Tough Questions About the Spirit
What is meant by “the baptism of the Holy Spirit”? How do you know if you’ve experienced it? Does the Spirit still work today like He did in the Book of Acts? What does it mean to live in the Spirit in our daily lives?
Join us this week and next as we look directly at these intriguing questions about the Second Person of the Trinity.
Alright, as we continue in our series, “The God I never knew,” we’re going to look at some tough questions related to the Holy Spirit.
This week and next week we’re going to look at questions like:
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? How do you know if you’ve experienced that?
What is speaking in tongues? What place does the gift of tongues play in the church? Is it for today? Is it for everyone?
What’s the evidence that the Holy Spirit is in someone’s life?
How do you distinguish the indwelling of the Holy Spirit from the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Does God heal today? Should we commission certain people to have a healing ministry in the church?
We’re going to talk in the next two weeks about what might be called the Holy Spirit and the miraculous.
The great irony to me is that as we’ve seen in this series, the Church is built on the unity of the Spirit, the oneness of the Spirit. But often churches get divided on the very issue of the role and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
And this is one of those areas where well-meaning Christians have disagreed sometimes in unloving or even divisive ways.
So I want to make you a deal.
Today and next week I will do my best not to avoid any questions, and to give the best teaching from Scripture that I can, as God enables me.
And I want to ask of everyone in this church that we study and learn together with a spirit of humility.
And above all, that we do not allow any opinions about the doctrine of the Spirit to do any damage to our unity, which is the Spirit’s great gift to us as a church.
Alright, we’re going to start today in Acts, chapter two:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?
Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2:1-13)
Now, this is the account of the pouring out or the baptism of the Spirit that Jesus had promised.
And it resulted in two things.
One of them is that people are led into life with Jesus. Luke tells us there were about three thousand that day.
And another is that where there had been division once — separation — there is now unity.
There’s a kind of reversal of the curse going on there.
There’s a story in the Old Testament, where a group of people gathered, and in an act of pride and defiance tried to reach their way to God.
And people who had previously been able speak and understand each other went away, no longer able to communicate.
Do you know where that happened?
It’s the tower of Babel and the story of Babylon.
Well, on the day of Pentecost, God pours out His spirit. And instead of people building a tower to get to God, God sends His Spirit down to them.
And people who had been divided, from different places, with different languages — through the power of the Spirit — were able to communicate.
They become one.
And on that day God broke through the barriers of race and gender and language and ethnicity.
And as we look around our world today, it doesn’t take long to realize that those barriers have been built back up.
And while governments seek to answer the question — “What will overcome these barriers?” The answer is — only by the Spirit. Only by the Spirit of God.
What went wrong at Babylon went right at Pentecost.
What went wrong at Babylon — the spirit of pride and arrogance that led to divisiveness and the loss of community — it went right at Pentecost, and God poured out His Spirit.
And where there were divisions and barriers, there became oneness. And people again were able to communicate and commune with one another.
Now, what I want to do in this message is simply work through a series of questions about this event.
And the first question is this:
Has the time of the extraordinary manifestations of the Holy Spirit passed away?
And my short answer to that question is no. That time has not passed away.
Look at 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Now, in this passage, Paul mentions some extraordinary spiritual gifts. Let me just say a quick word about them.
Messages of wisdom and knowledge have to do with special insights into the meaning and application of God’s Word.
Paul talks about the gift of faith, and by this most scholars agree he means not faith that’s a part of basic Christian belief for all of us, but the ability to believe God for mighty works and wonders.
He talks about prophecy. The word “prophets,” in the New Testament does not mean what a lot of times we think, which is primarily predicting the future. Generally, primarily it means addressing a present situation as God wants to have it addressed.
He talks about distinguishing spirits — the ability to discern the work of God from the evil one.
He talks about tongues and their interpretation, and we’ll get into that next week.
So what are we to think about these miraculous gifts?
