Receive the Holy Spirit

If you have been reading the references for the previous section, you will have probably noticed on several occasions in Acts that those who were baptised were also prayed for and received the Holy Spirit as a result. He then gave them means of praising and worshipping The LORD which they had not possessed previously. These days some Christians struggle on without receiving the Holy Spirit, but that is not The LORD’s best for His children. We have seen that baptism is how we apply the death of Christ to our lives but it's also how, through the Father’s grace, we can be raised in the likeness of His resurrection. Of ourselves though we do not have the ability to love The LORD and to keep living as He wants us to. Perhaps a modern parable will help here - life so far has been a bit like a runaway car, free-wheeling downhill in the wrong direction; repentance slams the brakes on, faith turns it round and baptism puts it in gear, but when the accelerator is pressed it begins to roll backwards, still being pulled downhill by gravity. The problem is that it has no power, because it has no fuel. At the heart of the gospel is the recognition that people are helpless to help themselves love God. Our efforts soon run out of drive, of motivation, of energy. If you are to go forward in your new life as a Christian, your Heavenly Father knows that you need His help. This is why He wants to fill you with His Holy Spirit, to give you the ability to do what He asks you to do.

There are several phrases used in the New Testament to describe receiving the Holy Spirit. The first one is to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. It is a phrase used by John the Baptist and Jesus referred to John when He used these words. John used the phrase to define who Jesus was and to distinguish Christ's ministry from his own. Few events are referred to in all four gospels but these words of John the Baptist are among them, so it seems to be something that The LORD and the gospel writers thought important for us to know. John was busy preaching repentance, inviting people to be baptised as he announced the arrival of the promised Messiah, whom he described as the Lamb of God. To make it clear to them that he was only preparing the way for The LORD’s Promised One and not that One himself, he frequently told them, “I indeed baptise you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” For now we will focus only on how he described Jesus - as the One who would baptise them in the Holy Spirit and fire. (In Hebrew and Aramaic the same word can be translated as spirit, wind or breath and we will see the relevance of this later.)

John was reminding the people of a prophecy made in the Old Testament by Joel, in which The LORD promises to pour out His Spirit on everyone; men and women, young and old - even servants would be included. Peter later quoted this passage during his first sermon on the day of Pentecost after he and the other disciples had received the Spirit. Peter had already been prepared for this day by Jesus. After He was resurrected and just before His ascension to the Father, Jesus told his disciples that He was about to send “the Promise of My Father” upon them. He told them they should therefore “wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high,” reminding them of the contrast between the ministry of John (to baptise in water) and His own work (to baptise in the Holy Spirit). A few weeks earlier He had breathed on them to illustrate what they would experience when the time came to receive the Holy Spirit. Shortly after His ascension they were gathered together in Jerusalem, when the room was filled with the sound of a strong wind and they saw flames settling over each one of them. These are exactly the two things which John had referred to - Jesus would baptise people in holy wind (spirit) and fire. It is clear that the disciples recognised this as the Promise of the Father, for each one was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to praise God in a language they had not learnt.

The noise they were now making attracted a crowd to the place. This crowd included pilgrims from many places who had come to Jerusalem for the feast, and these people were amazed to hear them praising The LORD in a variety of languages - including the home dialects of many of those in the crowd. When an explanation was demanded, it was Peter who stood up to speak. It was at this point that he quoted the prophecy by Joel, to which John the Baptist had referred. He went on to remind them of Jesus and in particular how He had been unjustly killed, adding that things had not ended there! “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the Promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” Notice how, like Jesus, Peter described this experience as the Promise of the Father. His preaching got through to many of them and soon they wanted to know how they should respond. Peter told them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the Promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as The LORD our God will call.” That day, three thousand people did as he said!

Peter’s words makes clear that the Promise of the Holy Spirit was not to be limited to the Jews or to those alive at the time. He said it was also available to “all who are afar off” whom The LORD called. The Jews would have understood this to refer to non-Jews - Gentiles, in other words. Perhaps remembering what Jesus had said to the Jews, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice;” Peter made it clear that this long-awaited promise was not limited to Israelites, but was open to every person from whatever time and place, whom God the Father would draw to Jesus. Today of course this means that everyone one who follows Peter’s advice to repent and be baptised can also receive the Holy Spirit from Jesus.

The Promise of the Father began to be fulfilled once Jesus had ascended to His Father and poured out the Holy Spirit for the first time. In Acts we discover that it was common for newly baptised believers to be prayed for straight away that they in turn should receive the Holy Spirit. Whenever such prayer took place God’s response was instantaneous, with people being filled with the Spirit there and then and like the apostles on the Day of Pentecost beginning to praise The LORD either in their own language or in one given to them by the Holy Spirit. No one can predict how individuals today will respond when they receive the Holy Spirit from God, but He will flow out of them in the praise of the Father and Son and also to bring life to others. Jesus put it this way, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John reported these words and added, “But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

There is more which could be said about receiving the Holy Spirit and using the gifts He distributes, but for now just two further points which are necessary because there is much confusion in today’s Church over these things. John the Baptist described Jesus as the one sent by God adding, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.” This last phrase makes it clear that we do not receive the Holy Spirit in instalments. When Jesus pours His Spirit upon us, we receive a person - God the Spirit - into our lives. It is Him living within us who becomes the living water flowing out from us to others. If we find ourselves running dry, it is not because Jesus has held back something of the Spirit from us, but almost certainly because we have been suppressing the Spirit by not paying close attention to Him.

Secondly, there is nothing we can do or should do to earn the ability to receive the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament we are told that we receive the Holy Spirit just as we believe in Jesus - “by the hearing of faith”. We do not have to work ourselves into any particular state of mind; we simply have to hear what The LORD says to us and believe Him. When we ask the Father for the Holy Spirit, we simply have to wait until He knocks on the door, then welcome Him in and let Him make Himself at home, learning to listen to what He says to us. We need not fear that we will let the wrong person in by mistake, for Jesus taught that His Father would not do anything like that. Saying as He taught His disciples about prayer that no loving father would give their child a stone instead of bread or a snake instead of a fish to eat, Jesus concluded, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

If we receive the genuine Holy Spirit when we first ask the Father for Him, we should remember that we don't need to go back for more. One group of Christians in the New Testament were warned that if they listened to false teachers who taught a different gospel, they might end up receiving a different spirit from the one they had received. We need to trust our Father that having promised to pour out His Spirit upon us, when we ask Him to do so He will not let us down in any way, but will give us His Spirit, the whole of His Spirit and nothing but His Spirit.

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