ELEPHANTS IN THE CHURCH
RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT
By Jeannette Haley
“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” John 20:21, 11
Most of us have been taught at one time or the other that in order to be saved all we have to do is “accept Jesus,” and by the grace of God, hopefully we learn that there is a lot more to it than a mental ascension of some sort. The Bible is clear that we must be “born again” of the Holy Spirit by receiving Christ as, not only the Savior from our sins, but receiving Him into our hearts as LORD, based on faith and belief that Jesus is God Incarnate.
Tragically, another “elephant” in the church that people generally shy away from is the truth that we must be born again of the Spirit. A. W. Tozer rightly noted that, “One of the most telling blows which the enemy ever struck at the life of the Church was to create in her a fear of the Holy Spirit.”He also warned,“God will not surprise a doubting heart with an effusion of the Holy Spirit, nor will He fill anyone who has doctrinal questions about the possibility of being filled.”The Bible is clear thatJesus told Nicodemus “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” John 3:3. The late Oswald Chambers is so greatly appreciated for his incredible spiritual insights, and ability to articulate spiritual truths that I’m taking the liberty of quoting him on this subject: “The answer to Nicodemus’ question, ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ is: Only when he is willing to die to everything in his life, including his rights, his virtues, and his religion, and becomes willing to receive into himself a new life that he has never before experienced (John 3:4). This new life exhibits itself in our conscious repentance and through our unconscious holiness.
“’But as many as received Him…’ (John 1:12). Is my knowledge of Jesus the result of my own internal spiritual perception, or is it only what I have learned through listening to others? Is there something in my life that unites me with the Lord Jesus as my personal Savior? My spiritual history must have as its underlying foundation a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. To be born again means that I see Jesus.
“’…unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3). Am I seeking only for the evidence of God’s kingdom, or am I actually recognizing His absolute sovereign control? The new birth gives me a new power of vision by which I begin to discern God’s control. His sovereignty was there all the time, but with God being true to His nature, I could not see it until I received His very nature myself.
“’Whoever has been born of God does not sin…’ (1 John 3:9). Am I seeking to stop sinning or have I actually stopped? To be born of God means that I have His supernatural power to stop sinning. The Bible never asks, ‘Should a Christian sin?’ The Bible emphatically states that a Christian must not sin. The work of the new birth is being effective in us when we do not commit sin. It is not merely that we have the power not to sin, but that we have actually stopped sinning. Yet 1 John 3:9 does not mean that we cannot sin— it simply means that if we will obey the life of God in us, that we do not have to sin.”
In Acts 19:2 we read that Paul asked John the Baptist’s disciples (which he found in Ephesus), “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” In all my years as a Christian (and that is a lot of years) I don’t recall being asked this question concerning “receiving” the Holy Ghost. In fact, I’ve never heard a sermon about it, never witnessed it being discussed, or seen people the least bit concerned about it. But the fact is, since this verse and the events surrounding it are preserved in God’s Word, perhaps it is something that we need to consider rather than glossing over it because we may wrongly assume that much of the Bible does not apply to us in our day and age. Yet many references to receiving the Holy Spirit are in God’s Word. For example, in Acts 2:38 Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” [Emphasis added.]
It’s important to point out that there is no STOP sign at the end of this verse aimed at directing future generations of Christians to stretch, yawn, and conclude that these vital instructions applied only to the early Church, (as many erroneously teach.) So, let’s go on right through this STOP sign and discover just who the promise of the Holy Spirit is for. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” verse 39. This tells us that the Holy Spirit and His gifts, power and anointing weren’t limited to only the first disciples of Christ, but were given to everyone who is called by God to seek Jesus for salvation from that time on through countless generations to come. The Person and work of the Holy Spirit has not ended, or weakened, or changed and He is still fulfilling the promise of God and will be until the return of Christ. Here is that promise: Joel 2:28-32, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.”
The ApostlePeter referred to this promise in his sermon in Acts 2, and it is clear that this prophecy and promise has at least a double fulfillment, (as many Old Testament prophecies do) and it is still being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled in the remnant Church, but not in the lukewarm, apostate post-modern, pseudo “Christian” churches. The Holy Spirit will never intrude where He is not welcome, nor will He come upon that which is unclean, immoral, unbelieving, or anything else that is an offense to God. Tozer said, “We must make our thoughts a clean sanctuary for His holy habitation. He dwells in our thoughts, and soiled thoughts are as repugnant to Him as soiled linen to a king.” Concerning the “self-sins” Tozer said, “If the Spirit takes charge of your life, He will expect unquestioning obedience in everything. He will not tolerate in you the self-sins even though they are permitted and excused by most Christians. By the self-sins I mean self-love, self-pity, self-seeking, self-confidence, self-righteousness, self-aggrandizement, self-defense.”