There are some churches that say, for example, that anytime someone speaks in tongues they’re diluted at best or demonic at worst.
The technical term for this position is cessationism — the idea that these gifts ceased in the early church in the first century.
Again, well-meaning Christians disagree on this, but I don’t believe there is good biblical evidence for that position.
I don’t think the idea that those gifts ceased in the first century is well supported in Scripture.
I believe the Holy Spirit is free to work in amazing ways.
I’ll give you one example of that.
This is about a pastor on the East Coast named Tony Campolo.
He was speaking at a church conference in South Africa.
Another one of the speakers, an evangelist, was one of the founders of the movement often referred to as the Toronto Blessing.
This was a movement of people who believed in a theology of signs and wonders. They believed that miracles are part of the witness that we as believers should have to an unbelieving world as we try to win people for Christ.
Tony said this particular evangelist was very respectful of him, even though miracles were not part of his ministry.
At one point he asked Tony if he was into healing.
And Tony explained that when he’s with people who are sick, he always prays for them to be healed, but he’s never seen anything spectacular happen.
The evangelist jokingly reminded Tony that not seeing anything spectacular happen hadn’t deterred him from being a preacher.
The evangelist affirmed that the ministry of Jesus was to preach, to teach, and to heal, and that all three of those things should be part of what we do in our everyday service for the Kingdom.
The following week Tony was back in the States and preaching at a church in Oregon.
He decided to end the service by telling the congregation that if anyone wanted to remain behind for healing, he would be glad to pray with them.
He said they shouldn’t expect much to happen, because nothing much happens when he prays, but if they wanted to give it a try, he would be willing to pray as hard as he could.
Surprisingly, about thirty people stayed behind and waited patiently as he prayed for one after the other.
What intrigued him about it was that most of the people who had come for healing had nothing physically wrong with them.
One man needed healing for an addiction to pornography.
One woman wanted healing for her marriage.
Someone else asked healing for anger.
But there were a few who did have physical illnesses.
Four days later Tony got a phone call, and the woman at the other end said, “Tony, on Sunday you prayed for my husband. He had cancer.”
When he heard the word “had” he got a little excited.
“Had cancer?” He asked. The woman said, “Well, he’s dead now.”
When she said that Tony thought, “A lot of good I do.”
Then the woman said, “You don’t understand. When my husband and I walked into that church on Sunday, he was angry with God. He had cancer and he knew he was going to be dead soon, and he hated God for letting it happen. He wanted to see his grandchildren grow up more than anything. At night he would lie in bed and curse God. It was horrible. And the angrier he got toward God, the meaner he was to everyone around him. It was unbearable to be in the same room with him. His nastiness just kept getting worse and worse and worse.”
She said, “But then you laid hands on him on Sunday morning and you prayed for him. When he walked out of church I knew there was something different. I could feel it. He was a different person. The last four days of our lives have been the best four days we’ve ever had together. We talked and laughed. We even sang hymns with each other. It was a good, good time.”
She paused, then added something real profound. She said, “Tony, he wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”
Tony hung up the phone with a new understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit.
There are so many stories of people who have had the Holy Spirit do amazing things in their lives — when there was a moment of conviction or insight or a word that came from another person or healing.
The Holy Spirit does extraordinary things.
That day is not over.
I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well and at work in the lives of men and women on this earth to bring fallen human beings back to God, to be transformed and redeemed. That day is not done. The Spirit is alive and well and at work.
Now at the same time that that’s true, we have seen in this series that the Holy Spirit does not do things simply to call attention to himself.
This is why Dale Bruner calls him “the shy member of the Trinity.” He has no need to be spectacular simply to be spectacular.
This is important because fallen human beings tend to be drawn towards what might be called attention-getting aspects of spirituality related to the Holy Spirit.
For instance, suppose there were two churches.
In one of them, people started giving money away to the poor. They sold their houses, they simplified their lifestyles, they devoted themselves to the poor.
