s right, salvation is a process – as far as Romans 8:29-30 is concerned is to issue the universal call of God. But that’s not all the Spirit does. According to Paul, God has chosen us for salvation through “the sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thes 2:13 ESV). Sanctification results in holiness

At this point you might ask: “So, if the Holy Spirit has already been working in me, why then must I receive the Holy Spirit?”

There is a need for you to receive the Holy Spirit because till now He has been working behind the scenes and so you are probably unaware of His existence or presence. The believers at Ephesus “had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” much less receive Him (Acts 19:2 ESV). By receiving Him, you must first know about Him, why you need Him and, finally, trust in Him. By receiving Him you are allowing the fullness of God to dwell in you.

Signs of the Spirit

In the book of Acts, everyone who repented of their sins and believed in the Lord Jesus also received the Holy Spirit. The only ones to whom this did not happen were the disciples in Ephesus. They had not received the Holy Spirit because they had not heard of Him (Acts 19:1-2). They were not even baptized with the Believer’s Baptism but only into John’s baptism (verse 3). After a brief instruction on the difference between John’s baptism and the Believer’s Baptism, the disciples were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (verse 4). “Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied” (verse 6).

“And they spoke in other tongues and prophesied.” Speaking in tongues is a common manifestation that occurs when a person has received the Holy Spirit. Three times, in the book of Acts, it was mentioned that those who received the Holy Spirit broke out in tongues as a result. The first is in Acts 2.

In Acts 2, we see the disciples of Christ speaking in other tongues as a result receiving the Spirit on Pentecost day. On that day, the Spirit fell like “tongues of fire” on them (Acts 2:3). Just as fire from heaven fell on the old temple at its dedication, fire was now coming from heaven to cleanse and sanctify the new temple of God.

The Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem that day heard the babbling of the disciples and thought that they were drunk with wine. It was only nine in the morning. The scene could have resembled that of the Tower of Babel when God “confused the language of all the earth” (Gen 11:9). But, in actuality, Babel was being reversed. Instead of division, there was now unity. At Babel, no one understood one another. But at Jerusalem, the people heard about “the mighty works of God” being told in their “own tongues” (Acts 2:11).

The next is in Acts 10 where Peter was preaching to a house full of Gentiles. The house belonged to Cornelius, “a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man” (Acts 10:22). Halfway through his sermon, the Holy Spirit fell on all those present there. They began extolling God in other tongues (Acts 10:46). This was the only time when receiving the Spirit preceded Water Baptism. Perhaps it was necessary here. Peter needed very strong evidence in order to be convinced that salvation had indeed come to the Gentiles. And what greater evidence is there than being full of the Spirit and speaking in other tongues?

The third occurrence, which we have already looked at, is in Acts 19.

When Paul heard that these disciples had only been baptized into John’s baptism, he baptized them with water in Jesus’ name, laid hands on them, and the Spirit fell on them. They spoke in tongues and prophesied. This dramatic sign made clear that the transition from the era of promise to the era of fulfillment . . . from John’s baptism to baptism into Christ . . . from the Old Covenant (symbolized by John the Baptist) to the New Covenant . . . was now complete. It also fulfilled what John the Baptist had said: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV).

The disciples of John the Baptist were constituted into the one body in Christ with the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. The transition was now complete.

But not all who received the Holy Spirit will have the manifestation of speaking in other tongues. Some of them will prophesy. And by prophesy, I don’t mean that these people start to foretell the future (although foretelling is one type of prophecy). In general, prophecy is utterance that is divinely inspired. David Pawson relates a story of how he prayed for a man to receive the Holy Spirit. After praying for a while, the man suddenly spoke the word “Hallelujah”. It was not a shout; he simply spoke it. David Pawson took it as a sign that the man had indeed received the Holy Spirit.

In a nutshell, Luke, I believe, wants us to see that when someone has received the Holy Spirit there would be an outward sign that follows. And usually it is in the form of an utterance, be it speaking in other tongues or prophesying. According to Paul, crying out “Abba, Father,” is another sign that the Spirit is in our hearts (Gal 4:6). In my case, I spoke with a new tongue when I received the Holy Spirit. It might have been late, because I had already been a believer for over ten years, but it was not too late.

The idea that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second act of grace was put forth by Wesley and his followers. R.A. Torrey, a congregational minister who graduated from Yale and joined D.L. Moody in Chicago, wrote a book (The Baptism with the Holy Spirit) that popularized the idea that the baptism of the Spirit is subsequent to regeneration (new birth). He taught that it gives a person power to witness and serve, it is received by prayer, renouncing sin, and exercising faith.

The early Pentecostals took Torrey’s teaching and asserted that tongues was the “initial evidence” of the baptism of the Spirit. This is the classic Pentecostal position. A case can be made for this by cutting and pasting certain verses together, but it doesn’t hold up when we interpret the book of Acts in the light of Gospels and the Epistles as we should. Furthermore, Paul made it clear that not all believers will speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:30-31).