In the Book of Acts we read of examples of early believers who needed to receive the Holy Ghost such as the disciples that Paul found in Ephesus that had been baptized by John the Baptist, and were his disciples, but when Paul asked them about receiving the Holy Ghost, they didn’t know about Jesus or the Holy Ghost. The Bible says, “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” Acts 19:4-6. What is evident in this event is the willingness of these disciples of John to become disciples of Jesus, and their openness to receive the Holy Ghost. The same can be said of the Samaritan believers when John and Peter came down to them, and laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” Acts 8:17. [Emphasis added.]
The story in Acts 10 of the Italian centurion, Cornelius who was a “devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (verse 2), is a wonderful example of the love of God and answer to prayer for those who sincerely love God with all their heart and who want to truly know Him. The Lord sent Peter to the house of this devout man where he preached the Gospel to him, his family, and his close friends. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.” (Verse 46.)
A careful reading of Acts chapter one, along with the other examples given here from Scripture reveals that whenever Jesus is glorified, the Holy Spirit comes! Jesus Himself said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)” John 7:38-39. He made this promise to the Samaritan woman at the well, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” John 4:14. Jesus is the One who sent the Holy Spirit, and He is the One who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit if we “drink” and “receive.”
When was the last time you saw or experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in your church? Consider these wise words from A. W. Tozer: “A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives. By this test the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all. In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the Doxology and the Benediction. Further than that He might well as not exist. So completely do we ignore Him that it is only by courtesy that we can be called Trinitarian….” Therefore, can we not conclude that the lack of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings today is precisely for this reason—Jesus Christ, the real Jesus of the Bible, is not being glorified among us?
There has been a subtle shift in Christendom from faith in the risen Christ to faith in faith, faith in human prowess, faith in religious affiliations, traditions, doctrines, false prophets, heretics and so forth. One may ask, when did this slide into apostasy begin? No doubt we can pinpoint certain major historical events (such as the rise of Constantine as the first pope) and other historical events as pivot points that fomented the decline of the Holy Spirit in the churches; however, the Apostle Paul gives us a hint, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” Acts 20:28-31. After Paul’s departure, Satan did not wait for a few centuries to begin his relentless assault on Jesus’ Church. It was not persecution that brought about the weak, wobbly and worldly church of today because persecution serves to strengthen the true church; but, rather a subtle shift from the truths of Scripture as translated from the original manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek by substituting the spurious gnostic Alexandrian manuscripts that make up our new “versions” today (including the Catholic Bible, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible, etc.) along with loosely “translated” modern versions from English (instead of original Hebrew and Greek). All Satan has to do was repeat his lie to Eve, “Yea, hath God said?”
For example, take John 1:12 in the NKJV and several other “versions” which state, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” [Emphasis added.] The KJV says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” [Emphasis added.] Some may argue that there isn’t any difference between the word “right” and the word “power” but consider what power is associated with—the Holy Spirit! Jesus sent the power of the Holy Spirit to His disciples, to His church, for the purpose of being His witnesses to all the world. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” Acts 1:8.
Authority is one thing and power is quite another. POWER, in the Greek, is the word “dunamis” from which we get our word for dynamite. It means energetic power, explosive power, or a demostrative power. As for the word AUTHORITY, it is a completely different word in the Greek, “exousia,” and means our position. We have power because, when we are born again, we are then positionally seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (See Ephesians 2:6.) The resurrected Christ came to His disciples and stated, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” Matthew 28:18. Jesus also told His disciples, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you” Luke 10:19.
Can we honestly declare that the post-modern churches of today have the dunamis power of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and are all the members truly born again and know their position in Christ, that is, their authority? The authority of a born-again Christian who has received the Holy Spirit is backed by all the power of heaven, just as a law officer’s authority is backed by the law. Then again, how many Christians do you know that are truly seeking the empowerment of God in their life and ministry? Have we all fallen asleep and let our lamps burn out? Paul warned us in 2 Timothy 3:5 “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (That “power” is the Holy Spirit!)