And then suppose there was another church where people in the church just started levitating in the church — bodies just started levitating — because God can do that if he wanted to.
I’m not saying that He has or that He does, I’m not suggesting that we should try it. Just imagine for a moment that it happened.
Which church would get the headlines?
Which church would people want to go see?
Which church would be giving evidence of the greatest work of the Holy Spirit?
We need to be thinking about these questions.
Because Jesus said at the beginning of His ministry, in Luke 4:17-18 — a quote from Isaiah:
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
And now, here’s the first sign of the new age of the Spirit that Jesus gives: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor. (Luke 4:17-18)
The time of extraordinary work is not over.
This doesn’t mean that the Spirit always manifests Himself in the same way, at all times, in all places.
I want to read something by a great Old Testament scholar named David Hubbard. This is what he wrote:
Miracles do not occur evenly throughout the course of salvation history, as recounted in Scripture. But they come in batches selected by God.
The Exodus and the wilderness wanderings, the crucial days of Elijah and Elisha when the purity of Israel’s worship was at stake, the introduction of the kingdom in the life and ministry of Jesus, the expansion of the church in the stories of Acts.
The theological conclusion to be drawn from the Bible’s own use of the miraculous seems clear. The primary motive for divine miracle is not compassion, but revelation.
The primary motive for divine miracle is revelation.
Then He goes on to write:
We can assume something like a consistent level of pain and suffering in the world this side of the human fall. The need for divine compassion, then, is a constant. Yet the exercise of that compassion to heal is sporadic in Scripture — it happens more often sometimes than it does at other times.
Indeed, God’s prominence has shown itself as frequently, at least, in permitting the persecution of His people. Or subjecting them, along with others, to natural disasters — earthquake, fire, flood, plague, drought — as in miraculously restoring them to health.
The time of the extraordinary work of the Spirit is not over. We can and should expect the Spirit to manifest Himself in remarkable ways.
However, it does not always happen in identical ways, in every time and every place.
Okay, so that’s the first question: Has the time for extraordinary manifestations of the Holy Spirit passed away?
No, but it doesn’t mean it will always look the same.
And it doesn’t mean that the spectacular — although we love those stories — it doesn’t mean that the spectacular is the primary way that the Spirit validates his presence on planet Earth.
This leads to the next question which has to do with the Holy Spirit indwelling people.
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Is it possible to be a Christian, but not have received the Holy Spirit?
Is this an experience that I need to wait and pray for sometime after conversion?
Now again, I want to be real clear. Well-meaning Christians have disagreed on this one.
I’ll take my best shot at it.
I want to start by looking at the biblical origins of this phrase — “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
You need to know that the phrase “to be baptized in” or “with” — it could be translated either way — is found seven times in the New Testament, mostly in the gospels.
A very typical example would be Mark 1:8 when John the Baptist says to people:
I baptize you with water, but He [that is Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:8)
And we studied that before, that the great promise of the Old Testament was the day was going to come when the Spirit would be given not to a select few for certain times or jobs, but be poured out on human beings.
And John says, “Jesus is going to do that.”
In Acts 1:5, Jesus is talking to his disciples. He said:
For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:5)
Again, we studied this — when did Jesus cause the Holy Spirit to be poured out on human beings? When was the church immersed in the Holy Spirit?
It was at Pentecost.
Acts 2:4 — And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:4)
All seven times that this phrase is used in the New Testament, it refers to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
According to the New Testament language, God baptized his church in the Spirit at Pentecost.
Pentecost was a one-time experience.
Just as Christ’s incarnation was a one-time deal, and his crucifixion, his resurrection, were one-time events.
And when you became a Christian, you received all the benefits of all those events.
You received forgiveness through his crucifixion.
You received eternal life through his resurrection.
You received adoption into his Church.
And you received power through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when you became a Christ follower.
It’s a package deal.