It has been widely accepted that manifestations such as shaking, laughing, crying, falling down and others are signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in/on a person. I will not dispute it. But to be consistent with Scripture, such manifestations were not seen on those who received the Holy Spirit for the first time.

Full of the Spirit

The phrase “full of the Spirit” describes a person who has given control of a significant part (or the whole) of his life to the Holy Spirit. It does not mean that he is perfect or unable to make mistakes. It, rather, speaks of the overall pattern of his life, that he walks according to the Spirit.

There are a number of people that the Bible says are “full of the Holy Spirit”. Needless to say, Jesus was one of them. In fact, he epitomizes the man who is “full of the Spirit”. He is our role model when it comes to walking in the Spirit and according to the Spirit. He shows us what a Spirit-led and Spirit-filled life looks like and its impact on the lives of others.

The other is Stephen. He was one of seven men who were given the task of distributing food to the Hellenistic widows (see Acts 6:3). But before you think that Stephen was only strong in administration, think again. The Bible tells us that he was “full of grace and power” and “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). What’s more, “the Spirit gave Stephen such wisdom that when he spoke, they (the people) could not refute him” (Acts 6:10 GNT). Then, at the time of his death, Stephen was also full of the Holy Spirit. With no fear in him, he “looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God” (Acts 7:55 GNT).

Barnabas, the Bible says, was “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24). Some believe that he was there when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost day, and that he too received the promise of the Father. After that, he remained in Jerusalem for a time until he was sent to Antioch where he became one of the first teachers there (Acts 13:1). But what Barnabas is best remembered for was the role he played in the life of Saul (later named Paul). When Paul returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, it was Barnabas who took him and introduced him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). Then, when the prosperity of the church at Antioch reached the ears of the apostles, Barnabas was sent there to superintend the movement. He found the work so extensive and weighty that he went to Tarsus in search of Paul to assist him. We can attribute all that Barnabas did to his walking close with the Spirit.

These four men, and many others like them, were “full of the Spirit”. And when you are full of something it shows. In their cases, it showed through their character (the fruit of the Spirit) and their deeds (the power of the Spirit).

Fruit of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit are character traits such as those listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. I say “such as” because I believe that this list is by no means exhaustive. He, who is the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9), knows what needs to be formed in us to make us Christ-like, and He will do it.

As the term implies, these are the fruit of the Spirit. This means that they are produced totally by the Spirit alone. Neither you nor I can take any credit for them because we had no part in their formation except to yield to Him. The more we yield to the Spirit, the more He is able to produce the fruit in us.

If the Spirit alone produces the fruit then all our Character Development courses must be redundant. They are our feeble and futile attempts at accomplishing what only the Spirit can do. In the course of “making disciples”, we must discern and distinguish what we should and should not do. Based on Christ’s command, we should “baptizo (immerse) them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey” all of Christ’s commands (Matt 28:19-20). Obedience is God’s way of character formation in His children. Take compassion, for example, How did God inculcate compassion in His people? By commanding them not to fully gather their crops during harvest time, but to allow the poor and the aliens among them to glean from the edges of their fields. In Old Testament, the Israelites had to obey God’s commandments. We, today, must obey the Holy Spirit.

Instead of Character Development courses, perhaps what we should have are Character Discovery courses. Frequently, I would hear Christians say that they lack this and that character trait. The truth is, they are lacking them. If the Holy Spirit dwells in them, those character traits are there in Him. They only need to be discovered and released through “the obedience of faith” (see Rom 1:5 and 16:26).

Gifts of the Spirit

Now regarding spiritual gifts. There are more than one lists of the gifts in the New Testament. So, I will not attempt to replicate them here. Instead, I will just mention a few of them. Speaking in other tongues, Interpretation of tongues. Prophecy. Word of knowledge. Word of wisdom. Teaching. Leadership. Exhortation.

A number of Bible scholars have written books to tell us that we have greatly misunderstood this whole thing about spiritual gifts. Prophecy, teaching, word of knowledge, and so on, are not gifts of the Spirit, they say, because the Spirit Himself is the gift God has given to us. And now that we have the Holy Spirit, and if we allow Him to do His work freely in us, He will produce charismata, or grace-expressions. So, what we have called Spiritual Gifts are actually expressions of God’s grace in us. How God’s grace is expressed is totally up to the Holy Spirit.

In a particular situation, the Spirit might decide to express God’s grace through me in the form of a Word of knowledge. I would feel His prompting and choose to co-operate with Him by opening my mouth and speaking the words He puts in my spirit. In another situation, the Spirit might use me to interpret a tongue that someone else had spoken. As you can see, no one has a resident or primary “gift”. The Spirit will lead and direct according to the need at hand. We must be ready and allow Him to use us. Our motivation and goal is the edification of others so that the Body may be built up in love.


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