Tozer wrote, “we must earnestly, sacrificially and prayerfully strive to be empowered with that same power that came upon them [the early church]. Peter said, ‘He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear’ (Acts 2:33). We must live to gear ourselves into things eternal and to live the life of heaven here upon the earth. We must put loyalty to Christ first at any cost. Anything less than that really isn’t a Christian church. I would rather be a member of a group that meets in a little room on a side street than to be part of a great going activity that is not New Testament in its doctrine, in its spirit, in its living, in its holiness, in all of its texture and tenor. We need not expect to be popular in such a church, but certain fruits will follow if we make a church that kind of a church.” How right he was, and no wonder he is known as “America’s prophet!”
He also lamented, “It is time for us to repent, for our transgressions against the blessed Third Person have been many and much aggravated. We have bitterly mistreated Him in the house of His friends. We have crucified Him in His own temple as they crucified the Eternal Son on the hill above Jerusalem. And the nails we used were not of iron, but of the finer and more precious stuff of which human life is made. Out of our hearts we took the refined metals of will and feeling and thought, and from them we fashioned the nails of suspicion and rebellion and neglect. By unworthy thoughts about Him and unfriendly attitudes toward Him days without end.”
Sadly, this has resulted in very little, if any, scripturally sound teaching about the Holy Spirit and in particular, His gifts. Most Christians have either been left to their own interpretation concerning the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, or they have been wrongly taught that the gifts “are not for today.” On the other hand, many have been exposed to fanatical extremes which has caused many a sincere seeker to fearfully run out the door and “head for the hills.” For that reason, I have compiled a list of the gifts of the Spirit with a short definition as follows:
The Gift of Wisdom – the gift to make choices and give leadership that is according to God’s Word and will. Insight and revelation from the Holy Spirit into matters as revealed by the Holy Spirit to help people gain God’s perspective.
The Gift of Knowledge – the gift to have a comprehensive understanding of a spiritual issue or circumstance, in which a word of knowledge reveals the present state of others who need specific insight or encouragement from God’s Spirit.
The Gift of Faith – the gift to trust God and inspire others to trust God, no matter the conditions.
The Gift of Healing – the wondrous gift to use God’s healing power to cure a person who is ill, wounded or suffering.
The Gift of Miracles – the gift to display signs and miracles that give credibility to God’s Word and the Gospel message.
The Gift of Prophecy – the gift to declare a message from God which can be foretelling, (as in prophecy of future events) or forthtelling (as in preaching).
The Gift of Discerning Spirits – the gift to recognize whether or not something is truly of God, and the Holy Spirit, in accordance with Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life; or in accordance with righteousness, the Word of God, and to discern what spirit is in operation behind something.
The Gift of Tongues – has a double meaning: 1. the gift to communicate in a foreign language that you do not have experience with, in order to converse with those who speak that language, as on the day of Pentecost. This gift is for the Body of Christ, and must be interpreted. 2. The gift of tongues to individuals which is a person’s personal, private prayer language through which the Holy Spirit prays through us. Paul exhorted believers to pray and sing “in the spirit” (in tongues) for their edification and needs no interpretation because it is private.
The Gift of Interpreting Tongues – the gift to interpret tongues in another language given to the church. (Interpretation of tongues is not a word-for-word “translation” of another language.)
The Gift of Administration – the gift to keep things ordered and in agreement with God’s principles.
The Gift of Helps – the gift of a desire and capacity to always help others, to do whatever it takes to get a task achieved to lift the burdens of others, and to glorify God.
In conclusion, and in light of the perilous times in which we live, I implore you, if you have not already done so, to ask Jesus for more of the Holy Spirit, to fill you to overflowing with the Living Water. Oswald Chambers said, “The marvel of the Atonement is that any man or woman who will make the moral decision that the ‘old man’ ought to be crucified, and will accept the gift of the Holy Spirit which was manifested in Jesus Christ, will receive the new disposition which introduces him into the kingdom of God, and raises him to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, which surely means a present experience, not a future one. By His resurrection, Jesus Christ has power to impart to us the Holy Spirit, which means a totally new life. The Holy Ghost is the Deity in proceeding power Who applies the Atonement of the Son of God in our experience. Jesus Christ laid all the emphasis on the coming of the Holy Spirit—‘When He…is come, He will guide you into all truth,’ and shall ‘bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you’; He will not only be with you, but He ‘shall be in you.’”
Come, Holy Spirit, we need You!