Again, this is my best understanding of what the writers of Scripture teach.
Interestingly, never in the New Testament, are Christians, people already following Christ, told to wait for or pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8, he talks about the difference between a mind that is dominated by the sinful nature as opposed to a mind that is indwelt, immersed in the Spirit.
Paul says to Christians at Rome:
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. [And then this sentence:] And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, that person does not belong to Christ. (Romans 8:9)
A best understanding of what Paul’s saying is that it’s impossible to belong to Christ without having the Spirit.
And, of course, that makes sense because Jesus came as the Spirit-anointed, Spirit-baptizer.
I believe that the most accurate understanding of the New Testament is that Jesus doesn’t offer forgiveness on the one hand and then make the Holy Spirit kind of optional equipment.
You can’t receive Jesus without receiving the Spirit he came to give.
You don’t have to wonder if you have the Spirit. If you’re a follower of Jesus, whether or not you feel him, the Spirit is with you.
But now I want to go back to Acts and say something else about being filled with the Spirit.
The language that Luke, the writer, uses in the Book of Acts is interesting.
In Acts 4:8, Peter has a very difficult job to do. He has to testify about Christ to very hostile authorities.
Peter has already been through Pentecost, and so Luke says, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit…”
Then Peter gives this very courageous testimony.
Another example of a similar use of language is in the same chapter, 4:31. Peter and John have been released from prison. The people have been praying. And then Luke says this of the disciples.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 4:31)
Now here’s the question that people have — If Peter and the disciples were already permanently indwelt by the Spirit at Pentecost, why do the writers of Scripture talk on these specific occasions about their being filled with the Spirit?
Paul does a similar thing in Ephesians 5:18. He’s writing to people who are already Christians, and he says:
Don’t be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
But he writes that to people who are already Christians.
So, here’s the question.
If all Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, why does Paul command us to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 who are already filled?
There are a few different options.
Option one: Because the Spirit’s power comes and goes like PG&E does.
Option two: Because Paul wrote this passage early in the morning before Starbucks opened.
Or option three: Because the phrase “being filled with the Spirit” can refer to being fully yielded to and inspired by the Spirit.
And that’s the one I vote for.
Sometimes in Scripture, being filled with the Spirit refers to this once and permanent indwelling of the Spirit that took place on Pentecost and that you and I enter into when we become followers of Jesus.
But in addition to this, every moment is an opportunity to be fully yielded to and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Every moment is an opportunity. This moment right now is an opportunity to be fully yielded to and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Part of what this means is every moment it is also possible to say no to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The opposite of being filled with the Spirit, and in this sense yielded to the Spirit, would be in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 when Paul says to Christians, “Don’t quench the Spirit.”
What does that mean to not “quench the Spirit”?
Well, think about the image of quenching for a moment — “Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire” it’s sometimes translated.
Many years ago, I was building a little fire to roast s’mores with our family, and I was blowing on it to get it to flame up.
My son, who was real young, was watching me — just absorbing what I was doing. He was at that age where he was just fascinated by fire. He just loved fire.
It’s a very common developmental stage for boys. It lasts from when they’re five to when they’re about 70 or so.
And he said, “What are you doing?”
And I explained that a fire is a real delicate thing, especially in its early stages, and it has to breathe, and if you give it air, it’ll grow. But if you smother it, if you throw water on it or dirt on it, you’ll extinguish it. It will go out.
And this is the picture that Paul is working with.
The Spirit longs to work in your life and often, like at the Exodus or at Pentecost, the Spirit is pictured as fire.
But he won’t force you to do something.
He will prompt you. You will have a thought.
This could happen later today or tomorrow. You might have the thought:
I could encourage this person.
I could serve and love my child.
I could give my resources to God’s work.
I could express worship to God. I could come into this room and open my heart up sincerely to God.
I could turn from sin. I’m tempted to sin right now. I could turn from it.
When you say yes to a prompting like that, that’s like spiritual breathing. That’s the Spirit at work inside you.
On the other hand, when you say no to one of those promptings, when you say no to love or joy or peace or patience, you’re quenching the fire of the Spirit in your life. And your heart gets a little colder, and your spiritual fire of passion goes out.
What if tomorrow, all day long, you were to say, “For this day — for this one day — I will not quench the Spirit. I will pay attention to the Spirit who is with me all the time, who indwells me. And I will listen for the Spirit’s promptings, and I will say yes to every one of them for a whole day. I’ll let him burn brightly.”
See, you don’t have to wait for some future experience to do that. You can do that right now. You can make tomorrow an adventure in being filled with the Spirit — you.
Alright, next question:
If God can do anything, why don’t I see more miracles in my life?
If I believed harder or prayed with more boldness, would I see more miracles?
Should our church focus more on the miraculous?
This is real important — God has authority to decide when and how he will manifest his power, and he cannot be manipulated by human technique.
A friend of mine told me about an experience he had with his neighbors.
He had neighbors who wanted to have children and they talked to him about it one time. And in the course of the conversation my friend said to them, “I just want you to know, I’m going to pray for you.” And he did.
A few months later they came back and said, “You’ll never guess what! We’re pregnant.”
He said, “Oh, I’m so glad to hear that. I’ll really pray for you now.”
And they came back a few weeks later and said, “You’ll never believe this. Not only are we pregnant. We found out it’s going to be a multiple birth.”
He said, “Wow, I’ll REALLY pray for you now!”
Two weeks later, they came back again. This is a true story. Two weeks later, they came back. They said, “We found out we’re having triplets. Please stop praying for us!”
It’s an amazing story, and it really happened. They had three little kids. I’ve seen that.
And then I’ve seen a young woman who had two children — two sons — and a husband. She and her husband were devoted to Christ. She had cancer, and she prayed and had people at that church and all over the country praying for her. People wept, trusted, fasted, and it was this roller coaster deal of hope and despair.
She said, “You know, sometimes people ask me how I’m doing, if I’m bitter. The hardest thing for me, if I were to die, is the thought of not seeing my boys grow up. But I don’t feel cheated at all. I’ve had a wonderful husband and two beautiful boys, and I know God will take care of them just as he will me. I don’t feel cheated.”
She was in her mid-thirties. Shortly after that she died.
Why is there a couple not even following Christ, and they have their hopes answered? And then this woman, who is devoted to Christ, doesn’t even get to see her sons grow up.
I don’t know.
And I don’t believe anyone on this side can fully answer that question.
I will say this though — if you come to me and tell me that her problem was she just had too much sin in her life, or she didn’t have enough faith, or she didn’t pray boldly enough, I will say, “There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God if you think God is the kind of being who can be pressured or manipulated or withholds good things from people because they haven’t discovered the right technique.”
My job, your job, our job as a church is to come to God as his children, and to persist in prayer as he invites us to do, and to pour out our needs and our hurt and our faith and our doubt as sincerely as we can. That’s all we can do.
James 5:14 says:
Is any one of you sick? Call the elders of the church to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of Jesus. (James 5:14)
And there’s a promise attached to it — “The Lord will raise you up” James said.
Sometimes that will happen in this life. Sometimes it does not happen until the life to come, because sooner or later, death comes to everyone.
But we practice just what the writers of Scripture teach here.
Every week Teena, or someone from the prayer team, is in the courtyard ready to pray for you.
If you’re carrying burdens around, I just invite you to ask Teena to pray for you. Because we serve a healing God.
But I want to be real clear — there is no technique, no magic formula, that can manipulate or pressure God into doing what I want him to do.
After this service I’ll be in the courtyard as well and I’ll pray for you if you need prayer for healing. Like Tony Campolo, I’ll pray as hard as I can, but I can’t promise a miracle.
Alright, let me pray for you.